trophy case: buddy o’connor, 1948

One Cup Deserves Another: On December 7, 1948, Buddy O’Connor collects the Hart and Lady Byng trophies he earned for his previous season’s work with New York’s Rangers.

Six seasons Buddy O’Connor played for his hometown team in Montreal in the 1940s, putting in work as a serviceable centreman and helping the Canadiens win a Stanley Cup championship. But it was after he was traded in 1947 to the New York Rangers that O’Connor’s star really began to shine in the NHL.

Born on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1916, O’Connor contrived to score 24 goals and 60 points in his first season with the Rangers, 1947-48, which was almost (but not quite) enough to win him the NHL’s scoring championship: as it turned out, his former Montreal teammate Elmer Lach beat him by a single point.

O’Connor did collect two major trophies that season, the Hart (as MVP) and the Lady Byng (for gentlemanly excellence), and in doing so he became the first NHLer to win them in the same season. Each trophy came with $500 bonus that year, and with O’Connor’s share of the Rangers’ playoff money that spring, he took in $4,150 over and above his salary.

The following season. O’Connor’s second with the Rangers, started off with an unfortunate bang when he and a carload of teammates were injured in an accident. Driving from Montreal to New York in early October of 1948, the Rangers collided with a truck on the road six miles north of the U.S. border. Frank Eddolls severed a tendon in his knee, and Bill Moe suffered a concussion; Edgar Laprade broke his nose, and O’Connor a pair of ribs. Only Tony Leswick escaped without injury.

Eddolls missed the most time, finally returning to the ice at the end of December. O’Connor got back earlier that same month, and on December 7, just before New York’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Boston Bruins, he was presented with the silverware he’d earned the year before.

The Rangers were holding down last place at the time in the six-team NHL, while Boston was way up in first. The Rangers took the lead, 2-1, on goals from Pentti Lund and Nick Mickoski, with Grant Warwick replying for the Bruins, but they took a penalty in the second for too-many men, and Ken Smith secured the 2-2 tie for the Bruins. O’Connor centred New York’s third line on the night, skating between Leswick and Clint Albright.

Laid Up: Buddy O’Connor started the 1948-49 in a Montreal hospital with broken ribs after he and several ranger teammates were injured in a car accident near Quebec’s border with New York.

eddie shore: perfectly built for hockey

Born in 1902 on a Sunday of this date in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, northeast of Regina, the volatile Eddie Shore won a pair of Stanley Cup championships with Boston; four times he was handed the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable asset.

“Undoubtedly the greatest individual player in the game,” Niven Busch called Shore in 1929, when Boston’s number 2 was in full fettle.

“This Eddie Shore is an odd chap,” Busch pronounced in the pages of The New Yorker. “He was born at a Hudson Bay Station, and as soon as he had made some money playing hockey, he went back to Saskatchewan and bought a big farm there. He works on his farm in the summer, and does well at it for a fellow whose agricultural experience after boyhood consisted of such glimpses of the country as he was able to get from the locomotive cabs in which he was a fireman. Last year Boston paid him twelve thousand dollars and this year he asked for five thousand more, and got most of it — how much was not announced. At seventeen thousand dollars, if that’s what they pay him, he is the highest-paid player in hockey, as well as the ablest. In spite of what you can say for Dutton, Bourgault, Johnson, or Lionel Conacher, he is the only defenceman who also ranks as a great forward. He is perfectly built for hockey; not particularly heavy in the shoulders, but with a solid, barrel-shaped trunk, tremendous legs, and wide hips. He and Conacher are natural rivals. Both about the same size and equally aggressive. Conacher, an all-round athlete, good at baseball and lacrosse, and one of the best football players in Canada, is far better known in the North than Shore, who has made the most of his reputation in the United States.”

(Image, from 1937: Richard Merrill, Boston Public Library)

 

maximum bentley

Studio Proof: Born in 1920 in Delisle, Saskatchewan, on another Monday of this date, centre Max Bentley might have been a Boston legend — but the Bruins thought he was too small when he auditioned for them in 1938, and sent him on his way. He tried Montreal next, and he might have been a hero there — but the Canadiens doctor told him he had a weak heart, best to quit hockey altogether if he wanted to survive. So Bentley end up in Chicago, with brother Doug; a trade later took him to Toronto, where he won three Stanley Cups. (He also took a turn, later, with the New York Rangers.) Elevated to the Hall of Fame in 1966, Bentley also won a couple of NHL scoring titles, along with a Hart Trophy and a Lady Byng. That’s photographer Nat Turofsky here, sizing up a portrait of the Dipsy-Doodle Dandy at the Turofskys’ Toronto Alexandra Studio in the early 1950s. (Image: Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, Alexandra Studio fonds)

hart beat

They Were The Champions: Montreal’s 1930-31 championship lines up outside for the Forum. Back row, from left: Trainer Ed Dufour, Gord Fraser, Sylvio Mantha, Marty Burke, coach Cecil Hart, Battleship Leduc, Nick Wasnie, Armand Mondou, Jimmy McKenna. Front, from left: Pit Lepine, Georges Mantha, George Hainsworth, Aurèle Joliat, Howie Morenz, Wildor Larochelle.

They used to say that Cecil Hart had never played, that all his hockey savvy and successes came without the benefit of actually having plied with pucks, on skates. That’s not quite true: Hart, who was born in Bedford, Quebec, on a Wednesday of this date in 1883, did indeed play, inlcluding some senior hockey in Montreal. It is the case that Hart’s truly singular suite of achievements in hockey did occur when he wasn’t wearing skates, near benches, or in offices of business.

He was the NHL’s first — and still only? — Jewish coach, and a direct descendent of Aaron Blake, one of the first Jewish settlers in Canada, who made his home in Trois-Rivières in 1761. Cecil’s father was David A. Hart, Aaron’s great-grandson, a distinguished physician and surgeon and the man who, in 1923, donated the NHL’s first trophy recognizing individual excellence.

Back to Cecil. Away from the sporting world, he was an insurance broker — though he seems never to have been too far away from the sporting life. Baseball was, apparently, his first love. He was a pitcher and a shortstop as well as an ace organizer: in 1897, at the age of 14, he started a team, the Stars, that would soon come to dominate Montreal’s amateur leagues, while featuring rosters that included Art Ross and the Cleghorn brothers, Sprague and Odie.

Hart was coach and manager, scorekeeper, publicist, travel agent for the team, which eventually added a hockey program. Frank Calder, the NHL’s first president, was still a newspaperman in Montreal when he first met Hart in 1906. “Cecil thought more of his Stars than of his right hand,” he recalled later.

It was Hart who, in 1921, brokered the agreement whereby Leo Dandurand and partners Joe Cattarinich and Leo Letourneau bought the Montreal Canadiens after the team went on the market following George Kennedy’s death. Dandurand and Cattarinich were in Cleveland at the time, watching horses race: Hart was the one who offered $11,000 on their behalf — about $156,000 in 2020 coinage — to get the deal done.

Cecil Hart, ca. the early 1930s.

Hart was a director of the Canadiens in 1923 when he sealed another historic Montreal bargain, travelling to Stratford, Ontario, to sign a hurtling 20-year-old named Howie Morenz to a Canadiens contract.

Hart would, in 1926, succeed Dandurand as coach of the Canadiens, but not before he spent a year building Montreal’s other NHL team, the one that would eventually be named the Maroons, when they first got their franchise in 1924. Hart only stayed a year, and so he wasn’t in the room where it happened when, after just their second season, the Maroons won the Stanley Cup, but the foundation of that championship team was very much of his making: he was the man who’d brought on Clint Benedict and Punch Broadbent, Dunc Munro, Reg Noble, and coach Eddie Gerard.

Hart’s first stint as coach of the Canadiens lasted six seasons, during which his teams won two Stanley Cups, in 1930 and ’31. He left the team in 1932 after a disagreement with Leo Dandurand. In 1936, he returned to the Montreal bench on the condition that the team bring back Howie Morenz. They did that, of course; that was also the year that Morenz died at the age of 37.

Hart coached in parts of another two seasons before Canadiens president Ernest Savard deposed him in early 1939. Savard insisted that he hadn’t fired his coach; Hart was merely being granted “a leave of absence” while team secretary Jules Dugal took over as coach. Hart’s record of 196 regular-season wins remains fifth-best on the list of Canadiens coaches; he’s eighth in points percentage. His teams won another 16 games in the playoffs, wherein his winning percentage stands at .486, 13th in team history.

Cecil Hart died in July of 1940. He was 56.

Trophy Case: The original David A. Hart Trophy, first presented in 1924. At that time it was suggested that if a player won the Hart three times it would be his to keep, a scenario by which Howie Morenz would have acquired it for his mantelpiece in 1932. While that proviso seems to have been forgotten along the way, the original trophy was retired in 1960 to the Hockey Hall of Fame and replaced by a new one, re-named the Hart Memorial Trophy.