boston blockade

Stop Motion: Born in Dysart, Saskatchewan, on a Tuesday of today’s date in 1927, Fern Flaman played 14 years on the Boston defenceman in two stints between 1944 and 1961, manning the line for the Toronto Maple Leafs for parts of four seasons in between. He served as Boston’s captain from 1955 through to 1961. Here, in 1948, Flaman is down to block a shot from Eddie Slowinski of the New York Rangers. Jack Gelineau is the Boston goaltender; #21 is another Bruins d-man, Cliff Thompson. Hard to say who the others are. Zellio Toppazzini for Boston on the left, maybe? For the Rangers, on the right … Buddy O’Connor, possibly? Or Bryan Hextall?

the human side of hockey!

Teddy Graham was a busy man in the winter of 1933. At his day-job, as a frontline defence for the Chicago Black Hawks, he and Taffy Abel were expected to do their best preventative work in front of goaltender Charlie Gardiner, keeping opposing forwards at bay, with minimal relief — Chicago was usually dressing just four defenceman at this time.

Then, that January, Graham got a promotion if perhaps not a raise: when the Black Hawks offloaded their captain, the veteran 39-year-old defender Helge Bostrom, Graham, 28, was appointed in his stead.

Still, with things so busy at work, Graham still managed to make a detour in early February of ’33 after the Black Hawks played in Detroit, heading north for a quick visit to Owen Sound, Ontario, his hometown, where he spent his summers playing baseball with the Brooke Millionaires.

Oh, and Graham was writing a syndicated newspaper column, too — well, lending his name and insight, if maybe not actually typing out actual sentences. In a series that would start appearing on newspaper pages across the continent in early March, Graham shared wild and woolly tales from his career. “Written On Ice,” the Tribune in Great Falls, Montana, headed the column, while the Buffalo Evening News touted it as revealing “The Human Side of Hockey!”

As it turned out, being human, Graham would fall to injury later around the same time. Along with several key teammates, he would miss the end of the schedule. Contemporary accounts aren’t clear on what was ailing him, exactly, but let’s assume that it had something to do with the wrapping we’re seeing in the scene here, dated to February, with Graham under the care of Black Hawks trainer Eddie Froelich and the supervision of coach Tommy Gorman.

Chicago finished at the bottom of the NHL’s American Division that month, out of the playoffs. With several games remaining in the regular season, Chicago owner Major Frederic McLaughlin announced that Gorman was the only employee on his payroll whose job was safe. “From today on,” he told the papers, “I will sell or trade any member of the squad, or all of them if necessary, to make certain of a berth in the Stanley Cup series next year.”

“It is apparent that not a few of our players have outworn their welcomes here,” he continued. “New faces are needed, and we’ll get them.”

That was good-bye for Teddy Graham: in October, he was traded to the Montreal Maroons in exchange for Lionel Conacher. (Charlie Gardiner succeeded him as captain.)

McLaughlin, it should be noted, got his wish: by the end of the 1933-34 season, Tommy Gorman had not only steered Chicago into the playoffs, he contrived to win the Cup, Chicago’s first.

 

(Image: © Chicago Sun-Times Media. SDN-074245, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

with a little help from doug harvey

Helper Haul: As the Montreal Canadiens wound up their regular season at the end of March in 1957, Doug Harvey set a new NHL record, registering his 44th assist, the most ever recorded by a defenceman in a single season. (He did it in 70 games.) It was his own old NHL record he was breaking: two seasons earlier he’d notched 43. Many goal-minded defencemen have since surpassed the mark, of course, with Bobby Orr at the top of the heap: in 1970-71, he piled up 102 assists in 78 games. Born in Montreal on a Friday of this date in 1924, Harvey never had a better offensive season than he did in ’56-57, scoring six goals and 50 points. He was named to the NHL’s First All-Star Team and won (another) Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman that year as the Canadiens won a second successive Stanley Cup championship. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?

All of NHL History? Sportsnet was quick to tweet out the news last night. Others added the detail that the league has only been recording shift-times since 2009.

Jack Hughes was in it to … well, his team had to tie up the game last night in Newark before they could win it. In the end, Hughes’ New Jersey Devils ended up falling short: the visiting New York Islanders won the game 6-4. The Devils’ 21-year-old star centreman did give it his all, staying out on the ice as he hunted for goals — he also blocked a couple of Islander attempts on his team’s vacant net — for the final 6:02 of the game.

This looked exhausting.

It was also, as was quickly noted across social media, the longest shift in NHL history.

Well, not all 105 years of NHL history. As was also mentioned (mostly), in some of the breathless reporting, in brackets, and some small type, the NHL has only officially been logging shift-times for 13 years. The league’s PR office weighed in with the facts of the matter, for those who were interested: “Hughes recorded a 6:02 shift to conclude the game, marking the longest verified shift on record (since 2009-10), besting the previous benchmark of 5:52 by John Klingberg on Jan. 18, 2022 (Dallas Stars).”

Yeoman’s work, by any measure: a big bravo to Hughes, his stamina, and coach Lindy Ruff’s confidence in him. Also, inevitably, because it’s what happens here, we’re now going to have to harken back to the league’s first decades to recall that in those years players habitually stayed on the ice for entire games without relief.

These feats are, yes, unverified: nobody in the 1920s was recording the duration of shifts and filing them numbers with the NHL. It’s true, too, that rosters were smaller in those years, and certainly the tempo and overall tenor of the game was much different than it is today. We’ll add that to the mix. Still, the endurance of these earlier NHLers is remarkable, nonetheless. Be warned: just reading about them you risk ending up on the IR, or at the very least in need of a nap.

Newspapers from those years tell of many players who toiled without respite for their teams. Clem Loughlin was coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1936 when he reached back to remember his playing days a decade earlier. “It was customary,” he wrote then, “for a defense man in those days to play the entire game. There was no such system of changing men to allow them rest as there is now.”

“60-minute men,” they used to call them. While they were common enough before the NHL came along, that’s the league we’ll concentrate on here. The term is one you’ll come across often in the hockey archives once the league got going in 1917, associated with defencemen like Sprague Cleghorn and Herb Gardiner. In 1929, anchoring the blueline for the New York Rangers in a 5-5 tie with the Detroit Cougars that was extended by a ten-minute overtime, Ching Johnson was reported to have played 68 of the game’s 70 minutes alongside Leo Bourgeault, who played 64. The only time they missed was when they were serving penalties.

Lionel Conacher was in his early 30s when he was logging full games for the Montreal Maroons in the early 1930s.

The latest evidence of a 60-minute game that I’ve come across — that is, the most recent — isn’t from the NHL, though it involves a future Hall-of-Famer: in 1961, playing for the Junior A Canadiens, Jacques Laperriere played an entire game on defence against the St. Catharines Teepees.

Dogged non-defencemen of the day include Frank Frederickson, a hero of Canada’s 1920 Olympic team, who in 1928 was traded by the Boston Bruins to the Pittsburgh Pirates. “His stamina is remarkable,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette advised its readers, “and he has played 50 of the 60 minutes comprising a championship game, a remarkable record for a forward.”

Frankly Speaking: In 1924, Nighbor won the very first Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. A year later, he was awarded the inaugural Lady Byng Trophy.

It’s another superlative centreman I’d prefer to illuminate, Frank Nighbor, a favourite of ours here at Puckstruck, and a player whose name, we continue to believe, deserves to be better known.

It’s the early 1920s we’re focussing on here, when Nighbor was in his late 20s, and his prime as a graceful and supremely skilled defensive forward coincided with the heyday of the (original) Ottawa Senators. Starting in 1920, they won three Stanley Cup championships in four years — and returned in 1927 to collect another.

Through it all, Nighbor played a lot.

Take for a sampler a game in March of 1920 when Ottawa, dressing just seven skaters, beat the Canadiens 4-3 in Montreal. “Nighbor played the entire game,” the Citizen reported, “taking desperate chances.” He scored a hattrick, including the game-winner in overtime.  

Sometimes, Nighbor’s teammates joined him in just keeping going. When Ottawa beat Montreal 2-0 at home in January of 1921, Georges Boucher, Eddie Gerard, Nighbor, Jack Darragh, and Cy Denneny lined up in front of goaltender Clint Benedict to start the game. As the Citizen noted, only Denneny took a break, giving way in the third period to Jack MacKell. “All the others played from start to finish without relief.”  

By the following year, the man they called the Pembroke Peach had upped the ante. “Nighbor played another remarkable game for Ottawa,” the Montreal Daily Star testified after the Senators downed the Toronto St. Patricks 2-1 at home, “as he went the entire 60 minutes without relief.”

But then, at that point, seven games into the season, Nighbor had played every minute but two that the Senators had played — he’d been penalized for tripping in the previous game. He was, the Citizen proclaimed, “making history.” I haven’t got solid intel on whether he carried on with this consistency for the rest of Ottawa’s 32 regular-season and playoff games that season, but I’m not sure I’d bet against him.

Nighbor was back at it the following year, too. Good to know, I guess, that local observers weren’t taking it entirely for granted. We’ll end with this concerned nod from the Ottawa Journal from January of 1924:

 

 

 

just play the game

Slapper: Born in 1941 on a Friday of this date in Big River, Saskatchewan, Jim Neilson made the switch from left wing to defence as a junior in Prince Albert. Loosing a shot here in 1971, when he was a veteran of 30, Neilson made his debut with the Rangers in 1962, and manned the blue line in New York for 12 years before joining the California Golden Seals for the 1974-75 season. He was captain in California and for the Cleveland Barons, too, after the Seals moved north. He finished his career with a season in the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers. “I’m an easygoing guy,” he said in the ’80s, looking back on his career. “I never look far ahead and I’ve used that philosophy all my life. I just play the game. It’s over, and there’ll probably be one again tomorrow.” Jim Neilson died on November 6, 2020, at the age of 78.

jack crawford: the captain, the headgear, the hairline

Born on a Thursday of this date in 1916, defenceman Johnny (a.k.a. Jack) Crawford played 13 seasons of hatted hockey for the Boston Bruins, contributing to two of their Stanley Cup championships, in 1939 and ’41. Dublin, Ontario, is where he’s from, in the southwest of the province, on the road to Lake Huron: Howie Morenz (and Alice Munro) country. Crawford died in 1973 at the age of 56.

He served as the Bruins’ team captain, though just a for a single campaign, 1945-46, and not, as the Bruins themselves still seem to think, for four seasons. I’ve been on a bit of a crusade about this and other oversights in the team’s accounting of its own captains, as you may know, having read about it (maybe) here and/or here. (Though maybe not.) The list of the team’s actual early-era captains is here.

Others, like Bruin historian Kevin Vautour, have been making the case for year. Almost two years after I first wrote about it … nothing has changed, Bruinswise. The team still doesn’t want to talk about the facts of their past. The word is getting out despite the team’s puzzling persistence in pretending that Bobby Bauer, Eddie Shore et al. never captained Boston. Last fall, dogged to the end, I shared the evidence with the people at Hockey Reference, the go-to non-league resource for NHL statistics. Having considered what the Bruins won’t, they duly adjusted their online page. (That’s here.)

There’s more historical grist for the mill, meanwhile, in a new and comprehensive book by Burlington, Ontario, historian Jeff Miclash. In its lavishly illustrated game-by-game study of the team from 1929 through 1939, Total Bruins has the goods on many of the missing captains, along with a wealth of other detail and drama.

But back to Jack Crawford. He has featured elsewhere in these Puckstruck pages before, with focusses on both his helmet (he was an early adopter) and on the related question of, well, what was beneath it.

In a pair of 2018 posts (here and here), I picked up on the question of why Crawford donned the helmet in the first place. A Boston Globe story from 1938, when he was a Bruins rookie, told this tale:

As I noted in 2018, Crawford himself is quoted (though with no source provided) in Glenn Weir, Jeff Chapman, and Travis Weir’s 1999 book Ultimate Hockey, where he substantiates the original Globe story. “When I played football as a teenager for St. Mike’s,” Crawford said there, “the paint would peel off inside of my helmet and the doctors say that some chemical in the paint triggered the skin infection that caused all of my hair to fall out over the years.”

If that confirmation needs re-confirming, I can report on the e-mail I received this summer from Jack Crawford’s granddaughter. Jennifer Swaylik is the daughter of Susan (Crawford) Hassett, the youngest of Crawford’s four children, and it’s with Jennifer’s leave that I’m sharing what the family understands to be true about the former Bruin captain’s helmet and hairline.

“My grandmother believed he had what we would now call alopecia,” Swaylik wrote. “He lost all of his hair as a late teen. It eventually grew back, but then fell out again, leaving thin patches until it fell out again, this time for good. He wore a helmet to cover it all at each stage. Any full head of hair you see in pictures was in between the final falling-out period or — eventually — a very nicely done hairpiece. Did the paint in his helmet at St Michael’s trigger something in his skin ? It was the thought at the time. They never knew for sure.”

Bs Team: Members of the 1939-40 Bruins line up for the camera. Standing (and sitting on a net), from left, they are: Woody Dumart, Dit Clapper, Roy Conacher, with Eddie Wiseman crouching in front of him, Frank Brimsek, Jack Shewchuk, Flash Hollett, with Bobby Bauer crouched down, Jack Crawford, and Red Hamill. In front, from left, that’s Herb Cain, Art Jackson, Bill Cowley, Milt Schmidt, Mel Hill, and Des Smith. (Image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

(Top image: Tex Coulter, Boston Garden Sport News, December 17, 1961)

semi-charmed life: montreal, 1973

Forum Fête: Born in Winchester, Ontario, on a Saturday of this very date in 1951, Hall-of-Fame defenceman Larry Robinson turns 71 today, so here’s wishing him a squall of Forum confetti like the one he experienced as the then-indomitable Montreal Canadiens continued on their way to the Stanley Cup championship that capped Robinson’s rookie season in 1973. Here he is as a 21-year-old on April 24 of that year, after he and the Habs beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 on Forum ice to take their playoff semi-final by four games to one. Montreal went on to beat the Chicago Black Hawks to take the championship series in six games. (Image: Pierre Côté, Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

(big) trainspotting

Stars + Stripes: Born in Toronto on this date in 1900 (it was a Thursday, then), Lionel Conacher was known as The Big Train in his sporting youth, and he whistled his way to stardom at every venue he visited, excelling at football, wrestling, boxing, lacrosse, baseball, sculling, swimming, and track. Oh, and hockey: his Hall-of-Fame career as a defenceman spanned 12 seasons in which he won a pair of Stanley Cup championships, with the Chicago Black Hawks (in 1934) and Montreal’s Maroons (’35). With Joe Miller and Carl Voss, Conacher is one of the only three players in history to have had their names inscribed on both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup. Conacher was Liberal MPP in Ontario, too, and went on to serve five years as a federal MP representing Toronto’s Trinity riding until his death, which came at the age of 54, during a parliamentary softball game.

oil patch

The View From Here: Edmonton d-man Kevin Lowe looks on from the Oiler bench at the Montreal Forum on the Thursday night of January 10 in 1985. On his right, that’s teammate Don Jackson, who scored his first goal of the season that night as the visitors beat the Canadiens 5-2. Wayne Gretzky notched the winner, in the second period, the 43rd of the 73 goals he’d put away that season. (Image: Denis Courville, Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

herb gardiner: in 1927, the nhl’s most useful man

It was on a Friday of this same date in 1891 in Winnipeg that Herb Gardiner was born in 1891. If you haven’t heard of his stardom as a defenceman on the ice in Calgary and Montreal, well, here’s an introduction to that. Gardiner, who died in 1972, aged 80, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. A quick browse across his biography shows that the adjectives stellar and two-way and consistent were sometimes applied to his efforts on the ice, along with the noun rock. Also? That he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL MVP in 1927, edging out Bill Cook on the ballot, as well as the impressive likes of Frank Frederickson, Dick Irvin, and King Clancy.

Browsing the Attestation Papers by which Gardiner signed up to be a soldier in Calgary in 1915 at the age of 23 and the height of just over 5’ 9”, you may notice that the birthdate given is May 10, which is two days late, must just be an error, since a lie wouldn’t have made any difference to Gardiner’s eligibility. Listing the profession he was leaving behind to go to war as surveyor, he started a private with the 12th Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, went to England, was taken on strength with the 2nd CMR, who went unhorsed to fight in France in 1916. Gardiner was promoted corporal that year and then lance-sergeant, and we know that he was wounded in June, probably near Hooge in the Ypres Salient in Belgium. The nature of the wound is inscribed in Gardiner’s medical record as “GSW Nose” — i.e. Gun Shot Wound Nose. That’s as much as I know about it, other than it seems that he was brisk in his recovery, and kept on winning promotion as 1916 went, to company sergeant-major, then temporary lieutenant. The following year he spent a lot of time in hospitals with (as per the medical file) bronchitis, pleurisy, catarrhal jaundice. He was invalided back to Canada, eventually, where he was playing hockey again for various Calgary teams before he was demobilized in 1919.

Most of the starring he did in those post-war years was on defence for the Calgary Tigers of the old Western Canadian Hockey League, where he played with Red Dutton and Rusty Crawford, Harry Oliver, Spunk Sparrow. In 1926, when the league disbanded (it was the WHL by then), Cecil Hart of the Montreal Canadiens bought Gardiner’s contract.

Gardiner took Georges Vézina’s number 1 for his sweater in Montreal, which is a little surprising, but there it is: the team didn’t retire it from circulation after the iconic goaltender’s death in March of 1926. (Herb Rheaume, Vézina’s successor in Montreal’s net, inherited the number before Gardiner arrived; the following year, 1926-27, Montreal’s new goaltender was George Hainsworth, who wore 12.)

Gardiner played his first NHL game in November of 1926 at the age of 35 in the old Boston Arena on a night when another WHL import was getting his start on the Bruins’ defence: 23-year-old Eddie Shore. Boston won that contest, 4-1, and even in the Montreal papers it was Shore’s debut that rated most of the mentions, his rugged style, and some pleasantries he exchanged with Canadiens’ Aurèle Joliat. Oh, and goaltender Hainsworth was said to be hindered by the fog that blanketed the ice. “The heat in the rink,” the Gazette noted, “was fearful.”

Along with Hainsworth and Joliat, Canadiens counted Howie Morenz in their line-up that year, and Art Gagne and Pit Lepine, along with a talented supporting cast. Gardiner joined Sylvio Mantha and Battleship Leduc on the defence — and that was pretty much it, other than Amby Moran, who played in 12 of Montreal’s 44 regular-season games. Gardiner, for his part, was not so much busy as ever-present, relied on by coach Cecil Hart to play all 60 minutes of each game. With the four games Canadiens played in the playoffs, that means he played 48 games — italics and respectful props all mine — in their entirety that year.

“And sometimes it was 70 or 80 minutes,” he recalled years later. “We played overtime in those days, too. But it wasn’t as hard as it sounds. I never carried the puck more than, say, eight times a game. And besides, I was only 35 years old at the time.”

By February of 1927, Elmer Ferguson of The Montreal Herald was already touting Gardiner as his nominee to win the trophy for league MVP that was named for the father of Montreal’s coach. Another hometown paper called Gardiner “the sensation of the league.” When in March sportswriters around the NHL tallied their votes, Gardiner had garnered 89, putting him ahead of the Rangers’ Bill Cook (80) and Boston centre Frank Frederickson (75). I like the way they framed it back in those early years: Gardiner was being crowned (as The Ottawa Journal put it) “the most useful man to his team.” For all that, and as good as that team was, those Canadiens, they weren’t quite up to the level of the Ottawa Senators, who beat Montreal in the semi-finals before going on to win the Stanley Cup.

With Hart in hand, Gardiner asked for a pay raise in the summer of ’27. When Montreal didn’t seem inclined to offer it, he stayed home in Calgary. He was ready to call it quits, he said, but then Canadiens came through and Gardiner headed east, having missed two weeks of training. He wouldn’t say what Montreal was paying him for the season, but there was a rumour that it was $7,500.

So he played a second year in Montreal. Then in August of 1928 he was named coach of Major Frederic McLaughlin’s underperforming Chicago Black Hawks, the fourth in the club’s two-year history. Gardiner had served as a playing coach in his days with the Calgary Tigers, but this job was strictly benchbound — at first.

As Gardiner himself explained it to reporters, Montreal was only loaning him to Chicago, on the understanding that he wouldn’t be playing. The team he’d have charge of was a bit of a mystery: “What players they will have; what changes have been made since last winter, and other matters pertaining to the club are unknown to me,” he said as he prepared to depart Calgary in September.

The team trained in Winnipeg and Kansas City before season got going. When they lost five of their first six games, Gardiner got permission from Montreal’s Leo Dandurand to insert himself into the line-up, but then didn’t, not immediately, went to Ottawa and then Montreal without putting himself to use, and remained on the bench through Christmas and January, and Chicago was better, though not at all good, moping around at the bottom of the league standings.

He finally took the ice in February in a 3-2 loss to New York Rangers, when the Black Hawks debuted at their new home: due to a lease kerfuffle back in Chicago, the team was temporarily at home at Detroit’s Olympia. Gardiner played a total of four games for Chicago before Montreal, up at the top of the standings, decided that if he was going to be playing, it might as well be on their blueline, and so with the NHL’s trade-and-transaction deadline approaching, Canadiens duly ended the loan and called him back home.

Well out of the playoffs, the Black Hawks finished the season with (best I can glean) Dick Irvin serving as playing-coach, though business manager Bill Tobin may have helped, too. Major McLaughlin did have a successor lined up for the fall in Tom Shaughnessy. Coaches didn’t last long with McLaughlin, and he was no exception. While Gardiner oversaw 32 Black Hawk games, Shaughnessy only made it to 21 before he gave way to Bill Tobin, whose reign lasted (slightly) longer, 71 games.

Gardiner finished the season with Montreal, who again failed to turn a very good regular season into playoff success. In May of 1929, Canadiens sent Gardiner to the Boston Bruins, a clear sale this time, in a deal that also saw George Patterson and Art Gagne head to Massachusetts. Gardiner was finished as an NHLer, though: that fall, the Philadelphia Arrows of the Can-Am League paid for his release from Boston and made him their coach.

Sont Ici: A Pittsburgh paper welcomes Canadiens Herb Gardiner and goaltender George Hainsworth in 1927, along with (between them) Gizzy (not Grizzy) Hart, who in fact played left wing rather than defence. Canadiens and Pirates tied 2-2 on the night after overtime failed to produce a winner.

robustious red

Red Dutton did it all in the NHL, captaining the Montreal Maroons as an energetic defenceman before shifting to the New York Americans, for whom he was playing coach in 1930s and then caretaker owner as the team lurched towards its demise in the early ’40s. “The robustious redhead,” Jim Coleman dubbed him a Maclean’s profile in 1950, describing his playing style as “reckless and enthusiastic.” Also? “The records reveal that he earned more penalties than goals.” Dutton’s own analysis? “I wasn’t a good hockey player,” he told Coleman, “but I was a good competitor.”

When the NHL’s founding president Frank Calder died in 1943, Dutton stood in as interim boss until Clarence Campbell took over the job. In 1950, Dutton was appointed a Stanley Cup trustee. In 1958, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Dutton, who died at the age of 89 on a Sunday of this date in 1987, didn’t lack for off-ice interests — or as Coleman put it, “he has made a hobby of collecting currency in large denominations.” Dutton’s Calgary businesses in the ‘40s and ‘50s included a highly successful gravel and paving company, a contracting operation, a precision-tool manufacturing plant, and four drive-in theatres.

two so blue

Ranger Rock: Born on a Sunday of this date in 1968 in Corpus Christi, Texas, Brian Leetch is 54 today, so here’s a tap of an Easton Ultralite Graphite stick to him. A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, he was a dominant force on the blueline for the New York Rangers, winner of a Calder Trophy and two Norrises. In 1994, he became the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP as the Rangers claimed their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. When, in 2008, the team retired his number, two, long-time teammate Mark Messier called Leetch the, all caps, GREATEST RANGER EVER.