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 I didn’t make this up, though someone else did, possibly Paula Nichols, a senior editor of Olympic and Historical Content for the COC, who’s bylined on the post.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 ourteams 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 ant 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.

olden golden

Hockey’s first Olympics were the summer games in Antwerp in April of 1920, where the Winnipeg Falcons represented Canada, and won on our behalf. That March, The Toronto Star advised that the team would be sporting “jerseys instead of sweaters, as the weather will be too warm for the latter.” The colour — I’ve described that before as queasy mustard, though I believe that on the Pantone spectrum it may more of a goldenrod or a gamboge. In 1920, the Star described it as old gold, which has a distinguished ring to it and, just maybe, helped the team recall what they’d come to Belgium for.

Subsequent Olympics were winter affairs, starting in 1924 in Chamonix. The Canadians, Torontonians this time, also came for and retrieved the gold, though they were sweatered in white this time. That gets us to 1928 and St. Moritz. The University of Toronto’s Varsity Grads were on call in Switzerland for that one, captained by defenceman Red Porter, here above. Canada was again golden, carrying off the silver Olympic hockey trophy seen here in tidy fashion: three games, three wins, 38 goals for, none against. The Grads wore white for the occasion, despite the fanciful tinting in this contemporary newspaper illustration. I’m not so confident classifying the colouring here — candle glow, would you call it, or lemon curry?

confident canada

ccld_fdwiaatkrp

Paul Henderson was there last night in Toronto on the eve of the World Cup, and that was meet and right, probably, because it’s September and as the temperatures starts to drop and hockey fires up, Canadian self-regard hits its peak.

That’s what happened, of course, this month in 1972, and while we’ve never before been quite as filled with hockey hubris as we were that famous year, we have been Septemberly sure of ourselves ahead of the 1976 and 1987 Canada Cups, and going into 1996’s inaugural World Cup. The United States won that last one, of course, but that doesn’t really change a thing: before it all started, we were pretty sure that there was no way anyone could beat us.

This year’s World Cup, which begins today, pits six of the world’s top hockey nations against one another and — well, there are those two “concept teams,” too, Europe and the U-23 North Americas, all battling for the title of the world’s best hockey nation, and/or continent and/or age group.

Is Canada favoured to win? Canada is. Not that there aren’t those who believe that the youth and speed of Connor McDavid’s North Americans might surprise everyone. And not that the Canadian team is proclaiming its superiority — not for public consumption, anyway. “I didn’t know we were the favourite,” defenceman Shea Weber told Ken Campbell from The Hockey News this week. “I think we all think we’re going to win,” coach Mike Babcock was saying, which sounds kind of cocky without the context — he was talking about all the teams in the tournament rather than all the players in his dressing room.

The headline atop another Mirtle story in the morning’s Globe and Mail is one they store in a drawer in the newspaper’s composing room, ready for times like these, ahead of international hockey tournaments:

Canada full of confidence

 It’s not just that we’re playing at home, although that is, of course, to Canada’s advantage. No, this is mostly a question of our ongoing dominance on the ice, not least at successive Olympics. “This is a roster of Canadian players that, as a group,” Mirtle writes, “have become this country’s golden generation, and they largely only know winning at best-on-best events.”

Ken Campbell cites the “ridiculous” success that the 23 players on Canada’s roster bring to the table: between them, they’ve won 14 Stanley Cups, 21 Olympic gold medals, 15 World Championship gold medals, and 17 World Junior Championship gold medals. “It should come as no surprise,” Campbell writes, “that Canada is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament … It would be a major shock to see anyone other than the Canadians holding up the ugliest trophy in the history of sports once the tournament ends.

“How exactly does Team Canada not win the World Cup of Hockey?” Steve Simmons wonders in The Toronto Sun.

“Only two things can really beat Canada in this tournament. One, is Canada. The other is a red-hot opposing goalie. And the belief here is that neither of those are likely to happen.”

The European coach is Ralph Krueger who, born in Winnipeg, isn’t actually European. Nevertheless, he’s on a similar page. “It’ll take a magical day,” he said this week. “It’ll take a world-class goaltending performance.”

There are other pages, of course.

The Finns are said to be … well, they’re also confident. “We know that we can beat anybody if we manage to do our own things and play as best as we can,” a bright young forward, Patrik Laine, told the Canadian Press. “I think we can even win this tournament. I’m not afraid to say that.”

Canadian Blue: Belleville's McFarlands wore a blue leaf (and petiole) to the 1959 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia. (Photo: Classic Auctions)

Canadian Blue: Belleville’s McFarlands wore a blue leaf (and petiole) to the 1959 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia. (Photo: Classic Auctions)

Some Americans feel the same way. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty’s idea that Team USA can win is based on teammate Patrick Kane: “I feels he’s the best player in the game,” he told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

Kane himself? “We know that, hey, it’s time right now to get the job done,” he said. “Who knows how many opportunities there will be for a lot of us in the future to play for Team USA. This group is probably at its peak right now, this group that has been together for the last six years. We want to make sure it’s our time to get it done.”

The Czech Republic plays the home team in tonight’s opening game. Frank Seravalli talked to forward Jakub Voracek about the game this morning and heard him scoff “at the notion that his underdog team was taking on an unbeatable juggernaut.”

“We’re not going to war 10 guys against 100,” Voracek said. “We’re going to play a hockey game, start at 0-0.”

•••

Any other factors that might play into Canada’s chances over the next ten days? I wrote in 2010 that, historically, Canadian teams going abroad to seek hockey dominance did best when (1) they travelled by ship; (2) at least one player on the roster was, in name or spirit, a Bobby; (3) the maple leaf they wore upon their sweaters was depicted with its stalk — its petiole, to use the botanical term — intact.

I didn’t invent this formula, I just looked at the facts. It was the maple leaf that was my biggest concern for our team’s chances going into the Vancouver Olympics due to a change in the look of the maple leaf adorning Canadian sweaters that year. I was worried because (a) an anatomically messed-up maple leaf doesn’t look right and is (b) possibly unpatriotic not to mention (c) why was it necessary to be fiddling with the maple leaf as well as (d) was there a risk that its very redesigned ugliness might somehow jinx our team and jeopardize our chances and (e) why would anyone think that it was worth risking years of Canadian hockey glory for this?

Leaf enthusiasts will say that the petiole has no bearing on a hockey team’s performance on the ice. Botanists, I mean there — although Maple Leaf enthusiasts in Toronto could argue the very same thing.

Another thing, too: we won in 2010, stalkless leaves and all, and in 2014 it happened again, at the Sochi Olympics, with a new Canadian logo featuring a newly designed incomplete new maple leaf.

Is too late to love those Sochi sweaters and wish we had them back? Because the World Cup is, of course, a merchandising opportunity as much as it’s anything else (and maybe more), there were always going to be new sweaters to sell. This year’s maple leaf lacks both stalk and charm. It’s too angular, looks out-of-true. The Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor thinks it looks like “a bleached marijuana plant,” but I don’t know. That would suggest that it once had some life in it.

It could be worse. The sweaters that the players from Team Europe and Team North America are wearing are each, in their own way, hideously bland — worse than anything I’ve seen in my laser-tag rec league, to borrow someone’s quip from Twitter. It’s not just that they’re generic, it looks like whoever designed them didn’t care how they turned out because it didn’t matter, so long as Connor McDavid would be putting one on, mobilizing shoppers across his home and native continent and beyond.

Old Foliage: Guy Charron's Canada sweater worn at the 1977 World Championships.

Old Foliage: Guy Charron’s Canada sweater worn at the 1977 World Championships in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: Classic Auctions)

winterspiele 1936: wet snow and salutes by the trillion

map 36

The Finns said they were out, sorry, apologies, but they wouldn’t be playing in the hockey tournament because (and I quote) ice hockey sport is too young in Finland to venture upon powerful international tryouts. This was a week or two before the Olympics were due to open in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, if not quite the eleventh hour then maybe the tenth.

The Americans were still in London at this point, losing an exhibition game to Streatham by a score of 8-4.

The Canadians, having played their single European exhibition in Paris, headed on for Germany.

The Germans had Rudi Ball back in their team, a dynamic forward, their best player, who happened to be Jewish, and had left the country for Paris and Milan after Adolf Hitler came to power. He’d been persuaded to return by the Reich sports leader, Captain Hans von Tschammer und Osten.

Ball was scoring goals in Germany’s exhibition games in January; Captain von Tschammer und Osten was no doubt busily involved with all the last-minute Olympic preparations being reported daily in North American newspapers. Germans planning to attend events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen were being told they should go in civvies, for example: “Because the games are primarily international athletic competitions, it is the wish that spectators wear sport clothes and not uniforms.” Also: local restaurants, cafés and hotel bars could stay open until 6 a.m. for the duration of the Games.

Oh, and from Munich came word that the city was at last ready to comply with a government order to remove all “Jews Not Wanted” signs from public spaces. They’d been cleared from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and elsewhere for a while, but stubborn Munich had been holding out.

gpThe weather in Bavaria was balmy, and while there was plenty of snow on the mountains above the town, and Lake Riesser was still frozen, the bobsled run was closed, leaving (the Associated Press reported) the world’s “bulky bobbers” with nothing “to do except eat their usual five square meals daily.”

Italy was looking forward to the next Olympics, declaring their bid and the hope that the world would gather in 1940 in beautiful Cortina d’Ampezzo.

The U.S. played in Paris, where a team of French-Canadians beat them 6-2. They did better in Brussels two nights later, dismissing the Etoile du Nord by a score of 9-5.

From Canada, the news was that Pud Kitchen was a dandy, and that Dinty Moore and Hugh Farquharson were decided assets. Albert Pudas was the source of the praise, the Canadian coach, writing about his team in a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Port Arthur News-Chronicle. “Ken Farmer,” he added, “says he is the best hockey player in Canada, except Hooley Smith. That is a great spirit to have.”

As opposed, I guess, to the not-so-great version that, according to Phil Drackett, Canadian captain Herman Murray possessed. No-one was reporting this at the time: it was 1992 before Phil Drackett published Vendetta On Ice, a history of hockey at the German Olympics, in which he gives us a Murray who’s gruff and somewhat dour (Ken Farmer’s view) and a troublemaker (Albert Pudas’).

Vendetta On Ice is a distinctly British view of the tournament, if I can mention that without impugning the author’s honour, or suggesting any outward hostility towards Canadians and their interests. Drackett says that Murray had a notoriously bad temper and a nickname to commemorate it: Needles. Unless it was Dave Neville who was Needles: he was, after all, tall and thin. Drackett does say that Alex Sinclair and Malcolm Cochran agreed with Pudas about Murray, and quotes another source to the effect that he, Murray, liked to fight, and reports that in the Canadians exhibition in Paris he got very irked when the local scoreboard styled the visiting team as “Port Arthur” instead of “Canada” — he was, you’ll recall, one of the Montreal Royals who’d been added to the corps of Bearcats — and that when teammate Bill Thomson told not to worry about it, Murray thought it might be worthwhile to fight him and the team’s trainer (also a Port Arthur man), Scotty Stewart.

If that’s true, it does make you wonder how Pudas and Cochran came to name Murray to the captaincy in the first place. And was it just too late to make a change in Paris, if/when the captain started beating up teammates and support staff?

January was about to turn to February. Other breaking news of the day included reporting that the German government, via their embassy in Tokyo, was demanding that Japanese publications cease from caricaturing Chancellor Adolf Hitler in print, given that he was a national leader rather than a politician and therefore, by rights, owed immunity from lampooning.

The Japanese, for their part, voiced their annoyance at a recent speech of Hitler’s in which he’d mentioned (as The New York Times reported it) the right of Europeans to rule coloured peoples. A spokesman from the Japanese Foreign Office said he wasn’t entirely sure in what capacity Hitler was speaking,

but that his ideas, as reported, were offensive to the Japanese, who did not believe it was their destiny to be ruled by whites. Such utterances, he said, made it difficult to persuade Japanese newspapers to regard Hitler as exempt from the criticism to which politicians exposed themselves.

trillions

The week Hitler’s regime entered its fourth year, an industrious writer for an American wire service did some quick calculations.

January 30 marked the third anniversary of the Nazis having come to power, and there were more speeches in Germany to mark the occasion. Hans Frank, minister without portfolio, said, “We do not care what the world says about our Jewish legislation.” Nazi law, he explained, took account of five cardinal factors: blood, soil, honour, labour, and the will to defend.

At a Berlin festival attended by 26,000 soldiers, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels got things going by declaring how proud he was that the capital was a German city now, free of Jews and Marxists. “You, my storm troop comrades,” Hitler said, “are the guarantors of the future.”

German roller-skate authorities announced, meanwhile, that it looked like plans for adding roller hockey to the schedule at the forthcoming Berlin Summer Olympics were going ahead.

The weather in Garmisch-Partenkirchen turned wet. Snow was falling in town, but it was a slushy stuff, and the bobsledders were still only feeding, and the speedskaters couldn’t practice.

Back home, Ottawa had its claim on in for coldest place in Eastern Canada, at -16. Governor-General Lord Tweedsmuir was taking advantage of the weather, heading out into the snowy capital to pursue his newest passion: cross-country skiing. While Lady Tweedsmuir took a sleigh-ride, His Excellency undertook a brief but strenuous expedition with Colonel J.T. Thomson, Dominion franchise commissioner.

It was only a week or two since the Tweedsmuirs had witnessed their first Canadian hockey game, in Ottawa, when the Senators beat the Montreal Victorias. The Governor-General had been impressed, reported The Montreal Gazette, smiling and applauding warmly, sitting throughout the game without a hat.

The Americans arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. They were tired. Their lacklustrous showing in the exhibition games they’d played since arriving in Europe had (1) allayed the fears of Canadian observers and (2) caused disquiet among American fans and officials.

Finland’s withdrawal left 15 teams, organized into four preliminary-round groups:

Group A: Canada, Austria, Poland, Latvia
Group B: Germany, USA, Italy, Switzerland
Group C: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, France, Belgium
Group D: Great Britain, Sweden, Japan

The two best teams in each group — eight nations — would qualify for the semi-final round, explained The Ottawa Journal to readers in mid-January. Two teams from each of those groups (for a total of four) would then advance to the final round, wherein a winner and three runners-up would be determined.

Canada’s first game was slated for Thursday, February 6: right after the opening ceremonies, they’d lace up for a meeting with Poland.

looming

Weeks before the Canadians arrived in Germany, The Globe and other Canadian papers ran this strangely gloomy illustration.

The Americans said they were due to give their northern neighbours a surprise in the hockey tournament. Some Americans did. Boston’s Daily Globe called the Canadians strongly favoured. Olympic previews published back home in the Hope, Arkansas Star, for instance, noted that while the U.S, team was the only one likely to give the Canadians a run for their money, they weren’t exactly lighting up the continent.

Still, Canadians were wary of them. They did have a Canadian-born goaltender, after all, in Tom Moone, and their best forward, Frank Shaughnessy, had been captain of the McGill University team before graduating to star for the Montreal Victorias. “The pre-game dope,” said The Ottawa Citizen, had the U.S. “figured to give the Canadians their stiffest argument.” They would prove, others opined, Canada’s most dangerous foe. No to worry too much, of course: “The feeling exists, however, that they will protect the Dominion’s hockey supremacy at Garmisch-Partenkirchen with plenty to spare.”

The Globe was assuring its readers, too. “There never was need for great concern over Canada’s chances in Olympic hockey.”

The Ottawa Journal was picking Canada and the U.S. to make the final four along with Germany and either Sweden or Switzerland.

J.F. Fitzgerald from The Toronto Telegram was looking at the U.S. to come in third, with the Great Britain or Switzerland in second. The British, of course, had so many Canadian-trained players among them that they were more or less a second Dominion squad, which was why it would be nice to see Canada and Great Britain to run one-two.

Erwin Schwangart was on the ground for The Globe, and on the eve of the Games getting going, he talked to several Canadians about how they thought the hockey tournament might unfold. One of these was Canadian baking mogul W. Garfield Weston, who’d made the journey over from London where he was working; another was Val Hoffinger, who’d grown up in Saskatchewan and played a bit for the Chicago Black Hawks in the late ’20s.

“Hoffinger gave Canada the nod for first place by a wide margin,” Schwangart reported two days before the Olympics opened. A generous opinion, given that Hoffinger was coaching the home team, Germany.

He’d been working hard to prepare his team of fourteen players, most of whom he’d had together for six weeks. Hoffinger had put together a second team, strengthened with four Canadians, to test Rudi Ball and the rest of his charges. Hoffinger didn’t think much of the Americans: he looked to the Swiss and the British to be battling for second.

A funny thing, European hockey. “Very noticeable,” Erwin Schwangart was writing in The Globe, “is the complete absence of bodychecking.”

Hoffinger explained that this came as a consequence of the refusal of the attacking players to penetrate the defence from close range. They favour a big swerve toward the corners. Watching some of the practices I could conceive easily that he is trying to teach the boys how to shift but it seems to be rather hard for the players to accomplish this, as they are not natural players, but just play according to teaching. They, just as the rest of the European players, have a tendency to grab their opponent’s stick.

King Gustav stopped by in Berlin to visit with Hitler. The Swedish monarch was on his way to the French Riviera for a winter break. With the German chancellor preparing for his departure for Bavaria, I suppose it’s possible that the two of them talked some winter sports, maybe even some hockey. Though nobody was expecting too much from the Swedes, even though they, too, had a Canadian coach — Vic Lindquist, from Winnipeg, who’d won a gold medal playing for Canada at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid.

Nazis said later — some Nazis — that it wasn’t until Hitler’s train pulled into the station at Garmisch-Partenkirchen that the serious snow began to fall, but in fact the winter weather arrived before the Reichskanzler. Monday, February 3, was when temperature dropped and thick snow mantled the town. Even the sulking bobsledders emerged, said The Daily Boston Globe.

h arrives

Snow Train Coming: Adolf Hitler arrives in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on February 6, 1936.