vézina n’est plus
Georges Vézina’s health had been failing for months, and it was on a Saturday morning of this date in March of 1926 that he died, aged 39, in the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in his hometown, Chicoutimi. “Vézina n’est plus,” Horace Lavigne mourned in the pages of La Patrie. “Although foreseen from the first days of his illness, four months ago, loses none of its cruel and painful side.” He’d started his last game for the Montreal Canadiens as the NHL season opened in November of 1925, but he was already desperately ill, and left the ice after the first period. He was subsequently diagnosed with the tuberculosis that killed him.
Above, Montreal’s goaltending great poses with his Canadiens’ teammates during the 1914-15 National Hockey Association season. That team had some talent, as you can see, with future Hall of Famers Didier Pitre and Jack Laviolette joining Vézina in the line-up. It didn’t work out, though, that year: Canadiens ended up bottom of the six-team NHA standings when it was all over. A note on back-up goaltender Ray Marchand, seen here on the left at the back, who never saw any game-action that year. Canadiens could have used him in a game in Quebec, when Vézina took a penalty and, as per the rules then, went to serve his time, but Marchand had stayed home in Montreal, and defenceman Laviolette ended up strapping on Vézina’s pads — and conceding the goal that decided the game in Quebec’s favour. Marchand would return to the team in 1920, when he signed on again as Vézina’s understudy in the NHL. Once again, he was never called on to play in a game.
In 1926, in Vézina’s absence, Canadiens once again finished the season in last place, sunken down at the bottom of the seven-team NHL standings. Montreal’s other team, the Maroons, fared better that year, and on this night 96 years ago, they took on the Ottawa Senators in the final of the two-game, total-goals NHL championship at the Ottawa Auditorium. A crowd of 10,000 stood in honour of Vézina before referee Lou Marsh dropped the puck to start the game, while the band of the Governor-General’s Foot Guards played “Nearer My God To Thee.”
Coaches and players paid tributes of their own. The former Senators’ star defenceman Eddie Gerard was coaching Montreal. “Vézina was the hardest man to beat that I ever played against,” he said. “There was only one Vézina,” said Maroons’ goaltender Clint Benedict.
In the game that followed, Benedict shut out Ottawa’s shooters — with the help, as the Montreal Daily Star imagined it, below, of Vézina’s spirit. Montreal’s Babe Siebert, meanwhile, scored the only goal on Ottawa’s Alec Connell. That was enough to send the Maroons on to play for the Stanley Cup, taking on the WCHL Victoria Cougars later that week at the Forum and beating them three games to one to claim their first championship.
what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?
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.”
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:
the tooth and nothing but
Charlie Dinsmore played his football with the Toronto Argonauts in the early 1920s (Lionel Conacher and Dunc Munro were teammates); in the NHL, he turned out at centre for Montreal’s new club in 1924, joining Munro and scoring the team’s very first goal when the Maroons-to-be played their very first game, at the Boston Arena, on a Monday of this same date, 98 years ago.
Art Ross’ Bruins were new to the league, too, and they ended up winning that historic first encounter, getting goals from Smokey Harris and Carson Cooper in a 2-1 final. This was one of only six games that the Bruins won that year as they finished at the bottom of the six-team NHL standings with a record of 6-24-0.
Montreal, who started the season with Cecil Hart as coach and manager, did a little better, finishing in fifth place with a record of 9-19-2. Both teams missed the playoffs. Hart didn’t last the season, as it turned out; he parted ways with the team in February of 1925, ceding the bench with nine games remaining to former Ottawa Senators star defenceman Eddie Gerard.
Gerard, impressively, steered the Maroons to a Stanley Cup championship to top off the following year, 1925-26, you may recall. Ross’ Bruins, meanwhile, had to wait until 1929 to claim their first Cup championship. Hart, of course, went on to coach the Canadiens, winning a pair of Cups with them in 1930 and ’31.
Ross and Hart, who would have been old Montreal acquaintances, seem to have laid something of a (friendly?) wager ahead of their inaugural meeting on December 1, 1924. That, according to this Ottawa Journal item published following Boston’s win:
gaoledtenders: a short history of time served
Clint Benedict’s violations were out in the open, many of them, whether he was upsetting Corb Denneny behind the net or (another time) dropping Toronto captain Frank Heffernan “with a clout on the dome.”
In the decisive game of the 1923 Stanley Cup finals, with Benedict’s Ottawa Senators on the way to beating the WCHL-champion Edmonton Eskimos to claim hockey’s ultimate trophy, referee Mickey Ion sanctioned the goaltender for a first-period slash on Edmonton defenceman Joe Simpson. “Benedict tried to separate Joe from his legs behind the goal,” Andy Lyle wrote in the Edmonton Journal. This particular game was being played under eastern (NHL) rules, so Benedict headed for the penalty bench.
Foul but no harm: with Ottawa nursing a 1-0, Benedict’s teammates were able to defend the lead without their goaltender’s help. This was at the end of the famous series during which Senators defenceman King Clancy ended playing defence, forward, and goal. In a 1997 memoir written with Brian McFarlane, Clancy describes the moment that he headed for the latter: Benedict chucked over his goalstick and said, “You take care of this place ’til I get back.”
After that, Clancy’s time was mostly an exercise in standing around, though not entirely. In the memoir, Clancy recalls that when, at one point, he smothered the puck near the net, Ion threatened him with a penalty.
But while Clancy says that he didn’t face a single Edmonton shot, contemporary accounts tell a different tale. By Ottawa manager Tommy Gorman’s account, Clancy faced down two Edmonton shots. “Once Joe Simpson whipped in a long one,” he wrote, “whereupon ‘King’ dropped his stick, caught the puck with the skill of a baseball catcher, and tossed it aside while the crowd roared its approval.”
Count it, I guess, as the first shared shutout in Stanley Cup history.
Nowadays, when it comes to penalties for goalies, the NHL rule book gets right to the point with Rule 27:
Minor Penalty to Goalkeeper — A goalkeeper shall not be sent to the penalty bench for an offense which incurs a minor penalty, but instead, the minor penalty shall be served by another member of his team who was on the ice when the offense was committed. This player is to be designated by the Coach of the offending team through the playing Captain and such substitute shall not be changed.
But for the first three decades of NHL history — in the regular season as well as in Stanley Cup play— goaltenders themselves served the penalties they were assessed, departing the ice while a teammate did his best to fill in.
This happened more than a dozen times in those early years, and was cause for considerable chaos and excitement. In the 1920s, Clint Benedict was (as mentioned) often in the mix, while in the ’30s, Lorne Chabot featured prominently. Among the temporary goaltenders, King Clancy continued to stand out, along with Sprague Cleghorn. Goals would have been easy to score in these circumstances — you’d think. In fact, none was scored on the first eight occasions — it wasn’t until 1931, when Chicago’s Tommy Cook punished the Canadiens, that anyone was able to take advantage of an absent goaltender to score.
Despite what you may have read in a recent feature on NHL.com, the last time a goaltender went to the box wasn’t in March of 1932, after a particular fractious game in Boston, though the NHL did adjust some language in the rule book that year.
No, the final goaltender to do his own time would seem to have been Mike Karakas of the Chicago Black Hawks at the end of December in 1936. After that — but we’ll come back to the shifting of the rules that went on for more than a decade before goaltenders were fully and finally excused from going to the box.
Ahead of that, herewith, a helpful review of the NHL’s history of goaltenders who were binned for their sins, listed chronologically from earliest to last, starting in the league’s second season on ice and wandering along to its 20th.
None of the six goalies who tended nets during the NHL’s inaugural season, 1917-18, was penalized. That’s worth a note, if only because, until the rule was changed a couple of weeks into the schedule, goalies were forbidden, on pain of penalty, from falling to their knees to stop the puck. Benedict, again, was front and centre in the discussion that led to the change. In the old National Hockey Association, his collapses were as renowned as his penalties. Indeed, in announcing in January of 1918 that goaltenders would now be allowed to “adopt any attitude” to stop the puck, NHL President Frank Calder made specific mention of Benedict before going on to explain the rationale for the change. “Very few of the teams carry a spare netminder,” Calder explained, “and if the goaler is ruled off it means a long delay in equipping another player, and in a close contest would undoubtedly cost the penalized team the game. The old rule made it hard for the referees, so everybody will be helped.”
Free to flop, Benedict was left to find other means of catching the attention of referees. Which he duly did:
Tuesday, February 18, 1919
Ottawa Senators 4 Toronto Arenas 3 (OT)
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referees: Lou Marsh, Steve Vair
The NHL was a three-team affair in its second season, and not exactly robust, at that: the anemic Toronto Arenas ended up dropping out before the season was over, suspending operations with two games left to play in the schedule. Their sparsely-attended penultimate game — no more than 1,000 fans showed up — saw Ottawa’s goaltender penalized with ten minutes left in the third period. Yes, this was unruly Benedict once again: with Toronto leading 2-1, he was sanctioned for upsetting Corb Denneny behind the Ottawa net, incurring a three-minute penalty (that was a thing, then).
Ottawa defenceman Sprague Cleghorn took over Benedict’s net. The Ottawa Journal: “Torontos tried hard but their sharp shooters were kept at long range by the defensive work of the Senators. Finally goalkeeper Cleghorn himself secured the puck and made an end to end rush, almost scoring.” An added detail from the Citizen: with Cleghorn absent on his rush, Senators’ winger Cy Denneny took to the net where he stopped at least one shot. After Benedict’s return, Toronto stretched their lead to 3-1 before Ottawa got goals from Frank Nighbor and (not one to be denied) Sprague Cleghorn before Punch Broadbent sealed the win for the Senators in overtime.
Saturday, January 24, 1920
Ottawa Senators 3 Toronto St. Patricks 5
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referee: Cooper Smeaton
The call on Clint Benedict this time, apparently, was for slashing Toronto captain Frank Heffernan. Referee Smeaton had already warned him for swinging his stick at Corb Denneny before sending Benedict to the penalty bench. The Ottawa Citizen described the goaltender as having swung his stick “heavily,” catching Heffernan across the forehead, while the Journal saw Heffernan go down “with a clout on the dome.” The Toronto faithful, the Globe reported, weren’t pleased: “the crowd hissed and hooted him.” Sprague Cleghorn was still manning the Ottawa defence, but this time it was winger Jack Darragh subbed in while Benedict served his three minutes. The Journal noted several “sensational stops,” and no goals against.
Wednesday, February 1, 1922
Montreal Canadiens 2 Ottawa Senators 4
Laurier Avenue Arena, Ottawa
Referee: Lou Marsh
“At times,” the Ottawa Journal reported, “Sprague Cleghorn played like a master and at other times like a gunman.” It was Cleghorn’s violence that made headlines this night, drawing the attention of Ottawa police, who showed up in Montreal’s dressing room after the game. Cleghorn was a Canadien now, turning out against his old teammates (including Clint Benedict in Ottawa’s goal), and proving a one-man wrecking crew. He accumulated 29 minutes in penalties for transgressions that included cutting Ottawa captain Eddie Gerard over the eye with a butt-end; breaking Frank Nighbor’s arm; and putting Cy Denneny out of the game in its final minutes. For the latter, Cleghorn was assessed a match penalty and fined for using indecent language. Canadiens managing director Leo Dandurand turned back the police who tried to apprehend Cleghorn, telling them to come back when they had a warrant.
Amid all this, Cleghorn also stepped into the Montreal net after Georges Vézina was sent off for slashing King Clancy. Notwithstanding the Ottawa Citizen’s verdict, calling Cleghorn “the present day disgrace of the National winter game,” Montreal’s Gazette reported that as an emergency goaltender he “made several fine stops.”
Saturday, March 31, 1923
Ottawa Senators 1 Edmonton Eskimos 0
Denman Arena, Vancouver
Referee: Mickey Ion
Clint Benedict’s Stanley Cup penalty was for a second-period slash across the knees of Edmonton’s Bullet Joe Simpson. (The Citizen: “the Ottawa goalie used his stick roughly.”) After multi-purpose King Clancy, stepped in, as mentioned, to replace him, his Senator teammates made sure that Edmonton didn’t get a single shot on net.
Saturday, December 20, 1924
Montreal Maroons 1 Hamilton Tigers 3
Barton Street Arena, Hamilton
Referee: Mike Rodden
Clint Benedict, again. He was a Montreal Maroon by now, and still swinging; this time, in Hamilton, he was sent off for (the Gazette alleged) “trying to get Bouchard.” Eddie Bouchard that was, a Hamilton winger. Maroons captain Dunc Munro stepped into the breach while Benedict cooled his heels, and temper. The Gazette: “nothing happened while he was off.”
Saturday, December 27, 1924
Ottawa Senators 4 Toronto St. Patricks 3
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referee: Lou Marsh
For the first time in NHL history, Clint Benedict wasn’t in the building when a penalty was called on a goaltender. He was in Montreal, for the record, taking no penalties as he tended the Maroons’ net in a 1-1 tie with the Canadiens that overtime couldn’t settle.
Offending this time was Senators’ stopper Alec Connell, who was in Toronto and (the Gazette said) “earned a penalty when he took a wallop at big Bert Corbeau. The latter was engaged in a fencing exhibition with Frank Nighbor late in the second period when Connell rushed out and aimed a blow at the local defence man. Connell missed by many metres, but nevertheless, he was given two minutes and Corbeau drew five. ‘King’ Clancy then took charge of the big stick and he made several fine saves, St. Patricks failing to score.”
During the fracas in which Connell was penalized, I can report, Ottawa’s Buck Boucher was fined $10 for (the Toronto Daily Star said) “being too lurid in his comments to the referee.” The Star also noted that when, playing goal, Clancy was elbowed by Jack Adams, the temporary Ottawa goaltender retaliated with a butt-end “just to show the rotund Irish centre player that he wasn’t at all afraid of him and wouldn’t take any nonsense.”
Saturday, February 14, 1925
Hamilton Tigers 1 Toronto St. Patricks 3
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referee: Eddie O’Leary
In the second period, Hamilton goaltender Jake Forbes was penalized for (as the Gazette saw it) “turning [Bert] Corbeau over as the big defenceman was passing by the Hamilton goal.” Hamilton winger Charlie Langlois was already serving a penalty as the defenceman Jesse Spring took the net, but the Tigers survived the scare: “Both Langlois and Forbes got back on the ice without any damage being done while they were absent, the other players checking St. Pats so well that they could not get near the Hamilton net.”
Wednesday, December 2, 1931
Montreal Canadiens 1 Chicago Black Hawks 2
Referee: Mike Rodden, Bill Shaver
A first for Chicago and indeed for the USA at large: never before had an NHL goaltender served his own penalty beyond a Canadian border. Notable, too: after seven tries and more than a decade, a team facing a substitute goaltender finally scored a goal. On this occasion, it was a decisive one, too.
The game was tied 1-1 in the third period when Montreal’s George Hainsworth tripped Chicago winger Vic Ripley. With just three minutes left in regular time, Ripley, who’d scored Chicago’s opening goal, hit the boards hard. He was carried off.
Hainsworth headed for the penalty bench. He had a teammate already there, Aurèle Joliat, so when defenceman Battleship Leduc took the net, the situation was grim for Montreal. The Gazette:
Albert Leduc armed himself with Hainsworth’s stick and stood between the posts with only three men to protect him. His position was almost helpless and when [Johnny] Gottselig and [Tommy] Cook came tearing in, the former passed to the centre player and Cook burned one past Leduc for the winning counter. Then Joliat returned and Leduc made one stop. When Hainsworth came back into the nets, Canadiens staged a rousing rally and the final gong found the champions peppering [Chicago goaltender Charlie] Gardiner unsuccessfully.
Tuesday, March 15, 1932
Toronto Maple Leafs 2 Boston Bruins 6
Referee: Bill Stewart, Odie Cleghorn
Boston saw its first goaltender-in-box when, three minutes in, Toronto’s Lorne Chabot was called for tripping Boston centreman Cooney Weiland. “The latter,” wrote Victor Jones in the Boston Globe, “entirely out of a play, was free-skating a la Sonja Henie in the vicinity of the Leaf cage.” Toronto’s Globe: “The Leafs protested loudly, but Stewart remained firm.”
It was a costly decision for the Leafs. At the time, a penalty didn’t come to its end, as it does today, with a goal by the team with the advantage: come what might, Chabot would serve out his full time for his trip.
Victor Jones spun up a whole comical bit in his dispatch around Leaf coach Dick Irvin’s decision to hand Chabot’s duties (along with his stick) to defenceman Red Horner. The upshot was that Bruins’ centre Marty Barry scored on him after ten seconds. Irvin replaced Horner with defenceman Alex Levinsky, without discernible effect: Barry scored on him, too, ten seconds later. When King Clancy tried his luck, Boston captain George Owen scored another goal, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead by the time Chabot returned to service.
There was a subsequent kerfuffle involving Toronto GM Conn Smythe, a practiced kerfuffler, particularly in Boston. He’d arrived late to the game, to find his team down by a pair of goals and Clancy tending the net. Smythe ended up reaching out from the Toronto bench to lay hands on referee Bill Stewart, who (he said) was blocking his view. Backed by a pair of Boston policemen, the Garden superintendent tried to evict Smythe, whereupon the Toronto players intervened.
“For some minutes,” Victor Jones recounted, “there was a better than fair chance that there would be a riot.” Bruins’ owner Charles F. Adams arrived on the scene to keep the peace and arrange a stay for Smythe who was allowed to keep his seat on the Leaf bench (in Jones’ telling) “on condition he would not further pinch, grab, or otherwise molest” the referee.
Boston didn’t squander its early boon, powering on to a 6-2 victory.
A couple of other notes from Jones’ notebook: “Stewart may have ruined the game, but he called the penalty as it’s written in the book and that’s all that concerns him.”
Also: “The best crack of the evening was made by Horner, after the game in the Toronto dressing room: ‘You fellows made a big mistake when you didn’t let me finish out my goal tending. I was just getting my eye on ’em, and after four or five more I’d have stopped everything.”
Sunday, November 20, 1932
Toronto Maple Leafs 0 New York Rangers 7
Madison Square Garden III, New York
Referees: Eusebe Daigneault, Jerry Goodman
The Leafs were the defending Stanley Cup champions in the fall of 1932, but that didn’t help them on this night in New York as they took on the team they’d defeated in the championship finals the previous April. This time out, Lorne Chabot’s troubles started in the second period, when he wandered too far from his net, whereupon a Rangers’ winger saw fit to bodycheck him. Cause and effect: “Chabot was banished,” Toronto’s Daily Star reported, “for flailing Murray Murdoch with his stick.” (Murdoch was penalized, too.)
Leafs’ winger Charlie Conacher took to the net, and in style. “He made six dazzling stops during this [two-minute] time,” Joseph C. Nichols reported in the New York Times, “playing without the pads and shin-guards always worn by regular goalies.” When Chabot returned, Conacher received a thundering ovation from the New York crowd. Chabot worked hard on the night, too, stopping a total of 41 Ranger shots. Unfortunately, there were also seven that got past him before the game was over.
Thursday, March 16, 1933
Toronto Maple Leafs 0 Detroit Red Wings 1
Referee: Cooper Smeaton, Clarence Bush
Lorne Chabot’s next visit to the penalty box came during what the Montreal Gazette graded one of the wildest games ever to be played at the Detroit Olympia. In the third period, when Detroit centreman Ebbie Goodfellow passed the Leaf goalmouth, Chabot (wrote Jack Carveth of the Detroit Free Press) “clipped him over the head with his over-sized stick.”
“That was the signal for Ebbie to lead with his left and cross with his right,” Carveth narrated. “Chabot went down with Goodfellow on top of him.”
Both players got minor penalties for their troubles, which continued once they were seated side-by-side the penalty box. “After they had been separated,” wrote Carveth, “a policeman was stationed between them to prevent another outbreak.”
Just as things seemed to be settling down, Detroit coach Jack Adams threw a punch that connected with the chin of Toronto’s Bob Gracie, who stood accused of loosing “a vile remark” in Adams’ direction. “Players from both benches were over the fence in a jiffy but nothing more serious than a lot of pushing developed.”
Toronto winger Charlie Conacher took up Chabot’s stick in his absence. “But he didn’t have to do any work,” according to the Canadian Press. “King Clancy ragged the puck cleverly,” and the Wings failed to get even a shot at Conacher. They were already ahead 1-0 at the time, and that’s the way the game ended, with the shutout going to Detroit’s John Ross Roach.
Tuesday, November 28, 1933
Montreal Maroons 4 Montreal Canadiens 1
Referees: Bill Stewart, A.G. Smith
Lorne Chabot may have moved from Toronto to Montreal by 1933, but he was still battling. On this night, he contrived to get into what the Montreal Daily Star called a “high voltage scrap” with Maroons centreman Dave Trottier. The latter’s stick hit Chabot on the head as he dove to retrieve a puck in the third period, it seems. “Thinking it intentional,” the Gazette reported, “Chabot grabbed one of Trottier’s legs and pulled him to the ice with a football tackle. They rose and came to grips.” Later that same brouhaha, Chabot interceded in a fight between teammate Wildor Larochelle and the Maroons’ Hooley Smith, whereupon (somehow) Trottier and Larochelle were sentenced to major penalties while Smith and Chabot earned only minors.
With two minutes left in the game and Maroons up by three goals, Canadiens’ coach Newsy Lalonde elected not to fill Chabot’s net. Maroons couldn’t hit the empty net, though winger Wally Kilrea came close with a long-distance shot that drifted wide.
Sunday, December 27, 1936
Chicago Black Hawks 0 New York Rangers 1
Madison Square Garden III
Referee: Bill Stewart, Babe Dye
“One of hockey’s rarest spectacles,” New York Times’ correspondent Joseph C. Nichols called the second-period tripping penalty that was called when Chicago’s Mike Karakas tripped New York’s Phil Watson. Filling in for Karakas was none other than Tommy Cook who, you might recall, scored a goal against Battleship Leduc in 1931 when he’d replaced Montreal’s George Hainsworth. This time, Nichols reported, the net might as well have been empty for all the chances the rangers had to score. With Chicago’s Johnny Gottselig, Paul Thompson, and Art Wiebe doing yeoman’s work on the defensive, Cook faced no shots during his stint as a stand-in — the last one, as it turned out, in NHL history.
Tracing the evolution of the NHL’s rule book generally involves a certain amount of sleuthing. James Duplacey’s The Rules of Hockey (1996) is helpful up to a point, but it’s not it’s not without bugs and oversights.
This is specifically the case, too, when it comes to goaltenders and their penalties. When in 1918 goaltenders were freed to fall to their knees without risk of punishment, this freedom never enshrined in writing. For most if not all of the league’s first decade, the only language in the rule book governing goaltenders had to do with holding the puck — not allowed — and the face-off arrangement that applied if they dared to commit this misdemeanor.
This changed in 1932, after that Leaf game in Boston in March when Toronto’s three emergency goaltenders yielded three goals and Conn Smythe got into (another) melee. Did he draft or drive the addition of the paragraph that was added to the rule book that year? It’s possible. It was procedural only, and didn’t change the way things had been done since the beginning. The language added to Rule 12 read:
If a goal-keeper is removed from the ice to serve a penalty the manager of the club shall appoint a substitute and the referee shall be advised of the name of the substitute appointed. The substitute goal-keeper shall be subject to the rules governing goal-keepers and have the same privileges.
The last part does suggest that stand-ins would be within their rights to strap on goaltending pads, and maybe that happened, though I’ve never seen any archival or anecdotal evidence that it did in any of the instances cited above.
Goaltenders were boxed on four more occasions (as we’ve seen) after this change in rule-book wording. It was six years later that the sentencing of rule-breaking goaltenders changed materially, in September of 1938. No goaltender had, to date, ever been assessed a major penalty, but if that were to happen, the new rule stipulated that he would go to the box, with his substitute accorded all the privileges of a regular netminder, “including the use of the goal-keeper’s stick and gloves.”
And for lesser infractions? Now The Official Rule Book declared that:
No goal-keeper shall be sent to the penalty bench for an offence which incurs a minor penalty but instead of the minor penalty, a penalty shot shall be given against him.
It didn’t take long for the statute to get its first test, once the 1938-39 season got underway. There was, it’s true, some confusion on the ice when the Detroit Red Wings hosted the Chicago Black Hawks, the reigning NHL champions, on Thursday, November 24.
It was a busy night for referee Clarence Campbell. The future NHL president wasn’t a favourite in Detroit, as Doc Holst of the local Free Press outlined:
Anytime Mr. Campbell is referee on Mr. [Jack] Adams’ ice, you can wager your grandma that there will be plenty of difficult problems and that he will never solve them to the satisfaction of the Red Wings. He’s their ogre, no matter how the other club praises his abilities.
Campbell infuriated both teams on this night. In the first period, he disallowed a goal that the Wings’ Marty Barry thought he’d score. Next, Campbell awarded the Wings a penalty shot after Hawks’ defenceman Alex Levinsky held back the Wings’ Ebbie Goodfellow on his way in on Chicago’s Mike Karakas. Levinsky objected so vociferously that Campbell gave him a ten-misconduct. Mud Bruneteau took Detroit’s penalty shot: Karakas saved.
Things got even more interesting in the third. It started with Detroit’s Pete Kelly skating in on the Chicago net and colliding with Karakas. Doc Holst: “The two of them came out of the net and started to roll, Pete holding on to Mike for dear life. The only thing Mike could think of was to tap Pete on the head with his big goalie stick.”
Campbell penalized both, sending Kelly to the box for holding and awarding Detroit a penalty shot for Karakas’ slash. The Wings weren’t having it — they wanted the Chicago goaltender sent off. “Campbell pulled the rule book on the Wings,” a wire service account of the proceedings reported, “and showed them goalies do not go to penalty boxes” Once again Mud Bruneteau stepped up to shoot on Karakas and, once again, failed to score. The Red Wings did eventually prevail in the game, winning 4-2, despite all the goals denied them.
Goaltenders did keep on taking penalties, some of them for contravening a new rule added to the books in 1938 barring them from throwing pucks into the crowd to stop play. In Detroit, if not elsewhere, this rule was said to be aimed at curbing the Red Wings’ Normie Smith, who’d been known in his time for disposing of (said the Free Press) “as many as a dozen pucks a night over the screen.” Chicago’s Karakas was, apparently, another enthusiastic puck-tosser.
And so, in February of 1939, Clarence Campbell called Wilf Cude of the Montreal Canadiens for flinging a puck over the screen against the New York Americans. Cude took his medicine and kicked out Johnny Sorrell’s penalty shot. In January, 1941, when Toronto’s Turk Broda tripped Canadiens’ Murph Chamberlain, he was pleased to redeem himself by foiling a penalty shot from Tony Demers.
The NHL continued to tweak the rule through the 1940s. In September of ’41, the league split the penalty shot: now there were major and minor versions. The major was what we know now, applied when a skater was impeded on a clear chance at goal. The player taking the shot was free to skate in on the goaltender to shoot from wherever he pleased. A minor penalty shot applied when a goaltender committed a foul: he would be sentenced to face an opposing player who could wheel in from centre-ice but had to shoot the puck before he crossed a line drawn 28 feet in front of the goal.
By 1945, the rules had changed again, with a penalty shot only applying when a goaltender incurred a major penalty. That meant that when, in a February game in New York, referee Bill Chadwick whistled down Rangers’ goaltender Chuck Rayner for tossing the puck up the ice (just as prohibited as hurling it into the stands), Rayner stayed in his net while teammate Ab DeMarco went to the penalty box. From there, he watched Chicago’s Pete Horeck score the opening goal in what ended as a 2-2 tie.
This continued over the next few years. Boston’s Frank Brimsek slung a puck into the Montreal crowd and teammate Bep Guidolin did his time for him. Detroit’s Gerry Couture went to the box when his goaltender, Harry Lumley, high-sticked Boston’s Bill Cowley. In the October of 1947, in a game at Chicago Stadium between the Black Hawks and Red Wings, Chadwick saw fit to call (in separate incidents) penalties on both team’s goaltenders, Lumley for tripping (Red Kelly went to the box) and Chicago’s Emile Francis for high-sticking (Dick Butler did the time).
A few days later Francis was penalized again, this time against Montreal, after a “mix-up” with Canadiens’ winger Jimmy Peters. By some accounts, this was an out-and-out fight, though Peters and Francis were assessed minors for roughing. Is it possible that referee Georges Gravel downgraded the charge to avoid the spectacle of Francis having to face a penalty shot for his temper?
The rule does seem generally to have fallen into disrepute in these final years before it was rewritten. Witness the game at Maple Leaf Gardens in January of 1946 when the Leafs beat the Red Wings 9-3 in a game refereed by King Clancy. Late in the third period, Detroit’s Joe Carveth took a shot on the Leaf goal only to see it saved by goaltender Frank McCool. The Globe and Mail’s Vern DeGeer described what happened next:
The puck rebounded back to Carveth’s stick as a whistle sounded. Carveth fired the puck again. It hit McCool on the shoulder. The Toronto goalie dropped his stick and darted from his cage. He headed straight for Carveth and enveloped the Detroiter in a bear hug that would have done credit to one of Frank Tunney’s mightiest wrestling warriors, and bore him to the ice.
DeGeer’s description of the aftermath came with a derisive subhed: Who Wrote This Rule?
The sheer stupidity of major hockey rules developed out of the McCool-Carveth affair. Carveth was given a two-minute penalty for firing the puck after the whistle and an additional two minutes for fighting. A major penalty shot play was given against McCool. Carl Liscombe made the play and hit the goalpost at McCool’s right side. There’s neither rhyme nor reason for such a severe penalty against a goaltender, but it’s in the rule book.
Carveth was in the penalty box when the game ended. First thing the former Regina boy did was skate to the Toronto fence and apologize to Frank for taking the extra shot after the whistle.
The NHL made another change ahead of the 1949-50 season: from then on, major penalties, too, that were incurred by goaltenders would see a teammate designated to serve time in the box rather than resulting in a penalty shot.
fine fettle: nels stewart pays the price
When the Montreal Maroons beat the Boston Bruins 3-1 on a Saturday of this date in 1928 at the Forum, it was Nels Stewart who led the way, scoring two of Montreal’s goals and assisting on another that Jimmy Ward scored. The Montreal Daily Star heralded Stewart’s performance, which followed, it seems, weeks of indifferent play.
“Gone was the lassitude,” the Star’s correspondent wrote, “which almost made strong men weep, and weak women bite their lips; gone was the heavy plowhorse style, which turned a racing steed on skates into a plodding Percheron; and gone was the almost abstracted gaze, the heaviness of arm, the hesitating motion of the hand …. Instead, there was a Stewart of a couple of years ago, smiling and alert with eyes that were shining with the joy of battle, anxious, and eager to show those fellows from Boston that they could not put anything over on him.”
Stewart didn’t fare so well with the referees presiding that night, Mickey Ion and Mike Rodden. In addition to incurring a pair of first-period minor penalties, Stewart finished the game $15 the poorer.
As the Gazette saw it, what happened was this: as Boston forayed into Maroon territory, Ion, who had his back to the Montreal bench, heard a voice cry out, “Hey, offside, offside.”
Blowing his whistle, the annoyed Ion asked Montreal coach Eddie Gerard who’d been yelling.
“Someone back in the boxes,” Gerard volunteered — an enthusiastic fan.
The referee paused a second and then, looking at Stewart, who was on the bench next to Gerard, told him, “Stewart, that will cost you $15,” before skating away to resume play.
As the Globe saw fit to explain it, Ion was invoking “the rule that none on the bench shall coach or make unnecessary noise.”
spit take: nels stewart, newsy lalonde, and a jolt of tobacco juice in jakie forbes’ eye
By early afternoon, the signs at Montreal’s Forum were already up: Standing Room Only. “And long before the referees called the teams together at centre ice to start the game, all this space had been grabbed up,” the Gazette’s Marc McNeil would recount. “It was a complete sell-out Saturday night. And those 13,000 fortunates witnessed a mighty spectacle that crammed action and thrills into every minute of play.”
Playing a leading role that night in January of 1931: Nels Stewart, star centreman for Montreal Maroons and the reigning Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP. In a battle between two of the NHL’s best teams, Stewart, who was born in Montreal on a Monday of yesterday’s date in 1902, powered his team to a win over the visiting Boston Bruins with a third-period outburst, setting a record for speedy scoring that stands to this day.
That being the case, today’s another day that I’ll be pleased to gripe that Stewart doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. His absence from the NHL’s 2017 list of the 100 Greatest Players in league history tells you everything you need to know about that marred memorial. Stewart won a Stanley Cup with the Maroons in 1926 and was the first man to win the Hart Trophy twice. Along with his seven seasons in Montreal, Stewart played another five for the New York Americans along with four for Boston where, though the Bruins themselves have forgotten it, he captained the team. In 1937, the man they called Old Poison overtook Howie Morenz as the NHL’s all-time leading goalscorer, a height he held until Maurice Richard overtook him in 1952. Stewart was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Toronto Telegram columnist Ted Reeve grew up with Stewart in the Beaches, in Toronto’s eastern end. “The best natural all-round athlete I have ever seen in Canada,” Reeve called him.
“Extremely deceptive,” was Frank J. Selke’s verdict, “the brainiest player I have ever known.”
Selke also testified that Stewart “couldn’t backcheck a lick.”
“He is worthless as a defensive player, always has been,” Herb Manning wrote in the Winnipeg Tribune in 1939. “There is nothing streamlined about him. He lumbers along like a truck on a steep grade. He always seems to be ten feet behind the play, whether they are going backward or forward.”
“But a split second is all the time he requires to complete a chore in the enemy zone.”
He got his chores done, scoring 324 goals in 650 regular-season NHL games, nine more in 50 playoff games.
In Montreal, he centred the famous S line, flanked by Hooley Smith and Babe Siebert. “Babe and Hooley did most of the work,” Stewart later said, “because I was a shambling six-footer who took relays from the corners.”
In 1938, the Ottawa Journal wrote about his “careless, almost lazy style,” noting also that “no goalie ever feels at ease while he is lurching and wandering around the vicinity of the net.”
Ottawa Senators goaltender Clint Benedict: “Nels liked to park and take a puck and fire it quick.”
“Nels was one helluva hockey player,” New York Rangers centreman Frank Boucher said. “He was almost impossible to move once he got in front of the net.”
Harold Burr of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle consulted former Senators star defenceman Eddie Gerard on Stewart’s virtues in 1932, when Gerard was coaching the New York Americans.
“Big and wide of beam,” was Burr’s description of Stewart, whose playing-days metrics came in at 6’1’’, 200 pounds.
No other player in the National Hockey League practices his loafing around the nets of the enemy. He doesn’t look dangerous. He isn’t a fast skater or a hard shot. But he does all his playing from the other fellow’s blue line.
“Watch him lift his shoulder to draw the goalie out,” warns Gerard, his old Montreal boss. “That’s why he scores so frequently — he makes the goalminder make the first move. But watch further. Nels never shoots from the shoulder. He just flips his wrist.”
Boston bought him in 1932. “He is a two-fisted fighting player,” coach Art Ross said at the time, “and the greatest inside player in the game.”
Which brings us back to that night at the Montreal Forum in 1931, Saturday, January 3. Nearly halfway through the season’s schedule, the visiting Bruins were heading up the league’s American section, while the Maroons were atop on the Canadian side, neck-and-neck with the Canadiens, defending Cup champions.
Maroons prevailed, 5-3, despite going into the third period trailing 3-1. D.A.L. MacDonald wrote up the game for the Montreal Gazette, and he speculated that if the frenzied Montreal fans had any regrets, they might have centred on the hurry with which the home team turned the game around.
First winger Jimmy Ward scored. Six minutes later, Stewart stepped up after Hooley Smith slammed a shot into Tiny Thompson’s pads. “The rebound dropped barely a foot in front of the Boston goalie and big Nelson Stewart was in like a flash to flip the puck over his prostrate form,” was how MacDonald saw it. “If Nels had scooped it up with a dessert spoon he couldn’t have done it more neatly.”
That tied the game. Four seconds later, Stewart scored the winner. It went like this:
From the face-off once again, Stewart slipped a pass over to Smith that left the Boston front rank behind and at the defence back came the disc to Nelson. The big fellow rode right in on Thompson and the goalie never had a chance. Another flip of those steel wrists and Maroons were in front to stay.
Two goals in four seconds. “Shades of Frank McGee!” MacDonald enthused. “For quick scoring feats and high-powered excitement, Nelson the Great has few equals.” It would, indeed, take 64 years for another NHLer to match Stewart’s record. No, not Gretzky or Lemieux: in1995, Winnipeg Jets defenceman Deron Quint scored a pair of goals in four seconds versus the Edmonton Oilers to slip into the record book alongside Stewart.
Is there any indication that in scoring his brisk brace, Stewart might have distracted or disabled Tiny Thompson by spitting tobacco juice into his unsuspecting eye?
No, none. Though that is a stratagem that is persistently attributed to Stewart in latter-day accounts of his career. Mostly it’s offered up as passing proof of his cunning and/or outright nastiness, often with a hint of admiration — if not any specificity.
The general tobacco-spitting charge shows up in Stewart’s Wikipedia profile, for instance. Floyd Conner slots it into Hockey’s Most Wanted (2002), with his own twist: the eye-spitting was motivated by Stewart’s “contempt” for goaltenders. In his 2012 book, Next Goal Wins, Liam Maguire goes out on a limb of his own to venture that the nickname Old Poison derived directly from “his habit of spitting chewing tobacco into the eyes of opposing goaltenders.”
Stan Fischler has been one of the more enthusiastic purveyors of the expectorating story over the years; it repeats throughout his broad oeuvre. Here it is in his The All-New Hockey’s 100 (1998):
It was not uncommon for Stewart to chew a wad of tobacco, produce juice, and then spit it unerringly in the eyes of a goalie as he shot the puck.
None of the above mentions is sourced; not one identifies a particular instance which any first-hand accounting to back up the chewing/juicing/spitting combo that Stewart is reputed to have employed to such (purported) devilish effect. None of the authors cited above seems to have done any digging of their own. If they had, they’d have found that no-one seems to have been taking note of Stewart’s spitful habit when he was actually playing: my scourings of contemporary newspaper accounts from Stewart’s active years in the 1920s and ’30s haven’t turned up even a fleeting mention of any tobacco-chewing let alone spitting.
The legend does (fittingly?) crop up in the five-part hockey-history TV series that Vancouver’s Opus Pictures produced in 1996, Legends of Hockey, and my guess (it’s mostly a guess) is that it’s from this (also unsourced) documentary that the subsequent literary mentions originated and proliferated. (Wikipedia’s mention of Stewart’s adventures in chaw footnotes it.) The second episode includes short biographies of several colourful hockeyists, including Eddie Shore, Red Horner, and Ol’ Poison himself. You can click in to review it here, starting at the 27:26-minute mark, where you’ll soon hear narrator Alan Maitland intone:
As well as being poison around the net, the Montreal Maroons’ Nels Stewart had the nasty habit of spitting his chewing tobacco in the goalie’s eyes. Never a great skater, never a great checker, he was still a lethal goalscorer.
As Garth Woolsey of the Toronto Star wrote back in 1996, Legends of Hockey is, as a whole, a delightful confection. Specifically citing Stewart and his alleged spitting, Woolsey also notes that “in the off-hand fashion of such productions, this pungent detail is presented without elaboration. Legends delivers with more similar tidbits of history, whetting the appetite. What it might not explain meatily, the series suggests delectably.”
Is it possible that there’s truth at the root of the legend, wherever that might lie? Of course. But without any first-hand account of where Stewart might have been chewing his tobacco and loosing it on contemptible goaltenders, or when, or who the goaltenders might have been, I’ll be wary of treating the tale as fact. I don’t mind James Marsh’s formulation in his biography of Stewart in The Canadian Encyclopedia:
The story that he spat tobacco juice in the eyes of opposing goalies may be apocryphal but apparently is in keeping with his temperament on the ice.
If Newsy Lalonde merits a mention here (and he does), it’s because he’s a, well, key witness in the larger case — as well as a prime suspect.
Lalonde, of course, was one of hockey’s greatest talents, as well as another fairly glaring absentee from that centenary list from 2017. His pro career on ice started as early as 1906, and he went on to play seven NHL seasons, mostly with the Montreal Canadiens, before it was over in the late 1920s. He was famously uncompromising — which is one generous way of saying that he played the game violently and often with what still looks like, over the distance of years, breathtaking spite.
Not that he was (apparently) alone in his willingness to twist rules or (as the case may be) soak them in tobacco juice in those early decades. Long after he’d hung up his skates he was still recalling the transgressions of opponents like Paddy Moran, Stanley-Cup-winning goaltender for the Quebec Bulldogs and a fellow Hall-of-Famer. Here’s Lalonde reminiscing in 1951, as reported in the Montreal Gazette:
“Paddy chewed tobacco,” Newsy said, “and he could hit a keyhole at 40 paces. You had to duck when you skated behind his cage or he’d get you right between the eyes.”
Lalonde elaborated on this theme a decade later. This time he was talking to Andy O’Brien for a feature on hockey malice for Weekend Magazine.
“Paddy [Lalonde said] was in a class by himself by himself when it came to chopping toes of opposing forwards who came within range, and in those days the skate toes weren’t so well padded. But his pet skill was squirting tobacco in your eye.”
What would it have cost Any O’Brien to press for just a few more details? As it is, I guess Lalonde’s long-range memories do get us closer to a confirmed case of tobacco-juice-in-the-eye without pinpointing anything precisely. The best we might be able to hope for on that count focusses again on Newsy Lalonde, though he’s not (and probably shouldn’t be expected to be) implicating himself this time. It’s another goaltender of old giving evidence here, Jakie Forbes, who was playing for the Toronto St. Patricks in the early 1920s when Lalonde was skating for — and captaining and coaching — the Canadiens.
Forbes’ news wasn’t exactly fresh when he got around to reporting it: one version I’m looking at dates to 1969, 50 years after the fact, when Forbes was 72, and the other is from Trent Frayne’s 1974 book The Mad Men of Hockey.
Both accounts are, it has to be said, fairly vivid, even if they don’t perfectly match up.
The first, from a genial Globe and Mail retrospective, has Forbes telling his tale this way to writer James Young:
The game is much faster now, but not nearly as rough as it was. In one game at the old Mount Royal rink in Montreal, Newsy Lalonde came around the net and caught me in the eye with his stick. I went skating out to protest to the referee and skated right into him, knocking both of us down. He said he had not seen the incident and sent me back to the net.
The next time Lalonde came down to my end of the ice I went out to stop him, using a high stick if possible. He skated to the side of me, spit his tobacco juice in my face and when I fell skated around me to score in the open net.
Trent Frayne’s framing of this same tale five years later isn’t quite the same; it does up the colour balance.
“He was,” Forbes says this time, by way of introducing Lalonde, “the dirtiest son of a bitch I ever played against.”
In Frayne’s version, Forbes stopped Lalonde and the puck was headed back the other way. As Lalonde rounded the net to follow it, he paused to punch Forbes squarely — and hard — in the face.
“Blood spurted from the goaler’s nose,” Frayne writes, “and he took off after Lalonde, brandishing his stick like a lariat.”
The referee is named as Cooper Smeaton, and he does get knocked down. Jumping up, he’s quoted threatening Forbes:
“Get back in the goal, you crazy little bugger,” he shouted at the five-foot-five goaltender, “or you’re out of the game.”
Frayne adds some fine points to the final act of the piece, too. Near the end of the game, with Canadiens leading 4-1, Lalonde broke in with the puck. Forbes was ready for him, “readying an axe-swing at Lalonde’s head.”
But at the last instant the flying Lalonde spat a long stream of tobacco juice into Jakie’s face, circled the net laughing, and pushed the puck into the goal past the sputtering Forbes.
Triangulating with a few of the details provided by Frayne, it’s possible to key in a couple of games from the two seasons Forbes spent with Toronto. The first time he played Canadiens in Montreal was on Wednesday, March 10, 1920, a night on which the local Gazette found plenty in his performance to praise: “Forbes the Youngest Goaler in NHL Made Many Brilliant Stops at Mount Royal Arena,” reads a subhead from the next morning’s dispatch.
Too bad for Forbes, Montreal won, 7-2, with Lalonde scoring a hat trick. But contemporary accounts mention no high sticks, punches, or other hijinks. Also, the referee that night was Harry Hyland. So that’s probably not the night in question.
A better bet altogether is a game from almost a year later, a Monday-nighter played on February 28, 1921. It was noteworthy affair on several counts. A former U.S. president was one of the 5,000 spectators on hand, for one thing: what’s more, William Howard Taft was “in position to have a good view” of a first-period fight between Toronto’s Ken Randall and Didier Pitre of Montreal.
It was a thoroughly bad-tempered occasion even before the teams hit the ice. Toronto was lending winger Cully Wilson to Canadiens that season, but just before the game, with centreman Corb Denneny ill and unable to play, the St. Pats tried to claim Wilson back for their own line-up.
NHL President Frank Calder was in the building and presided over a summit in the referee’s room. The Montreal Star mapped the terrain:
If he played with Canadiens, Toronto would protest him. If he played with Torontos, Canadiens would no doubt protest him, and if he refused to play with Torontos, whose property he was, he would be suspended. The president, however, refused to counsel him what to do, and told him to suit himself, bearing in mind that he was Toronto’s property.
Wilson sat out and, indeed, never suited up for either Montreal or Toronto again: the following season he turned out for the Hamilton Tigers.
In Montreal in 1921, the game went sourly on without him. “There were many unparliamentary clashes,” the Star reported. The Mount Royal Arena’s natural ice deteriorated as the game continued, too. In the second interval, the Star’s reporter watched as “the men who were supposed to scoop the snow off the ice only got water for their pains, and when the third period began, the ice was like mud. When a man fell he got up sopping wet.”
It was in the second period that Forbes and Lalonde first sparred, though whether it was a high stick or a punch that the latter perpetrated isn’t clear. Press reports make no mention, either, of a collision between Forbes and Smeaton. “Lalonde was given a minor for charging Forbes,” is as much as we get from the Gazette, though with an interesting coda: “Lalonde was booed for his attack on the net custodian.” (Le Droit: “Lalonde was hissed when he jostled Forbes.”)
In Trent Frayne’s telling, the game ended 5-1 for Montreal, which wasn’t the case on this night. Lalonde did score Canadiens’ final goal, towards the end of the third, to complete a 4-0 Montreal win (and Georges Vézina shutout). As the Star had it, “Lalonde’s brilliant lone-handed shot finished the scoring.”
But if reporters present saw Lalonde score, none of them would seem to have noticed him spit his tobacco or laugh, and nor did they catch Forbes’ sputtering as he failed to foil him. That doesn’t mean that a spit-assisted goal isn’t part of hockey history which remains, after all, mostly a matter of the many moments, savoury or not, that go unrecorded.
a husky healthy lot: a vaccination mandate for the nhl — in 1920 ￼
Winter was on the way, but cases were on the rise, too, and as concerns over the spread of disease mounted, players in the National Hockey League did what they had to do and took a needle to make sure that the hockey season could proceed.
If the scenario sounds as familiar and up-to-the-moment as today’s (online) edition of your daily newspaper, the case at hand comes to us as 100-year-old history. Twenty months into our 21st-century pandemic, in a week in which the NHL’s modern-day Ottawa Senators have seen their schedule suspended under a weight of Covid-19 protocols, we’re casting back here to the fall of 1919 here.
Back then, in the wake of a world war, another devastating pandemic still wasn’t finished its dreadful work, but this isn’t a Spanish flu story. Seven months after that virulent virus shut down the Stanley Cup finals in Seattle, sickening most of the Montreal Canadiens’ line-up and killing defenceman Joe Hall, it was smallpox that was on the loose across Ontario.
News of a “mild” epidemic in Toronto made news in Ottawa at the beginning of November. “Fifteen cases are in the smallpox hospital,” the Journal advised, “but no deaths have been reported. All teaching institutions, included colleges, are ordered vaccinated. The City Council is to be asked to issue a proclamation ordering everybody to be vaccinated.”
By mid-month, the case count in the provincial capital was at 361, with 1,000 people in the city under quarantine. (Across the rest of Ontario, 541 cases were reported.) But Dr. Charles Hastings, the city’s medical officer of health, estimated that the actual number of infected Torontonians to be between 2,000 and 3,000. The smallpox vaccine was the first to have been developed against a contagious disease, going back to the end of the 18th century, and in Toronto that fall, the effort to vaccinate city’s population was working well, Dr. Hastings felt: in a city of some 520,000, as many as 100,000 had been inoculated by mid-November, “including a large proportion of schoolchildren.” Still, urgency was required: he sought compulsory vaccinations for all Torontonians.
The fact that Mayor Tommy Church and a majority of city councillors didn’t agree meant this was anything but a straightforward matter. Mayor Church declared his belief in vaccines; he just didn’t think the people of his city should be compelled to get them. Ontario’s Board of Health sent a letter requesting that the city issue a mandate; Council declined to issue one. Dr. John McCullough was the province’s top doctor: he reminded the Mayor and his stubborn councillors that any of them (as the Globe noted) “to whom responsibility for failure to issue this proclamation may attach will be liable to a penalty under the Vaccination Act.” There was talk of fines, of indictments under a grand jury, of jail sentences.
As Christmas approached — and cases increased — the struggle between the politicians and the doctors intensified. While the politicians refused to give ground, the local Board of Health saw to it that unvaccinated children were barred from city schools: on December 4, more than 1,000 were sent home. But it was politicians who manned the Toronto Board and by early January dissenting councillors had the upper hand, such that the city’s BOH not only refused to cooperate with the Ontario Board in its effort to enforce general vaccination, but suspended its earlier exclusion of unvaccinated schoolchildren.
The Ontario Board kept up its pressure on Toronto’s council, warning of lawsuits that would surely follow as a result of the city’s neglect and noting that smallpox outbreaks in the rest of the province were all traceable to Toronto. By early January, the Globe was reporting the epidemic’s first two Toronto deaths, a baby girl of 17 months and a man of 66.
Ontario’s neighbours were watching, and worrying. In November, the United States Public Health Service announced that all travellers crossing from the province into Michigan at Detroit would need to show proof of vaccination to enter; similar rules applied at Buffalo and other New York ports of entry. On December 20, Manitoba imposed a similar restriction. By January, Quebec was ready to follow suit, imposing “one of the most severe and sweeping health protection measures in years,” and extending an order already in place in Montreal requiring all visitors from Ontario be vaccinated was extended to include the entire province. “Quebec,” declared Dr. Hector Palardy, district health officer for Montreal, “has no smallpox whatever, and does not want any.”
It’s here that we circle back to the ice. Papers across the country carried the news as the old year shifted into a new one:
By then, the NHL’s third season had been underway for a week. It was a four-team loop that year, with Quebec having joined in with Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. The Senators would end up winning the league championship and the Stanley Cup by the time it was all over. With a line-up that included Clint Benedict, Eddie Gerard, Punch Broadbent, and Frank Nighbor, they were already working with a formula that would bring home two more Cups over the course of the next three seasons.
“None of the boys reported sore arms,” the Ottawa Citizen reported in the wake of Dr. Graham’s needling, “but they are liable to develop in a day or two and may handicap the club considerably in the championship race.”
Still: “As a husky healthy lot, Dr. Graham does not believe that any of the men will be disabled.”
Frank Nighbor wasn’t so sure. Along with teammates Broadbent, Jack MacKell, and Morley Bruce, he’d been previously vaccinated against smallpox while on military service during the war. Lacking certificates to prove it, all four had submitted to repeats from Dr. Graham. Nighbor hadn’t forgotten the first time: “he says he was a very sick boy when the Flying Corps surgeon jabbed him at Toronto.”
Several of Nighbor’s teammates did suffer in the days that followed. On January 3, before they hit the road for Quebec, the Senators traveled to Toronto to take on the St. Patricks. It was a rough game, with the home team prevailing, 4-3. Ottawa defenceman Sprague Cleghorn did score his team’s second goal, but the Citizen asked for some sympathy on his behalf: “Cleghorn went into the game so sick that he could hardly stand.” A week after Dr. Graham’s visit to the dressing room, he was still suffering. “His left arm was swollen,” the Citizen explained, “and he complained of pains and dizziness in his head. Yet Cleghorn insisted on playing.”
Ahead of Ottawa’s next game, at home to Montreal, the Citizen later revealed, a couple of Senators were ailing: while Punch Broadbent had a case of pleurisy, goaltender Clint Benedict’s “vaccinated arm was swollen was swollen twice its normal size.” Both insisted on playing in what turned out as a 4-3 Senators win; Broadbent scored a hattrick and added an assist.
It’s not clear whether or not Ottawa’s players were still feeling any side effects by the time they finally got to Quebec in mid-January. We do know that the road trip east yielded a split: after beating Quebec 2-1, they lost to Montreal by a score of 3-2.
When Toronto’s players got their vaccinations in early January, the news was that “several of the players were laid up with sore arms.” As for players from Montreal and Quebec — I’ve seen no mention in contemporary accounts of them getting their needles, though I assume that if they were travelling to Toronto and back home again, Quebec’s mandate must have caused them to be vaccinated, too.
Ontario’s Board of Health gave up its fight for a city-wide Toronto mandate in early January of 1920 after the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled that the board didn’t have the power to tell the city what to do. “The Provincial Board of Health has done its utmost to protect Ontario and others from the peril of smallpox,” Dr. McCullough said. “Owing to the opposition of the Toronto City Council, we have not been completely successful.”
Case numbers did begin to drop, even if Dr. McCullough didn’t soften his tone as the weeks went on. Addressing Windsor’s Chamber of Commerce at the end of January, 1920, he charged that “the city of Toronto has been guilty of spreading smallpox all over the province of Ontario and would have spread it all over the continent had not the Americans taken steps to prevent it.”
He was referring, of course, to U.S. border restrictions, but let’s not diminish Quebec’s efforts. After that province lifted its restrictions on Ontario travellers in early March, health officials went to the trouble of releasing a bevy of impressive analytics. In the two months of monitoring railway traffic from Ontario, Quebec inspectors had boarded 1,501 trains carrying 89,275 passengers. Of these, 69,933 were found to have vaccination certificates (“which were examined and stamped,” the Montreal Gazette divulged) while a further 12,549 rolled up sleeves to show vaccination marks (“which were verified”). Another 6,639 passengers who had neither certificates nor vaccination marks submitted to vaccinations on the spot.
And those who refused a frontier shot? There were 154 of them. “The inspectors were adamant,” the Gazette noted; “that number was turned back and prevented from crossing into this province.”
hamby shore: away he goes like a flash
He started as a forward, and he was a good one, at that: in 1905, as what one newspaper would call “a wiry stripling of 17,” Hamby Shore was summoned to play left wing for the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven as the team fended off the challenge of the Rat Portage Thistles to hold on to the Stanley Cup they’d made a habit of winning in the early years of the new century.
An Ottawa boy, born and bred, Shore would play a part in three Cup championships over the course of his career, which included a season in the fledgling NHL in 1917-18, during which he anchored the (original) Senators blueline. His death on a Sunday of this date in the fall of 1918 jarred hockey’s tight-knit community. A victim of the virulent Spanish flu pandemic that killed some 50,000 Canadians between 1918 and 1920, Shore was just 32 when he contracted the virus as he nursed his sickened wife, Ruby. She seems to have recovered, but by early October, her husband was under care at the Rideau Street Hospital, where he died of pneumonia that October 13, a Sunday.
When he wasn’t on the ice, Shore was, like many a star of Ottawa’s early hockey scene, a faithful civil servant, working a job in the federal Department of Interior. On the ice, he made the switch to defence in 1909 when Cyclone Taylor departed Pete Green’s Ottawa concatenation to sign with the Renfrew Creamery Kings in the old NHA, and Shore dropped back from the left wing work from the old cover-point position. The report from the rink early on that winter: “His shooting, checking, passing, and skating were all to the merry.” That same winter he also seems to have had a close call, falling through the ice of the Rideau Canal and being saved from drowning by a friend.
In 1912, when Art Ross put together a team of all-stars from eastern Canada to take on the best of the west, Shore partnered the future Bruins supremo on the Eastern d. (Paddy Moran tended the goal they defended; Joe Malone, Odie Cleghorn, Skene Ronan, and Jack Darragh worked the forward line, with Sprague Cleghorn and Cyclone Taylor standing by as substitutes. For the West, Hugh Lehman played behind Frank Patrick and Moose Johnson, with Newsy Lalonde, Harry Hyland, Tommy Dunderdale, and Ran McDonald on attack.)
The Ottawa Citizen may not have been an entirely independent authority, but in 1917, the paper declared Hamby Shore “the most effective chassis in the NHA” and “easily the most spectacular player in the game.”
“He rushes from end to end with more speed than he ever showed previously,” a hockey correspondent advised, “is blocking in clever style, and his shooting has been fatal to opposing goalkeepers.”
The key to his success? His take-off, apparently. “The average defenceman is slow in starting,” the Citizen’s man noted. “Not so with the Ottawa boy. One strike toward the puck, a neat sidestep, and away he goes like a flash.”
“He gets 15 yards on the other players before they know he is off,” added the distinguished referee Cooper Smeaton.
Shore played his final game in February of 1918, when his Senators overwhelmed the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 8-0 at Ottawa’s Laurier Street Arena towards the end of the NHL’s inaugural season. Ottawa released him a few days later: it’s not entirely clear why. The Ottawa Journal reported at the time that he himself was declaring that his career was finished and that “he would not attempt a comeback.”
Following his death eight months later, the Senators organized a memorial game in Shore’s memory and to raise money for his family. With the NHL season over, as the Montreal Canadiens prepared to depart for Seattle for their ill-fated (and never-completed) Stanley Cup series, the game was scheduled at the Laurier Street Arena for the end of March of 1919.
“Two of the fastest and strongest teams that have ever stepped out on the ice lined up,” the Ottawa Journal reported, “they being the All-Ottawas, a team consisting of thoroughbred home brews, and the Imported Stars.
Ottawa’s line-up featured Senators from stem to stern, with Clint Benedict in goal, Eddie Gerard and former Senator Horace Merrill (a former defensive partner of Shore’s) on defence, and a forward line of Jack Darragh, Punch Broadbent, and Buck Boucher. A former NHA Montreal Wanderer, Archie Atkinson, was Ottawa’s sub.
Toronto’s Bert Lindsay tended the other goal, with Ottawa’s Sprague Cleghorn and Harry Cameron on defence, and a forward line featuring Senators’ stars Frank Nighbor and Cy Denneny alongside Toronto’s Dave Ritchie, with Art Ross standing by as a sub.
Canada’s governor-general was on hand, the Duke of Devonshire, with a party of guests from Rideau Hall, and His Excellency brought along the band of the Governor-General’s Foot Guards to strike up a tune.
I haven’t seen word on how much money was raised on the night, but the crowd was reported to have been duly entertained, despite the sticky surface underskate: “the poor ice made the exhibition more of a burlesque than a contest,” the Citizen said. The Ottawas prevailed by a score of 8-3, with Buck Boucher busting out with six goals for the winning side.
The Journal noted that the GG was delighted by the hockey, taking “keen delight in the antics of the players.” Also? “The event was not without its excitement as a real fist-fight started in the bleachers and the police had to take a hand.”
in harmony: in 1923, eddie gerard led ottawa’s original senators in song, all the way to a stanley cup
There was no better team in hockey through the 1920s than the Ottawa Senators, who won four Stanley Cups in eight years with a line-up stacked with future Hall-of-Famers. Coached by the brilliant (and sadly undersung) Pete Green through the first years of the NHL’s first decade, the Senators counted on a core of supremely skilled players in those years that included Clint Benedict in goal, King Clancy and Lionel Hitchman on defence, and Cy Denneny, Frank Nighbor, and Jack Darragh on the forward line.
Captaining the team through those first three championships was the anchorman of the defence, Eddie Gerard. Born in Ottawa on a Saturday of this date in 1890, Gerard deserves a bigger fame, better broadcast, than he has nowadays. The modern-day Senators could get things going — and should — by retiring his number 2 and raising it to the rafters of the Canadian Tire Centre. Then again, according to me, they ought to be hoisting a whole wardrobe’s worth of sweaters to honour that golden age, including Nighbor’s number 6, Cy Denneny’s 5, and Darragh’s 7, just for a start.
Gerard played his last NHL season in 1923, when, aged 33, he steered the Senators their third Cup in four years. (He actually got his name on four straight Cups, but that’s a tale for another day.) It was early March when the Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens in two games to take the NHL title, whereupon the team boarded a CPR train for Vancouver.
On arrival to the coast, Ottawa surpassed the PCHL Vancouver Maroons in four games to earn the right to meet the Edmonton Eskimos in for the Stanley Cup, which they collected by way of a two-game sweep of the WCHL Edmonton Eskimos.
On the rails heading west, the Senators were accommodated in a special carriage, the “Neptune.” It’s worth noting that they left two prominent members of their team behind in the capital: winger Jack Darragh and coach Pete Green were both unable to make the trip west. Canadiens winger Billy Boucher did join the Senators for their Stanley Cup swing — he was from Ottawa, after all, a brother to Senators’ defenceman Buck Boucher — but didn’t, in the end, play a single game on the coast. So Ottawa had just nine players available for the six games they played on their way to winning the Cup.
It wasn’t easy. During the finals, Harry Helman cut his foot and was unable to play. Buck Boucher and Lionel Hitchman played through injuries, while Eddie Gerard suited up for the last two games despite torn ligaments in a shoulder that was also doubly fractured. In the deciding game, after Clint Benedict was penalized for chopping at Joe Simpson’s skates, 20-year-old Ottawa defenceman King Clancy took a turn in goal, proving himself to be uniquely versatile — earlier in Ottawa’s undermanned visit to the coast, he’d also taken turns at centre and on both wings as well as doing his regular duty as a defender.
Back in Ottawa that April, Eddie Gerard was invited to address the regular Wednesday-night meeting of the youngsters of the Canuck Club at the YMCA. His young audience sat on the gym floor to listen to the Senator captain tell them (as the Ottawa Citizen reported it) “that the first man signed on by the Ottawa players before starting out West was ‘Mr. Harmony,’ and he said that without harmony nothing could succeed.”
His message was, of course, about playing as a team, with a shared purpose — but it was also about, well, harmonies.
Turns out that the Senators packed a small piano for their train journey west, with Gerard and trainer Cozy Dolan as principal performers, ably accompanied by Lionel Hitchman on violin, Clancy on harmonica, and Helman on drums. “This might appear on paper as a joke orchestra,” Citizen sports editor Ed Baker wrote, “but it is not. It’s a real honest to goodness band.”
Gerard recalled this a decade later, when he was coaching the New York Americans. “Harmony on a hockey club,” he told Harold Burr of the Brooklyn Eagle in 1931, “is half the battle. And one kind of harmony brings another. I like to sign singing players. If they knock around together off the ice, they’re liable to fight for another on it. Conversely, the player who curses his teammate in the hotel and on the trains isn’t going to pass him in front of the goal when he should.”
That’s when he remembered the musical rides of the ’20s. The Senators had shunted west in 1921, too, also (I guess) with a piano aboard? “All the fellows could sing,” Gerard testified in 1931, “but I think Sprague Cleghorn had the best voice. Our trainer, Cozy Dolan, could play anything from the big drum to the little piccolo.”
One more (non-musical note), on a matter of historical housekeeping: shouldn’t Tommy Gorman get the credit for coaching the Senators to that 1923 Cup? With Pete Green staying home in Ottawa, manager Gorman does seem to have taken charge on the Ottawa bench for those western playoff games that year. And yet in most of the standard records, Gorman’s coaching career is listed as beginning in 1925, when he took over the New York Americans. Seems like deserves the credit for the work he did in that regard for the Senators, too, in claiming that Stanley Cup.
They used to say that Cecil Hart had never played, that all his hockey savvy and successes came without the benefit of actually having plied with pucks, on skates. That’s not quite true: Hart, who was born in Bedford, Quebec, on a Wednesday of this date in 1883, did indeed play, inlcluding some senior hockey in Montreal. It is the case that Hart’s truly singular suite of achievements in hockey did occur when he wasn’t wearing skates, near benches, or in offices of business.
He was the NHL’s first — and still only? — Jewish coach, and a direct descendent of Aaron Blake, one of the first Jewish settlers in Canada, who made his home in Trois-Rivières in 1761. Cecil’s father was David A. Hart, Aaron’s great-grandson, a distinguished physician and surgeon and the man who, in 1923, donated the NHL’s first trophy recognizing individual excellence.
Back to Cecil. Away from the sporting world, he was an insurance broker — though he seems never to have been too far away from the sporting life. Baseball was, apparently, his first love. He was a pitcher and a shortstop as well as an ace organizer: in 1897, at the age of 14, he started a team, the Stars, that would soon come to dominate Montreal’s amateur leagues, while featuring rosters that included Art Ross and the Cleghorn brothers, Sprague and Odie.
Hart was coach and manager, scorekeeper, publicist, travel agent for the team, which eventually added a hockey program. Frank Calder, the NHL’s first president, was still a newspaperman in Montreal when he first met Hart in 1906. “Cecil thought more of his Stars than of his right hand,” he recalled later.
It was Hart who, in 1921, brokered the agreement whereby Leo Dandurand and partners Joe Cattarinich and Leo Letourneau bought the Montreal Canadiens after the team went on the market following George Kennedy’s death. Dandurand and Cattarinich were in Cleveland at the time, watching horses race: Hart was the one who offered $11,000 on their behalf — about $156,000 in 2020 coinage — to get the deal done.
Hart was a director of the Canadiens in 1923 when he sealed another historic Montreal bargain, travelling to Stratford, Ontario, to sign a hurtling 20-year-old named Howie Morenz to a Canadiens contract.
Hart would, in 1926, succeed Dandurand as coach of the Canadiens, but not before he spent a year building Montreal’s other NHL team, the one that would eventually be named the Maroons, when they first got their franchise in 1924. Hart only stayed a year, and so he wasn’t in the room where it happened when, after just their second season, the Maroons won the Stanley Cup, but the foundation of that championship team was very much of his making: he was the man who’d brought on Clint Benedict and Punch Broadbent, Dunc Munro, Reg Noble, and coach Eddie Gerard.
Hart’s first stint as coach of the Canadiens lasted six seasons, during which his teams won two Stanley Cups, in 1930 and ’31. He left the team in 1932 after a disagreement with Leo Dandurand. In 1936, he returned to the Montreal bench on the condition that the team bring back Howie Morenz. They did that, of course; that was also the year that Morenz died at the age of 37.
Hart coached in parts of another two seasons before Canadiens president Ernest Savard deposed him in early 1939. Savard insisted that he hadn’t fired his coach; Hart was merely being granted “a leave of absence” while team secretary Jules Dugal took over as coach. Hart’s record of 196 regular-season wins remains fifth-best on the list of Canadiens coaches; he’s eighth in points percentage. His teams won another 16 games in the playoffs, wherein his winning percentage stands at .486, 13th in team history.
Cecil Hart died in July of 1940. He was 56.
returning to stanley cup play, 1919 edition
Spanish flu stopped the Stanley Cup finals in their tracks in Seattle in April of 1919, when players from both the visiting Montreal Canadiens and the hometown Metropolitans were stricken before the deciding game could be played.
That wasn’t the worst of it, of course: within a week of the series having been abandoned, Canadiens defenceman Joe Hall died in a Seattle hospital of the pneumonia he’d developed. He was 37.
Hall was buried in Vancouver in early April. Some of his teammates stayed on in Seattle to convalesce after their own bouts with the killer flu; most trundled home on eastbound trains.
Canadiens coach and captain Newsy Lalonde was back in Montreal by mid-April, where he told the local Gazette that Canadiens had received the best of care during their illnesses. “The games were the most strenuous I have been in,” he added, “and I would not like to go through another such experience for any amount.”
In the year that COVID-19 has made of 2020, hockey’s 100-year-old experience of another pandemic has been much discussed. But while the deadly unfinished finals of 1919 have been documented in detail, hockey’s subsequent plans for returning to play — for resuming the series that sickness had interrupted, and for making sure the Stanley Cup was indeed awarded that year — have been all but forgotten.
Most recent accounts of the events of that first post-war Stanley Cup encounter keep their focus narrowed on those tragic April days of 1919 and not beyond. When they do consider what happened next — well, Gare Joyce’s big feature for Sportsnet earlier in our locked-down spring spells out the common assumption. In 1919, Joyce posits, “There was never any thought about a replay or rematch.”
That’s not, in fact, the case.
With the modern-day NHL marching inexorably towards ending its 2020 coronavirus interruption, let’s consider, herewith, those 1919 efforts to finish up Seattle’s never-ended Stanley Cup finals and how they kept the parties involved talking, back and forth, for nearly a year.
There was even a plan, if only short-lived, whereby two Stanley Cup finals, the 1919 and the 1920, would have been played simultaneously.
That final fated game in Seattle in 1919 was scheduled for Tuesday, April 1. But before a puck could be dropped at 8.30 p.m. sharp, with the players on both teams too ill to play, workers were in at the Seattle Ice Arena at noon to break up the ice in preparation for the roller-skating season ahead.
For the next week, all the pro hockey news in Canada was grimly medical, tracking which of the suffering players and officials were improving and who among them might be waning. After Joe Hall’s shocking death on Saturday, April 5, and his funeral in Vancouver the following Tuesday, the news moved on altogether.
Occasionally, in the ensuing weeks, a medical update popped up: towards the end of June, for instance, when Canadiens winger Jack McDonald was finally well enough to leave Seattle and head for home while still recovering from his illness. He’d been Hall’s roommate during the finals, and his own case of influenza was serious enough to have required surgery on his lungs.
Mostly through the summer the hockey world stayed quiet.
Until August. That’s when the first public suggestions that the Stanley Cup series might be revived started to appear. The reports were vague, no sources named. The Ottawa Citizen carried one such, towards the end of the month:
It is stated there is a great possibility of the Canadien Hockey team going to the Pacific Coast to play off the Stanley Cup series which was interrupted by the influenza epidemic last spring.
Whatever negotiations may have been happening behind the scenes, Toronto’s Globe had word a few days later that optimism for a resumption of the finals wasn’t exactly surging out on the west coast. “It is pointed out that the Seattle artificial ice rink does not open until late in December,” that dispatch read, and so any games after that date would clash with the regular PCHA schedule. Also: “the expense of the trip is an important consideration.”
Frank Patrick, president of the PCHA, was on the same page. “There will be no East vs. West series on the Pacific coast in December,” he said as summer turned to fall, “nor will there be any Stanley Cup series, until after our regular series.”
“Such a series is impracticable,” he went on. “The Seattle rink will not be open until December 26. … There is absolutely no chance for a series with the East until next spring.”
As definitive as that sounds, the prospect of a return to Stanley Cup play continued.
In October, a report that appeared in the Vancouver Daily Worldand elsewhere cited unidentified Montreal sources when it reported that in the “scarcity of hockey rinks” out east, there was a “very strong probability” that Canadiens would indeed head to the Pacific coast to decide the thing for once and for all.
Names were named: Montreal coach and captain Newsy Lalonde was definitely up for the journey, as was teammate Didier Pitre. Passively voiced assurance was also given that there would be “no trouble about the remainder of the team.”
Canadiens’ owner George Kennedy was not only on board, he was happy to drive: “… it is even understood he is even considering to take the team, or at least part of it, to the Coast by automobile along the Lincoln Highway, which runs from Brooklyn to Spokane.”
The plan, apparently, was to play only a best-of-three series to decide the 1919 Cup, theWorldexplained. “The matches would be played about the second week in December.”
But for every flicker of affirmation, there was, that fall, an equal and opposite gust of denial. A few days further on into October, Vancouver’s Province was once again declaring the whole plan, which it attributed to Kennedy, defunct, mainly due to the persistent problem that Seattle Ice Arena wouldn’t be getting its ice until after Christmas.
“And furthermore, a pre-season series would kill off interest in the annual spring clashes.”
Towards the end of the month, Seattle coach Pete Muldoon confirmed that the plan hadbeen Kennedy’s and that it had been rejected. Under the proposed scenario, neither team would have been able to practice before an agreed date, whereafter the Montreal and Seattle squads would each have had a week or so to play themselves into shape before facing off.
“There was considerable merit to the proposal,” Muldoon said, but again, alas — Seattle would have no ice to play on before the end of the year, whereafter the regular 1920 PCHA season would be getting underway.
“Accordingly,” said Muldoon, “the proposition was turned down.”
With that, the certainty that the 1919 Stanley Cup would remain unfinished was … well, only almost established, with one more last hurrah still waiting to take its turn five months down the road.
In the meantime, as hockey’s two big leagues prepared to restart their new respective regular seasons, they found a new point of Stanley Cup contention to wrangle over.
There were many subjects on which the two rival leagues didn’t agree in those years. The eastern pro loop was the National Hockey Association before the advent, in 1917, of the NHL, while the western operation was a project of Frank and Lester Patrick’s. While there had been periods of cooperation and consultation between east and west through almost a decade of cross-continental co-existence, there had also been plenty of conflict.
Year after year, the rivals competed, not always scrupulously, for hockey talent. On the ice, they each played by their own rules. PCHA teams iced seven men each, played their passes forward, took penalty shots on rinks featuring goal creases and blue lines. They didn’t do any of that in the six-aside east — not until later, anyway, as the western league ran out of steam and money in the 1920s and was absorbed by the NHL, along with many of the Patricks’ innovations that hadn’t already been embraced.
Since 1914, one thing the two leagues hadagreed on was that with their respective champions meeting annually to play for the Stanley Cup, they would alternate venues between central Canada and the west coast.
That’s how the 1919 finals ended up in Seattle. If they couldn’t be completed, then the time had come to look ahead to 1920, the second-last year of the alternating deal.
The problem there? At the end of 1919, both leagues maintained that it was rightly their turn to host.
When the PCHA was first to argue the case, when it convened its league meeting towards the end of November in Vancouver. “The directors decided,” the Daily World’s reporter noted, “that in view of the fact that the series last spring was not completed, the series this season should be played on the coast. President Patrick was authorized to arrange, if possible, with the National Hockey League for the eastern champions to come west.”
There were scheduling and weather aspects to this position, too: with the PCHA season continuing through the end of March, the directors worried that the NHL’s natural-ice rinks wouldn’t be playable by the time the western champions made their way cross-country.
The NHL read the reports and issued a statement. “No official request has come to us intimating that the Stanley Cup series should be played in the west again this year,” president Frank Calder said. As for ice concerns, he noted that in fact Toronto’s Arena Gardens did indeed have an ice plant, and in the event of thawing elsewhere, the finals could always be played at the Mutual Street rink.
Meanwhile, both leagues continued to prepare to launch their own regular seasons. In the west, the same three teams would play among themselves, with Seattle’s Metropolitans in the running again along with the Vancouver Millionaires and Victoria’s Aristocrats.
For the NHL, it would be a third season on ice. The league’s 1919 session had ended, let’s remember, with a bit of a bleat. Having started the year with just three teams, the NHL reached the end of its second year with just two, after the defending Stanley Cup champions, Toronto’s Arenas, faltered and folded in February, leaving Canadiens and Ottawa Senators to play for the right to head to Seattle.
Ahead of the new campaign set to open just before Christmas, there was a rumour that Toronto might return to the NHL fold with two teams, and that Montreal could be getting a second team, too, with Art Ross reviving the Wanderers franchise that had collapsed in 1918, early in the NHL’s inaugural season. Quebec was another possibility.
By another report, Toronto was a no-go altogether — the city had never been a viable hockey market, anyway, the story went, and the league would be much better off concentrated in eastern Ontario and Quebec.
In December, when the music stopped, Quebec did get a team, the Athletics. So too did Toronto, when Fred Hambly, chairman of the city’s Board of Education, bought the old Arena franchise. Reviving the name of an early NHA team, they were originally called the Tecumsehs. On paper, at least: within a couple days the team had been rebranded again, this time as the Toronto St. Patricks.
Nothing had been resolved on the Stanley Cup front by the time the NHL’s directors met for their annual get-together in Ottawa on December 20. They did now have in hand correspondence from Frank Patrick confirming the PCHA’s provocative position. “The matter was brought up,” the Daily World duly reported, “but the Eastern delegates could not give Patrick a concession on his letter.”
George Kennedy of the Canadiens was “particularly riled:” was it Montreal’s fault that the finals had to be abandoned? Obviously not. (Kennedy was also said to be “het up.”)
There was a suggestion that the matter would be referred to William Foran, the secretary of Canada’s Civil Service Commission who’d served as a Stanley Cup trustee since 1907 and was the go-to arbiter in disputes between the two pro leagues. “His services will likely be called on in a short time,” devotees of the ongoing drama learned.
On it went, and on. By the end of February, the race for the NHL title had Ottawa’s Senators tied atop the standing with Toronto, with Montreal not far behind. Ottawa was feeling confident enough, or sufficiently outraged, to put out a public statement that the club was adamantly opposed to going west to play for the Cup.
“Patrick’s claim,” an unnamed team director said, “that the games should be played elsewhere than in one of the National League teams [sic] is based on a technicality and is a most unreasonable one.”
Asked for his view, William Foran “did not care to express any opinion as to the dispute.” He was willing to opine on the quality of the winter’s hockey that the NHL was displaying:, it was, he declared, “the finest and cleanest on record.”
Maybe was the answer in … Winnipeg?
That was an idea that Frank Patrick had floated earlier in February. W.J. Holmes, the owner of the city’s naturally iced Amphitheatre rink, was on board, and he had been in contact with Frank Calder, hoping to coax him and his league to a prairie compromise with a promise of hard ice through the end of March.
“We certainly could not play in the east before March 22,” Patrick said, “but would ready to play in Winnipeg no later than March 19. It is now up to the east.”
But the NHL’s governors put a nix on a Manitoba finals during a special February meeting at Montreal’s Windsor Hotel, where the league had been born just over two years earlier.
And so the debate trudged on in March. Out west, all three PCHA teams were still locked in close contention for the league championship, while in the east, Ottawa claimed their place in the finals, wherever they might be played, with three games remaining in the schedule. The season was divided, still, in those years into halves, but with the Senators having prevailed in both, there was no need for a playoff.
Frank Patrick still didn’t think an eastern finals was going to work. Apart from issues related to melting ice, his teams worried that they’d be undermanned. Vancouver, for instance, would be without Cyclone Taylor and Gordie Roberts, whose non-hockey jobs would keep them from travelling.
Ottawa’s position hadn’t changed. “The Ottawas feel that in fairness to their supporters,” a local report reported on March 3, “they ought to have the matches played here.” William Foran was now, apparently, involved, and though the team had no news of developments, officials remained confident that the western champions would yield and travel east.
If not, well, they had job-related problems of their own: several key Senators players, including captain Eddie Gerard and goaltender Clint Benedict, wouldn’t be able to get away for a western sortie.
This, despite a report from Calgary — on the very same day — that Ottawa had been inquiring about playing exhibition games in Alberta on their westward way to the coast.
The whole was just about resolved by the end of the week. “We will be in the east by March 22,” Frank Patrick was quoted as saying on March 6. “That has all been settled.”
And so it was. Still, the prospect that the 1919 Stanley Cup might actually yet be completed nearly a year after it failed to finish did rear its head one last time. With all three teams in contention for the PCHA title in mid-March of 1920, Montreal’s George Kennedy let it be known that Newsy Lalonde had been talking to his Seattle counterpart, Pete Muldoon, about the possibility of reviving the 1919 series even as the 1920 finals were getting underway.
Seattle would have to lose out on the current year’s PCHA title, of course, for the plan to move forward. If that happened, Canadiens were said to be ready to head west to finish out the previous year’s finals while Victoria or Vancouver went the other way to take on Ottawa. Playing just a single make-up game wouldn’t be viable, in terms of cost, so as previously, the teams would settle the matter of the 1919 Cup with a three-game series.
Duelling Stanley Cup finals would have been something to see, but as it turned out, Seattle put an end to the possibility by surpassing Vancouver to win the right to vie for the 1920 Cup.
William Foran had been keeping the Stanley Cup safe ever since Toronto won it in the spring of 1918. (It seems that the vaunted trophy didn’t even make the journey to Seattle in 1919.) Now, as Ottawa prepared to host the finals, he loaned it to the Senators so they could put it on display in the shop window of R.J. Devlin’s, furrier and hatter, on Ottawa’s downtown Sparks Street.
The weather was mild in Canada’s capital the week of March 15, prompting one more last-ditch offer from Frank Patrick to switch back west. Ottawa was quick to decline, and by Saturday, temperatures had sunken well below freezing.
Along with the weather, the Spanish flu was still in the news. Back in 1919, Joe Hall had died during the pandemic’s third wave. Now, almost a year later, alongside the inevitable ads for cure-alls like Milburn’s Heart & Nerve Pills and Hamlin’s Wizard Oil (“a reliable anti-septic preventative”), newspapers across Canada continued to log the insidious reach of the illness.
In late January of 1920, influenza cases were surging in Detroit and New York. In February, an outbreak cut short an OHA intermediate hockey game and closed the Ingersoll, Ontario, arena. In the province’s north, near Timmins, another caused the popular annual canine race, the Porcupine Dog Derby, to be postponed.
By mid-March, daily influenza deaths in Montreal were down to seven from 265 a month earlier. “Epidemic Shows Signs of Breaking,” ran the headline in the Gazette.
Ottawa papers from the middle of that March are mostly flu-free, though it is true that the federal minister of Immigration and Colonization was reported to be suffering the week Seattle and Ottawa were tussling for the 1920 Stanley Cup. J.A. Calder was his name, no relation to Frank: the Ottawa Citizen reported that the minister was planning to “go south” to recover.”
The Senators, meanwhile, were in receipt of a telegram on Wednesday, March 17, from Seattle coach Pete Muldoon:
Left Vancouver last night. Coming by way of Milwaukee and Chicago. Will arrive in Ottawa Sunday afternoon. Ready for first game Monday night.
William Foran was on hand at Dey’s Arena for that first game and he addressed the players on the ice before dropping the puck for the opening face-off, “expressing the hope” (reported the Citizen) “that the traditions of the Stanley Cup would be honoured and that the teams would fight it out for the celebrated trophy in the spirit of fair play.”
Seattle’s team was almost the same one that had faced Montreal the year before. Hap Holmes featured in net, Frank Foyston and Jack Walker up front. “That irritating couple,” the Ottawa Journal called the latter pair, “the centre ice wasps,” warning that they would cause the Senators more worry than any of the other Mets.
Ottawa’s formidable line-up included Benedict and Gerard along with Sprague Cleghorn, Frank Nighbor, Jack Darragh, Punch Broadbent, and Cy Denneny.
The home team won that first game, played under NHL rules, by a score of 3-2. They won the next game, too, 3-0, when the teams went at it seven-aside. The weather was warming, and by the time they met again on March 27, players were sinking into the slushy ice as the Metropolitans found way to win by 3-1.
The teams made a move, after that, to Toronto, where the final two games were played out on the good, hard, artificial surface of Arena Gardens.
Seattle won the next game, 5-2, but Ottawa came back two nights later, a year to the day that workers had broken up the ice in Seattle, to earn a 6-1 victory and, with it, the Stanley Cup. The Senators’ first championship since 1911, it heralded the opening of a golden age in Ottawa, with the team winning two out of the next three Cups through 1923.