trophy case: buddy o’connor, 1948

One Cup Deserves Another: On December 7, 1948, Buddy O’Connor collects the Hart and Lady Byng trophies he earned for his previous season’s work with New York’s Rangers.

Six seasons Buddy O’Connor played for his hometown team in Montreal in the 1940s, putting in work as a serviceable centreman and helping the Canadiens win a Stanley Cup championship. But it was after he was traded in 1947 to the New York Rangers that O’Connor’s star really began to shine in the NHL.

Born on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1916, O’Connor contrived to score 24 goals and 60 points in his first season with the Rangers, 1947-48, which was almost (but not quite) enough to win him the NHL’s scoring championship: as it turned out, his former Montreal teammate Elmer Lach beat him by a single point.

O’Connor did collect two major trophies that season, the Hart (as MVP) and the Lady Byng (for gentlemanly excellence), and in doing so he became the first NHLer to win them in the same season. Each trophy came with $500 bonus that year, and with O’Connor’s share of the Rangers’ playoff money that spring, he took in $4,150 over and above his salary.

The following season. O’Connor’s second with the Rangers, started off with an unfortunate bang when he and a carload of teammates were injured in an accident. Driving from Montreal to New York in early October of 1948, the Rangers collided with a truck on the road six miles north of the U.S. border. Frank Eddolls severed a tendon in his knee, and Bill Moe suffered a concussion; Edgar Laprade broke his nose, and O’Connor a pair of ribs. Only Tony Leswick escaped without injury.

Eddolls missed the most time, finally returning to the ice at the end of December. O’Connor got back earlier that same month, and on December 7, just before New York’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Boston Bruins, he was presented with the silverware he’d earned the year before.

The Rangers were holding down last place at the time in the six-team NHL, while Boston was way up in first. The Rangers took the lead, 2-1, on goals from Pentti Lund and Nick Mickoski, with Grant Warwick replying for the Bruins, but they took a penalty in the second for too-many men, and Ken Smith secured the 2-2 tie for the Bruins. O’Connor centred New York’s third line on the night, skating between Leswick and Clint Albright.

Laid Up: Buddy O’Connor started the 1948-49 in a Montreal hospital with broken ribs after he and several ranger teammates were injured in a car accident near Quebec’s border with New York.

hockey players in hospital beds: phil esposito

Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a Friday of this very date in 1942, Phil Esposito is 80 today: many happy returns of the day to him. Here he is in April of 1973, when he was 31 and a main motor of Boston’s mighty Bruins … only to be knocked out of the Bruins’ defence of their 1972 Stanley Cup championship in the second game of the an opening round playoff series that they would lose to the New York Rangers in five games.

Esposito, the Art Trophy-winner again that season, was felled by a hip check from Rangers’ defenceman Ron Harris. “I carried the puck across the blueline,” Esposito narrated the next day for reporters as he lay in Room 509 of Phillips House at the Massachusetts General Hospital, “and then I saw Harris coming at me. I tried to cut, but I had nowhere to go. I was brushed by somebody or stumbled and lost my footing. My right foot swung around and that’s when Harris hit me. I knew Harris would come in low and I tried to duck, but I couldn’t. It was a clean check. I’m sure there’s no way that Ronnie tried to injure me.”

Dr. Carter Rowe performed the surgery that Esposito was still awaiting when these photos were taken. It was Esposito’s right knee that Dr. Rowe repaired, a tear of the medial lateral ligament. (Three times he’d already performed similar operations on Bobby Orr, by then.)

The fact that Esposito was laid up in a cast for eight weeks didn’t mean that he missed out on the Bruins’ last supper. In mid-April, after having been eliminated by the Rangers, the team gathered to say their farewells at a Boston steakhouse, the Branding Iron, not far from where Esposito lay abed at Mass General. A Bruins’ raiding party that included Orr, Wayne Cashman, and Dallas Smith soon had Esposito busted out of recovery, across the plaza, into the restaurant — in the very hospital bed pictured here. They got him back again, his teammates, after a couple of hours of revelry.

As Esposito told Evan Weiner in 2009, his recuperation was strictly policed after that. “In that hospital that year, I was the only guy they told me ever in the history of Mass General — and they had Katherine Hepburn in there, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor — that was ever locked in his room. They locked me in my room, I was in there three-and-a-half, four weeks, and it was nuts.”

Come the fall, Esposito was back on the ice to launch what turned into yet another Art Ross-worthy campaign, his fourth in a row. He finished the 1973-74 season with even better numbers than the previous year, netting 68 goals and 145 points to top the scoring table ahead of teammates Orr, Ken Hodge, and Cashman.

don’t stop beleafing: brian evinou draws a bead on toronto’s team

In a purer world, a perfected and unplagued one, wherein the Montreal Canadiens didn’t upset everyone’s expectations and ruin everything, the Toronto Maple Leafs might have gone ahead and done the sensible thing and won the Stanley Cup last year, putting an end to all those decades of frustration.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t to be.

Brian Evinou kept the faith all the same.

A lifelong Leafs fan who’s also a cartoonist, animator, and teacher in Oshawa, Ontario, Evinou was putting his passion to paper before the original Year of Our Pandemic, 2020, came along, creating colourful single-panel comics paying tribute to (and sometimes cracking wise on) the Leafs and their NBA cousins, the Raptors.

He got more systematic in his creativity as Covid-19 continued to torque and reconfigure daily life and hockey seasons, too, into 2021. What began as a game-by-game narrative of Leafian lore and experience posted across Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram evolved, as it gained notice and fans, into something altogether more ambitious.

This past fall, with the help of a quick-moving Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, Evinou self-published his graphic chronicle of Toronto’s second COVID-shortened season in a handsome hardcover edition.

Smart, funny, and sharply observant in all its bright event and detail, Brian BeLeafs: 2021 Season follows John and Joe and Jack, Auston, Mitch, Morgan, and all the rest of the Leafs, as they make their way through the 62-game season that ended last May with a first-round playoff upset at the hands of Montreal.

They’re at it again, of course, the Leafs, so … maybe … this year? Evinou is doing his part, following the team where it leads, firing up his pencils and pens after each and every game.

You can — and should — find Brian Evinou’s work on both Twitter and Instagram (@BrianBeLeafs) and on Patreon (patreon.com/BrianBeLeafs). Books are available through his website at brianbeleafs.com.

Last week, I e-mailed him some questions. Those are here, along with his answers:

I’m wondering about beginnings. First up, you as a Leaf fan: when did that start? Is there a particular player or game that cemented it for you with Toronto? 

The Leafs and hockey have always been a big part of my life. My parents are Scottish immigrants and my Dad is an avid soccer player, sports guy, and collector. When he arrived in Canada, he took to watching hockey right away and got my brothers and me playing and watching, too. My first clear NHL memory is the Calgary Cup win in 1989. I think the flaming C and Lanny McDonald’s mustache were very distinct visual memories. We moved to Oshawa when I was in grade one, which soon coincided with Eric Lindros coming to the Generals. So we were going to lots of Gennies games.

My strongest early Leaf memories are of the Doug Gilmour teams. I had a paper route when I was a kid and one of my clearest memories is making my papers, inserting the advertisements, while watching Game 6 against the L.A. Kings in 1993 with my Dad and brothers. I remember crying when the Leafs lost. Tough stuff, but I was hooked.

Back then, we went to a game once a year and during those playoff runs we even went to a couple more. I remember lining up outside the Sunrise Records box office hours before it opened to get tickets to those games. We still have the ticket stubs, one of the games against the Red Wings, one against the St. Louis Blues. I guess, looking back, it was the Gilmour team that really cemented my fandom, paired with collecting hockey cards ,which was so huge around then. Fell in love. Love that hockey.

What about as an artist? How did you get going on that?

I was always the kid drawing in class. I was really into Ninja Turtles and X-Men and early on decided I would become a comic artist. In Oshawa we had great stores like Worlds Collide, but back then it was known as Unicorn Comics, where I could get anything I was after. I spent a lot of allowances there buying comics and then copying them.

In high school, becoming a comic artist started to seem very out of reach., I didn’t draw like the Image comics guys which was the main thing in comics at the time, so I kind of redirected into animation. I’ve been working in animation since 2005-ish. I’ve worked on lots of cool projects, mainly with Solis Animation. One of the notable things we did was Gord Downie’s Secret Path, which was very cool. We were invited to his performance of that album shortly before he passed in 2017. At Solis, we’ve also done music videos for Jessie Reyez and I recently did a thing there for the wrestler Danhausen.

I got back into comics in a big way when a friend suggested I check out Scott Pilgrim, a great Canadian comic, by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The story was amazing and the art was closer to what I could do. I jumped into indie comics in a major way and soon I was making my own mini-comics. I started self-publishing my own comics around 2008 to about 2015. I did seven mini comics, one graphic novel-length webcomic, co-edited two anthologies and even coloured a Ninja Turtles cover. Today, I’m still working in animation and I teach at Durham College in Oshawa.

You Know Jack? Toronto’s April 10 game, home to Ottawa, saw Auston Matthews score a hattrick as goaltender Jack Campbell set an NHL record by recording his 11th straight win to start a season.

And how did this project start? What was the spark for Leafs comics and, now, the book?

I had my first son in 2015 and all of a sudden it was hard to make long-form comics. At work I’d listen to a lot of sports radio and podcasts and come up with little jokes I wanted to get out there. I am very active on social media, but my tweet-crafting is not as refined as Acting the Fulemin. I wanted to get more involved in my own way.

My first comic was a joke about the Dreger Cafe. Darren Dreger would do these interviews at the World Championships for TSN at these nice cafes. He did one with Mike Babcock where Dreger grilled him about how the Leafs were going to use what would ultimately be the Auston Matthews pick. I had Babs denying that they had made up their mind, all while wearing Zurich Lions gear and an Auston 2016 shirt.

I got a good response from friends on that comic, but being a new dad was pretty all-consuming and I didn’t get around to doing more comics until around the Raps championship run in 2019 and the Mitch Marner contract negotiations.

Once the pandemic hit, my sons were older and I had a bit more time and energy on my hands. I started doing actual game comics during the bubble series [in August of 2020] against Columbus. I continued that into the Raps playoff series against the Celtics that years. Those comics all did really well, which is when I started to think about doing a full season. When the NHL announced the pandemic season would be shorter, 56 games, I was more confident I could pull off a full season. Once I got going, I started to build momentum and just kept going. Next thing I knew we were in the playoffs.

It definitely helps that the team is good. It is easy to do a comic after a win. You feel good and are in a positive headspace. Of the losses, bad ones are sometimes easy to create content for. I think the west coast losses are the toughest to actually come up with a good comic for, since it is so late; I do the comics right after the game ends.

What’s your process for a particular game and the illustration you end up doing for it? Do you often know what it’s going to be before the game ends? How long then to do the work, generally? What about materials?

The process has always been the same: watch the game and react to what I’m seeing. Sometimes, Matthews scores a hatty, or hits 40 goals, it becomes very clear what the comic has to be. Some moments are too important not to be the focus. Other times visuals hit so hard in my head, I go for it even if it is not really the most dominant narrative in the game. The Justin Holl/Andrew W.K. one is an example of that. The visual of Holl with a bloody nose was memorable but not the biggest moment of the game. That comic was a big hit for me — still is. Other games have neither a big individual moment nor a big visual moment. With those, it can be harder to come up with a concept.

Face First: Home to Vancouver on May 1, Toronto’s 5-1 win saw defenceman Justin Holl set up a goal and take a puck to the nose.

On average the comics take about three hours to create. I start around 9:30 p.m. Usually I have a decent concept before I get to the thumbnails, but other times I can’t come up with anything and it takes a little longer. In those cases, I listen to the post-game media and thumbnail dumb ideas until something strikes me as pretty good. With the Arizona one I did a Nightmare on Elm Street homage, but that idea came way later. I actually had a whole different comic drawn out but I wasn’t happy with it. What got me to the eventual comic was the rookie goaltender playing like a monster. I had just watched the ‘Movies that made us’ episode about Nightmare so it was fresh in my mind. That comic was an outlier, process-wise. Usually once the game wraps, they take about three hours and I’m in bed by 1 am.

The materials I use are Col-erase pencils, Pentel Brush pen for the inks, Copic markers for the colours and Microns for the lettering. I use these Strathmore sketchbooks for the comics. I work small for the comics; they are about five inches squared.

Is it still fun? What are some of your favourite illustrations and why?

It is still fun. I still get a lot out of the process of drawing. Figuring out a drawing is like a fun problem-solving exercise. Much more thinking is required. I generally listen to music during that step. The drawing can be occasionally frustrating, lots of erasing, but it is rewarding once complete. The inking and coloring phase I can do almost thoughtlessly. I can have movies playing, or podcasts, or the post-game interviews on at that point and still produce at a good pace.

I love the Leafs. Marrying comics and the Leafs into this fun project feels very natural for me and my interests. I am very happy I stumbled into it. Getting a beautiful book out of the process has been an amazing reward.

I’m a bit of a weirdo in regard to my favourite illustrations … I kind of hate my own work. Hate might be strong, but I see the mistakes. The older ones I like more now because I’m not so close to them. I did one when [William] Nylander started wearing 88. The Toronto media was making a big deal out of it as if it was somehow disrespectful to the Big E. I made a joke about Lindros keeping a list of all the guys wearing 88, but finally cracking because this “soft” Swede would wear his number. Lindros is dressed like Rambo in the comic and proclaims that he is going to reassemble the Legion of Doom line to go after Willie. I thought that one was fun. I’m a Nylanderthal and found the hate Willie got to be very short-sighted, so I’m loving his success this year. I was always there for him. People were very irrational about his warts as a young player, in my mind. And in that comic I got to draw Lindros who, as a kid growing up in Oshawa, I loved unconditionally. So I like that one.

Number of the E: Eric Lindros takes imagined umbrage at William Nylander inheriting number 88.

What has the response been like from fans? Have you had any reactions from the Leafs?

It’s been amazing. Reddit in particular was an early adopter and very supportive. There are running gags in the comments, there are relationships you develop with commenters. It’s been awesome. Twitter has been fun. I know Twitter is a cesspool, but I’m addicted and try to avoid the trolls. Instagram has been great too. Even with the positive response I was still not suspecting the success of the Kickstarter campaign. I was blown away. The book was fully funded in less than two hours. I couldn’t believe it. I’m very thankful to everyone who backed the project. It’s been a great response for sure.

I also get responses from opposing team fans who leave comments, maybe not agreeing with my point of view — that’s a lot of fun, too. One guy compared me to Steve Simmons! I was very flattered to elicit that level of response from a rival fan.

Through the comic, I have had a couple conversations with Leaf players, which has been so cool. I was on a walk with my son when I got my first message from a player and I was over the moon. It is wild to know some of the players are seeing the comics. I occasionally get a like from a player here or there and that always feels awesome. Retired guys, too, which is great. Gilmour, Nik Antropov, Wendel Clark, and Joe Bowen have all publicly liked stuff and, in some cases, shared comics, which is very cool.

Are you planning more books, for this season and maybe beyond?

Absolutely. The plan is to do another Kickstarter campaign as we get towards the end of the season which will, hopefully, fund this season’s book. I put a lot of work into making last season’s edition a good product. I’m very proud of how it turned out, but I had some ideas that came too late to make it into the first book. So there will be some new tricks included for this new book. I’m very much a print fan. The comics are very different online than they are in print. Even pairing the comics with my synopsis and the stats of a given game gives a different experience than just approaching the comic when it goes up online on reddit or Twitter.

It is funny how things go. I never expected any kind of success with the comic, so to stumble into this and to have it revolve around my favourite hockey team makes sense to me as it is a gap I always saw in the comic market. I know as a consumer I have always loved sports comics and I think the world is ready for an awesome long-form hockey comic. I ended up going for a single panel presentation and it has hit a chord but I think there is an opportunity there for someone to do an amazing long-form hockey comic with dynamic action, like what Slam Dunk did for basketball comics.

As for next season, I think I will do it, but who knows what life will bring. I’m definitely committed to this season. I love making the comics and I’m not going to stop watching the games, so I think there is a good chance you might be stuck with me.

The Leafs are looking good this year. What’s your feeling about their prospects? Is this the — dare I say it — year?

I think the Leafs are an awesome team. I think this is the best squad of players they’ve had in my lifetime. But what does that mean? I think they are one of a handful of teams who have a realistic shot at winning the Cup this year. Whoever wins will end up having two things, health and luck. The Leafs had neither last year, and look what happened.

I think the randomness of hockey is undersold quite a bit. Kind of blows my mind how people can watch an amazing rivalry where the difference is one goal in a 4-3 series and then people make sweeping judgments on the loser and winner that are vastly different. Any dumb bounce can change those judgments. I believe the Leafs luck has to turn eventually. But hockey really is so random, so I have no idea. I think the Leafs are right there. Maybe this is the year they get a couple dumb bounces. It has to happen eventually. I hope it’s this year. I like this team a lot.

Brian BeLeafs: 2021 Season
Written and Illustrated by Brian Evinou
(Self-published, 168 pp., C$29 hc)

This interview has been edited.

Captain Courageous: Toronto’s short-lived playoff run began in 2021 with a May 20 loss to Montreal in which captain John Tavares was stretchered off the ice after a collision with Canadiens’ Corey Perry. “On his way off the ice,” Evinou writes, “Tavares lifted a thumbs-up to everyone watching from home. His thumbs-up seemed strong.”

hockey players in hospital beds: on the rangers ward

It was on a Monday of this same date in 1979 that New York Ranger teammates John Davidson and Ulf Nilsson woke up as roommates at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. Goaltender Davidson was already in residence, having  pulled a hamstring and aggravated a nerve in his back in a game against St. Louis five days earlier. Nilsson, New York’s leading scorer, joined him Sunday night after fracturing his right ankle as a result of running into Islanders’ defenceman Denis Potvin and launching a chant that reverberates to this day at Madison Square Garden. (That’s nurse Denise Boschen taking a check of Nilsson’s blood pressure.)

Already lacking defenceman Ron Greschner (separated shoulder), the Rangers still managed to make it to the Stanley Cup final that May. Davidson and Greschner were sufficiently repaired for the playoff run, and Nilsson made it back for the first game of the final against the Montreal Canadiens. He only lasted two games before the ankle gave out again, and so he missed the denouement, which saw Montreal sweep the next three games to take a fourth Cup in a row.

hockey players in hospital beds: the goalie wore (different) pyjamas

Wingman: A pinched nerve put Red Wing goaltender Terry Sawchuk in Detroit Osteopathic Hospital in March of 1964.

Terry Sawchuk played 53 of Detroit’s 70 regular-season games over the course of the 1963-64 season, and the 34-year-old goaltender was voted the Red Wings’ MVP when it was all over. He tended the team’s net for another 13 playoff game, a career-high for him, as he steered the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.

Still, Sawchuk, who was born in Winnipeg on a Saturday of this date in 1929, needed help along the way that year. He got it from a succession of back-ups and fill-ins: the Red Wings called on five other goaltenders that year to supplement their #1-wearing number one.

A 22-year-old Roger Crozier stepped in for 15 games during the regular-season, but he also had the starting gig for the AHL Pittsburgh Hornets. So in November of ’63, when Sawchuk wrenched a shoulder at the Olympia one night trying to foil a shot from Montreal’s Jean-Guy Talbot, 22-year-old standby by the name of Harrison Gray came in to play the only 40 minutes of his NHL career and take the loss.

Crozier took over the net while Sawchuk recovered, but not for long: in Detroit’s next game, a shot from Toronto’s Frank Mahovlich broke Crozier’s cheekbone. The veteran Hank Bassen, 30, was the next man to step into the breach, for one game.

Sawchuk was fine for a while after that. In March, as the playoffs approached, Detroit coach and GM Sid Abel elected rest him, putting in 21-year-old U.S. Olympic goalie Pat Rupp for what turned out to be the only game of his NHL career, a loss to Toronto.

Sawchuk was due back in net when Detroit started its playoff campaign against the Chicago Black Hawks. But the day before the opening game of the series, Sawchuk’s wife, Patricia, was rushed to Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital where she underwent an emergency appendectomy.

The surgery went well, the Detroit sports pages reported, and Sawchuk joined his teammates on the train heading west. Coach Abel was a bit worried, though: with this hospital detour of his, Sawchuk hadn’t been on skates in five days.

Detroit lost that opening game on the Thursday, but they came back to win the second game in Chicago the following Sunday — mostly without Sawchuk, as it transpired. Just five minutes into the game, he as forced to leave the game with a pinched nerve in his left shoulder. Drafted in to replace him this time was 21-year-old Bob Champoux, who got credit the 5-4 win in his NHL debut. It would be nine years before Champoux made it back to NHL ice: in 1973-74, he went 2-11-3 for the California Golden Seals.

Back home the next day, Sawchuk checked into Detroit Osteopathic Hospital, which is where the photograph here, above, was taken. It’s one of several, it might be noted, in which Sawchuk was seen over the course of his caeer in hospital in pyjamas; he was also, occasionally, photographed on gurneys and in surgery.

But back to 1964. While Sawchuk rested in hospital, Sid Abel had a new worry: in the wake of Sunday’s game, NHL president Clarence Campbell declared that Detroit wouldn’t be permitted to call up Roger Crozier; Champoux, he felt, would do fine.

Abel eventually convinced Campbell to change his mind, arguing that Champoux had been playing Junior B just a year before. But with Crozier standing by, Sawchuk, who’d been in traction for two days. He was released from hospital just three hours before puck-drop. He started the game and finished it, posting a 3-0 shutout.

“I thought I played well,” he said afterwards, “but then I started to get tired in the last period. I guess that’s what comes from being laid up.”

He was back in hospital getting treatment until just before the fourth game two nights later. “I sure hope he comes up with a repeat of Tuesday night’s performance,” Abel said.

Sawchuk tried, but late in the first period, he aggravated his shoulder yet again, and Crozier took over. He was on the hook for Detroit’s 3-2 overtime loss.

While Sawchuk and his nervy shoulder were released from hospital on the Saturday, Crozier started the next game, too, which the Black Hawks ended up winning, also by a score of 3-2. Crozier was busy that week: as well as doing his duty for the Red Wings, he was goaling for Pittsburgh in their AHL playoff with the Quebec Aces.

With Detroit down 3-2 in the series, Sawchuk returned to the ice for the final two games of the series, winning both, and sending his team to the Final. He played all seven games against Toronto that April as Detroit fell short.

It was Sawchuk’s last hurrah as a Red Wing: that June, when the team left him unprotected in the NHL draft, he was claimed by the Maple Leafs.

hockey players in hospital beds: murray balfour

Visiting Hour: Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, on a Monday of this date in 1936, right winger Murray Balfour was mostly a Chicago Black Hawk in his eight-year NHL season, though he also turned out for Montreal and Boston. That’s him abed on the right at Chicago’s Henrotin Hospital in late January of 1962 laughing it up with teammate Ab McDonald. Balfour was injured earlier that month in a 1-1 tie with the Red Wings in Detroit when a skate caught and cut his leg for 11 stitches; while he was convalescing, doctors removed a pin that had been inserted into his left wrist in the 1961 playoffs to shore up a broken bone. McDonald was in for treatment of a sore shoulder and neck. (Image: Bud Daley)

born on this day, in 1929: hockey’s headgear icon

Unmasked: Jacques Plante poses in December of 1959 with the mask he first donned in an NHL game a month earlier. (Image: Weekend Magazine/Louis Jaques/Library and Archives Canada)

In Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec, not far from Shawinigan, Jacques Plante was born on a Thursday of this date in 1929. He remains, of course, an icon of hockey headgear, renowned for tuques and masks that his coaches (Dick Irvin and Toe Blake, respectively) didn’t want him wearing on the ice. In The Jacques Plante Story, a 1972 memoir he collaborated on with Andy O’Brien, the goaltender is quoted telling an interviewer, “My business is getting shot at.” By the end of the 1970-71 NHL season, O’Brien suggests, the 42-year-old Plante had faced 28,545 big-league shots in 865 games. “That does not include the ‘friendly shots’ — possibly 100,000 of them — fired at him in practice,” O’Brien writes, “but they can’t be ignored be ignored because they twice put him in hospital.” Add a few thousand more to the final tally: beyond the book’s telling, Plante played a further two seasons in the NHL, along with a final year with the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers. He died in 1986, at the age of 57.

hockey coaches in hospital beds: down goes dutton

American Lit: Red Dutton gets a light for his cigarette from an unnamed nurse during his stay at Gotham Hospital in February of 1938.

Another month, another loss.

That was the story in the winter of 1938 for the New York Americans, who ended January with a 4-2 home defeat at the sticks of the Montreal Canadiens. Four days later, the Amerks started their February schedule with a 6-1 drubbing at Madison Square Garden by the Detroit Red Wings. That was their fourth loss in a row, and extended their winless streak to nine games. With a little over a month to go in the regular season, the Americans were in a fight for their playoff lives, just two points ahead of the Montreal Maroons and the basement of the NHL’s International Division.

Forty-year-old Red Dutton was in his third season as the New York coach and manager. His interest in the team, shall we say, ran deeper still: having captained the Americans as one of the NHL’s most effective and bruising defencemen until his retirement as a player in 1936, he was also a co-owner of the team.

The Americans’ slump had Dutton in a rage. He bent Harold Parrott’s ear after the Red Wings’ shellacking and Parrot, the hockey writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, was only too happy to share the coach’s none-too-complimentary musings with his readership.

Were the Americans altogether too clean-living to prosper in the rough and the tumble of NHL hockey? Dutton wondered, citing the example of his goaltender, Earl Robertson. “He never looks at a drink or a girl,” Dutton was quoted as saying, “goes to bed early and trains on a running track just to be in shape for hockey — and yet there must be spots in front of his eyes.”

Turning to defenceman Joe Jerwa, Dutton speculated that maybe he had too much money in the bank to care about buckling down and playing effective hockey. “But that can’t be the trouble,” Dutton went on, “because most of the other men haven’t the price of a ham sandwich and they still seem to play as if they didn’t care.”

Dutton advised Parrott that the team’s biggest lack was a defenceman who could rush the puck. He was apparently willing to name those he thought weren’t getting the job done, deeming fifth-year defender Al Murray “the worst of the lot,” according to Parrott.

I’m not the one who’s going to draw the line between that very public scorn and what happened next. It’s not for me to say that Dutton ending up in hospital a week later had anything to do with payback. I’m just reading old newspapers here and patching together what I’m seeing there.

That’s this:

The Americans played their next two games against the Montreals, tying the Canadiens 3-3 in Quebec, then coming home to beat the Maroons 3-1.

That was on the Tuesday, February 8. The Americans didn’t play again until the following Sunday, away to the Red Wings. With the annual Westminster Kennel Club moving in to occupy Madison Square Garden for the week, Dutton decided to take his team to Detroit early. Doc Holst of the local Free Press reported the exchange Dutton had with Jack Adams, his Red Wings counterpart, when the Americans showed up Friday at the Olympia to practice.

“Whatsa matter, Mervin [sic], no ice in the Gardens?” Jack Adams asked.

“Nope, no ice,” Red answered. “They drove us out to put on a dog show.” There was a bit of hurt pride in the redhead’s voice.

It was during that February 11 practice that Dutton suffered the injury that put him in the hospital and into the picture above. The coach was out on the ice, skating with his team when — well, here’s how the Associated Press accounted it:

He tried to carry the puck past his best body-checker, 155-pound Al Murray. Murray smacked his boss with a sound body-check, and Red went flat on his back.

He suffered through the weekend, much of which he seems to have spent abed at his hotel convinced that it was just a bad case of lumbago. He still managed to arrange a trade from that prone position, gaining winger Johnny Sorrell from the Red Wings in exchange for Hap Emms. The Sunday game finished as a 2-2 tie, whereupon the Amerks headed for home.

It was more than lumbago.

At some point back in New York, Dutton ended up in Gotham Hospital up on East 76th Street, under the care of Dr. Morton K. Hertz. A Thursday dispatch in The Daily News reported him to be “encased in a 10-pound plaster cast” as a result of his collision with Al Murray. The diagnosis was dire:

Dutton had torn the lower back (latissimus dorsi) muscles loose from the hip. They must heal before he can stand erect. Hemorrhages that produced a kidney stoppage further complicated his condition, causing intense pain.

The AP listed him as resting uncomfortably, if “very much ashamed of himself,” insofar as he’d never been seriously injured during his 15 professional seasons as a player. The last time he’d been in hospital, the Winnipeg Tribune cheerfully noted, was during the First World War, when he suffered “a bad dose of shrapnel.” That was a reference to his service with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, with whom he’d been badly wounded near Vimy in 1917. During his recovery, he’d been in danger of losing a leg to gangrene.

In 1938, with Dutton sidelined, veteran defenceman Ching Johnson stepped out of the Americans’ line-up to take his place on the bench for a Tuesday meeting with the Canadiens. The As won that game, 4-0.

In fact, Johnson continued to steer the team through a further four games.

That in and of itself is worth a notation: nowhere in the annals of NHL coaching records can I find Johnson getting credit for this brief coaching career of his, including in the NHL’s online register, here. Attention, NHL coaching historians and stats-keepers: Johnson’s name should be added (and Dutton’s adjusted) to reflect the respectable 3-1-1 record that then Americans compiled under their emergency-measures boss.

Red Dutton returned to duty for the Americans’ February 27 home game against the Montreal Maroons. Though they lost that night, 4-2, Dutton’s crew did make it into the playoffs later in March, going two rounds before they fell to upstart Chicago Black Hawks in the semi-finals.

Clarence Campbell was the referee for the second game of that series, controversially calling back a goal by the Americans’ Eddie Wiseman that would have won the game for New York and sent them to the Stanley Cup finals. As it was, Chicago prevailed in overtime and in the next game, too, ousting the Americans. Dutton’s protests didn’t help that, of course, but they did include a vow that his team would have no part of any subsequent playoff game officiated by Campbell.

Campbell’s post-reffing career was in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. His return to hockey came in 1946, when he took over as president of the NHL, succeeding the man who’d taken the job after Frank Calder’s death in 1943 — Red Dutton.

The end of the 1938 season saw Ching Johnson call it quits as an NHL player, subsequently taking his talents west to serve as playing coach for the American Hockey Association’s Minneapolis Millers. Before leaving New York, he was rewarded as all the Americans were that season: as reward for their ’37-38 playoff successes coach Dutton handed each man a bonus of $250.

 

 

hockey players in hospital beds: gordie howe

It was on this day in 1950 that Gordie Howe was grievously injured in a clash with Toronto’s Ted Kennedy, falling head-first into the boards at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium on the opening night of that year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Rushed to Harper Hospital, Howe was soon in surgery, where neurosurgeon Dr. Frederick Schreiber saved his life by draining fluid building up near the brain. In the memoir that writer and broadcaster Paul Haavardsrud ghosted on Howe’s behalf in 2014, the patient recalled being aware of the noise of the operation, and pressure on his head. “My most vivid memory from the 90-minute operation,” the tale is told in Mr. Hockey: My Story, “is hoping they’d know when to stop.”

There was much debate in 1950 about just what had happened on the ice that night. (In later years, the incident would be fodder for the pages of comic books.) Many witnesses at the Olympia held that Kennedy had high-sticked Howe with purpose, sending him into the boards, though Kennedy swore it wasn’t so. Howe’s version, circa 2014: “As I recollect it, I believe his stick hit me, but I don’t blame him for it. He was just following through on a backhand and trying not to get hit. Hockey’s a fast game and sometimes things happen.”

While Howe recovered (and, above, tended his mail) in hospital, Detroit went on without him to beat Toronto in seven games. They did the same to the New York Rangers to win the 1950 Cup, the Red Wings’ first since 1943. “As close as I came to shuffling off into the sunset at the tender age of 21,” Howe narrates in My Story, “I bounced back relatively quickly from surgery.” He joined Detroit for training camp that fall, donning a helmet, if only for a short spell, on the advice of his doctors.

à la douce mémoire

This 1926 Georges Vézina memorial postcard was sold at auction last month in Montreal for close to C$1,000. (Image: Classic Auctions)

Georges Vézina died 93 years ago, early in the morning of Saturday, March 27, 1926, at the hospital in his hometown, Chicoutimi. It was just four months since Vézina, who was 39, had tended goal for the last time for the Montreal Canadiens, departing the ice after a period in Montreal’s season-opening game in November of 1925 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, never to return.

Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he left Montreal in early December for Chicoutimi, where he spent his last days in the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. His Canadiens teammates planned to visit, but it’s not clear that they made it before he died; Montreal manager and coach Leo Dandurand — a close friend of the goaltender’s — does seem to have made the journey.

A Montreal reporter who visited Vézina in early March found him in a bad way, pale and weak, though peaceful enough under the watch of his wife of 20 years, Marie, and in the care of Drs. Riverin and Tremblay. The paper held off running of a photograph of the stricken goaltender until after this death — more on that here — but did publish a long, heartbreaking, and quite remarkable dispatch from Chicoutimi a week before the end.

“His case is desperate,” one of the doctors confided; it didn’t seem likely that he would survive the month.

“Formerly, he was always calm in his goal,” the reporter reported. “Neither the most exciting phases of a game nor the most distressing moments could deprive him of this firm, concentrated attitude. It’s still the same.”

“Georges knows he is going to die and he is resigned.”

The piece continues at some length, not only including (as you might expect) a detailed biographical sketch of the legendary goaltender, but also (as you might not) an itemized accounting of the family’s finances. There’s this exchange, too, from the hospital:

Georges has his full knowledge and a perfect clarity of spirit. At times, his face writhes horribly. As we approached his bed, he looked up. We looked at him and he asked:

“How’s Leo?”

“He’s fine.”

Georges gathered his strength and asked us clearly:

“Tell Leo,” he said in a low voice, “that I want to see him, absolutely. That he should come with all the players, all my comrades. I want to speak to them.”

As these few words exhausted him, we were about to retire when he signaled us to stay. His eyes lit up a little. Gathering all his strength, he asked us in a very low voice:

“Did the Canadiens win last night?”

The Canadiens had lost. But how to say this to Georges when he was there, on his bed of suffering, waiting with a tragic anxiety, and almost begging an answer in the affirmative answer?

We told a virtuous lie: “Yes, the Canadiens won!”

Georges smiled and gave a sigh of relief. His face flushed. But the gaiety soon disappeared, driven away by a fit of grief.

“What score?” he asked.

“Four to two.”

“If you knew how tired I am,” he said in a whisper.

Georges no doubt meant that the many defeats of the Canadiens weighed heavily on him.

As he was exhausted, we left him.

The game in question here did end 4-2 for Montreal — but it was the Maroons who prevailed at the Forum on the night of March 13, 1926, handing Canadiens their 12th loss in a row. Back in November, Frenchy Lacroix had replaced the irreplaceable Vézina, but he had subsequently given way in Montreal’s net to Herb Rheaume.

severely jarred, badly wrenched: the life and sore times of howie morenz

Bedridden: Chicago’s Mush March sent Howie Morenz crashing into the boards in March of 1934, sending Montreal’s star centre to hospital with a gash in his wrist and a broken thumb. Seen here the next day in a Chicago hospital alongside nurse Ruth Johnson, Morenz was said to be talking of retiring from hockey, though he soon denied that. “You can say,” he told reporters, that I am good for five — make it four, just to be sure — years more.”

An unhappy anniversary, Friday: 82 years ago, on March 8, 1937, Montreal Canadiens’ legendary centre Howie Morenz died of a coronary embolism at Montreal’s Hôpital Saint-Luc. He was 34. In the pages of my 2014 book Puckstruck, I wrote about the hurts and hazards Morenz endured during his 15-year NHL career, on the ice and off it. An updated and expanded version of that would look like this:

I don’t think goalposts hated Howie Morenz — there’s no good proof of that. From time to time they did injure him, but you could reasonably argue that in those cases he was as much to blame as they were. Did they go out of their way to attack him? I don’t believe it. What, possibly, could the goalposts have had against poor old Howie?

Morenz was speedy and didn’t back down and, well, he was Morenz, so other teams paid him a lot of what still gets called attention, the hockey version of which differs from the regular real-life stuff in that it can often be elbow-shaped and/or crafted out of second-growth ash, graphite, or titanium. But whether your name is Morenz or something plainer with hardly any adjectives attached to it at all, doesn’t matter, the story’s the same: the game is out to get you.

In 1924, his first season as a professional with Canadiens, Montreal battled Ottawa for the NHL title, which they won, though in the doing Morenz developed what the Ottawa Citizen diagnosed as a certain stiffness resulting from water on the knee.

That drained away, or evaporated, or maybe it didn’t — in any case, Morenz played on as Montreal advanced to vie for the Stanley Cup against Western challengers from Vancouver and Calgary. In a March game against the Vancouver Maroons, he was badly bruised about the hip, I’m not entirely sure how, perhaps in a third-period encounter with Frank Boucher that the Vancouver Sun rated a minor melee?

Canadiens beat the Calgary Tigers in Ottawa to win the Cup, but not before Morenz went down again. He made it back to Montreal before checking into the Royal Victoria Hospital. Montreal’s Gazette had the provisional report from there. The ligaments in Morenz’s left shoulder were certainly torn and once the x-rays came back they’d know whether there was any fracture. What happened? The paper’s account cited a sobering incident without really going into detail:

His injury was the result of an unwarranted attack by Herb Gardiner in the second period of the game, following a previous heavy check by Cully Wilson.

(Wilson was and would continue to be a notorious hockey bad man, in the parlance of the time; within three seasons, Gardiner would sign on with Canadiens.)

Subsequent bulletins reported no fractures, though his collarbone had relocated, briefly. Morenz would be fine, the Royal Victoria announced, though he’d need many weeks to recuperate. Those came and went, I guess. There’s mention of him playing baseball with his Canadiens teammates that summer, also of surgery of the nose and throat, though I don’t know what that was about. By November was reported ready to go, signing his contract for the new season and letting Montreal manager Leo Dandurand that he was feeling fine.

In 1926, January, a rumour condensed in the chill air of Montreal’s Forum and took shape and then flow, and wafted out into the winter of the city, along Ste. Catherine and on through the night, and by the following morning, a Sunday, it had frozen and thawed and split into smaller rumours, one of which divulged that Howie Morenz has broken his neck, another blacker one still, Howie Morenz is dead.

The truth was that in a raucous game against the Maroons he ran into Reg Noble. With two minutes left in the game he carried the puck into enemy ice, passed by Punch Broadbent, was preparing to shoot when … “Noble stopped him with a body check.”

Not a malicious attack, said the Gazette. Still,

Morenz went spinning over the ice. He gathered himself together until he was in a kneeling position after which he collapsed and went down, having to be carried from the ice.

In the game’s final minutes, with Noble serving out punishment on the penalty bench, Maroons’ centre Charlie Dinsmore’s efforts to rag the puck, kill off the clock, so irritated some Canadiens’ fans that they couldn’t keep from hurling to the ice their bottles, their papers, many of their coins — and one gold watch, too, such was their displeasure, and their inability to contain it. Police arrested five men who maybe didn’t expect to be arrested, though then again, maybe it was all worth it, for them.

Dinsmore kept the watch for a souvenir.

In February, when the Maroons and Canadiens met again, this time at the Mount Royal Arena, Maroons prevailed once more. It was the third period when, as the Gazette recounted it,

Morenz had got clear down the left aisle. He tore in at terrific speed on Benedict but before he could get rid of his shot, Siebert and Noble tore in from opposite directions. Siebert bodied Morenz heavily. The Canadien flash came up with a bang against the Montreal goal post and remained on the ice doubled up. He had taken a heavy impact and had to be carried off the ice.

The diagnosis: not only was Morenz (and I quote) severely jarred, a tendon at the back of his ankle proved badly wrenched.

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victory lap: in 1942, the nhl’s aged all-stars lined up in boston

Elder Flair: The NHL All-Stars who lined up to play the Bostons Bruins on Friday, February 6, 1942 in support of the U.S. Army Relief Society: Back row, left to right: Boston Olympics trainer Red Linskey, Marty Barry, Frank Boucher, Bill Cook, Tiny Thompson, Bun Cook, Ching Johnson, Major-General Thomas A. Terry, George Owen, Cy Wentworth, Red Horner. Front: Busher Jackson, Charlie Conacher, Hooley Smith, Herbie Lewis, Larry Aurie, Joe Primeau, Eddie Shore.

The NHL didn’t play its first official All-Star Game until 1947, in Toronto, though the league’s marquee players were involved in a little-remembered all-star series in Cleveland in 1918 at the end of the NHL’s very first campaign. Between those dates, the best of the NHL’s best did also convene for several benefit games — in 1934, for one, after Toronto’s Ace Bailey had his career ended by Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins, and in 1937 and ’39 (for two more) after the sudden, shocking respective deaths of Howie Morenz and Babe Siebert.

The wartime winter of 1942 saw another gathering of premier players — though in this case, many of them were retired from regular NHL duty. Then again, at the Boston Garden on that Friday, February 6, the stars who turned out to play when the senescent All-Stars met the (not-yet-retired) Boston Bruins were only asked to play two 15-minute periods mixed into a regular-season game the Bruins’ farm team, the EAHL Boston Olympics, were playing against the Johnstown Bluebirds. A crowd of 14, 662 showed to see the evening’s program, which raised more than US$14,000 for military widows and orphans supported by the U.S. Army Relief Society.

Major-General Thomas Terry the evening’s military patron, a man who, for his day job, was in command of what was known as the First Corps Area, and thereby largely in charge of defending New England against enemy invasion. Meeting in January of ’42 with Boston sportswriters to announce the All-Star exhibition, he explained the good work that the Army Relief Society did and thanked the Bruins for supporting the cause. To those who wondered whether the NHL and other sporting organizations might be forced to suspend operations because of the war, his message was … equal parts mildly reassuring and grimly ominous.

“Go ahead and plan your sports as you have before,” General Terry said. “Go along until something happens to cause a curtailment. There is no reason to get panicky, but take reasonable precautions at all times. If it does become necessary for a curtailment, it will be apparent to all of us.”

To the Bruins that NHL mid-season, what might have seemed apparent was that their chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions had already been all but suspended. They were still lodged in second place in the seven-team standings, behind the New York Rangers, but there was a sense that winter that health and international hostilities were working against them.

Centre Bill Cowley was out with a broken jaw and goaltender Frank Brimsek had just missed a game with a broken nose. The week of the Army benefit the Bruins went north to play the Maple Leafs, and did beat them — but left two forwards behind in Toronto General Hospital, Herb Cain and Dit Clapper, to be tended for a fractured cheek and a badly cut ankle, respectively.

Adding induction to injury, Bruins’ manager Art Ross was about to lose his top line, the famous Krauts, to the war effort: after Friday’s benefit, Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart, and Bobby Bauer would play one more NHL game, against Montreal on February 10, before departing the ice to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.

For all that, the abridged All-Star exhibition of February, 1942, was a success. A few notes on the night, which ended in a 4-4 tie, might include these:

• The referee on the night, Bill Stewart, had retired from NHL whistleblowing, but he was glad to partake. “I was in the Navy in the last war,” he said, “and I stand ready to do anything I can to help a cause which benefits any servicemen.”

• Tickets for the best seats — in the boxes, on the promenade, and some along the sides —were priced at $2.50 each. Lower-stadium and first-balcony tickets went for $1.65 and $1.10. An unreserved place in the upper balcony would set you back 55 cents.

• The Garden was dark for the introductions, except for a pair of spotlights that followed the players as they skated out to the blueline accompanied (the Boston Globe recorded) by “a fanfare of drums.”

Eddie Shore, who appeared last, got a two-minute ovation, and gave a little speech. “Everyone has special thrills in their lives,” he told the faithful, “but none of you know how much I appreciate this welcome or how I feel this evening. It’s like a fellow whom you haven’t seen for a long time walking up to you, holding out his hand, and slapping you on the shoulder. Then he says, ‘Gee, it’s nice to see you.’ That’s how I feel tonight, and thank you very much.”

• Also warmly received: former Bruins Tiny Thompson and Cooney Weiland along with Charlie Conacher and Ching Johnson, “whose bald dome glistened beautifully under the klieg lights.” Former Leaf Red Horner got cheers and boos — “and the big redhead showed the combination made him feel right at home by breaking out with a broad smile.”

• At 39, Shore was still skating professionally, the playing coach for his own AHL Springfield Indians. Busher Jackson, 31, was the only other active player on the All-Star roster — he was a serving Bruin. Both Shore and Jackson had, incidentally, played in all four benefit games cited above — the Bailey, Morenz, Siebert, and Army Relief.

• Jackson reunited with his old Maple Leaf Kid Line linemates on the night, Charlie Conacher, 32, and Joe Primeau, 36. Oldest man in the game was Bill Cook, 46, who lined up with his old New York Ranger linemates, brother Bun (44) and Frank Boucher (40). For some reason, no Montreal Canadiens alumni appeared in the game. The lack didn’t go unnoticed: a letter from a hockey purist published in the Globe that week complained that organizing a game like this without Aurèle Joliat or any Hab greats was like “having an American League old-timers’ game without including Ty Cobb or the New York Yankees.”

• Marty Barry and Larry Aurie said they hadn’t skated in, oh, a year. The Globe: “Large Charlie Conacher weighed in at 245 pounds for the affair, although Marty Barry looked plenty hefty at the 215 to which he admitted.”

• Warming up, the veterans all wore sweaters of the teams they’d last played for in the NHL — except for Shore, who showed up in his Springfield duds. For the game, the whole team wore the bestarred V (for Victory) sweaters shown in the photograph. Hooley Smith was pleased to learn he could keep his: in all his 17 years in the NHL, he said, he’d never kept any of his sweaters.

• Just before the opening puck-drop, as they’d always done in their Boston years together, Weiland and Thompson “went through their old Bruins’ custom of having Cooney put the last practice puck past Tiny.”

• “Believe it or not,” The Globe noted, “the old-timers actually had a wide territorial edge during the first period.”

• Injured Bill Cowley was called on to coach the Bruins, while Cooney Weiland took charge of the All-Stars. To start the second period, he put out five defencemen: Horner at centre between Cy Wentworth and George Owen, Shore and Johnson backing them on the blueline.

• Globe reporter Gerry Moore: “While truthful reporting demands the information that the glamorous old-timers were aided by some lenient officiating and no bodychecking from the Bruins in pulling off their garrison finish, the All-Stars displayed enough of their form from glory days to make the night not only the best financially of any single event staged for the Army Relief Fund, but one of the most interesting presentations ever offered in the Hub.”

• The Bruins went up 3-0 in the first half, on a pair goals from Bobby Bauer and one by rookie Gordie Bruce. In the second, the All-Stars went on a run, with Bill Cook twice beating Frank Brimsek and George Owen and Busher Jackson following his example.

• With “the rallying old men” ahead by 4-3, the game … failed to end. “At 15:56, or 56 seconds after the final gong should have been sounded,” Bruce again beat Tiny Thompson to tie the score. All the players hit the ice after that, with all 32 players playing “shinny in an effort to break the stalemate without success.”

• Eddie Shore was deemed the star of the night. “The crowd yelled for the Edmonton Express to pull off one of his patented rushes, but Eddie played cagily in the opening session.” Eventually he gave the people what they wanted, though he didn’t score. Thompson, too, was a stand-out.

And: “Bald Beaned Ching Johnson also came up with several thrilling gallops,” Gerry Moore wrote.