x was an elephant who couldn’t keep his laces tied

If you grew up in Canada in the 1970s maybe, like mine, your imagination fed on the elegant excellence of the Montreal Canadiens. Maybe you also found delight and inspiration (as I did, endlessly) in Alligator Pie, Dennis Lee’s monumental 1974 collection of poems for children, illustrated by Frank Newfeld. I keep my copy ready at hand to this day, in case I might need to consult a stanza of “Willoughby Wallaby Woo” or “The Fishes of Kempenfelt Bay” or (obviously) “Alligator Pie” itself, even though I know the whole of that by heart, all the way through its bravura finale:

Alligator soup, alligator soup,
If I don’t get some I think I’m gonna droop.
Give away my hockey-stick, give away my hoop,
But don’t give away my alligator soup.

As a kid who loved to draw goaltenders, I was particularly taken with the illustration on page 52, reproduced here, that went with “The Hockey Game, ”Lee’s homage to A.A. Milne. Featuring Squirm (a worm), Wee (a flea), and George (a George), this poem (as maybe you recall) starred the tearful elephantine goaltender pictured above: his name was X. I was fascinated that he was depicted as a Bruin and no doubt looked up the number 30 (as I just did again) to discover that in Boston in those years it belonged to Ross Brooks. Did I worry that X doesn’t seem to be wearing any pants, protective or otherwise? I’m not sure I noticed. I did love (and tried my best to copy) those pads and that blocker.

Maybe you remember? Lee’s play-by-perfect-play goes, in part, like this:

Squirm played
Hockey with a
Great big
Wee played
Hockey with her
Friends and her foes.
X played
Hockey but he
Couldn’t keep his
Laces tied.
And George just played with his toes.

double boom

Boom + Boom: Bernie Geoffrion died of stomach cancer on a Saturday of this date in 2006. He was 75. That very night at Montreal’s Bell Centre, the Canadiens retired Geoffrion’s number 5 in a previously scheduled ceremony. On yet another Saturday, March 11, this one in 1961, Geoffrion scored his 47th and 48th goals of the season on Boston goaltender Bruce Gamble. Geoffrion would win the Art Ross Trophy that year as the NHL’s leading scorer, finishing the regular season with 50 goals and 95 points, five points clear of teammate Jean Béliveau. (Image: Tex Coulter)

the riel deal

Toronto-born artist Jeff Molloy lived and worked on Gabriola Island, B.C. He died in 2016 at the age of 59. “I started life as Jeffrey Robert Stonehouse before being adopted at six days old,” he wrote in an Artist’s Statement. “As a consequence, considerations of identity, history and spirituality have long been my preoccupation and the driving force behind my art. Much of my work explores historical and contemporary culture through the use of humour, stereotypes, traits and artefacts. As a man with an unspecified cultural heritage, I feel some latitude to stake a tentative, probing claim, if not to a specific cultural group, then to a generalized Canadian past.”

Molloy created several mixed-media renderings of Louis Riel, the Métis leader and founder of Manitoba whose day is today, in tandem with works depicting Sir John A. Macdonald. “As an artist I use hockey as a metaphor,” Molloy said. “Macdonald was the ref and Louis was the player sent to the penalty box.” Hence the title of the piece pictured below: “Two Minutes for Interference, Five Minutes for Fighting, and Death for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.”

“If you notice,” Molloy wrote in an e-mail, 2014, “Louis has a black eye.” The drawer below is filled with earth from Batoche, Saskatchewan, where Major-General Frederick Middleton’s federal troops overwhelmed Riel’s forces in 1885.

To view more of Jeff Molloy’s work, visit http://molloy.ca/jeff/.

m major

Let’s Be Frank: Born in Timmins, Ontario, on a Monday of this very date in 1938, Frank Mahovlich is 85 today, so here’s a flourish of a well-taped, left-shooting CCM stick to him. He was just 20 by the end of the 1957-58 season when he edged out Chicago’s Bobby Hull and Phil Goyette of Montreal to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie and the $1,000 cheque that went with it, whereupon the great Tex Coulter promptly painted his portrait to adorn the cover of Hockey Blueline. It wasn’t until the following October that NHL president Clarence Campbell handed Mahovlich the actual trophy, in an on-ice ceremony before the Leafs’ home game against Detroit. Toronto prevailed, once the puck dropped, by a score of 3-0, with Johnny Bower in the net and Mahovlich playing a key role that showed up on the scoresheet as assists on goals by Bob Pulford and Brian Cullen. The large lad from mining country, Globe and Mail sports editor Jim Vipond called him in his dispatch from the rink.

stop them, bullet joe!

Bullet Joe Sawyer was the star goaltender for the Montreal Mounteds, see, but then he went to war and lost his nerve, as happens, and when he got back to guarding goals, it just wasn’t the same. With all those pucks piling up behind him, Montreal just had to let him go, which is how he ended up suiting up for their rivals, the Red Ants, in their big game against — yes, that’s right — the Mounteds.

Staggering to this feet, though he tottered and sagged against the goal post, Bullet Joe faced the surging forms in front. He tossed aside the stub of his hockey stick as useless, and extended gloved hands, spreading the fingers wide. A woman’s hysterical, high-pitched scream carried above the human battery of sound. “Stop them, Bullet Joe!”

Electrifying. I’ll let you guess how Harold Sherman’s novelette “Bullet Joe, Goalie” ends, and who gets the girl — yes, there’s a girl.

Hockey’s not your thing? In 1928, readers of Top-Notch Magazine could take their pick of torrid tales: also included in this mid-winter issue were stories of cowboys (“Blazing Six-Guns”) and canny courtroom stenographers (“All is Not Wasted That Leaks”). There’s even something for fans of big, striped-game hunting. I haven’t read that particular story all the way through, it’s true, but I like to think that the title suggests that this is a grasslands tale told from the point-of-view of the wily quarry as he outsmarts the bumbling human hunter, gets his gun, teaches him not to be such a bloodthirsty idiot. It’s called “Zebra Guile.”

manhattan project

Homestand: Hopes were high for the New York Americans, one of the teams to join the NHL in the winter of 1925 (Pittsburgh’s Pirates were the other), but injuries ended up slowing down their loaded line-up that first year: they failed to make the playoffs. The Americans played their home-opener on a Tuesday of this same date, hosting the defending Stanley Cup champions from Montreal as they inaugurated Tex Rickard’s (also brand-new) Madison Square Garden III. (Canadiens prevailed by a score of 3-1.) New York (and MSG) got a second team the following year when Rickard launched the Rangers. They wore blue, of course, as seen in the illustration here. While the Americans had started with star-spangled sweaters of dark blue, they switched in their second year to red, as pictured above, before returning to the original design in 1930. The Americans were also the first team in the NHL to wear names on their backs of their sweaters.

steely dan

Dan Bouchard’s NHL career launched in Atlanta, where he guarded goals for the Flames for nine seasons, but it eventually landed him back home, in the province where he was born: Bouchard tended the crease for the Quebec Nordiques from 1981 through ’85. Born in Val-D’Or, Quebec, on a Tuesday of today’s date in 1950, Bouchard turns 72 today. In a profile included in the Nordiques’ ’82-83 media guide, Bouchard listed his favourite TV show as the PBS science series “Nova.” His favourite food? Fettucini. When Montreal artist Heather Price painted this portrait that in ’82, she called it “Incognito”

northern lights

Canadian Content: Awarded to players on Canadian NHL teams accumulating the most three-star selection over the course of a season, the Molson Cup has a history going back to the early 1970s. It remains a going concern for the Montreal Canadiens (Nick Suzuki won the 2021-22 edition). The Vancouver Canucks maintain their own version of the award, too, now called, poetically, the Three Stars Award — J.T. Miller won it for 2021-22— but it seems as though the rest of the Canadian teams have let the tradition lapse in recent years. The winners, here, from 1982-83 are, clockwise from top left: Rick Vaive (Toronto), Lanny McDonald (Calgary), Mario Tremblay (Montreal), Thomas Gradin (Vancouver), Dale Hawerchuk (Winnipeg), and Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton).