cowboy bill

Born on another Wednesday of this date in 1912, Bill Cowley started out in Bristol, Quebec. In subsequent years, as an NHL centreman during the Second World War, he was renowned for his passing — “made more wings than an aircraft manufacturer” one admirer in the press wrote, citing the generosity of his set-ups for the likes of Roy Conacher and Herbie Cain. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968, Cowley was a true star for the Boston Bruins during his 12 seasons in Massachusetts, winning a pair of Hart trophies and helping his team claim two Stanley Cups. For all that, does have the distinction of also having played for the NHL’s original (short-lived) St. Louis franchise. The Eagles only lasted a single season in Missouri, 1934-35, but Cowley was there for it, as a 22-year-old rookie. Players who also suited up for the Bruins and the Eagles during their careers? There was actually quite a number of them: Frank Jerwa, George Patterson, Bud Cook, Joe Lamb, Jeff Kalbfleisch, Eddie Finnigan, Burr Williams, Archie Wilcox, Earl Roche, Teddy Graham, and Max Kaminsky all wore the bird and the bear in their time.

 

(Image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

pembroke’s peach

Peerless P: Born on this day in 1893, the great and underappreciated Frank Nighbor was the pride of Pembroke, Ontario. Seen here in hometown kit in 1909, Nighbor would go on to win five Stanley Cups. The “Peach,” they used to call him, as well as the “Percolater” and “Peerless;” sometimes, in contemporary accounts of his hockey exploits, all three words show up in alliterative aggregate. Nighbor perfected the hook-check, and was a dab hand when it came to the poke- and the sweep-, too. In 1924, he won the first Hart Trophy ever awarded to an NHL MVP.  A year later, when Lady Byng decided she wanted to  donate a trophy to the NHL in the name of gentlemanly hockey played with the utmost skill, it was Nighbor she invited to Rideau Hall to present him with the inaugural edition in person.

herb gardiner: in 1927, the nhl’s most useful man

Sont Ici: A Pittsburgh paper welcomes Canadiens Herb Gardiner and goaltender George Hainsworth, along with (between them) Gizzy (not Grizzy) Hart, who in fact played left wing rather than defence. Canadiens and Pirates tied 2-2 on the night after overtime failed to produce a winner.

Tuesday this week marked a birthday for Herb Gardiner, born in Winnipeg in 1891, whose stardom on the ice in Calgary and Montreal you may not have heard about. (He died in 1972, aged 80.) If you look Gardiner up at the Hockey Hall of Fame, whereinto he was inducted in 1958, you’ll see that his adjectives include stellar and two-way and consistent, and that one of his nouns is rock. Also? That he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL MVP in 1927, edging out Bill Cook on the ballot, along with the impressive likes of Frank Frederickson, Dick Irvin, and King Clancy.

Browsing the Attestation Papers by which Gardiner signed up to be a soldier in Calgary in 1915 at the age of 23 and the height of just over 5’ 9”, you may notice that the birthdate given is May 10, which is wrong, must just be an error, since a lie wouldn’t have made any difference to Gardiner’s eligibility. Listing the profession he was leaving behind to go to war as surveyor, he started a private with the 12th Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, went to England, was taken on strength with the 2nd CMR, who went unhorsed to fight in France in 1916. Gardiner was promoted corporal that year and then lance-sergeant, and we know that he was wounded in June, probably near Hooge in the Ypres Salient in Belgium. The nature of the wound is inscribed in Gardiner’s medical record as “GSW Nose” — i.e. Gun Shot Wound Nose. That’s as much as I know about it, other than it seems that he was brisk in his recovery, and kept on winning promotion as 1916 went, to company sergeant-major, then temporary lieutenant. The following year he spent a lot of time in hospitals with (as per the medical file) bronchitis, pleurisy, catarrhal jaundice. He was invalided back to Canada, eventually, where he was playing hockey again for various Calgary teams before he was demobilized in 1919.

Most of the starring he did in those post-war years was on defence for the Calgary Tigers of the old Western Canadian Hockey League, where he played with Red Dutton and Rusty Crawford, Harry Oliver, Spunk Sparrow. In 1926, when the league disbanded (it was the WHL by then), Cecil Hart of the Montreal Canadiens bought Gardiner’s contract. He took the number 1 for his sweater in Montreal, and played his first NHL game in November of 1926 at the age of 35 in the old Boston Arena on a night when another WHL import was getting his start on the Bruins’ defence: 23-year-old Eddie Shore. Boston won, 4-1, and even in the Montreal papers it was Shore’s debut that rated most of the mentions, his rugged style, and some pleasantrieshe exchanged with Canadiens’ Aurèle Joliat. Oh, and Montreal goaltender George Hainsworth was said to be hindered by the fog that blanketed the ice. “The heat in the rink,” the Gazette noted, “was fearful.”

Along with Hainsworth and Joliat, Canadiens counted Howie Morenz in their line-up that year, and Art Gagne and Pit Lepine, along with a talented supporting cast. Gardiner joined Sylvio Mantha and Battleship Leduc on the defence — and that was pretty much it, other than Amby Moran, who played in 12 of Montreal’s 44 regular-season games. Gardiner, for his part, was not so much busy as ever-present, relied on by coach Cecil Hart to play all 60 minutes of each game. With the four games Canadiens played in the playoffs, that means he played 48 games — italics and respectful props all mine — in their entirety that year.

“And sometimes it was 70 or 80 minutes,” he recalled years later. “We played overtime in those days, too. But it wasn’t as hard as it sounds. I never carried the puck more than, say, eight times a game. And besides, I was only 35 years old at the time.”

By February of 1927, Elmer Ferguson of The Montreal Herald was already touting Gardiner as his nominee to win the trophy named for his coach’s father. Another hometown paper called Gardiner “the sensation of the league.” When in March sportswriters around the NHL tallied their votes, Gardiner had garnered 89, putting him ahead of the Rangers’ Bill Cook (80) and Boston centre Frank Frederickson (75). I like the way they framed it back in those early years: Gardiner was being crowned (as The Ottawa Journal put it) “the most useful man to his team.” For all that, and as good as that team was, those Canadiens, they weren’t quite up to the level of the Ottawa Senators, who beat Montreal in the semi-finals before going on to win the Stanley Cup.

With Hart in hand, Gardiner asked for a pay raise in the summer of ’27. When Montreal didn’t seem inclined to comply, he stayed home in Calgary. He was ready to call it quits, he said, but then Canadiens came through and Gardiner headed east, having missed two weeks of training. He wouldn’t say what Montreal was paying him for the season, but there was a rumour that it was $7,500.

So he played a second year in Montreal. Then in August of 1928 he was named coach of Major Frederic McLaughlin’s underperforming Chicago Black Hawks, the fourth in the club’s two-year history. Gardiner had served as a playing coach in his days with the Calgary Tigers, but this job was strictly benchbound — at first. As Gardiner himself explained it to reporters, Montreal was only loaning him to Chicago, on the understanding that he wouldn’t be playing. The team he’d have charge of was a bit of a mystery: “What players they will have; what changes have been made since last winter, and other matters pertaining to the club are unknown to me,” he said as he prepared to depart Calgary in September. The team trained in Winnipeg and Kansas City before season got going. When they lost five of their first six games, Gardiner got permission from Montreal’s Leo Dandurand to insert himself into the line-up, but then didn’t, not immediately, went to Ottawa and then Montreal without putting himself to use, and remained on the bench through Christmas and January, and Chicago was better, though not at all good, moping around at the bottom of the league standings.

He finally took the ice in February in a 3-2 loss to New York Rangers, when the Black Hawks debuted at their new home: due to a lease kerfuffle back in Chicago, the team was temporarily at home at Detroit’s Olympia. Gardiner played a total of four games for Chicago before Montreal, up at the top of the standings, decided that if he was going to be playing, it might as well be on their blueline, and so with the NHL’s trade-and-transaction deadline approaching, Canadiens duly ended the loan and called him back home.

Well out of the playoffs, the Black Hawks finished the season with (best I can glean) Dick Irvin serving as playing-coach, though business manager Bill Tobin may have helped, too. Major McLaughlin did have a successor lined up for the fall in Tom Shaughnessy. Coaches didn’t last long with McLaughlin, and he was no exception. While Gardiner oversaw 32 Black Hawk games, Shaughnessy only made it to 21 before he gave way to Bill Tobin, whose reign lasted (slightly) longer, 71 games.

Gardiner finished the season with Montreal, who again failed to turn a very good regular season into playoff success. In May of 1929, Canadiens sent Gardiner to the Boston Bruins, a clear sale this time, in a deal that also saw George Patterson and Art Gagne head to Massachusetts. Gardiner was finished as an NHLer, though: that fall, the Philadelphia Arrows of the Can-Am League paid for his release from Boston and made him their coach.

Attestee: Herb Gardiner signs up to serve, c. 1915.

scrub on skates

worters

A birthday today for Roy Worters, born this day in 1900, in Toronto. Shrimp they called him, of course, because he was a tiny goaltender, smaller even than Darren Pang. The smallest man to have played in the NHL? Maybe so. Five-foot-three, 135 pounds are the dimensions generally given in the standard hockey references. He played nine seasons, most of those for the New York Americans, and won a Hart Trophy and Vézina for his miniature efforts, though never a Stanley Cup. He died in 1957; 12 years after that, in 1969, he was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Harold Burr of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote about a stop Worters made in January of 1933 against the Rangers:

Bill Cook took Frankie Boucher’s pass and beat Roy, refusing to go in and draw the Shrimp’s spread-eagle defense. The Rangers were riding rubber now and Bun Cook sent one swishing in on Worters, at the height of the little fellow’s jugular. It came with the velocity of a projectile, and from well beyond the blue line, lots of room to pick up speed.

“I swear I didn’t know how to play it,” confessed Worters, still rubbing a red spot on his neck and voice a little husky. “There wasn’t any time to jump and take it on my wishbone. So I got it in the Adam’s apple instead. It hurt, all right.”

 

old reliable himself

By February 12, Ott Heller was ready to rejoin the Rangers. Twelve games and a little over a month after he’d broken his shoulder, he was mended, eager to play in one of the weekend games, Saturday in Montreal or maybe back home at the Garden Sunday against Brooklyn. Well, mostly mended: as Lester Rice wrote in New York’s Journal-American, “old reliable himself” was still a little weak in the left hand.

ott hellerIn his absence, the Rangers had gone 9-3, and that had them in first in the standings, two points up on Boston. The Bruins, of course, had just lost their top line to the war: Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, and Porky Dumart had left the team at the end of January to report for duty with the RCAF. New York, meanwhile, couldn’t stop scoring: “Frankie Boucher’s Rangers,” wrote Jim Hurley from The New York Daily Mirror, were “shaping up with each passing game as perhaps the greatest scoring machine that hockey has ever known.” They had 12 games left to play in the regular season: if they could average three goals a game, they’d tie the Bruins’ 1929-30 record for team goals, 179. Manager Lester Patrick wasn’t worried about records, he said, and he didn’t want his players thinking about them, either — they just had to win.

“We’ll use Ott sparingly at the start,” Boucher was saying. “He’s kept himself in splendid condition by skating and practicing at every opportunity, but after all he’s been out of action for five weeks, and will have to take things easy for a game or two, until he feels he is ready to take his regular turn.”

They’d carry five defencemen, Boucher said: Neil Colville wasn’t going to return to his place on the forward line. “The truth of the matter,” said Boucher, “is Neil doesn’t want to wear wings any loner. He like the job back of the blue line so much he wants to live out the remainder of his career there. It will seem strange to some folks perhaps to have the Rangers carrying five defenders when we are building a reputation on attack, but I think it’s a good idea.”

According to the Daily Mirror, Heller’s injury hadn’t affected his standing as a contender for the Hart Trophy: he still had “a good chance” of being voted the league’s MVP. Oh, he was set to be fêted too:

Plans are now under way to stage the postponed “Ott Heller Night” during the Rangers-Canadiens game at the Garden next Tuesday.

Hexes, I guess, be damned.

milt schmidt at 96

In October of 2013, Milt Schmidt helped celebrate the Bruins’ 90th anniversary before Boston’s game with Detroit. Above, he greets Bruins’ defence man Adam McQuaid. (Photo: @NHLBruins)

As they went about beating Washington 3-0 last night at the TD Bank Garden, the Boston Bruins took a moment to wish a happy birthday to Milt Schmidt, who turned 96 on Wednesday.

A few stray Schmidt notes to celebrate, belatedly, the day:

• Born in Kitchener, Ontario, he played for his hometown Greenshirts with a couple of local boys by the name of Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart. All three signed with the Bruins in 1935. Schmidt was at centre; when they played for the Providence Reds, coach Battleship Leduc was the one who dubbed them the Kraut Line.

• His adjectives include flashy (1938); big (1946); 37-year-old (hustle-guy, 1956); great (competitor, 1957);  most (aggressive, Hockey Hall of Fame); intimidating (Andrew Podnieks, Players) and oft-injured (ibid).

• He was named Bruins captain in 1951, the year he won the Hart Trophy. His Bruins were Stanley Cup champions in 1939 and ’41; in 1940, he led the NHL in scoring. The Bruins retired his number 15, and in 1961 he was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame. After his retirement in 1955, he coached the Bruins, and he was the GM, too, when they won the Cup in 1970 and ’72.

• In 1940, Schmidt, Bauer, and Dumart did the warlike thing and joined the Scots Fusiliers of Canada North Waterloo’s Non-Permanent Active Militia unit. They carried on playing for the Bruins until early in 1942, when all three enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Their last game for the wartime Bruins was in February, when they beat Montreal 8-1. The Krauts scored 10 points. At the end of the game, both took to the bluelines while the departing players got their going-away gifts. The New York Times reported:

The management gave them checks for their full season’s salaries, plus a bonus; their teammates presented gold identification bracelets, and Manager Art Ross, who described them as “the most loyal and courageous players in Bruins’ history,” rewarded them with wrist watches.

Players from both teams joined to hoist the three shoulder-high and carry them from the ice. Continue reading