on a night like this, in 1918: montreal 11, toronto 2

Tor Stars: The Toronto Hockey Club, as it lined up in January of 1918. Back row, left to right: Harry Cameron, Alf Skinner, coach Dick Carroll, Harry Mummery, Reg Noble, captain Ken Randall. Front: Hap Holmes, Harry Meeking, coach Charlie Querrie, Corb Denneny, Sammy Hebert.

Toronto’s latter-day Leafs are feeling fine, having handily beaten New York Islanders and Rangers on Wednesday and Thursday this week to strengthen both their confidence and the chances that they’ll be playing playoff hockey in a couple of months.

Would it be muddying the mood if we were to cast back a hundred years to summon up a colossal loss from this day in 1918, during the franchise’s original season? Yes? Sorry.

The NHL schedule was divided in halves that first NHL year. Only three of the four teams that had started the season in December were still standing by this point in 1918: with the Montreal Wanderers having withdrawn in early January, it was the Toronto Hockey Club, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators left in the loop. February 2, a Saturday, had Toronto meeting Canadiens in Montreal. Two days later, on Monday, Toronto would host Ottawa, wrapping up the league’s tumultuous first demi-season. The second half would get going the following Wednesday. That would a shorter schedule, eight games for each team as opposed to the 14 the survivors had played in the opening section. In March, the winner of an NHL championship series would then play the Pacific Coast Hockey Association for the Stanley Cup.

Going into the February 2 game, Charlie Querrie’s Toronto squad still had a shot at overtaking Canadiens at the top of the standings. The Ottawa Journal was good enough to do the math for the Torontos: all they needed to do to overhaul Montreal was (a) win both of their final two games and (b) score 32 goals in so doing.

The weather that weekend in Montreal was February cold, with northwest winds and snow expected. The news was warlike: from France, tidings of hostile artillery at the front near Lens; in Russia, Bolshevik gains at Odessa. The latest casualty lists just in from Ottawa counted 97 Canadians, including 15 killed in action; seven died of wounds; one accidentally killed; one presumed dead. None of them were Montrealers, though five of the wounded were. Draftees, meanwhile, were streaming in from outside the city, many of them English-speaking, and headed for the Guy Street barracks, where they were being enlisted to the Army’s 1st Depot Battalion. Egg authorities were reporting that the city’s supply was waning, and could run short within two weeks; butter was also wanting. At Recorder’s Court, Nellie O’Hara was fined $500 for “having cocaine in her possession for other than medical purposes;” she had been trying to sell it to passersby on De la Gauchetière Street when Constable Blanchette arrested her.

At the Jubilee Rink at the corner of Saint-Catherine and Marlborough, the Torontos didn’t quite get the job done that needed doing. The game “was free from roughness,” The Globe chronicled, but “too one-sided to be exciting.” “Listless” was the adjective the paper hoisted to its headline; Montreal’s Gazette bannered its column on the evening’s proceedings with the subhead “Uninteresting Game.” The crowd was small, the drubbing (of Toronto) outright. For Montreal, it was (as The Ottawa Journal framed it) “a common canter.”

Final score: Canadiens 11, Torontos 2.

The fact that Montreal was missing Newsy Lalonde, fourth in NHL goal-scoring to that point, didn’t matter. Joe Malone was leading the league, and he scored four Canadiens’ goals, with Didier Pitre adding a further three. The Journal appreciated Malone’s stickhandling as “wizardry that hasn’t been equalled on Montreal ice this season.”

For all the humdrum headlines, it wasn’t a night entirely lacking for excitements. Earlier in the week, when the teams met in Toronto, Montreal defenceman Joe Hall and Toronto winger Alf Skinner had ended the game under arrest, charged by police for common assault after a stick-fight left Skinner unconscious on the ice. Subsequently released under suspended sentence by Magistrate Ellis, the two players started Saturday’s game by making a show of meeting at centre ice to shake hands.

Not everybody endorsed the peace: during the second period, amid calls from the gallery for Hall to re-punish Skinner, the game was interrupted. As the Journal’s man on the scene saw it:

Some plutocrat in the gallery had brought with him a large-sized bottle of gin. When the expensive beverage had been disposed of, the owner either let the bottle fall or threw it out on the ice and it went whizzing past the head of Alf Skinner, missing him only by a couple of inches, and smashing to pieces on the ice. The game was stopped and a dozen policemen rushed to the scene. Didier Pitre had a friend in the gallery who pointed out the party alleged to have thrown or dropped the bottle and Pitre in turn pointed him out to the police. The man was hauled out of his seat without ceremony and hustled from the rink, after which the game proceeded.

Also of note on the night: Montreal defenceman Billy Coutu got a major for speaking unkind words to referee Tom Melville.

For Toronto, I think it’s worth excusing goaltender Hap Holmes. He faced Montreal’s barrage “valiantly;” several of his stops were rated by the Journal critic as “spectacular.” One of the defencemen in front of him, Harry Mummery, hurt his knee falling into the boards early on, and he wasn’t much use after that.

And Toronto did only have two extra players on the bench on the night. Three if you want to count Reg Noble, Toronto’s leading goal-scorer, who sat there for the entire game in his uniform without playing. Coach Querrie was already peeved at him for, quote, breaking training rules. When Noble showed up late at the rink for the game, Querrie sat him out for the first two periods. The coach relented, apparently, in the third, and wanted Noble out there on the ice. This time, it was the player who refused to play. Querrie threatened to fine him $100, but he refused to budge. As the man in the newspaper said, “the blues had to struggle along without him.”

 

the querrie way: if you want to fight, go over to france

Jimmy Murphy was supposed to coach Toronto’s first NHL team that winter long ago, before he was felled by a mishap so patently Canadian that it probably deserves to be commemorated on a stamp: he slipped on an icy December sidewalk.

This was 1917. I’ll refer you to Deceptions And Doublecross: How The NHL Conquered Hockey, Morey Holzman’s and Joseph Nieforth’s fine book, for background on the league’s difficult birth that year — for the moment, let’s stay with Murphy, the man tabbed to steer the brand-new temporary Toronto team that would play out the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, though its owners were in Montreal. Murphy sounds like he was the right man for the job: St. Michael’s College had won senior OHA championships under his guidance, as well as an Allan Cup.

I don’t know what he battered or broke on that cold sidewalk, but he was sufficiently injured to ask to be relieved of his duties. That’s when Charlie Querrie got the call. He was a well-known personality in Toronto circles, a former lacrosse star who also managed Tecumsehs of the National Lacrosse Union. He was also, conveniently, manger of the arena on Mutual.

He didn’t waste any time getting to work. First thing, he appointed Dick Carroll as assistant manager and trainer. Next, he put his team on the ice for practice, at 5 p.m. on December 6, the day after he took the job.

This was a team that featured Harry Cameron, Jack Adams, Cor Denneny, and Reg Noble. Toronto ended the season by winning the Stanley Cup, of course. But the season opened, on December 19, with a 9-10 road loss to the Montreal Wanderers.

Before that game, Querrie posted a notice in the team’s dressing room laying out his no-nonsense philosophy for the players in his charge. It seemed familiar, when I first came across this 15-point communiqué, the tone and the pithy candor. I don’t know that Mike Babcock would recognize the name Charlie Querrie let alone have come across his hockey creed, but it does, I have to say, read like a chapter of the latest Leaf coach’s forceful 2012 book Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams.

As published ahead of the 1917-18 season, Charlie Querrie’s memo to his players went like this:

  1. First and foremost do not forget that I am running this club. It won’t do you any good to tell your troubles to the public and the other players. If you have a grievance, tell it to me.

  2. When practice is called at a certain hour, be there. If you are late we want to know why and, and even then the “why” isn’t an excuse.

  3. You are paid to give your best services to the club. Condition depends a lot on how you behave off the ice.

  4. Remember that it does not require bravery to hit another man over the head with a stick. If you want to fight, go over to France.

  5. Time spent in the penalty box is time wasted. You are not expected to take all abuse without going back at your opponent, but do not be foolish.

  6. Remember that there are generally five other players on a team with you. You are not expected to play the whole game.

  7. You are not out on the ice to score all the goals. Combination with the rest of the players will probably result in more goals than individual play.

  8. You will not be fined for doing the best you can. You will be punished for indifferent work or carelessness. If you are anxious to win all the time you will be a good player. Indifference or lack of pepper is one thing we never did like.

  9. Remember it means as much to you to win the championship as it does to me. If you do not play as well as you can, you are not only hurting yourself, but the rest of the team and your supporters.

  10. Do not think that you are putting something over on the manager when you do anything you should not. You are getting paid to play hockey, not to be a good fellow.

  11. If playing hockey is going to be your business in the winter, remember that the wise man attends to his business and generally gets better results. You future in the game depends on how you play the game.

  12. It is the public who pay your salary. Show them the best you can and your chances of better financial results in the future will be good.

  13. Don’t always imagine you are getting the worst of it from the officials. Play hockey and they will see you secure an even break.

  14. Don’t knock your fellow players. Remember they might also have a hammer concealed somewhere and might be tempted to use it.

  15. Play hockey, attend practices regularly, take care of your condition, and you will not suffer any penalties. Remember the first paragraph and be sure to tell your troubles to me: I am an easy boss if you do your share. If you do not want to be on the square and play the hockey you are capable of, turn your uniform into Dick Carroll and go at some other work.