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. Allthe 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.

song to woody

Nicht Ganz Ein Berliner: Woodrow Dumart was born on a Saturday of this date in 1916, the year that his southern Ontario hometown changed its name from Berlin to Kitchener. He went by Woody or Porky, of course, through the course of his NHL career, which spanned 16 seasons, all of them with the Boston Bruins. He was mainly a left winger in those years, skating alongside Milt Schmidt and Bobby Bauer as part of the legendary Kraut Line. Woody Dumart died in 2001, in Boston, at the age of 84. (Image © Arthur Griffin Courtesy of the Griffin Museum of Photography; photograph may not be reproduced in any form per the copyright holder. All rights reserved.)

 

bruins 5, red wings had a train to catch

Deke And Dash: Mud Bruneteau was on the ice in Boston on December 1, 1942, when his Red Wings lost 5-2 to the Bruins. With his teammates, he bustled out of there, too, to catch to catch a train home.

The Boston Bruins started the 1942-43 NHL season slowly, losing their first four games. Then again, to launch that wartime campaign, they weren’t exactly playing with a full deck. With Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, and Porky Dumart gone to war and Boston’s civilian roster thinned by injuries and immigration troubles, coach Art Ross found just 12 players to dress (three under the league limit) for an early-November 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The Bruins turned themselves around, winning five of their next seven games as November came to an end. Key to their revival was a new forward line that The Boston Globewas was still wondering how best to nickname: Sprout Line or Baby Line for the trio that had 17-year-old Don Gallinger centering Bill Shill, 19, and 16-year-old Bep Guidolin?

Whatever you wanted to handle them, Shill contributed Boston’s third goal in the first period of the game the Bruins played on this night in 1942 against the Red Wings, with assists to both linemates. Detroit was atop the NHL standings by then, the Bruins in fourth place as the teams got together at the Boston Garden. The result doesn’t seem to have been much in doubt after that, and Bruins did indeed cruise to a 5-2 win to climb into a tie for second place overall.

What you might have noted if you were watching the ice right up until the end of the game was that … well, the Red Wings weren’t. Not all of them, anyway.

It seems that with time ticking away in the third, Detroit coach Jack Adams’ thoughts turned to the 11-o’clock train he wanted to catch from Boston’s South Station. Here’s how the Globe reported what happened next:

With three minutes to play and the Wings three goals behind, Manager Jack Adams cleared the bench of all but two subs and told them to hustle into the dressing room and change into their street pants. A moment later the bench was cleared completely — and the final few minutes of the game saw a losing team making only a feeble effort to come from behind.

The Globe thought this was poor form: “one of the traditional things about athletes is that the loser usually goes down fighting.”

For his part, Art Ross lodged a complaint with NHL President Frank Calder. Calder may have had a quiet word with Adams, but I can’t find evidence of any rebuke or sanction that went public. That doesn’t mean Ross didn’t have his say in the papers. “There was no transportation problem,” Ross told reporters. The Wings, he pointed out that Tuesday evening, didn’t play again until Sunday. “The team had five days to get home,” he said. And, also: “They could walk the distance in that time.”

Now, his own Bruins — just that past Saturday, in Montreal, the Boston squad was left just 11 minutes to get from the Forum to Westmount Station where they had to catch the train to New York for a game the following night. “Not a Boston player left his bench until the last ten seconds,” Ross said, “and then only to avoid crowd congestion. The squad had to go to the train wearing its playing uniforms.”

The Globe detailed this dash, too, adding one important detail: the surging Bruins did, in Montreal, change from skates to shoes.

first among veterans: chick webster, new york ranger

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Nick Knack: Chick Webster poses with New York Ranger teammates just before Christmas in 1949. That’s him standing second from left. Others pictured include Tony Leswick (to Webster’s right) and Pat Egan, to his left; Wally Stanowski (standing fifth from left); and captain Buddy O’Connor. Suited up as Santa is erstwhile Ranger Phil Watson, whose non-festive job had him coaching the EHL’s New York Rovers.

The Boston Bruins honoured their late captain, coach, and GM Milt Schmidt this week with a video tribute ahead of Thursday’s meeting with the Edmonton Oilers. On their sweaters, Bruin players wore a patch blazed with Schmidt’s 15 to commemorate the man they call the Ultimate Bruin.

With Schmidt’s death on Wednesday at the age of 98, the oldest living NHLer is Chick Webster, who’s 96. He lives in Mattawa, Ontario. If his hockey CV is 848 NHL games shorter than Schmidt’s and also lacks its Stanley Cups, it’s long and varied and entirely commendable in its own right. Born John Webster in Toronto in 1920, his NHL career spanned all of 14 games, all of which he played with the New York Rangers during the 1949-50 season.

On Friday, I exchanged e-mails with Rob Webster, Chick Webster’s son. He’d just spent the afternoon visiting his dad who, he said, had been saddened to hear about Schmidt. Never one to seek attention, he’s been taking this week’s sudden burst of interest in his brief stint in the NHL in stride.

“As far as his career goes,” Rob Webster wrote, “I think he just never really got the breaks at the right time.” Chick Webster was in his early 20s as the Second World War was metastasizing and just as his hockey career was getting going, he joined the Canadian Army. He had no regrets there, his son says. “He wanted to go. Not skating much for over two years was hard … so I guess still making it to the NHL original six was somewhat of a nice goal to achieve.”

As a teenager, Webster senior played for teams in Toronto called the Stockyard Packers and (as an OHA junior, with Baldy Cotton as his coach) the Native Sons. He wasn’t big, 5’11”, 160 pounds, but he was a good skater and a proficient playmaker.

As a 19-year-old in the fall of 1940, he took his trade to the Boston Bruins’ training camp in Hershey, Pennsylvania. That’s where he skated on a line, for as long as it lasted, with one of the team’s young veterans: Milt Schmidt. Webster told didn’t make the cut, but The Boston Daily Globe noted that he was a “simon pure” (i.e. amateur) coveted by all six NHL clubs. He played the year with the Baltimore Orioles of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, leading the team in scoring. (Update: having talked to Chick Webster himself this week for a piece in The Hockey News, Eric Zweig reports that at one of Webster’s Bruin camps, he took Kraut duty, centring Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart when Schmidt went down with an ankle injury. I recommend Eric’s full account of Webster’s career , which is here.)

Like Schmidt and many other hockey players during, Chick Webster decided he had another job he’d better do. Enlisting in the Canadian Army, he ended up skating for the Army’s Petawawa Grenades before shipping out for deployment overseas. Serving with the 13th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artlliery, he saw duty in England, France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany before the war’s end.

Chick Webster, Ranger winger

Chick Webster, Ranger winger

Back in hockey, he returned to the EAHL before graduating to the AHL’s New Haven Ramblers. It was from there that he launched into the NHL, called up by the New York Rangers in December of 1949. Coached by Lynn Patrick, the Rangers were up with Detroit and Montreal at the top of the league standings. Edgar Laprade and Buddy O’Conner featured bright among the team’s forwards that year, and Fred Shero was on the defence. In goal, Chuck Rayner was backed up by Emile Francis.

Webster played his first game in Boston, helping the Rangers to beat Schmidt’s own Bruins 3-1 in a game distinguished by … well, no, according a local report, the game was as undistinguished as they come, “sluggish,” “sleepy,” “boring:” all in all, “one of the dullest exhibitions of hockey played on Garden ice in quite a spell.”

Christmas Day, in Toronto, he left a game against the Leafs charley horse’d. In mid-January, in a game with Detroit at Madison Square Garden, he broke a couple of bones in his left hand — unless someone else broke them for him. (Another Ranger winger, Ed Slowinski, also finished the game with a fractured hand). Either way, it was Webster’s 14th and final appearance on NHL ice. Playing left wing, he’d recorded no goals or assists while sitting out two minor penalties. When he’d healed a bit, he returned to the New Haven ice wearing a soft cast, finishing the season in the AHL while the Rangers went on to defeat in the Stanley Cup finals at the hands of the Red Wings.

Don Webster, Chick’s younger brother by four years, had his own NHL stint: he played 32 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs across the 1943-44 regular season and playoffs, scoring seven goals and 13 points. Don Webster died in 1978 at the age of 53.

I asked Rob Webster to ask his dad who were the players he’d admired in his playing days and the answer that came back included Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard, and teammates Laprade, O’Connor, and Rayner.

The latter years of his hockey career took him around the minor-league map — Tacoma, Cincinnati, Vancouver, and Syracuse (where he played, unhappily, under Eddie Shore) — before he made his return to the Toronto area. He continued to play after he went to work for de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, before retiring, in 1969, to Mattawa.

“Been there ever since,” Rob Webster wrote, and skating all the while: he organized an oldtimers team with the Mattawa Legion and played until he was nearly 80. The nickname? From the gum Chiclets, his son says. “He always chewed gum as a kid. He thinks his aunt was the first to give it to him. As long as I can remember he always chewed when he played.”

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In The Army Now: Chick Webster (that’s him in the front row, third from right) poses with the Petawawa Grenades, circa 1943-44.

(All images courtesy of Rob Webster)

milt schmidt, 1918—2017

schmidt

Word from Boston this afternoon that Milt Schmidt has died at the age of 98. The man who was the NHL’s oldest player had a long and distinguished Bruin career, first and foremost as a centreman (mostly on the Kraut Line), but also as a coach and general manager. Elevated to the Hall of Fame in 1961, he won two Stanley Cups as a player and shared in two more as GM.  Steve Conroy has an obituary (here) at The Boston Herald.

(Image © Arthur Griffin Courtesy of the Griffin Museum of Photography, photograph may not be reproduced in any form per the copyright holder. All rights reserved.)

bru crew

Boston Cream: Never mind the world at war, the big hockey news in Boston in the winter of 1939-40 was that, in his 14th year as leader and idol of the Bruins, Eddie Shore was on his last turn. It wasn’t a particularly glorious ending: Shore played in just four Boston games that year and though the Bruins said they’d never trade him (right up to the moment they did), he ended the year (and his career) with the New York Americans. Without the man they were calling Old Mr. Hockey, a new generation of Boston stars took the team to the top of the NHL standings, where they finished the regular season. With his 22 goals and 52 points in 48 games, centreman Milt Schmidt led the league in scoring, followed in the charts by Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, his two Kraut-Line wingers, each with 43 points. The Bruins couldn’t keep it going in the playoffs, though, losing out in the first round to the eventual champions, the New York Rangers. Above, in hats and spiffy jackets, a bevy of Bruins gather in a Garden stairwell. Front, from left, that’s: Jack Crawford, Schmidt, Bauer, and Dumart. Behind, left to right: Flash Hollett stands with Art Jackson, Frank Brimsek, Roy Conacher, Jack Shewchuk, and Dit Clapper.

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

war effort (3)

b bauer's collarbone

Bobby Bauer ended up in hospital in 1942, a month after he started skating for the RCAF Flyers. As a Bruin he’d only missed one game in five years, but serving his country he ended his season in practice with a fall that broke his collarbone. Above, his wife, Mauguerite, helps him with his shaving.

Porky Dumart was a defenseman all his amateur days — it was Art Ross who made him a left winger. As noted, Battleship Leduc was the one, coaching Milt Schmidt, Dumart, and Bobby Bauer when they played for the Providence Reds in 1937, who named the line. There are a couple of variations on this. Dumart says that he called them the Sauerkraut Line, which was later shortened to Kraut Line, “for our little German hometown.”

In 2002, Schmidt told it this way to Kevin Shea at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Leduc said:

“All you fellas come from Kitchener-Waterloo. There’s a lot of people of German descent from there. We gotta get a name for ya — the Kraut Line!” We didn’t mind. It was a name that kinda stuck to us.”

“It didn’t bother us,” Schmidt said in 1990. “The called us squareheads and everything else you can imagine back then. Who cared?”

War with Germany doesn’t seem to have brought about any immediate change in nomenclature. The Kitchener Kids was another nickname that dated back to their earliest days in Boston, and sometimes you see that in the wartime accounts, but mostly it’s Krauts.

A Boston paper, The Daily Record, did run a contest asking readers to rename the trio. And the winner was … The Buddy Line. “It didn’t last,” Schmidt said.

In February of 1942, joining the RCAF, he did think about adjusting his own name for the duration of the war. He asked his mother what she’d think of her son shipping overseas as a Smith. Go ahead, she said, fine.

“But I didn’t; I stayed with Schmidt. What the heck, I’d had it all my life.”

Arriving in Ottawa, they were described as “a mild-mannered group,” polite, not much to say. “We’re glad to be here,” Bauer confided. “We’ll do anything we can to help the air force. We’re taking this business seriously. Whether we play hockey depends on the air force and we’ll do our best to help the other members of the team bring the Allan Cup here.”

Which, of course, is just what they did, come April, though Bauer didn’t make it all that way, going down wounded in action, with a collarbone he fractured in practice. Continue reading