the alluring penalty shot: introducing hockey’s greatest thrill

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Conacher’d: In December of 1934, Andy Aitkenhead of the New York Rangers was the goaltender trying to stop Charlie Conacher from scoring the first penalty shot in Leafs’ history. He didn’t.

A little historical housekeeping: Charlie Conacher did indeed score the first penalty shot in the august annals of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it just wasn’t on this day in 1936, despite the anniversary announcements you may be seeing across sociable media.

A bit of the background: it was September of 1934 when the NHL’s braintrust added the penalty shot to the league’s rulebook. The meeting they did it at was in New York, but the rule came from way out west. While eastern Canada’s pre-NHL National Hockey Association had toyed with the concept in 1915, it was Frank and Lester Patrick’s Pacific Coast Hockey Association where the penalty shot made its official debut in 1921.

The PCHA faded away in the mid-1920s, of course; by 1934, Lester Patrick was running the New York Rangers while Frank presided as the NHL’s managing director.

“When a player is tripped and thus prevented from having a clear shot on goal, having no other player to pass than the offending player,” the new rule read, “a penalty shot shall be awarded to the non-offending side.” So: same as we know it now. But things were different then, too. For one thing, the penalty shot didn’t negate the penalty, which (until it was changed in 1941) the offending player also had to serve, whether the non-offender scored or not. The non-offender, I should say, didn’t necessarily have to be the offended player: a coach could appoint anyone to take the shot.

Also: from 1934 through to ’37, penalty shots were taken from a 10-foot circle situated 38 feet from the goal — so just in from the blueline, in what today we’d call the high slot. The shooter couldn’t make contact with the puck outside the circle, but otherwise he could do as he pleased, standing still and shooting, as though taking part in a future All-Star accuracy contest, or skating at the puck full tilt, as in the hardest-shot showdown. The goaltender, meanwhile, had to stay where he was: he wasn’t allowed to advance more than a foot off his line.

“A rule must have merit,” Frank Patrick said as the new season approached that fall. “Before introducing any new rule, Lester and I argued over it and looked at it from all angles, and if we considered that it was good for hockey, we put it in our rule-book. The rules had to meet with the approval of the public, the press, and the players, but we never found one of our rules unpopular. Hockey has a certain sameness to it, and all these new rules have been for the purpose of giving the public new thrills. This is why I consider the penalty shot so alluring. I think it will be hockey’s greatest thrill.”

The debate about who might excel at penalty shooting began immediately. A consensus was quick to coalesce: Art Ross and Leo Dandurand, Newsy Lalonde, Jack Adams all agreed that Howie Morenz (mostly of Montreal, but soon to head for Chicago) was the man you’d want doing the job for your team.

Him or Rabbit McVeigh of the New York Americans, who happened to have been the west’s best in the PCHA. Chicago Black Hawks GM Bill Tobin remembered that. “McVeigh,” he said, “had a spectacular style. He would dash full speed down the rink, swerve about and come at the puck at a great clip. When he was skating toward the circle and while he shot the atmosphere in the rink would become so tense one could almost hear a pin drop.”

In October, when teams convened for their training camps, coaches made sure their players put in some penalty-shot practice. In Winnipeg, the Montreal Maroons saw promise in what Jimmy Ward was doing, while among Leafs in Galt, Ontario, King Clancy and Busher Jackson were said, initially, to shine. As camp went on and the team started into intra-squad scrimmages and exhibition games, Bill Thoms emerged as the team’s best designated shooter.

Once the season launched in November, the Leafs were the first team to face a penalty shot, in their second game, home to Montreal at Maple Leaf Gardens. Thoms was the designated delinquent in this case, hauling down Canadiens’ Georges Mantha. Armand Mondou took the first NHL penalty shot and … well, the Leafs’ George Hainsworth saved it. An interesting note on that: Hainsworth changed sticks before facing Mondou’s attempt, preferring a lighter paddle for the occasion over the heavier one he regularly wielded.

Ralph Bowman, a.k.a. Scotty, took care of the history Mondou failed to make the following week in a game between his St. Louis Eagles and Maroons. Montreal’s Stew Evans tripped Eagle Syd Howe, and Bowman stepped up to face Alec Connell. Or, sped up: he took the full-tilt route. The St. Louis Dispatch:

Bowman saw on which side Connell, Maroon goalie, was holding the stick, and fired the puck at the opposite of the net. The disc travelled, ankle high, like a bullet and Connell had no chance for the stop.

Rabbit McVeigh got his chance to show his stuff against Montreal’s Wilf Cude soon after that. He scored, but the goal was disallowed: he’d pulled the puck outside the circle.

Back with the Leafs, George Hainsworth got the better of Bun Cook of the New York Rangers on December 8. Best as I can see, Hainsworth continued to get the better of penalty-shooters for another year-and-a-half, stopping seven in a row before he finally saw Bert Connelly of the Rangers beat him in January of 1936 in a 1-0 New York win.

December 11 the Leafs met the Rangers again, this time at Madison Square Garden. The visitors won the game 8-4, with the turning point coming (said The New York Times) in the second period. The Leafs were leading 2-1 when Ching Johnson tripped … well, that’s hard to say. The Times says Charlie Conacher, the Globe Hap Day, the Toronto Daily Star Busher Jackson. Either way, Johnson headed for the box and Conacher stepped up. His shot hit beat the Rangers’ Andy Aitkenhead, hit the post, went in. Not sure whether Conacher took a run at the puck, but there was some doubt about the puck crossing the line. Only after consultation with the goal judge was Conacher’s penalty shot, the first in Leafs’ history, deemed good enough for a goal.

Conacher thereby made himself the Leafs’ go-to shooter. He did, however, fail in both of his next two attempts that ’34-35 season. Foiled by Chicago’s Lorne Chabot and then by Roy Worters of the New York Americans, Conacher had to wait until this every day in 1936, when the Americans came by the Gardens in Toronto again.

Worters was again in the net for New York. This time, defenceman Red Murray closed his hand on the puck to trigger the penalty shot in the first period of what turned out to be a 3-0 Leafs’ win. Here’s the Globe’s George Smith on Conacher’s successful method:

Sweeping in on the disc with three strides, Conacher drove one that fairly hissed as it sagged the net behind Worters. We didn’t see it on its netward career and we have an idea that Worters didn’t see it. Anyway, he good little netminder at the enemy end didn’t jump for it, didn’t budge; he gave every evidence of never having had his eye on the dynamited disc.

Toronto’s 1933-34 Maple Leafs. Back row, left to right: Benny Grant, Buzz Boll, Bill Thomas, Alex Levinsky, Red Horner, Andy Blair, Busher Jackson, Joe Prime, Charlie Sands, Baldy Cotton, trainer Tim Daly, George Hainsworth. Front: Hec Kilrea, King Clancy, Hap Day, coach Dick Irvin, managing director Conn Smythe, assistant director Frank Selke, Ace Bailey, Ken Doraty, Charlie Conacher.

 

dickie moore, 1931—2015

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Dickie Moore was 84 when he died on Saturday in Montreal. A Hall-of-Fame left winger, he twice won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer. While he also turned out, later in his career, for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues, it’s as a Montreal Canadien that he’ll be remembered, a Habs’ legend on six of their Stanley Cup-winning teams through the 1950s. The New York Times has an obituary here — though better, first, to read Red Fisher’s heartfelt memoir of his long-time friend from Montreal’s Gazette. Then, maybe, these few views of Dickie Moore’s years on ice:

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He was supposed to be headed for New York, the Rangers, in exchange for Dean Prentice, it was in the papers, except for, well, then, no. The Canadian Press reported that Rangers GM Frank Boucher called up Selke to say he didn’t have anyone of Moore’s calibre to trade, other than maybe Danny Lewicki. Selke: You can’t trade Lewicki, he’s playing too well. As Selke told it, Boucher said Prentice and Ron Murphy weren’t good enough and they left it at that. Next day, Rangers’ president General J.R. Kilpatrick phoned up to say he’d pay cash for Moore. “I told him,” said Selke, “we couldn’t play with cash.”

So he stayed, as did Mazur, though the latter was sent down to the Montreal Royals, and eventually found his way to Chicago. Three seasons later, Moore topped the league in scoring for the first time.

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His nickname, of course, was Digging Dickie.

As a rookie for Montreal in 1952, he played with Elmer Lach and Dick Gamble on what was described as the league’s most torrid line. His most famous linemates: Maurice and Henri Richard.

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Adjectives that appear next to his name in the register of Hall-of-Famers include aggressive and robust. Stan Fischler has called him brash to a fault and at first believed to be uncontrollable.

In sundry newspapers he was described as the problem child of Quebec junior hockey (1950) as well as a bellicose showboating rugged winger and colorful type and darling of the crowd and paradoxically, roundly despised by others because of his flair for showmanship (1950); speedy young forward (1951); brilliant rookie (1952); chippy operator (1952); aggressive, two-way performer (1955); also plucky (1961); a dependable playoff performer (1962); battle-scarred (1967); and once-proficient (1967). Toronto GM Punch Imlach called him a great competitor (1964) and sore-legged all-star (1966).

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For his first Art Ross in 1957-58 he scored 36 goals and 84 points in 70 games. The following year he piled up 41 goals; his 96 points that years were the most an NHL player had ever accumulated in a season.

A brilliant goal from the Habs’ 1959 Cup-winning game against Chicago was described this way:

Instead of passing from the end boards, he sprinted out and jammed the puck past Hall.

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Some wounds and infirmities:

He went to hospital in 1952 with badly bruised knees.

In 1958 his fractured hand impaired his stickhandling and shooting. Canadiens’ physiotherapist Bill Head said it was a small bone just under the thumb that was broken, and that it was injury often incurred by baseball players.

Irwin Spencer of the New York Rangers slashed him in 1961, fractured a bone in his foot.

Later that year, in the playoffs, he was on a list of Hab casualties compiled by Bill Head that included: Billy Hicke, concussion and head gash; Tom Johnson, pulled groin; Phil Goyette, mild concussion; Ralph Backstrom, leg and ankle; Jean Béliveau, head injury; Dickie Moore, wrist; Jean-Guy Talbot, loose teeth.

In the summer of 1961 he had surgery on his left knee to remove cartilage. At training camp that September the knee was weak.

With the Leafs in 1964, he bruised the base of his spine hitting the boards backwards in New York, an injury he concealed for two weeks until he couldn’t skate.

A word often associated with his knees was gimpy. Back again in 1962, he was 31 with a limp and a question mark hovering just in front of him, in front and up a bit. He’d had knee surgery in the summer, the left knee again, this time the doctors removed a cyst. Moore hoisted the leg of his trousers for a reporter to study the aftermath of all the hospital work: three six-inch scars.

“The thing is that I have to work at this game,” he explained. “The knee will never be perfect and I have to do some things a little differently. I have to know how to twist and turn without straining it and to expect a little pain once in a while.”

At training camp in Verdun he had his best day on September 19 when he scored a picturesque goal and set up another by Lou Fontinato and (Pat Curran wrote in The Gazette) “was skating much like The Digger of old.”

“I should have had another goal but that Patate picked it off when I tried to flip the puck past him.”

Patate: wily old Jacques Plante.

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Youths attacked him: youths. The Habs were in Detroit, April of 1952, in the finals. The Red Wings won the game, 3-0, to take a three-game lead, it was all over, except for the hallway scuffling. The Ottawa Citizen told the tale: a jostling group of youthful fans was waiting for the Canadiens outside their dressing room when

One youth laid into Moore with a body check. Moore shoved him and the band grabbed the Canadiens. But [Red Wing Leo] Reise and [Ted] Lindsay, passing by, grabbed two of the youths and ended the scuffle.

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He couldn’t do it any more in 1963, his ailing legs wouldn’t let him. He was 33 a year later when Punch Imlach plucked him off waivers and brought him to Toronto (he also grabbed Terry Sawchuk). “When I draft players,” Imlach said, “I tell them to throw away the medical reports and birth certificates

“We have nothing to lose by taking a shot with Moore, we’ve had guys play with almost broken legs so I’m certainly not worried about a couple of sore knees.”

He played 38 games for the Leafs before he decided his knees really weren’t up to the work.

He did come back for one more season, in 1967-68, when the St. Louis Blues convinced him to give them a whirl. On a team that iced Glenn Hall, Doug Harvey, and Red Berenson, Moore only played 27 regular-season games, but he was instrumental in getting the Blues into the playoffs, and he was the team’s leading scorer (seven goals, 14 points) as they fought a way to the finals, where Montreal beat them in four games.

“They’re paying me well and when a guy likes the game as much as I do, it’s pretty hard to turn down something like this,” he said as the season got underway. “They’re not expecting the world from me. They want me to set my on pace and I don’t think I’ll disgrace anyone.”

“I mean, people don’t go out now strictly with the idea of knocking somebody down. In my day, guys would come off the bench with only one idea in mind: run the other guy into the boards or knock him off his skates.”

 

(Photo: Louis Jaques, Library and Archives Canada/e002343728)

sons of sea-captains, haberdashers

The Montreal Canadiens yesterday named Marc Bergevin as their new general manager. A quick look at those who’ve preceded him in the position, starting at the club’s pre-NHL start:

• Joseph Cattarinich was a goaltender, the Canadiens’ first, in 1909. As a businessman he was known as The Silent One and also Silent Joe. With Leo Dandurand and Louis Letourneau, he would later buy the Canadiens from George Kennedy’s widow for $11,500.

• Jack Laviolette, Hall-of-Fame defenceman, was a playing manager with Cattarinich when managers were also, sort of, coaches, too. His on-ice career ended when he lost a foot in a car accident in 1918. According the Hockey Hall of Fame, that didn’t keep him from refereeing the benefit game that was organized on his his behalf in 1921.

• George Kennedy, son of a sea-captain, was a Canadian amateur wrestling champion who died of the lingering effects of Spanish flu.

• Leo Dandurand, the man who brought Howie Morenz to Montreal, owned a restaurant called Drury’s. He forbade his players from driving cars because of the risk of leg and hand cramps. Continue reading