Here’s how the story goes. There was a river in Egmondville, and a winter, but no hockey. How that’s possible, in southern Ontario, in the early years of the new, 20thcentury, I don’t know, but that’s the story. So it was that young Ralph Weiland, our young hero, had only read about hockey, he’d never seen it, let alone played: hockey, to him, was all on the page. How to get from here to there? This elsewhere hockey dogged the boy’s imagination until finally it burst those bounds. So (in the story), Ralph and an unnamed friend jumped a freight train in their desperation for discovery.
If they’d travelled southeast just 20 kilometres down the line they might have run into a tyro Howie Morenz, whose childhood was underway in nearby Mitchell. Instead, the boys went north, ended up in Seaforth. If you study your Ontario map over towards Lake Huron, you’ll notice that Egmondville is actually right up alongside Seaforth, with just a few kilometres between the two — but the story says the boys took a train, so we’ll stick with the train. In Seaforth, one winter’s night, they found what they were searching for in the arena, which they snuck into with the help of a friendly ticket-taker.
I don’t know about the friend, but the hockey was all that Ralph, anyway, had hoped for. He was apparently so thoroughly puckstruck by the time the game was over that he stole a stick before legging it for home.
The friend here departs the narrative: back home, Ralph alone tries out his new pilfered prize, stickhandling a stone. That’s no good, obviously. He has the bright idea, then, of prying off the rubber heel from one of his father’s Sunday-best boots — much better. If you were expecting a Dickensian conclusion here, wherein the boy is cast out for his crime, has to make his way in the world alone thereafter, bravely facing up all its trials and troubles as stoutly as David Copperfield himself — sorry. In Ralph’s case, his father is fine when he finds out about the thieving and the vandalism, and our intrepid hero is launched on his hockey way.
That’s the way it goes, anyway, in a freewheeling Minneapolis Starfeature dating to the later 1920s, by which time Ralph had aged and prospered and was widely known as Cooney Weiland. He was stopping in Minnesota to play for the AHA Millers; in just a few more years he’d make his NHL debut. I’m not saying that the story isn’t true, but I will suggest that, categorically, it might be worth shelving it as close to the fairytales as to the annals of history.
The fact is, nevertheless, that November 5 is the day Cooney Weiland was born in Egmondville in 1904 (it was a Saturday, then). A centreman, Weiland did get back to Seaforth to play as a junior with the local Highlanders. He subsequently made a move up to Owen Sound, where he helped the Greys win the 1924 Memorial Cup.
Weiland would go on to star with the Boston Bruins, playing middleman to wingers Dutch Gainor and Dit Clapper on the Dynamite Line in the late 1920s, winning two Stanley Cups, and topping the NHL’s scoring chart in 1930. Trades took him to the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings in the ’30s before he made a return to Boston. He was named captain of the team in 1937. Later, he coached the Bruins, steering them to a 1941 championship. He ended up across the Charles River, coaching the Harvard hockey team from 1950 to 1971. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in ’71.
One of the All-Americans Weiland oversaw during his time with the Crimson was a defenceman named David Johnston, who revered him, and went on to serve as Canada’s 28th Governor-General. Johnston gave a eulogy at his old coach’s funeral when Weiland died in 1985 at the age of 80. During his time in office, the Right Honourable GG kept a reminder of his mentor in his Rideau Hall office in Ottawa: an ornately carved chair that had been awarded to Weiland for his conspicuous Harvard career.
FIRST. CBC TV is airing Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story on April 28 at 8 p.m. Made for television, the movie stars Vancouver-born actor Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1, Arctic Blast, Mega Snake) as Mr. H. It tells the story of Howe’s return to the professional ice, in 1973, at the age of 45. He’d retired, reluctantly, in 1971 from the Detroit Red Wings, but when sons Mark and Marty signed with the WHA’s Houston Aeros, the temptation was too much to resist.
From a CBC press release, last week:
In addition to the challenge of playing real people, the actors had to be prepared to play hockey like the Howes.
Shanks may look more like a latter-day Barry Melrose than a middle-aged Mr. Elbows, but he does have some hockey chops, apparently. His online biography reports that
at 16, he had to decide whether or not to become a professional hockey player. He chose not to, but he continues to support the Canucks (though pragmatically admits that sometimes “They suck”) and has played for the Stargate SG-1 team against teams from other Vancouver-based shows.
Having decided that pro hockey was not for him, Michael went to the University of British Columbia to study business, financing his studies by taking laboring and lumberjack work. Math proved to be his downfall as a failed calculus course meant he was a half credit short of getting a Business degree. He switched to Theatre and graduated in March, 1994 with a degree in Fine Arts
SECOND. Marty and Mark Howe, who were 19 and 18 respectively, signed four-year deals with the Aeros that were worth a reported $400,000 each in June of 1973. Howe Sr. was a vice-president with the Red Wings at the time. Before he signed his deal with Houston (four years, $1-million), the NHL had offered him a five-year deal worth $500,000 — as a PR man. League president Clarence Campbell didn’t take it too hard when Howe turned him down. He was disappointed, sure, but he understood:
“It was his choice and he was obviously unhappy with his position in Detroit. I hope he won’t suffer the fate of other people who have played too long.
“It would make me sick if instead of applause he was greeted by boos. It would make me sorry to see him in that position.”
Howe, of course, went on to play six seasons in the WHA along with one more in the NHL for good measure, retiring in 1980 at the age of 52. Campbell retired in 1977.
THIRD. Andrew Podnieks has a great piece about our hockey-loving heads of state at iihf.com. On the occasion of Governor-General David Johnston’s patronage of the Women’s World Championship that wraps up tonight in Ottawa, Podnieks talked to him his early hockey in Sault Ste. Marie, where his U-17 teammates included Phil and Tony Esposito and Lou Nanne.
Johnston went on to Harvard, where he ended up captaining the hockey team. Like Michael Shanks, he came to the point where he had to decide whether to continue. Podnieks:
He played for four years starting in 1959 under coach Cooney Weiland, Boston Bruins legend and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was good enough that a career in the pro ranks was not out of the question.
“I did [consider a pro career],” he confessed. “I was 150 pounds at Harvard. I played defence, and I was in the hospital the last two weeks of my final season with mononucleosis, but I had been invited to the Bruins training camp. This was before the draft, and there were only six teams in the NHL. I think if I had been healthier, stronger, and played when there were 30 teams, not six, I probably would have told myself to go. But, I had a scholarship opportunity in Cambridge, England to study law, and the law called me.”
Along with his skill as a player, Podnieks points to the GG’s “Drydenian” understanding of the game’s details:
“I played forward and defence, and at one point I even played goal,” Johnston explained. “The thing I enjoyed most about hockey was seeing the whole ice and being able to see how individual virtuosity works into overall plan. I loved the strategy and the on-the-go intelligence of the game. I love the intensity. It’s played at such speed that you simply cannot skate for more than a minute or so without requiring relief. Very few sports have the same intensity that you need wave upon wave of players to maintain that intensity.”
OVERTIME. Reporting in the fall of 1934 of the Montreal Canadiens’ preparations for the upcoming season, Montreal’s Gazette noted that coach Newsy Lalonde was tending towards a number one line of Wildor Larochelle on the right, Pit Lepine at centre, Aurele Joliat over on the left. Further down the bench, Lalonde had Nels Crutchfield centering Joe Lamb and Jack McGill in the pre-season: “the first completely English line ever turned out by the Canadiens,” according to the paper.