outside chance

Lone Star: On the ice at Chamonix in France’s Haute-Savoie, a meeting of the French and Belgian national teams in January of 1922. Two years later, Chamonix would host the first official Winter Olympic hockey tournament, featuring eight teams. Canada won gold ahead of the U.S. and Great Britain. France would finish in a tie for fifth place, while the Belgians came in tied for seventh. (Image: Agence Rol, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

olympicsbound, 2022: here’s to muscle cars and america’s industrial past

Star-Spangled Nine: The U.S. team that lined up on Chamonix ice for the 1924 Olympics included (in back, from left) captain Irving Small, Willard Rice, John Lyons, Alphonse Lacroix, Taffy Abel, Frank Synott, and Justin McCarthy. Sitting, up front, are Art Langley and Herb Drury. (Image: Agence Rol, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Canada’s botanically flawed 2022 Olympic sweaters weren’t the only ones to debut this week; USA Hockey divulged the wardrobe its players will be wearing in Beijing in February, too:

As in the north, so too in the republic to the south: USA Hockey is insisting on explaining the many meanings of its design. Like Canada’s own exegesis, it’s a brave bit of nonsense. Inspired by “American pride and ingenuity,” the look “pays homage to America’s industrial past, while representing the future of innovation.”

There’s more:

In a nod to America’s symbols, a subtle band of stars is set between red, white, and blue stripes that surround the chest and arms on the home and away [sic] jerseys. Drawing inspiration from American ‘muscle cars’ and traditionally bold hockey designs, Team USA’s alternate jersey bears a deep blue double stripe running around the chest and arms.

And then there’s “the internal back neck message.” No, it’s not XL … or it’s not just XL. “‘Driven by Pride’ serves as a reminder to athletes and fans,” USA Hockey alleges, “that they are, in part, driven by the pride of competing for their country.”

While we’re nodding at American symbols, I’m going to revert to a time before internal back neck messages and conclude here with the 1924 U.S. team. That’s them at the top here, on the ice at Chamonix in France, showing off a truly superlative suite of sweaters that, as far as I’m concerned, require no further explanation.

Pride was, I will add, a souvenir of the American experience in France that year. William Haddock was president of the U.S. Amateur Hockey Association at this time, and he coached the Olympic team in that second tournament. As the U.S. had done in 1920 in Antwerp, Haddock’s charges came home with silvery second.

“While I regret that I will not be able to report a championship victory,” he said in early March of ’24, “I nevertheless can say that I felt very proud of the team, which won all of its matches until it met our neighbors, the Canadians, and they only lost after a magnificent battle which was more closely contested than the score would indicate. I believe that our boys, as individuals, proved themselves every bit the equal of the Canadian players, but the Canadians had the advantage in having played together longer and therefore were superior in team play.”

The score indicated was 6-1 and while I’m not able to adjudicate on the closeness of the contest, I can report that Beattie Ramsay, who played on Canada’s defence in that game, did report at the time that the U.S. didn’t worry the Canadians so much.

Back home in late February, he unpacked an immaculate ingot of Canadian pride to tell a Saskatchewan newspaper that the Americans had tried to impede Canada “by rough work.” There had a row before the final over who should referee: both Haddock and his Canadian counterpart, W.A. Hewitt fretted that a European wouldn’t be up to the task. In the end, they’d settled on Paul Loicq, the Belgian lawyer and Continental hockey pioneer who’d played for his country at the 1920 games and had recently been elected president of the International Hockey Union, forerunner of the IIHF.

Beattie Ramsay, for one, wasn’t impressed by Loicq’s umpiring. “With an efficient referee, he declares, Canada could have won the final game by 20 goals. As it was, it was poor hockey.”

Ramsay did pick out a pair of Americans for praise, defencemen Herb Drury and Taffy Abel. Both went on to play in the NHL, Drury for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Abel as both a Ranger in New York and Black Hawk in Chicago.

In goal for the U.S. in 1924 was Alphonse “Frenchy” Lacroix, who would, a year hence, step into the breach in Montreal when the illustrious Canadiens’ career of goaltender Georges Vézina came to an abrupt end with the onset of his final illness.

 

 

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)

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.”