the steaks of ’72: everybody suspected sabotage

 If a Canadian hockey player could be said to have a security blanket, that’s what it would look like: his wife, a thick steak, and a cold Canadian beer.

• John U. Bacon, The Greatest Comeback: How Team Canada Fought Back, Took the Summit Series, and Reinvented Hockey (2022)

In Canada, all that matters is this: we won.

It was 50 years ago this September gone by that the best of our hockey best beat the Soviets in Moscow in the final and deciding game of the 1972 Summit Series. It could have gone either way, as the sportscasters say: a last-minute goal by Paul Henderson was the difference. No-one could call it a glorious goal. It was more of a desperate shunting of the puck over the line, after which a snow-shovel raised high in celebration might have been more appropriate than the stick that Henderson actually brandished.

Doesn’t matter. Canadians know now, as they always have, why their team won: hockey is ours + Canadian heart (almost) always trumps foreign guile and/or finesse + in the battle between our way of life versus theirs, no contest + Henderson, in Moscow that week, nobody was going to stop that guy.

And yet. In the flurry of last month’s 50th-anniversary commemorations, are we forgetting a fundamental fuel of Team Canada’s Moscow fire? Isn’t it time, now, to acknowledge that the greatest of Canadian hockey triumphs boils down to this: the Soviets never should have messed with our chow.

The facts are … well, as we’ll discuss, they’re not easy to piece together. The gist: travelling to Moscow for the latter half of the Summit Series, along with sticks and skates, Team Canada shipped in a supply of steaks and beers to sustain its effort. The Soviets, cruelly, looted the lot — or a lot of the lot. The whole caper was quickly filed into the annals of Cold War history, to the extent that in a 1974 history, KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents, it huddles under the umbrella of intelligence operations that are “so petty and crude that they require no elaborate preparation.”

“The KGB harassed Canadian team members,” John Barron writes there, “by disrupting their pregame naps with anonymous phone calls and  absconding with most of the 300 pounds of steaks they brought along.”

In Canada over the years — this year, too — the story the steaks (and beers) of ’72 has mostly faded into the fabric. It hasn’t been forgotten, exactly: it remains well woven into the legend of that momentous September, a prandial whodunit that’s been standard fare in the many histories and memoirs that have been published over the years, including the several new books out this fall. Mostly now, though, it’s referenced in passing, as shorthand for the odds that were stacked against Team Canada and all the adversity that they heroically overcame.

It’s been a decade since I first wrote about the alimentary aspects of the ’72 Summit Series, with a special focus on the beef and the beer that Team Canada shipped over to the Soviet Union that long-ago September, along with the mystery surrounding the supposed theft/illicit butchery/black marketeering of said provisions. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed investigating the alleged scandal by way of newspaper archives and player memoirs. Taking the temperature therein, it wasn’t hard to piece together something like a hypothesis proposing that Canada’s heroic on-ice triumph in Moscow was as much a product of hungry outrage as it was hockey prowess.

I was, in this, mostly poking fun. Ten years on, I still am, and it’s in that spirit that I’m here to report further findings on the steaks of ’72. I will just add, as a not entirely fun aside, that in all this it’s also possible to perceive a pattern writ in Canadian paranoia and xenophobia. There was no shortage of that on offer all those years ago, whether or not we in Canada choose to recall it now.

We don’t, mostly. With an exception or two, the sour sides of the Summit haven’t really featured in the month-long anniversary retrospective we’re just coming out of in Canada. That’s not surprising. Who wants to talk about those bad-tempered in-between exhibition games in Sweden or the slash that Bobby Clarke laid on Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle when you can celebrate the way that Vancouver’s derision cemented Team Canada’s resolve or the Moscow concussion that Paul Henderson played through on his way to scoring all those decisive goals? What counts, in Canada, still: we won.

•••

For as long as Canadian hockey teams have been going overseas, they’ve lugged along their own personal meat supply. I don’t actually know whether that’s true; it sounds like it should be. I can say that when the East York Lyndhursts went to Sweden to contest the 1954 world championships, they were (per The Ottawa Citizen) “armed with a fighting spirit and a supply of vitamin pills.” That was the year that the USSR announced itself on hockey’s international stage, grabbing gold from Canada’s clutches. The captain of that team, of course, was Vsevolod Bobrov, coach of the ’72 Summit Soviets.

When, the following year in West Germany, the Penticton Vs reclaimed the world title on Canada’s behalf, they did so with an infusion of B.C. milk: when the Okanagan dairy cooperative learned that the Vs were losing weight abroad because they wouldn’t drink unpasteurized German milk, they arranged to fly in a daily supply to nurture the players.

Canadian teams would continue to brave their way into Europe, despite the hazards of foreign supper tables. The Trail Smoke Eaters may have navigated to gold in 1961 in Switzerland, but on the way there they were also severely flustered in Czechoslovakia to find eggs floating in their otherwise delicious asparagus soup.

Steaks of ’58: The Whitby Dunlops powered to gold in Oslo with the help of homegrown steaks.

Like Penticton before them, the 1958 Whitby Dunlops had a plan to avoid the uncertainties of unfamiliar menus, one that formed the foundation of what Team Canada did when it went to Moscow 14 years later. Frank Bonello was the key figure in both cases.

In ’58, he was a centreman for the Dunlops. His day-job, outside of hockey, was as a salesman for Canada Packers, the Toronto-based meat-packing and processing company. The Dunlops spent nine weeks touring Europe that year before they got to Oslo for the world tournament, and by the time they did, Bonello had arranged to augment the Norwegian menu available to the players — lots of “fish and meatballs with rich sauces,” as he later recalled it. “Nice food, you know, except it wasn’t the type of thing which an athlete wants the day of a game.”

He made some calls and Canada Packers answered them, flying in 150 steaks to aid in the team’s effort, enough to feed the players before each game, including the gold-medal final in which they beat the Soviets 4-2. “Everybody,” Bonello said, “felt more at home.”

In 1972, Bonello was still in hockey, as GM of the OHA’s Toronto Marlboros (he went on to become the NHL’s Director of Central Scouting). He was still in, well, meat, too, at Canada Packers. That August, as Team Canada prepared to launch into the Summit Series, he read that organizer Alan Eagleson had concerns about the food that the players would be getting in Moscow. Bonello had a connection, and didn’t hesitate to call in: Canadian coach Harry Sinden had been a Whitby teammate — captain of the team, in fact — back when Canadian protein had yielded gold in Oslo.

So it was that Team Canada ordered up 300 New York-cut steaks for delivery to Moscow. In Toronto that August, Sinden and assistant coach John Ferguson stopped in to Canada Packers for a visit. “I was going to call Frank anyway,” Sinden said, “but he called me first. I remembered those great steaks we had in Oslo. They were beautiful.”

Meat ‘N’ Greet: In August of 1972, Team Canada coaches Harry Sinden (right) and John Ferguson stopped by Canada Packers in Toronto to visit with Sinden’s old Whitby Dunlop teammate, Frank Bonello (left).

And so a small corner of a foreign kitchen would feature, temporarily at least, familiar fare, grain-fed-in-Canada. But it wasn’t only steaks heading for Moscow. To wash them down, Hockey Canada secured a consignment of Labatt’s beer as well as, from Finland, a supply of milk.

Team Canada even lugged its own drinking water to Moscow, for use “in both hotel rooms and on the bench,” Montreal’s Gazette reported. “It’s natural spring water supplied by Canada Dry, and it comes from Caledon Hills, north of Toronto.”

Faithful Frank Bonello also chipped in three cases of Dial soap. “I understand their soap isn’t so good,” he said that August. “They use rough-type fats in making it, and it hasn’t a pleasant odor.”

The steaks were, we know, to be packed in dry ice and flown in for a September 20 Moscow arrival. That was a Wednesday, the same day Team Canada would be getting in from Sweden and checking into the Intourist Hotel; the Summit would resume Friday with Game 5. This timing is laid out in an External Affairs cable from Ottawa sent by Patrick Reid, the External Affairs official drafted in to oversee many of the diplomatic, political, logistical, and PR aspects of the series. It’s from this document (reproduced below) that we have a measure of the meat in question.

When it comes to trying to audit the foodstuffs of ’72, this is the only official documentation that I’ve come across. Everything else — and there’s almost as much on the steaks of ‘’72 as on the stakes — is anecdotal. Memories have faded, over the years, hearsay and impression have congealed into accepted truth. That means it’s impossible to determine, at this distance, just how much pilfering of Canadian supplies took place in Moscow, if any.

Even while we know that Team Canada was brimming with groceries when it arrived in Moscow, we don’t really have a good grip on specific quantities — beyond “total meat weight of 270 lbs,” I mean. That’s fairly straightforward.

In 2012, talking to Patrick White of the Globe and Mail, Alan Eagleson inflates the count to “800 to 900 steaks.” Usually, though, going back to Frank Bonello and the original press reports of August, ’72, the number cited is 300. If that was the guess, that would mean … a whole mess of hefty 14-ounce steaks.

Possible, I guess. Liquidly, lacking anything like an official bill of lading, we can look to a dispatch from Colin McCullough, the Globe and Mail’s correspondent in the Soviet capital, who on September 20 wrote about the Intourist’s manager (“a short dark man with a gold tooth”), learning that the hotel’s refrigerators had plenty of room “for the steaks and 200 litres of Finnish milk” that would be arriving with Team Canada.

Also in 2012, Eagleson offered up a bar tab: “We brought over our own beer — 500 cases.”  Phil Esposito’s 2003 autobiography, Thunder and Lightning, has Team Canada arriving in Moscow with “350 cases of beer, 350 cases of milk, and 350 cases of soda.”

The beer was Labatt’s, who happened to be a big-time sponsor of the tournament. Company president W.F. Read said he was only too happy to support the team “by making Canadian beer available in Russia for use on the dining table.”

“It will also come in handy,” he added, “for the toasts at the conclusion of what has been one of the most exciting series ever played.”

If we err on the side of Esposito’s 350 cases, that’s — hold on: Team Canada had 8,400 beers for nine days in Moscow?

We’re talking here about a contingent of, say, 50 guys, players, staff, officials. That’s an allowance of 168 bottles for every man, or about 18.6 for each of the nine days they were in Moscow.

A few extenuating circumstances to consider: on September 20th, for instance, we know that the team didn’t land until 8 p.m., which doesn’t leave a lot of time to down 18.6 beers. And what about the four disgruntled players who decided in the first few days that they were heading back home? I’m going to assume that Vic Hadfield, Gilbert Perreault, and the others who quit the team in Moscow didn’t take their fair share of beers or steaks back home with them — as much fun as it is to imagine that they might have.

In 1973, Paul Henderson told a magazine interviewer that the beer “disappeared.” After the fifth game, testified Rod Gilbert. About 100 cases, Brad Park swore. Assuming that the players downed half their daily ration before this heist, the quick math —

8,400 total bottles of beer to begin
minus 930 (consumed September 20)
minus 930 (consumed September 21)
minus 465 (consumed pre-game September 22)
minus 2,400 (stolen by Soviets September 22)
= 3,675 surviving beers

— means that with 6 days left to go in Moscow, the team was down to 73.5 beers per man, which translates to an austerity ration of no more than 12.25 bottles each per day.

You can see how that would upset a man.

As for the investigation, I don’t know that it was all that thorough.

Patrick Reid looked back on his long diplomatic career in a 1995 memoir, Wild Colonial Boy, but his Summit memories include no Moscow heists.

Gary Smith was second secretary at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow in 1972 and as such, a key cog in the organization of the Summit. He has a memoir of all that out this fall, Ice War Diplomat, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of insight into the fate of Canada’s beer. “No one knows for sure what happened to it,” he writes. “The embassy had lots of backups, though — just not Labatt’s.”

The players, certainly, were in no doubt that they’d been robbed. Year after year, in interviews and autobiographies, they’ve pointed the finger again and again.

Vic Hadfield, diarizing in 1974: “There must be a lot of thieves in Moscow. We brought our own beef with us — a lot of steaks — and they’ve been stolen. So has the Canadian beer, which we had shipped here. Everybody suspects sabotage.”

“They can have our steaks,” Peter Mahovlich said, slipping into the historical present in in 1992, “but they can’t take away our beer.”

Don Awrey, in 2000: “They stole our steaks and our beer.”

Rod Gilbert, in 2002: “They stole our food and our beer. Can you beat that? Stealing our beer!”

Wayne Cashman, also in 2002: “When someone stole our beer, that really pissed us off.”

To read the 1972 memoirs is to feel a remarkable heat of angry disgust, not just at the harassment to which the players felt they were subjected, but to the general Moscowness of the place.

The buses were late, is what Ron Ellis remembers in Over The Boards (2002). Vic Hadfield formed his impression before he bailed out (and I quote, from Vic Hadfield’s Diary From Moscow To The Play-offs, published in 1974): “Uuggh.”

A gray place, said Frank Mahovlich. The only good thing about the whole entire country, according to Paul Henderson, was the circus. Otherwise? “Just terrible,” he thought. “Everything’s so dull — even the people. There’s no life to it.”

Fiery Phil Esposito felt that, given a gun, he would have had no problem shooting the KGB minders who kept watch on the Canadians as they commuted between hotel and the rink. “I hated Russian society … so much,” he wrote in his autobiography, “I would have killed those sons of bitches on the bus.”

All this from the victors. Can you imagine how dark things might have gotten if these guys had lost?

A month after Team Canada returned from Moscow, Henderson was still hot about — well, several things, including Soviet vanity and the heist of Canada’s victuals. “If you listen to them, they invented wine, rum, and vodka,” he told a reporter in October. “They have the world’s best beef, the tallest buildings, and the freshest vegetables. If they have the best beef, how come they stole the 300 steaks we brought with us? We brought over our own beer and that disappeared, too. And we took for granted our rooms were bugged.”

Goaltender Ed Johnston later revealed that “a lot” of the steaks “never made it through customs.”

Esposito also seemed to think that the thieving happened either at the airport or on the way to the hotel: according to him, only “half” of the beer + milk + soda + “steaks and other food” made it to the Intourist. He was also hearing rumours that the Canadian embassy might have been in on the filching. “But I can’t believe that. I believe the Russians stole it. They had nothing over there. And besides, what could we do about it? Nothing.”

Esposito remembered well the regular Intourist menu. “One time,” he wrote, “they served us crow. Blackbird, they called it.” Also: bear steaks. “They were tough but they weren’t bad. We ate horse steaks. Wasn’t bad. It was lean. We didn’t tell the girls [i.e. their wives] what we were eating.”

Paul Henderson believed that the hotel kitchen was the scene of the crime. “The Russian chefs soon ended up selling them,” he wrote in The Goal of My Life (2012).

In an earlier memoir, Shooting For Glory (1997), he was more specific: “The Russian cooks sold the steaks to others in search of a decent meal, many of whom turned out to be our zany Canadian fans. For about ten dollars U.S. you could get just about anything you wanted, including those precious steaks! The only two Russian dishes that were acceptable to me were borscht and chicken Kiev. The rest was just terrible.”

Scott Morrison has a new history, 1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever, and in it he quotes Rod Seiling.

“I was back to Moscow a number of years ago,” said Seiling. “I was sitting at table and we got talking about 1972 and our beer disappearing, our steaks being cut in half, and I’m sitting at a table with this gentleman and he says, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s all true — I was selling it on the black market.’”

Morrison talked to some of the former Soviet players, too, including Alexander Yakushev and Vladislav Tretiak, and got their take on the alleged “provocations,” which included theories that someone Soviet was bugging Canadian rooms at the Intourist and (as Yakushev puts it) that “someone ate their meat and drank their beer.”

“Well,” Tretiak offered, “the meat part might be true, but not bugging through chandeliers. Who would listen? And for what purpose?”

I should say that we do have sightings in the wild (as it were) of Canada’s (allegedly) purloined steaks.

The Toronto Star’s Trent Frayne traveled with the team from Stockholm on Wednesday the 20th, and he was in on the “surprise” awaiting players, team officials, and newspapermen when they got to the Intourist:

An area of the main dining room had been set aside where dinner consisted of steak, French-fried potatoes, canned peas and a lettuce-and-tomato salad.

And a Russian combo, including two trombones, a trumpet and an electric guitar, played such haunting old favourites as the theme from Love Story and Moon River.

Those could have been local equine or ursine cuts, I suppose. If so, Ken Dryden had no qualms about them, writing inFace-Off At The Summit (1973) that the steaks the team enjoyed that first night were excellent. Coach Sinden: “They were prepared well.”

Thursday night Dryden was back to tell his diary: “After dinner — another steak — we went to see the Moscow Circus.”

Friday, Ted Blackman of the Gazette caught Canada’s players at unhappy post-game repose after their 5-4 Game 5 loss.

“Those bastards should have been in Siberia at the end of the second period,” [Paul] Henderson was saying back at the Intourist Hotel where Team Canada’s puzzled personnel sat sullenly over post-game steaks with wives who dared not speak. “We had them beaten, had them off stride, and we were pulling away. Siberia, that’s where they were headed. Then we let ’em off the hook.”

According to Dryden, the real problem was that after a few days — “the great initial burst of big steaks” — the cuts began to shrink. Also, incidentally, Team Canada’s cola was missing, causing the goalie to suffer a “Coke fit” one day after practice.

“If I had been smart,” Dryden wrote in that Moscow diary of his, on which Mark Mulvoy from Sports Illustrated earned a primary assist, “I would have done what all the other guys did: they bought extra luggage packs at the Stockholm airport and filled them with six-packs of Coke and something called Joly Cola from Denmark.”

There was supposed be an entire suite at the hotel filled with Cokes — room 1774 — but as Dryden learned, that was just a rumour. “There will be Cokes for the players after the game tonight, though,” he noted on September 22. “Come to think of it, that’s a heck of an incentive to get into the starting line-up.”

For all their suffering, the players’ lot was better than what their wives had to endure. Eggs that were black and green! Fish-eyes soup! “I guess what we’re getting to eat is better than what our wives are being served,” Dryden wrote in his original Moscow memoir. “In fact, Lynda and some other wives came to the door at lunch and asked for handouts.”

According to Brad Park, this was where the Soviets really screwed up: “they pissed off our wives” with disrespect and “disgusting food.”

“The last thing you ever want to do is shit on the wife of a Canadian hockey player,” Park disclosed in his 2012 memoir, Straight Shooter, “because she is going to make sure that her man is pissed off when he plays.”

Alan Eagleson had yet another version, one that he laid out for Jim Prime in his 2012 book How Hockey Explains Canada.

“We brought steaks over from Canada and they were confiscated,” Eagleson charged, “but not until we won a game, which goes to show how the heat was turned up as the series went on.”

Games 6 was Sunday, September 24. “Ken Dryden had a great game,” Eagleson recalled. “We won 3-2 after having lost the first 5-4 in Moscow. We got there in a roundabout way, but they confiscated our steaks. At that point the Russians thought, Geez, maybe this is not a shoe-in They still thought they’d win, but they made life miserable, starting right then.”

The veins of confusion about the fate of the Canadian meat continue to marble the Summit narratives: they’d do a choice cut of Wagyu proud.

It’s not as though the passage of years has clarified things, either.

Despite what Harry Sinden jotted down in the moment for Hockey Showdown, by 2016 he had a new version of events. The coach was on a nostalgia tour that year with a handful of his players, talking ’72 again to audiences across Canada. I caught the show in Toronto and in the Q&A session stood up to ask the question that was on everybody’s mind: what happened to the meat?

“Well,” the coach was quick to explain, 44 years later, “I don’t think you can outright say it was stolen, it just never showed up. We had it shipped from Canada to Finland, then from there, over to Moscow. That’s how we did it. And the shipments — especially the steak, because in those days, players were eating steak, prior to a game — the steaks never made it. They — for some reason, they were shipped, supposed to be delivered to our hotel. When the time came, they didn’t have them. So, obviously that story grows and grows and grows. That, you know, the kitchen staff stole them, and they made hamburger out of them. It didn’t happen. We were fine. We survived.”

Six years later, Sinden had come up with a new new angle.

Writing The Greatest Comeback, a thorough accounting of the Summit out this month, John U. Bacon had the support and cooperation of many of the veterans of Team Canada, though he goes out of his way to make clear that it’s not an “official” history: he maintained his independence. His foodie findings are presented with authority, if not detailed sources. “At least 100 of their 300 steaks, and the entire supply of Labatt’s were gone,” he writes, “probably sold on the black market, where it would fetch good money.”

“Somehow half our steaks disappeared,” was Sinden’s revised take, according to Bacon. “The hotel staff probably had a feast and made a fortune. The food we ate was horrible. They gave us peaches that were about as big as a marble. It was no way to get ready for some of the biggest games ever played.”

In Ken Dryden’s new book, The Series: What I Remember, What It Felt Like, What It Feels Like Now, he basically repudiates what he and Mark Mulvoy committed to the page, steakwise, 49 years ago.

Now, as part of a cataloguing of the many distractions and discombobulating strangenesses Team Canada encountered in Moscow, there’s this:

Our breakfasts were buffets of cold cuts, smoked fish, white cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and chocolate-coloured bread that was hard and not chocolate. Our pre-game meals, our steaks that had been brought from home and had somehow “disappeared” into Moscow air, steaks that had always made us feel strong and ready, instead were tough, random-sized, random-shaped hunks of meat.

1973-Ken Dryden, let’s recall, is on the record as having quite enjoyed the steaks Team Canada were served early on. The problem, as detailed in an entry from the diary he (and/or Mulvoy) jotted down for September 24, was one of diminishment rather than disappearance:

The quality of our meals has gone down. The great initial burst of big steaks has become a retreat to mini-steaks. We never get Cokes, though they are talked about all the time. But I guess what we’re getting to eat is better than what our wives are being served. In fact, Lynda and some of the other wives came to the door at lunch and asked for handouts.

That jibes with what Frank Mahovlich has recalled, pretty well annually, including in Andrew Podnieks’ Team Canada 1972: The Official 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Summit Series (2012), in which he rounded on the chefs working the Intourist kitchen. “They cut them in half, so we only had half a steak. So we complained. Before the third game, they cut the thickness in half. We complained again. It wasn’t until the last game that we finally got a whole steak.”

Now we may be getting somewhere —  which is to say, as close to the truth of the matter as we may ever get. Could it be that the steaks were bureaucratically butchered rather than actually stolen?

Back to Gary Smith from the embassy. In 2012, he said that he was on the case in ’72. I had to look into the case of the stolen steaks,” he told Patrick White. “I think it was likely some guy involved with the hotel, rather than someone thinking the Canadians wouldn’t be able to play without their steaks.”

In Ice War Diplomat, his updated view combines a reasonable explanation with an unexpectedly specific indictment of the hospitality industry worldwide:

After the first night’s steak dinner for the Canadian players in their hotel, some extremely large steaks disappeared from the refrigerators and were replaced by cuts half their size. Apparently, this wasn’t part of a nefarious Soviet plot but the result of a Canadian staffer telling the hotel chefs that portions had to be reduced to ensure the supply lasted until the end of the series. After some hungry players complained, the full-size steaks returned. No doubt there may also have been some pilfering of quality meat, as often happens in hotels around the world.

Whatever actually happened, I guess maybe the bottom line — and the final word? — is that Team Canada believed that they and their appetites were wronged. Did that motivate them more than they would have been otherwise motivated? Impossible to say.

I’ll leave the last word to Harry Sinden, in Hockey Showdown. He knew what it was to win a well-fed world championship with Whitby in Oslo, after all, and he was convinced he and his team went without in ’72.

On September 28, ahead of the Summit’s last and decisive game, he convened a team meeting to talk about the power play. Or — no: he and his assistant John Ferguson just wanted to make sure that everybody understood just how quickly the team planned to get the hell out of town after the game. Then the players went for their naps. Then, with victory waiting just a few hours in the future, suppertime.

“We should have had 100 steaks left for our pre-game meal,” Sinden writes, “but the Russians somehow misplaced them. They claim it was poor Canadian arithmetic. In this country four times 50 is 300. We thought it was 200. So the kitchen staff here at the Intourist Hotel will have a few steak dinners on us in the next few weeks. I hope they choke on it like their team did on the ice tonight.”

st. philip’s

A day for remembering today, for truth and reflection and commemoration. On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we honour the survivors of Canada’s residential schools as well as those who never returned home.

From the collection of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, this photograph shows students from the St. Philip’s Residential School in Saskatchewan in 1940. Run by the Catholic Missionary Oblate Sisters, St. Philip’s history dates back to 1902 and the construction of a boarding school on the Keeseekoose First Nation, a Saulteaux reserve near Kamsack. The NCTR page for St. Philip’s (here) tells this story:

Poor conditions in the school led to its closure in 1914. It reopened in 1927 as the St. Philip’s school. In 1957 the school farm ceased operation and the boarding school was increasingly used as a residence for students attending local day schools. During the 1960s, a period when sexual and physical abuse was a widespread problem at the school, a school supervisor was dismissed for mistreatment of students. The school closed in 1969.

As the NCTR also notes, a National Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students. This 24-hour Crisis Line can be accessed at: 1-866-925-4419.

gold for canada, 1932: apart from these eccentricities, the game more or less made sense

Gold Guard: Goaltender Bill Cockburn captained Canada’s triumphant 1932 Olympic team. He’s wearing his Winnipeg Hockey Club sweater here.

There was no miracle on the ice at Lake Placid on this date in 1932, just the same old same-old: Canada won Olympic gold.

But it was close.

For the first time in four Olympic hockey tournaments spanning 12 years and 17 games, a Canadian team failed to register a win. That Saturday 90 years ago, the best Canada’s team could manage was a 2-2 tie against the host team in front of a packed house at the Olympic Arena. The Americans were leading 2-1 almost to the end, too: with just 33 seconds remaining on the clock in the third period, Canadian left winger Romeo Rivers sent a shot in from the blueline that beat U.S. goaltender Franklin Farrell.

The teams played three 10-minute periods of overtime without another goal. A U.S. win would have seen the tournament extended by another game, with the two old rivals meeting again to decide a winner. As it stood, the tie was enough to secure the championship for Canada.

Canadians on the were, predictably, exultant. Winnipeg Mayor Ralph Webb was at the game and his exuberance was soon cabled back to Manitoba. “The boys played a wonderful game,” he declared, “and the score does not represent the real game they played. All Canada should be proud as Winnipeg is of them.”

Memories of the mighty Winnipeg Falcons were widely invoked, that plucky team of Icelandic-Canadians who’d claimed gold in Antwerp in 1920. Interestingly, according to W.A. Hewitt in the Toronto Daily Star and others, that original title wasn’t entered in official Olympic records.

“The international Olympic committee a few years ago decided to erase the 1920 Winter Sports from the records,” Vern DeGeer recalled in his Windsor Star column.

“According to the International Olympic committee,” reported Hewitt, a member of Canada’s Olympic committee, “it is only the third title for Canada.”

Amid the celebratory columns that showed up over the next few days in Canadian newsprint were several gleeful accounts of American gaffes.

The game was broadcast across both the NBC rand Columbia radio networks, with Ted Husing providing play-by-play for the latter. “He came out with a flock of new terms,” columnist Johnny Buss wrote in the Winnipeg Tribune, but considering it was his first attempt at broadcasting a hockey game he did well.”

He continued:

The puck was always a ball, according to Husing, and the American players were constantly flashing like “blue streaks” down the “alleys.” The penalty box was the “jury box,” and once Bill Cockburn was guilty of “heeling the ball,” whatever that may mean. Apart from these eccentricities, the report of the game more or less made sense.

Toronto’s Daily Star told the tale of the band that was on hand at the Olympic Arena. With minutes remaining in the game and the U.S. leading 2-1, the bandleader told his charges to be prepared to play the Star-Spangled Banner. The Star’s account of this is unbylined, but it’s likely that it was written by sports editor Lou Marsh, who just happened to be refereeing the final.

“He was all excited and joyed up,” the Star wrote of the bandleader. And went on:

Now the band was stationed in the alleyway around the Canuck players’ bench and they heard his excited orders. Then Rivers scored the tying goal — the winning goal, really — and sent the game into overtime. You can guess what disposition the exulting Canadian players invited the bandleader to make of his anthem when Rivers tied the game up.”

And the band DID NOT play “The Star Spangled Banner!”

Neither DID they play “The Maple Leaf” or “O Canada!”

They just folded up and departed!

 Embed from Getty Images

canada v usa, 1932: a little shaken by the unexpected turn of events

Placid Puck: On outdoor ice on February 4, 1932, Canada and the U.S. opened the 1932 Olympic tournament, with the visitors winning 2-1 in overtime. Broadly banded around the chest to show they’re U.S. defenceman are Ty Anderson (#5) and John Garrison. Canada’s #2 is defenceman Roy Henkel.

“The Canadian team had shown such terrible form … that their officers were commencing to cultivate brows like old-fashioned washboards.”

“To tell the honest truth, the team Canada has to depend upon looked worse than awful.”

Oh, it all worked out in the end in February of 1932, at the Winter Olympics, for Canada, in hockey. It just wasn’t as easy as it might have been for the Winnipeg Hockey Club, the team charged with upholding Canada’s golden honour at hockey’s fourth Olympics. That the gloomy words above were written and published for a national audience to ponder by the man who refereed every one of the Canada’s games during the tournament might seem a little strange, but, well, that’s how it went in those years. Lou Marsh, the sports editor for the Toronto Daily Star whose record of racism has recently come under renewed scrutiny, was in Lake Placid in ’32 as a working reporter, albeit one with a unique perch: along with an American colleague, Donald Sands, Marsh was one of the officials who oversaw every game at of the tournament. (He was, it’s true, a seasoned veteran, having moonlit as an NHL referee for more than a decade.)

By February 7, when Marsh was furrowing his own brow, Canada had played three games. After opening the tournament against the hosts from the United States with a 2-1 overtime win on February 4, they’d (reluctantly) skated in an exhibition game, losing 2-0 to McGill.

Next, back to the fight for gold, came Germany, who insisted on succumbing by a mere 4-1. This was just getting silly. Four years earlier, Canadians had been lapping Swedes and Czechs by scores of 33-0 and 30-0.

Lake Placid had a brand-new indoor hockey rink that year, but as Marsh explained it, the organizers preferred a second, outdoor, venue at the local Stadium, where they could accommodate more spectators and sell more tickets. The Stadium rink was narrow and, for the first meeting between Canada and the U.S., its ice was soft and spongy. That worried Marsh, on Canada’s behalf. “If these games continue on these outdoor rinks, Canada is not out of the woods yet, Anything can happen.”

The Americans, the referee warned, were a real threat.

“True enough,” he wrote following the overtime win, “it was nothing like a good hockey match to look at, but those Yanks know what it is all about and they made the going tough for the Canucks.”

Wearing his newspaperman’s hat, Marsh had done his best to toughen the going for the Americans before the tournament got underway. In January, Ralph Winsor’s U.S. aggregation of college players had played an Olympic warm-up game at Boston’s Garden against the NHL Bruins. The pros prevailed by a score of 5-1, with Art Chapman netting four goals.

But (the Boston Globe judged) “the amateurs left an impression that the shield of these United States is to be worn by a group of right smart hockey players.” The U.S. team further profited from the experience by receiving gate receipts from the game to help finance their foray to Lake Placid. If no-one south of the Canadian border saw anything untoward in this, there were those to the north who did. Lou Marsh took it upon himself to cable Paul Loicq, president of the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (forerunner of the IIHF), to wonder whether the U.S. hadn’t broken rules governing amateurism and the Olympics.

After years as a sports columnist at Toronto’s Daily Star, Marsh had in the fall of 1931 succeeded to the role of editor when his long-time boss, W.A. Hewitt, accepted a job from Conn Smythe as attractions manager of his brand-new Maple Leaf Gardens. Hewitt, Foster’s father, had strong Olympic hockey ties himself, having accompanied the 1920 Canadian team to the very first tournament in Antwerp as a reporter and representative of the Canadian Olympic Association.

In 1932, Hewitt was serving as the COC’s manager of winter sports while still writing for the Star. Pointing out the U.S. transgression, Marsh quoted Hewitt in his COC role as saying he didn’t think Canada should lodge an official protest. Which they didn’t, in the end. While Paul Loicq confirmed that the U.S. had broken the rules, without Canada’s objection, no further action was taken.

Back on the ice in the Adirondacks, Canada recorded a restorative 9-0 drubbing of the Poles on February 8, and that must have calmed some nerves. The Germans got the message, sort of, losing 5-0 when the teams met for a second time. Next day, when it was Poland’s turn again, the Winnipegs patiently re-drubbed them 10-0.

Which was better. More Canadian, certainly. In the final (indoors at the Arena), the Winnipegs faced the United States again, on February 13. Lou Marsh noted a quirk of the American wardrobe in his Star column before the game: as seen in the image at the top, Ralph Winsor’s defencemen wore sweaters featuring a broad white band around the chest, to distinguish them and remind their teammates on the forward line of their defensive responsibilities.

“Any time a forward sees a player with this broad white band pass him going down the ice,” Marsh wrote, “he knows that the defence is temporarily weakened and that he must cover up for a return rush.”

In the game, the Americans twice had the audacity to take the lead and twice — “a little shaken by the unexpected turn of events,” as the Toronto Globe reported — Canada was forced to tie it up. That’s how the game ended, 2-2, which was just enough to give Canada the gold, on points, even as the country considered the disturbing shift in Olympic hockey that we’ve been struggling with ever since: other teams, from other countries, seemed like they wanted to win gold just as much as we did.

Reftop: When he wasn’t writing and editing sports at the Toronto Daily Star, Lou Marsh worked as an NHL referee. Not certain why he was up on the roof in his skates and his reffing gear, but it’s fair to surmise that he’s up atop the old Star building in Toronto at 80 King Street West. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3610)

pole position

En Rout: Canada beat Poland 9-0 on Sunday, February 7, 1932, on the way to winning a gold medal at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Two days later, the teams met again (above) and this time (as one observer wrote it) Canada “submerged” the Poles by a score of 10-0.

The hockey tournament at the 1932 Winter Olympics was an intimate affair, 90 years ago this month, with just four teams taking part. Joining the United States and Canada on the ice at Lake Placid, New York, were teams from Germany and Poland. Scouting for The Winnipeg Tribune just before the pucks plummeted in early February, Paul Warburg advised that “Poland has improved remarkably in hockey, but their likelihood of being a serious contender to either the Canadians or United States teams is small.”

And so it proved. The Poles opened their account with a pairs of losses, 2-1 to Germany and 4-1 to the hosts from the United States. They played an exhibition game next, borrowing a local American goaltender for a 6-2 loss to the Lake Placid Athletic Club.

The Winnipeg Hockey Club was wearing the maple leaf in ’32, and on February 7 the Tribune’s Ralph Allen was on hand to watch “the valiant but futile Polska outfit” show its stuff. It turned out “a nice, easy workout for the Canadians,” Allen reported, as the favourites “showed lots of speed and combination when they felt like uncovering it.”

Poland played cautiously, “adopting a packed defence whenever possible,” and for the first ten minutes the ’Pegs were duly stymied. Eventually they found their way to a 9-0 win. Allen thought they could have netted more in the third period, if they’d felt like it. Leading the way for the Canadians were Romeo Rivers, Walter Monson, and Hack Simpson, who scored a pair of goals each.

Wallace H. Ward was on hand in Lake Placid, reporting for the Canadian Press. “With no knowledge of the bodycheck,” he observed, “the Polish team was helpless when the white-sweatered Canadians were skirmishing in the defensive zone.”

The Poles dropped another game to the U.S. by a score of 5-0. They lost again to Germany, too, 4-1, in a game featuring flurries of high sticks. Somehow, Ralph Allen reported, only two players were injured, including Polish goaltender Josef Stogowski, who suffered “a bad gash under the eye from the stick of a teammate;” the game was paused for ten minutes while he was patched.

When the Poles faced Canada one last time two days after their first encounter, Winnipeg’s eventual gold medallists showed their restraint by keeping the score to 10-0. Every Canadian player but goaltender Stanley Wagner notched a goal on this outing, though they had to work for it. Ralph Allen:

Everything went along smoothly until it was nearly time to go home to supper, and someone discovered that Kenny Moore and Stoney Wise hadn’t had their turn at hitting the button. So everybody joined in and lent a helping hand to the victims of this shocking though unwitting neglect. Kenny and Stoney got their goals, and everybody was happy.

Ready For Action: Polish captain Wlodzimierz Krygier on the ice at Lake Placid in February of 1932.

 

 

olympicsbound, 2022: turning over a new leaf

Chamonix Champs: Canada’s 1924 Olympic champions, from left: unknown, unknown, Dunc Munro, Harry Watson, Bert McCaffrey, Hooley Smith (I think), Jack Cameron, Beattie Ramsay. (Image: Agence Rol, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Just over a month to go before Olympics opened anew, and Canada wasn’t quite set: that early December of 1923, the Canadian Olympic Committee still hadn’t submitted our official entry for the first official winter games. No worries, though: P.J. Mulqueen, chair of the committee, assured Canadians that he would be filing Canada’s paper in good time ahead of the IOC’s early-January deadline.

Canada did have a top-notch team all ready to go to France: the Toronto Granites, winners of back-to-back Allan Cups senior-hockey championships, were standing by to defend the nation’s honour and the gold medal the first Canadian Olympic team had won in 1920.

Importantly, too, that December in 1923: Mulqueen had received a letter from the IOC, the Globe reported, “in which acceptance of Canada’s colours, a red maple leaf on a white jersey, was acknowledged.”

Plain and simple. That’s them pictured at the top, on the ice at Chamonix, where Canada wore them to retain gold in style. Now, 98 years later, we still don’t know who will play for Canada at February’s Beijing games, or even whether the NHL’s best will indeed venture out of North America in the ongoingness of our pandemic: the league and the NHLPA have their own early-January deadline to decide whether or not to opt out.

What we did get, this week, was the opportunity to size up a new round of Olympic duds. And to … acknowledge acceptance?

Here’s the look:

In case you, or anyone, wondered why or wherefore it came to this, Hockey Canada published an exegesis. I didn’t make this up, though someone else did, possibly Paula Nichols, a senior editor of Olympic and Historical Content for the COC, who’s bylined on the post. It reads, in part:

We all know that Team Canada is a force of nature. So, it’s fitting that the design was inspired by norther storms, which are fast-moving cold fronts that originate from the north and send strong winds south, causing temperatures to plummet rapidly. Graphic lines on the maple leaf crest gives dimension to the design, but are also representative of how snow and Arctic winds are shown on weather maps. Those weather map-type lines also appear on the shoulder yoke of the black jersey, creating a subtle maple leaf pattern.

Norther storms is good. Snow and Arctic winds on weather maps? Bravo.

People with Twitter accounts had issues with the black. Some of them did; they were jarred and maybe even offended. They asked themselves, and us: really? and what the hell? They wanted us to remember: black isn’t an official Canadian colour.

Me? I don’t mind the black. As someone who’s been known to appraise Canadian Olympic fashions in the past, I do have other concerns. A decade ago, as a patriotic public service, I marshalled some Historical Content of my own finding to show how Canadian teams headed for Olympics overseas do best when they (a) sail there on a ship; (b) make sure they’ve packed at least one Bobby, nominal or spiritual; and (c) pay particular attention to the foliage with which they adorn their sweaters.

That Canada won gold in 2010 and again in 2014 while largely ignoring my counsel is, I’ll allow, not a great look for me and my brand. Still, I’m sticking to my botanical guns and declaring, as I did a decade ago, that Canada’s leaf is just wrong.

Here’s what Canada’s hockey players, men and women, wore front and centre in 2010:

This was the shape of things four years later:

For PyeongChang in 2018:

Compare those anatomically incomplete exemplars to Canada’s leaf from the 1936 winter games —

— and maybe, like me, you’ll be vexed by the questions of how and why Canada’s leaf lost its stem.

Not every leaf worn by Canadians at international play has featured a stem, I’ll grant you. Part of the genius of Canada’s 1972 stemless Summit Series sweaters was that it didn’t matter.

But these 2022 sweaters aren’t those. It had my doubts in 2010 when Hockey Canada seems to have decided that snipping back was now a matter of policy, the new normal. That’s when I first went to the trouble of looking up the proper term for the stem of a leaf, if for no other reason than to be able to declare that a leaf without its petiole makes no sense, botanical or aesthetic.

I’ve said my piece, mostly; we’re almost, here, at the end of my screed. I do appreciate that Hockey Canada has been making gestures towards rationalizing the loss. The 2018 maple leaf, they explained at the time, “was inspired by a skate blade,” suggesting an accidental slicing. This time, obviously, there’s a climate-change undertone to the narrative: the stem to Canada’s leaf got blown clear off in the fury of norther storms blasting strong winds south.

I would, if I could, like loop back to and briefly celebrate that 1924 Canadian array. Four years earlier in Antwerp, the Winnipeg Falcons had represented Canada in sweaters of a hue that I might describe as mean mustard, though the Toronto Daily Star of the day preferred old gold. I’m not saying the Falcons got it wrong: there’s a certain garish glory there.

But just look at the clean simplicity of those ’24 Granite outfits. The lettering was new and (may I say) a nice touch, even if the red maple leaf against the snowy background qualifies as a throwback, an homage, to the sweaters worn a decade earlier by the Oxford Canadians, university students far from home who skated the innocent pre-war ice, carrying off English and European championships in sweaters featuring the fullness of Canada’s sacred flora, leaf and stem — even when, as in the second image below, they had to pin their leaves to their chests.

The photographs here belonged to Gustave Lanctôt, who studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar from 1909 to 1911. That’s him sitting on the far left in the first image, and in the centre in the second. A son of Saint-Constant, Québec, he subsequently served as Dominion Archivist between 1937 and 1948.

 

(Oxford Canadians images: first, Lanctot, G. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-066858;  second, Lanctot, G. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-066861)

bishop horden

A new number today, 751, to add to the older one, 215, while we wait for next one, as the dreadful toll of Canada’s residential schools, buried for too long, rises, and rises.

The undated photograph above was taken at Bishop Horden Hall Indian Residential School, which was run by the Anglican Church at Moose Factory, Ontario, on the Moose River, at the southern end of James Bay. It operated for 70 years, starting in 1906. In 1964, it was converted from a school to a hostel. It closed in 1976.  

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a detailed history of the school online, here, including harrowing (and surely incomplete) records of cruelty and sickness. An entry registering the 1940 deaths from tuberculosis of two male students notes that the Indian Agent reported that one boy’s family was “not notified of sickness or death of child as there was no way to send word.” 

The NCTR has a memorial page — it’s here — for Bishop Horden. It lists the names of 25 children known to have died as a result of their time at the school. 

215

215.

It’s a horrifying, heartfreezing number, from a shameful, genocidal Canadian legacy. Last Thursday, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said that a survey of the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia’s southern interior had revealed a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children, some of whom were as young as three when they died. 

“It’s a harsh reality, and it’s our truths. It’s our history, and it’s something … we’ve always had to fight to prove,” Chief Casimir said in a news conference via Zoom on Friday afternoon, as reported by The Globe and Mail. “To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history that’s always been, you know, basically denied from government.”

Across the country, Canadians expressed their sorrow and anger, and acknowledged the disgrace of the residential school system by which, for more than a century — until 1996 — the Canadian government made a policy of separating some 150,000 Indigenous children from their families with the express purpose of indoctrinating them into a culture not their own — taking “the Indian out of the child,” in one early insidious formulation of what the schools were all about.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 to 1969, mostly under the authority of a Roman Catholic order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The lives of the children who died there have been honoured over the course of the past several days with vigils and flags at half-mast. Indigenous leaders are calling for gestures to be followed up with action: on Sunday, Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was one who urged the federal government to undertake to identify the remains, return them to their families, as well as to further investigate undocumented deaths and burials at residential schools across Canada. 

In 2018, in looking at the history Indigenous players in the NHL, I wrote in passing of how hockey is knotted into the story of residential schools. From a New York Times feature I filed that July:   

The government has apologized and compensated survivors. Between 2008 and 2015, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission crossed Canada to hear their stories and investigate abuses. Among the findings in the commission’s final 2015 report is ample evidence of how sports, including hockey, could be a refuge for many children. But the report also explains how, especially in early years, some in authority looked to sports as an instrument of forced assimilation, just another means of “civilizing” students.

The comfort and freedom that hockey offered only went so far. That’s a story told in Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese’s powerful 2012 novel of hockey and residential-school abuse that director Stephen Campanelli and executive producer Clint Eastwood brought to movie screens in the spring of 2018. The pain and the rage deriving from what the central character, Saul, calls the “scorched earth” of his residential-school boyhood — “it corroded everything, even the game.”

Indian Horse is a good place to start — or to revisit — if you want to learn more about the corrosion and hockey’s part in it. 

The memoir that Fred Sasakamoose completed just before his death at 86 in November last year, should also be required reading. Published earlier this month, Call Me Indian is in many ways an inspiring story, of perseverance and dedication — but it is, also, a thoroughly harrowing testament of Canadian racism and the neglect and abuse that Sasakamoose suffered at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

All Canadians should educate themselves by reading the TRC report, I’ll also submit. It’s not hard to find — here you go. I went back today to re-read some of the discussion of how sports were integrated into the insidious system: 

The Canadian residential schools were established at the same time as the rules were being standardized for games such as football, baseball, and hockey, and agreement was being reached on what constituted a standard playing field and the length of play. In the late nineteenth century, such sports spread throughout the country. As with band music, the promoters of these games argued that organized sports would help reduce conflict between the classes. And, while manliness and sportsmanship were supposed to reflect the values of the empire, Canadians not only played British games such as cricket, with its associations with the private schools of the elite; they also played sports popular in the United States such as baseball, and uniquely Canadian games such as lacrosse and ice hockey. These games also were played at the residential schools. 

It was hoped that these sports would contribute to “civilizing” residential school students. In his 1889 report, Indian Affairs inspector J. A. Macrae wrote of the Battleford school: 

“A noticeable feature of this school is its games. They are all thoroughly and distinctly ‘white.’ The boys use the boxing gloves with no little science, and excellent temper and play good games of cricket and football with great interest and truly Anglo-Saxon vigor. The girls dress dolls, make fancy articles of dress, and play such games as white children do. From all their recreation Indianism is excluded.”

Macrae seemed to believe that “Indianism” was a static phenomenon and that to play a European game well, a boy became less of an “Indian.” “Indianism” was, by definition, undesirable: an 1895 report on the Middlechurch, Manitoba, school noted approvingly, “The manly games of cricket and football, introduced and practised by the principal, have done much to take ‘the sneak’ out of the boys.” Some school officials also said that the role that sports played in the schools had to be closely controlled. If this were not done, instead of spreading the values of manly Christianity, sports would simply delay the process of assimilation. 

(Image: Students rally around a puck at Washakada Industrial School in Elkhorn, Manitoba, northwest of Brandon, near the Saskatchewan border, circa 1911-15. Established by the Anglican Church in 1888, the Washakada Indian Home originally had room for 16 boarders. Fire destroyed most of the school’s buildings in 1895; the new, relocated Industrial School opened in 1899. At its peak, the residential school had an enrolment of 122. It closed in 1949. Glenbow Archives, NA-4101-40)

unglaublich, wir gewinnen mit 3:1 gegen kanada

Stars And Stripes: Berliner SC represented Germany at the 1914 LIHG Championship tournament in Chamonix, France, lining up (from left) Hans Georgii, Nils Molander, Franz Lange, Charles Hartley, Arthur Boak, Johan Ollus, Alfred Steinke, and Bruno Grauel. (Image: Agence Rol, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

“Nobody ever expects Germany to beat Canada,” was what Brad Bergen came to be shouting on an April’s day in Vienna in 1996. “Canada is apparently the motherland of hockey.”

This is what’s called, in hockey and elsewhere, taunting. Bergen, a defenceman who was 30 that year, might be forgiven his fervour, I guess, and maybe his volume, given that the team he was playing for, German’s national team, had just walloped their Canadian rivals 5-1 at the 60th edition of the IIHF World Championships in Austria. The twist: for all his contributions to the German blueline, Bergen was then and remains a son of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, smack in the middle of hockey’s (apparent) motherland. 

Bergen wasn’t wrong in ’96: at that time, the tradition of German hockey teams failing to overcome their Canadian rivals at the World Championships was strong, and long, extending back to 1930. In three incarnations (Germany, West Germany, and East Germany), German teams had beaten the Canadians they faced just once in 34 attempts. The lone victory pre-’96 was in Vienna, too, in 1987, when West Germany upset Canada 6-4 at the 52nd Worlds.  

Kudos, then, to the German team at this year’s tournament, the 84th edition underway in Latvia, who on Monday overturned Canada today by a score of 3-1 in Group B play. 

This week’s German win leaves Canada with an 0-3 record to start this year’s tournament; it also marks a further shift in the hockey firmament that Brad Bergen played under. With Germany beating Canada in the semi-finals at XXIII Olympic Winter Games in South Korea in 2018, expectations may have shifted. Canadians will (of course) cry that the teams at those Olympics and these Worlds are undermanned, not-our-best, just-you-wait-til-we-line-up-our-NHL-frontliners … because that’s what Canadians always say in the face of hockey losses on international ice.    

In 1996, glum Canadian wire reports from Vienna sought solace in noting that the Germans lined up several Canadian-born players when they took on Canada. That’s true — the Germans also had several Czech-born players that year and a Belgian on the roster, along with the talented homegrown likes of Jochen Hecht, Olaf Kolzig, and Marco Sturm. Among the German goalscorers on the day was Peter Draisaitl, Leon’s dad. 

Canada’s roster wasn’t a bad one, either, with Martin Brodeur tending the net and Paul Kariya, Ray Ferraro, and Steve Thomas at forward. From a Canadian perspective, the early loss to Germany wasn’t too much of a problem, in the end: the Canadians made it to the final, yielding gold to a Czech Republic team featuring Roman Turek, Robert Lang, and Robert Reichel. For their part, the Germans finished 8th in the 12-team tournament.

Throwing back further still, would we note that Germany joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1909, while Canada didn’t get on board until 1920? Yes, let’s: that gives us license to include the photograph here at the top. 

The organization was called the Ligue International de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG) in those earliest years. For three winters, from 1912 through ’14, there was a LIHG Championship tournament that was as close as hockey came at the time to a world championships. 

Germany won the first one of those, a five-team affair in Brussels in which they beat the Oxford Canadians, who were in attendance as the English champions. The Germans defended their title in 1913 in St. Moritz in Switzerland.

In 1914, at Chamonix in France, Germany was represented by Berliner Schlittschuhclub, featuring the line-up that’s pictured above. Four teams took part that last January before war shattered Europe, with Great Britain prevailing. The Germans finished second, ahead of France and Bohemia, the latter an early (albeit brief) hockey power, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but not for long: in 1918, it would be remapped as the core of the Czechoslovak Republic. 

Got that?

Three of the players above were German-born: Fritz Lange, Alfred Steinke, and Bruno Grauel. Hans Georgii and Nils Molander were Swedes, and both of them were picked to play for their country at hockey very first Olympics, in Antwerp in 1920, though only Molander ended up making it there. Johan Ollus was a Finn. The goaltender, Arthur Boak, was Halifax-born, and studied at Queen’s University in Kingston and taught at McGill before making his way to Berlin to further his studies. He would receive a doctorate from Harvard the same year he was stopping pucks in Chamonix, and would go on to become an eminent ancient historian who taught at the University of Michigan.

Next to him in the image here is a true pioneer of international hockey, Dr. Charles Hartley. Born in North Plains, Michigan, he grew up in Brantford, Ontario, and studied dentistry at the University of Toronto. It was as a dentist that he Germany where, naturally, he took to the ice when he wasn’t in the office. 

As Stephen Hardy and Andrew Holman detail in their comprehensive Hockey: A Global History (2018), Hartley was the man who steered Germany’s bandy players over to hockey. In 1906, with the help of a friend in Toronto, he had Canadian sticks and pucks shipped to Germany. “From 1907 to the outbreak of the Great War,” Hardy and Holman write, “Hartley travelled with German club and national teams, playing, teaching, and refereeing the newer game.”

“Unser Meisterlehrer,” Hartley was called by his German teammates: “our master teacher.” He left Germany in 1917 and settled in California. His dentistry practice would seem to have thrived there: his clients would come to include Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, and Fred Astaire. He doesn’t seem to have lost any of his puck-chasing energy or enthusiasm: as a college coach, he would become known (as the Globe and Mail’s Vern DeGeer identified him in 1938) as “the Father of Southern California hockey.”

the winter crop of the snow-covered fields

Come for the views from bygone days deep inside the Toronto Maple Leafs’ dressing room, stay for the priceless glimpse of Frank Nighbor out on the pond, schooling the youngsters in the lost art of stealing pucks from charging forwards.

Hot Ice is a short Canadian-government confection from 1940, a meandering piece of propaganda that American director and writer Irving Jacoby devised to congratulate Canadians on the “national folk dance” they practice on skates, with sticks. Morley Callaghan contributed “extra commentary,” the credits say; I guess we can forgive him that. “Wherever they are, whatever they’re doing,” our narrator innocently blathers, “whenever Canadians get together, hockey is news. Good news — good enough to bring us from the fireside, crowds of us — gay, hopeful, good-natured crowd, with faith in their own spirit.” Yay for us, I guess — though the us depicted, it’s worth noting, is so very white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon, male. Still, the hockey footage is fascinating. Guided into the Leafs’ dressing room, we find the self-conscious players getting into gear, Red Horner and Sweeney Schriner, Gordie Drillon with some stagey rough-housing, Turk Broda padding up. Here’s trainer Tim Daly showing off his cabinet of salves, and Tommy Nayler at the skate-sharpener  — and coach Dick Irvin taping up Syl Apps’ sore shoulder. Conn Smythe prepping the troops before battle! Or pretending to. The final minutes of Hot Ice take us out onto Maple Leaf Gardens’ ice for Foster Hewitt narrating the Leafs and the New York Rangers having at it. Alf Pike! Bingo Kampman! Muzz Patrick! Ott Heller! Referee Bill Stewart! All of them, and (for some reason) a series of cutaways to fake fans for their insights on the action — and incitements to attack the Ranger goaltender. “Why don’t they hit [Dave] Kerr in the head with a brick?” you’ll hear amid the chatter, should you choose to endure it.

The best part, for me? Back before we get to Leafs and Rangers, at the nine-minute mark or so, there’s a 40-second cameo by a 47-year-old Frank Nighbor. Yes, the Hall-of-Famer just happens to be passing by the old frozen slough where the kids are out playing, and yes, the Peach has his skates on, and his stick — and he just happens to be wearing his old striped sweater from when he helped the 1927 Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup (this very one). It would be great to hear Nighbor’s voice here, instead of the narrator’s, droning on, but never mind: Nighbor is about to show the boys his sweep-check. Pay attention — the demonstration lasts just a few seconds. The sweep may only have been the second-best of Nighbor’s legendary defensive weapons (after the hook-check), not to mention mostly obsolete by 1940 as an effective hockey utensil — still, though, make no mistake, this is like a visit with Monet at Giverny, meeting the artist as he quietly deigns to show you a masterpiece.

the right way to rout: do not purposely avoid scoring against a team that has already lost

While much of Canada slept Sunday morning, the team battling in our name at this year’s IIHF World Championships in Denmark swept past South Korea by a score of 10-0. Maybe you woke up to watch the TV broadcast, but if not, and you relied on tidings from the internet, then it’s possible that you saw the victory framed as a kind of gratis Royal Caribbean vacation on the IIHF’s news-feed, where the headline over Andrew Podnieks’ report read: Canada Cruises At Korea’s Expense. A Team Canada “made up of NHLers started gently but poured it on,” he wrote. On Twitter it was deemed both a convincing and a dominant win; the Koreans were duly thrashed (Sportsnet.ca) and demolished (Hockey Night in Canada).

Was that really necessary, though? It’s the question that comes up after lopsided wins against lesser opponents, if not for those players on the ice perpetrating the lopsiding, then for some certain observers at home with an interest in sportsmanship and mercy. Could the Canadians have let up a bit yesterday — after, say, Pierre-Luc Dubois scored in the second period to make it 5-0? Or what about closing it down for the third, at the start of which Canada, ranked first among hockey nations, was leading the Southern Koreans, 18th in the world, by a score of 8-0? Wouldn’t that be a kinder way of administering a whomping?

There’s no easy answer, of course. You can’t really expect a parcel of NHL players notto do what they’re trained to do, i.e. skate and score right to the end. And in a round-robin tournament, wherein goal-difference can be a deciding factor, there’s no such thing as an excess of goals.

If you want the original written ruling on the matter, well, in fact the book that’s considered to be hockey’s very first has something to say. Arthur Farrell, a Hall-of-Fame forward, published Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game in 1899, the same year he helped the Montreal Shamrocks to the first of their two successive Stanley Cup championships. Over the course of 122 pages, Farrell waxes long and eloquent on everything from history and equipment to conditioning and tactics.

Hockey, he’ll tell you, is as salubrious an occupation as you’re going to find anywhere. “The very adhering to the rules,” he advises, “the spirit of fair play that characterizes a manly game, the overcoming of all fears and all difficulties, the modest victory, the frank acknowledgement of defeat, all tend to build up, to educate, the mental faculties, just as the long practice, the swift race, and the hard check help to develope [sic] the physical man.”

Keep fighting is advice that features, too, as in never give up. “It is a mistake,” he counsels, “to lose courage because your opponents score the first three or four goals.” Don’t start fighting, though, as in punch somebody: “Do not begin to play roughly because you are losing.”

And if you’re winning? Pour it on, Farrell counsels. “Do not purposely and ostentatiously avoid scoring against a team that has already lost, because even if a bad beating does discourage them they would rather suffer it than be humiliated by any such show of pity.”

Sound advice, I guess, though I’d maybe prefer to hear it direct from the badly beaten and downright discouraged themselves.

Were the Swedes glad to go unpitied to the tune of 12-1 when the met the Canadians at the Antwerp Olympics in 1920? What about the team they sent at Chamonix in 1924, losers to that year’s Canada by 22-0?

W.A. Hewitt was the manager of those Canadian teams, Foster’s father, and he was at the helm again in 1928 in St. Moritz when the University of Toronto Grads wore the maple leaf. Canada opened the tournament against Sweden, surging to a 4-0 first-period lead that … displeased Hewitt. The newspapers back home reported it next day: the boss “became impatient at the slow rolling up of the score.” The players calmed him down, apparently: they thought it best “to let nature take its course.”

Final score: 11-0.

Some of the Grads were still talking about the propriety of running up scores when Canada went to the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy and rolled over Austria by a score of 23-0. “It’s no credit to Canada,” opined Dr. Joe Sullivan, Grad goalie in ’28. “They shouldn’t beat these weak teams by more than ten goals.”

A teammate, centreman Hugh Plaxton, agreed. “I don’t think it does hockey any good.”

One last case study might be worth considering. Austria hosted the IIHF’s 1977 World Championships in Vienna, though they didn’t have a team in the tournament, and so didn’t have to worry about humiliations on the ice. Not so Canada. Here was a rare of instance of one of our teams finding itself at the suffering end of a rout and, with it, a chance to see how we’d react.

Canada was back at the Worlds for the first time in seven years, and this time they’d be icing a team of professionals. Not quite the front-line accumulation that had won the 1976 Canada Cup, of course: this one would be staffed by NHLers from teams that hadn’t made the playoffs, or hadn’t lasted far into them. GM Derek Holmes had marshalled Jim Rutherford and Tony Esposito for the Canadian goal, Dallas Smith and Carol Vadnais on defence. Pierre Larouche, Ron Ellis, and Rod Gilbert were up at forward along with captain Phil Esposito, who was also named as a playing assistant to coach Jimmy Wilson of the Colorado Rockies.

Phil E. stressed the need for team unity. He’d seen in 1972 what effect dissension could have on a venture like this. “We must have complete harmony if we expect to do well,” he said. The team was young and the players didn’t know one another. “The results in the first exhibition games might give some people in Canada cause for alarm, but overall, we will be all right.”

By The Banks Of The Not-So-Blue Danube: Wilf Paiement’s 1977 World Championships sweater, and the team in happier, pre-rout formation. (Image: Classic Auctions)

Things did not, shall we say, get off to an auspicious start in Europe. After a pre-tournament stop in Sweden, the Canadian played West Germany in Dusseldorf, where they won, 8-1, in a penalty-filled game, and were jeered by 10,000 fans, many of whom threw their seat-cushions on the ice when it was all over.

A report in The Globe and Mail insisted that the barrage was ironic, “mock rage that actually was a favorable reaction to the hard hitting and sometimes cheap penalties the Canadians received.” As for the German press, they reported that Phil Esposito might have been drunk.

“There they go, mistaking me for my brother Tony again,” Phil said, laughing, when he heard that. “Actually, if I had been drinking, it doesn’t say much for their hockey club.”

Of his refusal to shake hands after the game with one of the Germans, Esposito said, “I guess I do not like him. He speared me in the private parts on the first shift and it got worse from then on.”

The Canadians did peaceably dine with the Germans, post-game, I should report. Then they left for more exhibitions in Prague. “That is when it is down to serious business,” Esposito confided.

The Canadians lost both of the exhibitions they played against Czechoslovakia, 7-2 and 4-1. The Czechs paid a price, losing one of their players in the first game to a bad knee injury and another to a broken arm. “If ice hockey follows the path shown by Canadians on Saturday,” one local newspaper warned, “one can only wonder if it will survive beyond this century.”

In Austria, there was a kerfuffle regarding the IIHF’s insistence that all players wear helmets. Several Canadians complained, saying headgear gave them headaches, and the team doctor gave them medical certificates to that effect. But the IIHF wouldn’t relent. Unhappy, the Canadians still fared well enough in their opening game, beating the US 4-1. The next game didn’t go so well: the Swedes we took such care to whup through the 1920s now prevailed 4-2.

Next up, the powerful Soviet Union, winners of the two most recent Olympics as well as eight of the previous ten world championships. They had Vladislav Tretiak in the crease, and ahead of him, the likes of Alexander Yakushev, Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, and Helmut Balderis.

Final score: USSR 11, Canada 1.

And how did Canada respond to finding itself thrashed and demolished and paying for Soviet cruising?

Larouche called the winners the best team he’d ever seen. Phil Esposito was quoted calling them “a helluva hockey club.”

That’s as gracious as we got. On to self-doubt and recrimination.

“It was humiliating,” coach Wilson said.

GM Derek Holmes announced his disappointment, which was bitter.

Montreal’s Gazette topped its front page the next morning with the bad news, leading with a story that included the words worst drubbing, romped, embarrassingly easypoor sportsmanship and shoddy play in the opening two paragraphs.

“The prestige and credibility of Canadian hockey was destroyed on the banks of the not-so-blue Danube,” George Gross wrote in The Toronto Sun. In the hours that followed, politicians in Ottawa took up the cry, with Ontario NDP MP Arnold Peters calling for Canadian hockey officials to be called to face a House of Commons committee to explain why we’d sent “second-rate players” to represent us.

The Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport was in Vienna, Iona Campagnolo, and she said this wasn’t something the government would get involved in. She was concerned about the conduct of our players. “I really don’t care whether we lose 20-1 or 2-1,” she said, “as long as we do it in a fashion that portrays us as true sportsmen.”

She did think that the Austrian press was making too much fuss, and the wrong kind. “It almost looked exultant,” she said. “One of the headlines I read was Canada Executed.”

Günter Sabetzki, president of the IIHF was concerned. He suggested that plans for a 1980 Canada Cup might now have to be reviewed. “We are not at all happy with the team representing the country we all considered to be the father of hockey.”

Had they learned nothing from history? “In 1954,” he said, “when the Canadians went to Stockholm, they thought they couldn’t be beaten and they ended up losing to the Russians. They were drinking too much whisky. This Canadian representative is also lacking in conditioning. I do not know whether they are drinking too much whisky, but I have heard the reports.”

Canada did go on to post a 3-3 with the Czechs, the eventual champions. We finished fourth in the end, just behind the Soviets.

Back at the rout, Al Strachan of The Gazette was on hand to document Canada’s failure to heed Arthur Farrell’s 1899 guidance on going goon in a losing effort. Rod Gilbert “swung himself off his feet” taking a “a vicious two-handed swipe” of his stick at a passing Soviet, while Wilf Paiement “acted like a malicious buffoon” swinging his stick at, and connecting with, the head of another Soviet player. “I figured I might as well hit somebody,” he said, later, “maybe hurt somebody. I don’t know. I wanted to do anything to win.” Canada was down at the time by 8-0.

You’d think those Soviets would have shown show respect, but no, they kept on with the scoring. Having argued to avoid putting helmets on, some of the Canadian players now refused to remove them once the game was all over and the teams lined up to hear the victor’s national anthem.

Centre Walt McKechnie of the Detroit Red Wings was one such, and he later shared his reasoning. “I didn’t want to look at them,” he said. “I hate them. I don’t like their way of life. I don’t like anything about them. They stink. They’re great hockey players, you’ve got to give them that, but I hate everything about them. Am I supposed to stand there at attention when their flag is flying? Never in a million years. I’m no hypocrite.”

olympics, 1928: kanada ist das mutterland

Canada’s hockey team waltzed through the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz in Switzerland, which is to say barrelled, a.k.a. smoked all comers. They scourged Sweden 11-0 before disdaining Great Britain by 14-0 and sacking the host team 13-0. Depicted here is a scene from that last one-side game, in several different incarnations. Above is a collectible card issued, post-Olympics, by Erdal, a German shoe-polish company. With Canada is rendered as Canap under the maple leaf on his sweater, the player charging in with the beret on his head is (as best I can tell) Canadian forward Dave Trottier, a scorer of five goals against the Swiss, who went on to an 11-year NHL career, mostly with Montreal’s Maroons. Tending (i.e. stranded far from) the net is Swiss goaltender is Adolf  Martignoni. “Canada is the motherland of this game,” the caption on the back reads, in part. “Her team put on wonderful performances.”

That’s the same scene below on the card from the German cigarette company Salem, though this time the Swiss stands and their crowd have been excised and replaced by forest. Last, showing the original photograph, is another tobacco-backed card, this one from the Sociedade Industrial dos Tabacos de Angola. Venturing guesses on the other Canadians, I’d say that the tall trailer might be Hugh Plaxton (he scored five goals in the game) and (farther back) maybe Grant Gordon. Canada had three moustached members in ’28, two of whom played against the Swiss, which means that it could be Dr. Lou Hudson, too, though it looks more like Gordon.