paying for it with punch

Could be, I guess, that Punch Imlach’s job experience as a youthful bank teller shaped the methods he used, later on, as an NHL coach.

Imlach, who died of heart failure at the age of 69 on a Tuesday of this same date in 1987, piloted the Toronto Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups in the 1960s, including the team’s last (er, most recent) championship in 1967. He also had several stints as GM of the Leafs, and served, in his time, as coach and GM of the Buffalo Sabres.

“Crusty and short-tempered at the best of times,” is how Donn Downey described Imlach in an obituary in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. “No-one disputed his astute knowledge of hockey, but when it came to people, Mr. Imlach lacked what is referred to in the personnel offices as communication skills.”

“He understood players in terms of the six-team league when hockey jobs were scarce and bargaining between a player and management usually consisted of five words: take it or leave it.”

As a young centreman growing up in Toronto, Imlach played for Ed Wildey’s junior Young Rangers, and it was Wildey who got him a job at the Dominion Bank in the late 1930s. The salary was eight dollars a week, with all the bank-league hockey he could play thrown in as a bonus.

The value of a buck did re-surface as a bit of a theme during Imlach’s tenure with the Leafs. There’s the famous scene in March of 1960, for instance, when Toronto was down a game in their Stanley Cup semi-final against the Detroit Red Wings.

Ben Ward of the Canadian Press described Imlach’s pre-game prepping of his team:

Just before the start of the game, while the Leafs were warming up, Imlach dropped 10 wads of $1 bills on the dressing room floor and scrawled this message on the blackboard:

“Take a good look at the centre of the floor. This represents the difference between winning and losing — $1,250.”

The money represents the extra pay for each player on the clubs reaching the Stanley Cup finals.

(Toronto won that game, and the series, to make the finals, though they fell there to the Montreal Canadiens.)

Imlach was also fond of fines.

In 1967, when defenceman Tim Horton delayed his arrival to the Leafs’ training camp in Peterborough, Ontario, in a contract dispute, Imlach declared that he’d be penalized $500 plus a further $25 for each additional day he missed.

A year later, Imlach celebrated the NHL’s new era by decreeing that each Leaf would be fined $100 for every game Toronto lost to an expansion team. This seems to have been a post-Christmas measure imposed in early 1968, after the defending champions had already dropped games to the neophyte Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins.

It doesn’t seem to have worked quite as effectively as the coach might have wished: by mid-February, the Leafs were down $300 a man after losing again to the Seals, Flyers, and Kings.

Imlach also fined his players $5 every time they gave the puck away in a game. I don’t just how long this was in effect, or how much it raised, though I’d love to know the totals and the dressing-room grumbling associated with that.

The money accrued did find its way back to the players, it turns out: in the ’60s, at the end of each season, the Leafs gathered with wives and partners for an annual Giveaway Party, funded by their own on-ice sloppiness.

Imlach avoided these occasions, usually, until 1969. “He had always been invited,” the Globe and Mail noted that spring, “but stayed away so the players wouldn’t feel crimped with the boss around.” The venue that April was the midtown restaurant Ports of Call, located at the time on Yonge Street, where today the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto has its offices.

Imlach and his wife Dodo sat at a table with Bob and Rosyln Pulford, Paul and Eleanor Henderson, Bibs and Norm Ullman, and assistant trainer Tommy Nayler. Nobody felt crimped, apparently — but then Imlach wasn’t the boss any longer: he’d been fired as Leafs coach and GM three days earlier, within two minutes of the team’s having been swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Boston Bruins.

ice age

After two Covid-skewed seasons, the NHL gets back to something like regular programming tonight with the launch of a new winter campaign. It’s 104 years since the NHL first put to ice, in December of 1917, with four teams, all of them in eastern Canada, of which only three were around at the end of the 22-game regular season. Pandemics notwithstanding, it’s a whole new world now, with the newfound Seattle Kraken bringing the NHL’s membership up to 32 teams. They’ll each play 82 games — probably? maybe? — for a total of 1,312 before the playoffs get going next May. All being well, the league will pause in February for the best of its players to go to Beijing to play for Olympic gold.

Pictured here: an illustration from a Boston Bruins program from 1938-39. This year’s edition of the Brus start up on Saturday, October 16, when they host the Dallas Stars at TDGarden. Not to promise anything, or to jinx it, but in ’39 coach Art Ross ended up steering the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship.

seattle’s first pick (1915 edition)

First To The Stripes: Seattle’s original Met, Bobby Rowe. ((David Eskenazi Collection)

“We wanted players with character,” Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis told the TV audience. “We certainly wanted players that compete hard.” It was just past 5 p.m. in the west-coast afternoon yesterday as Francis prepared to disclose the (already leaked) rosterful of players with which the NHL’s newest team makes its way toward a fall debut as the league’s 32nd team. The first name to be announced in this latest NHL Expansion Draft was that of Jeremy Lauzon, the 24-year-old defenceman from Val-d’Or, Quebec, who was last seen plying pucks and d-zone coverage for the Boston Bruins. 

It’s been a two-and-a-half-year road that Seattle’s new team has followed to this point: since, that is, the NHL granted the city its franchise in December of 2018. It’s not Seattle’s first foray into big-league hockey, of course: the Metropolitans were a thriving concern in the pre-NHL years of the old Pacific Coast Hockey Association during and beyond the tumultuous years of the First World War. They even contrived to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, just two years after they’d launched, becoming the first U.S. team to claim hockey’s most coveted trophy.

The panjandrums behind the PCHA were the industrious Patrick brothers, Lester and Frank, and they were thinking of a Seattle team right from the start. The hitch, in 1912: Seattle didn’t yet have a rink to skate in. It was 1915 before that was rectified, and that March, Frank Patrick, the PCHA president, announced that the city would be joining Vancouver (Millionaires), Victoria (Aristocrats), and Portland, Oregon, (Rosebuds) in hosting teams for the upcoming season. 

That was scheduled to start in early December. By November, the new team, which was owned by the Patricks, had a coach in Pete Muldoon; a name, Metropolitans, borrowed from the company that built the Seattle Ice Arena; and uniforms. “If he has nothing else,” the Victoria Daily Times reported, quoting Muldoon, “he has the loudest uniforms in the circuit. They are light green, crimson, and white, with sox to match. It is a striped affair.”

The first player to sign on? Therein lies a tale we might tell here. 1915 was the year that competition between the PCHA and the eastern NHA burst into all-out chequebook war. As Craig Bowlsby smartly details in his definitive history Empire of Ice: The Rise and Fall of the PCHA, 1911-26 (2012), the hostilities would end up defining the identity and fortunes of Seattle’s team on its road to the Stanley Cup championship of 1917. In 1915, it translated into the Mets raiding the roster of the 1914 Cup champions, Toronto’s NHA Blueshirts, to poach the talented likes of Frank Foyston and Jack Walker along with goaltender Hap Holmes and the ruthless defenceman Cully Wilson.

But before any of them inked a Seattle contract, Frank Patrick did some wheeling and dealing with … himself. Just 29, he was still playing in 1914-15, working the defence for another team he owned, the Vancouver Millionaires, and helping them claim the 1915 Stanley Cup. To help Seattle find its feet, he decided to cede Vancouver’s rookie sensation to the expansion team, right winger Barney Stanley. Just 22, Stanley, a son of Paisley, in Ontario’s southwestern Bruce County, had made a distinct impression in Vancouver’s championship run, scoring six goals in the team’s three-game sweep of the NHA Ottawa Senators, including four in the deciding game. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963, he would subsequently star with the WCHL’s Calgary Tigers and Edmonton Eskimos. He played a single game in the NHL, for the Chicago Black Hawks, a team he also coached, briefly and unsuccessfully, in 1927-28.  

So Barney Stanley was the first Seattle Met. Except that, well, he never played a game for the team. Back in the Pacific-coast pre-season of 1915, the war of the contracts saw Frank Patrick’s Millionaires lose one of their biggest stars, centreman Frank Nighbor, whom the Ottawa Senators were able to lure back east. When that happened, Patrick revoked his generosity and cancelled the Stanley-to-Seattle deal, clawing him back for service in Vancouver. 

Next up, for Seattle, was another right winger, Bobby Rowe. A son of the hamlet of Heathcote, Ontario, south of Collingwood, he was 30 in 1915, a veteran (former teammate) of the Patrick brothers on the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings. He was described in his day as “exceedingly fast” (1911) and a “wonderful hockeyist” who practiced “a clever, hard-working game at all times” (also ’13). Rowe had skated in four seasons, subsequently, for Lester Patrick’s PCHA team in Victoria, the Aristocrats, when the Patricks decided that he’d best be bound for Seattle.

Rowe spent the summer of 1915 working on a Prairie farm, arriving in Victoria ready to skate at the start of November. “Rowe had a good year harvesting,” the local Daily Times duly reported, “working 50 odd days, and could have stayed until close to Christmas had he cared to. Upon his arrival … he was informed of his transfer to the Seattle Ice Hockey team, and immediately signed a contract.”

Muldoon added Foyston, Walker, Wilson and Holmes later that same week, along defencemen Roy Rickey and Eddie Carpenter; later in the month, he’d snag another Victoria Aristocrat, scoring sensation, Bernie Morris. As mentioned, all of these players (and Muldoon, too) would figure in Seattle’s 1917 historic Stanley Cup championship.

Though maybe let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, in the past. 

Before all that, on the Tuesday night of December 7, 1915, Seattle played its very first major-league, beating the Victoria Aristocrats at the Seattle Ice Arena by a score of 3-2. That old rink is no more, but it was situated near the present-day Seattle Public Library, about 2.4 kilometres southeast of the Climate Pledge Arena where the Kraken will be playing their games. 

“A strenuous game throughout,” is what the correspondent from Victoria’s Daily Times saw that night in 1915. “It was the introduction of the premier Canadian winter sport to the Seattle public, and it took well. Some 2,500 persons were seated in the new structure, and nine-tenth [sic] of this number had never seen the game before. But the game had only been in progress a few minutes when they were up in their seats yelling advice to the home players.”

Bernie Morris scored the deciding goal for Seattle in the third; Victoria’s Albert Kerr and Seattle’s Cully Wilson were ejected from the game by referee Mickey Ion that same frame for what the Times classified as “rough work.” 

That leaves just one more detail from night to be added. In the interest of restoring a lost fragment of hockey history to the game’s annals (a specialty of the house, here, along with all manner of icy obscurities), could we note the presence on the ice of a player who seems to have been all but effaced from the records, threadbare as they may be when it comes to the PCHA? 

I’m thinking here of Leo Haas, a centreman, who was 24 in 1915. He was from Houghton, Michigan, which is where he learned his hockey, playing for his high-school team and, later, turning heads for the Portage Lake team that won a state championship. “He can handle the stick with the best men yet seen here,” the Calumet News reported in 1913, “while his skating and combination play are excellent.”

It’s not clear how Pete Muldoon got wind of him, but early that November in 1915 west-coast newspapers were reporting that Haas had been summoned for service with the fledgling Mets. With no pro experience, he seems to have been on trial, which apparently didn’t work out so well: by mid-December, Muldoon had released him. Beyond that, the trail of his hockey career goes cold.

Still, Haas’ short stay with Seattle isn’t without distinction. He did play in that inaugural Seattle game on December 7, 1915, taking the ice as the Mets’ lone substitute in the second period after Jack Walker hurt his ankle while scoring Seattle’s second goal. And he was back in the line-up for Seattle’s next game, too, in Victoria, on December 10.

That would make Haas the very first American born and trained player in Seattle’s major-league hockey history. His Mets teammate Ed Carpenter, it’s true, was another Michigander, from Hartford, but his family had moved to Lachute when he was just young, so he learned his hockey in Quebec. 

Not Quite A Met: Barney Stanley in Vancouver Millionaires garb, in a print from c. 1919 doctored by an editor for newspaper publication. (Image: Stuart Thomson, Vancouver Public Library)