It was the New York teams battling it out, Rangers versus Americans, that Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, December 16, 1937, with the visiting team prevailing by a score of 2-0 — which is to say, the Rangers. “A speedy, well-played contest that was packed with action,” is how The New York Times accounted for it. Ching Johnson was playing his first game as an American on this night, after 11 years a Ranger, and he almost scored. Dave Kerr is the Ranger goaltender at the centre of things here, covering up to stymie the Amerks’ John Gallagher. Kerr, who was 27 at the time, with a Stanley Cup and a Vézina Trophy both still in his future, died at the age of 68 on a Thursday of this date in 1978. Just a few months after this smothering, he’d become just the second hockey player to grace the cover of Time magazine. Also in the frame? Arriving late are Rangers Lynn Patrick (9) and Ott Heller (3), with Sweeney Schriner (11) of the Americans following up with Art Coulter. Tussling in front: Cecil Dillon of the Rangers and the Americans’ Hap Emms, the latter in his only shift of the game. According to the Times, Toronto manager Conn Smythe was in the house this night, and at the end of the game he offered Lester Patrick the sum of $20,000 if the Ranger boss would sell son Lynn to the Leafs. The answer was a no.
“General opinion in these parts is that NHL governors should be herded to the saliva box if they fail to name Montreal’s master craftsman Jean Béliveau for the new Conn Smythe Trophy and the loot that goes with it.” Easy (if not entirely sanitary) for columnist Vern DeGeer to write, as he did in the Montreal Gazette on a Saturday of this same date in 1965 ahead of the game that would decide the winner of that year’s Stanley Cup. By the time it was over, the hometown Canadiens had dismissed the Chicago Black Hawks by a score of 4-0 to win the seven-game series and claim the 13thCup in franchise history. Sure enough, when NHL president Clarence Campbell stepped up to announce the winner of the inaugural Conn Smythe, recognizing the playoff MVP, it was the Montreal captain’s name he spoke. Fifty-five years ago tonight, Béliveau, who was 33, won the handsome new trophy and its accompanying loot of $2,000 (about $16,000 in 2020 dollars), half of which was awarded by the NHL, half by the Canadiens.
It’s true that Chicago’s Bobby Hull had been in the Conn conversation, earlier in the series, when there were also fleeting mentions that Montreal defenceman J.C. Tremblay deserved a chance. Hull did end up as the playoff scoring leader, gathering ten goals and 17 points in 14 games to Béliveau’s eight and 16 in 13 games. The Montreal captain’s showing in the latter days of April sealed the deal: he recorded two goals, including the winner, as well as a pair of assists in Montreal’s 6-0 game-five win. May 1 he again scored the game-winner, and later added an exclamatory assist.
If nobody really disputed Béliveau’s worthiness, there was a brief hue and cry in the days leading up to the decision. The new trophy, which cost $2,300, had been donated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in honour of their influential president, coach, and manager, who was also an honorary NHL governor. While NHL’s other individual awards were decided by a poll of sportswriters, by Smythe’s own request it was decreed that the winner of the new award would be annually voted by the league’s governors.
There were six of them, at the time, august names all, adorned with initials to prove it. From Toronto there was C. Stafford Smythe, Conn’s son; Bruce A. Norris stood for Detroit while his half-brother, James D. Norris, represented Chicago. The New York Rangers had William M. Jennings. Weston W. Adams was Boston’s man, and from Montreal it was J. David Molson.
The arrangement was this: at the conclusion of the final game of the finals, the jurors would file their ballots with Clarence Campbell and he would duly announce the winner. I’ve seen a single reference suggesting that the governors would decide on a shortlist of three names before they did their voting, with points awarded on a 5-3-1 basis, but I don’t know whether that’s how they actually proceeded, in ’65 or the years that followed — there’s no public record that I can find of finalists or voting tallies.
The hue that was cried was, mostly, Jim Vipond’s. Another leading columnist of the day, he was sports editor at the Globe and Mail, wherein he lit a small rocket on Thursday, April 29, 1965, under the headline “Smythe Trophy Vote a Farce.”
His issue? Three of the NHL governors — Boston’s Adams, New York’s Jennings, and Norris of Detroit — hadn’t attended a single game of the final round. Chicago’s Norris and Montreal’s Molson had been at all five games to that point; Toronto’s Smythe had seen four.
“Each absentee delegated authority to an executive member of his organization who is probably more qualified than his boss,” Vipond allowed. “But this was not the intent nor the meaning of the terms of reference.”
“The missing governors are at fault on at least two counts. First, they should have been in attendance out of respect for the man after whom the trophy was named. Second, this is the world series of what they loudly refer to as major league sport. By their absence they depreciate the league they represent.”
“Considerable thought was given to the method of selecting the winner. Managers, coaches, and newspapers all were rejected.
“Obviously the system in use is a poor one and if the governors are really interested in advancement of hockey they should consider a better scheme before next year.”
Vipond liked an idea floated by Ron Andrews, the NHL’s publicity man and chief statistician. “It is his proposal that the league invite six former players, one from each team and stars in their own day, to attend the playoff as guests of the NHL. There would be three at each game of the semi-finals, will all six at all games of the finals. They would cast a ballot after each game with the league president counting the votes at the end of the series.”
“That would produce a worthy winner and would be far better than a remote control system operating out of Florida or some other place far removed from playoff action.”
I don’t know how the governors reacted to Vipond’s reproach — or if the three absentees were sufficiently stung to fly in to see the final game of the series. There was no official response, and no change to the system.
That didn’t come for another six years. Since 1971, the winner of the Conn Smythe has been voted by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. They picked Montreal’s goaltender, Ken Dryden, that spring, after his Canadiens won their 17th Cup. By then, the league loot accompanying the Conn Smythe seems to have grown to $1,500 (about $10,000 in today’s money). And while I’m not clear whether Canadiens were matching that figure, it is the case that Sportmagazine stepped up to give him a car for his efforts.
For Béliveau, the 1971 Cup was the tenth and final one he won as a player: he announced his retirement later that summer.
Comeback Kids: It was on a Saturday night of this date in 1942 — all those 78 years ago — that the Toronto Maple Leafs capsized the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup in seven games. Pete Langelle’s goal was the winner on April 18, a 3-1 affair at Maple Leaf Gardens that capped as famous a playoff turnaround as you’ll find: after losing the first three games of the series, the Leafs roared back to win four straight. Captain Syl Apps, seen here with hefting his championship luggage, was pleased, as was Leafs’ panjandrum Conn Smythe, who rewarded his players with ten-karat golden coins —winger Hank Goldup’s is here below — that would get them in the door at the Gardens for the rest of their lives.
(Top image: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 78887; bottom image: Classic Auctions)
It was on a Sunday of this date in 1939 that the Boston Bruins upended the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 3-1 at Boston Garden to win their second Stanley Cup, with Roy Conacher scored the winning goal to wrap up the best-of-seven series 4 to 1. “The scenes following the sounding of the final bell almost beggar description,” Victor Jones wrote in his dispatch for the Boston Globe. “Conny Smythe hopped the dasher and ran over to congratulate Arthur H. Ross, while the players shook hands all around, firecrackers rent the air, fans screamed and shouted, while the band broke in to ‘Paree.’” NHL president Frank Calder presented the Cup to Ross, who handed it to captain Cooney Weiland. “The trophy was lugged off to the Bruins’ dressing room,” Jones went on, “where Sam Simon, the Garden concessionaire, lost no time in filling it and refilling it and refilling it with the finest vintage champagne.” This image of that night doesn’t catch any of that, unfortunately. Standing from left to right are goaltender Frank Brimsek, Jack Crawford, Eddie Shore, and (on the other side) Jack Portland, and Ray Getliffe. Arrayed in front, from the right, are Conacher, Mel Hill, Charlie Sands, Cooney Weiland, Woody Dumart, Bobby Bauer, Dit Clapper, and Bill Cowley. Down in front that’s a single-skated Milt Schmidt alongside Gord Pettinger and Flash Hollett.
(Top image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
Hockey history remembers him by his nickname, Flash, but he was Frank William Hollett — or just Bill — from his earliest days, which got underway on a Thursday of this date in 1911 in North Sydney, Nova Scotia. Hollett later recalled learning to skate on the local harbour ice in Cape Breton. His father, Frederick Hollett, was a fisherman who died of Spanish flu in another pandemic, whereupon his mother, Lena, moved her six children to Toronto’s west end.
In 1932, as a 21-year-old, Hollett signed to play professional lacrosse for the ball-slinging version of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a new league that collapsed before a single game was played. He made his debut with the puck-slapping Leafs a year later, when he was called up to replace a suspended Red Horner in the grim aftermath of Ace Bailey’s career-ending injury. Hollett notched a goal and an assist in his debut, and after spending the following year on loan to the Ottawa Senators, returned to the lead the Leaf backline in scoring in 1934-35, a year in which only Boston veteran Eddie Shore had more points among NHL defencemen.
When Hollett started slowly the next season out, chief Leaf and affirmed knave Conn Smythe blamed it on Hollett’s having married over the summer. A contract dispute and a wrist injury didn’t help Smythe’s view of his young defenceman, and in early 1936 the Leafs sold Hollett to the Boston Bruins for $16,000.
A “brilliant young player,” the Boston Globe crowed, by way of introducing Hollett to Bruins’ fans, “who, by his color, has earned the nicknames of ‘Flash,’ ‘Headline,’ and ‘Busher,’ but prefers ‘Flash’ himself.” He played nine seasons with Boston, piling up the points along the way. The two Stanley Cups he helped the Bruins win included the 1939 edition, when Hollett scored the final goal of the series that saw his new team defeat his old, the Maple Leafs. In 1941-42, Hollett set a new NHL record for goals by a defenceman when he scored 19, surpassing the 18 Harry Cameron had registered two years running for the Toronto St. Patricks in 1920-21 and ’21-22.
Hollett scored 19 again the following year before getting to 20 in 1944-45. That record stood for 24 years: no defenceman scored more in a season until Boston’s Bobby Orr got 21 in 1968-69. That record-breaking year, ’44-45, Hollett was playing for Detroit, where he captained the team and was named to the NHL’s First All-Star Team. After retiring at 35 from the NHL in 1946, he returned to the ice as an amateur, joining the OHA senior Toronto Marlboros, with whom he’d win an Allan Cup national championship in 1950. Flash Hollett did this month in 1999. He was 88.
(Top image: © Arthur Griffin Courtesy of the Griffin Museum of Photography. Photograph may not be reproduced in any form per the copyright holder. All rights reserved. Bottom: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
Andy Aitkenhead was born on a Sunday of this date in 1904 in Glasgow in Scotland, though Saskatchewan is where he grew up and learned the goaling trade. As a young man in the 1920s in Saskatoon, he worked the nets for teams called Quakers, Nationals, Empires, and Sheiks, catching the attention, eventually, of Lester Patrick in New York, who signed him up for the Rangers. He seasoned two years in Portland, Oregon, before graduating to the NHL — that’s him here in his PCHL Buckaroos raiment. The glad news is that as a 28-year-old rookie Aitkenhead backstopped the Blueshirts to their second Stanley Cup to finish up the 1932-33 campaign, working all 48 of the team’s regular-season games and a further eight in the playoffs, winning 29 of those 56 encounters.
He didn’t miss a game the following year, either, despite suffering a nervous breakdown this month in 1934. Details of just what happened aren’t easy to discern from contemporary reports, though the newspapers of the day were all too pleased to blithely bandy the goaltender’s mental health across their columns. “Andy Aitkenhead’s nervous system has broken under the strain of National League hockey,” Vancouver’s Province reported mid-March as the Rangers prepared to start the playoffs and the defence of their title. Patrick denied it, even as he scrambled to find an emergency replacement. Heading into their final regular-season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Rangers had lost six of their previous ten games; “Andy hasn’t been going so well lately” is as much as the manager would say. As Patrick sought permission from the NHL to bring in Alec Connell, the recently retired veteran of nine NHL campaigns, the newspapers cast their headlines across the continent:
New York Rangers’ Goalie / Suffers Attack of ‘Jitters’ (Edmonton Journal)
Andy Aitkenhead Suffers / From Nervous Breakdown (Boston Globe)
Aitkenhead Out of Game (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix)
Maple Leafs’ manager Conn Smythe thought it was all a, well, con, a case of Patrick trying to bend the rules and acquire a new goaltender after the NHL trade deadline had passed. “Nobody in all the world of sport can do such utterly unthinkable things except that doggone Lester,” Smythe brayed from Toronto. “He excites my admiration damn near every time he moves, and he moves frequently.”
As it turned out, Connell couldn’t get away — he had a regular job, as secretary of the Ottawa Fire Department. Aitkenhead was back in net for the Toronto game, and while the Rangers lost, 3-2, he stopped 41 shots while inspiring a brighter set of headlines in the days that followed:
Andy’s Jitters Not Permanent (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)
Aitkenhead Is Recovering (Winnipeg Tribune)
Andy Aitkenhead Beating Nerves (Edmonton Journal)
“Aitkenhead’s display lessened somewhat Patrick’s anxiety for the youngster,” the wires reported, “that examination by doctors had caused. Letters from the doctors said Aitkenhead’s reflexes revealed a high degree of nervousness although a physical examination failed to disclose any organic weakness. Encouragement was offered by the statement it might be a passing condition curable by rest.”
And that was pretty much it. Paul Gallico weighed in with a jolly column in the New York Daily News, but mostly,the discussion of Aitkenhead’s well-being sank away out of the news.
As for rest, he didn’t get much that March, starting both of New York’s playoff games later that same week. In a series to be decided by total goals, he and his Maroons’ counterpart Dave Kerr shared in allowing not a one in the first game in Montreal: the Daily News reported that, “though highly keyed up,” Aitkenhead was “magnificent” in stopping 26 shots to guarantee that the game ended 0-0 — while also commending his “coolness.” Five days later, when the teams met again at Madison Square Garden, the Maroons eliminated the Rangers with a 2-1 win secured by a third-period goal by Earl Robinson.
Andy Aitkenhead’s goaltending career had another six years to run, though he only ever played 10 more games in the NHL. The Rangers stumbled out of the gate to start the 1934-35, and they were a dismal 3-7 in December when the Rangers bought Dave Kerr from the Maroons and sent Aitkenhead packing. “I am far from satisfied that the fault was all Andy’s,” Lester Patrick said. “However, when a goalie lest as many get by him as Andy did, you know what happens. All I can say is, I’m sorry.”
Aitkenhead found his way back to the Buckaroos’ net in PCHL Portland, and he played there through to 1941. That’s where he stayed settled, too, after his retirement. Andy Aitkenhead died at the age of 64 in 1968.
(Top image: Oregonian/Barcroft Studios. Oregon Journal; Lot 1368; Box 371; 0371N013)
Born in Winnipeg on a Wednesday of this date in 1927, Jim Thomson was starting his 12thseason working the Toronto Maple Leafs blueline when he was named captain of the team in the fall of 1956. At 30, he was a four-time Stanley Cup-winner by then, and twice he’d been named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team. Coach Howie Meeker recommended his promotion to the captaincy ahead of the new season, succeeding Sid Smith. “This being a young team,” Meeker wrote to Leafs’ supremo Conn Smythe, “I think more than ever we should have a captain who can set an example on and off the ice for the kids.” Thomson had proved himself to be the Leafs’ best defenceman at training camp, the coach continued. And: “He is the only one of the possible captain candidates working for the honour on and off the ice.”
And so it was that Thomson, pictured here with his wife, June, proudly showing off his C’d sweater, took up as the Leafs’ on-ice leader. The season, unfortunately, didn’t go so well: the team stumbled from the start, and ended up out of the playoffs. By time it was all over, Smythe had accepted responsibility for what he called “a year of failure” — while summarily axing Meeker and long-serving GM Hap Day. As for Thomson, he signed on during the season as secretary for and Leafs’ representative to Ted Lindsay’s fledgling players’ association. When the players went public in February of 1957, Thomson soon found out what his boss thought of the whole business. Benched and stripped of his captaincy, Thomson was soon sold into exile, joining Lindsay and others on the NHL’s island of Broken Toys, a.k.a. the Chicago Black Hawks. “I find it very difficult to imagine,” Smythe railed, “that the captain of my club should find time during the hockey season to influence young hockey players to join an association that has no specific plans to benefit or improve hockey.”
Thomson played a year for the Black Hawks for he hung up his skates in 1958. He died in 1991 at the age of 64.
Born in Penetanguishene, Ontario, on this date in 1894 — it was a Friday there, then — Bertram Orion Corbeau was better known in his hockey-playing years as just plain Bert, as well as by his distinctive nickname: Pig Iron. His mother was Fanny; his father, Francois, made a busy living as a carriage-maker, undertaker, and furniture-store owner, and later, in the 1920s, served as mayor of Penetanguishene. A defenceman whose adjectives included sturdy (1916), husky, and blond backwoodsman (both dating to 1917), Bert Corbeau signed with the NHA Canadiens in 1914, helping Montreal win a Stanley Cup in ’16. He worked the Canadiens’ blueline in the team’s earliest NHL years, before Montreal sold him to the Hamilton Tigers ahead of the 1922-23 season. Traded the following year to the St. Patricks, he played his final four NHL seasons in Toronto. It’s a dubious distinction, but noteworthy all the same: in 1925-26 he became the first player in NHL history to amass more than 100 penalty minutes in a single season (he finished with 125 that year, just ahead of Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons, who had 121.)
Corbeau went on to serve as an NHL referee and, subsequently, as a minor-league coach in Ontario and with Atlantic City of the Eastern U.S. Hockey League. Bert Corbeau drowned at the age of 48 in September of 1942 when the 75-foot launch he owned and was piloting in the waters of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron capsized. Vern DeGeer remembered him in the pages of The Globe and Mail the day after the shocking accident, in which a total of 25 men died. “Although the barrel-chested, sandy-haired son of Penetanguishene was one of the roughest and toughest of the men of iron that jolted and jarred their way through major pro puck competition in the gory era of the sport,” DeGeer wrote, “Corbeau was a thoroughbred campaigner. Friend and foe respected the raw courage of the man.”