leo bourgault: it irked him to just defend

Newspaper accounts of Leo Bourgault from his days as an NHL defenceman sometimes — often, even — spelled his name Bourgeault, and called the town he came from Spurgeon Falls. Bourgault, who was born on this day in 1903 in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, near North Bay, died in 1978 at the age of 75.

He started his professional career with Newsy Lalonde’s Saskatoon Crescents in the old WHL in 1924-25 before leaping to the NHL, where he spent most of his eight-year career as a New York Ranger, he helping them win a Stanley Cup in 1928. He had stints, too, in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. As a Canadien, he was a close friend of Howie Morenz’s, and may well have been one of the Habs who wore a sweater numbered 99 during the 1934-35 season.

They said he had the heart of a forward. Harold Burr did, hockey correspondent for the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “He’s forever breaking loose from a tangle of players and streaking away on running runners,” he wrote in 1929. “It irks him to just defend.”

“The wide-spreading stocky little youth” is a string of epithets referring to Bourgault you might come cross, if you go searching: another is “stocky little blue-shirted meteor.” The damage he suffered as a hockey player included a 1929 lump on the face (courtesy of the Montreal Maroons) that Burr described as “the size of an Easter egg as vari-colored.” In 1927, a collision with Reg Noble of the Detroit Cougars broke his nose doubly, which is say two nose-bones fractured, and needed surgery.

In New York, he shared an apartment with goaltender John Ross Roach. Sometimes when he talked to a local reporter he said, “In the fall at home I go after moose — just another fellow and myself. We head in for a lumber camp in the heart of the wilderness, where they cut pulp wood, with just a blanket, paddle, and tent.”

“It’s a great way to keep in physical trim,” he told Burr — hunting, that is. The newspaperman lapped it up, filling a column with Bourgault’s off-season exploits “around his home in the far Canadian country,” where he enjoyed his “mother’s home cooking of juicy steaks, wild ducks, and big fat trout.”

Some other summers Bourgault spent at Jasper Park Lodge, in Alberta, where he had a job as manager of the transportation desk. I don’t know whether he did any hunting out west, but he was working out, certainly, and golfing. That’s him on the course here, negotiating a porcupine hazard in 1927. A year later, he met a black bear. Good to see that Bourgault was wearing his Rangers’ sweater.


everything you need in the woods


Dit Clapper, hero of hundreds of hockey games, oldest player in point of service and active up to last year as player-coach of the Bruins, is like many other athletes, an avid outdoorsman. He has shot ducks, geese, prairie chickens, pheasants, bear, deer, moose, and caribou. Wing-shooting is his favourite just as it is with many sports stars we know.

That’s Jim Hurley writing in Sport magazine in January of 1948 about the off-ice activities of the long-time Hall-of-Fame Boston winger and defenceman who’s seen above, on the right, with a duck-shooting friend, probably in the 1930s.

Sport was good enough to publish Clapper’s own “Tips To Outdoorsmen.” It’s worth reproducing them here, in the public interest:

• Err on the large side when choosing your shot. Pick a shot that will do the job and not leave cripples. I like 4’s for ducks, and have used 2’s and 0’s for geese.

• My favourite barrel length is 32 inches; it gets the stuff out there.

•  Try for a neck shot by all means on deer. It’s even more deadly than a heart shot. If you fire late, you’re apt to make a hit in the vital, high-back area.

• Have everything you need in the woods. The biggest single necessity is means of making a fire.

• A lost man can get along without food and water for days, but cold will kill him if he can’t keep himself warm overnight. Dry matches, therefore, are of the utmost importance at all times in the woods.

• Be methodical and certain; imprudence never pays. I found out, and now I know.

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