a niche for mitch

Born in Markham, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1997, Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner is 24 today. Already in his fifth season in the NHL, Marner is a sublime talent and one of the best things that ever happened to Auston Matthews; if you’re new to the area, he is has-a-plush-toy-in-his-image famous in the Greater Leaf Region. (The exemplar above was on sale at Scotiabank Arena circa 2019.)

The portrait below is the work of Toronto editorial designer, illustrator, and endlessly interesting artist Nadine Arseneault. Her work has featured before on Puckstruck: you can find it here and here and here as well as here

bill barilko’s house of champions (and tvs and leeches)

It was on a Saturday of this date in 1951 that Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman Bill Barilko scored that famous goal of his — the one that’s celebrated in song and on west-end Toronto underpasses (below), whereby he beat Montreal Canadiens goaltender Gerry McNeil in overtime to win Toronto its fourth Stanley Cup in five years. When he wasn’t patrolling the Leafs, Barilko and his older brother Alex owned an east-side business on Toronto’s Danforth, endorsed (above) by some of his teammates in the early 1950s. In ’51, Barilko Bros. would sell you a 17-inch Admiral TV console with built-in (and I quote) Dynamagic radio and triple-play automatic phonograph for $750 (installation extra). They also were ready to fill all your live bait needs: $1.25 would get you 100 dew worms or 25 frogs. Leeches? 85 cents a dozen. The Barilko’s would ship them to you, province-wide, too, worms and  frogs and leeches; I don’t know about TVs.

in the paint

The Philadelphia Flyers visit Boston tonight for a game against the Bruins at TD Garden, so that’s reason enough to revisit the 1974 Stanley Cup finals as seen by the American artist LeRoy Neiman, no? Yes. The piece of the larger Neiman silkscreen that’s depicted here has Boston’s Phil Esposito buzzing Bernie Parent’s net. So: Game 2 at the old Boston Garden, on May 9, when Esposito scored a first-period goal to put the home team up 2-0? Maybe so. The Flyers stormed back to tie that game, then won it in overtime on captain Bobby Clarke’s goal. The series would go to six games before the Flyers claimed the first of successive Stanley Cup championships, with Parent (of course) winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP two years running.

A devout hockey fan —  samples of his other views of the game are here and  here and here — Neiman, who died in 2012, hailed from Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was while he was teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago that pucks and sticks and their artistic possibilities first caught his attention.

“The thing about painting hockey as opposed to other sports is the ice,” he said in 1977. “It’s a hard sheet of cold white-blue, and there’s something nice about that: hard and cold.” Of his style, he said, “The idea is not to be unclear, but to make clarity seem accidental.”

Still Life With Background Flyers: LeRoy Neiman and his sketchbook rinkside in 1974..

ranger rollick

Net Gain: The current edition of the New York Rangers ran up a 9-0 romp last night at Madison Square Garden at the expense of the visiting the Philadelphia Flyers, but this isn’t that: from 1967, here’s LeRoy Neiman’s impression of Ranger Rod Gilbert (#7) buzzing Glenn Hall’s Chicago net, with Vic Hadfield (#11) and Jean Ratelle (#19) in attendance. Not a Black Hawk defenceman in sight, shamefully, though Bobby Hull (#9) is on hand to witness the goal.

harvard yardage

College Tryer: The third man to captain the Boston Bruins, George Owen died in 1986 on a Tuesday of this date at the age of 84. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, he grew up in Massachusetts, starring at Harvard in football, baseball, and hockey, and winning the college’s prestigious Wingate Cup for all-around athletic prowess. He worked as broker after he graduated, eventually  joining the Bruins’ defence in 1928 as  a 27-year-old rookie. This month in 1929, he helped  Boston win its first Stanley Cup. This La Presse illustration dates to 1932, the year he served as Boston captain, having succeeded Lionel Hitchman. Owen played five NHL seasons in all. He was subsequently elevated to both the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

hooley hoorah

Born in Toronto on a Wednesday of this date in 1903, Hooley Smith grew up the city’s east-end Beaches. He won Olympic gold playing for Canada in 1924, then joined the Ottawa Senators, where he learned to hook check at Frank Nighbor’s knee. (The hook, of course, is not to be confused or conflated with the poke, though it often is, here included, I think — though Smith was, no doubt, a formidable poker, too.) His time in Ottawa ended in suspension: he was suspended for a full month in 1927 after swinging his stick at the head of Harry Oliver of the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals that year. He played nine seasons for the Montreal Maroons after that, captaining the team to a Cup in 1935, whereupon, for efforts, he was also rewarded with a horse. The depiction here dates to 1930; Tim Slattery is the cartoonist. Smith also skated for Boston and the New York Americans before calling it quits in 1941. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.

bill fitsell, 1923—2020

Cold Comfort: Bill Fitsell, left,  in the blues of his beloved Maple Leaf, hands on knees à la Charlie Conacher, out on the ice in Lindsay, Ontario, in the early 1930s.

So very saddened, still, by the news that came on Thursday of my friend Bill Fitsell’s death in Kingston, Ontario, at the age of 97. His career was in newspapers, as a reporter, editor, and columnist, and it spanned 55 years. His passion was hockey history: that he pursued in his books and in dozens of other projects that were dear to his heart. One of the latter was the community of fellow travellers that he dreamed up and made real, the Society of International Hockey Research. Last month, writing about the first NHL hockey game that Bill ever attended — that piece is here — I tried to translate his contribution in all that endeavoured into hockey terms. “His calibre,” I ventured, “might be best expressed in a Lady Byng Trophy context: his proficiency at what he does is only exceeded by his good grace and gentlemanly conduct.”

Up today at the SIHR website — here — is a retrospective I wrote of Bill’s life and times.

Working on that, I found a page in my notebook from the fall of 2018 that I’d filled on the train from Kingston back to Toronto after sharing a coffee with Bill.

He’d told me about his dad and the rink he made for his boys in the 1930s in the lot beside the family’s home in Lindsay. As I write in the SIHR piece, there was no minor hockey program there, then, other than what Bill and his friends concocted. “You organized your own teams in those days,” he told. “And of course my team was called the Maple Leafs. I went down and registered us, and we’d play Saturday mornings.”

“We all had different Leaf sweaters,” he remembered. His own version is the one that’s pictured here above, with an authentic Maple Leaf stitched on the front. The stripes, though, at the waist? They weren’t correct, he said, and the collar was a roll-neck, not at all what the genuine Leafs wore — though altogether warmer, Bill told me with a smile, out on the cold January ice.

Incoming: A drawing of Bill’s, Leafs and Rangers, that decorated the cover of one of his childhood scrapbooks.