undone, again, at the olympics, but not the end of the world as we know it

Second-Best: Members of Canada’s 1936 Olympic take a pause by the lake-rink at Riessersee. From the left, they are: Pud Kitchen, Dinty Moore, Hugh Farquharson, Ken Farmer, Dave Neville, Arnold Deacon, Bill Thomson, Alex Sinclair, and captain Herman Murray.

The world didn’t end that February Friday, a few weeks back, as the Olympics played down and Canada’s men lost their hockey semi-final to upstart Germany, but it shuddered a little. “Eishockey-Sensation” was the early headline from Der Spiegel, and German Twitter trilled will mentions of a “Wunder auf Eis” — a new Miracle on Ice.

In Canada, it was morning, and the nation mourned, briefly. And moaned: about Gary Bettman, whose fault it all was, really, denying us our golden birthright; that the guy who scored Germany’s first goal is from Winnipeg; that (as Don Cherry raved) the linesman who called that stupid early penalty is Russian, i.e. linchpin of a vast conspiracy to see us humiliated.

By Saturday, when we beat the Czech Republic to win bronze, the national mood was brighter.

Weirdly so.

That’s it? Have we really mellowed so much in the years since the almost-calamity of 1972 that no-one’s calling for a royal commission to look into how we failed to finish? Don’t we care any more? Could be, I guess, a matter of faith, one that’s so strong and enduring that we don’t have to speak it let alone achieve it: what matters is not who actually won so much as what would have happened if Crosby and Connor and Carey had been on the job in South Korea.

Whatever the case, we’ve calmed down since our first Olympic hockey undoing, in Germany in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Up to that point, through four Olympic tournaments, Canadians had never lost a game, never come home with a medal that wasn’t golden. Looking back on what happened 82 years ago is like studying the original operating instructions for Canadian hockey humility, and/or the lack thereof.

Winter and summer, the 1936 Olympics were, of course, in Germany, presided over by Adolf Hitler and other odious Nazis. That’s a stain that’s only darkened by what we know, now, about what the next ten years would bring.

In Garmisch, the hockey tournament started with a kerfuffle over the eligibility of several players on the team from Great Britain who’d played previously in Canada. Their hockey paperwork wasn’t in order, Canadian officials maintained. The British disagreed, and almost withdrew, in a snit, but didn’t. When the hockey got going, Canada beat, and breezily, Poland, Latvia, and Austria, before facing off with the British.

They started with a snap, which is to say a speculative slap, from long range, that bamboozled Canadian goaltender Dinty Moore, nesting in the net. The Canadians tied the score, then continued to bombard British goaltender and sort-of Canadian Jimmy Foster. But it was the British who scored again, on a break in the third. The game ended, shockingly, 2-1 not-for-us.

 

Canada’s coach was penning a column for the papers back home, or at least lending his name to one. He assured Canadians that his team (and theirs) had had “easily 80 percent” of the play. “The English,” he continued,” although fast-skating, cannot be considered the equal of the Canucks, but because goals win games we are forced to swallow the bitter pill.”

“Canadian hockey hats are off to England this morning,” one Toronto columnist wrote next morning, but her gracious voice was a lonely one. Most of the newspaper accounts echoed the Star’s European correspondent, Matthew Halton, who’d watched the disaster unfold. “We are feeling pretty sick here today,” he advised.

As if the news from Germany wasn’t dismal enough that day, a local prophet who ran his own church out of his living room was making front-page news with an unsettling forecast: by Friday, the world would be expiring. This was Bible-based, apparently, nothing to do with hockey.

“The tall buildings of Toronto will be destroyed,” pastor Harold Varney calmly promised reporters, “and the world consumed in cleansing fire.”

In Germany, oblivious to the reckoning that was three days away, the Canadians played on. Whupping Hungary 15-0 was a tonic, and got us our groove back, briefly. But it was at this point that Canadian team officials discovered that they didn’t really understand how the tournament was set up. Yes, they would advance to the medal round with the British, the Americans, and the Czechoslovaks; no, they wouldn’t get a chance to play the British again. They would have to live with their loss — and the precious points that Britain would carry over.

Now it was Canada’s turn to threaten to take its pucks and go home. Instead, we attended an emergency meeting of the Ligue International Hockey sur Glace, arguing that that the final four teams should start afresh, play a whole new round-robin, allowing us to take our revenge and restore order to the universe. This was put to a vote.

We lost that, too.

The host team paid an immediate price when we played a subsequent against the Germans. “The Canadian pucksters were seething as they took the ice,” reported The Globe; “In Angry Mood” was a headline from Ottawa. Intent on giving the Germans — their team, populace, and Nazi officials — “a lesson in the art of bodychecking,” we found that they were poor students. The home fans booed the Canadians so strenuously during our 6-2 win that Hitler’s propaganda minister, the ghastly Joseph Goebbels, stood up to command the crowd to quiet. He was, for some reason, “dressed in the costume of Daniel Boone.”

Canada won its final two games fairly tranquilly, but it didn’t matter, the gold belonged to Britain. For the first time in Olympic hockey history, we were a shameful second.

In the blame and bluster that filled newspapers in the days following our silvery shame, all five stages of Canadian hockey grief revealed themselves, starting with Blissful Denial. “No one is worried, no one is upset,” The Winnipeg Tribune’s editorial page declared. “There is something rather pleasing in the fact that other countries like Canada’s game so well that they are taking it up so vigorously.”

Finger-Pointing ensued. Later, in March, when the hockey players finally returned home to Canada, they were quick to reproach Canadian team management for fumbling their responsibilities. In February, there was some question at home of how it could be that  these officials hadn’t known the rules of the very tournament in which they were participating. “It is something hardly creditable to Canadian smartness,” an editorial in The Ottawa Journal sniffed.

Backlash followed: “It wasn’t a great team, measured by any yardstick,” the Journal confessed; never again, said The Star, should we send any but “a real all-star team to carry the red Maple Leafs in future Olympic hockey tournaments.”

Next was Official Uproar: Toronto MP Tommy Church rose in the House of Commons to carp about how poorly the whole affair reflected on us as a people. “I think,” he said, “something should be done.”

Finally, of course, there was Not To Worry, Everything’s Fine, Who Says It Isn’t? This was confirmed by the foreigners whose refreshing views we were only too pleased to publish: that the hockey result (from a Buffalo paper) had “a smell,” and that (from Manchester’s Guardian) “Canada would have won nine times out of ten.” The Globe reported that in a visit to Canada’s dressing room, Hermann Göring, head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, had assured our players that “no matter what was to happen, he always would consider the Canucks the real world champions.”

A.E. Gilroy, head of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, had done his share of railing against tournament organizers and the deceitful British while he was still in Germany. Back home again, he apologized, refusing to waste anybody’s time with excuses, other than to mention that the dastardly Europeans had pulled a fast one on us, plus (also) there was something “peculiar” about the pucks, some of which did “weird tricks,” including on Britain’s first goal. Ask the Americans, Gilroy said: they agreed that the pucks were “not true.”

Lessons learned? I don’t know that there’s any real evidence of that. If you count the extent to which the press emphasized just how many of the British players had learned their hockey in Canada, then, yes, I guess we did kind own the loss. Here was a logic we could live with: Canadians hadn’t failed, they’d just succeeded under someone else’s flag.

Doomsday in Toronto was cold and snowy, and altogether free (it turned out) of hellfire. Friday came and went, and then it was Saturday.

Frisky reporters staking out Harold Varney’s doorstep demanded to know: if he was so sure of imminent Armageddon, why had he put out his bottles for the milkman the night before?

Varney wasn’t fazed. The Lord, he said, had granted an extension. “I am glad that there is yet time for the sinful to repent.”

They should make haste, though: “A few days from now, Toronto people should know, all will be judged.”

In The Olympic Spirit: Adolf Hitler takes in the Olympics alongside the head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring (centre, with binoculars), and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

(I wrote about the 1936 Garmisch Olympics and Harold Varney’s gloomy outlook in Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession, my 2014 book. There’s more on these matters therein, on pages 171—180.)

winterspiele 1936: wolverines, royals, and bearcats

img008 2

Wolverine-free: (Back, left to right) Gus Saxberg, Bill Thomson, Pud Kitchen, Herman Murray, Dave Neville, Hugh Farquharson, Ralph St. Germain, Num Friday, Ray Milton, (inset) Kenny Farmer (Front, left to right) Dinty Moore, Arnold Deacon, coach Albert Pudas, manager Malcolm Cochrane, CAHA secretary Fred Marples, trainer Scotty Stewart, Alex Sinclair, Jakie Nash.

It should have been Wolverines at the Olympics in 1936 playing for Canada, winning gold on the national behalf, but when the time came to sail for Europe, no, instead of Wolverines it was Bearcats.

Mostly Bearcats. The story of how that happened has its vivid moments that may be briefly superseded by this pressing question: when was the last time anyone in Ontario actually saw an actual bearcat and knew it?

April of 1935 is where we’ll start here, nearly a year before the Olympics got going, in Halifax. The best teams from Canada’s amateur senior hockey leagues were gathered there to decide the season’s national championship, vying for the venerable Allan Cup. By surprise, the local Halifax Wolverines had made the final, and by further surprise, on the efforts of Mickey McGlashen, Owen Lennon, Chummie Lawlor, Daddy Bubar, and the rest of the Wolverines, they defeated the team from Port Arthur, Ontario, the Bearcats.

The final game ended with a 4-3 Halifax win. Five thousand fans cheered as E.A. Gilroy, president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, handed the old silver trophy and the Dominion senior title to Wolverine captain Ernie Mosher. The team’s further (delayed) reward was on locals minds that evening, too: as Allan Cup champions, the Wolverines had booked themselves a ticket to represent Canada at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.

So that was exciting.

Then, next — well, a lot of the drama that saw the Wolverines shoved aside was administrative, hard to enliven for the page. Decisions were made in offices and (possibly) southbound trains, behind closed doors, under clouded brows, far from rinks. The background featured a dispute over just how amateur the senior hockey was in the Maritimes. This had been brewing for months. A CAHA ruling on player eligibility had torn apart the eastern Big Four League before the Wolverines lifted their Allan Cup.

When the cheering stopped and the team looked ahead to the fall of 1935, they found themselves with a league to play in. Players did what they had to do: for six of them, that meant signing for other teams, elsewhere. The coach left, too, exchanging the Wolverines of Halifax for the Wolves of Sudbury. As early as July, there was a rumour that the CAHA was considering options beyond sending a diminished Halifax team to the Olympics. Though W.A. Hewitt, CAHA registrar, denied it: “Unless the club itself refuses the trip,” he said, “the Wolverines will go to Germany.”

November. With no league to play in, no coach, little cash, and not enough players, Wolverines manager Jack Conn was doing his best to keep the team’s Olympic project alive. Maybe other senior teams could lend him players, and if someone with a generous heart, and/or the Canadian Olympic Committee, could spot him $5,000, he could launch a tour of Canada and the U.S. to get the team ready for competition.

That money didn’t materialize, and there was no such tour. There were meetings, finally, in Halifax. Port Arthur had made it known that they were willing to step in, and that seemed to be the answer that the CAHA’s E.A. Gilroy and P.J. Mulqueen of the COC were banking on. Gilroy had handed the Allan Cup to the Wolverines but now he was the one revoking their trip to Germany. Unless — there was also a late report that all the Wolverines who’d left were returning to the roost and the team would go.

Wrong. Maritimers thought it was treachery, but Jack Conn conceded that he couldn’t get his team together. Out went the invitation to Port Arthur, who wired back a quick acceptance. There was some small solace for Halifax fans: four Wolverines would go along to boost the Bearcats.

Beyond the upset in the east, there was some hue, too, from Quebec, where it was thought that the Montreal Royals should be the ones to go. They’d been the favourites, after all, going into the ’35 Allan Cup playoffs and had actually come closer to beating Halifax than Port Arthur had. Maybe the right thing to do would to organize a further playoff, let the best team prevail.

But Gilroy and the CAHA weren’t having any of that. Also, when in early December, Jack Conn told Gilroy that because Halifax was willing to contribute just as many players as Port Arthur to the “all-star” team, it should be called the Halifax Wolverines and he, Conn, should be the man to manage it, Gilroy sent a sharp reply back to the effect that, no, it wasn’t an all-star team, and if the Halifax players that Port Arthur was accommodating didn’t want to join in the fun, well, fine, they could stay home.

Conn backed off. The team, then, would be coached by Port Arthur’s Albert Pudas, with Malcolm Cochrane as the manager. They’d have 13 players in their charge: seven Bearcats, four Wolverines and two Royals — a fast, experienced squad, as the papers were soon reporting, that Pudas would have a month-and-a-half to build into a machine.

Heading into the new year, the component parts were these:

Goal
Daddy Bubar (Halifax); Jakie Nash (Port Arthur)

Defence
Ray Milton (Port Arthur); Herman Murray (Montreal)

Centre
Ernie Mosher, Vince Ferguson (Halifax); Alex Sinclair (Port Arthur)

Right Wing
Bill Thomson, Arnold Deacon (Port Arthur); Dave Neville (Montreal)

Left Wing
Chummie Lawlor, (Halifax); Num Friday, Gus Saxberg (Port Arthur)

The team started practicing in Port Arthur on December 20. Scrimmaging, Pudas had Sinclair, Thompson, and Friday playing on a line against Neville, Lawlor, and Deacon. Murray and Milton were one pair on defence, Mosher and Ferguson another. The coach wasn’t worried that he only had two regular defencemen: the problem, he said, would adjust itself. Another day, he ran three lines: Saxberg/Sinclair/Thompson; Deacon/Mosher/Lawlor; Ferguson/Lawlor/Neville.

On Christmas Day, they left for Winnipeg, where they played their exhibition, beating the local senior team 1-0 at the Amphitheatre. Smart second-period combination work by Neville and Sinclair got the puck to Lawlor, who scored on the powerplay. In goal, Daddy Bubar’s goaltending was superlative. Dignified patrons, said a local paper, cheered themselves hoarse. When the referee disallowed what would have been the tying goal, they littered the ice with programs and paper bags. Dunc Cheyne and Cam Shewan played well for the home team. High-stick sparring with the Winnipeg rearguard sent both Milton and Murray, Olympic defencemen, to the dressing room for stitches.

The Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association gave the team a banquet at the Fort Garry Hotel while they were in Winnipeg. Members of the 1932 Olympic team were on hand to wish them well, conveying sincere Good Luck greetings and urging the talented Canadians to bring back the flag.

The Winnipegs played a second game with the Olympics the following night, beating them this time, 5-4. High in the stands, protesters unfurled a 30-foot banner

Fair Play Demands Removal of Olympics From Fascist Berlin

that few in the rink noticed before policemen took it down.

The Bearcats played a pair of games against Fort William next, losing the first, 2-1, following up with a 5-1 win. They’d added another forward from Montreal, Ralph St. Germain. Bill Thomson scored a pair of goals, with Gus Saxberg, Vince Ferguson, and Dave Neville notching the others. One free-for-all showed the sincerity of the effort on the part of both teams but no one was hurt although Murray played most of the game with a big patch over his right eye, result of a collision with Konderka of Fort William, who was also hurt when the two heads bumped.

I’d be pleased to keep on writing the name Daddy Bubar indefinitely, but it’s here — which is to say, there, in Toronto, early January — that he departs — departed — the scene. Just what happened isn’t easy to decipher. Al Pudas was telling the papers that the team was rounding into top form, while Gilroy enthused that it was powerful in every position. There was nothing to the rumour, said manager Malcolm Cochrane, that they’d be adding a former Bearcat now playing in England, centre Jimmy Haggerty, to the mix: this was the team that was going to Germany.

“The squad is fifty per cent more powerful than the Bearcats of last season,” Cochrane was saying. “The added players have bolstered us defensively and offensively. Murray has fitted in like a charm with Milton on the defence while up front we have two lines who can go both ways with plenty of speed and scoring punch.” Bubar, he said, was one of the finest goaltenders he’d ever seen in amateur hockey. A man from The Toronto Daily Star watched the team practice at Maple Leaf Gardens as they prepared for a game against the Toronto Dukes: “Goals scored against this combination are going to be well and truly earned.”

And yet by the time the team skated out to play, it was without its four Halifax players: they’d been summarily excised from the roster. Continue reading