why be a mere spectator?

“More men are being recruited or authorized here at the present time than at any period since the war started, and far more, of course, than ever before in the city’s history.” That was the word in the Montreal Gazette in January of 1916, just as the 148th Overseas Battalion, one of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s newest infantry battalions, was getting ready to start recruiting. Here, from the archives, are a couple of the posters that went up to aid in that effort. Above, somewhere in France, out beyond the artillery, a lone soldier wonders why he isn’t being reinforced. The answer is right there in front of him, wafting out of the barrel of his Ross rifle: hockey.

If, as a Canadiens fan seeing this on a wall outside the Montreal Arena, the guilt didn’t get you, maybe would the promise of a real game and/or a challenge to your manhood do the trick? The poster below tweaks the taunting a little, revealing the laggardly fan at home, slippers on, browsing the sports pages in his recliner as the spectre of that other poster rises accusingly from the pipe he’s fortunate enough to be smoking.

Whatever the battalion’s marketing department’s view of hockey fans might have been, the 148th didn’t see a contradiction in welcoming as many of them as possible to the Arena on the night of January 27, 1916, for a “patriotic benefit” pitting veterans of the famous Ottawa Silver Seven against a team of former Montreal greats. The teams had previously played in Ottawa, drawing 3-3 a few nights earlier. Montreal older-timers included defenceman Dickie Boon, who’d captained the Montreal HC to successive Stanley Cups in 1902 and ’03, along with a parcel of other future Hall-of-Famers in Russell Bowie, Ernie Russell, and goaltender Riley Hern. Ottawa’s line-up of retired greats featured House Hutton, Harvey Pulford, Alf Smith, and Rat Westwick.

“Those who journeyed to the Arena to see a burlesque on hockey,” the Gazette reported, “were surprised as the players of both teams played as they did in their palmy days.” Powered by Bowie’s four goals, Montreal prevailed by a score of 6-2. The seven-a-side exhibition raised $1,500 on the night, which was divided between the 148thand another incipient battalion, the 150th.

“At the conclusion of the game,” the Gazette noted, “the officers of the regiments for whose benefit it was played journeyed to the dressing rooms to thank the players for their kindness in staging the game.” Players and officers alike later repaired to the St. Regis Hotel for an informal dinner. Guests, including Stanley Cup trustee William Foran, listened while they supped, to a musical program, “while speeches were made by nearly all present.”

 

billy (of the bouchers) at the montreal forum

Among NHL Bouchers, Billy wasn’t as celebrated as his younger brother Frank, who won all those Lady Byng trophies. And unlike his elder brother, Buck, he never captained the mighty mark-one Ottawa Senators when they were glorious in the 1920s. Billy Boucher didn’t make it to hockey’s Hall of Fame, either, as both Frank and Buck did. Make no mistake, though, Billy was a player, as those Bouchers tended to be (a fourth brother, Bobby, played in the league, too). Billy, who died on this date in 1958, played eight seasons at speedy right wing, most of them for the Montreal Canadiens, with whom he twice won the Stanley Cup, though he was also a Boston Bruin and a New York American.

Ottawa-born, as those Bouchers also tended to be, Billy was the man who scored the first goal at the Montreal Forum the night it opened in November of 1924. He was 25, in his fourth season with Canadiens, skating on a line with Howie Morenz at centre and his old Ottawa teammate Aurèle Joliat over on left. Actually, Boucher scored the first three goals in the Forum’s NHL history, collecting a natural hat trick in Canadiens’ 7-1 opening-night win over the Toronto St. Patricks. Defenceman Sprague Cleghorn passed him the puck for the first goal, which came in the first minute of the game; the second and third both came when Boucher picked up and netted rebounds of shots of Howie Morenz’s.

Boucher had played centre until he arrived in Montreal and in the pre-season of 1921 he battled Canadiens’ veteran Newsy Lalonde to stay in the middle. It was only after the two of them ended up in a fistfight at practice that coach Leo Dandurand sent the rookie to the wing.

On another night, not so proud, perhaps, as that Forum debut, Boucher featured in a contentious game when his Canadiens met the Maroons in December of 1925.

In the first period, Joliat thought he’d scored a goal on Clint Benedict, though the goal judge didn’t see it that way; play went on. The arbiter in question was Ernie Russell, a former centreman himself, a one-time star of the Montreal Wanderers who would later be elevated to the Hall of Fame. When play stopped, Joliat skated at Russell with his stick held high, as if to chop a reversal out of him. “Then,” Montreal’s Gazette reported, “the action started.”

Policemen were standing nearby, apparently, but they just watched as an incensed spectator opened the door of Russell’s cage and pinned his arms. The Gazette:

Billy Boucher swept in from a distance of forty feet and while Russell was unable to defend himself, cracked the official across the face with his stick. Players intervened and tore Joliat and Boucher and Russell was free to defend himself against the rabid spectator. This he did to his own satisfaction, the fan beating a hasty retreat under the barrage of fists that were coming his way. He ran into the arms of policemen and was escorted to the Forum office where his name and address were taken and verified and he was let go with the understanding that a warrant would be sworn out against him …, the Forum management stating that they are determined to put a stop to this sort of thing from the first and as an example to others who may be tempted to act in this way.

Referee Jerry Laflamme missed the melee, reportedly; no penalties were imposed. As far as I can tell, Ernie Russell went back to work, as did Canadiens, racking up a 7-4 win.

NHL President Frank Calder did intervene, eventually. As Canadiens prepared to play their next game in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, Joliat learned that he’d been fined $50. Billy Boucher, Calder announced, was suspended indefinitely. Actually, that wasn’t quite the wording — Boucher would be out “until sufficiently punished,” Calder said.

Boucher was suitably remorseful, wiring Ernie Russell from Pittsburgh to express his regrets. They were “sincere,” it was reported, though the note was of a private nature, and not “an official apology.”

There was a rumour that Leo Dandurand hoped to fill the Billy-Boucher-shaped gap in his line-up by buying Babe Dye, Toronto’s leading scorer. He offered $20,000, but Toronto wasn’t interested. Instead, Dandurand shifted rookie Pit Lepine onto the wing with Morenz and Joliat, and that seemed to work: he scored the winning goal against Pittsburgh. Montreal also won the second game that Billy Boucher missed without learning how long he’d be in limbo. Frank Calder relented a couple of days later, and Boucher was back in the line-up for Montreal’s next game, a loss to the New York Americans.