shut the front door: ottawa’s fireman was as fast as a flash

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 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. 

Flashman: An artist’s impression of Connell’s antics in a 1924 pre-season game against the WCHL’s Calgary Tigers. Note the pre-Kenesky pads, narrow, like cricket pads.

calgary hal

Hal Winkler

Tiger King: The bald-pated custodian is a phrase sometimes associated with Hal Winkler when he used to play, back in the 1920s. Born in Gretna, Manitoba, on a Tuesday of this date in 1894, he was tender of nets for the WCHL Edmonton Eskimos when they lost out to the Ottawa Senators in the 1923 Stanley Cup finals. By the time he took this pose, above, it would have been 1925 or so, when he was with the WCHL/WHL Calgary Tigers. He got the NHL in 1926, when he joined the New York Rangers at 32. With Lorne Chabot proving himself in the New York nets, Winkler was sold to the Boston Bruins that winter. He played only a season-and-a-half for the Bruins before Tiny Thompson took over, but Winkler was so much admired in Boston that the team made sure his name to include his name on the Stanley Cup they won in 1929, after a season in which Winkler appeared in not a single NHL game. With a few more minor-league campaigns notched on his pads, he retired in 1931, whereupon he returned to Manitoba to run a mink ranch. (Image: Oregon Historical Society. Oregon Journal Negative Collection, Lot 1368; Box 371; 0371N275. Used with permission.)

americans dream

Red Handed: New York Americans coach Red Dutton congratulates right winger Lorne Carr on the night of Tuesday, March 29, 1938, after their team beat the Chicago Black Hawks 3-1 at Madison Square Garden to take the opening game of their playoff semi-final. The Americans had sailed past the Rangers in the first round, but couldn’t keep up the momentum against the Black Hawks, losing the next two games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Red Dutton did it all in the NHL. A star defenceman in the old WHL, Dutton, who died on a Sunday of this date in 1987 at the age of 89, joined the Montreal Maroons in 1926, anchoring the defence and ending up captain of the team before moving on to the New York Americans after four seasons. He played six further seasons with the Amerks and ended up as coach of the team — and caretaker owner, too,  after the NHL separated Bill Dwyer from the franchise in the 1930s. The Americans, of course, didn’t survive the tumultuous years of the Second World War; Dutton, meanwhile, took over as interim president of the league after Frank Calder’s death in 1943. A Hall-of-Famer and Stanley Cup trustee, Dutton ran a highly successful construction based in Calgary, where also, through the years, he was owner and president of the CFL Stampeders and headed the city’s famous Stampede.

the goose that laid 50 eggs

Towering Tiny: An artist’s rendition of Boston’s mighty Tiny Thompson from 1930.

Score it 0-0: the game that particular February 24 on a Sunday night in 1935 ended up without a puck getting by either goaltender through three regular periods and a ten-minute overtime. New York’s Madison Square Garden was the scene, with 26-year-old Dave Kerr tending the nets for the hometown Rangers against Tiny Thompson and the Boston Bruins in front of a crowd of 16,000 or so. The ice, by one account, was wretched.

“For Rangers,” the Boston Globe disclosed the next day, “Kerr was the whole works.” He stopped 43 pucks, recording the 15th shutout of his five-year career. His closest call? Harold Parrott from Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle said it came on a “rifle shot” from Boston’s Babe Siebert, “which nearly tore the goaler’s little finger off and hit the goal post with that dull ping which signifies failure.” Thompson deterred 39 New York shots — or maybe 34. The NHL didn’t keep official counts in those early years, and the Globe and the New York Times begged to differ in their accounting of Thompson’s work. To the latter’s eye, his hardest test came in the second period on a “ripping long shot” from New York’s Murray Murdoch.

For Thompson, who was 31 and playing in his eighth NHL season, the night marked a milestone of distinguished denial: this was the 50th regular-season shutout of his career. He was the seventh goaltender in league history to make it to that mark, following in the venerable skates of (not in order) George Hainsworth, Clint Benedict, Roy Worters, Lorne Chabot, Alec Connell, and John Ross Roach.

 

plucky si

V Formation: The 1911-12 PCHA Vancouver Millionaires line up in a … sauna? From left, they are Si Griffis, Newsy Lalonde, Allan Parr, Fred Harris, Sibby Nichols, Frank Patrick, Jack Ulrich, and Tommy Phillips. Griffis, Lalonde, Patrick, and Phillips would all get the call, in time, to hockey’s Hall of Fame. (Image: Stuart Thomson, Vancouver Public Library)

Si Griffis got his start in hockey in Ontario’s northwest, up near the Manitoba border, when Rat Portage was still Rat Portage, and the hockey team was a mighty one called the Thistles.

Born on a Saturday of this date in 1883, Silas Seth Griffis started out in in Onaga, in Kansas, though his family moved north to Canada before he was two. They settling first in St. Catharines before moving on to Rat Portage, a name I’m pleased to be able to repeat, again, while continuing to feel almost personally aggrieved that the town chose to change its name in 1905 to Kenora.

Hockey there was a seven-man game back then, and Griffis took up as a rover with the local Thistles. In 1903, the team put in a challenge to play for the Stanley Cup, and travelled to the national capital to take on the Ottawa Hockey Club. The famous Silver Seven prevailed that year and again in 1905, when the Thistles made a second attempt, their last (alas) as Rat Portage.

Third time luckier, or more skillful, maybe — anyway, the Kenora Thistles won the Cup in 1907, overcoming the Montreal Wanderers in a two-game series that March. Griffis had dropped back to play cover-point by then — defence — where he partnered with Art Ross. Both were as likely to rush the puck from the defence as headman it to a forward, which made them mavericks for their day — that’s not how it was done, in those years. The two of them made a “splendid combination,” an admiring correspondent from Montreal’s Gazettewrote during that ’07 series. “Each check closely and always for the puck, and each has such ability to get into speed at short range and bear away that this pair is really as useful as a brace of extra forwards.”

Plucky Si he was dubbed in those years, according to a 1912 description of his, well, pluck, I guess, and perseverance in the face of injury. By another later account, he played the second game of the Thistles’ championship run with a broken nose and “was so badly cut up and used up that he doesn’t even to this day remember anything about the game.”

Griffis, who married in 1906, moved to Vancouver, though the good folk of Kenora were so eager for him to stay on with the Thistles that (according to an obituary from 1950) they presented him with “a purse of gold” while offering him a “handsome home.”

Griffis hung up his skates after that, but he made return to the ice in 1911 with the Vancouver Millionaires, when the Patrick brothers launched their Pacific Coast Hockey Association. In his first game back after that four-and-a-half pause, he played all 60 minutes on the Vancouver defence, scoring three goals and notching a pair of assists.

He won his second Stanley Cup as captain of 1915 Millionaires when they beat the Ottawa Senators in a three-game sweep. While the 1911-12 team pictured above was 50 per cent Hall-of-Famers, the 1915 edition upped the quotient: seven of ten on the roster would get the call to hockey’s pantheon, including Griffis, Cyclone Taylor, Frank Nighbor, Barney Stanley, and Hughie Lehman.

Griffis was elected to the Hall in June of 1950. He died of coronary thrombosis a month later in Vancouver at the age of 66.

Two last stray notes worth noting: I’ve seen it said that back in his Kenora days, Griffis was one of the first players to adopt — and thereby popularize — the tube skate that would soon replace the solid-bladed skate most commonly used to that point in hockey history.

Also: Griffis played in a tuque. You can see how stylish it was in this magnificent portrait of the 1913-14 Millionaires.

Recalling Griffis in 1950, Cyclone Taylor referred to the hat as a toorie, which is say a tasseled Scottish bonnet. Tuque or toorie, Taylor recalled that he was very particular about it.

“We hid Si’s one night,” Taylor said, “but we never did it again. He was so distracted he wouldn’t go on the ice until it was recovered. We were five minutes late going out that night.”

Another time, as Taylor told it, Griffis stickhandled his way almost to the enemy’s goal line, needing only to tap the puck into the open net for a goal when a desperate defender ran into him, knocking his hat askew. While Griffis paused to fix his hat, the defender skated off with the puck.

 

the view from here

Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em: Photographer Richard Merrill’s image of spectators at a Boston Bruins game comes with a date appended, February 14, 1937. The trouble there is that the Bruins were on the road that Sunday night, at Chicago’s Stadium. They did get home to their own Garden for a date with the Rangers the following Tuesday, February 16. The Bruins won their third in a row on that night, beating the Rangers 3-2 in front of a crowd topping 12,000. “When the Bruins paraded onto the ice to the familiar strains of ‘Paree,’” the Boston Globe noted, “they received the season’s most enthusiastic ovation.” Dit Clapper and Bill scored for the home team, with Leroy Goldsworthy notching the winning goal. Butch Keeling and Alex Shibicky were the Ranger marksmen. (Image: © Richard Merrill, Boston Public Library)

hats off to hap holmes

Only two players in hockey’s history have won the Stanley Cup four times with four different teams. Jack Marshall, a centreman in the game’s early decades, was the first to do it, in 1914, when he aided the Toronto Blueshirts’ championship effort. That was actually Marshall’s sixth Cup — his others came with the Winnipeg Victorias, Montreal HC (two), and Montreal Wanderers (two). Following his lead was the goaltender on that ’14 Blueshirts team, Harry Hap Holmes, pictured above, who died in 1941 on a Friday of this date at the age of 53.

Holmes’ subsequent Cups came in 1917 when he steered the PCHL Seattle Metropolitans past the NHA’s Montreal Canadiens. He was in the nets the very next year for Toronto when they were the first NHL team to raise the Cup, then won again in 1925, when the WCHL’s Victoria Cougars were the last non-NHL team to claim it. His remarkable career wrapped up in the late ’20s in the livery he’s wearing here, that of the NHL’s Detroit Cougars.

In 1972, Hap Holmes was inducted, posthumously, into the Hockey Hall of Fame in distinguished company, joining Gordie Howe, Jean Béliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Hooley Smith and builder Weston Adams, Sr. in that year’s class.

About the cap: hockey columnist Vern DeGeer used to tell tales of the way the game was played in the rough-and-ready Canadian west, one of them having to do with the Saskatoon Arena and a couple of the goaltenders who visited, Victoria’s Holmes and Hal Winkler, who played for Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary’s Tigers before later joining the Boston Bruins. Both were balding, and both (said DeGeer) were forced to don caps at the Arena with their “old-style hanging galleries.” He explained:

The galleries, located at the ends of the rink, projected directly above the goalies. To those customers who favoured these parking spots, the shining bald domes of Winkler and Holmes presented tempting targets. These boys were known as The Legion of the Dirty Dozen. Membership in the Legion was voluntary.

The only requirements were a quid of tobacco, capable jaws, and ordinary marksmanship. Reward for a direct hit on either bald pate was a healthy slap on the back from other members.

Years later, Holmes recalled his assailants.

“Dirty Dozen!” chuckled Hap. “You mean Dirty Five Hundred. I swear that some of those fellows used to load their tobacco with bird shot. After a game my head often carried so many lumps, the boys claimed I had an attack of chickenpox. My sweater would look as if it had been dragged through a tub of cylinder oil.”

“Those roughnecks became so expert at their business that even a cap didn’t save me at times. They used to fire at my neck. I don’t think they ever missed. Why, it was even said that a fellow was subject to suspension from the gallery if he failed more than twice in a single game.”

s’elttaes own hap holmes

Hap Holmes

Well, Met: Born on this date in Aurora, Ontario, in 1888 — it was a Tuesday there, back then — Harry Holmes was universally known as Hap during his goaltending years. Triumphant times those were, too. He won his first Stanley Cup in 1914 with the NHA’s Toronto Blueshirts, and his second in 1917 when, wearing the stripes and the S shown here, he backstopped the PCHL Seattle Metropolitans in their four-game conquest of the NHA Montreal Canadiens. He was the netminder for Toronto in 1918 when they were the NHL team to raise the Cup. Holmes won his fourth and final Cup in 1925, when he was in the nets when the WCHL Victoria Cougars again whelmed the Canadiens to win — the last time, notably, a non-NHL team claimed the Stanley Cup. Holmes finished his puckstopping career back in the NHL, joining the Detroit Cougars for two seasons before he packed away his pads in 1928. An amazing career, all told, and one for which Holmes, who died in 1941, was posthumously elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. (Image: MOHAI, 1974.5923.149.2)

net worth

Nels Stewart shoots, Normie Smith stymies; that’s Wings’ centreman Gord Pettinger arriving late to the action. Stewart’s New York Americans did end up prevailing on this night at Madison Square Garden in early February of 1937, with the lowly Amerks  outlasting the defending Stanley Cup champions from Detroit by a score of 3-2.

Smith, who died on a Tuesday of this date in 1988, got his NHL start with Montreal’s Maroons before going on to play seven further seasons — winning two Cups — with Detroit. Though the NHL’s official recordkeeping doesn’t extend back far enough to recognize it, Smith holds the record for most saves in a game. On March 24, 1936, in the NHL’s longest-ever game, the Wings beat the Maroons 3-2 in the sixth overtime when Mud Bruneteau beat Montreal’s Lorne Chabot. Chabot had rerouted 67 shots before that, while Smith barred 90.

pucksplainer

Sticks On The Ice: The University of Toronto’s Varsity Ladies’ Hockey Team lines up in the winter of 1910 on the rink at Annesley Hall, near the intersection of Charles Street West and Queen’s Park. Not recorded is the name of the man in the hat — a coach, no doubt. The original captioning identifies the players as (from left to right) Miss McDonald, Miss Barry, Miss Hunter, Miss Bonnar, Miss Sutherland, Miss Fairburn, and Miss Murphy. Minnie Louise Barry we can more fully name — the photograph belongs to an album of hers dating to her undergraduate years as an arts student at the U of T’s University College. Some further quarrying tells us that Barry played point, one of the two defensive positions in the old seven-player system, alongside Miss Fairburn at cover-point. This team picture from that same winter shows the full line-up — along with the man in the hat, lurking in back, with a hatted friend or relation … or co-coach?

 

(Top Image: University of Toronto Archives Image Bank)

 

brimful of broda

Talking Turk: He was Walter for a little while after his birth in Brandon, Manitoba, on May 15, 1914, but for most of his NHL career and beyond, he’d only ever be Turk Broda. Seen here with Toronto hatter Sam Taft in the latter years of his lengthy career as a beloved (and successful) Maple Leaf, Broda was originally signed by Jack Adams of the Detroit Red Wings. He was 20 in the fall of 1934 when he attended his first NHL training camp and, according to Ed Fitkin, acquired a whole other nickname: W.C. Fields, the Detroit regulars called him, “because of his nose, his rapid, jerky style of speech, and his habit of ending every sentence with the word ‘see’?” He was gullible, and “the Red Wing players worked gags galore on him.” For instance: Detroit’s veteran goaltender John Ross Roach offered to recommend young Broda for membership in the Goalminders’ Union. This was, Fitkin writes, “a mythical organization concocted by Alec Connell, Roy Worters, Roach, and other major league pranksters.” Broda was eager to pay his $25 in dues, and would have gladly done so, until Connell let him in on the jokery. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, f1257_s1057_it4390)