fêting fern flaman

The night the Bruins fêted Fern Flaman at the Boston Garden in 1960, they gave him a hockey-rink cake and a colour TV set, also a freezer, a necktie, a big portrait of himself, some silverware, bicycles for the Flaman kids — and, oh, a six-month supply of meat and ice cream, according a contemporary account of the Boston Globe’s, which, it pains me to report, could easily have but did not itemize what meats and what ice creams, exactly, were involved. This was all before the Bruins faced their old rivals the Montreal Canadiens, and beat them, too, 6-5, though I should say that Flaman’s big present that night, they wheeled it right out on the ice, was a brand-new Rambler station wagon that, when Flaman skated  over and peered within, guess what, his mother, Mary, was sitting there, surprise, just in from her home in Regina.

The Globe reported that it was the first time in Flaman’s career that he’d “cried on the ice.”

“I just couldn’t help it,” he said.

And Mrs. F? “What made this night wonderful,” she told the Globe, “was having others think Ferny is wonderful. I’m a very happy mama.”

Flaman was 34 that, playing in his 17th and final NHL season. The Dysart, Saskatchewan, native, who died at the age of 85 on a Saturday of this date in 2012, was just 18 when he made his start with the Bruins in the winter of 1945, making his debut, a winger, then, in a game against the New York Rangers. “A fast and rugged youngster,” was how the Globe introduced him, “put on the third line to add a body-checking element.”

“He played his part with zest,” Harold Kaese wrote, “so much zest that late in the game he even challenged Bucko McDonald. This, as Flaman learned, was much like challenging a cement-mixer. He was shaken up, but should be ready by Sunday.”

In 1950, the Bruins traded Flaman to the Maple Leafs in a deal that also sent Leo Boivin, Ken Smith, and Phil Maloney north in exchange for Bill Ezinicki and Vic Lynn. He arrived in Toronto in time to win a Stanley Cup in 1951, when Bill Barilko, his partner on the blueline, scored that famous overtime winner of his.

Three times during the ’50s he was named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team. Montreal’s Doug Harvey owned the Norris Trophy in those years, taking home seven of eight between 1955 and 1962, but Flaman finished third in Norris voting in both ’56-57 (behind Red Kelly) and ’57-58 (trailing Bill Gadsby).

In a poll of NHL coaches in 1958 that ordained Gordie Howe the league’s “smartest player” and Maurice Richard “best man on a breakaway,” Flaman was deemed “best fighter.”

“I played with him and I played against him,” another Bruins’ captain, Milt Schmidt, said at the time of Flaman’s death, “and there was no-one tougher in the National Hockey League.”

Flaman went back to Boston in 1954 in a trade for Dave Creighton. He played a further seven seasons for the Bruins, the last six as team captain, before he moved on to the AHL Providence Reds as playing coach in the fall of 1961. He later coached Northeastern University.

Fern Flaman was inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

Sask Strong: In 1961, the Boston Garden celebrated Flaman’s Bruin faithful service with gifts of a station wagon, meat, and (above) a big hockey-rink-shaped cake.

 

 

 

au lendemain d’une grande victoire

Boom-Boom Geoffrion had already scored once on a Sunday night of this date in 1958 when he borrowed the puck that Boston defenceman Leo Boivin had been playing with and skated in to score on Bruins’ goaltender Don Simmons in the last minute of the second period. Geoffrion’s Montreal Canadiens held on to win the game 5-3 at the Boston Garden. With that and a 4-2 series win, Montreal took charge of the Stanley Cup for a third straight year. They’d be back for more the following year, and the year after that, too, 1960, before the Chicago Black Hawks finally gave them a rest in ’61. In April of ’58, La Presse headlined their front-page coverage of Montreal’s victory “au lendemain d’une grande victoire”  — “in the aftermath of a great victory.” That’s the caption we’ll stamp on the photo below, wherein Montreal captain gazes into the Cup and likes what he sees there. With rueful respect, Tom Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe sent Montreal on their way home with this coda to his game report: “The Canadiens may not have been overconfident, but they sure were foresighted … they had a supply of champagne waiting for them on the train for a celebration.”

Embed from Getty Images

 

fray dates: over the boards and into the crowd with ted lindsay

Up + Over: Detroit goaltender Terry Sawchuk follows his captain, Ted Lindsay, into the crowd at Detroit’s Olympia in November of 1954. That’s Glen Skov, number 12, getting ready to follow their lead.

There’s a scene midway through Goalie, the new Terry Sawchuk biopic that opened across Canada this month, and it’s a key one in the story of our beleaguered hero’s unwinding. It’s early in his career in Detroit, and Sawchuk, as rendered by Mark O’Brien, is already starring for the Red Wings, though the cost is already starting to tell. The puck that lies tauntingly behind him in the Detroit net has passed him by with maximum malice, which we know because he’s down on his knees, spitting out his teeth, bleeding his blood.

But that’s only the start of it. In the nearby stands, out of the Olympia hubbub, a needling voice rises: “Sawchuk! Sawchuk!” He’s nothing new, this heckler, just an everyday loudmouth, but Sawchuk has had it, enough. When Marcel Pronovost points him out, Sawchuk charges. Downs stick and gloves, skates headlong for the fence, which he scales quick as a commando.

Oh, boy.

But before the goaltender can clamber his way up to the fourth or fifth row to tear his tormenter apart, the man flees in a panic. Sawchuk’s the taunter, now. “Yeah,” he jeers, “you better run.”

Realizing where he is, he also apologizes to the fans whose midst he’s invaded. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

That’s the movie. The history is that Terry Sawchuk did scale the wire at Detroit’s Olympia, in 1954, in pursuit of a vociferous fan, though it wasn’t really about him, the goaltender was really only acting in a supporting role, backing up teammates.

Credit where credit’s due: it was Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay who led the charge. Lindsay didn’t have to do any climbing, it might be noted: whereas Sawchuk was on the ice and saw fence-climbing as his only option to join the fray, Lindsay was already off the ice, on his way to the dressing room, when he identified his antagonist and went at him.

In the days since his death on March 4 at the age of 93, Lindsay has been praised as a hockey giant, which he was, no question. A dominant force on ice, Lindsay was a tenacious leader who could do it all, and did, mostly on his own terms. His dedication off the ice to the cause of players’ rights has been highlighted, as has the price he paid for not backing down in the face of lies and intimidation of the men who were running the NHL.

Here, for the moment, we’ll focus on a lesserly known episode from his career, a single season among the 17 Lindsay played. I’ll propose that it offers insights into his later battles with the NHL, and more: it also adds context to events that exploded this very March day, 64 years ago, in Montreal.

To do that, we’ll follow Ted Lindsay through the 1954-55 season, which means pursuing him into the crowd for what must (I think) count as his most cantankerous year as an NHLer — it might be one of the most cantankerous season any player played, ever.

Lindsay was in his eleventh season with the Wings, his third as team captain. He’d finished the previous season third-best in league scoring, and was elected to the 1st All-Star. His Wings were on a roll: the defending Stanley Cup champions had won three Cups in five years.

The NHL’s 38th season is and forever will be charred at the edges by Montreal’s season-ending Richard Riot. It’s with no intent to diminish the importance or damages inflicted by those ructions, nor with any disrespect to Richard, that I’m going to posit here that, when it comes to instigating uproar, Ted Lindsay’s ’54-55 is a remarkable one in its own (if mostly forgotten) right.

Also: imagine, if you would, a circumstance by which, in today’s NHL, one of the league’s marquee players, captaining the defending Stanley Cup champions, finds himself implicated in altercations with spectators, not once or twice, but on four separate occasions. It would be the story of the season — though not in ’54-55. Is it possible that this player would still be around to be to contribute to his team’s winning a second successive Cup? It is, and was — in ’54-55.

A bit of background is in order here. Early in November, 14 games into the season’s schedule, Detroit traded centre Metro Prystai to Chicago in exchange for a mostly untested right winger named Lorne Davis. A valuable cog in the Red Wings machine that won Stanley Cups in 1952 and again in ’54, Prystai was also a good friend and roommate of Lindsay’s and Gordie Howe’s at Ma Shaw’s rooming house. With Howe out with an injured shoulder, Prystai had moved in to take his place on Detroit’s top line, alongside Lindsay and Dutch Reibel.

For the defending champions, this wasn’t so much a hockey trade as a league-mandated equalization pay-out. Detroit didn’t pull the trigger so much as the NHL decided that the swap would help out Chicago, of the league’s perennially worst teams.

Conn Smythe, Toronto’s owner and martinet-in-chief, seems to have engineered the whole affair, chairing a meeting of league moguls in New York for the purpose of improving have-not teams like Chicago and Boston. “A unique professional sports move toward sharpening competitive balance,” is how Al Nickleson described it in The Globe and Mail; The Detroit Free Press dubbed it a hockey “Marshall Plan.”

Call it collusion, set it aside as an exhibit for some future (never-to-be-launched) anti-trust ligation — to the men in charge of NHL hockey, it was merely good business. Four players were involved upfront: Chicago got Prystai and Montreal’s Paul Masnick, while Boston landed Leo Boivin from Toronto. The Leafs got Joe Klukay; Detroit landed Davis; Montreal’s piece of the pie was to be named later.

“We’re trying to apply logical business sense here,” Smythe pleaded in the days before the redistribution went through. He only had the customer in mind, he would continue to insist. “What we want to do is present hockey at its highest calibre in every rink in the NHL.”

But Detroit was seething. “Is big-time hockey a legitimate sport or just a family syndicate?” Marshall Dann wondered in the local Free Press. Marguerite and Bruce Norris co-owned the Red Wings while another brother, James Norris, ran the Black Hawks. The word was that Red Wings’ GM Jack Adams didn’t know about the Prystai deal until it was already done, telling Prystai, “I’m sorry, they ganged up on us.” Adams accused Smythe of trying to break Detroit’s morale. No more would he serve on NHL committees, he said, and he vowed that he’d be boycotting Red Wings’ road trips to Toronto forthwith, as well.

The Wings had a home game the week of the Prystai trade, on the Thursday, against Smythe’s Leafs. Before the Wings hit the ice, Lindsay demanded that the Norrises, Marguerite and Bruce, meet with the players and explain to them why Prystai had been shipped out. In his 2016 memoir, Red Kelly says it was just Bruce who showed up, and that the players weren’t impressed by his explanation. They talked about sitting out the game to make clear their unhappiness. “We weren’t going to go on the ice that night, no way. The people were in the stands, but we didn’t care.”

Somehow, someone convinced them to play. They did so, let’s say, in a mood.

Ted Lindsay’s didn’t improve as the evening went on. In the second period, he unleashed on Leafs’ defenceman Jim Thomson, punching him in the face as they tangled near the Toronto bench. “They both went at it,” the Globe’s Al Nickleson wrote, “with no damage done.”

As order, or something like it, was being restored, Leaf coach King Clancy chimed in. “That’s the first time I ever saw you drop your stick in a fight, Lindsay,” is how Nickleson heard it. What he saw, next, was Lindsay throwing a glove at the coach. “The glove — it belong to Thomson — brushed Clancy and was lost in the crowd behind the bench.” Lindsay threw a punch at Clancy, too, but missed his mark.

Toronto won the game. Sid Smith scored the only goal and Leaf goaltender Harry Lumley, a former Wing celebrating his 28thbirthday, contributed a shutout. That can’t have lightened Lindsay’s temper, and when a fan spoke up as the Wings were headed off the ice, the Detroit captain decided to climb the wire and chase him down.

It’s from the scene that followed that director Adriana Maggs’ Goalie drew when she had her Terry Sawchuk climb into the crowd. Here’s Nickleson on Lindsay’s non-movie incursion:

He may have landed a blow or two — certainly he was swinging — although the action was partially hidden by fans, and by other Detroit players clambering over the high screening. Even Sawchuk, goal pads and all, made it with the help of a boost from a teammate.

Bernard Czeponis was the heckler. A blow of Lindsay’s that did land blackened his eye. He was only too happy to describe what happened to Marshall Dann from the Free Press. “I only asked Glen Skov if he wanted my crying towel,” Czeponis said. “He used foul language. Then Lindsay, instead of stopping it as a club captain should, came after me and hit me.”

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a.k.a. fireplug

Bouncer: Squat and fireplug-shaped and one of the hardest bodycheckers in the game were among Leo Boivin’s adjectives during his 21-year Hall-of-Fame NHL career. Seen here at ease in January of 1960, he was mostly a Bruin in Boston, where he captained the team; he also skated bluelines for Toronto and Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota. He was a stopgap coach, later, for the St. Louis Blues. When his boss there, Emile Francis, replaced him with Barclay Plager in 1978, he called Boivin “one of the finest men I’ve known — a real determined man and an honest man.” (Image: Louis Jaques/Library and Archives Canada/e002343735)

willie o’ree, 1961: scored that one for the whole town of fredericton

Like Bronco Advised: With Montreal defenceman Jean-Guy-Talbot looking on, Willie O’Ree scores his first NHL goal, a game-winner, on Charlie Hodge, January 1, 1961.

Sixty years ago today, Montreal was minus-nine and snowed under, cloudy overhead, with light flurries expected and a risk of freezing drizzle. Normal, then, for a Saturday in January. Marlon Brando’s new movie, Sayonara, was playing at Loew’s downtown. In Ottawa, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was feeling better. Having spent the week confined to his bed with a strained back, he was up and out for a short walk. All was well in the local hockey cosmos: the Montreal Canadiens, Stanley Cup champions for two years running, were once again a top the NHL standings. Coming off a 5-2 Thursday-night win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Habs were preparing to host the Boston Bruins and their newly promoted winger, 22-year-old Fredericton, New Brunswick-born Willie O’Ree.

This week, the NHL is remembering that 1958 night, the first to see a black player play in the league. O’Ree, who’s 82 now, was honoured last night and roundly cheered at Boston’s TD Garden when the modern-day Canadiens played (and lost to) the Bruins. Earlier in the day, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had proclaimed today Willie O’Ree Day across the city. That was at a press conference dedicating a new street hockey rink in O’Ree’s honour.

Called up in a manpower emergency, O’Ree played only a pair of games during his first NHL stay. It would be three more years before he returned to score his first goal.

Back in ’58, the Bruins and Canadiens were spending all weekend together. Following Saturday’s game, they’d meet again Sunday in Boston. The then-dominant Canadiens were, as mentioned, cruising atop the six-team NHL, 18 points ahead of second-place Detroit, 24 clear of the languishing fifth-place Bruins.

With Leo Labine out with the flu, Boston GM Lynn Patrick summoned 22-year-old O’Ree from the Quebec Aces of the minor-league QHL. In 32 games there, he’d scored 7 goals and 18 points.

“It is believed that O’Ree is the first Negro to ever perform in the National Hockey League,” Montreal’s Gazette ventured, with nods to other black hockey talents, including Herb and Ossie Carnegie and Manny McIntyre, star Aces of the early 1950s, as well as to O’Ree’s teammate in Quebec, centre Stan Maxwell.

Elsewhere, across North America, the headlines were bolder. “Young Negro Star Makes NHL History,” a California paper headlined a United Press story in its pages, noting “the lowering of the last color line among major sports” while also deferring to “most hockey observers” who were said to agree that the only reason there had been such a line was “the fact that there hasn’t been a Negro player qualified to make” the NHL.

O’Ree wore number 25 playing the left wing on Boston’s third line alongside Don McKenney and Jerry Toppazzini.

“His debut was undistinguished as Boston coach Milt Schmidt played him only half a turn at a time,” The Boston Globe recounted, “alternating him with veteran Johnny Pierson.” The thinking there? GM Patrick explained that Schmidt wanted to “ease the pressure” on O’Ree and “reduce the margin of errors for the youngster.”

Dink Carroll of Montreal’s Gazette paid most of his attention on the night to Boston’s new signing, the veteran Harry Lumley, “chubby goalkeeper who looks like a chipmunk with a nut in each cheek.” O’Ree he recognized as “a fleet skater” who had one good scoring chance in the third period in combination with Toppazzini. “He lost it when he was hooked from behind by Tom Johnson.”

Lumley’s revenge was registered in a 3-0 Bruins’ win. “I was really nervous in the first period,” O’Ree said, “but it was much better as the game went on.”

“It’s a day I’ll never forget as long as I live. It’s the greatest thrill of my life.”

Also making an NHL debut at the Forum that night: Prince Souvanna Phouma, the prime minister of Laos, was on hand to see the hockey sights at the end of a North American visit.

Sunday night at the Garden, O’Ree got one opening, early on, when Don McKenney fed him a leading pass. This time, O’Ree shot into Jacques Plante’s pads. With Canadiens re-asserting themselves as league-leaders with a 6-2 win, O’Ree didn’t play much in the game’s latter stages.

So that was that. Afterwards, O’Ree was reported to be grinning, sitting amid a stack of telegrams from well-wishers back home. He described himself as a “little shaky.” “I’m just happy to get a chance up here, that’s about all I can say.” Leo Labine was back at practice next day, along with another forward who’d been injured, Real Chevrefils, so after another practice or two, O’Ree returned to Quebec.

As a Hull-Ottawa Canadian, 1960.

It was three years before he got back the NHL and scored his first goal. Canadiens figured prominently again, starting in the summer of 1960, when the Bruins agreed to loan the winger to Montreal. O’Ree was duly assigned to the Hull-Ottawa edition of the Canadiens, in the Eastern Professional Hockey League, where Glen Skov was the coach. The team had a good autumn, but as happens with farm teams, they paid the price in having their best talents stripped away. In November, Canadiens called up Bobby Rousseau and Gilles Tremblay while Boston beckoned O’Ree, now 25, back to the fold. The Bruins were still down at the wrong end of the standings, just a point out of last place, while also suffering adjectivally in the papers where, if they weren’t “listless” they were “punchless.”

Starting off his second stint as a Bruin, he was numbered 22, assigned to a line with Charlie Burns and Gerry Ouellette. As in 1958, newspapers (like Pittsburgh’s Courier) took due note that the “fast, aggressive forward” was “the first of his race to play in the National Hockey League.”

“The Speedy O’Ree” The New York Times annotated him when he made his Garden debut; in Chicago, the Tribune’s Ted Damata was particularly attentive. “The first Negro” was “on the ice four times, three times as a left winger and once as a right winger. He touched the puck twice, losing it each time, once on a hefty body check by Jack Evans of the Hawks.” Continue reading

rivalrousers: when habs and bruins meet

Boston’s surging Bruins play in Montreal tonight, where (in case you hadn’t heard) their old rivals the Canadiens continue their season of struggles. The two teams meet again next Wednesday before returning to Montreal to complete their mini-series a week from tonight.

The two teams have played 34 playoff series against one another since 1929, with Montreal having prevailed in 25 of those. Tonight’s game is the 739th regular-season meeting. Canadiens are ahead by (almost) a century on that count, with a won-lost-lost in overtime record 360-267-8 and 103 ties.

The first time the teams clashed was December 8, 1924, a Monday night, in Boston. That was the first year there were Bruins, of course, and in just the third game of their history, Canadiens spoiled the evening by beating them 4-3. The ice was a little soft at the Boston Arena; the crowd numbered 5,000. Aurèle Joliat notched a hattrick for the defending Stanley Cup champions from Montreal, with Howie Morenz adding a goal of his own. Scoring for Boston was Bobby Rowe and Carson Cooper, with a pair.

Is it fair to say that Tex Coulter caught the spirit of the rivalry in his 1959 painting of a couple of belligerents ignoring the referee? That’s one question. Another: who were his models? Fern Flaman and Leo Boivin were up atop the pile of leading Bruin penalty-takers that season, but Coulter’s Bostonian doesn’t look like either of them, to me. The haircut kind of suggests Jack Bionda. The Hab in question is numbered 2, which would make him Doug Harvey. I don’t see that, though, either. Could be 20, I guess, which was Phil Goyette. Ian Cushenan was 21 and Don Marshall 22 and … I don’t know. Safe to say it’s not Jean Béliveau. Let’s just leave it there. Game’s on.

 

there’s no easy way

e002343751-v8-1

Happy to oblige photographer Louis Jaques, captain Leo Boivin smiled for his camera at the end of December, 1963, but the truth is his Boston Bruins were in a bad patch, losers of five games in a row. Two of those were to the Toronto Maple Leafs, starting with a Christmas-Day rout, 5-1, at the Boston Garden in a game in which Frank Mahovlich scored two goals. In Toronto on the 28th, Johnny Bower shut them out 2-0. Bruins coach Milt Schmidt wasn’t pleased, of course. He was giving speeches behind closed doors and, in the press, looking to players like Johnny Bucyk to step up. “Bucyk is a guy who could do a lot for us, if he puts his mind to it,” Schmidt was saying. “He just has to go out there and punish himself. He has to work harder and quit taking that big skate. A forward has to take it out of himself with stops and starts to get anywhere. There’s no easy way.”

After Toronto, the Bruins went to Detroit where Schmidt moved Boivin from the defence onto Bucyk’s wing in an effort to keep Gordie Howe under wraps. The Bruins lost again. “We’re hitting a lot of posts,” Schmidt said, “but we’re not scoring those goals.” The new year brought some respite: on January 1, back home, they managed a 3-3 tie with the Montreal Canadiens. No goals for Bucyk, and no game for Leo Boivin: he was out of the line-up with strep throat.

(Photo: Louis Jaques, Library and Archives Canada/e002343751)

hitman

leo boivin

Bashful: The Toronto Maple Leafs thought that a young defenceman named Leo Boivin might be the man to replace Bill Barilko on their blueline after Bashin’ Bill went missing in the summer of 1951. Andrew Podnieks says when 19-year-old Boivin didn’t crack the Leafs’ line-up that fall, he decided to quit the game and head back to his hometown of Prescott, Ontario, to drive a truck. Conn Smythe talked him out of it and the following season he was a regular in Toronto. “The little man of iron,” coach Hap Day was calling Boivin, who was barely 5’8’’. “When you’re built low, you hit ’em low, and I like to hit,” Boivin happily told The Globe and Mail’s Al Nickleson. “When you hit a fellow good, you feel good.”

He was traded to Boston after two seasons — Bill Ezinicki went the other way — and it was there that he ended up spending the majority of his 19-year Hall-of-Fame NHL career. Above, in 1955, he took to the Garden ice with his wife and daughter at the Bruins’ annual Christmas party.

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