A birthday for Russian hockey today: happy 75th. It was on this date in 1946 that the USSR’s inaugural championship in what was then distinguished as Canadian hockey got underway.
Twelve teams took the ice that year: CDKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Dinamo Riga, VVS MVO Moscow, Sverdlovsk House of Officers, Leningrad House of Officers, Kaunas, Spartak Uzhgorod, Dynamo Tallinn, Dynamo Leningrad, Vodnik Arkhangelsk, along with the eventual champions, Dynamo Moscow. The IIHF has some handsome archival footage of the team’s triumph in its observance of the anniversary today.
Canadian notice of the upstart league/hockey revolution that winter was limited to a few brief, paternalistic, not-quite-accurate wire reports. One that Vancouver’s Province (among other papers) carried noted that Russia had spent previous winters playing at bandy. “Hitherto,” went that dispatch, “the Russians have played a form of ice hockey peculiar to themselves, using a ball instead of a puck and playing two periods instead of three as in the western game.” (Swedes and other Europeans had been bandying for some years, too, of course.)
The season went on without Canadian coverage, all the way to the end, in March of 1947. Ross Munro of the Canadian Press arrived in Moscow too late to catch any of the on-ice action in person. But that didn’t keep him from filing an end-of-season feature to report on what others had seen and scoffed at.
“The players, according to my informants,” Munro wrote, “wear curious uniforms featured [sic] by long woollen drawers which seem to be a combination of grandpa’s flannel underwear and track sweat pants. They complete the uniform by adding to this creation a type of quilted short-coat which is the usual dress of the poorer classes in Russia.”
“Instead of padded gloves,” he noted, “the players wear ordinary heavy workman’s mitts. At present the goalie is only lightly padded but padding and other refinements will be added as the Russians work out the details of the game.”
From what Munro had heard, “the game as played in Moscow is gentlemanly compared with its Canadian counterpart and there is little bodychecking. Sticks are carried high only by accident and the tripping seems entirely unplanned. Penalties are few.”
Munro reported that the championship final was “a fairly anaemic game.” For all his diligence, he managed in his second-hand reporting to get the result wrong: in his telling, CDKA (as the Red Army team that would become CSKA was then known) beat Dynamo, when in fact it was the other way around.
Globe and Mail columnist Jim Coleman had slightly better information — on the winner, at least:
The Moscow Dynamos — well-known in the soccer world since they whipped Arsenal — won the first Russian ice hockey championships, staged this winter. … One of their stars, Vsevolod Bobrov, was unable to play because he had undergone an operation on his quote “meniscus” unquote — undoubtedly it’s a Russian word for clavicle.
Winding up his dispatch, Ross Munro did take a glance at the horizon. Pondering on the future, he was generous — and prescient — enough:
Canadian and United States residents of Moscow who followed hockey in North America say that the Soviet teams gave a mighty long way to go before they get anywhere near Canadian standards. But the Russians are trying and they probably will be playing the game efficiently before they are through.
Mainstay of the Maroons, they called him, Horatius at the Bridge, the Sphinx of the Nets. Also? The Ottawa Fireman. That was a nickname, the last one, but it was also a straightforward description, because throughout Alec Connell’s 12-year Hall-of-Fame career as an NHL goaltender, he remained a dutiful employee of the fire department in the nation’s capital.
His renown was such that when, on a Saturday of this date in 1958, Connell died, the news was front-page-centre in the Ottawa Citizen, his hometown paper. He was 58.
Twenty-nine years he served with the Ottawa Fire Department, starting in 1921. He was working as secretary to Chief Robert Burnett in the fall of 1924 when he was signed by the mighty Senators, Stanley Cup champions in three of the previous five seasons, to replace Clint Benedict. Connell’s sporting exploits were well-known in the city: “one of Ottawa’s best all-round athletes,” the Montreal Gazette advised.
“He is a little man as fast as a flash and as cool-headed almost as the great Georges Vézina of the Canadiens.” He was, moreover, “a fine, clean-cut youth.”
“Connell neither smokes nor drinks, and is in every way a credit to sport.”
He would play eight seasons, all told, with the Senators, often wearing what was described as a floppy hat, his face set with a serious expression that contemporary reports tended to classify as deadpan. He backstopped Ottawa to the 1927 Stanley Cup, and he was the Montreal Maroons’ goaltender in 1935 when they won the Cup. He had turns, too, with the Detroit Falcons and New York Americans before he gave up his pads for good in 1937.
On that subject, the pads, while Jake Forbes of the old Hamilton Tigers was the first NHL goaltender to transition from the old, narrow cricket-style pads to the new-fangled wider horsehide-and-kapok versions pioneered by Hamilton harnessmaker Pop Kenesky in the 1920s, Alec Connell was the second. These are Keneskys pictured in the image above, showing Connell in all his felted glory in 1931, when he was with Detroit; the pads are, in all probability, the originals that Connell commissioned from the legendary Pop Kenesky in 1927.
Some other Connell claims to hockey fame:
• He’s one of six goaltenders in NHL history to have captained his team, which in his case was Ottawa for the 1932-33 season. (Not counting Roberto Luongo here, whom the Vancouver Canucks recognized as their leader from 2008-10, despite the league’s latter-day rules that don’t allow captains in the crease.)
• Playing for the Maroons in 1934, Connell was the goaltender of record when Ralph Bowman scored the NHL’s very first penalty shot.
• Alec Connell still holds the record for the longest shutout streak in NHL history, 460 minutes and 49 seconds. That dates back to the 1927-28 season, when he strung together six consecutive clean sheets before Duke Keats of the Black Hawks solved him in a game in Chicago. Connell racked up 15 shutouts in 44 regular-season games that season — impressive, though not enough to win him the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender, which went to George Hainsworth of the Canadiens that year.
Born in Selkirk, Manitoba, in 1905 on a Saturday of this date, Paul Goodman was minding the nets for the AHA Wichita Skyhawks when the Chicago Black Hawks summoned him to Toronto in the spring of 1938 where they were battling the local Leafs for the Stanley Cup. With Chicago starter Mike Karakas out with an injury, the Black Hawks had made do in game one with emergency replacement Alfie Moore. Better yet, they’d won the game. That didn’t sit well with the Leafs, who refused to consent to Moore playing the second game, so in went 33-year-old Goodman. The Leafs won that one, but Karakas returned for the final two games to secure Chicago’s second championship in four years. Goodman got his chance at a more regular role with the Black Hawks two seasons after that playoff debut, taking over the starter’s job from Karakas, which is when this photograph dates to, January of 1940. Goodman’s final NHL season was 1940-41. That year, he shared the Chicago net with Sam LoPresti.