With the Hockey Hall of Fame set to announce its 2109 class today, the hour is now for all those with an impassioned plea or petition for a player who might have been, to date, overlooked or grievously slighted. Who have you got? Jennifer Botterill or maybe Kim St. Pierre? Sven Tumba, Alexander Maltsev? You could make a reasonable argument for Herb Cain or Lorne Chabot, even if the Hall probably won’t any time soon. What about Kevin Lowe? Theo Fleury? Paul Henderson’s name comes up annually; this year, on the January day he turned 76, he even got a birthday boost from Canada’s House of Commons when MPs unanimously resolved to “encourage” the Hall to induct him ASAP “in recognition of his incredible contribution to Canadian hockey and its history.”
One cold night last November a distinguished panel of hockey pundits played the Hockey Hall parlour game at a rink of renown in midtown Toronto. In front of a small audience not far from the ice of St. Michael’s College School’s Arena the panel parleying who should be in the Hall of hockey’s Fame but isn’t featured historian Todd Denault; Ken Campbell, senior writer for The Hockey News; Steve Dryden, senior managing hockey editor for TSN and TSN.ca; and Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons.
While there was some due given builders who deserve the Hall’s attention — Cecil Hart, Claude Ruel, and Bill Tobin got mentions — most of the talk was of players. Male players — arguments for outstanding women candidates like Maria Rooth or Kim Martin weren’t on the table.
There was plenty of discussion of just how measure greatness and of what constitutes a Hall-of-Fame career. It’s particularly difficult, the panelists agreed, to evaluate players from the distant past — “guys,” as Steve Dryden put it, “you haven’t seen.” Does Sid Smith deserve a place, with his three Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940s and ’50s, two Lady Byngs, and a First Team All-Star selection? What about Herb Cain of the wartime Boston Bruins, the only player in history to have led the NHL in scoring not to have been elevated to the Hall?
Statistics tell a certain tale but not a complete one: how, for instance, do you properly appraise the career contributions of defensive defenceman (cf. the unrecognized likes of Lionel Hitchman, Bob Goldham, and Kevin Lowe) or of forwards who made a name as tenacious checkers and penalty-killers (hello, Claude Provost and Guy Carbonneau).
And what about Henderson? When his name came up, as it always does, the hero of the Luzhniki got both a hard nay and a robust yay. He was, Steve Simmons said, no more than a very good NHLer who had a great week in Moscow in September of 1972. Maybe so, but to historian Paul Patskou’s way of thinking, the cultural significance and legacy of his Summit Series performance is more than enough to earn him a place.
As the evening went on and the panelists made their presentations favouring particular players whom the Hall has (so far) failed to call up, the names of the missing kept coming: Lorne Chabot, Bernie Nicholls, Theo Fleury. Steve Dryden argued Keith Tkachuk’s cause while Simmons flew the flag for Rick Middleton.
Todd Denault made a compelling case for J.C. Tremblay, Montreal’s stellar defenceman who was a First Team All-Star in 1971 and helped Canadiens win five Stanley Cups. Asked once by Denault for the name of the one player he thought deserved a place in the Hall, Jean Béliveau didn’t hesitate to name Tremblay. Béliveau did, of course, serve on the Hall’s Selection Committee from 1981 to 1995, so it may well be that he did his best to make it happen. Tremblay jumped to the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA in 1972, and was one of the players dropped from the original roster of the Canada’s Summit Series team for that reason. At the confab at St. Mike’s, there was speculation that maybe the politics of a lingering bias against the WHA may have affected Tremblay’s chances for getting the Hall’s call.
But maybe not. What we do know is that deliberations by members of the Selection Committee are more or less opaque, and for all the clamouring we do here beyond the confines of their consultations, clamour is mostly what it amounts to. Still, once you’re committed to reading the runes, it’s hard to stop. Along with your Cains and Chabots and Provosts, the recognition that J.C. Tremblay fails to get may just be a matter of time: it’s 40 years now since he retired.
Starting in 1998, the Hockey Hall of Fame did have a category for Veteran Players that saw the likes of Buddy O’Connor, Fern Flaman, Clint Smith, Lionel Conacher, and Woody Dumart plucked from the far past. But since that was curtailed in 2000, the Hall’s view of the past has dimmed. Willie O’Ree’s induction last year came 57 years after he played in the NHL, but he’s something of a special case, and thereby an outlier. Beyond him, only twice in the past 19 years have players who’ve been retired more than 30 years been inducted. In 2006, Dick Duff was recognized 34 years after he’d stowed his skates, and the gap was the same in 2016 when Rogie Vachon finally got the call.
(Images: Hockey Media & The Want List)
Red Fisher said that Claude Provost was the Bob Gainey of his day. “He wasn’t as big, probably didn’t have as much skating talent, and maybe didn’t hit as hard as Gainey,” the Montreal Gazette’s longtime columnist enthused, “but he was terribly effective. He had to be to stop somebody like Bobby Hull the way he did … and he was definitely a better scorer than Gainey.”
The question of whether Provost deserves a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame may or may not be answered this coming Tuesday when a new class of inductees is named. Provost, only ever played for the Montreal Canadiens during his 15-year NHL career, certainly has a bevy of Stanley Cup championships to endorse him: he helped the Habs win nine in his time. Renowned as a right winger for his prowess as a checker, he also led the Canadiens in goalscoring in 1961-62, when he scored 33 in a line-up that included Bernie Geoffrion and Jean Béliveau. In 1964-65, he was named to the First All-Star Team, ahead of a pretty good right winger from Detroit named Gordie Howie. Provost also won the first Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 1968 in recognition of his dedication, sportsmanship, and perseverance.
After Provost’s death at the age of 50 in 1984, Tim Burke of the Montreal Gazette remembered him as “one of the best-liked guys ever who ever wore CH on his chest and the premier defensive forward of his time.” Toe Blake assigned him to shadow Bobby Hull whenever Montreal played Chicago during the 1960s, and he had some success in (to borrow Burke’s phrase) trussing up the explosive left winger. Provost wasn’t always convinced that he was winning that duel, though. “I used to have pretty good success in checking,” he said of Hull in 1964, “then I got caught twice and scored two goals. What am I supposed to do, sit on him?”
Henri Richard was his roommate in junior and throughout his Montreal career. “He had very little talent,” he said, fondly, “but he made up for everything with hard work. … He even became a goalscorer by just getting in front all the time. We used to kid him that more goals went in off his ass than his stick.” He’d anchor himself in the slot with a distinctive bow-legged stance, digging his skates into the ice so hard that, as Canadiens’ equipment manager Eddie Palchak recalled, “he needed his skates sharpened after every period.”
“That’s why we started calling him Cowboy Joe,” Richard said, “those bow legs of his. He was the perfect guy to room with. You couldn’t stay down in the dumps with him around. He was always fun and a great team man.”
It’s possible (if not probable) that when the Hockey Hall of Fame proclaims a new class of inductees on Tuesday of next week, Buddy Maracle will be among them. Maracle, you’ll maybe recall, was Mohawk, from Ayr, Ontario, and seems to have been the first Indigenous player to have skated in the NHL. His stint with the New York Rangers in 1931 was short (just 15 games), and he died in 1958, facts that would appear to argue against his recognition by an institution that favours prolonged NHL service and doesn’t, these days, tend toward posthumous choices. It’s the case, too, that while Maracle seems to have been a very good player, he wasn’t a great or generational talent. His claim, should it succeed, would be akin to Willie O’Ree’s: if Maracle were to be honoured, it would be as a hockey pioneer.
It could happen. A comprehensive nomination package did go to the Hall in Maracle’s name earlier this year (brief disclosure: I contributed a supporting letter). And Maracle’s story has been gaining more and more attention across the hockey world and beyond. If it wasn’t exactly a secret before 2017, it was fairly obscure and threadbare.
That started to change when Fred Sasakamoose was named a member of the Order of Canada as that year ended. Deserving as that vice-regal acknowledgment was (and by no fault of Sasakamoose’s), the messaging that went along with it was insistently erroneous as institutions that should have known better — looking at you, Rideau Hall and the NHL — blithely identified Sasakamoose as having blazed a trail that, in fact, Maracle had already blazed two decades earlier.
As a matter of history, the oversight wasn’t a good look for the NHL. The league might have attended to their lapse quickly and unobtrusively — maybe as part of the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative they launched in February of 2018 to promote diversity and inclusion in the game.
If nothing else, Maracle’s story is a fascinating one that highlights just how hard it was for an Indigenous athlete to make his way to the top of his sport in the 1920s and ’30s. Instead, the league continued to ignore Maracle. Over at their editorial department, a February, 2018 profile of Fred Sasakamoose on NHL.com re-upped the notion that the distinguished former Chicago Black Hawk is “the NHL’s first Indigenous player.” I guess that’s still the official line: more than a year later, the story hasn’t been corrected.
The fact that Sasakamoose seems to have, in fact, been the third Indigenous NHLer (after Maracle and Jimmy Jamieson) isn’t any slight on him or the remarkable things that he’s achieved in his life. It’s possible that the NHL believes that by highlighting — or even acknowledging? — Maracle’s story they might discomfit or embarrass Sasakamoose, and that’s why they’ve kept quiet.
If that’s the case, I don’t think it really makes sense. Facts are facts and flouting them does no-one any good. Media mentions of Fred Sasakamoose don’t always, now, automatically identify him as the first Indigenous NHLer. But it’s also true that the word on Maracle isn’t widespread, and keeps not showing up in newspapers and magazines and online. Assuming that the NHL knows and is assiduously interested in being true to its own history, many in the media do still take the league’s lead in ignoring Buddy Maracle.
Exhibit A: in March, when the NHL’s Canadian media partners from Sportsnet took their Hometown Hockey show on the road to Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, Maracle was left, unaccountable, out of the picture. It was a remarkable day and an historic one: the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s broadcast in Plains Cree of the game between the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes marked the first time that an NHL game went to air in an Indigenous language.
And on an occasion so fully focussed on the future, present, and past of Indigenous hockey, the man who blazed such a crucial trail was entirely, inexplicably absent. Buddy Maracle didn’t rate so much a mention during Hometown Hockey’s extensive coverage that day.
It may be that when the Hockey Hall announces its 2019 class on Tuesday we’ll learn that Buddy Maracle’s time has come, along with — who else’s? Maybe will Reggie Leach, the first Indigenous superstar, finally get his due? Or Rick Middleton? I might bet on Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards making the cut, if I were betting. And, no question: Hayley Wickenheiser. Is this the year Andy Moog gets the call, or Tom Barrasso? What about Seth Martin, J.C. Tremblay, Claude Provost, Lorne Chabot? And then, of course, there’s the perennial clamour for Paul Henderson.
It’s worth saying that the Hockey Hall of Fame is a sovereign state, independent of the NHL, and that it (in theory) thinks and acts for itself, makes its own choices, follows its own stars. I’m not suggesting that if Maracle and his story don’t break through next week it should be seen in a nefarious light. What it will mean is exactly this: his nomination didn’t get enough votes.
Whatever happens, the Hall has quietly shifted its narrative in the past year. Pre-2018, if you’d steered your way over to the Hall’s extensive online biographical dictionary of all-time NHLers, here’s what you would have read for Fred Sasakamoose:
and Buddy Maracle:
I can’t say just when the change was made, but it’s been several months now since the Hockey Hall of Hall adopted a new line and started informing visitors on their respective player pages (Sasakamoose’s here and Maracle’s here) that while “Fred Sasakamoose is among the first Indigenous people to appear in an NHL game,” “Henry Elmer ‘Buddy’ Maracle holds the distinction of being the first Indigenous person to appear in an NHL game.” So that’s some kind of progress.
Born on this date in 1900, the goaltender Lorne Chabot made his debut in Montreal, where he also died in 1946, just five days beyond his 46th birthday. In between, Chabot mostly did the work of trying to stop pucks, tending NHL goals in his time for the Toronto Maple Leafs and both Montreal teams, Canadiens and Maroons, as well as the Chicago Black Hawks and New York’s Rangers and Americans. He won Stanley Cups with the Rangers in 1928 and the Leafs four years later; with the Hawks in 1935 he was rewarded with the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. He probably should be in the Hall of hockey Fame, though the institution itself hasn’t so far consented to invite him in.
It was during his single season in Chicago that Timeput Chabot on its cover, making him the first NHLer to appear there. (Dave Kerr of the Rangers followed a few years later.) Also making news that February halfway through the turbulent ’30s? Time noted that U.S. President and Mrs. Roosevelt had welcomed trailblazing flyer Amelia Earhart to the White House. In New Jersey, Bruno Hauptmann was on trial for the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s son, Charles Jr. British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald, meanwhile, was denounced by an MP in favour of Scottish independence in language so strong that it was censored out of Hansard. “The Prime Minister is a low, dirty cur who ought to be horsewhipped and slung out of public life,” is some of what was excised, for the record.
Towards the end ofTime, Lorne Chabot was described in an unbylined feature as “a bulky, silent, languid French Canadian.” By way of biography, there were notes on his soldiering (underaged, in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, in the First World War) and his subsequent policing (as a member of the RCMP). Duly mentioned, too, was the famous 1928 episode when he was injured and left the Ranger net to the care of his manager, 44-year-old Lester Patrick.
He was superstitious, Time reported, insisting on donning “the same pair of lucky (hockey) trousers” that he’d always worn as an NHLer. Off the ice, he liked grey spats. His Chicago address was the Croydon Hotel, where he lived with his wife and two children. “More amiable than he appears when professionally engaged, Chabot, like most hockey players, has a summer job, as ice cream salesman. His Black Hawks salary is $4,500.”
As for his goaltending technique:
Chabot almost never leaves his net. Slow at regaining his feet when he falls down, he indulges in few of the acrobatic tricks that make the work of smaller goalies more spectacular.
These qualities give his style of play a peculiar indolence which he exaggerates as much as possible. Instead of chattering encouragement to his teammates, the method by which most goalies relieve their nervous tension, he munches slowly a huge wad of chewing gum, rarely speaks a word during a game. Instead of waving his arms, he lounges against his cage as if it were a mantelpiece. All this helps mask his real capabilities: preternaturally quick eyes, phenomenal ability to spread his bulky frame across his goal.
Chabot was said not to mind when the fans in Chicago tossed dead fish down from the gallery onto the ice. The only thing that bothered Chabot was when he failed to keep the puck out of the net. How bothered could he get?
“Last fortnight,” Time advised, “he clubbed a goal judge with his hockey stick for daring to assert that his opponents had contrived to score a goal. He was amused by news that the goal judge was suing him for $10,000.”
With the Hockey Hall of Fame announcing its 2018 class this afternoon, Martin Brodeur is the name that fans and pundits alike seem to be settling on as a sure bet. Other candidates thought to be up at the front of the pack include Martin St. Louis and Daniel Alfredsson. There’s talk that hockey trailblazer Willie O’Ree, 82, might be in, too — maybe, the word was yesterday at NHL.com, he could be inducted as a builder for his quiet energy and devotion he’s put in as an ambassador for inclusion and diversity with the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative.
For a piece that went up yesterday at The New York Times, I’ve been talking to and writing about Indigenous hockey players recently. Fred Sasakamoose was one of the first to play in the NHL, and I don’t know why he wouldn’t be in the conversation, too. I’m not sure whether Sasakamoose, who’s 84, has even been nominated, but I hope so: given his tireless work with and advocacy for Indigenous youth over the years, he’s as worthy a candidate as O’Ree.
Then there’s Reggie Leach. You’ll recall, maybe, the effort that the great John K. Samson organized to press the case for the Riverton Rifle to be welcomed into the Hall. In 2010, there was the song Samson recorded that doubled as a petition, both of which went by the name http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle/.
In 2013, Samson put together a well-argued application supported by a very complete statistical package and accompanied by endorsements from, among others, novelist Joseph Boyden, Ian Campeau (a.k.a. DJ NDN) of A Tribe Called Red, writer Stephen Brunt, and Wab Kinew, who was then Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg. Samson and some of his friends would eventually go in person to deliver the whole bundle, song and stats and supplications, to the Hall’s very doors.
That’s worth watching, which you can do below, even if the whole enterprise was in vain: as of this hour, Reggie Leach still isn’t an Honoured Member of hockey’s Hall of Fame.
Talking to Leach, who’s 68 now, this past January, I asked him about that. He said that he was aware of continued efforts by friends and fans of his across the country who are still intent on convincing the Hall that the time is now, but that he doesn’t worry much about whether the call comes or not.
“I don’t get involved with it,” he told me from his home Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, near Little Current, Ontario, on Manitoulin Island. “I’m just happy that there are people who think that I should be in there. To me, that’s a great honour. They’re my Hall of Famers, those people. If I don’t get in, I really don’t care, because I think it’s mainly where you come from and who you played for that matters — stuff like that.”
(Top image: cover of John K. Samson’s 2010 ANTI- EP “Provincial Road 222”)
If you’re out and about in Toronto today, lucky for you — so, too, is the original Stanley Cup, which the Hockey Hall of Fame is letting out of its vault for the day. You can take a photograph with the simple silver bowl that Frederick Stanley, Baron Stanley of Preston, commissioned and donated as Canada’s sixth governor-general, grasp it in your hands, raise it to your lips, swig some champagne — actually, I don’t know about the grasping and the champagne. Probably that’s forbidden. Paying a visit is definitely a go, though, on this auspicious anniversary: it was 125 years ago, May 15, 1893, that the Cup was presented for the very first time, in Montreal.
The tale of how that happened is a bit of a tangled one, with accents of confusion and even rancor. I’m not certain that they’ll be highlighting the whole messy truth of the matter down at the Hall today, but do feel free to ask about it, if you’re going.
It was back in 1892 that Lord Stanley originally announced his intention to donate a trophy — you remember all this from hockey catechism back in school, no doubt. It had to be commissioned, smithed, engraved & etc., back in London, in England, and it wasn’t until early May of ’93 that the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup arrived in Ottawa — just as its perpetrator was preparing to head the other way.
That April, Lord Stanley’s elder brother had died in England, making him the 16th Earl of Derby. While his term, which he’d started in 1888, didn’t officially come to its end until September of 1893, he was already preparing to depart. Word of the appointment of his successor, the Earl of Aberdeen, was already circulating, and earlier in May the Globe advised that he’d given the servants at Rideau Hall their notice — along with a bonus of three months’ pay and a faithful promise to recommend them to the new man of the house, in case he might be hiring.
Earl Derby stayed on in Canada until July, as it turned out, and so he could have presented his hockey trophy for the first time, if he’d chosen to. Instead, he delegated the work to locals. The future former Governor-General had appointed two Ottawa-based trustees to look after and administer his new trophy, Philip Ross and Dr. John Sweetland. Ross, owner and publisher of The Ottawa Journal, had played hockey with Lord Stanley’s son Edward as a member of the Rideau Rebels. Sweetland was a prominent doctor who also served as sheriff of Carleton County and, thereby, the Supreme Court. They were the ones who made the decision that the new trophy would be awarded to the hockey club of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association — the MAAA — champions of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHA). This in itself was not without controversy, insofar as the MAAA won the last game of the season by default over the Montreal Crystals after the latter abandoned the game in protest over the referee’s decision not to allow a previously penalized player to play in the overtime. This didn’t specially please the Ottawa Hockey Club, sitting in second place: an MAAA loss to the Crystals would have left the two top teams with identical won-loss records. It wasn’t as though the rules for the new trophy had been set out from the beginning of the season, either: Ottawa thought that playoffs might be in order.
Didn’t happen. For a full and fascinating account of the further confusion that marked the actual awarding of the trophy, I recommend Paul Kitchen’s essay “They Refused The Stanley Cup,” which you’ll find in the second edition of Total Hockey (2000). Kevin Shea and John Jason Wilson’s book Lord Stanley: The Man Behind The Cup (2006) is also required reading.
In short, Sheriff Sweetland was the one who carried the cup to Montreal, where he was due to make a formal presentation at the annual meeting of the MAAA. In preparation for that, the MAAA’s secretary advised the president of the hockey team, James Stewart, who also happened to be a member of the winning team. The reply from the latter astounded the former: the hockey players advised that they did not wish to receive the trophy until they’d had an opportunity to review the conditions “upon which said trophy was to be held,” asking that this decision be passed on to the trustees.
Newspaper reports of the proceedings on this day in 1893 don’t mention the kerfuffle that ensued when the MAAA refused to go along with this. If the hockey players didn’t want to receive their trophy, then the club’s leadership would do so on their behalf. And so it was that Sheriff Sweetland handed over the first Stanley Cup to MAAA president James Taylor rather than the hockey club’s James Stewart.
In his remarks, Sweetland joked that the Governor-General would much sooner have had the cup kept in Ottawa, “but after the Capital he preferred to see Montreal hold it. The only thing he was not certain about was how the Montreal people managed to win all the decisive games.”
There would be more strife to come at the MAAA between the leadership and the hockey club, but on this day, the peaceful façade included the club’s board presenting the nine cup-winning players with engraved gold rings. Off the ice, they were bank clerks and bookkeepers, worked for the Dominion Bridge Company, sold Liebling’s Liquid Extract and Tonic Invigorator. Tom Paton was a manufacturer’s agent who happened to be a founder of the MAAA itself, as well as the original driving force behind its hockey club — for which he also played goaltender. A hundred and twenty-five years ago today, for his long and dedicated services in all those capacities, he got a Heintzman piano.