classic winter, 1936: spectators saw more snow-shovelling than hockey

As far as hockey went, Canada’s 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany, were a fresh-air flop. For the first time in five tournaments, Canada lost a game. Unfairly or not — guess who claimed the former — that was enough to give Great Britain the gold, while Canada had to settle for silvery second.

Most of the hockey at those eventful Nazi Games took to the ice at the main rink in Garmisch, 27 games. A further ten played out on the nearby ice of Riessersee, seen above in pre-Olympic days. Canada made its Bavarian debut there on February 6.

“The puckmen wearing the Maple Leaf emblem were brimful of confidence,” the Canadian Press advised the nation the day before Canada’s opening encounter with Poland. Coach Al Pudas described his team as “strong and smart.”

On the day, the Poles had trouble getting to the lake on time. Their bus was slowed or got stuck on slippery roads, and so the crowd of 300 watched the Canadians take an extended warm-up. Once the game got underway, there were goals (mainly Canadian) and there was weather (non-partisan).

“So heavy was the snowstorm,” CP reported, “the spectators saw more snow shovelling than hockey.” The players had trouble distinguishing “friend from foe.” Still, the Canadians opened with “speedy thrusts,” scoring five first-period goals. The lone Pole goal was self-inflicted, with Canadian goaltender Dinty Moore knocking the puck into his own net.

Going into the third, with the score 7-1, the Poles concentrated almost solely on keeping the Canadians at bay. “While the Polish lacked sting and polish, their defensive play was first rate,” the CP allowed; Canada added only one more goal to its rout.

By the end, the weather had pretty much imposed itself. “Despite an army of men employed to scrape and shovel” the rink, the snow piled up. “Play was halted several times,” the CP correspondent noted, “so that the officials could find the puck.”

 

winterspiele 1936: wet snow and salutes by the trillion

map 36

The Finns said they were out, sorry, apologies, but they wouldn’t be playing in the hockey tournament because (and I quote) ice hockey sport is too young in Finland to venture upon powerful international tryouts. This was a week or two before the Olympics were due to open in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, if not quite the eleventh hour then maybe the tenth.

The Americans were still in London at this point, losing an exhibition game to Streatham by a score of 8-4.

The Canadians, having played their single European exhibition in Paris, headed on for Germany.

The Germans had Rudi Ball back in their team, a dynamic forward, their best player, who happened to be Jewish, and had left the country for Paris and Milan after Adolf Hitler came to power. He’d been persuaded to return by the Reich sports leader, Captain Hans von Tschammer und Osten.

Ball was scoring goals in Germany’s exhibition games in January; Captain von Tschammer und Osten was no doubt busily involved with all the last-minute Olympic preparations being reported daily in North American newspapers. Germans planning to attend events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen were being told they should go in civvies, for example: “Because the games are primarily international athletic competitions, it is the wish that spectators wear sport clothes and not uniforms.” Also: local restaurants, cafés and hotel bars could stay open until 6 a.m. for the duration of the Games.

Oh, and from Munich came word that the city was at last ready to comply with a government order to remove all “Jews Not Wanted” signs from public spaces. They’d been cleared from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and elsewhere for a while, but stubborn Munich had been holding out.

gpThe weather in Bavaria was balmy, and while there was plenty of snow on the mountains above the town, and Lake Riesser was still frozen, the bobsled run was closed, leaving (the Associated Press reported) the world’s “bulky bobbers” with nothing “to do except eat their usual five square meals daily.”

Italy was looking forward to the next Olympics, declaring their bid and the hope that the world would gather in 1940 in beautiful Cortina d’Ampezzo.

The U.S. played in Paris, where a team of French-Canadians beat them 6-2. They did better in Brussels two nights later, dismissing the Etoile du Nord by a score of 9-5.

From Canada, the news was that Pud Kitchen was a dandy, and that Dinty Moore and Hugh Farquharson were decided assets. Albert Pudas was the source of the praise, the Canadian coach, writing about his team in a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Port Arthur News-Chronicle. “Ken Farmer,” he added, “says he is the best hockey player in Canada, except Hooley Smith. That is a great spirit to have.”

As opposed, I guess, to the not-so-great version that, according to Phil Drackett, Canadian captain Herman Murray possessed. No-one was reporting this at the time: it was 1992 before Phil Drackett published Vendetta On Ice, a history of hockey at the German Olympics, in which he gives us a Murray who’s gruff and somewhat dour (Ken Farmer’s view) and a troublemaker (Albert Pudas’).

Vendetta On Ice is a distinctly British view of the tournament, if I can mention that without impugning the author’s honour, or suggesting any outward hostility towards Canadians and their interests. Drackett says that Murray had a notoriously bad temper and a nickname to commemorate it: Needles. Unless it was Dave Neville who was Needles: he was, after all, tall and thin. Drackett does say that Alex Sinclair and Malcolm Cochran agreed with Pudas about Murray, and quotes another source to the effect that he, Murray, liked to fight, and reports that in the Canadians exhibition in Paris he got very irked when the local scoreboard styled the visiting team as “Port Arthur” instead of “Canada” — he was, you’ll recall, one of the Montreal Royals who’d been added to the corps of Bearcats — and that when teammate Bill Thomson told not to worry about it, Murray thought it might be worthwhile to fight him and the team’s trainer (also a Port Arthur man), Scotty Stewart.

If that’s true, it does make you wonder how Pudas and Cochran came to name Murray to the captaincy in the first place. And was it just too late to make a change in Paris, if/when the captain started beating up teammates and support staff?

January was about to turn to February. Other breaking news of the day included reporting that the German government, via their embassy in Tokyo, was demanding that Japanese publications cease from caricaturing Chancellor Adolf Hitler in print, given that he was a national leader rather than a politician and therefore, by rights, owed immunity from lampooning.

The Japanese, for their part, voiced their annoyance at a recent speech of Hitler’s in which he’d mentioned (as The New York Times reported it) the right of Europeans to rule coloured peoples. A spokesman from the Japanese Foreign Office said he wasn’t entirely sure in what capacity Hitler was speaking,

but that his ideas, as reported, were offensive to the Japanese, who did not believe it was their destiny to be ruled by whites. Such utterances, he said, made it difficult to persuade Japanese newspapers to regard Hitler as exempt from the criticism to which politicians exposed themselves.

trillions

The week Hitler’s regime entered its fourth year, an industrious writer for an American wire service did some quick calculations.

January 30 marked the third anniversary of the Nazis having come to power, and there were more speeches in Germany to mark the occasion. Hans Frank, minister without portfolio, said, “We do not care what the world says about our Jewish legislation.” Nazi law, he explained, took account of five cardinal factors: blood, soil, honour, labour, and the will to defend.

At a Berlin festival attended by 26,000 soldiers, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels got things going by declaring how proud he was that the capital was a German city now, free of Jews and Marxists. “You, my storm troop comrades,” Hitler said, “are the guarantors of the future.”

German roller-skate authorities announced, meanwhile, that it looked like plans for adding roller hockey to the schedule at the forthcoming Berlin Summer Olympics were going ahead.

The weather in Garmisch-Partenkirchen turned wet. Snow was falling in town, but it was a slushy stuff, and the bobsledders were still only feeding, and the speedskaters couldn’t practice.

Back home, Ottawa had its claim on in for coldest place in Eastern Canada, at -16. Governor-General Lord Tweedsmuir was taking advantage of the weather, heading out into the snowy capital to pursue his newest passion: cross-country skiing. While Lady Tweedsmuir took a sleigh-ride, His Excellency undertook a brief but strenuous expedition with Colonel J.T. Thomson, Dominion franchise commissioner.

It was only a week or two since the Tweedsmuirs had witnessed their first Canadian hockey game, in Ottawa, when the Senators beat the Montreal Victorias. The Governor-General had been impressed, reported The Montreal Gazette, smiling and applauding warmly, sitting throughout the game without a hat.

The Americans arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. They were tired. Their lacklustrous showing in the exhibition games they’d played since arriving in Europe had (1) allayed the fears of Canadian observers and (2) caused disquiet among American fans and officials.

Finland’s withdrawal left 15 teams, organized into four preliminary-round groups:

Group A: Canada, Austria, Poland, Latvia
Group B: Germany, USA, Italy, Switzerland
Group C: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, France, Belgium
Group D: Great Britain, Sweden, Japan

The two best teams in each group — eight nations — would qualify for the semi-final round, explained The Ottawa Journal to readers in mid-January. Two teams from each of those groups (for a total of four) would then advance to the final round, wherein a winner and three runners-up would be determined.

Canada’s first game was slated for Thursday, February 6: right after the opening ceremonies, they’d lace up for a meeting with Poland.

looming

Weeks before the Canadians arrived in Germany, The Globe and other Canadian papers ran this strangely gloomy illustration.

The Americans said they were due to give their northern neighbours a surprise in the hockey tournament. Some Americans did. Boston’s Daily Globe called the Canadians strongly favoured. Olympic previews published back home in the Hope, Arkansas Star, for instance, noted that while the U.S, team was the only one likely to give the Canadians a run for their money, they weren’t exactly lighting up the continent.

Still, Canadians were wary of them. They did have a Canadian-born goaltender, after all, in Tom Moone, and their best forward, Frank Shaughnessy, had been captain of the McGill University team before graduating to star for the Montreal Victorias. “The pre-game dope,” said The Ottawa Citizen, had the U.S. “figured to give the Canadians their stiffest argument.” They would prove, others opined, Canada’s most dangerous foe. No to worry too much, of course: “The feeling exists, however, that they will protect the Dominion’s hockey supremacy at Garmisch-Partenkirchen with plenty to spare.”

The Globe was assuring its readers, too. “There never was need for great concern over Canada’s chances in Olympic hockey.”

The Ottawa Journal was picking Canada and the U.S. to make the final four along with Germany and either Sweden or Switzerland.

J.F. Fitzgerald from The Toronto Telegram was looking at the U.S. to come in third, with the Great Britain or Switzerland in second. The British, of course, had so many Canadian-trained players among them that they were more or less a second Dominion squad, which was why it would be nice to see Canada and Great Britain to run one-two.

Erwin Schwangart was on the ground for The Globe, and on the eve of the Games getting going, he talked to several Canadians about how they thought the hockey tournament might unfold. One of these was Canadian baking mogul W. Garfield Weston, who’d made the journey over from London where he was working; another was Val Hoffinger, who’d grown up in Saskatchewan and played a bit for the Chicago Black Hawks in the late ’20s.

“Hoffinger gave Canada the nod for first place by a wide margin,” Schwangart reported two days before the Olympics opened. A generous opinion, given that Hoffinger was coaching the home team, Germany.

He’d been working hard to prepare his team of fourteen players, most of whom he’d had together for six weeks. Hoffinger had put together a second team, strengthened with four Canadians, to test Rudi Ball and the rest of his charges. Hoffinger didn’t think much of the Americans: he looked to the Swiss and the British to be battling for second.

A funny thing, European hockey. “Very noticeable,” Erwin Schwangart was writing in The Globe, “is the complete absence of bodychecking.”

Hoffinger explained that this came as a consequence of the refusal of the attacking players to penetrate the defence from close range. They favour a big swerve toward the corners. Watching some of the practices I could conceive easily that he is trying to teach the boys how to shift but it seems to be rather hard for the players to accomplish this, as they are not natural players, but just play according to teaching. They, just as the rest of the European players, have a tendency to grab their opponent’s stick.

King Gustav stopped by in Berlin to visit with Hitler. The Swedish monarch was on his way to the French Riviera for a winter break. With the German chancellor preparing for his departure for Bavaria, I suppose it’s possible that the two of them talked some winter sports, maybe even some hockey. Though nobody was expecting too much from the Swedes, even though they, too, had a Canadian coach — Vic Lindquist, from Winnipeg, who’d won a gold medal playing for Canada at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid.

Nazis said later — some Nazis — that it wasn’t until Hitler’s train pulled into the station at Garmisch-Partenkirchen that the serious snow began to fall, but in fact the winter weather arrived before the Reichskanzler. Monday, February 3, was when temperature dropped and thick snow mantled the town. Even the sulking bobsledders emerged, said The Daily Boston Globe.

h arrives

Snow Train Coming: Adolf Hitler arrives in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on February 6, 1936.

 

winterspiele 1936

Pole Position: On their way to winning a gold medal in 1932 at the Lake Placid, Canada met and (as one observer wrote it) "submerged" Poland, 10-0.

Pole Position: On their way to winning a gold medal in 1932 at the Lake Placid Olympics, Canada met and (as one observer wrote it) “submerged” Poland, 10-0.

There was never a Winter Olympics like these. None so controversial before they started, not any so militarized once they began, none overseen by such a nasty crew of odious Nazis who thought, maybe, that a snowy sporting jubilee in Bavaria might glorify their regime while distracting the world from their domestic program of terror and persecution.

This is 1936 we’re talking about here, which means that it’s 80 years ago this month that this strangest of hibernal games got going in the German ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen as the world, after much debate and talk of boycotts, showed up to sled and schuss, to skate, slide rocks, and shoot — bullets and pucks both — for ten days in February.

The hockey tournament was (of course) Canada’s to win. We had, after all (and obviously), prevailed on the rink at all three previous Winter Olympics, going back to 1924, not to mention (can we just mention?) the 1920 hockey tournament that was tacked on to the summer games in Antwerp.

36Across that golden span, in 17 games, Canadian teams had never lost. The closest they’d come was in the last game of the 1932 tournament at Lake Placid, when the home team managed a 2-2 tie. Goals had not been hard to come by for Canadians: in the pre-1936 years, our teams outscored their Olympic rivals 209-8.

Again, though: there never was an Olympics like this one in ’36. In Garmisch, Canadians would learn what losing a game was like, and more: when they left town, the medals they carried away were silver.

I wrote a bit about Garmisch and what happened there in my book, Puckstruck, and now that we’re into the anniversary week of the IV Olympische Winterspiele, a return visit seems like it might be in order. Over the course of the next week or two, I’ll be considering the hockey that was played in Germany and the Canadians who played it, though not just the Canadians and not only the hockey. Expect appearances by Englishmen, Swedes, and Germans who also competed in Garmisch, as well as Americans, Czechs, and Japanese. Hockey officials will play their part, many of them Canadian, some of them fulminating loud and long. Among the spectators who’ll feature will be everyday, salt-of-the-earth, hockey-loving Germans who’ll be disturbed when the games they’re viewing get too rough. A number of the Nazis are also due for appearances, some of them dressed up in Davy Crockett garb.

I did some wondering in Puckstruck, much of it idle, about whether hockey is like life or apart from it. Garmisch seems like an instances where life threatened to overwhelm hockey and reveal the game’s essential absurdity. “Can you winnow out the sophisticated evil of the Nazis looking on from the simple game they were watching?” is something I wrote. I’m still not sure what the answer is there; maybe it might take some shape in the days to come. Up first, though, next, some of the story of the team that wore Canada’s maple leaves in Germany, and how they got there.

 1936_garmisch-partenkirchen_poster

new year’s eve, 1941

The good old Eishockey game: At a pre-war hockey game between Germany and France in Berlin in the fall of 1937, the attentive crowd includes (centre, in the leather coat and light hat) Hitler’s Reichssportführer (Reich Sports Leader), Hans von Tschammer und Osten sitting beside (on his left) the French ambassador to Berlin, along with (second row from the front, second from left) Luftwaffe General Erhard Milch, who was at this time Hermann Göring’s direct subordinate; and (next to him, conferring) Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer who later became governor of Poland and (later still) was found guilty at trial at Nuremberg and executed for crimes against humanity. (Photo: Photoreportage Trampus)

The good old Eishockey game: At a pre-war hockey game between Germany and France in Berlin in the fall of 1937, the attentive crowd includes (centre, in the leather coat and light hat) Hitler’s Reichssportführer (Reich Sports Leader), Hans von Tschammer und Osten sitting beside (on his left) the French ambassador to Berlin. Nearby (second row from the front, second from left) is Luftwaffe General Erhard Milch, who was at this time Hermann Göring’s direct subordinate; and (next to him, conferring) Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer who later became governor of Poland and (later still) was found guilty at trial at Nuremberg and executed for crimes against humanity. (Photo: Photoreportage Trampus)

Hockey isn’t war and never was, despite the blood and the punching and all the borrowed bellicose terminology, the attacking and the shooting, the battling and the holding the fort. Hockey means no disrespect: it well understands, as we all do, that war is war and hockey is only ever hockey. Hockey admires wars, of course, which is to say soldiers: it has lots of time for honouring those in uniform, always has. Because? Well, hockey is nothing if not patriotic and understands, too, the sacrifices soldiers make, and those are worth constantly honouring, aren’t they, in as public a way in as meaningful a venue as we have in Canada? (Maybe the camo sweaters are a little much, and maybe too the light armoured vehicles patrolling the ACC ice.) There’s no denying that hockey and wars have — speaking very generally here — drawn traditionally from the same segment of the population. Young men who play hockey have often in our history gone to war, and once they’re soldiers there’s no stopping them from taking to whatever ice they can find behind the front lines. It reminds them of home; it’s also just something we Canadians do.

Soccer sometimes causes a war (see Kapuscinski, Ryszard), but hockey has never been that careless. In at least one case, though, a hockey game played in wartime seems to have precipitated a real live battle, resulting in real dead casualties.

I don’t have much on this; I’m doing my best trying to find more. The game was in Belgium, Brussels, in 1941, during the German occupation; Canadians had nothing to do with it, as far as I know. I got in touch with the Royal Belgian Ice Hockey Federation to ask what they might know, exchanged e-mails with the gracious and helpful Jan Casteels, but he’d never heard of this dreadful match-up, which took place on a Wednesday in December of 1941, the very last one — New Year’s Eve.

I’d come an account across in an Australian newspaper, published several days after the fact. That’s where this started for me. It was a tiny newsbreak and secondhand, quoting a Swedish newspaper whose correspondent had picked up the news in Berlin. Details were meagre. Who was playing, on which ice, what started it, why: I don’t know any of that. I don’t even really know what it was. Belgians and Germans fought a pitched battle during an ice-hockey match: three people died in the rink. Spectators, I think, though I suppose they could have been players. The report lists the dead as a Gestapo man, a German soldier, and a Belgian. A second Belgian was wounded. By the time the news appeared in Australia, a German military court (the Swedish reporter said) had already sentenced three other Belgians to die.

That’s as much as I’ve found. A few months later the Australian press was reporting German death sentences for 14 Belgians accused of “murder, sabotage, the possession of weapons, Communist activities, and anti-German propaganda.” I think those are altogether separate cases. These accused, said the court, had “to a high degree been influenced by broadcasts from Britain.”

belgians - Version 2

Anyone with any leads on the awful events in Brussels on December 31, 1941, please drop a line to puckstruck@gmail.com.

british hockey of the rhine

guards 3

The British Army’s Guards Division fought at Loos and Cambrai in the First World War, and at Pilkem and Passchendaele, Arras, Canal Du Nord. Formed in France in 1915, the Division counted battalions from some of the Army’s elite regiments, Coldstreams and Grenadiers, Scots and Welsh and Irish. At Armistice in November of 1918 the Division was stationed in and around Maubeuge in France, near the Belgian border. With the war at an end, some units were ordered to Cologne, in Germany, to which they marched — a distance of about 250 kilometres. Through Christmas they stayed and on into January, serving with Britain’s occupation force, the Army of the Rhine and … playing some hockey, as depicted here. They wanted for proper gear, from the look of things, if not for skates and walking-sticks and all-out enthusiasm. The fans shown in the last photograph are local Germans.

By February of 1919 the Division was headed for home. In March the men formed up one last time to parade through the streets of London to Buckingham Palace, where they paid their respects to King George V and Queen Mary in the forecourt. Then they continued down The Mall and up Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner. This, according to The Guards Magazine. Men who’d been blinded in battle marched with their mates, the newspapers reported, while those too grievously wounded to walk were borne by lorries.

guards 2

 guards hockey

britisher hockey

[Photos by Lieutenant Ernest Brooks, 10 February, 1919/Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 3591), © IWM (Q 3588), © IWM (Q 3592), © IWM (Q 3589)]

twas a close squeeze

1932

Hard to say what’s going on with the puck in this imaginatively enhanced German photo-illustration of Canada’s first meeting with the United States at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. If the teams did indeed play the game batting about the lid of a teapot, it’s not something the newspapers noticed. What we do know is that this was the opening outing of Canada’s least-dominant Olympics up to that point, even if they did — spoiler alert — end up grabbing gold.

It was the Winnipeg Hockey Club representing Canada that year, the Allan Cup champions, and despite what you see above, they (a) wore regular shinpads and socks and (b) affected plain old red maple leaves on their sweaters, no  exoskeleton needed. Going into these III Winter Olympics, Canadians back home wondered whether the Winnipegs were worthy representatives. Could they get the job done? The team was considered weak, writes Andrew Podnieks in Canada’s Olympic Hockey Teams (1997), not to mention lacking in lustre. I don’t know that it’s fair to say that the country suffered a national sinking feeling as the team rode east out of Manitoba on Canadian National’s Continental Limited flyer, but neither am I ruling it out.

Against the U.S., the Winnipegs may have been thrown off by the fact that the game was played outdoors. Goalie Bill Cockburn had sun glaring in his eyes, and the team in general was (said The Globe) “as nervous as an amateur theatrical troupe on ‘the big night.’” Also, did I mention that the rink was disconcertingly small?

Canada was not only “sluggish” for the first two periods, but “wobbly.” In the second, the Americans scooped up a wild Canadian pass in front of Cockburn and … scored.

That woke up the Winnipeggers. Time to step it up. In the third, as The Globe told the tale,

Franklin Farrell, the United States goaler, was on his knees most of the time batting away shots with his elbows and his hands.

Hack Simpson finally beat him. In overtime, despite taking two penalties, the Canadians prevailed when Vic Lindquist drove at the net, fell, collided with Farrell and, somehow, shoved the the lid of the teapot into the net. “Twas a close squeeze,” Globe sports editor Mike Rodden exhaled next morning.

Now’s not the time, probably, to get down on the Winnipegs for what happened next. With an eye to selling tickets, the Americans had organized a series of exhibition games throughout the Olympics, which is how Canada played and lost to the team from McGill University next day. Canadian management attached no importance to the game but still, a loss is a loss.

Next, back to the fight for gold, came Germany. They insisted on succumbing by a mere 4-1. This was just getting silly. Four years earlier, Canadians had been winning games by scores of 33-0 and 19-2. The Winnipegs did record a restorative 9-0 drubbing of the Poles next, and that must have calmed some nerves. The Germans got the message, sort of, losing 5-0 when the teams met for a second time. Next day, when it was Poland’s turn again, the Winnipegs patiently re-drubbed them 10-0.

Which was better. More Canadian, certainly. In the final, the Winnipegs faced the United States again. Twice the Americans had the audacity to take the lead and twice — “a little shaken by the unexpected turn of events,” as The Globe reported — Canada was forced to tie it up. That’s how the game ended, 2-2, which was just enough to give Canada the gold, on points, even as the country considered the disturbing shift in Olympic hockey that we’ve been struggling with ever since: other teams, from other countries, seemed like they wanted to win gold just as much as we did.