Here’s to the blockaders, hats off to their instinct to impede, all hail the higher calling of self-sacrificing interception, and all the fine arts involved in getting in the way of predatory pucks travelling at the speed of punishment.
There will never be a hall of fame for hockey shot-blockers, but maybe would someone organize, I don’t know, a vestibule or a … pantry? It would have to big enough to accommodate Horace Merrill, from the earliest days of the NHL, along with Lionel Conacher, Bucko McDonald, Earl Seibert, Al Arbour, Bob Baun, Rod Langway, Mike Ramsay, Craig Ludwig — oh and the greatest obstructionist, maybe, of them all, Bob Goldham.
Born in Georgetown, Ontario, northwest of Toronto, on a Friday of this date in 1922, Goldham was renowned for his willingness to drop in front of pucks during his 12-year career as a defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Black Hawks, and Detroit Red Wings. He played a part in two of the Leafs’ Stanley Cup championships in the 1940s and was a key component with three more Cup-winning teams with Detroit through the ’50s.
“Goldham was like another goalie back there,” Scotty Bowman recalled in the ’90s. He himself credited Bucko McDonald with having schooled him in just how and when to throw himself in front of a shot. Here’s a sequence showing Goldham with the Wings putting in the work (and paying the price).
He played until 1956, announcing his retirement on the train back to Detroit from Montreal after the Canadiens dethroned the Red Wings and took the Stanley Cup for themselves. He was 33, with a job lined up as a salesman with a Toronto construction firm. Detroit GM Jack Adams praised him as “one who gave his everything in every game as the bulwark of the defence.”
Looking back over his own career, Goldham noted that he would have liked to have won more Stanley Cups. He had this to report, too: “You know, I’ve never played with a fellow I didn’t like. I’ve played against fellows I didn’t like, but never with one.”
Goldham later went to serve as a popular analyst on Hockey Night in Canada when it was still a CBC enterprise. He died in 1991 at the age of 69.
Jack Adams called Jim Conacher “the best looking prospect in my 15 years in Detroit,” and hoped to add the 20-year-old left winger to his Detroit Red Wings line-up. That was in 1941, and Adams would have to wait: Conacher spent the next four years honing his skills in the minors and serving in the Canadian Army before he finally made it to the NHL in 1945. The Red Wing sweater he’s wearing here is a wartime edition, featuring the shoulder V for Victory, which is also spelled out below in Morse code.
Born in 1921 on a Thursday of this date, Jim was a Scot, born in Motherwell before his family emigrated to Toronto when he was just young. Everybody asked, but no, Jim was not related to those other Toronto Conachers, Lionel, Charlie, and Roy. He was slender, Jim, so he got the nickname Pencil. He played four seasons with Detroit before being traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1948. He put up the best statistics of his career in Chicago, collecting 25 goals and 48 points in ’48-49. After four seasons with Chicago, he played two more with the New York Rangers. Jim Conacher died a year ago, in April of 2020, at the age of 98.
It was on a Saturday of this very date in 1936 that the Detroit Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup, upending the Maple Leafs in Toronto by a score of 3-2 to take the championship series in four games. Winger Pete Kelly scored the decisive goal for Detroit; “I’m glad I was some good,” he told the Detroit Free Press after it was all over, and the Wings were celebrating. Leafs coach Conn Smythe was one of the first to congratulate Jack Adams, his Red Wing counterpart. “You’ve got one of the best hockey clubs of all time, Jack,” is what Smythe told him in the hubbub of the Detroit dressing room. Worth a note: the new champions didn’t actually get their hands on the Cup at the rink where they won it: it wasn’t until later that evening that NHL President Frank Calder handed it over to Detroit owner James Norris at the Royal York Hotel.
While this was the first Cup win for Jack Adams as a coach and GM, this wasn’t his first Stanley Cup rodeo. As a young centreman, he’d been a member of the 1918 Toronto team that won the Cup after the NHL’s inaugural season, although he didn’t end up playing in the finals against the PCHL Vancouver Millionaires. In 1927, his last year as a player, he was with the Ottawa Senators when they won the championship. All in all, Adams would play a part in nine Stanley Cup wins over the course of his career. He remains the only person to have won it as a player, coach, and manager.
In his honour, then, something of a poem. I didn’t write it; what I did was track down a column of D.A.L. MacDonald’s from the Montreal Gazette of Tuesday, March 24, 1936, as Adams prepared his first-place Red Wings to start the playoffs. So these are MacDonald’s words, excerpted; all I’ve done is poemize them.
Manager Jack Adams has issued
for the Red Wings.
They must all be
up at 10 o’clock
for breakfast and
a morning walk.
On the afternoons of the day of games,
the last meal must be taken at three o’clock,
if a steak is the main dish,
then another walk
and a siesta.
Hec Kilrea and Marty Barry
are the only ones
allowed to eat
at four o’clock.
The reason is
they dine lightly
Movies are banned
on the afternoon of days the Wings play,
especially for Normie Smith.
Everyone in bed by midnight.
It was on another Thursday of this date in 1943 that the Detroit Red Wings swept to the third Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. Having surpassed the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games in the first round of those wartime playoffs, Detroit dismissed the Boston Bruins in four straight games in the finals. Goaltender Johnny Mowers, 26, was a big part of the Red Wing story: winner of the Vézina Trophy that year and the netminder voted to the NHL’s First All-Star Team that year, he shut out the Bruins in both of the final two Cup games. In ten playoff games, Mowers made 263 stops and allowed 22 goals that year.
Along with the Stanley Cup, Detroit’s winning line-up collected a pile of championship cash. Thirteen players plus coach Jack Adams and trainer Honey Walker each earned $1586 as their share of playoff revenues, with six other players receiving a lesser amount. From Red Wings owner James Norris, the players received a bonus to split of $5000, with $2500 more added in for having won the Cup in four straight games. A pair of anonymous fans rewarded the players with a further $1000 for their victorious troubles, while Bill Pfau, head of Detroit’s Sportsman’s Show, ponied up $500 for the sweep as well as individual bounties for notable Red Wings performances in the finale: Joe Carveth and Carl Liscombe got $25 each for the goals that sealed the 2-0 win while Mowers scored $30 — a buck for every puck he stopped on the night.
The downtown arena he ran for more than a decade is gone now, reduced to a lonely plaque in a strip of park shadowed by condo towers in downtown Toronto. The big theatre he built on the Danforth is no more, which is also true of the daily newspaper where he worked for years.
The hockey teams he owned and coached to a pair of Stanley Cups in the early years of the NHL? Yes, that’s right: they’re history, too.
Like Charlie Querrie’s name and record of achievement, the Toronto that he moved in, and the institutions he built, occupy a faded if not quite forgotten geography of the city’s past. A century ago, there were few more prominent — or energetic — players on the Toronto sporting scene.
Time, then, to acknowledge him and lend his story some context, maybe amend an oversight or two in the historical record? As it turns out, Querrie’s legacy as a prime hockey influencer has endured, even if it has been hiding in plain sight amid the foliage that adorns the sweaters of the team that he shepherded into NHL history.
Born in Markham, to Toronto’s north and east, in 1877, Querrie made his mark as a field lacrosse player before he ever fixed his focus on the ice. He’s in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame for his exploits on the grass, back when the game there was a much bigger deal than it is now.
He was shifty, those who saw him play later said, and speedy, with a deadly shot. In 1902, he scored 68 goals in a run of 17 games. That was with a Toronto team, during a tour of England that included a game at Lord’s in London in front of King Edward VII and a crowd of 20,000.
Querrie played professionally after that, signing on in 1906 as the playing coach of another Toronto team, Tecumsehs. He was not, court records confirm, an entirely peaceful player. Words like firebrand and hair-trigger temper figure in reviews of his career. He was arrested for clouting a referee during a game on Toronto Island in 1904. For that, he was convicted of assault in Police Court, and paid a $5 fine for his efforts. In the aftermath, one Ottawa newspaper accorded him this recognition: “He has caused more trouble through rough work than probably any other man in the game.”
When he wasn’t wielding a lacrosse stick, Querrie was working as a printer in those years. Later, he was a sportswriter and editor for the daily Toronto News. While there’s no record of his having played hockey of any competitive kind, he ended up rinkside all the same. In 1912, professional hockey debuted in Toronto with the opening downtown of Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. Without quitting his day job at the News or his summer lacrosse gig, Querrie took up, too, as manager of the new facility.
He was 40 in 1917, the year that the professional hockey world shifted, transforming the former lacrosse star’s trajectory as it did so. That November, after eight seasons as hockey’s major league in eastern Canada, the National Hockey Association died a quick administrative death one afternoon in Montreal’s Windsor Hotel — only to be immediately reformed as the National Hockey League.
That maneuvering was all because of one not-much-liked man, Eddie Livingstone, another former newspaper editor who’d owned several of the NHA’s Toronto franchises over the years, aggravating peers, players, and officials as he went. “The toxic Toronto owner,” hockey historian (and former prime minister) Stephen Harper called Livingstone, “quarrelsome and litigious.”
So thoroughly loathed was he by his peers in the old league that they were willing to scuttle the whole enterprise just to be rid of him. And it worked.
Backed by Montreal owners, the NHL’s new, Livingstone-free Toronto team found a home at Arena Gardens, where Querrie was still running the operation. The man originally picked to manage the team was Jimmy Murphy, another veteran of the lacrosse field who came with solid hockey bona fides, too.
And when Murphy bowed out just two weeks before the league’s inaugural season got underway? “I’ve got a new job,” Querrie told The Globe as the NHL’s four teams prepared to launch into the league’s inaugural season.
Managers in the early NHL were often more directly involved than their modern-day counterparts, exhorting their players and directing traffic from the bench as much as attending to matters of personnel, arranging trades and doling out contracts. And so while Querrie did hire Dick Carroll as a coach that first NHL season, that didn’t mean he wasn’t on the front lines himself, as thickly into the action as he could be without donning skates.
Querrie’s team was named the Torontos that year, plain and simple, though imaginative press reports sometimes styled them as the Blueshirts. Before they hit the ice that December, 103 years ago, Querrie issued a remarkable 15-point manifesto, distilling his own rigorous sporting philosophy as he laid down the law for the players in his charge on how they should apply themselves.
Point #4: “Remember that it does not require bravery to hit another man over the head with a stick. If you want to fight, go over to France.”
Point #8: “You will be punished for indifferent work or carelessness. If you are anxious to win all the time you will be a good player. Indifference or lack of pepper is one thing we never did like.”
The season that ensued in the winter of 1917-18 was as tumultuous as any in the NHL’s 103-year history — present company, perhaps, excepted.
Still, Querrie’s team found a way through. After he tended to an early goaltending crisis, the team that styled themselves simply as the Torontos went out and won both the NHL title and the subsequent Stanley Cup final, beating the Vancouver Millionaires, the west-coast champions, in five games.
It wasn’t always pretty. Frank Patrick was president of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association that year. There was too much gambling in the Toronto rink at the final, he felt. Also? “Torontonians are very prejudiced.” As for Querrie, “he acted pretty friendly,” Patrick allowed, “except when under stress of excitement.”
That might help explain the feud that Querrie cultivated in that same series with Art Ross, then a former star defenceman assigned to referee a pair of the 1918 Cup games. Querrie was only too pleased to describe the exchange he had with the man who would go on to more or less invent the Boston Bruins. “Ross started in by telling me that I was a poor loser,” Querrie said, “and went on to say that I was mixed up in a crooked league, and was a crook in sport. I promptly called him a liar, and then he threatened to lick me.”
However else it’s remembered, the early history of the NHL stands out for the pains the league took to go on thwarting Eddie Livingstone, who was bent on revenge if acceptance wasn’t in the cards.
As part of that program, the Toronto team relaunched in 1918 as the Arenas. A year later, when Querrie and an old lacrosse pal took control, the team was briefly renamed the Tecumsehs, though almost overnight the owners of hockey’s senior-league St. Patricks swooped in to buy the club and change the name again.
Querrie remained a part-owner of the NHL St. Patricks, newly clad in green, and he continued his hands-on management, with success — the St. Pats won another Stanley Cup championship in 1922.
When in 1924, the NHL fined Querrie $200 for “abusing an official,” the object of his ire was — guess who? — Art Ross.
Their quarrel continued after Ross took over as coach and manager of Boston’s expansion Bruins. One night in December of 1926, with Querrie’s St. Patricks battling the Bruins at Boston Garden, a melee broke out over a called-off goal. Ross was already out on the ice remonstrating with the referee when the Toronto manager followed him.
“Someone hurled a monkey wrench at my head,” Querrie recalled when he was back safe in Toronto. “It wasn’t any toy either but a full sized three-pound wrench and I brought it away for a souvenir. It only missed my head by a foot. Then someone socked me with a hard-boiled egg and not an overly fresh one at that. There were plenty of eggs flying.”
Even when they weren’t under barrages, the St. Patricks were not very good that season. Querrie was back behind the bench, but he didn’t seem to have any answers as the team won just two of their first ten games. Local newspapers reported that he and his partners were ready to sell the team, with C.C. Pyle stepping forward as the likeliest buyer, an American promoter who wanted to move the team to Philadelphia.
The story of how the hockey team stayed in Toronto has been burnished into legend. It’s the one in which Conn Smythe — war veteran, gravel contractor, hockey coach — saved the day, backed by a partner or two. Smythe had been hired and quickly fired by the fledgling New York Rangers that fall and parlayed his earnings into even bigger money with a couple of sports bets. Then he combined those winnings with his own daring, pluck, and sense of civic duty to buy the St. Patricks. In February 1927, he duly transformed them — in the middle of the NHL season, no less — into the Maple Leafs.
And that’s, more or less, the way that it went.
The team’s new name was nothing particularly novel. The maple leaf had been a national emblem since before Confederation and had been appropriated by hockey and lacrosse teams across the country ever since — complete with the spelling-error of the plural. Toronto’s minor-league baseball Maple Leafs had been swinging away since 1895.
If nowhere in the historical record does Smythe take explicit credit for the recycling the Leaf, nor did seem to mind when credit accrued to him and his patriotic pride.
“I had a feeling that the new Maple Leaf name was right,” he wrote in his 1981 autobiography, invoking the 1924 Olympic team and the insignia he himself had worn while serving with the Canadian artillery in the First World War. “I thought it meant something across Canada.”
That was right, of course, as nearly a century of subsequent Leaf history bears out. It’s just Charlie Querrie got that feeling first.
As Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth note in their 2002 book Deceptions and Doublecross, Querrie had had a name-change in mind three months earlier.
Back in December of ’26, before anyone had hurled any tools at his head, Querrie had been mulling the very switch that Smythe and his new partners would make official in February.
It wasn’t any secret. The Toronto Daily Star reported (and endorsed) the Querrie plan.
“The name St. Patricks doesn’t mean anything,” the Star opined, “and he is seriously considering dubbing his team the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
A more recent review of contemporary accounts reveal that Querrie’s first choice was, fun fact, to return the team to its NHL roots, rebranding as the plain-and-simple Torontos — only to discover that Eddie Livingstone owned the rights to that. Star columnist (and NHL referee) Lou Marsh declared himself on board with Querrie’s “non-partisan” second choice that was, to boot, “a name of fame in sport.”
“A lot of folks,” Marsh wrote, “never could understand why the club was labeled St. Pats.”
“If the switch in nomenclature is made,” the Star went on to hazard, “the green sweater may be dropped in favour of some other color scheme with a large Maple Leaf on the back.”
If Querrie was even minorly irked at not getting credit for his plan coming true, he doesn’t seem to have shared his annoyance in any public way. After the deal was done with Smythe and company that winter, he was reported to have walked away from NHL ownership with $65,000 — almost $1 million in 2020 terms. His 1919 original stake was said to have been no more than $1,200.
Out of hockey, Querrie busied himself running the Palace Theatre, the popular movie-house he’d opened in 1924 on the Danforth, in Toronto’s west end. He returned to writing, filing a genial weekly column in the Star and penning features for Leafs’ programs. He was proud of his ongoing devotion to Toronto hockey: in 1944, he noted that in the 32 years since professional hockey first launched in the city, he’d witnessed every game but three.
His feud with Art Ross withered away, then sprouted into friendship. Querrie had stowed away the wrench that just missed his head and in 1939 he had it mounted, with a clock, as a decorative desk-set, and presented it to his old rival.
Charlie Querrie died in April of 1950. He was 72. The Leafs were trying, that week, to defend the Stanley Cup they’d won three times in a row. Querrie’s last regret was said to have been that he couldn’t be on hand to watch the team he’d once owned — and almost named.
(A version of this post appeared on TVO.org in January of 2021.)
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on a Wednesday of this same date in 1905, Larry Aurie was the first player Jack Adams signed when he took over Detroit’s fledgling NHL team in 1927. The Cougars they were then, soon to be Falcons, before they finally morphed, one more time, into Red Wings.
Aurie, a right winger, won two Cups with the team, in ’36 and ’37. With Nels Stewart, he jointly led the NHL in goalscoring in ’37, with 23 goals. Herbie Lewis and Marty Barry were habitual linemates during his 12 years with Detroit. When Aurie retired in 1938, team owner James Norris declared the number he wore, 6, be retired, and so it was, though it made a cameo in the 1950s when Aurie’s cousin, Cummy Burton, turned out for the Red Wings.
No-one has worn 6 in Detroit since, though the team won’t raise it high to the rafters of Little Caesars Arenato flutter alongside the team’s other numerical honourees, Sawchuk, Howe, Lindsay, Abel, Delvecchio, and Yzerman. The story seems to be that the current ownership thinks that because Aurie isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, he doesn’t deserve the recognition. If that’s the case, it’s a bad one. Right that wrong, I say.
It’s been a while since I wandered the halls of Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, more than a year, so I don’t know whether they’ve updated the portrait gallery by the men’s washrooms adjacent to Section 302. The last time I was there and roaming free it was a jostling, pre-pandemic time, October of 2019, and the then-presiding-Stanley-Cup-champions St. Louis Blues were in town, four games into John Tavares’ tenure as the latest of Leaf captains.
Tavares’ C was new enough, then, that the team still hadn’t gotten around to adding his handsome face to the photographic assemblage that constitutes its Section 302 Captains Wall. A photo may have gone up in the meantime; I don’t have good information on that.
But Tavares, as I was reminded back in 2019, wasn’t the only absentee. As then constituted, the Wall honouring those who’ve lead the franchise through its 103-year-history on NHL ice only depicted 22 of the 25 men to have been so privileged.
Also missing from the line-up? Two of the first four men to captain Toronto teams in the NHL.
I don’t know why. I’m assuming that the modern-day Leafs haven’t retrospectively revoked or renounced the captaincies of Jack Adams and Frank Heffernan. My guess is that it’s a case of nothing more nefarious than ordinary oversight. It’s sloppy and unbecoming of a team with a heritage that’s as rich as its corporate resources, if not exactly surprising. The Leafs don’t tend their history with the care it deserves.
Jack Adams, of course, is mostly remembered as a coach and manager, the man who built the Detroit Red Wings into an NHL powerhouse. As a player, he was a skilled centre who turned pro in 1918 with Toronto’s original NHL team, the plain old Torontos, helping them win a Stanley Cup that spring. Ken Randall was the captain that year, but Adams got the job when he returned to the team in 1922, by which time they’d rebranded as the St. Patricks. It was during that second stint in Toronto that Adams also served briefly as the team’s playing coach — even if (speaking of oversights) the Leafs don’t acknowledge him in their ledger of coaches.
But let’s leave Adams for another day and focus here on Frank Heffernan, who happens to have died on a Wednesday of yesterday’s date in 1938, when he was 46.
Moose, they called him, when he played. His career stats as an NHLer are scanty: he played just 19 games all told, scoring no goals and compiling one single assist to go along with his ten minutes of penalty time.
But Heffernan can claim a distinction so rare that it’s never been matched in Toronto or (I’m going to dare to venture) NHL history. Like Adams and another doughty early star, Reg Noble, Heffernan played for Toronto’s NHL entry while both coaching and captaining the team. He remains the only man to have coached, captained, and co-owned the team.
He was born in 1892 in Peterborough, Ontario: that’s worth saying, if only for those of us who also hail, proudly, from Peterborough.
Heffernan started his hockey career in his hometown as an OHA junior before going on to play university hockey in Ottawa. Look him up in newspapers from those years and you’ll find him described as huskyand sturdyand a sensational coverpoint, which is to say he was stout and effective, played defence.
By 1913 he was starring for the Toronto Rugby and Athletic Association team in the OHA’s senior loop. Pro teams came calling: the Montreal Wanderers of the National Hockey Association wanted to sign him, and so did the Ottawa Senators. “Big, a good stick-handler, and a speedy skater,” an Ottawa newspaper rated him at that time. “He is proficient in using the body, almost a lost art to the Ottawa team.”
He didn’t, in the end, turn pro, opting instead to stick to the amateur game, at least in name. In 1915, he took his talents to New York, where he seems to have worked in book publishing while playing for the local Crescents and, subsequently, the Wanderers. Back in Toronto in 1918, he suited up again an OHA senior, anchoring the defence for the Toronto St. Patricks.
The NHA had given way to the NHL by this time. In the new league’s second season, the team representing Toronto was called the Arenas, though not for much longer. In the fall of 1919, a syndicate headed by Fred Hambly, chairman of Toronto’s Board of Education, bought the team. Briefly rebranded as the Toronto Tecumsehs, the team ended up going Irish, seizing on another true and tried moniker, and, lo, the NHL’s green-shirted Irish-themed edition of the St. Patricks.
Charlie Querrie was a partner in the new ownership group as well as serving as what would today be called the team’s GM. The word was that the man he was after to steer the team was Art Duncan, the former Royal Flying Corps fighter ace who’d come home from the war to star for the PCHA’s Vancouver Millionaires. While Duncan did eventually end up, years later, as Toronto’s coach, this wasn’t his time.
Enter Heffernan, who was turning 27 that winter. Querrie brought him on as coach and captain 101 years ago this month, succeeding Dick Carroll in the former role and Randall in the latter. I don’t know the details of the stake Heffernan took in the team’s ownership, but that was part of the deal, too: he became a playing partner of the team he was leading on the ice.
The reviews as he took up his new NHL posting were nothing but glowing. “He has had his fling at amateur hockey,” the Globe declared, “where he always conducted himself as a gentleman and made a name for himself as one of the best defense men ever developed in the OHA.”
“The most flashy and spectacular defense man in the business,” Ottawa’s Journal affirmed. “Heff is a big chap with a [Jack] Laviolette turn of speed. Unlike most fast men, he is a superb stickhandler and has the knack of nursing the puck close to his skates.”
The NHL was a four-team league that year, with a schedule divided into two 12-game tranches. Toronto had some talent in the line-up, including Noble and Babe Dye, Harry Cameron, and Corb Denneny, but they couldn’t keep up to the mighty Ottawa Senators, who ended dominating both halves of the schedule and going on to beat the Seattle Metropolitans for the Stanley Cup.
It’s not entirely clear how Heffernan’s tenure played out. We know that Harvey Sproule, another partner in the team, took over as coach for the second part of the schedule that year, if not why — was it Heffernan’s own decision to concentrate on playing or maybe Querrie’s? The Globe reports that as 1919 was turning to ’20, he actually took on another job, as coach of the OHA’s Parkdale Canoe Club.
Heffernan’s first season in the NHL was his last. In the fall of 1920, he was reported to have lined up — and maybe even signed — with the Canadian Hockey Association, Eddie Livingstone’s effort to launch a new league to rival (and/or overthrow) the NHL. Heffernan quickly denied it, though. The archival record that I’ve seen is murky on just how it all went down, but before the new NHL season got going, Heffernan and Harvey Sproule both sold their shares in the St. Patricks to their partners, who included the Hambly brothers, Fred and Percy, Charlie Querrie, and Paul Ciceri.
There was a report in the winter of 1921 that he might be joining the Montreal Canadiens, but it didn’t pan out. Almost a year to the day that it began, Moose Heffernan’s NHL career was over.
“Personal relations between Art Duncan and myself are of the best,” Toronto Maple Leafs managing director Conn Smythe was saying 89 years ago today, on another Friday of this same date, stepping up to announce his utmost and ongoing confidence in his coach. “I cannot speak too highly in praise of Mr. Duncan’s attitude since he has had the team.”
Actually, no, sorry, my mistake: fond as that speech sounds, Smythe was in fact firingthe man who’d been guiding his hockey team for just over a year. Five games into the new season, with the Leafs mired at the foot of the NHL’s four-team Canadian Section on a record of three losses and two overtime ties, Smythe had decided that Dick Irvin was the change that the Leafs needed.
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Art Duncan had turned 40 in the summer of 1931. He was already a veteran defenceman when he came to the Leafs in 1927. A trade brought him in from the Detroit Cougars, with whom he’d served as playing coach before ceding the bench to Jack Adams.
Having headed up the syndicate that bought the Toronto franchise earlier in ’27, Conn Smythe would soon take over as manager and coach of the team, too. In 1930, after three years of guiding the team, Smythe decided that the time had come for him to fix his attention on getting a new arena built. Smythe had hoped that Frank Nighbor would succeed him, but when he couldn’t come to an agreement with the Pembroke Peach, he handed the job to Duncan.
This wasn’t Duncan’s first stint playing big-league hockey in Toronto: a decade earlier, during the First World War, he’d enlisted in the infantry with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and played for the 228th Battalion team during its brief tenure in the pre-NHL NHA.
After the 228th cut short its season in 1917 to deploy to France, Duncan transferred to Britain’s Royal Flying Corps. In 1918, as a lieutenant flying an S.E.5a fighter over Belgium and northern France, he was credited with shooting down 11 enemy aircraft. For “continuous gallantry and initiative,” Duncan was awarded the Military Cross and bar.
By the fall of ’31, Conn Smythe had done what he’d set out to: on November 12 that year, Maple Leaf Gardens opened in a blaze of pomp and ceremony. The Leafs couldn’t contribute a win to the festivities. Two weeks later, they still didn’t have one to their name.
Duncan’s last game in charge saw Toronto fall in Montreal, 3-2 to the Canadiens, on the night of Thursday, November 26. When he was fired next day, he had coached the Leafs in 47 regular-season games — the same number, as it happens, that the present coach, Sheldon Keefe, has overseen to date. (Keefe’s winning percentage stands at .400 to Duncan’s .250.)
Several reports of Duncan’s dismissal noted that he would remain on the Toronto payroll, though that doesn’t seem to have worked out over the longer term. In February of 1932, news reached the popular press that Duncan was suing the Leafs for several thousand dollars in pay, claiming wrongful dismissal and breach of contract. (I haven’t been able to determine how that was resolved, or wasn’t.)
Dick Irvin, who was 39, had also served with the CEF, with the Fort Garry Horse. He was already a veteran star of the Western Canadian Hockey League when he joined the expansion Chicago Black Hawks in 1926, becoming the team’s first captain.
After a fractured skull put an end to his playing career in 1929, he took over as coach the team. He didn’t last, but then not many coaches did, for long, in those torrid years when Major Frederic McLaughlin was the owner in Chicago.
After just a year-and-a-half on the job — and having beaten the Leafs on the way to the 1931 Stanley Cup final, where Chicago lost to Montreal — Irvin resigned his post with the Black Hawks in September of ’31.
He was back home in Regina in mid-November as the rumours circulated that he might be convinced to return to the Black Hawks. Smythe, though, was persuasive enough over the telephone from Toronto that Irvin decided his future lay in Toronto.
He wasn’t on hand to get it started right away, as it turned out. With the new coach en route from Saskatchewan, and not due to arrive on in Toronto until the following Monday, Conn Smythe stepped in to take command of the Leafs that Saturday, 89 years ago tomorrow.
He did fine, steering Toronto to a 6-5 decision over the Boston Bruins — the Leafs’ very first victory in their new building. Andy Blair scored the overtime winner.
Dick Irvin’s first game in charge was at the Gardens on Tuesday, December 1, when another overtime failed to unlock a 2-2 tie between Toronto and the New York Americans. It was another two games before the new coach got his first Leafly victory, a 4-0 home win over the Montreal Maroons.
Things got better and better from there, to the extent that in April of 1932, Irvin’s Leafs beat the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup.
A big anniversary today for radio in Canada: it was 100 years ago, on a Thursday of this same date in 1920, that the first scheduled broadcast took place, when XWA in Montreal relayed a musical program from the top floor of the Marconi building on William Street to the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. That was a North American first, too: the inaugural American broadcast, emanating from Pittsburgh, didn’t hit the air until November of 1920.
Hockey’s radio debut came in the winter of 1923, via the Toronto Star’s radio station, CFCA. No, it wasn’t Foster Hewitt narrating the play, though he still often gets the credit. Historian Eric Zweig has cast the most light on this in recent years, and you can step into it here, if you have a subscription to the Star.
Hewitt was at the the paper in 1923, and did just a few days later get on the air to talk hockey. But it was in fact a part-time Star sports reporter Norman Albert who first gave a voice to hockey, on February 8, when he called the third period of an OHA intermediate game at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena.
Albert also seems to have been on the job for the first broadcast of an NHL game. That came on February 14, 1923, when the hometown St. Patricks overturned the Ottawa Senators, the eventual Stanley Cup champions that year, by a score of 6-4.
Again, listeners heard just the third period that night, which means that Jack Adams’ goal for the St. Pats was the first in NHL history to be broadcast. Ottawa’s Frank Nighbor was next, with a pair. His teammate Punch Broadbent scored the final goal of that auspicious evening.
Albert died in 1974. I’m hoping someone asked him if he remembered how he called those landmark goals, and/or whether the words “He shoots, he scores” formed in his mouth that evening. And if someone did ask? I hope they wrote down the answer somewhere where I can snuffle it out, at some point.
Even if he wasn’t first off the mark, Foster Hewitt quickly — and lastingly — became a hockey broadcasting institution, of course. In his 1975 book, A Pictorial History of Radio in Canada, Sandy Stewart notes that while radio soon featured prominently in Canadian living rooms in the 1920s, most of the listening the citizenry was doing was to American stations.
There were two reasons for this, he posits: “the Canadian government’s indifference towards financing radio broadcasting prohibited big Canadian stations and the Canadian radio programming was not significantly different from American programming, which did it better.”
It was hockey that made the difference, Stewart says.
In the U.S., “going to the movies” had become the Saturday night pastime, but in Canada there were not as many movie houses available to a widely scattered population, and so Canadians stayed home to listen to the radio. Since almost everybody in the U.S. was at the movies on Saturday nights, the American broadcasters often didn’t bother to list the evening’s programs, but in Canada General Motors sponsored the Saturday night broadcasts. Canadians tuned in and hockey became as Canadian as maple syrup and still is.
General Motors eventually gave way to Imperial Oil as sponsor of hockey on Canadian radio, but Hewitt remained constant all the way through to 1968. (From 1952 through 1963, his broadcasts were simulcast on television, too.)
Sandy Stewart expounds on how Hewitt’s on-air talents ensured that his hockey broadcasts dominated the radio scene through the 1930s and on through the Second World War. And yet when hockey went national in 1932, General Motors was worried that the broadcast wouldn’t be able to hold its audience between periods. Their answer? They switched to dance music from Toronto’s Silver Slipper Dance Hall.
Later they produced drama sketches during intermissions, and eventually they hit on the “The Hot Stove League” with Elmer Ferguson, Wes McKnight, and Court Benson discussing the game. Another institution that survived from the 1930s to this day is the 3-Star Selection inspired by 3-Star Gasoline, [which] advertised on the broadcast.
For years Foster started the broadcast after his introduction from Charles Jennings with, “Hello, Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland.”
During the war, he also greeted “our men overseas,” and on one occasion when it was known that the Germans were transmitting the hockey game to our troops in Belgium and Holland along with the pitch from a Nazi female broadcaster, “Why not call off the war and go home to see the hockey games,” Foster added on the Christmas broadcast, “and an extra big hello to Calamity Jane of Arnhem.”