winterspiele 1936: wolverines, royals, and bearcats

img008 2

Wolverine-free: (Back, left to right) Gus Saxberg, Bill Thomson, Pud Kitchen, Herman Murray, Dave Neville, Hugh Farquharson, Ralph St. Germain, Num Friday, Ray Milton, (inset) Kenny Farmer (Front, left to right) Dinty Moore, Arnold Deacon, coach Albert Pudas, manager Malcolm Cochrane, CAHA secretary Fred Marples, trainer Scotty Stewart, Alex Sinclair, Jakie Nash.

It should have been Wolverines at the Olympics in 1936 playing for Canada, winning gold on the national behalf, but when the time came to sail for Europe, no, instead of Wolverines it was Bearcats.

Mostly Bearcats. The story of how that happened has its vivid moments that may be briefly superseded by this pressing question: when was the last time anyone in Ontario actually saw an actual bearcat and knew it?

April of 1935 is where we’ll start here, nearly a year before the Olympics got going, in Halifax. The best teams from Canada’s amateur senior hockey leagues were gathered there to decide the season’s national championship, vying for the venerable Allan Cup. By surprise, the local Halifax Wolverines had made the final, and by further surprise, on the efforts of Mickey McGlashen, Owen Lennon, Chummie Lawlor, Daddy Bubar, and the rest of the Wolverines, they defeated the team from Port Arthur, Ontario, the Bearcats.

The final game ended with a 4-3 Halifax win. Five thousand fans cheered as E.A. Gilroy, president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, handed the old silver trophy and the Dominion senior title to Wolverine captain Ernie Mosher. The team’s further (delayed) reward was on locals minds that evening, too: as Allan Cup champions, the Wolverines had booked themselves a ticket to represent Canada at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.

So that was exciting.

Then, next — well, a lot of the drama that saw the Wolverines shoved aside was administrative, hard to enliven for the page. Decisions were made in offices and (possibly) southbound trains, behind closed doors, under clouded brows, far from rinks. The background featured a dispute over just how amateur the senior hockey was in the Maritimes. This had been brewing for months. A CAHA ruling on player eligibility had torn apart the eastern Big Four League before the Wolverines lifted their Allan Cup.

When the cheering stopped and the team looked ahead to the fall of 1935, they found themselves with a league to play in. Players did what they had to do: for six of them, that meant signing for other teams, elsewhere. The coach left, too, exchanging the Wolverines of Halifax for the Wolves of Sudbury. As early as July, there was a rumour that the CAHA was considering options beyond sending a diminished Halifax team to the Olympics. Though W.A. Hewitt, CAHA registrar, denied it: “Unless the club itself refuses the trip,” he said, “the Wolverines will go to Germany.”

November. With no league to play in, no coach, little cash, and not enough players, Wolverines manager Jack Conn was doing his best to keep the team’s Olympic project alive. Maybe other senior teams could lend him players, and if someone with a generous heart, and/or the Canadian Olympic Committee, could spot him $5,000, he could launch a tour of Canada and the U.S. to get the team ready for competition.

That money didn’t materialize, and there was no such tour. There were meetings, finally, in Halifax. Port Arthur had made it known that they were willing to step in, and that seemed to be the answer that the CAHA’s E.A. Gilroy and P.J. Mulqueen of the COC were banking on. Gilroy had handed the Allan Cup to the Wolverines but now he was the one revoking their trip to Germany. Unless — there was also a late report that all the Wolverines who’d left were returning to the roost and the team would go.

Wrong. Maritimers thought it was treachery, but Jack Conn conceded that he couldn’t get his team together. Out went the invitation to Port Arthur, who wired back a quick acceptance. There was some small solace for Halifax fans: four Wolverines would go along to boost the Bearcats.

Beyond the upset in the east, there was some hue, too, from Quebec, where it was thought that the Montreal Royals should be the ones to go. They’d been the favourites, after all, going into the ’35 Allan Cup playoffs and had actually come closer to beating Halifax than Port Arthur had. Maybe the right thing to do would to organize a further playoff, let the best team prevail.

But Gilroy and the CAHA weren’t having any of that. Also, when in early December, Jack Conn told Gilroy that because Halifax was willing to contribute just as many players as Port Arthur to the “all-star” team, it should be called the Halifax Wolverines and he, Conn, should be the man to manage it, Gilroy sent a sharp reply back to the effect that, no, it wasn’t an all-star team, and if the Halifax players that Port Arthur was accommodating didn’t want to join in the fun, well, fine, they could stay home.

Conn backed off. The team, then, would be coached by Port Arthur’s Albert Pudas, with Malcolm Cochrane as the manager. They’d have 13 players in their charge: seven Bearcats, four Wolverines and two Royals — a fast, experienced squad, as the papers were soon reporting, that Pudas would have a month-and-a-half to build into a machine.

Heading into the new year, the component parts were these:

Goal
Daddy Bubar (Halifax); Jakie Nash (Port Arthur)

Defence
Ray Milton (Port Arthur); Herman Murray (Montreal)

Centre
Ernie Mosher, Vince Ferguson (Halifax); Alex Sinclair (Port Arthur)

Right Wing
Bill Thomson, Arnold Deacon (Port Arthur); Dave Neville (Montreal)

Left Wing
Chummie Lawlor, (Halifax); Num Friday, Gus Saxberg (Port Arthur)

The team started practicing in Port Arthur on December 20. Scrimmaging, Pudas had Sinclair, Thompson, and Friday playing on a line against Neville, Lawlor, and Deacon. Murray and Milton were one pair on defence, Mosher and Ferguson another. The coach wasn’t worried that he only had two regular defencemen: the problem, he said, would adjust itself. Another day, he ran three lines: Saxberg/Sinclair/Thompson; Deacon/Mosher/Lawlor; Ferguson/Lawlor/Neville.

On Christmas Day, they left for Winnipeg, where they played their exhibition, beating the local senior team 1-0 at the Amphitheatre. Smart second-period combination work by Neville and Sinclair got the puck to Lawlor, who scored on the powerplay. In goal, Daddy Bubar’s goaltending was superlative. Dignified patrons, said a local paper, cheered themselves hoarse. When the referee disallowed what would have been the tying goal, they littered the ice with programs and paper bags. Dunc Cheyne and Cam Shewan played well for the home team. High-stick sparring with the Winnipeg rearguard sent both Milton and Murray, Olympic defencemen, to the dressing room for stitches.

The Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association gave the team a banquet at the Fort Garry Hotel while they were in Winnipeg. Members of the 1932 Olympic team were on hand to wish them well, conveying sincere Good Luck greetings and urging the talented Canadians to bring back the flag.

The Winnipegs played a second game with the Olympics the following night, beating them this time, 5-4. High in the stands, protesters unfurled a 30-foot banner

Fair Play Demands Removal of Olympics From Fascist Berlin

that few in the rink noticed before policemen took it down.

The Bearcats played a pair of games against Fort William next, losing the first, 2-1, following up with a 5-1 win. They’d added another forward from Montreal, Ralph St. Germain. Bill Thomson scored a pair of goals, with Gus Saxberg, Vince Ferguson, and Dave Neville notching the others. One free-for-all showed the sincerity of the effort on the part of both teams but no one was hurt although Murray played most of the game with a big patch over his right eye, result of a collision with Konderka of Fort William, who was also hurt when the two heads bumped.

I’d be pleased to keep on writing the name Daddy Bubar indefinitely, but it’s here — which is to say, there, in Toronto, early January — that he departs — departed — the scene. Just what happened isn’t easy to decipher. Al Pudas was telling the papers that the team was rounding into top form, while Gilroy enthused that it was powerful in every position. There was nothing to the rumour, said manager Malcolm Cochrane, that they’d be adding a former Bearcat now playing in England, centre Jimmy Haggerty, to the mix: this was the team that was going to Germany.

“The squad is fifty per cent more powerful than the Bearcats of last season,” Cochrane was saying. “The added players have bolstered us defensively and offensively. Murray has fitted in like a charm with Milton on the defence while up front we have two lines who can go both ways with plenty of speed and scoring punch.” Bubar, he said, was one of the finest goaltenders he’d ever seen in amateur hockey. A man from The Toronto Daily Star watched the team practice at Maple Leaf Gardens as they prepared for a game against the Toronto Dukes: “Goals scored against this combination are going to be well and truly earned.”

And yet by the time the team skated out to play, it was without its four Halifax players: they’d been summarily excised from the roster. Continue reading

such a sinecure

port arthur 1936

The last time Canadians played Latvians at the Olympics was February of 1936, on the second day of competition at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. Canada had started the tournament with a game against Poland, which they’d won, 8-1, in a snowstorm out on the natural ice of Lake Riessersee. When they met the Latvians at the main rink, the Kunsteisstadion, the snow was still blowing, though it stopped as the game  got going, and the sun parted the clouds. Canadian coach Albert Pudas had switched his goalies, putting in 20-year-old Nash from Port Arthur (13, above) in place of Dinty Moore (not shown). “He had an easy time hanging up a shutout in his first Olympic game,” Pudas reported next day in a frontline dispatch for Canadian Press. Toronto’s Daily Star:

He had so little to do he was skating around in front of his net a good deal of the time to keep warm. The Latvians hoisted one puck at Nash in the first period and hardly more than that in the other two chapters.

Latvia, Coach Pudas said, played poorly, and 90 per cent of the game was played in their defensive zone. He cited the steady work of his two defenceman, Montreal’s Herman Murray (7) and Ray Milton from Port Arthur (9), though “the game was such a sinecure they spent most of the time in Latvia’s territory.”

Of the forwards, Montrealers Hugh Farquharson (not shown) and Ralph St. Germain (8) were the main marksmen, scoring four goals and three, respectively. The Daily Star:

The Canadians seemed to improve as the game progressed. Five-man attacks raced in on the Latvian goalkeeper, Lapainis, who stopped 31 well-aimed shots in the last period alone.

After the first period, the ice was clear and hard. Final score: Canadians 11, Latvians 0. When it was all over, the Star said, most of the spectators were convinced that Canada had a stranglehold on the Olympic title.