(Artist: Wesley Irwin)
Born in Toronto on another Tuesday of today’s date, this one in 1910, Dave Kerr got his NHL start in 1930 with the Montreal Maroons. He played seven seasons with the New York Rangers, with whom he had a very good year in 1940, winning a Stanley Cup championship and a Vézina Trophy. In 1944, Wilf Cude rated his old friend Charlie Gardiner as the best goaltender he’d ever seen, with Frank Brimsek and Kerr tied for second in his estimation. The Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee discussed Kerr’s candidacy in 1969 and ’75, but he didn’t get the support he needed to be inducted, and I guess his time has passed. Kerr died in 1978 at the age of 68.
In the 1980s, Montreal Gazette columnist Dink Carroll recalled his keen eyesight and extraordinary reflexes. Nobody could score on him on a breakaway or a penalty. “Like Ted Williams,” Carroll said, “he went out of his way to protect his eyes, wearing sunglasses and refusing to refusing to look out a train window at the snow.”
I haven’t seen Kerr talking about that, but in 1935 he did have an answer when Harold Parrott of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle asked him how many of the shots coming at him he failed to see because his vision was blocked.
“Fully 50 per cent,” he volunteered. “The rubber will come out of a scuffle, out from behind somebody, and you have to grab in the dark for those kind. Then they yell at you from the stands that you’re blind.”
St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, is proud of its puck-pushing heritage, styling itself as a bit of a hockey cradle: the first organized game in the United States is supposed to have been played on the ice of the prestigious prep school’s Lower School Pond in 1883. American hockey’s late, great, long-lamented legend Hobey Baker learned to ply the puck there, before making his name at Princeton and with New York’s St. Nicholas Club. Other prominent hockey-playing graduates include a couple of teammates from St. Paul’s 1961-62 varsity team: former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Robert Mueller, the erstwhile director of the F.B.I. who toiled in recent troubled times as Special Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice.
During the 1920s, the hockey coach at St. Paul’s was Thomas K. Fisher, a veteran of World War I who’d played previously for Harvard’s varsity team. When he wasn’t out on the ice, he did his best to spread the hockey gospel across the U.S. by way of pen on printed page. In 1926, Fisher published Ice Hockey, an instructional guide for players and coaches. It’s dedicated to the memory of Baker, America’s original hockey superstar, who died in France at the age of 26 in an aircraft crash while serving with the American Expeditionary Force in December of 1918. Baker, who played rover in the old seven-man configuration, was a sublime talent, by all contemporary accounts, and a football star, too, on Princeton grass. (F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of Baker’s admirers, and he forged him into a character in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise.) George Kennedy tried to sign Baker to play for the Montreal Canadiens in 1916 — but Baker wasn’t interested in a pro career. He was one of the initial inductees into both the Hockey Hall of Fame (in 1945) and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame (1973). The award that annually recognizes the best men’s NCAA hockey player bears Baker’s name, of course; it was established in 1980.
Thomas Fisher’s 1926 book laid a heavy emphasis on sportsmanship and, well, purity of play. Sample sentence, from the opening chapter: “The individual player in nine cases out of ten desires with his whole heart that the rules be followed and the game be clean, for otherwise it is not hockey and degenerates into food for the lower appetites of the purely bloodthirsty.”
Fisher would elaborate on his theme in the cover story he contributed to St. Nicholas magazine in early 1929. The piece is a lengthy one, and ranges widely, back through the history of the sport and on through Baker’s glorious career, which (to Fisher) still burned brightly as an example to all who might venture onto hockey ice.
“Here was a man,” he writes, “whose interest was wholly centred in the fun and skill of the game, in extraordinarily fast skating, clever dodging, lightning stick handling, accurate shooting; who never dreamed of touching an opponent with stick or body; who, when body-checked himself, sprang up with a grin and plunged back into the fun of the thing with never a thought of the man who had thrown him.
For all that, Fisher remains, in the St. Nicholas piece, pre-occupied, still, by the game’s seamier side. His optimism shows signs of having waned. In this exasperated excerpt he almost seems ready to give up on hockey’s corrupters, not to mention those guilty of egging them on:
It seems almost incredible that in a country noted for its fair-mindedness and sportsmanship, players should deliberately reach out and trip a more skillful opponent to prevent a score, or hurl an opponent to the ice, hit him with a stick, crash him against the side-boards, or even strike him with the fist. That a player so mistreated should resent such dirty play is very proper; that he should even lose his temper to the extent of seeking revenge in fisticuffs is not incredible, though deplorable, but it is then a sad fact that a sportsmanlike game has degenerated into a gladiatorial contest. Here is where many members of the general public are to blame, for they seem to forget that they have come to see a game of skillful skating, clever dodging, well-timed passing, and exhilarating team play, and howl for blood and more blood with shouts of “Get him! Get that man! Kill him!” They should have gone to a boxing contest if they lusted for a fight, but even then I suppose such people would have been disappointed, for boxers where padded gloves and would hardly discard them to grasp a neighborly cane with which to brain an opponent.
Fisher doesn’t despair, though. “I do not mean to imply,” he goes on to say, “that all hockey has degenerated into the spilling of blood. By no means!” All he asks for is a reckoning, by players, coaches, spectators, rule-makers … anyone with any kind of idealism to spare. By the end of the piece, he’s appealing directly to them all:
You, the player in this most superb of outdoor sports, you, the spectator, in or present at you next game, think deeply how this great game of ice-hockey can best be improved for future generations. The rules could be further improved by elimination of all bodily contact, making the game what it should be: one absolutely lacking in brute force, one of beautiful, rhythmic, elusive, thrilling skill — a game of which Hobey Baker would be proud.
The Montreal Canadiens will be taking a glass-half-full view of things into Friday night’s Stanley Cup final game, you have to think, and they were hoping to be doing it in an arena filled to 50 per cent capacity. Too. Down two games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the hopeful Canadiens will host games 3 and 4 at the Bell Centre tomorrow and Monday. The team had asked the Quebec government for permission to allow as many as 10,500 fans in the building, but after discussions with provincial public health officials, that request was denied, and so Montreal’s efforts to even the series will be seen by the same number of fans, 3,500, that cheered the deciding game of their semi-final win over the Vegas Golden Knights last week.
Depicted here, a Stanley Cup final of a whole other era, in a whole other Montreal arena: these fans are watching the opening game of the NHL’s 1947 championship series, which saw the Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs on a Tuesday night in April of that year. The crowd at the Forum was overflowing on the night, with 12,320 eager fans on hand to witness Montreal down Toronto by a score of 6-0. Bill Durnan posted the shutout, with Buddy O’Connor scoring the winning goal. A good start for Montreal, but it was one that didn’t last: Toronto roared back to take the series, and the Cup, in six games.
(Images: Conrad Poirier, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)
Putting On A Show: For the first time since March 7, 2020, there will be fans on hand in Boston’s TD Garden tonight, some 2,300 of them, as the Bruins take on the New York Islanders. Herewith, some views from the beforetimes, collected on February 12, 2020, when I saw the Bruins beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens by a score of 4-1 on the strength of a David Pastrnak hattrick.
A month into the NHL’s second COVID-modified season: how’s that going? As of last night, 175 games of 210 scheduled games had been played, 35 postponed. Around the league, 108 players on 26 teams have spent time on the COVID protocol list, not all of whom have tested positive, with 52 players from 10 teams now cloistered, along with a couple of linesmen. Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and St. Louis are the teams that have, so far, avoided listing any players.
Time to be erring on the side of shutting it all down? Not according to the NHL. At least, there’s been no public suggestion of any hiatus in the interest of all-around health and safety. Must the show go on? Maybe not, but it will.
And maybe, soon, with more fans. The Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, and Dallas Stars have already been skating in front of diminished crowds, and now there’s word that both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping to be getting the public-health approval that will allow them to welcome a limited number of fans into their respective buildings, maybe in March.
All of which would seem to suggest that the time is right for a detour back through hockey history to a time when fans not only filled the seats of NHL arenas, but fulfilled their right to hurl whatever they might have in hand, or pocket, or on foot, onto the ice.
The throwing of stuff by fans at hockey games is, of course, as much of the history of the sport as the ice and/or referees that stuff has so often targeted. In a book I wrote about the culture of hockey (and vice-versa), I devoted six pages to the instinct fans have to throw stuff at hockey games; the variety of stuff thrown; and the dangers inherent in that stuff being on the ice — I could easily have filled a chapter of 20 pages.
Welcome, then, to a weekend’s series of posts focussing on Chicago’s old Stadium in the 1930s and ’40s.
Chicago is by no means the only NHL city with a history of dangerous debris: the annals of stuff flung include them all, every franchise, every rink. Black Hawks’ fans were notorious, especially those occupying the high gallery seats at the Madhouse on Madison, for inundating the ice in outrage, protest, joy, or … just because they could. The 1944 Stanley Cup Finals stand out in this regard — more about that here — but there were plenty of instances before that of games delayed by coins and shoes and playing cards raining down from on high, paper airplanes, novels, fruit, empty bottles.
The Blackhawks did their best to curtail the bombarding over the years, deploying ushers and policeman, issuing threats and pleas. The entreaty reproduced here, above, dates to January of 1935, when Chicago was defending the Stanley Cup they’d won in the spring of ’34.
The Associated Press reported on this flyer, which was distributed to fans that winter. “So bold have the customers at the Chicago Stadium been getting that it was decided to appeal to their better natures in an effort to halt the aerial onslaughts.”
Fans had been growing bolder, the AP noted, since earlier in the season when a bottle-tosser, arrested by police, had been released at the request of Stadium authorities.
“Officials of the club were inclined to believe their printed appeal was conducive to better behaviour,” the AP noted, “because there was a noticeable depreciation in the amount of debris scattered on the ice the first night it was tried.”
The Maple Leafs meet the Canadiens in Montreal tonight, which is as good a prompt as any to cast back to a Sunday night in 1938, March 6, to revisit another meeting of the two old rivals.
The NHL was an eight-team affair then. That year, like this one, there was a Canadian division, though for balance it included the New York Americans as well as the Leafs, Canadiens, and Montreal Maroons. Toronto was top of the section at that late-season juncture, with Montreal in second. Saturday night the Leafs beat the Maroons 2-0 at the Forum, with Turk Broda getting the shutout. The goals came from rookie winger George Parsons and centre Syl Apps.
Sunday night the Leafs and Canadiens played to the biggest crowd to gather that season at the Forum: “11,000 fans banked solidly up the Forum’s sloping sides,” the Gazette’s Marc McNeil reported, and as seen in the photographs here.
McNeil wasn’t so impressed by the Canadiens. To his eye, they came up with “one of their shoddiest and most impotent displays of the campaign.” The Leafs licked them 6-3, in the end; “to make matters worse they didn’t even score a goal until the game had been hopelessly lost, 6-0.”
The Leafs were led by winger Gordie Drillon, who scored a pair of goals, and would end up as the NHL’s top scorer by season’s end. App, who finished second in league scoring, had a goal on the night, along with Bob Davidson, Busher Jackson, and Buzz Boll. Scoring for Montreal were Toe Blake, Pit Lepine, and Don Wilson. Wilf Cude was in the Canadiens’ net.
Other highlights of the night:
Born in Transcona, on Winnipeg’s east side, on a Thursday of this date in 1924, Cal Gardner made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers before a trade took him to Toronto in 1948. He won two Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs. He was briefly a Black Hawk and then finished his 12-year career in the NHL with four seasons with the Bruins. The scene here dates to his final year, 1957, when Boston visited Madison Square Garden and the Rangers beat them 5-2. Dean Prentice scored the winning goal for New York; Gump Worsley (Rangers) and Don Simmons (Bruins) were the goaltenders.
There was no penalty box as such at the old Garden in those years, which meant that if you transgressed and went to wait out your sentence, you sat just west of the Rangers’ bench on the 49thStreet (south) side of the rink, amid paying customers. Gardner served two time-outs that night, in the first period (for slashing) and in the third (hooking), visiting, unavoidably, with Sally Lark on both occasions.
“Now that some of the Rangers’ games are being televised nationally, she is becoming to many more who assume that she is the wife of someone connected with the team.” That’s from a short profile Sports Illustrated ran in ’57. No, not so, no such connection: 28-year-old Lark was an interior decorator from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, just a big Ranger fan with a season’s ticket that kept her front and centre. “Sin Bin Sally,” the papers sometimes called her. She’d attended her first game in 1942, and in the 15 years since, she’d only missed about ten home games.
“It’s better not to talk to them at first,” Lark said of the players from visiting teams who ended up in her precinct. “They’re not in a very good humour. But if a player gets a major penalty he usually has time to cool off before he leaves the box. Then, maybe, we speak.”
The night of Gardner’s visit was a busy one, despite being brawl-free: Rangers Lou Fontinato, Harry Howell, Prentice, Red Sullivan, Andy Bathgate, and Bill Gadsby all dropped by the penalty bench at one time or another, along with Boston’s Fleming MacKell, Don McKenney, Fern Flaman, Johnny Peirson, and Allan Stanley.
Lark had tickets for two more seats on her right, for friends; on her left sat the Garden timekeeper. In all her years at the Garden, she was injured only once, before the Garden installed glass around the boards in 1946, when she was hit by a puck in the ear. “Just a few drops of blood,” she said. “Even now,” SI advised, “if she wears a hat, she is likely to have it knocked into her lap by some player thrashing about her on the penalty bench.” Lark said she didn’t mind: life by the ice was “exciting but safe.”
August 4 was a Thursday in 1921, and the weather was fine: the morning edition of Montreal’s La Patrie promised that, despite some rain in Alberta and Saskatchewan, “il fait généralement beau et modérément chaud par tout le Dominion.”
The national news that summer’s day was of forest fires on the rampage near Dawson City in the Yukon, and also around Springhill Mines, Nova Scotia. From Toronto’s Don Jail came word of the hanging, on Wednesday, of two men, named Hotrum and McFadden, who’d been convicted of shooting a drugstore-owner, name of Sabine, they’d been robbing. “It was stated,” the Gazette reported, “that Hotrum smiled as he left the death cell.”
Closer to home, on the Montreal waterfront, vessels tied up included the Minnedosa, the Cornishman, and the Canadian Seigneur; the shipping news disclosed that others, includingthe Mina Brea, the Bosworth, and the Canadian Commander, were headed into harbour.
An open-air dance was on the cards that week, in the Summer Garden, the Jardin d’Été, at the corner of Sherbrooke and Saint-Laurent. At the pictures, the New Grand was featuring David Powell in Appearances, while the Belmont had Marie Doro starring in Midnight Gambols.
In foreign news, the world was reeling from the shock of the death in Naples on August 2 of Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, at just 48. Others headlines brought tidings from Dublin, where Éamon de Valera was taking steps to declare himself President of the Republic.
In London, the seventh anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany was noted but — for the first time since 1918 — not observed with any ceremony.
From Liverpool came news that Lord Byng of Vimy and Lady Byng were aboard the Empress of France, setting sail for Canada so that he could take up his duties as the new governor-general. The couple, along with their beloved spaniel, Pax, was expected to arrive in Quebec on August 11, where Prime Minister Arthur Meighen would greet them before the couple journeyed on to Ottawa the following day.
Lord Byng, of course, had commanded the Canadian Corps through the Vimy campaign of 1917. “A very simple living man, modest and retiring,” the press was reporting that week. “He has also a passion for tree-felling.”
As for Lady Byng, she had a new novel due out in the fall, Barriers, that McClelland & Stewart would be publishing. The winter ahead would also make her a hockey fan. Introduced to the defending Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators in December, she was soon taking a regular seat in the vice-regal box at Dey’s Arena, developing a devotion to the team, even as she came to wish that the game itself might conduct itself in a more gentlemanly way. With that in mind, before her husband’s tenure came to an end in 1926, she’d donate the trophy that bears her name.
Not noted in any Montreal newspaper columns that eventful week in 1921: the birth of a baby in Montreal’s east end on this day, all those 99 years ago, a first son for a young carpenter named Onésime Richard and his wife, Alice.
Joseph Henri Maurice was what they’d call their boy, known as Maurice, mostly, in his earliest years. Later, of course, when the world saw him on skates, and the intensity with he roared towards the goal with the puck on his stick, he was simply the Rocket.