tommy woodcock, 1933—2022

Sorry to see news of the death earlier this week of Tommy Woodcock, the first trainer the St. Louis Blues ever had, and a veteran of the dressing rooms of the Hartford Whalers and San Jose Sharks. He was 89.

In Providence, Rhode Island, Woodcock grew up as the son of the manager of the local Arena, and he got his first job there in the 1940s when, as a 12-year-old, he served as (in his words) “a squeegee boy, helping brush the excess water off the rink after it had been flooded.” On his skates, he played centre and right wing, and scored some goals in the 1950s on New England senior amateur ice and, briefly, in the Eastern Hockey League.

As the story goes, Buddy LeRoux, trainer of Boston’s Celtics and Red Sox, was the one to suggest he take up as a trainer. Woodcock started out tending college teams at Brown, in Providence, and worked with the AHL Providence Reds, as well as with local baseball and football teams before GM Lynn Patrick hired him in 1967 to be the trainer for the expansion St. Louis Blues. With the Reds, he was a protégé of trainer George Army, a local legend who maintained that he’d learned to stitch hockey wounds by slicing up oranges and then sewing them back together.

Woodcock was 34 when he started in St. Louis. For 16 years he tended the Blues, who vied their way (in vain) during that tenure through three Stanley Cup Finals. The times, they were simpler, back then, as Woodcock recalled for NHL.com in 2008: “The players did a lot. They carried their own bags. We never washed the underwear, we just hung it up to dry.”

Woodcock’s other duties, in his day, ran the regular gamut. He sharpened skates, maintained and modified equipment, stitched wounds, ministered to aches, pains, scuffs, concussings. He wielded tape — a lot of tape. For a cheerful newspaper profile in 1970, Woodcock estimated that the Blues’ annual roll-out of tape was some 212,000 yards for socks-securing and another 3,300 yards for sticks.

In 1973, Woodcock organized his expertise into a book.

In 1979, around the occasion of his 1,000th NHL game, Woodcock testified that Bernie Federko was the most talented player he’d had under his care, while original Blues’ captain Al Arbour rated the highest pain tolerance of any of his charges. Garry Unger, meanwhile, had “the best set of muscle structure” in Blues’ history. “That’s why,” Woodcock said, “he never has any pulled or strained muscles.”

“Arbour was typical of some of the old-timers,” Woodcock waxed in ’79, “he was totally dedicated to the game.” The biggest change he’d seen in his time in big-league hockey? “The young guys coming into the league now aren’t dedicated. They aren’t willing to work to improve themselves. If they’re not doing well, they’ll blame their stick or a part of their equipment — but never blame themselves or try to work harder.”

One then-current Blue was excused from this indictment: Brian Sutter. “He’s the last of the real dedicated hockey players,” Woodcock said.

In 1983, Woodcock followed former Blues’ GM Emile Francis to the Hartford Whalers. In 1991, GM Jack Ferreira hired him to be the first trainer for the expansion San Jose Sharks. He would continue to work as a consultant with the Sharks well into his 70s and in so doing, in 2008 attended his 40th NHL training camp. All told, he presided over more than 3,000 NHL games, regular-season and playoff.

In 1973, Woodcock became the first NHL trainer to organize his experience and expertise into a book when he published Hockey From The Ice Up, a helpful how-to aimed at aspiring young players, their parents, and coaches. It counselled on equipment and pregame meals, ran down conditioning best practices, delineated hockey injuries (from butterflies to tongue-swallowing), and identified some key dos and don’ts for those hoping to succeed in hockey (stay away from alcohol and solvent-sniffing).

In 2003, Woodcock was inducted into the Hall of Fame that the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society curates under the auspices of the Hockey Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Lefty Wilson, Skip Thayer, and Eddy Palchak in the pantheon.

 

clem loughlin: viking elder, coach in chicago, victoria’s stanley cup captain

Taking Stick Stock: Chicago defenceman Earl Seibert consults with coach Clem Loughlin during the NHL’s 1935-36 season.

As boys growing up in Viking, Alberta, the Sutters knew him well: Brian did odd jobs at Clem Loughlin’s main-street hotel and out on his nearby cattle farm, and Darryl had him as a coach when he played midget in the early 1970s. “We idolized him,” Darryl would say years later, after he’d ended up taking the same job Loughlin had done 57 years before him. “I remember one bus ride to St. Albert or Stony Plain where I got to sit right beside him. I was amazed by all his stories. We didn’t have anybody in our town who’d done the things he’d done.”

Born in Carroll, Manitoba, on a Tuesday of this date in 1892, Clem Loughlin did a lot of hockey things in his time. A defenceman, he won an Allan Cup in 1915 with the Winnipeg Monarchs before turning pro with the PCHA’s Portland Rosebuds. He played a decade in the west-coast league, with the Victoria Aristocrats, who then turned into the Victoria Cougars, and shifted leagues in the WHL.

It was a powerful Cougars outfit that manager Lester Patrick assembled in 1925, with a 33-year-old Loughlin captaining a line-up that also included  Frank Fredrickson, Jack Walker, Frank Foyston, and Hap Holmes. That March, they beat the Montreal Canadiens to take the Stanley Cup in four games, the last time a team not from the NHL claimed the trophy.

Loughlin had a short NHL career after, joining the Detroit Cougars that same fall. After two seasons in Detroit, he played part of the 1928-29 season with the Chicago Black Hawks. After coaching the IHL London Tecumsehs, Loughlin returned to Chicago in 1935, succeeding Tommy Gorman behind the bench a year after Gorman had steered the Black Hawks to their first Cup.

Whatever the challenges of coaching in the NHL in the 1930s, Loughlin had the added burden of working for Major Frederic McLaughlin, the domineering coffee tycoon and former polo star who owned the Black Hawks and couldn’t leave the running of the hockey team to those with experience in the game. It was Loughlin who had to contend with his boss’s 1936 plan to do away with Canadian players and make do with only Americans. (McLaughlin also planned to re-name the team the Yankees.)

Loughlin dealt with the mandate from on high as best he could — and even defended McLaughlin all-American scheme. “It isn’t as silly as it sounds by any means,” he told the Montreal Gazette in early 1937. “I contend that most hockey players are made, not born. The superstars of the game, like Chuck Conacher, Howie Morenz, and Bill Cook, of course, are great athletes and were born to be headliners in hockey. But take some of these other fellows that aren’t athletes in any line of sport except hockey. It’s the only game some of them play, in fact. Coaching and an eagerness to improve themselves in a big-money game is what has made them capable players.”

“Of course,” he allowed, “the Major’s plan will take some time in developing, for we must practically at scratch in this thing. But, you may laugh at me or not, I do believe that the scheme has possibilities.”

Maybe so; we don’t know. It never really launched, and in May of ’37, Loughlin resigned his post. He back in Alberta by then, where he had his farm and his hotel. Major McLaughlin said he regretted the loss to the Black Hawks. “Our relations have been so extremely pleasant,” he said, “and he is a man of such high ideals and splendid character that he will be missed.”

Next up at the Chicago helm was Bill Stewart, the NHL referee and baseball umpire. The following year he did what Tommy Gorman had done and Loughlin, guiding the Black Hawks to another Stanley Cup.

“He was a real gentleman,” Darryl Sutter said in 2001,” always in a fedora and topcoat. He coached me my last year of midget. I don’t think Clem had coached anybody 40 years, but we needed somebody. He used to come out on the ice in his long black trenchcoat. And he had these skates, back to when he played. He had the date right on them. We loved of all of his stories.”

Clem Loughlin died in January of 1977 at the age of 84. It was 1992 when Darryl Sutter, now in his second stint as coach of the Calgary Flames, followed his mentor’s footsteps to the Blackhawks’ bench. In ’01, when he was coaching the San Jose Sharks, he had a photograph of Loughlin hanging on the wall of office. By then, another Loughlin acolyte, Brian Sutter, had taken over as Chicago’s coach.

Coaching Clinic: Clem Loughlin weighs in with Toronto’s Globe in 1936.