“I’d like to have a dollar for every time the Stanley Cup has been filled with champagne.”
When Frank Calder, the NHL’s first president, said that in 1942, hockey’s most cherished trophy had already been won more than 80 times in its 48 years of history, going back to 1893, when the Montreal Hockey Club laid original claim on the Cup. Calder was in a storytelling frame of mind rather than a profiteering one, regaling reporters with tales of Cup shenanigans, some of them involving Lord Stanley’s chalice being misplaced, or maltreated, some of which may even be true. Calder wasn’t at the time harbouring a reliable quaff-count; his point was presumptive, recognizing that however hallowed a symbol it may be, the Stanley Cup will never escape its original self and purpose as a drinking vessel.
All of which gets us around to the question of the night: can you truly be said to have won the Stanley Cup if you don’t end up merrily slurping sparkling alcohol from its silvery bowl?
Seventy-seven times the Cup, in several incarnations, has been awarded since Calder spoke his piece in 1942. With a lock-out having washed out the 2005 season and Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning made it 78 last when they dispensed with the Dallas Stars in Edmonton to win these perturbed playoffs and receive the Cup from Calder-heir Gary Bettman, putting an end, finally, to the 2019-20 NHL season.
And, yes, champagne (and beer) was decanted into the Cup and duly poured out, into and onto the happy faces of the new champions. Was there ever any doubt that they would partake, despite what public health officials might advise in, say, a surging pandemic such as we’re in?
No-one needs reminding how unlikely the whole idea of completing the hockey season seemed back in March and April when COVID-19 interrupted everything. Even when the NHL looked north for a bubbled restart at the beginning of August there was no guarantee that the summer’s emergency experiment would work out.
The NHL deserves credit for the fact that it has. Prudent planning, strict procedures, stringent testing, good luck: they’ve all played a part in getting the league to this point. When, back in August, I talked to some NHL high-ups for a New York Times feature I was working on, they were assuming nothing.
“I’m just hopeful we get to that point,” Dr. Winne Meeuwisse, theNHL’s chief medical officer told me when I raised a question about possible protocols involved in the eventual presentation of/sipping from the Cup. “We’re a long way away from that, and we have a lot of work to do to get there.”
Everybody I spoke with emphasized that health and safety were — and would remain — the top priority.
I asked Dr. Meeuwisse specifically about infectious disease and risk and all the potential for Cup handling, passing around, kissing, and, yes, drinking from.
“Would hoisting the Cup be a problem? No. Would a lot of shared consumption be a problem? It probably would be.”
I asked the NHL’s deputy commissioner, too, Bill Daly.
“That’s a fair question,” he said. Without offering specifics, he suggested that it just might be something that the league would indeed regulate … maybe. The full quote: “For better or for worse, we’re roughly six or seven weeks away from having to deal with that. I think we have some time to figure that out. Quite frankly, I think that’s been a recurring theme in terms of our approach to the pandemic from the start, which is we want to remain nimble. We want to react, or be in a position to proact, where you can, but when as we learn more and new things become evident or apparent to us, we can and have you know proven to this point where we can we can adjust on the fly.”
I talked to Phil Pritchard, too, the Hockey Hall of Fame vice-president and curator who’s better known as the Keeper of Cup. “As we get closer,” he said, “we’ll see what rules and regulations we have to put into effect.”
I get it. Who, exactly, was going to tell Steven Stamkos, or Pat Maroon, that after 65 days sequestered in their Canadian bubbles, far from friends and family and fans, they weren’t allowed to touch their lips to the Cup in all the traditional ways?
Dr. Meeuwisse well understood the challenge. “At that point,” he told me a month ago, “is a player going to care enough about it to alter their behaviour?”
Dr. Andrew Morris was someone else I consulted in August. He wasn’t professionally involved in the NHL’s return to the ice, but he’s a fan and, as an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health and University Health Network, an interested observer.
Would the champions bow to best preventive practices and forgo the clutching of the Cup, the kissing, the swigging, maybe just wave to it across the distance in the dressing room?
“I think they’ll say, ‘We’ll live with the risk here,’” Dr. Morris. And that’s true for this disease in general: there are public health issues, and then there are people’s own personal risk assessment issues.”
Born in Mine Centre up on Ontario’s Lakehead on a Friday of this date in 1919, Edgar Laprade was a reluctant NHLer. The Montreal Canadiens tried hard to sign him in the 1940s, after he’d led the Port Arthur Bearcats to an Allan Cup championship, but he joined the Canadian Army instead. He resisted the advances of the New York Rangers for a while, too, before eventually signing in 1945. Living in New York was “a headache,” he said in 1947, but that didn’t keep him from excelling on its ice: Laprade won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in 1945-46, as well as a Lady Byng, for peacefulness, in 1949-50, when he served one two-minute penalty through 60 games. That a was a relatively raucous year, for him: three times in his 10-year NHL career he made it through an entire season without taking a penalty. Laprade was a four-time All Star. Better late than never, Hockey’s Hall of Fame finally got around to welcoming him in 1993.
The closest he came to winning a Stanley Cup was in 1950, when the Rangers slipped into the playoffs and upset Montreal to earn the right to meet the Detroit Red Wings in the finals. Laprade was the Rangers’ top scorer that year, but in a late-February game against the Chicago Black Hawks, he tore a ligament in his left knee. He returned to action as the regular season wound down in late March, only to re-hurt the knee in another meeting with Chicago when Bill Gadsby tripped him.
“Laprade attempted to take his place on the Rangers’ offensive but quickly withdrew to the dressing room,” The New York Times reported of that incident. “There he was examined by Dr. Vincent A. Nardiello who stated that the player had suffered a torn lateral ligament in his left knee ‘and definitely would be unavailable for the Stanley Cup games.’”
Sporting a bulky brace, Laprade played in all 12 of the Rangers playoff games, finishing among the team’s top scorers. The Rangers couldn’t quite finish the job, losing in double overtime in Game 7 in Detroit, scuttled by Pete Babando’s definitive goal.
“There will never be another Gordie Howe,” is what Bobby Orr was saying last week, in the days following Howe’s death on June 10 at the age of 88.
“You couldn’t invent Gordie today,” Orr told Dave Stubbs from NHL.com. “If he was playing with today’s rules he might not be able to do anything at first. But he would adapt to the rules and guys wouldn’t take liberties with him. The way he played, he’d do real well.”
“He was everything to me,” Wayne Gretzky told NHL.com.
Adam Gopnik wrote a Howe tribute for The New Yorker. “Perhaps only Mark Messier, among players bright in our contemporary memory, combined the same qualities of grit, skill, desire, and accuracy,” he mused. “As Gretzky lived on the edge of his skates, Howe lived in his wrists: the accuracy, power, and quickness of his shot are the first things those who saw him up close, in his prime, often reference (after they reference the elbows that rose above those wrists).”
“My best Christmas ever, I was five years old and my dad — I mean Santa Claus — bought me a Gordie Howe sweater, which I wore for the whole year.” That’s Gretzky again, back in 1994. The same article, from Reuters, goes on to say that when young Wayne pleaded with his father, “a barber,” to cut his hair Gordiewise, Walter Gretzky had to explain that Wayne had too much hair and Gordie too little.
“His elbows were the best,” Joe Peacock wrote in 1997.
Gretzky, last week, helped to clarify that old Reuters story: “I was seven or eight years old and I’d go to the barber shop … and I’d say, ‘I want a Gordie Howe haircut.’ I was enamored by him at a young age.”
Eddie McCabe, writing in The Ottawa Citizen, circa 1979, said this: “Gordie is such a decent man, he makes up for the yahoos and the boors.”
Frank Selke said there was no-one better. “Gordie Howe is the greatest all-round hockey player I’ve ever seen,” he opined in 1961 when Selke was managing director of the Montreal Canadiens. “He’s a composite of some mighty fine players through the years, and I’ve been watching them all, amateur and professional, since the 1910s around my old hometown, Kitchener. I’ve never known any player combining so many faculties. He’s the greatest of them all.”
Gordie’s dad didn’t necessarily agree. Gordie wrote about this in his “authorized autobiography,” and … Howe! (1995):
According to my Dad, Vic was always the better player, better than me. He was so funny. And Vern, my oldest brother, was the best of us all, so Dad said. It wasn’t until Dad was old, on his death bed, that he finally gave me more credit. He was kidding me, and said, “Aw, I saw a few gams on television. I guess you were better than your brothers.”
“In street clothes, he looks quite slim, an impression heightened by his long arms, rather long neck and narrow face.” This is Peter Gzowski, from a famous Maclean’s profile of Howe from 1963. “His most outstanding physical characteristic is the slope of his shoulders; his trapezius muscles — the muscle you feel if you stretch your arm out to one side — rise into his neck at an angle not far from 45 degrees, while his deltoids, at the top of the arm, look scarcely better developed than the average dentist’s. The enormous strength he displays in hockey flows from him, rather than exploding, and the easy grace with which he moves on the ice, and which has given so many hockey fans pleasure over the years, is also evident in his loose, almost lazy walk.”
“He’s always at the outer edge of the rulebook,” Eric Nesterenko told Gzowski. “You never know when he’s going to slip over into what’s dirty.”
Howe’s longtime linemate concurred. “Gordie gets away with more than anyone else in hockey,” said Ted Lindsay. Andy Bathgate of the New York Ranger indicted Howe for “deliberately inflicting head cuts, of deliberately cauliflowering at least one ear, and of deliberately raising the puck at other people’s heads.” He did not spear, Bathgate said, nor butt-end. Gzowski: “He is a recognized master of ‘high sticking,’ an action that is almost impossible for the fans or even the referees to separate from an accident, and which has carved his signature on a good many faces around the league.”
Gary Ross wrote about Howe in 1978, the year Number 9 turned 50 playing for the New England Whalers, “If Gordie Howe were a building, he’d be sandblasted and declared an historic site. If he were a forest, he’d be made a national park. In an age of $100,000 flakes he’s the real thing. A hero, a wonder, a natural phenomenon.”
When a 45-year-old Howe came out of retirement in 1973 to play with sons Mark and Marty for the WHA’s Houston Aeros, Dr. Bob Bailey was the Michigan physician who told him to go for it. “I think if you looked at men who do comparable work, like farmers, you’d find similar musculature,” Dr. Bailey said. “It’s a matter of conditioning. What I found really incredible was his pulse rate, which was around 48. That’s almost the heart of a dolphin. A normal 50-year-old man might have one around 80.”
Herbert Warren Wind was first to profile Howe for the pages of Sports Illustrated. “When he appears to be noodling with the puck in the offensive zone,” he wrote in 1955, “doing nothing, he is actually plotting whether to sweep in from the right or cut to the left, preparing to shift his stick according to his move, for, like no other player in the history of hockey, he is truly ambidextrous and is always shooting at you with a forehand shot. Also invisible is Howe’s great relaxed strength which manifests itself principally in wrists as large as the average athlete’s forearm.”
Mark Howe, in his 2013 memoir Gordie Howe’s Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow of Mr. Hockey: “He always regretted dropping out of school and felt that somebody from the hockey club should have stopped him. I think that’s why he took up crossword puzzles — a big-time passion of his — to improve his vocabulary.”
“His success is due in part to the fact that he has the ‘perfect body for hockey,’” Larry Bortstein was able to disclose in 1970. “His shoulders slope so sharply into his huge biceps, which flare out into huge forearms, wrists, and hands. His legs are very strong. ‘I conserve them by sitting down at places where I don’t have to stand,’ he says.”
“When Howe is on the ice,” Mark Kram wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1964, “Detroit’s Olympia Stadium hums like an overloaded electric cable.”
King Clancy was the one who suggested someone ought to bottle the man’s sweat: “It would make a great liniment for hockey players.” Continue reading
He hadn’t seen Valery Kharlamov skating by yet, or faced Yevgeni Zimin’s wrist-shot. Mid-August, 1972: it was summer still, a Sunday afternoon, and Ken Dryden was still just a goaltender in his underwear.
Team Canada had gathered at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens for a day of medical examinations before the week started and the players took to the ice. “They were in good shape,” said Dr. Jim Murray, one of the team’s three doctors, “some a little better than other, perhaps, but all very, very good. These are tremendous physical specimens, you know. That’s one of the reasons they’re the great hockey players they are. The better a player, I find, the more likely he is to stay in top condition throughout the off-season. Take Big Frank (Mahovlich), for instance. He’s not an ounce overweight.”
That’s Dr. Jack Zeldin, above, checking Dryden’s blood pressure. The Toronto Star noted that on the ice, he wore contact lenses — that’s why “he looks strange in glasses.”
“I think our guys will be in adequate shape,” Canadian coach Harry Sinden was telling The Star’s Jim Proudfoot the next day after he’d overseen a 90-minute skate.
“A lot of people seem to believe there’s something magic about the Russians because they get up at 6 a.m. and play soccer or whatever it is and eat borscht for breakfast.”
“It’s my experience that you’re liable to find NHL players getting home at 6. But they’re great athletes and proud men and they’ll be ready. I’ve been very impressed by their determination to get this job done and to do it right.”
Upkeep: “The Hawks have their own small hospital in the Stadium,” The Chicago Tribune advised its readers in January of 1938. On this visit, patients included (left to right) Johnny Gottselig, in for treatment on a swollen knee; Pete Palangio, sore of shoulder; and Doc Romnes, getting his stitches checked by Chicago team physician Dr. R. W. Meacham (a.k.a. Dr. Mayhem). That’s trainer Ed Froelich spinning the dials on the diathermy machine. The Hawks had been in a bit of a slump and before their next game, coach Bill Stewart saw fit to revamp his line-up. Palangio was part of that, ending up St. Louis of the minor-league AHA. The Hawks who stuck around went on to beat Montreal’s Maroons 1-0 on a Gottselig goal. Things started looking up after that, all the way through to April, when Chicago beat Toronto to win the Stanley Cup. Palangio was back for that; as Andrew Podnieks points out, he even got his name engraved twice on the Cup that year. Well, more or less: the first time it’s spelled Palagio, with no first name attached.
Almost There: You can’t see the damage here — post-plastic surgery, Jerry Toppazzini of the Boston Bruins looked pretty good in early March of 1957. A month after suffering what doctors called a “complicated” facial injury in an encounter with Ted Lindsay’s stick, the right winger still wasn’t back on the ice. He hadn’t even left Detroit yet, in fact, the scene of the crime. While he waited for his doctor’s okay, he was skating on Red Wing ice at the Olympia and (above) at least pretending to work out. Six weeks he’d be out, minimum, said the papers, if he wasn’t finished for the season.
Here’s what happened: with the Bruins leading 1-0, three minutes to go in the game, Bruins and Wings were in one of your proverbial scrambles for the puck. Boston coach Milt Schmidt said Lindsay, 31 and well-known for cussedness, went in with malice aforethought. “There was no accident about that,” Schmidt said. “Lindsay jumped right at Topper with his stick.”
Toppazzini, 25, was the Bruins’ leading scorer at the time. He went down. Removed to a dressing room, he took on 16 stitches from a doctor trying to close cuts to his nose, lips, and starboard eyebrow. Later, at Detroit Osteopathic Hospital, Dr. Milton Kosley examined an x-ray and reported a broken nose and “complicated fractures of the middle third of the face” as well as “partial chipping of two front teeth.” Once the swelling went down, he’d operate.
Back at the rink, Lindsay got a high-sticking major from referee Red Storey. Protesting, he earned a 10-minute misconduct and the $25 automatic fine that went with it.
“The puck was loose,” was how Lindsay told it to reporters, “and Toppazzini and I both were going after it. I jumped for it and so did he. I wasn’t trying to clobber the guy — we were a goal behind with just a couple of minutes left to play.” Why would he want to take a penalty?
“Nobody feels any worse about it than I do,” Lindsay said. “We’re all in hockey to make a living, not to maim anyone.”
For his part, Toppazzini couldn’t summon up a grudge. “I’m sure Ted didn’t do it intentionally,” he said.
He was back playing by mid-March. No-one had expected much from the Bruins that year, but Toppazzini was one of the sparks that fired them into third place in the final regular-season standings. They kept going in the playoffs, all the way to the Finals, where they lost to Montreal.
You can’t see Terry Sawchuk’s right elbow in the famous photograph that Ralph doctored up for Life Magazine in 1966 to show the grievous damage that hockey can do to goaltenders, just facial stitchings and scars. Take a look at the outtakes from that session, though, and the elbow’s surgical history is obvious. “Most of the trouble was the result of an injury that happened before my hockey playing days,” Sawchuk told another magazine, Blueline, in 1956. He was 12 years old, in Winnipeg, already enough of a hockey star that his mother didn’t want him playing football for fear of endangering his future on ice. Butch, his friends called him, according to biographer David Dupuis in Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World’s Greatest Goalie (1998), and one Sunday he was on his way to Mass when these friends lured him to the forbidden field: Hey, Butch, they said, whadarya, scared? No, he wasn’t, and of course instead of to prayers he took to tackling, ending up in “a thunderous pile-up.” He didn’t tell his mother: how could he? The elbow healed badly. He had trouble straightening his arm. That didn’t stop him, of course, from making his way to the NHL, where he was soon winning All-Star honours and trophies called Calder and Vézina and Stanley. But in each of his first two summers as a Detroit Red Wing, 1950 and ’51, he did end up submitting to elbow surgeries to extract bone chips from the joint. “Neither of these operations cleared up the condition,” Sawchuk said, “and I still had some pain and couldn’t fully extend my arm.” In 1952 he was back at the hospital, with (above) Dr. Donald J. Sheets taking charge this time. “He really did a job,” his patient said later. “He removed over sixty pieces of bone, taking everything he thought might break off and cause trouble later on. I haven’t had any trouble with the elbow since and for the first time in over ten years I’m able to have complete movement of my arm.”
“Motor and industrial accidents, knife and bullet wounds, injuries in warfare and fist-fights, blows by balls and by sticks and canes, falls on the head, fencing and sabre duelling, arteriotomy, kicks by horses and pecks by roosters have been described as causes of pseudoaneurysms of the temporal artery. So far as we are aware, blows by hockey pucks have not been implicated previously, but we would defend our use of the term ‘puck aneurysm’ as a means to drawing attention to a potentially serious hazard in an internationally popular sport. Although it is well known that to be struck in the head by a hockey puck cannot be an entirely benign event, it is perhaps insufficiently appreciated that a regulation hockey puck weighs 165 grams and may travel at a velocity in excess of 120 feet per second. When such a missile strikes the head, delayed as well as sequelae cannot be wholly unexpected.”
• Doctors J.S. Campbell, Pierre Fournier, and D.P. Hill in “Puck Aneurysm,” a 1959 study of puck-triggered traumatic pseudoaneurysms of the superficial temporal artery for The Canadian Medical Association Journal
Cast And Crew: On the bright side, 22-year-old Boston center Dave Creighton scored two goals on the first day of 1953, when the Bruins beat Toronto 5-1 at the Garden, and he was named the game’s first star when it was all over. He’d been stretchered off by then: in the third period, Fern Flaman dragged him down and fell on him, breaking his right fibula near the ankle. Dr. Thomas Kelley plastered it up in the rink and sent him to spend the night at home in Newton. Next day (above) he was in at the Somerville Hospital for an x-ray. That’s teammate Ed Sandford with him, on the left, alongside Dr. Walter Whitaker; Bruins’ goaltender Sugar Jim Henry; and Dr. Kelley.
The game’s other casualty was Toronto captain Teeder Kennedy, 27. He got into a fight in the second period with Boston captain Milt Schmidt, sparking a scene that The Boston Globe described as “the biggest free-for-all in more than two years.” A Donnybrook, a tussle, a melee, the tumult, take your pick. “Schmidt got across a couple of stiff jolts to Kennedy’s face,” The Globe’s Tom Fitzgerald wrote, “and it looked like the officials were going to gain control, when diversions set in.”
We’re getting to know their names now, all the doctors of hockey, they’re in the news as much as their patients. Dr. Micky Collins was the concussion specialist who spoke first at Sidney Crosby’s famous state-of-the-skull address back in September. He talked about fog and Ferraris, boogeymen, herding cows back into the barn. He cited deficits and impacts, and introduced us to the word vestibular.
Dr. Ted Carrick was there, too: he was the one who talked about small perturbations and great perturbations. He’s the one who’s stayed in the news, too, having loaded Crosby into a whole-body gyroscope and turned him all around. At the news conference he’s the one who announced that when all was said and done, Sid’s brain would be even better than it was before.
Dr. Joseph Maroon also treated Crosby, and with Dr. Collins he was advising Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger this week to rest his shaken brain for the rest of the season. Toronto neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Cusimano is the guy who told The Toronto Star this week that the NHL isn’t doing enough to protect its players. Earlier in the fall, he and Dr. Paul Echlin from London, Ont., unveiled a study of two junior teams that found that 25 per cent of the players suffered concussions. Dr. Charles Tator is the news every other day, it seems: recently he was questioning the spin-cycle Dr. Carrick put Crosby through. “Totally unproven,” he told The Star. “It could even do harm.” Continue reading