george the first

Here’s George Hainsworth in all his ratty glory at some point during the 1929-30 NHL season, by the end of which he and his Montreal Canadiens had commandeered the Stanley Cup. Born in Toronto on this date in 1893 — it was a Monday, then — Hainsworth and the Habs defended their championship the following season. He had, of course, taken up the Montreal net in 1926, following  Georges  Vézina’s tragic death, whereupon he claimed the first three editions of the trophy that was instituted in Vézina’s name to recognize the NHL’s outstanding goaltender. In 1928-29, Hainsworth set a record (it still stands) for most shutouts in a season, posting a remarkable 22 in 44 regular-season games for the Canadiens. Another season of his ranks sixth on that same list: in 1926-27, Hainsworth kept a clean sheet in 14 of 44 regular-season games.

the port perry woodpecker

Chin Up: Born in Port Perry, Ontario, on a Saturday of today’s date in 1900, John Ross Roach led the Toronto St. Patricks to a Stanley Cup championship in his rookie season, 1921-22. He played seven seasons in Toronto in all, captaining the team along the way, and lasting long enough to see the St. Pats transform into Maple Leafs in 1927. Roach played for the New York Rangers after that, and then went to Detroit in 1932, as the Falcons were turning into the Red Wings. He stayed on in Detroit after finishing his NHL career in 1935, going to work as a car salesman for Ford.

the lowdown

Now I Lay Me Down: Born in Chambly in on a Wednesday of today’s date, Denis Herron is 70 today: salutations to him. Here he’s stretched out for puck-stopping purposes at Montreal’s Forum in December of 1981 in a game against the Quebec Nordiques. Herron was in his third and final year with the Canadiens that year, winning the William M. Jennings with teammate Rick Wamsley. (The previous year he’d shared a Vézina Trophy with Richard Sévigny and Michel Larocque.) In September of 1982, Montreal traded Herron back to Pittsburgh, the team from whence he’d come to the Canadiens in 1979. All in all, Herron played 14 NHL seasons, including a stretch with the Kansas City Scouts, before finishing his major-league days as a Penguin in 1985. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

stop them, bullet joe!

Bullet Joe Sawyer was the star goaltender for the Montreal Mounteds, see, but then he went to war and lost his nerve, and when he got back to guarding goals, it just wasn’t the same. With all those pucks piling up behind him, Montreal just had to let him go, which is how he ended up suiting up for their rivals, the Red Ants, in their big game against — yes, that’s right — the Mounteds.

“Staggering to this feet, though he tottered and sagged against the goal post, Bullet Joe faced the surging forms in front. He tossed aside the stub of his hockey stick as useless, and extended gloved hands, spreading the fingers wide. A woman’s hysterical, high-pitched scream carried above the human battery of sound. “Stop them, Bullet Joe!”

I’ll let you guess how Harold Sherman’s novelette “Bullet Joe, Goalie” ends, and who gets the girl — yes, there’s a girl. Hockey’s not your thing? In 1928, readers of Top-Notch Magazine could take their pick of torrid tales: also included in this mid-winter issue were stories of cowboys (“Blazing Six-Guns”), canny courtroom stenographers (“All is Not Wasted That Leaks”), and big, striped-game hunting (“Zebra Guile”).

car ton bras sait porter l’épée

Send Her Victorious: Seventy years later, as celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee continue in the United Kingdom, let’s not forget the 96-year-old sovereign’s eventful stint guarding goals for the Vancouver Canucks — as imagined, at least, by Victoria, B.C. artist Timothy Wilson Hoey. You can browse more of his wonderful work at www.facebook.com/ocanadaart and wilsonhoey.com).

 

 

 

incoming

Stop Right There: Has any NHL goaltender looked more mortal in the nets, resembled a guy who ended up there by mistake, suggested (as John K. Samson put it) what it might be like if our poor everyday dads somehow, ridiculously, ended up pressed into sudden service at the Forum? But of course Gump Worsley’s goaling was the real major-league deal: he won a Calder Trophy, two Vézinas, and four Stanley Cup championships in his day to prove it. Born in Montreal on a Tuesday of today’s date in 1929, he turned 37 in 1966. He was labouring through a 13th NHL season that year, his third with Montreal, as he made the case that he was one of the league’s best puckstoppers. Successfully, as it turned out: he and fellow Canadiens goaltender Charlie Hodge not only shared the Vézina Trophy that year, they guided their team to a second successive Cup. (Image: La Presse)

speak of the devil

Young Marty: Eighteen-year-old Martin Brodeur of the QMJHL’s Saint-Hyacinthe Laser was the second goaltender to be selected at the 1990 NHL draft when his name was called (20th overall) by the New Jersey Devils, after the Calgary Flames took Trevor Kidd with the 11th pick. Born in Montreal on a Saturday of this date in 1972, Brodeur is 50 today, so here’s to him and his 3 Stanley Cup championships, 2 Olympic goal medals for Canada, Calder Memorial Trophy, and 4 Vézinas. Brodeur played 21 season with the Devils and another year with the St. Louis Blues before he retired as a player in 2015. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. The draft-day portrait here is by the artist who goes by the handle Gypsy Oak, whom you can find on Twitter @gypsyoak.

goal-time charlie

Partners in Pads: Goaltender Charlie Hodge was in on six Stanley Cup championships when the Montreal Canadiens were winning them in the 1950s and ’60s. Here he is (on the right) in 1966, when he shared the Hab net (and a Vézina Trophy) with Gump Worsley. Hodge died on this date in 2016 at the age of 82. (Image: La Presse)

a rest is as good as a change

Practice Makes Parched: Born in St. Catharines, Ontario, on a Thursday of this date in 1945, Doug Favell is 77 today: all hail to him. Scene here: a practice at Montreal’s Forum, February of 1969, when Favell’s Philadelphia Flyers were in town to take on the Canadiens. Bernie Parent would get that start for Philadelphia, and the loss, which went into the books as a 4-1 win for Gump Worsley’s Habs. A rumour adrift that same week had Favell and winger Brit Selby heading to Toronto in a trade for centreman Mike Walton. That didn’t happen, but the Leafs did send Walton to the Flyers in 1971 in a trade involving Parent … whereupon the Flyers quickly flipped Walton to Boston. Favell, of course, did end up in Toronto, by way of a 1973 swap that brought Bernie Parent back to Philadelphia just in time to win a pair of Stanley Cup championships. (Image: La Presse)

at the crease

Bunny Suit: After playing parts of eight seasons with the Montreal Canadiens (and sharing in four Stanley Cup championships), goaltender Michel Larocque joined Toronto’s Maple Leafs in March of 1981 in a trade that sent Robert Picard west. Back at the Forum in December of 1982, Larocque here focusses on facing former teammates for the second time as a Leaf, having lost the first time out. On this Tuesday night, with Mark Holden guarding Montreal’s goal, the teams tied 4-4. Holden and Larocque were in net the next night in Toronto, too, when the latter got his first decision over his former team in a 6-5 Leaf win. (Image: La Presse)

blank slate, 1929: conn smythe tries something new as toronto (married men and bachelors) shuts out detroit

The 1928-29 Leafs line up outside Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. Top row, left to right, they are: Shorty Horne, Ace Bailey, Alex Gray, Andy Blair, Jack Arbour, Hap Day, Lorne Chabot. Bottom, from left: Art Duncan, Art Smith, Dr. Bill Carson, Danny Cox, Joe Primeau, Gerry Lowery, Benny Grant.

Big win for Erik Källgren the other night, great that the 25-year-old Swedish rookie volunteered himself as the missing piece that completes the puzzle that is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation, good night, good luck, see you in the Stanley Cup final.

Too much, too soon? Probably. No sense in getting ahead of ourselves, or the Leafs, maybe let’s just pause in the moment and say that Källgren looked good in his first NHL start as he made 35 saves to secure Toronto’s 4-0 home win over the Dallas Stars, careful, craftful, calm when he needed to be, hasty when haste was called for, agile, pliant, just lucky enough. He shouldn’t have had to explain himself once his work was done, but of course he was asked to, because that’s what TV demands.

“Ah, I mean,” Källgren gamely told TSN’s Mark Masters, “it’s a lot to take in right now, but obviously I’m really happy, and happy for the win, and how the guys played in front of me was unreal. So a lot of emotions right now but of course very happy.”

Gladdening the hearts of fans of historical significance, the NHL was quick to chime in on the evening’s historical resonances. This was the 100th regular-season win of Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe’s tenure, in his 163rd game behind the bench, which makes him the quickest Leaf to that milestone: Pat Quinn and Dick Irvin each took 184 games to reach 100 wins.

The NHL also tagged Källgren’s performance as the fourth in club history in which a Leaf goaltender had earned a shutout in his first game as a starter:

Notable. Sorry to say that that infographic is only partly true. Fans of historical nitpickery soon discovered that, with minimal due diligence. When it comes to Benny Grant, the actual fact of what happened in 1929 is stranger and altogether more interesting than the version the NHL boxed up this week for social media.

Benny Grant hailed from Owen Sound, up on the Georgian Bay shore. In 1927, he helped the Owen Sound Greys win the Memorial Cup, Canada’s junior championship. After a year with Bert Corbeau’s Canadian Professional Hockey League London Panthers, he signed with the Maple Leafs, where Conn Smythe was coach and manager, and another Owen Sounder, Hap Day, was the captain.

Grant was 20 years in the fall of 1928. Not every NHL team employed a back-up goaltender in those years, but Toronto did, maybe because the man slated to start for the Leafs that year was coming off a grievous injury that had almost cost him an eye in the previous spring’s playoffs. After two years with the Rangers, Lorne Chabot, 28, had arrived in Toronto in an exchange that sent John Ross Roach and $10,000 to New York.

Chabot’s health wasn’t a worry, though, as it turned out: he was fine. He ended up playing in every one of the Leafs’ regular-season games that season, along with all four playoff games. When Grant saw action, it was almost always in relief: he appeared in five games through the season (none in the playoffs).

In Chabot’s case, NHL records only have him playing 43 games through the 1928-29 regular season. Most other standard hockey references say the same. (The Society for International Hockey Research, in its wisdom, does credit Chabot with his full and rightful 44 games.)

A sliver of an oversight, yes? Maybe so.

Still, significant enough that it shifts the meaning of the very record that the NHL claimed last night for Benny Grant. The game that Chabot played that the NHL is missing is the one on Saturday, March 9, 1929 — Benny Grant’s first NHL start (against the Detroit Cougars), when he’s supposed to have recorded his first NHL shutout. But Chabot played in that game, too, so he shared in the effort to deny the Detroit Cougars a goal. Benny Grant’s first start, as it turns out, wasn’t quite the same as Erik Källgren’s week: in 1929, Grant had help. Should he get credit for in the record books? It’s not up to me to add or subtract official shutouts, but I will note that the same situation occurred five days later that March, with Chabot and Grant combining to blank the New York Americans, and neither one of them is credited in the official records as having recorded a shutout.

Got that? It’s all very arcane … as statistics are. Here’s where the story of Benny Grant’s NHL debut gets interesting, and a little strange. Unheralded as it is, that night at Toronto’s Arena Gardens is notable for a tactical innovation that Conn Smythe seems to have introduced that night.

Unless, of course, the Leafs were just fooling around, having some fun as the season wound down before the playoffs.

Toronto was in: with just four games remaining in the regular schedule, there was no danger, by then, of the Montreal Maroons catching them in the standings. Toronto’s first-round opponent, in fact, would be the same Detroit Cougars they were meeting on March 9.

Time (I guess) for the Leafs to cut loose, just a little.

As has been noted before, Dick Irvin experimented with the idea of platooning goaltenders when he was coaching the Montreal Canadiens at the end of the NHL’s 1940-41 season. That was in March, too, with the end of the season in sight. Goaltenders worked hard, wore heavy pads, and like everybody else, they tired: why not, Irvin wondered, dress a pair of goaltenders and shift them on and off just like regular skaters?

“If we’d had an extra goalie,” he mused after a Canadiens loss in New York to the Rangers, “we might have used him along with the regular goalie in an effort to improve the situation. Those Rangers really were boring in and sure kept little Wilf Cude busy.”

Later that month, in Montreal’s final regular-season game, Irvin gave it a go. With the New York Americans visiting the Forum, Bert Gardiner started the game in the Canadiens’ net, with Paul Bibeault replacing him halfway through. The experiment was a success, I suppose, unless you’re a stickler for stats: though Montreal won 6-0, the NHL seems to have been unable to compute the shared shutout, so while Gardiner got the win, neither goaltender was credited with a shutout.

Twelve years earlier, lining up against Detroit in March of 1929, Conn Smythe’s version of doubling up his goaltenders added a fun twist — he “introduced another of his popular innovations,” as the Toronto Daily Star framed it. With a line-up of 12 players at his disposal, Smythe “used two complete teams and changed them completely every five minutes. The teams were known as the married men’s team and the single men’s team ….”

Bachelor Benny Grant go the start: he and Phyllis Banks wouldn’t marry until 1934. In front of him Grant hadHap Day and Red Horner on defence and a front line of Danny Cox, Andy Blair, and Ace Bailey. Marital status wasn’t so strictly enforced: Cox was married, while in the connubial substitute line-up of Chabot in goal, Arts Duncan and Smith on d, and Shorty Horne, Baldy Cotton, and Eric Pettinger at forward, Smith and Horne were single men. (Chabot, for the record, had married Elizabeth Money in 1927.)

Again, the two shifts operated as complete units: “When substitutions were made,” the Globe noted, “all six players left the ice and the other six replaced them.”

According to the Star, the Leafs made it even more interesting for themselves. “It was agreed before the game that the squad scoring [sic] most goals should be provided with new hats and it remained for a married man to help out the single men’s cause as Danny Cox, assisted by Andy Blair, got two of the goals. The other one, secured for the married men, went to Shorty Horne assisted by Harold Cotton.

 

And so the Leafs prevailed, 3-0. Grant had relieved Chabot earlier in the season in a game in New York against the Americans, but this was his outing on Toronto ice. “He upheld his end nobly,” the Star judged. “As a matter of fact he had a great deal more work to do than Chabot, the regular goalie.”

So much so, it seems, that Chabot’s contribution was ignored entirely by whoever was keeping records for the NHL. To this date, while the official online boxscore includes Chabot in Toronto’s line-up, it credits Grant with having played all 60 minutes of the game and collecting the win and the shutout.

What happened? Who knows. With the goaltenders switching out every five minutes, maybe it was just too much bother to keep track of them on the night. Even so, Chabot does deserve credit for his involvement in the game and (I’d argue) a share of the shutout that’s on Benny Grant’s record.

Chabot and Grant continued to share Toronto’s net for the rest of the regular season: in all three of Toronto’s three remaining games, Smythe used both goaltenders as the Leafs went 1-2 to finish the season, though it doesn’t seem that Smythe shifted his netminders quite so aggressively in these games. Records for all three of these games reflect the participation of both, even if (as mentioned) the shutout Grant and Chabot crafted in the penultimate game, a 5-0 home win over the Americans, was credited to neither man.

Former Toronto owner/coach/manager Charlie Querrie was writing a popular column in the Star in 1929. As he saw it, Smythe’s hasty goaling shifts were all for the show. “It is hard to create excitement,” he wrote, “with nothing at stake, but the Leafs did all they could to please the spectators, and the evening was worthwhile. It showed that the Leafs have plenty of good material and a round dozen players who can give a good account of themselves.”

As for the hats, the Globe’s Bert Perry delivered the goods on those. “The Maple Leafs will flash some Easter millinery this week,” he duly reported on the Monday following the Detroit win. That is, all the players got new hats, courtesy of management. “Ace Bailey,” he jibed, “will now be able to turn in his 1925 model for something modern.” The deal, Perry said, was that if the Leafs had lost to Detroit, the players would have been buying headgear for the team’s directors.

“Despite their recent successes,” Perry concluded, “the hat sizes of the Leafs have not changed since last fall. A more unassuming aggregation of athletes would be hard to find.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

emile francis, 1926—2022

Top Cat: Sorry to hear tonight of the death of Emile Francis, a.k.a. the Cat, at the age of 95. Born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, in 1926, his NHL goaltending career had him stopping pucks for six seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks and New York Rangers. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982, Francis went on to coach the Rangers, steering them to the Stanley Cup finals in 1972, where they lost to the Boston Bruins. He coached the St. Louis Blues, too, and served as GM, too, of the Rangers, Blues, and the Hartford Whalers.