The fathers of hockey players write books, sometimes, about sons of theirs who’ve made it to the NHL, while mostly the mothers don’t — other than Colleen Howe, who perhaps deserves a bright asterisk for having published in her time books both as a hockey mother and a wife. I wish they’d write more books, hockey’s mothers, share their stories. As it is, in the hockey books, they’re mostly reduced to a few mentions, mostly in the early chapters. If you read all the hockey books, there’s a certain amount you can glean about hockey’s mothers, and a whole lot more you can’t. Herewith, some of the gleanings. Numbers in the text link to the list identifying the various mothers in the endnotes.
Hockey mothers are descended from Sir Isaac Brock , some of them, while others are born and raised in a village six miles from William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon, England . Several of them are born Kathleen Wharnsby  and Grace Nelson , Rose Pauli  and Agnes Mather Bell . The former two have been described, respectively, as “charming” and “demurely pretty.” The third wanted to be a nurse, but found that she fainted whenever she got near a surgery. The latter married a cheesemaker.
Other mothers are described, sometimes, in biographies written about their sons’ lustrous careers as “the soft-spoken daughter of German immigrants [who] worked as a domestic before her marriage.”  Sometimes, as the daughters of cattle farmers from Saskatchewan, they’re waitresses who see their future husbands for the first time at a bowling alley.  In other cases, the mothers of hockey players meet their husbands in Pristina, in what’s now Kosovo, before they emigrate to Canada without knowing a word of English.  Or else they arrive in Canada from Ukraine at the age of 16 and end up in Fort William, Ontario, in 1912 where they soon meet their future husbands, who don’t necessarily tell the truth about how wealthy they are, such that after the wedding the young bride finds that her husband rents a tiny house with six boarders for whom she’s expected to cook and do laundry and, plus, also, he’s abusive, beating her for any reason at all, or none, including when she talks to other men, including when she fails to walk behind this husband on the way to church on Sunday, causing the son of such parents to write, years later, “My father was a very cruel person.” 
The mothers of hockey players have an old six-string Spanish guitar they like to play. In 1928, they’re outside chopping wood when they feel the labour pains coming on. Having already given birth five times, they know what to do: drew water from the well, put it on the wood stove to boil, make themselves comfortable in bed. They’ll deliver their boy themselves, cut the umbilical cord, then suffer a serious hemorrhage that’s almost the end of them, but then they get help, just in time. “The strongest woman I have ever known,” is what the son of a mother like that will say, in time. 
You were a mistake, hockey mothers will sometimes tell their sons when the sons are grown and playing defence for the Detroit Red Wings, but you were a wonderful mistake.  Another thing they’ll say, to adult sons of theirs who weighed ten pounds at birth: it felt as though you arrived fully grown. 
Some hockey mothers will name their son after a character remembered from a favourite movie, Old Yeller.  They’ll pass on to their sons an inner strength by way of, when they’re in the country sometimes, they’ll pick up a snake, or play with spiders, while never betraying any fear. 
The mothers of hockey players are kind and hardworking, and they feed their kids lots of home-baked breads and macaroni for dinner.  They teach their boys to knit.  They always seem to be sitting in the parlor sewing somebody’s pair of pants, and go to church every morning at 6.30.  They wash floors and make gallons of soup, and have their own version, some mothers, of fish and chips that consist of big slices of potato dipped in batter and deep-friend, served with French fries on the side. “We thought we were having fish and chips,” their sons will write in their autobiographies, “but actually they were potatoes with potatoes.” 
In 1922, when their sons are budding 19-year-old hockey stars but haven’t yet made it to the NHL where they’ll blossom into one of the league’s first genuine superstars, the mothers of hockey players will, sometimes, tragically, drown in a basement cistern — “ill for some time and her mind unbalanced,” as a Toronto newspaper reports it. 
King Clancy’s father was the original King, and while he was a very good football player, he may have been the only person in Ottawa who couldn’t skate a stroke. Not so Dolly Clancy: no-one, said King Jr., could match her grace on the ice, and he learned his skating from her.
Esther Dye (Essie, they called her) was the one who flooded the backyard rink when her Cecil was a boy, on Boswell Avenue in Toronto, got out the sticks, tied her son’s skates on, taught him the game. This was when skates were tied onto shoes; Cecil, of course, was better known as Babe, ace goalscorer and one-time captain of the Toronto St. Patricks. “My mother could throw a baseball right out of the park,” he said. “Or a hammer, or anything at all. She could run the other women right off their feet, and some of the men as well.”
Jeanne Maki’s boys, Chico and Wayne, were playing for Chicago and Vancouver respectively in 1971 when she was asked about their boyhoods. “Wayne used to imitate Foster Hewitt and got on everybody’s nerves,” she said. “Oh, he used to give me a headache, and even the neighbours threatened to kick his rear end.”
Here’s Edith Plager, mother of St. Louis Blues legends Barclay, Bob, and Bill:
They were never really indoors much, except to be in the basement and play hockey there — or sometimes they shot BB guns. Once Billy went off and broke about 50 jars of my preserves with his BB gun, and then another time, oh my, I was peeling potatoes and I started finding BBs in them. He’d been shooting into the bag, ha ha ha. Anyway, they had an understanding mother.
It’s been coming around every year on this day, since 1972, and every year we duly give bow our heads and give our thanks while observing the anniversary with small gestures of national relief (whew, we almost lost) and self-congratulation (wow, are we great). Yes, that’s right, on this day, September 28, 44 years ago, 34 seconds remained in the final ill-tempered game of the long grim Summit Series pitting many of Canada’s best hockey players against a squad of the Soviet Union’s. The clock at the Palace of Sports of the Central Lenin Stadium stopped at 19:26 of the third period, you’ll recall: that’s when Paul Henderson scored his timely goal to give the Canadians a 6-5 lead in the game. Accounts of the series describe the euphoria of that moment; they also tell of how the remainder of the game unfolded. A sampling of the latter, including a touch of the former:
Cold War: The Amazing Canada-Soviet Hockey Series of 1972 (1996) by Roy MacSkimming
The Canadian bench empties. Even Dryden goes lumbering all the way down the rink to join the ecstatic mob of white sweaters hugging, patting, squeezing and slapping Henderson.
The Soviets skate sluggishly about, stunned, their faces drained of hope, their cause apparently lost. Yet thirty-four seconds remain to play, and the Soviets are gifted with the power to score a sudden goal. It’s easy to imagine them tying this one up in thirty-four seconds, thus tying the series, and going on to claim victory on goal-differential.
Sinden stays with Stapleton, who was on the ice for the goal along with Savard. He sends out White and his two steadiest defensive forwards, Ellis and Peter Mahovlich, to join the indefatigable Esposito. The five don’t let the Soviets anywhere near Dryden. Even the Soviets themselves go halfheartedly through the motions, as if they don’t really expect to score. As if it were somehow ordained the Canadians would win.
With Gusev the last Soviet player to touch the puck, with the Canadian fans absolutely roaring out the countdown of the final seconds, Dryden hands off to Stapleton. Carefully, Stapleton carries the puck behind his net and passes up the boards to Mahovlich as the final horn sounds. Mahovlich lets the puck go by, Stapleton races after it, and the fans, as Foster Hewitt says, go wild.
Straight Shooter: The Brad Park Story (2012) by Brad Park and Thom Sears
When Paul Henderson scored the winning goal, I was on the bench. I had just got off the ice, maybe 20 seconds before. When he scored the winner, I was jumping out of my jockstrap!
The Third Best Hull (2013) by Dennis Hull and Robert Thompson
After Henderson scored, the whole team jumped out on the ice, but the game wasn’t over and Harry knew it. There were still 34 seconds remaining, but the Russians never really tried after Paul scored. They were finished. They didn’t pull the goalie, they didn’t rush, they didn’t give it all their effort.
Shooting For Glory (1997) by Paul Henderson with Mike Leonetti
I skated back to the bench and told Sinden, “Harry, I’m done.” I knew I couldn’t play those last 34 seconds. I was physically and emotionally drained. In any event, we held them off to win 6-5 and take the series four wins to three wit one game tied.
How Hockey Explains Canada: The Sport That Defines a Country (2012), by Jim Prime and Paul Henderson
When Paul scored that goal, I was one of the first guys over the boards. We were all huddled together. We started chanting, ‘We did it, we did it …’ but we still had 34 seconds to kill off. I was actually very honoured. Harry Sinden sent Pete Mahovlich and myself and Phil Esposito on to kill off that final 34 seconds. I remember Paul saying to me when the game was over, ‘That guy wasn’t going to go anywhere.’ I had him so wrapped up! For me, for myself I was pleased that Harry had enough confidence in me because a lot can happen in 34 seconds.
Moscow Diary (1972) by Jack Ludwig
In time the game began again, but it was all count-down, the longest loudest triumphant cry-out numbers may have ever received. “O Canada” roared out suddenly: Canadians for this moment softened, and gave up trying to sound like a lynch mob.
In the final seconds it was the tour’s end, wedding, anniversary, christening, bar mitzvah, birth, birthday, New Year’s Eve, carnival, Day of Misrule — yes, and the Dieppe that ended with V-E Day!
The Goal of My Life (2012) by Paul Henderson with Roger Lajoie
I went back to the bench exhausted. I said, “Harry, I’m done, the tank is empty!” There was no way I was going back out there for the final thirty-four seconds. We killed those seconds off, the clock wound down, and we had the greatest victory of our lives. We were desperate to win and it showed, and that was the difference really. We didn’t want to go don in history as the team that couldn’t lose to the Russians but did … and thanks to that third-period rally, we didn’t!
Thunder and Lightning: A No B.S. Memoir (2003) by Phil Esposito and Peter Golenbock
After Pauly scored, we were ahead for the first time with only thirty-four seconds left in the game. I figured Harry Sinden wanted me to come out, but I looked at him like, Don’t you dare take me out. I was determined not to let them score.
I never left the ice. I was not going off until the whistle blew. I was bad that way, but I could not help myself. I felt I had to stay out there.
The puck came around the back of our net, and I got it, and I looked up to see that the time was running out, and when the horn blew, I looked up and cheered, and all the Team Canada players on the ice went crazy. The trumpeter from the Montreal Forum was sitting in the stands blowing loudly, and the Canadian fans in the stands — three thousand of them — were going crazy.
When the game ended I found myself right beside Ken Dryden, and I grabbed him. All the guys came over. The emotion we all felt more than anything else was relief.
I skated past the Russian coach, Kulagin, a big fat guy with a fat face who we nicknamed “Chuckles.” I said, “Too fucking bad, you fucking Commie prick.”
Hockey Showdown: The Canada-Russia Hockey Series (1972) by Harry Sinden
As I remember it now, we didn’t believe it for a split second. Our bench seemed to freeze. Maybe it was too good to be true. Suddenly, all the players were over the boards smothering Henderson. I looked at the clock — 34 seconds. I thought we had more time left than that, but I wished it were only four. I got the players who were going to be on the ice for the final half minute — Ellis, Espo, Peter — and told them not to take any chances. Just dump the puck out of the zone and keep them at center ice. The Russians never came close. When the game ended, Fergie, Eagleson, and I threw our arms around one another and ran across the ice like little kids. It’s a wonder we didn’t break our necks. I kept telling them, “Never in doubt, was it, fellas?”
Face-Off At The Summit (1973) by Ken Dryden with Mark Mulvoy
Then I realized there were still thirty-four seconds to play. The Russians had scored twice in nine seconds the other night. It was, without doubt, the longest thirty-four seconds I have ever played. It seemed like thirty-four days, but after everything we had been through, we weren’t going to let anything crush us now. We checked furiously and they never got off a decent shot. It was over. 6-5. The Canadians were singing “O Canada” in the stands and waving their miniature Canadian flags. And then they started that incessant cheer: “We’re No. 1, We’re No. 1.”
(Top photo: Frank Lennon, Library and Archives Canada, e010933343; Headline: The Globe and Mail, September 29, 1972)
When the ’72 Summit Series Tour stopped in Toronto earlier this month, a third of Canada’s famous team stepped to the stage of the Sony Centre: Ron Ellis, Yvan Cournoyer, Brad Park, Bobby Clarke, Ken Dryden, Serge Savard, Pete Mahovlich, Dennis Hull, and Pat Stapleton were on hand to reminisce, along with the head coach, Harry Sinden. Ottawa radio host and hockey enthusiast Liam Maguire emcee’d. With a fuller account to follow, could we concentrate our attention here, quickly, on something that wasn’t mentioned during the two hours of tale-telling, quips, and video highlights? I can’t speak for everyone in the small and attentive audience, but I’m willing to venture that as the evening’s narrative moved to Moscow and Game Six, I wasn’t alone in the expectation that there might be something to be said about Bobby Clarke, 67 now, and the Soviet Union’s late Valeri Kharlamov, viz. how the stick of the former found the ankle of the latter in that September 24 second period all those years ago.
No, though. Two hours of talking and nothing — what’s been called the “slash heard ’round the world” didn’t rate so much as a mention. It was only when Maguire asked for questions from the audience that the subject finally came up when a man (in his 50s, I’ll guess) advanced to a microphone in an aisle of the theatre. A transcript here, for the record, of how that went:
This is for Bobby Clarke. You put a love-tap on [sic] Harmalov’s ankle [laughter] and I have to ask you — I think it changed the series — what are your comments on that?
I got a couple of love taps, too.
How many of you got slashed by Bobby?
[Mahovlich, Park, Cournoyer, and Hull all raise hands — big laughter]
They deserved it.
I don’t think that that was that big a deal.
[Hard-to-interpret noises from crowd — intakes of breath? sighs of agreement? of censure?]
Those things were going on in that series. It was never … it was never mentioned for years and years, and then Paul Henderson made some statement that he didn’t want his grandson doin’ what I had done in that series with that slash. And all of a sudden it was a political incorrect thing to do. But really, all kinds of different things went on in that series and … ah … I whacked him, but it wasn’t that big a deal, really.
It should be pointed out that Kharlamov didn’t … he finished the game, he missed Game Seven, he played Game Eight, he had an assist on the third goal, he set up Yakushev in the second period, it went unassisted because Canadians touched it so they didn’t give him a point, he played a regular shift, and they had three leads, no-one said a thing, like Bobby said, it was just one of those things, Phil got butt-ended in the mouth, Gary got kicked right through the shinpad, but a lot of emphasis is on that slash because they think Kharlamov didn’t play another shift, which as we know is total bs.
Dennis Hull says there’s a woman — actually, she’s a lady — Dennis Hull met this lady last year and what she told him is that her father, who lives in Russia, very close to the Chinese border, he doesn’t know that Canada won the Summit Series in 1972.
It’s not that he isn’t interested or never cared. It’s not a case of one guy that the news never reached because of a brokendown TV or he was hunting and got lost on the wrong day many Septembers ago. None of that. What the Hull-lady said is, incredibly, this:
She said her father thinks the Russians won the Summit Series. The whole town thinks that’s the case. They’ve been brainwashed. She said maybe they didn’t show the last game.
This from The Third Best Hull (ECW), Hull Minor’s 1998 memoir (writer Robert Thompson helped) that’s out again this month in a new edition. It’s more or less the same book as it was before, which is to say a chatty breeze through Hull’s 13-year career with the Chicago Black Hawks (he had a year’s coda in Detroit) with some inside scoop on the Summit Series of ’72. (“Russian toilet paper was terrible stuff.”)
New here is a 16-page afterword to get us all caught up on the past 15 years. Hull got married again, did a bunch of the speeches at banquets he does so well, says he wouldn’t swap his NHL career for a modern-day million one, even though the most he ever made was $100,000. The camaraderie was better in the old days, for one thing. For another, if he’d made a lot of money playing hockey, he never would have gone to university after he retired, or gone on to teach school, he would have missed out on all that, and that would be too bad. Continue reading