just play the game

Slapper: Born in 1941 on a Friday of this date in Big River, Saskatchewan, Jim Neilson made the switch from left wing to defence as a junior in Prince Albert. Loosing a shot here in 1971, when he was a veteran of 30, Neilson made his debut with the Rangers in 1962, and manned the blue line in New York for 12 years before joining the California Golden Seals for the 1974-75 season. He was captain in California and for the Cleveland Barons, too, after the Seals moved north. He finished his career with a season in the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers. “I’m an easygoing guy,” he said in the ’80s, looking back on his career. “I never look far ahead and I’ve used that philosophy all my life. I just play the game. It’s over, and there’ll probably be one again tomorrow.” Jim Neilson died on November 6, 2020, at the age of 78.

st. philip’s

A day for remembering today, for truth and reflection and commemoration. On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we honour the survivors of Canada’s residential schools as well as those who never returned home.

From the collection of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, this photograph shows students from the St. Philip’s Residential School in Saskatchewan in 1940. Run by the Catholic Missionary Oblate Sisters, St. Philip’s history dates back to 1902 and the construction of a boarding school on the Keeseekoose First Nation, a Saulteaux reserve near Kamsack. The NCTR page for St. Philip’s (here) tells this story:

Poor conditions in the school led to its closure in 1914. It reopened in 1927 as the St. Philip’s school. In 1957 the school farm ceased operation and the boarding school was increasingly used as a residence for students attending local day schools. During the 1960s, a period when sexual and physical abuse was a widespread problem at the school, a school supervisor was dismissed for mistreatment of students. The school closed in 1969.

As the NCTR also notes, a National Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students. This 24-hour Crisis Line can be accessed at: 1-866-925-4419.

gold standard

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, respect to Kenneth Moore, Peepeekisis First Nation, who played fleet right wing for Winnipeg when they won the hockey championship representing Canada at the wintry 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Born in 1910 near Balcarres, Saskatchewan, Moore is recognized as the first Indigenous athlete to win Olympic gold. He got into the line-up for Canada’s penultimate game on Lake Placid ice, scoring a goal in the team’s 10-0 win over Poland. Moore’s hockey resumé also includes a 1930 Abbott Cup (Western Canadian Junior championship), which he won playing the Regina Pats; a 1930 Memorial Cup (Moore scored the goal that secured the championship over the West Toronto Nationals); and a pair of Allan Cup championships, in 1932 with Winnipeg and in 1936 with the Kimberley Dynamiters. Kenneth Moore died in 1981 at the age of 71.

Manitoba Proud: Coach Jack Hughes steered Canada’s Olympians to gold in Lake Placid in 1932. He’s in the middle of the front row, fifth from the right. Kenneth Moore, also upfront, is second from left. Goaltender Bill Cockburn is next to him, on the end at far left.

wingman

Sweet Sixteen: Born in the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota, on a Friday of this date in 1951, Henry Boucha is 71 today. A centreman, Boucha helped the United States win a silver medal at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. His NHL career spanned six seasons, during which he skated for the Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota North Stars, Colorado Rockies, and Kansas City Scouts; he had a season, as well, with Minnesota’s WHA Fighting Saints. That’s him here, numbered 16, sporting his trademark headband, in LeRoy Neiman’s vivid 1973 serigraph, “Red Goal.” His happy teammates are harder to identify. Tim Ecclestone? Nick Libett? The referee has a bit of a Ron Wicks air to him — unless it’s a Lloyd Gilmour look?

ayrtime: buddy maracle’s story set to feature tonight on rogers hometown hockey

Card Game: From 2018, a souvenir card, back and front, issued in Ayr, Ontario, in recognition of Indigenous hockey pioneer Buddy Maracle.

Unremembered for so long by hockey’s history, neglected so adamantly by institutions (looking at you, NHL, New York Rangers, and the Hockey Hall of Fame) that should know and be better, Buddy Maracle is, 90 years after he took his historic turn on NHL ice as a New York Ranger, getting some of the recognition he deserves.

Already this fall the legacy of this Indigenous pioneer has been commemorated with a street-naming, and there’s word, too, that Maracle is slated to feature on an upcoming hockey card.

And then there’s tonight: with Tara Slone and Ron MacLean dropping the puck on a new season of Rogers Hometown Hockey on Sportsnet from the southern-Ontario township of North Dumfries, his story is set to be featured between periods on Monday’s broadcast of the modern-day Toronto Maple Leafs taking on the Blueshirts of Broadway.

You might have read about Buddy Maracle and the hockey establishment’s inattention, maybe even here on Puckstruck. (If not, you can find chroniclings of what we know about one of the NHL’s first Indigenous players and the NHL’s strange reluctance to recognize his achievements, here and here and herehere, too.)

In The News: Maracle Way got the front-page treatment in an end-of-September edition of the Ayr News.

You might remember that Maracle, an Oneida Mohawk who died at the age of 53 in 1958, was born in 1904 in Ayr, the seat of North Dumfries, on the traditional territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River. It was in Ayr, in September, that a street in a new local housing development was named Maracle Way. As has been the regular case in the revival of Buddy Maracle’s story as well as the effort to bring it to the fore over the past several years, Ayr News reporter Irene Schmidt-Adeney was instrumental in this effort; on hand for the unveiling were members of the Maracle family, including his great-great-niece, Christine Pritchard, along with her aunt, Nancy Maracle.

Word of a forthcoming Buddy Maracle hockey card has been afloat for a while — it’s due to debut as part of an Upper Deck promotional set highlighting Indigenous players, including Jimmy Jamieson — though it’s still not quite clear just what that might look like, or when it could be available.

Memories of Maracle: Display at a 2019 event honouring local NHLers as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day (known locally as Solidarity Day) on Six Nations of the Grand River.

 

 

 

joe benoit: pacing a punch line in montreal, scoring a scad across pre-war europe

Punch-Line Original: Joe Benoit played three seasons for the Canadiens in the early 1940s before war interceded. After serving with Canada’s armed forces,  he returned to the Canadiens in 1945.

The Montreal Canadiens headed into the 1940 NHL season with optimism — though, of course, what else were they going to embrace, having finished the previous campaign plumb last in the seven-team NHL?

They did have a new coach at the helm, the great Dick Irvin, and as the team’s training camp wound down towards the start of the new season, he was talking … well, he sounded a little defensive, to be honest. “We’ll have a team by November 3,” he said; “we won’t be any pushovers.”

He did have an impressive rookie class at his disposal. That fall, Canadiens added 20-year-old centre Johnny Quilty, who end up winning the Calder Trophy that season as the league’s top rookie, along with a few other quality assets (and future Hall-of-Famers) in centre 23-year-old Elmer Lach, defenceman Ken Reardon, 19. Also making his debut: 24-year-old right winger Joe Benoit, who was born on a Sunday of today’s date in 1916.

With Irvin at the helm, Montreal did improve that year, clambering into the playoffs … before clattering out, in the first round, at the hands of the Chicago Black Hawks. Quilty finished as the team’s top scorer, with 18 goals and 34 points in 48 games, just ahead of the veteran captain Toe Blake (12 goals, 32 points) and Benoit (16 goals, 32 points).

As one of the NHL’s first Indigenous players, Benoit deserves more recognition than he’s been accorded to date. If we’re talking about the league itself, that recognition is — well, non-existent. At this late date, the NHL still, for some reason, chooses to ignore the stories of trailblazers like Buddy Maracle, Jim Jamieson, Johnny Harms, and Benoit.

His story, Joe Benoit’s, seems to have started in the northern Alberta community of Egg Lake, though he grew up (like Mark Messier and Jarome Iginla) in St. Albert, to Edmonton’s north. The records I’ve reviewed aren’t entirely clear on his family’s history.  His father’s mother was Métis. In 1921, when Joe was four, the Census of Canada lists his father’s “origin” as French and the rest of the family (his mother and four siblings) as Cree.

Later, the story of young Joe’s hockey origins was told this way: with no arena in St. Albert or even an outdoor rink, he puckhandled through the streets. “Benoit learned his hockey with a homemade stick and a piece of ice as a puck, stickhandling his way up and down the main street of the tiny western hamlet. He developed his stickhandling wizardry by flipping the pieces of ice out of reach of paws and jaws of two gambolling dogs. This was Joe’s only opposition until he went to the Edmonton South Side Athletic Club in 1935, where he had his first taste of team play.”

That’s from 1943. No telling now how romanticized a scene-setting that is. There’s no explicit mention, you’ll note, of skates, though subsequent retellings added those, too.

Benoit’s NHL career was noteworthy, interrupted as it was by war and service (and hockey) with the Canadian armed forces. He played just five seasons in the big league, all of them with Montreal. He was the right winger for the Canadiens’ top line in the early ’40s, skating with Lach and Toe Blake on the original Punch Line, before a bright young prospect by the name of Maurice Richard took his place. Benoit’s best season was 1942-43, which he finished with 30 goals and 57 points. The year he returned to the NHL, 1945-46, Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, but a back injury kept him out of the playoffs, and his name wasn’t among those stamped in the silverware.

Back between his street-skating years in St. Albert and his first turn on Montreal Forum ice, Benoit, who died at the age of 65 in 1981, did win a couple of notable championships. In 1938, his Trail Smoke Eaters burst out of B.C. Western Kootenay Hockey League to win the Allan Cup, the national senior title.

That earned the team the right to represent Canada the following year at the World Championships, which they did, embarking on a truly remarkable odyssey through Europe on the brink of the war.

Sailing from Halifax aboard the Duchess of York in mid-December of 1938, the Smokies eventually made their way to Switzerland in the new year, where they defended the world title won the previous year by the Sudbury Wolves and by the Kimberley Dynamiters the year before that. In 1939, Trail went undefeated in eight games, beating Germany, Czechoslovakia (twice), and the United States along the way.

Glory to that, but that’s not the remarkable part. Before they set sail for Canada on the Duchess of Richmond in April of 1939, the Smoke Eaters barnstormed their way around Europe, playing 70 games in three-and-a-half months. In Scotland and England they skated, and through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.

Along the way, they compiled a record of 67-1-2, with their only loss coming by a score of 4-1 in London against an all-Canadian team, the Wembley All-Stars.

Joe Benoit counted the only goal for Trail that night. All told, he scored some 60 goals on the tour, leading all the Smoke Eaters in scoring, including a couple of other future NHLers in left winger Bunny Dame, who’d join Benoit in Montreal, and right winger Johnny McCreedy, who served a short stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mere months from the outbreak of war, the hockey players returned to Canada happy but tired, with tales to tell. “The players criticized the food in Germany,” the Regina Leader-Post noted, “where they said a lack of butter, white bread, and meat existed.”

“The players had never seen so many soldiers before,” reported Vancouver’s Province, quoting an unnamed player: “It was terrible in Germany — soldiers, soldiers, soldiers.”

“The streets were full of the them,” the Province continued, “and windows full of uniforms. England was busy digging tunnels as a precaution against air-raids and gas attacks.”

Our Joe: An Edmonton report on the European adventures of Benoit and the Smokies from January of 1939.

erratum

First thing first: no, George Armstrong was not the first NHL player of Indigenous descent to score a goal in the league.

Despite what the Toronto Maple Leafs might be saying by way of a memorial video that debuted yesterday, and contrary to reports that have taken the Leafs’ word on this and sown the error into the pages of CBC.ca and the New York Times, the fact is that, no, he wasn’t.

This is not about Armstrong, who died on Sunday at the age of 90. His virtues as a man have been duly celebrated since then, rightly and reverently so, even as his record as an exceptional hockey player and leader have been revisited. It’s an amazing one, that record. Known as Chief throughout his playing days, Armstrong spent 75 years associated with the Leafs. No-one has played more games for Toronto than him. His 12 seasons as Toronto captain stands as the longest tenure of any leader in club history.

He was a proud Leaf: of that, there’s no doubt. The son of an Algonquin mother (her father was Mohawk), Armstrong  embraced his Indigenous heritage. That’s not in question.

The New York Times ran an Armstrong obituary on January 24.

But he wasn’t the first NHLer of Indigenous descent to score a goal.

This is not something the Leafs should be getting wrong. It’s also not entirely surprising that the team has promulgated the error and caused others to repeat it.

Unfortunately, it reflects the NHL’s haphazard approach to its own past. It’s not just in matters of Indigenous history that the league’s blithe indifference has smudged and erased the record, though that has become an ignominious specialization in recent years.

The Leafs’ confident claim is entirely in line with the example that continues to be set by the corporate NHL, which so often seems to see its history as so much marketing material, useful when it’s colourful or supports a convenient narrative, easy to ignore when it’s painful or problematic, why would you carefully curate it for posterity and the sake of, um, just getting it right?

There concludes the haranguing part of the program. Now this:

The night of Saturday, February 9, 1952 was when 21-year-old George Armstrong grabbed his first goal, the first of 322 he’d score in his career. The scene was Maple Leafs Gardens, and the goal was a pretty one, defying Montreal goaltender Gerry McNeil’s best effort to prevent it. It was the winner in a 3-2 Leaf decision over the Canadiens.

Armstrong’s first goal came eight years after Johnny Harms got his first, also against Montreal.

Harms was from Saskatchewan, born in Battleford to a mother who was Cree. He spent most of his long career in the minors, but he did have some success with the Chicago Black Hawks as a right winger over two seasons in the mid-1940s. He scored eight goals all told in the NHL; that first one came on a Thursday, April 6, 1944, when he spoiled Bill Durnan’s bid for a shutout in a 3-1 Chicago loss to Montreal in the second game of the Stanley Cup finals.

Four years before Harms scored that one, Joe Benoit took his turn, scoring his first goal one Sunday night in 1940, November 17, when he helped his Habs tie the Black Hawks 4-4 at Chicago Stadium. Paul Goodman was in the Chicago net.

Benoit, who was Métis, was either born in St. Albert, Alberta, or in the north of the province, at Egg Lake — the records I’ve looked at don’t agree on this.

His NHL career lasted just five seasons, all of them with the Canadiens, during which scored 81 goals, regular season and playoffs. He has the distinction of playing on the first incarnation of Montreal’s famous Punch Line, skating the right wing with Elmer Lach and Toe Blake in the early 1940s before Maurice Richard showed up.

On we go, back again, nine years before Benoit.

Buddy Maracle was Oneida Mohawk, born in Ayr, Ontario. I’ve written before hereabout annotating his first and only NHL goal. It came on Sunday, February 22, 1931, when Maracle’s New York Rangers walloped the visiting Philadelphia Quakers by a score of 6-1. Maracle assisted on Cecil Dillon’s fifth Ranger goal before Dillon passed him the puck and Maracle beat Quakers goaltender Wilf Cude to complete New York’s scoring.

Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in 1900, Clarence “Taffy” Abel had an outstanding career as a hard-hitting defenceman.

You can look it up: he’s in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1924, he played for the U.S. team that took silver at the Winter Olympics in Chamonix, in France. Conn Smythe subsequently signed him up to play for expansion New York Rangers in 1926, which he did for three stellar seasons, pairingoften with Ching Johnson. They were a formidable pair on the blueline, and played no small part in New York’s 1928 Stanley Cup championship. Later, Abel joined Chicago for a further five seasons, winning another Cup in 1934, his final NHL campaign.

Back in those playing days of his, Abel doesn’t seem to have talked about his Indigenous background — not in any public way, at least. But as Abel’s nephew, George Jones, has pointed out, Abel’s maternal grandfather, John Gurnoe, was a member of the Chippewa nation. (Jones has a new website devoted to his uncle here.)

Abel’s first NHL goal? New York was in Boston on the night of Tuesday, December 7, 1926. He dashed the length of the rink to score the game’s lone tally, beating Doc Stewart in the Bruins’ net to secure the Rangers’ 1-0 win.

george armstrong, 1930—2021

Friendly Giant: A triumphant George Armstrong towers over grateful fans on the cover of the 1962-63 Leafs media guide.

Twenty-one NHL seasons George Armstrong played, all of them in the blue and the white of Toronto’s Maple Leafs. The sombre news from the team today is of Armstong’s death at the age of 90. Born in Skead, Ontario, northeast of Sudbury, he would grow up to captain the Leafs for 12 seasons, the longest tenure of any leader in team history. He played 1,298 games for Toronto, regular season and playoffs, collecting 322 goals and 773 points. Winner of an Allan Cup in 1950 with the Toronto Marlboros, he led the Leafs to four Stanley Cups, in 1962, 1963, 1964, as well as that long-ago last one in1967. As a coach, he steered the Marlboros to two Memorial Cups, in 1973 and 1975. He coached the Leafs, too, in 1988 and into ’89, when he held the fort between the John Brophy and Doug Carpenter eras. George Armstrong was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.

chicago’s mr. april

Snowing The Goalie: That’s Johnny Harms with a spray and a shot on his Chicago Black Hawks teammate Mike Karakas circa 1944 or ’45.

“He is Johnny Harms, a 19-year-old lad from Saskatoon, Sask., and hockey being what it is, Johnny could be a personage before the seven-game series runs its course.”

That’s Edward Prell of Chicago’s Tribune appraising the right winger the local Black Hawks called up early in April of 1944 from the AHL’s Hershey Bears to supplement their roster as they prepared to play a final for the Stanley Cup against the Montreal Canadiens.

As it turned out, the rookie Harms would prove a personage, scoring in three of the four games the series lasted as Montreal swept to victory. If his goals were not quite enough to turn things around, they were still noteworthy in their own way. That spring, Harms, who died on a Sunday of this date in 2003 at the age of 77, became the first player in NHL history to score the first three goals of his career in a Stanley Cup final.

He was born in 1925, not in Saskatoon, but northwest of the city, in Battleford, to John Laird and Helen Haubeck. His mother was Cree. He was subsequently adopted by Helen and John Harms, Sr., Dutch Mennonite farmers.

In the second game of the 1944 final, Harms scored Chicago’s only goal as the Black Hawks fell 3-1 to go two games down at the Stadium, cracking Bill Durnan’s shutout with just a second remaining.

Next game he scored his team’s second goal, using Canadiens’ defenceman Glen Harmon as a screen to beat Durnan. (Chicago lost that one 3-2.)

In the fourth and final game, Harms scored while Toe Blake was serving a penalty for crosschecking. His linemates George Allen and Cully Dahlstrom set him up on that one to put the Black Hawks up (briefly) 2-1 … only to see  Canadiens storm back to win 5-4 in overtime to take the Stanley Cup.

Harms stuck around in Chicago the following season, wearing number 9 for the Black Hawks while seeing regular duty on the wing. He collected five goals and ten points in 43 games. That was his last year in the NHL, though he carried on until 1961 in several minor leagues, ending up in British Columbia, where he captained the Vernon Canadians of the Okanagan Senior league to a 1956 Allan Cup championship.

fred sasakamoose, 1933—2020

On NHL Ice: Fred Sasakamoose skates for Chicago, circa 1953-54.

Sad news this hour, via Hockey Night in Canada‘s Chris Johnston, that hockey pioneer Fred Sasakamoose has died in hospital in Saskatchewan at the age of 86. His son Neil Sasakamoose shared the news this afternoon on Facebook, here.

jim neilson, 1940—2020

The New York Rangers are reporting the sad news this hour that former defenceman Jim Neilson has died at the age of 78. Born in 1940 in Big River, Saskatchewan, northwest of Prince Albert, Neilson, whose mother was Cree, made his debut with the New York Rangers in 1962. He played a dozen seasons with the Blueshirts before GM Emile Francis engineered a deal in 1974 via the waiver draft that saw Derek Sanderson join the Rangers from Boston, while the Bruins got Walt McKechnie from the the California Golden Seals, who acquired Neilson. He spent two seasons on the coast before the franchise moved to Cleveland, and he played two more years with the Barons. He was named captain of the Seals in 1975 and when the team shifted the following year he became Cleveland’s first captain. Neilson played his final year of pro hockey in 1978-79 with the WHA version of Edmonton’s Oilers.