cups might come and cups might go: cyclone taylor and the 1909 stanley cup take a road trip (possibly)

Out And About: A threadbare Cyclone Taylor shows off his Vancouver Millionaire colours in 1913.

A birthday today for Fred Taylor, who was born (probably; there’s some blurriness to the record) on a Monday of this date in 1884 in Tara, over towards Owen Sound, in southwestern Ontario. Taylor grew up a little to the south, in Listowel, northwest of Kitchener, and that’s where he honed his hockey. Cyclone he came to called, in his heyday, which was back in the first few decades of the 20th century, when Taylor was far and away one of the fastest and most skilled players to don skates and step out on the ice and, thereby, one of the game’s best-paid practitioners. Playing at rover and cover-point (defence), he starred in the IHL for Portage Lakes and for the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings before finding a home, for nine seasons, with the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA. Five times he led the league in scoring on the west coast, and in 1915 he helped the Millionaires beat the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup. It was Taylor’s second championship: he’d been with the Senators in 1909 when they played in the old ECHA and surpassed Art Ross’ Montreal Wanderers to take the Cup.

Taylor hung up his skates in 1922, at the age of 38. He was elected to the Hall of hockey Fame in 1947. Cyclone Taylor was 94 when he died in 1979. 

Did Taylor score a goal for Renfrew in 1910 after having skated backwards through some or possibly all of the Ottawa line-up? Many paragraphs have been written on the subject, including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time … but while some reports (including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time) would seem to confirm the feat, Taylor himself told Stan Fischler that it never happened.

Not so well documented is another bit of lore relating to that 1909 championship. Insofar as I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else in the 112 years that have intervened since then, it may even qualify as breaking news. Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend doesn’t mention it, and nor do any of the authoritative histories of hockey’s most vaunted trophy, but Taylor may well have been the first player to take the Stanley Cup home with him to share with and show off to his kith and kin, a whole eight decades before it became standard practice.

The Stanley Cup’s annual summer tour is a rite of hockey’s post-season, and a charming one at that: each year, Cupkeeper Phil Pritchard escorts the venerable trophy to the hometowns of players, coaches, and staff across the globe so that those who’ve won the Cup can spend a day in its company, sharing the glory around with friends and family, eating from its silvery bowl, maybe feeding their horses

Pandemics permitting, of course: while in 2019, the Cup travelled to eight Canadian provinces, seven U.S. states, as well as Sweden, Finland, and Russia on visits to happy members of the St. Louis Blues, COVID-19 meant that last year’s champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, could only celebrate with the Cup in Florida.  

The Hockey Hall of Fame keeps an online catalogue documenting the Cup’s off-season travels that goes back to 2003, when the New Jersey Devils were champions: that’s here. These summer peregrinations were established as a routine in 1995, says the Hall. (The Devils reigned that year, too.) 

The Cup did some house calls before that, too: in 1989, when the Calgary Flames prevailed, Pritchard himself took the Cup to visit Flames forward Colin Patterson at his home in Rexdale, Ontario. That same summer, the Cup was packed up and shipped — unaccompanied — to Saskatoon, where Calgary defenceman Brad McCrimmon’s dad, Byron, collected it at the airport and took it for a sojourn in McCrimmon’s hometown of Plenty, Saskatchewan. 

Turns out Cyclone Taylor had a like-minded plan a full 80 years earlier. 

In 1909, there was no Stanley Cup final, as such. Having finished atop the standing of the four-team Eastern Canada Hockey Association, Taylor’s Ottawa Senators inherited the Cup from the holders, Montreal’s Wanderers. A challenge did come in from the Winnipeg Shamrocks, and was accepted by Cup trustee William Foran, but by then it was mid-March, too late in the season for the series to be arranged. 

The Senators and Wanderers did take a quick trip to New York in March, to play a two-game exhibition series, but that was on artificial ice. Ottawa prevailed, for anyone keeping score, winning the first game 6-4 and settling in for a tie, 8-8, in the second.

Back in Canada’s capital, the Senators were wined and dined at a banquet at the Russell House Hotel. The Cup, which looked like this in those years —

— had been absent from Ottawa since 1906, when the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven were ending a run of four consecutive championships. The line-up of the new champions featured five future Hall-of-Famers, including goaltender Percy LeSueur and forwards Bruce Stuart and Marty Walsh. 

Reports of the 1909 celebration include an account of the Cup being filled (of course) with champagne and shared around the room. When it reached Taylor, he demurred. “I will drink only after the greatest hockey general in the game has done so,” he said, passing the Cup to Stuart, his captain. 

Trustee Foran spoke a piece, too. He was positively giddy in his praise of the teams in the ECHA, declaring that their brand of hockey was the “greatest, fastest, and cleanest” ever seen anywhere. Ottawa’s team, he felt, further, was “the best team Canada or the world had ever produced. 

He was confident, too, that the Stanley Cup, now in the 16th year of its youth, was here to stay: “Cups might come and cups might go,” paraphrased the Ottawa Journal, “but the Stanley Cup would always remain the true emblem of hockey supremacy.” 

News of Cyclone Taylor’s initiative was carried in another dispatch from the banquet room. His request, which was deemed “unusual” by the correspondent writing about it, was this: Taylor asked “that he be allowed to take the Stanley Cup home to Listowell [sic] when he goes on his Easter holidays, guaranteeing to return it in safe order. Taylor remarked that it was his one ambition to be on a Stanley Cup team, and wished to take the famous mug to his native town so that the Listowell people could have a look at it. His wish may be gratified, providing the trustees do not object.”

Did William Foran give Taylor the go-ahead? That I can’t confirm. The Cup may well have been handed over to his care in April of 1909, and made the journey west to Listowel for a spell. If so, none of the major daily newspapers seem to have registered the event. I haven’t yet consulted local papers to see what they might have to report, but I’ll get to them and report back. Did the Stanley Cup parade down Listowel’s Main Street as Cyclone Taylor’s friends, familiars, and neighbours cheered? Possibly. Was it, anticipating the 1991 scene in Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh backyard, sunken to the bottom of the Taylors’ swimming pool? Not likely. Did anyone, including local livestock, feed from the Cup? To be determined. 

In the meantime, if anyone has further intelligence on this, let me know. 

Dialled In: Cyclone Taylor at home, listening to the radio, in his elder years. (Image: William Cunningham, Vancouver Public Library)

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.

eddie shore and that old-time … agriculture

Reap Rep: Eddie Shore on his binder at the farm near Duagh, Alberta, at point in (probably) the early 1930s. (Image: Glenbow Archives, ND-3-4293)

Glenn Hall’s barn took its place in hockey history in the fall of 1966, the year he bought his farm in Stony Plain, Alberta, a half-hour’s drive west of Edmonton. That was the year Hall, then in his mid-30s, told the Chicago Black Hawks he was retiring. “When someone called one day,” Hall recalled a few years later, “my wife was home and answered the phone and said I was out on the farm painting the barn.” While the man they called Mr. Goalie returned to Chicago that same fall, and went on to play five further seasons with the St. Louis Blues, the barn took on its own life as a tale that was told perennially — still is — to explain why Hall was delayed for training camp: he had to paint his barn.

“I only tried to retire twice,” Hall, a native of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, tried to clarify in the 1970s. “The other times I had permission to be late for camp so I could get the crop in.”

Hall, now 89, still lives on the property in Stony Plain, where that barn, which is red, looks over the land. Its story is still favoured in hockey folklore.

Not so well remembered is the farmland 45 minutes away to the northwest that became a regular focus of the hockey world 30 years earlier, when another Saskatchewan-born hockey superstar, one of the most famous figures of the NHL’s early years, was in the habit of announcing he’d just as soon farm his fields than play defence for the Boston Bruins.

Today, on (probably but possibly not) Eddie-Shore’s birthday, a visit to his Alberta acreage.

First, regarding the birth: mostly you’ll see it dated to November 25, 1902, which a Tuesday 118 years ago. And that does seem to be all in order, given that it’s a date that Shore himself cited on such serious documents as his 1942 U.S. military draft registration. The 1985 record of his death in Massachusetts also names November 25.

And yet, as conclusive as that seems, the Province of Saskatchewan’s record of Shore’s debut in 1902 lists … November 23, a Sunday. Hard to say whose the error might be, especially since we do have evidence of a certain odd coyness on Shore’s own part — that’s to come, a little further on.

In the meantime, happy birthday, belated or not, to the Edmonton Express.

That nickname took some geographical liberties, of course: whatever the date, Eddie Shore was born 850 kilometres and a province to the east of the Alberta capital, in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, northeast of Regina. The former Kate Spanier was his mother, Thomas John — T.J. — his father.

When Shore was eight, the family moved about 50 kilometres north and to the west where, as Michael Hiam tells it in Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey, his 2010 biography, T.J. would eventually be farming a property of some 70,000 acres, with 400 head of horses and 600 of cattle on it, while annually producing 100,000 bushels of wheat.

So Eddie was farm-tested from an early age, which is also to say farm-forged. He was taming ponies at the age of nine, Hiam writes. At 12, he was driving four-horse teams to the grain elevator in Cupar. Shore was an expert roper at 15; by the time he was 16, he was riding herd on thousands of cattle.

Boy Cowboy: Eddie Shore at the age of 13 (and steed). The signature came later. (Image: Classic Auctions)

He later told a Boston sportswriter about nearly freezing to death in that era, riding herd one winter when temperatures had plunged to minus 61 F. In his own words:

I say 61 because our thermometers register to 60 below and they all broke. I had to drive 23 head of cattle 32 miles for my father.

There was sort of a trail about three feet wide and with the snow three feet deep on both sides the cattle stayed in file all right. We jog trotted them so that they wouldn’t freeze and got off the horses every once in a while so that we wouldn’t.

On the way back I started to freeze and just a little way from home my horse fell down. I didn’t realize it until then but I was partly frozen. My legs were frozen in the shape of the horse.

You could freeze to death in a very short time there and freezing would be a pleasure. Just a pleasant numbness but I wasn’t that far gone, and it was pretty painful, coming to and getting on the horse again.

Shore’s survival on the trial eventually allowed for his burgeoning hockey career to get him to Melville, Saskatchewan, in the early 1920s. From there he continued on to Regina, then to Edmonton, where he skated for the WHL Eskimos in 1925-26, before taking his talents to Boston in 1926.

Dealmakers: NHL President Frank Calder and Eddie Shore meet on the ice at Boston Garden in the late 1930s. (Image: Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library)

It didn’t take Shore long to establish himself as one of the NHL’s biggest (and unruliest) stars. He’d help the Bruins win a Stanley Cup in 1929 and another in ’39, and in the decade between those championships he won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player four times.

In the Edmonton news, May of 1928

In 1928, he got back to the land. The Bruins had bowed out of the playoffs in early April, dismissed by the New York Rangers, eventual Cup champions. May brought news that Shore had bought himself an Alberta spread, paying $16,400 for Albert Elliott’s farm, just beyond Edmonton’s northern city limits. Though in Shore’s day the name of the locality was often misrendered in press reports as Daugh, it was in Duagh that Shore set himself up as a farmer. (The slip is not only historical: Michael Hiam’s biography gets it wrong, too.)

Sizewise, Hiam reports that the property was 640 acres, and some contemporary accounts agree with that, too, though in fact it was a half section, 320 acres.

I don’t know what salary Shore was getting from the Bruins at this point. The $9,000-a-year that the Montreal Maroons were paying defenceman Dunc Munro was reported to be the NHL’s highest salary in ’28 — though there was also some talk that year that these same Maroons had signed Canadian Olympic star Dave Trottier for $12,000.

If Shore was taking in something less than that, he had been doing well enough the previous summer to have decided to give up his summer job back in Melville, where he’d been shovelling coal for the Canadian National Railway going back to when he was playing senior hockey there. (The end of the 1926-27 NHL season had, it’s true, enriched Shore by $2,000 in bonuses.)

For a view of the set-up at Duagh, we’ll trust to a plucky reporter from the Edmonton Journal who paid a visit in the summer of 1929.

The Bruins had won the Cup that spring, but Shore wasn’t resting much at all, let alone on any laurels. He was toiling hard, “enjoying 10 to 12 hours work every day on his farm.” He had 170 acres sown to wheat that year, and his barnyard roster included 14 horses and 400 chickens. He was just getting started, though:

Eddie is planning to have one of the finest farms in the entire district. He will have a beautiful bungalow, a big ribbed roof barn, an ideal machine shop, and there will be everything on the land that any successful farmer should have.

“It will take time,” said Eddie when he was talking to the Journal representative. “But in two years time I should have all the buildings up that I am planning.”

“Then I will have sufficient cattle, Holsteins, most likely; not very many horses, because machinery is better; plenty of chickens, pigs, and everything else.”

Shore got married that year, to Kate Macrae, a former basketball star with Edmonton’s mighty Grads. Their son, Edward Jr., arrived a year later.

By 1933, Michael Hiam reports, Shore had cultivated a “model farm,” featuring a modest house, a small barn in the Pennsylvania Dutch style, and “a picturesque windmill.” He had a hired man to help with the work and to run the place while he was away playing hockey. His line-up now included hogs, cattle, turkeys, ducks, chickens, workhorses (Percherons and Belgians), and “a prized Guernsey bull named Taywater Warrior.”

Playing his own particular brand of surly and, occasionally, near-fatal hockey, Shore continued to cut a swath through the NHL from his winter base in Boston. Summers in Duagh, he found time amid the call of crops and livestock for golfing (he shot in the 70s); baseball (he played outfield for the Professional Pucksters, a team that included NHLers Leroy Goldsworthy and brothers Neil and Mac Colville); and saving lives (in 1938, he dove into the Sturgeon River near the farm to rescue three swimmers in danger of drowning).

Glimpses of life on the farm reached the hockey world now and then. In 1937, for instance, Shore confided that he’d given up sowing wheat in favour of barley. “Can’t miss with that crop,” is what he told Andy Lytle of Toronto’s Daily Star, “with beer guzzled all over the country.”

Often, though, when the farm at Duagh made its way into the hockey pages of newspapers it was because Shore wasn’t happy with what Boston manager Art Ross was offering to pay him. Glenn Hall may have joked about painting his barn as a negotiating tactic; Eddie Shore’s Albertan hold-outs in the 1930s don’t seem to have amused anyone involved.

In October of 1933, when Shore was a no-show at the Boston training camp in Quebec City, it was initially reported that he was “delayed by harvesting.” Art Ross had already advised Bruin beat reporters a couple of times that the team’s star defenceman was “expected next week” before the Edmonton Journal dispatched a reporter to Duagh in early November, just six days before the Bruins were set to open their season in Toronto.

Shore was busy butchering a 300-pound hog when Ken McConnell arrived. “Sure, I’m a holdout,” Shore told him. Boston had initially offered him a satisfactory contract, he said, only to turn around and reduce their offer by $2,500 when he was a little late getting to Quebec. “I am not going to take it.”

Idle Idol: A reporter who visited the Shore spread in the fall of 1933 found Boston’s superstar defenceman butchering a hog. Also on hand: Shore’s wife, the former Kate Maccae; his son, Ed Jr.; the family house; the big old barn.

Would he quit hockey?

“If they don’t want to meet my terms,” Shore said, “why, I’ll stay here. I have everything I need right here. I don’t have to play hockey any more.”

In light of the inconsistency mentioned earlier regarding Shore’s birthdate, the next quote McConnell got is interesting. As it appeared, with McConnell’s parentheses:

“I am only 30 — have a birthday some time in this month [he would not name the date] and I figure I should be able to play NHL hockey for another seven years at least — Bill Cook of the New York Rangers is 39. But it’s entirely up to the bosses of the Bruins. I am standing pat.”

The next news of the negotiation came on November 9, the following Thursday. The Bruins were in Toronto that night, preparing to open their season Shoreless against the Maple Leafs. And Shore? As Boston’s Globereported that the team’s other prominent dissenter, Cooney Weiland, had signed his contract, word from Alberta was that Shore was practicing with the WCHL Edmonton Eskimos, for whom Duke Keats presided as the playing coach. The word from the ice? “He looks good.”

Also: Shore was headed to the foothills of the Rockies for “a big game hunting expedition.”

Friday’s update: with a defensive corps consisting of Lionel Hitchman and a trio of rookies and journeymen, the Bruins had succumbed to the Leafs by a score of 6-1. That was front-page news in Edmonton insofar as in the same breath the Journal also declared that Shore and the Bruins had settled their differences.

The family headed east, and on the Monday, Shore was in Montreal to meet with NHL President Frank Calder. As often happened in those years, the team had handed its holdout problem over to the league, and so it was with Calder that Shore did his final dealing. In exchange for his signature, he was reported to have successfully secured the $2,500 that the Bruins had initially offered.

Shore made his debut in Boston the following night, though he couldn’t help his team find a win, as the Bruins fell to their third successive loss to start the new season. They never really turned it around that season, finishing the ’33-34 schedule in last place in the four-team American Division, out of the playoffs.

International Harvester: Eddie Shore works the land. (Image: Glenbow Archives, ND-3-5202)

In 1934, Shore seems to have been delayed by an actual late harvest. He made it to camp by the end of October, signing a contract (the Edmonton Journal reported) for the NHL maximum salary of $7,000.

In subsequent years, Shore showed up more or less on time in the fall, when the time came to trade in threshers for hockey sticks.

“Word drifts through from the Maritimes,” Ken McConnell advised in 1936, by which time the Bruins had shifted their training camp from Quebec to New Brunswick, “that Eddie Shore has definitely signed a brand new contract with the Bruins and so that trifling matter is settled for this year at least.” (As it turned out, Shore would miss more than half of the season’s schedule, suffering from sciatica.)

The cut in pay Shore seems to have taken in ’37 reflected that shortened season, from what I can tell. When he stopped in to see Frank Calder in Montreal that fall, trouble seemed to be brewing, according to Calgary’s Herald. “The league prexy, when he heard that Shore wanted to make an appointment with him, naturally thought that Eddie was having contract trouble again. Imagine his surprise when Eddie appeared and said nothing about contract but simply asked Calder for permission to play with the All-Star team in the Howie Morenz benefit game.”

The Bruins convened their camp in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in ’38, and Shore, who was coming off another Hart-Trophy-winning season, hit the ice there in “prime condition.”

“I have never felt better,” said the 36-year-old veteran. “Every day for the past two months I have been working from dawn to dusk harvesting wheat, and then, to prove to myself I was in shape, I drove the family over the road from Edmonton to Boston, making the trip in a bit more than five days, and that’s no rest cure.”

With a full camp and a slate of exhibition games behind him, Shore finally saw the contract the Bruins were offering in early November, and when the Bruins boarded a train for Toronto and the opening game of the season, Shore stayed home.

All he wanted was to be paid like he was back in 1936-37, he said, before he’d agreed to a cut. “I was offered a slight raise and promised a share of the gate receipts,” he said, “but I was not satisfied with those terms.”

And so the stalemate was on. As Art Ross handed his problem once again over to Frank Calder, the Bruins revived their tradition of starting their season in Toronto. This time, with rookie Jack Crawford tabbed to fill Shore’s skates, the Bruins beat the Leafs 3-2.

Shore missed four games before he struck a deal with Calder. “Old Man Shore has signed,” he told reporters in Boston with a smile. The deal was said to be for $7,000: $6,000 in salary plus $1,000 if the Bruins made the playoffs (they did, winning the Stanley Cup, to boot). This was $500 more than the Bruins had originally offered. “The only extra promise we’ve made Shore,” Art Ross advised, “is that he’ll be paid for the four games he’s missed.”

The following year, 1939-40, was the one in which Shore might be said to have worn out his welcome in Boston. He’d bought the AHL Springfield Indians by then, furthering souring his relationship with the Bruins, who ended up trading him in early 1940 to the New York Americans, for whom he played the last ten games of his tempestuous NHL career.

And the farm at Duagh? “Mr. Eddie Shore, whose business interests are all in the east, has instructed us to sell his Half-Section of Land, northeast of the city,” read the ad that Edmonton realtors placed in the Journal in the fall of 1943. “His own words: ‘Sell, lock, stock, and barrel.”

The price was $20,000 — at first. Over the course of the year that followed, more ads appeared, with lower prices. I don’t know what the farm at Duagh sold for, in the end, but this is the last of the pitches that I’ve seen, from the fall of 1944:

 

 

falling through the ice: yow! crash! (crack, crackle) help! holy smoke!

Headed out this week for some pond hockey, a little lake puck? Know that if you’re centrally situated in North America and it’s big wide-open shinny settings you’re after, looks like Lake Erie is your best bet. As of Sunday, some 90 per cent of everybody’s favourite fourth-largest Great Lake was locked up in ice, according to analysis by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. Throw in Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Ontario, and out superlative lakes are, overall, 29.5 per cent frozen. That’s way up from last year at this time, when the number was 11 per cent.

I’m not saying you should. Head out on a Great Lake, I mean. Safer to skate at the park, or on someone’s backyard rink. In Toronto, where the harbour is frozen over for the first time in years, the message from police regarding natural ice is the plain and perennial one: no ice is safe ice. History and hockey literature have lots to say about this — lots and lots. Picture books, too, and horror movies, and archives.

There’s also a rich library of comic books to instruct us in the hazards inherent in taking the good old hockey game out on the bad old treacherous ice. Today’s exemplar is a 1949 edition of New Heroic Comics, a dead-serious venture from your friends at Famous Funnies Inc. For such a bright and colourful publication, it’s actually a terrifying piece of work. The through-the-ice story is just the start of a harrowing 48-page handbook of true-life havoc and misfortune featuring accounts of runaway horses (“Hooves of Horror”), men overboard (“Soldier Rescues Sailor”), riptides (“Riptide”), flash floods (“Canyon Rescue”), and high-rise calamity (“Elevator Firetrap”).

The good news is that everybody gets out okay. That’s the point, of course: heroes prevail. They stop the stallion, drive their jeep into the canyon, force the doors of the elevator. The hockey story celebrates 18-year-old Philip McAuliffe Jr., a member of the Boston College hockey team out for a New Year’s Day skate with some pals on a Massachusetts lake when the inevitable happens. That’s him in the red sweater, going after poor Johnny, and (I’m pleased to report) hauling him to safety. In a later panel, McAuliffe gets a silver medal for his efforts, from the state Humane Society. “That was a brave thing you did, young man!” says the comics-doctor tending his wounds. “You’re a real hero!”

“Thanks, doctor,” comics-Philip says, “but it really wasn’t anything.”

falling through the ice: bob the good-natured bay

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He was doing his job, that’s all. A Tuesday in January of 1929, and Bob, as usual, was hauling the scraper across the ice at Boston’s Public Garden, getting it ready for skaters under the supervision of his driver, James Ward. “The big good-natured bay,” is how the Daily Globe recognized him, Bob, “favourite with all the children.” But on this day, as he neared the shore on the rink’s Arlington Street side, he went through. James Ward couldn’t help him, but as luck had it, Patrolman Arthur Blood from the Back Bay Police Station happened by and soon had the call out for reinforcements.

I’m not going to leave you hanging: Bob got out fine. Patrolmen Noyes, Regan, Gervan, and Maguire all lent a hand, roping up Bob’s legs and hauling him free. Although, from the photograph, some firemen were in on it, too. Nothing to worry about, in any case, according to The Globe:

After Bob was steady on his feet, officer Blood took him to the Animal Rescue League on Carver St., where he was given first-aid treatment. He was found to have suffered no serious injury.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

a manly knit

fergie collection

John Ferguson was 32 in 1970 when he decided the time had come to hang up his skates after seven hard-fought NHL seasons. His Montreal Canadiens had finished out of the playoffs that spring and he’d gone through the summer wondering whether it was time to go. Things had changed in the league, and Fergie was troubled.

He writes about this in Thunder and Lightning, the memoir he published with Stan and Shirley Fischler in 1989. “Expansion and the new breed of hockey player had combined to slowly, but surely, change the game’s values for the worse, I thought. More and more, the accent was on big bucks and selfishness. Agents were becoming as important in the lives of young players as their coaches. Respect for older players, team loyalty, toughness and discipline were values that gradually were being eroded.”

Maybe he’d play one more year. Would he? He went to training camp in the fall of 1970, played some exhibition games, hurt his arm. That was it. His mind was made up.

“At a press conference in Montreal,” he writes, “I told the media that I had decided to retire from hockey. … Naturally, the reporters grilled me. They wanted to know about specifics. Was it [GM Sam] Pollock? Who? I told them I had no beef with hockey or the Canadiens or Pollock or the club owners. I told them that, when I decided I couldn’t give one hundred per cent to hockey, it was time to give up.”

Knitwear played its part, along with horses. When he wasn’t playing hockey, Ferguson was in business with both. He was already president of Butternut Enterprises, a company owned by friends, that not only manufactured fine shirts, dresses, pants, and sweaters, but owned a bevy of racehorses: two trotters and seven thoroughbreds.

“Horses were in my blood,” Ferguson writes. But the threads meant something, too. He writes about that, too. “Some of my hockey friends thought it was paradoxical for a tough guy like me to be making a fashion statement with knitwear, but nobody ever teased me about it. I matched my colours and was never outlandish with my colour schemes.”

No, you wouldn’t tease John Ferguson about his fashion choices, would you? Above, he shows his stuff in ad from a November, 1970 Canadiens’ game program. Earlier that year, posing for another campaign in Montreal’s Gazette, the John Ferguson Collection promised “brave designs … masculine and bold. Styled with clean lines … powerful stripes … decisive trims. A manly knit in textured Cel-Cil Fortel®.”

The knitly man made a return to the ice the following year, of course. Habs’ captain Jean Béliveau called him up the following season, invited him to supper. They went to Ruby Foo’s, and Béliveau told him: “The Canadiens need you. Think about coming back.”

Ferguson was out of knitwear by then — so to speak: he’d sold his interest. After meeting Sam Pollock to talk contract, he rejoined the team for one final season. It was a good one, too, the last one also of Béliveau’s illustrious career, and the first for a young goaltender named Ken Dryden. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.

claude ruel: he speaks the language of hockey

ruelClaude Ruel died on Monday at the age of 76. He was a promising young defenceman in the Montreal Canadiens’ system when an eye injury stopped his playing career in 1958. As a coach, he succeeded Toe Blake behind the Habs’ bench in 1968, winning a Stanley Cup in his first year and then, halfway through his third, resigning when the team foundered. He stayed with the team, working with Scotty Bowman during his years in charge. During the 1979-80 season, he replaced Bernie Geoffrion as coach, steering the Canadiens to first-place Norris-Division finishes in consecutive campaigns. Playoff success didn’t follow and in 1981 he gave way to Bob Berry.

For fuller appreciations of Ruel’s life and hockey times, I direct you to Dave Stubbs at the Montreal Gazette and to Tom Hawthorn’s obituary at Benched. Herewith, a short anthology of Rueliana made up of sentences culled verbatim from various contemporary newspapers from 1968 through the late 1980s and presented in no special order.

You don’t need a program to identify Claude Ruel, whether he’s on the ice or wearing civvies. At 5’5”, 220 pounds, give or take a few ounces, Claude Ruel is hard to miss.

Anyone taking over the Canadiens’ coaching reins from Toe Blake is stepping into big shoes since Toe guided the club to eight Stanley Cup crowns and nine league titles in 13 years. But Claude Ruel has a theory that when a man tries his best at anything he’s bound to succeed.

As trite and repetitive as it may sound, the two words that typify Ruel’s outlook on life in general and hockey in particular are work and dedication.

“I came from a big family and I had to go to work very young. Nothing came easy. I was filling potato sacks and setting pins in a bowling alley when I was 11 and 12.”

It is difficult to see the Canadiens functioning without Ruel.

Occasionally Ruel would punctuate his running commentary with: “C’est ca! C’est ca!”

An indefatigable worker, he spends time helping people such as Engblom, Langway, Mark Napier and Rick Chartraw improve their skills long after the team’s superstars have left the ice.

While there is no substantial proof, the word is that Ruel bleeds red, white, and blue.

Claude Ruel, chubby 32-year-old coach of the Montreal Canadiens, resigned Thursday.

Ruel, who coached Montreal to its last Cup title in 1969, constantly complained of the pressure connected with the job.

“Claude didn’t like the pressure,” says former Canadiens’ coach Scotty Bowman. “His first year, his layers really performed for him. The second year, they didn’t respond.” And what about this time? “The biggest thing is he won’t have Claude Ruel to help him like I did,” Bowman said.

Ruel is considered by hockey people to be one of the best talent evaluators in the world and he is also excellent at [sic] bring out the best in young players who are willing to work at their craft.

Since Ruel came out of Sherbrooke, Que., to play organized hockey at the age of 15, his command of English was limited and he had a unique way of fracturing the language that brought laughter — and even ridicule — from both French- and English-speaking players.

“I’ll tell you how good he was,” said Pollock, “though you probably shouldn’t write it because it just won’t sound right. But Claude Ruel was a lot like Bobby Orr. He couldn’t skate like Bobby but he had something Orr does that so few others don’t have and that’s great hockey sense and great anticipation.”

Ruel too played right defence and what was considered a very bright hockey future was cut down suddenly Nov. 17 in Belleville, Ont.

“I was getting set to take a shot from the point and the guy who was checking me hit my stick and it came right up and caught me in the eye.” He spent almost three months in hospital as doctors tried vainly to save his sight in the injured eye.

“That Lafleur, he has good hockey sense,” said Claude Ruel, chief scout for the Canadiens. “He’s big, he can shoot, can play offensively and defensively. He’s just a great hockey player.”

“There’s no use just blaming it on the defence and the goalkeeping,” adds Ruel. “It’s just a lack of work and the only way to get on a real winning streak is for everyone to put their minds to work.” What’s the solution? “Don’t ask me,” replied Ruel. “I’m not Superman.”

What had been good-natured ribbing of Ruel’s sayings in the championship run the year before — “Two eggs side by side,” “A daily double” (for a big hotel room), “Two-on-one, each take a man” — became a way of blaming the coach when things didn’t go well on the ice.

His problem has always been discipline. For instance, a couple of years ago, Bowman took a day off and when the players decided they’d had enough, they set upon Ruel and pulled his pants off. Continue reading