game of names

Scramblers: New York Americans’ goaltender Roy Worters covers up in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square garden on the night of Thursday, November 20, 1930. Worters made 36 saves on the night to preserve a 0-0 tie through overtime, for his fourth shutout in five games. Helping him out are (by the post) defencemen Red Dutton and (#3) Bill Brydge, with Americans (#8) George Patterson and (in a cap, beyond him) Normie Himes. Searching for the puck for Toronto is Busher Jackson and (in the net) some other unidentified attacker. Circling in the background is Leaf Ace Bailey.

The question of who first put numbers on sweaters in professional hockey remains befogged: while the Patricks, Lester and Frank, are often credited as the first to venture into numerical innovation in their Pacific Coast Hockey League in the winter of 1911-12, we know that the National Hockey Association in eastern Canada put numbers on their sweaters that same season.

When it comes to adding names to go with the numbers, Tommy Gorman led the way in the NHL in 1926.

He was coach and manager of the expansion Americans that year, the team that launched NHL hockey in New York. His line-up was well-stocked with stars, thanks mainly to the demise of the Hamilton Tigers, and with Billy Burch, Bullet Joe Simpson, Jakie Forbes, and the Green brothers, Shorty and Red, taking the ice in star-spangled finery, Gorman was keen to fill Madison Square Garden with fans to watch his fledgling team — and to help keep it afloat financially.

So the idea of aiding New Yorkers in identifying players on the ice seemed like a good one. Names on sweaters had appeared on amateur hockey rinks before this, notably in Stratford, Ontario, in the ’20s, but never yet in the NHL. The New York Sun first mentioned that possibility midway through the season, noting that Gorman’s brainwave was inspired when he watched labelled speedskaters make their rounds at the Garden.

The Look: Goaltender Jakie Forbes’ NY Americans sweater, circa 1926.

A Montreal Gazette report from early 1926 spread the news: names on sweaters, Gorman believed, “might be applied to hockey with considerable success and help to acquaint the fans with the various players, especially those on the visiting clubs.”

That was the thing: while Gorman planned to start with his own Americans “next season,” he intended to lobby the NHL for a league-wide policy. “If the locals start the fad,” the Sun opined, “it is expected other teams will follow suit.”

But why put off the plan for a year? Gorman didn’t delay, it seems: according to a subsequent Gazette report, the team’s seamsters and seamstresses had the players’ names in place for their home game against the Ottawa Senators on the night of Saturday, January 30, 1926. None of the New York papers that I’ve studied took notice of the names in their dispatches from the rink. The New York Times did note that the place was packed: a raucous crowd of 17,000 showed up to see the Senators down the Americans 1-0. Reporter Harry Cross:

The crowd hit a high pitch of enthusiasm for New York hockey. Long before the game time the ticket windows were closed and the galleries were so jammed that there were standees, and many were perched wherever there was a chance to hang on. It was capacity to the last inch.

It seemed quite the proper thing for the folk who fill the arena boxes to come all decked in furs and feathers. Park Avenue and Broadway were all there and made plenty of noise. No one in this big hockey gathering had a chance to be blasé. Every nerve in the house was tingling at one time or other during the fray. The shouting, cheering and the squealing left many of our citizens and citizenesses with alarming symptoms of laryngitis.

Other mentions of the new-look sweaters from that season are few and far between. Ken Randall played the Americans’ blueline that year, and there is, notably, an image of the name-branded sweater he’s said to have worn against Boston in February of 1926 in the pages of The Pepper Kid, Shayne Randall’s 2017 biography of his grandfather. Otherwise, though, newspapers seem to have taken meagre interest in the revolution.

ID’d: A Boston Globe cartoon of New York captain Billy Burch’s sweater from December of 1926.

It didn’t spread to other teams, either. Toronto Maple Leafs did, eventually, follow Gorman’s lead, but that wasn’t until the 1929-30 season, when Conn Smythe’s team added players’ names to backs of their white road sweaters (I’ve seen no evidence that they wore them on their blues at home). As you can just see in the image of Busher Jackson at the top of the post, the Leafs went with a fancy cursive script. Also apparent here: the Americans had, by now, given up their names.

It’s not clear how long the Leafs continued to show their names in the ’30s. No other teams seem to have followed their example, and for the decades that followed, NHL players were backed by numbers alone.

The Leafs were back in the nominal news in the winter of 1978, when Harold Ballard, the team’s owner and blowhard blusterer-in-chief, decided to resist a new NHL bylaw mandating that all players’ names appear on their shoulders to make them more identifiable on TV broadcasts. It was Philadelphia Flyers’ chairman Ed Snider who introduced the resolution this time, in the summer of ‘77; it was adopted on a vote of 13-5.

Ballard initially agreed to the plan, before he decided to defy it. He was concerned, he said, that the change would hurt the sale of programs at Maple Leaf Gardens, wherein players were listed by number.

With every other one of the league’s 18 teams in compliance as the 1977-78 season went on, Ballard agreed to a compromise whereby the Leafs would wear their names on the road but not at home — promising, at the same time, that the lettering would be so small that spectators would need microscopes to read it.

By February he was calling NHL president John Ziegler “a dictator on an ego trip.”

“Technically speaking,” Ballard railed, “names on sweaters are a property right. I don’t have to put names on the shirts. I sent Ziegler a wire saying he had a lot of nerve doing business this way. I told him I thought he had a lot more sense than that.”

“What Mr. Ballard thinks of me is immaterial,” Ziegler said. “The governors made an agreement and he must live up to it. He said he would put names on sweaters for all road games this year and if the rule was still in effect next year, he would put them on sweaters for home and away games.”

If the Leafs refused to comply for a February 13 road game against the Buffalo Sabres, Ziegler said, the team would be fined $2,000. For their next away game, in Chicago on February 26, they would be docked a further $3,000, with the fines increasing by $1,000 each road game after that, up to a cap of $5,000.

Fined for missing the Buffalo deadline, Ballard then relented — in best bloody-minded Ballard style. Having announced that the Leafs would be duly identified in Chicago, he then saw to it that the lettering that was sewn on in the name of Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming, and the rest was the same shade of blue as the Leafs’ road sweaters, making them all but unreadable.

“I’ll never make it as a colour coordinator, will I?” Ballard crowed. “I’ve complied with the NHL bylaw. The names are stitched on, three inches high. It’s a pity you can’t see them.”

“Mr. John Ziegler is just going to have to keep his little nose out of my business,” he sneered. In case anyone was in doubt, he wanted the world to know this, too:  “This move was done to make a complete mockery of the ruling.”

Ziegler kept his cool — outwardly, anyway. “I’ll let Mr. Ballard do the talking in the press,” he said. “Harold likes to see his name in print. The position I’m at will remain a private matter.”

Toronto’s next road game was in early March in New York, at a newer edition of Madison Square Garden than the one Tommy Gorman and his Americans knew. This time out, against the Rangers, the Leafs’ names appeared in white letters, for all the hockey world to browse at their leisure.

 

lone ranger

Stop Right There: A helmeted Ken McAuley turns away Syd Howe of the Detroit Red Wings during the NHL’s 1944-45 season. Following the action is Rangers’ defenceman Bucko McDonald.

Spare a thought tonight for Ken McAuley, who was born in Edmonton on a Sunday of today’s date in 1921. After a respectable junior career tending goals in Alberta and in Saskatchewan senior hockey, McAuley sat out the 1942-43 season while he recovered from what would seem to have been a spate of concussions. Signed by the New York Rangers’ Patrick in the fall of ’43, the 22-year-old McAuley, who had a full-time job as a probation officer in Edmonton, found himself handed the starting net an hour before the season got underway at the end of October. “I was so nervous,” he later recalled, “they had to help me on with my equipment.” With the history of his head in mind, he added a helmet to his rig as he made his debut in Toronto, where the Leafs fired 52 shots his way on their way to a 5-2 win.

It didn’t get better. McAuley and his Rangers staggered through a 15-game winless streak to start the year. By Christmas, they’d lost games by scores of 10-5 (to the Chicago Black Hawks) and 11-4 (to Toronto). It got worse: in January of ’44, he was on the porous end of a 13-3 loss to the Boston Bruins followed by, eight games later, a 15-0 puncturing at the sticks of the Detroit Red Wings. “Poor Ken McAuley,” as the Detroit Free Press noted, actually made 43 saves for his team before they put away the pucks for the night.

It went on and on. The Red Wings retraumatized McAuley with a 12-2 win a few games later, followed by an 11-2 obliteration by the Montreal Canadiens before the season, mercifully, ended. His heroics were often praised in the New York press, despite all the losing. “Brilliant goaling on young Ken McAuley’s part saved the Rangers from a worse defeat,” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle opined in February of 1944, after a 5-2 loss in Montreal. McAuley handled 53 shots that night, the New York Daily News reported, with Canadiens’ Bill Durnan turned away 18.

Rangers bottomed out the NHL that season, finishing last in the six-team standings, in case there was any doubt, anchored down with a record of 6-39-5. McAuley suffered through all 50 games; the only relief he got all season was in December, when the Rangers were playing (again) in Detroit. Struck down by a puck shot by Carl Liscombe of the Red Wings, McAuley was evacuated to Harper Hospital for treatment of a suspected broken jaw. Taking his place on an emergency basis was Detroit’s spare goaltender, 17-year-old Harry Lumley: he played the third period of the Rangers’ 5-3 loss, shutting out his teammates. As it turned out, McAuley’s jaw was lacerated, not broken, and he started New York’s next game, on Christmas Day, a 5-3 Yuletide win over Toronto.

McAuley’s stats for the 1943-44 season are painful to consider: 310 goals allowed in 50 games left him with a 6.24 GAA. He endured a second season with New York, going 11-25-10 through 46 games while putting up a 4.93 GAA, with Doug Stevenson aboard to provide some relief as a back-up.

That was all for Ken McAuley’s NHL career. He went on to coach the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Canada Junior Hockey League, and in 1954, with Norm Ullman and Johnny Bucyk in the line-up, guided them to the Memorial Cup final. He sold cars and insurance and carpets in Edmonton before he retired. Ken McAuley died in 1992 at the age of 71.

opening bell: no quit in new york’s 1926 debut

New York Rangers captain Bill Cook (right) flanks coach and manager Lester Patrick alongside Frank Boucher on the ice at the Chicago Stadium in November of 1934. It was on a Tuesday night eight years earlier that these three featured in the Rangers’ very first regular-season NHL game at Madison Square Garden as the brand-new home team dispensed with the visiting Montreal Maroons by a score of 1-0 on  the night of November 17, 1926 in front of a crowd of 13,000.

It was Cook who scored the first goal in Rangers’ history 96 years ago, beating Clint Benedict in the Montreal net in the second period for the game’s decisive goal. Hal Winkler recorded the shutout for New York. Referee Lou Marsh wielded a bell on the night, notably, instead of a whistle. He put it to use in the third period when the famously peaceable Boucher got into the only fight of his long career, clashing with Montreal’s Bill Phillips. Both players got major penalties for their troubles, and each was fined $15. Boucher was badly cut on the neck in the melee and had to leave the game for repairs.

 

(Image: SDN-077304, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

ranger rehearsal

Point Taken: New York Rangers’ coach and GM Lester Patrick (right) puts his players through their paces in a pre-season session in November of 1934. From left, the players are winger Bert Connolly, defenceman Ott Heller, and goaltender Percy Jackson. Jackson was Patrick’s pick to start the season guarding the Ranger goal, but he lasted just a single game, an 8-2 road loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Andy Aitkenhead took over for a month, before Patrick settled on a more permanent replacement that December, buying Dave Kerr from the Montreal Maroons. Jackson made it back to NHL ice the following season, but for part of one more game, as a Boston Bruin, when he relieved Tiny Thompson towards the end of a 3-1 loss … to the Rangers. (Image: SDN-077312, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

madison square eye in the sky

It was the New York teams battling it out, Rangers versus Americans, that Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, December 16, 1937, with the visiting team eventually prevailing by a score of 2-0 — which is to say, the dark-shirted Rangers.

“A speedy, well-played contest that was packed with action,” is how The New York Times accounted for it. Ching Johnson was playing his first game as an American on this night, after 11 years a Ranger, and he almost scored. Dave Kerr is the Ranger goaltender at the centre of things here, covering up to stymie the Amerks’ John Gallagher and preserve his shutout. Just a few months after this smothering, Kerr, who was 27 at the time, with a Stanley Cup and a Vézina Trophy both still in his future, would  become just the second hockey player to grace the cover of Time magazine.

Also in the frame? Arriving late are Rangers Lynn Patrick (9) and Ott Heller (3), with Sweeney Schriner (11) of the Americans following up with Art Coulter (2). Tussling in front on the right is Americans’ Hap Emms (skating his only shift of the game) and the Rangers’ Cecil Dillon, a right winger who was born in Toledo, Ohio, on a Sunday of today’s date in 1908.

Lynn Patrick scored the Rangers’ initial (and winning) goal in the first period, with  Neil Colville scoring a second on Earl Robertson in the Amerks’ net in the third. According to the Times, Toronto manager Conn Smythe was in the house this night, and at the end of the game he offered Lester Patrick the sum of $20,000 if the Ranger boss would sell son Lynn to the Leafs. The answer was a no.

stopgap goalstop

Emergency Measures: On this night 94 years ago, 44-year-old Rangers coach and manager Lester Patrick strapped on Lorne Chabot’s pads to finish the game in Montreal that would lead to New York’s first Stanley Cup championship.

It was on a Saturday of this same date in 1928 that Lester Patrick’s brief career as an NHL goaltender started — and finished. It’s a famous story, of course. Patrick, the 44-year-old coach and manager of the New York Rangers, had his team in Montreal that night, playing the second game of the Stanley Cup finals against the hometown Maroons, who were up a game already in the series, when a second-period backhander by Montreal’s Nels Stewart caught Rangers’ goaltender Lorne Chabot in the left eye. He couldn’t continue. New York didn’t have a back-up dressed, but a couple of able-bodied goaltenders were on hand at the Forum, as it happened, including the Ottawa Senators’ Alec Connell. When Maroons’ management refused to allow them to take the New York goal, coach Patrick stepped (and suited) up.

It wasn’t the first time playing goal for Patrick, who’d all but hung up his skates as a player in 1926. More than a decade earlier, in his days playing defence for the PCHA’s Victoria Aristocrats, he’d done some emergency goaltending. Nor was this Patrick’s NHL debut: a year earlier, at the end of the 1926-27 NHL season, the Rangers’ very first, Patrick had taken a place on New York’s defence after injuries depleted his line-up.

Playing reliever 94 years ago tonight, Patrick stopped 18 shots or so, helping the Rangers to tie the series with a 2-1 win that Frank Boucher sealed in overtime. Thereafter, with Chabot in the hospital, Rangers secured the services of New York Americans’ goaler Joe Miller, who eventually backstopped them to their first Stanley Cup championship.

someone with more sense than bravado: clint benedict, conn smythe, and the 1929 mask mandate that never was

Benny In The Nets: After playing seven NHL seasons (and collecting three Stanley Cups) with the Ottawa Senators, Clint Benedict joined the Montreal Maroons in 1924.

This is the first of a two-part series on the NHL’s original masked man, and how in 1929 the NHL almost (but not quite) came to mandate protection for all its goaltenders.

Olive Benedict might have blamed herself when her husband Clint went down in Montreal that January night in 1930, but it was mischance — and a puck Howie Morenz fired — that actually felled the 37-year-old goaltender for the Montreal Maroons and precipitated the painful end of his long and illustrious NHL career.

That came, the end, nine weeks later when, on a Tuesday, 92 years ago this past week, Benedict played the 390th — and final — game of his Hall-of-Fame career, during which he played in five Stanley Cup finals, winning four of those, three with the (original) Ottawa Senators and another with the Montreal Maroons.

In hockey history, that final game of Benedict’s is also annotated as the end of the goaltender’s desperate two-week experiment with the first face-mask in league history. Five games that lasted. It would be 1959 — 29 years later — before Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante donned his famous mask in an actual game, jump-starting a new era in the NHL.

Why was the NHL (and hockey generally) so slow in adopting masks to protect the well-being (and faces) of goaltenders? Institutional conservatism, I guess. Hubris would figure in as a major factor, too, I might say, even if Clint Benedict wouldn’t. Asked in 1964 about the possibility of any such stigma having been attached to goaltenders erring on the side of self-preservation, the old goaltender (he was 71) wasn’t having any of it. “Nah,” he told an inquiring reporter, “we took such a beating anyway that nobody would have thought it sissified. No, it was just a case of not developing one that was practical.”

Even before Benedict tried out his mask, the 1929-30 campaign looked like being a pivotal one for goaltenders, with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner, coach, GM, and force-of nature Conn Smythe in a leading role. Not much has been made of this, over the years, but that fall, mere months before an infant Jacques Plante celebrated his first birthday, there was an effort afoot to require the league’s goaltenders to wear masks.

From the start, the 1929-30 season was a challenging one for Clint Benedict, who was playing in 13th NHL season, the 18th, if you felt like counting his years in the NHA, too. In November of ’29, just as the season was getting going, he left a game in Ottawa after the first period after what was described as “a violent attack of indigestion.” Maybe he shouldn’t have tried to play: reported to have been ailing all day, he took the ice “in a weak condition,” as Montreal’s Gazette described it.

Flat Walsh replaced him that night, and went on holding the fort as Benedict recovered, as it was subsequently reported, from a case of ptomaine (food) poisoning. Something he ate in Boston, he said. He lost eight pounds, missed eight games.

Benedict was back in December, but in his second game of his return, he went down again. Painful as it sounds, he got back up on his skates in short order, this time. He was playing brilliantly, by all reports, frustrating the Boston Bruins at the Forum, when he sprawled to stop Dit Clapper and took the puck full in the face. “Benny dropped,” the Gazette reported, “and lay still as if he had been shot dead.” He was unconscious on the ice, revived, repaired to the dressing room. With no concussion protocol or common sense to keep him there, Benedict returned to finish the game.

He was back in action three nights later, on January 7, at the Forum, against the Canadiens. This was the night his wife, Olive, was looking on from a seat just behind his first-period net, a reluctant witness who’d travelled from her home in Ottawa. It was the first game she’d attended in six years, and one of just a dozen or so she’d ever been to in the course of her husband’s lengthy career. It may have been, as one Montreal newspaper suggested, that she thought she brought him back luck, but it might just as well have been that she preferred not to see the dangers he faced every night on the job.

On this night, the game wasn’t yet a minute old when Howie Morenz swept onto Maroon ice and fired the puck. “A smoking shot,” the Montreal Star’s reporter called it; “got him straight between the eyes and smashed the bridge of his nose,” the Gazette detailed. “The impact of the drive could be heard in the far reaches of the building,” the Star said. Players from both teams carried Benedict to the dressing. There was a great mess of blood.

Damage Report: The Montreal Star headline for the game on January 7, 1930. Canadiens’ sporting gesture was tnot to rush sickly substitute Flat Walsh as he suited up in Benedict’s place.

While Benedict’s wounds were being tended, the Maroons dispatched a taxi to retrieve Flat Walsh, who was home in bed, recovering from a bad bout of flu. He arrived at the Forum wearing an overcoat over his pyjamas, changed into his gear, pulled on a cap. “He was almost tottering on his pins,” said the Star, “with his grave face showing a grey pallor beneath his upturned visor. Unsteadily he braced himself for a few practice shots, and then went on to stardom.” After a half-hour delay, that is, hockey resumed, with the Maroons winning by a score of 2-1, and thereby taking over first place in the Canadian side of the NHL standings from their Montreal rivals.

The Star checked in next day at the LaSalle Hotel, just east of the Forum on Drummond at St. Catherine, where Benedict was resting under his wife’s care. “An examination today revealed his nose badly broken with a V-shaped cut that required five stitches, and the flesh is torn all the way down the nose.” The next day, the couple left for Ottawa, where Benedict would spend his convalescence.

He’d miss 15 games this time, over the course of six weeks, with Flat Walsh and (for one game) Abbie Cox, lent by Montreal’s IHL farm team, the Windsor Bulldogs, standing in his stead.

Neither of them saw fit to protect their faces in the wake of Benedict’s injury. In the wider hockey world, discussion of the need for and practicalities of masks had been going on for years. Goaltending in the NHL has never been an easy way of making a living, but in the 1920s and 1930 it was particularly dangerous. Battered by pucks, scythed by skates, run into and over by barrelling opponents: the men who volunteered to man the nets were constantly being jarred, cut, knocked out.

They came to, groggily acknowledged their surroundings, were patched up: mostly, they finished a game they’d started. It happened all the time, in those years.

“I remember at least four times being carried into the dressing room to get all stitched up and then going back in to play,” Benedict said in 1962. “There were some other times, too, but I don’t remember them.”

Much of the mayhem has faded away from modern memory. For its part, the NHL doesn’t, at the best of times, display a nuanced or even particularly reliable memory of its own history, and when it comes to unflattering aspects of the historical game — extreme violence, concussions, other grievous injuries — it’s not as if the league is interested in curating … any of it.

When it comes to early NHL goaltenders, the league will occasionally highlight agony-adjacent events. The emergency foray that New York Rangers coach Lester Patrick made at the age of 44 into the New York Rangers’ net in April of 1928, for instance, is a polished gem of popular hockey history, even if the details of how he was called to duty aren’t always so well remembered. A shot from Nels Stewart of the Maroons caught the regular Ranger goaltender, Lorne Chabot, in the face that night. It was several days before doctors were satisfied that he wouldn’t lose his left eye. Guarding the goal for Montreal that night: Clint Benedict.

Was Canadiens goaltender George Hainsworth, in fact, the first NHLer to don a mask in January of 1929 after his nose was broken by his teammate Aurèle Joliat in a pre-game warm-up? I’ve delved into that possibility to some depth here; the short answer is probably not.

But something was building around that time. I’m not sure you can call it momentum, given how slowly the evolution of hockey masks progressed in the game’s early years. My friend Eric Zweig, hockey historian extraordinaire, has written about Ev Marshall in Calgary in 1899, who is (to date) the first documented goaltender to mask up.

There were others after that, though not many. Some who sought protection did so to safeguard the glasses they wore, and glass-protectors were common in amateur hockey (and in particular on U.S. college ice) through the years of the First World War and into the 1920s. (Not all historians allow that these qualify as masks.) In any case, as with hockey helmets, there was no organized effort to develop a purpose-built hockey mask.

In 1920, the Ontario Hockey Association did add a rule permitting goaltenders to wear masks. It’s possible that some judicious soul took advantage of that provision as soon as it was passed. What we do know with certainty is that during the 1926-27 season, Lawrence Jones did. A stopper of pucks for the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League, he was noted (in Ottawa’s Journal) as “one of the few net guardians in the sport who wears a baseball mask.”

That same year, suiting up for the women’s team at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, goaltender Elizabeth Graham famously donned a fencing mask.

In the unprotected NHL, pucks kept on hitting goaltenders in the face, which was bad for them, generally. More specifically, if they were injured seriously enough that they ended up missing games, that was bad for their teams which, in most cases, didn’t keep a full-time back-up on the roster.

Something had to change, and almost did, two months before Clint Benedict went down with the injury that ended up, finally, shifting the balance. Playing protagonist again in November of 1929 was Lorne Chabot. He was with the Toronto Maple Leafs now, gearing up with his teammates to open the season against the Chicago Black Hawks. The Globe described the mishap at the Leafs’ final pre-season practice at Arena Gardens:

The big goal-guardian was struck in the face by one of Charley Conacher’s terrific drives and was practically knocked unconscious. He quickly recovered, however, but it was necessary to put four stitches in the wound that was opened up in his cheek. He will play tonight, however, although he may present a bandaged appearance.

And so he did, helping his team to a 2-2 tie on a night that Conacher was making his NHL debut (and scoring a goal). Leafs GM and coach Conn Smythe, meanwhile, was working on a plan.

That same fall, the NHL had adjusted its “anti-defence” rules, hoping to speed up the game, increasing scoring opportunities and thereby, goals. To open up play (and specifically confound the packing-of-the-defence scheme perfected by Pete Green and his Ottawa Senators with their “kitty-bar-the-door” strategy”), the new rule stipulated that only three defenders (including the goaltender) were permitted in the defensive zone when the puck was elsewhere. This meant that forwards couldn’t precede the puck into their own zone: they had to wait to enter with the play.

Another rule barred goaltenders from holding pucks that came their way. Previously, they’d been permitted to hang on to a puck for three seconds before casting it away to a teammate or a corner. Now, they had to release the puck instantly, or pay the penalty of a punitive face-off ten feet in front of their net, with no defenders allowed on the ice between the goal and the puck-drop.

What all this meant for goaltenders, Smythe said, was more shots and more danger. (The league seemed to acknowledge this in its amended rules: where previously goaltenders were allowed ten minutes to recuperate from an on-ice injury, an extra five minutes was now added in the case that the goaltender had to be replaced.) The Gazette in Montreal explained Smythe’s position: “To prevent a serious accident,” Smythe wanted to mandate that goaltenders “be protected as much as possible by headgear and especially constructed masks.” To that end, he had a proposal he was going to present at the next meeting of the NHL’s governors that would compel all goaltenders to wear masks.

According to the Gazette’s report, Smythe had the support of “several managers in the NHL.” The problem was one of social stigma as much as anything else: goaltenders themselves were reluctant to be the first to take up a mask. “If all teams were compelled to do so,” the dispatch concluded, “it would be quickly adopted.”

Bright Idea: A Montreal newspaper reports on Smythe’s modest 1929 proposal.

There’s no reason to believe that Smythe didn’t follow through on this effort. If he did, details of the discussion didn’t filter out to the newspapers, and no decision on mandatory masks was taken. NHL President Frank Calder did oversee a meeting of league governors in mid-December in Chicago, but no mention of masks or mandates surfaced in the press that week. And Smythe, it seems, was in Montreal anyway, coaching the Leafs in a 3-1 loss to the Maroons and earning himself a fine of $50 for haranguing referee Dr. Eddie O’Leary.

As urgent as Smythe’s push for a mask mandate had seemed, it … evaporated? Maybe he did present his proposal to the league and failed to rally enough support. Could he have been persuaded in the interim that the goaltenders themselves didn’t like the idea? We don’t know.

And so the mask debate faded away into the background again … for a month. “Some day the league will authorize masks for netminders as baseball does for its catchers, and these accidents will be avoided.” That was the Gazette, in its original report of Morenz’s shot and Benedict’s resulting distress in January of 1930.

Baz O’Meara weighed in the following day in his Montreal Star column. “So far no mask has been made which gives the maximum of protection, and the minimum of discomfort,” he wrote. “Still someone with more sense than bravado will come out some night and set a new fashion in protection to eyes and noses — but it won’t be till someone invents a better mask than any that can be utilized at present.”

Masked Man: Clint Benedict poses with his mask in 1930.

Benedict was on the case, of course, commissioning a sporting goods firm to make him a sensible apparatus with which he could return to the Maroons net. The record hasn’t, over the years, had much more to say in the way of specifics than that.

According to several accounts, the firm was in Boston — that’s what Jim Hynes and Gary Smith report in their book Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask (2008), though they don’t list a source. Another history, Douglas Hunter’s lavish A Breed Apart: An Illustrated History of Goaltending (1995), mentions Boston, but also notes a second possibility: that the Maroons’ trainer (not named, but it would have been Bill O’Brien) “modified a black leather face mask boxers wore in sparring by riveting a thick black bar across the front to protect Benedict’s nose and cheekbone.” Again, no sources are listed.

The Hockey Hall of Fame’s Benedict mask.

There is this famous contemporary photograph of Benedict showing off his mask. As Hunter points out, the Hockey Hall of Fame has in its collection another mask of a slightly different design that it says belonged to Benedict. Is that one a prototype, then, or an alternate mask? In 1932, Benedict announced that he was contemplating a hockey comeback with the aid of a whole new mask — maybe that’s what the Hall has?

One photograph I hadn’t seen until I came across it recently in the pages of a Montreal newspaper from February of 1930 must have been taken at the same time as the one above. Benedict has the same distant gaze in this new one, but his cap is off: you can see the head-strap that held the mask in place, or not — in at least one of the games in which the mask served, the strap failed and had to be taped.

Even more interesting than the photograph is the short article that accompanies it. It may not solve any of the small puzzles associated with Benedict’s mask — indeed, on a point or two, it stirs up new questions. There’s insight here, too, though, into the makings of Benedict’s mask that I haven’t seen before in my scourings of archival records.

That’s for another post, though, I think, on another day. Stand by.

 

aide-mémoire: a short history of nhl assistant coaches

Mike Nykoluk was an up-and-coming 21-year-old forward when he played for the Winnipeg Warriors of the old WHL in 1955-56, a team loaded with former NHLers, including goaltender Ed Chadwick, defenceman Bill Juzda, and forwards Bill Mosienko and Paul Masnick. Also manning the Warrior blueline that year was a former New York Ranger, 30-year-old Fred Shero, who was just about to launch a coaching career that would take him to Philadelphia in the early 1970s.

It was there, of course, that Shero would contriveto guide the Flyers to successive Stanley Cup championships, in 1974 and ’75. Nykoluk was there for those, too, you might remember: following his brief NHL career (32 games with the ’56-57 Toronto Maple Leafs) and a longer cruise (16 seasons) in the AHL, Shero had hired him as an assistant coach in June of 1972.

Mike Nykoluk, I’m sorry to say, died last week at the age of 87. In 1978, he followed Shero when he went to New York to coach the Rangers. Mostly he was referred to (again) as an assistant, though Shero preferred to call him a co-coach. Eventually, between 1981 and 1984, Nykoluk got his chance to be the boss, seeing service through parts of four seasons as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Something he was not: the NHL’s first assistant coach.

That’s a claim that has been often repeated over the years, with confidence. Eric Duhatschek, for instance, in a 2017 Globe and Mail feature about the evolution of the role of coaches in the NHL declared that Shero had “hired the first official full-time assistant coach, Mike Nykoluk, in 1972.” History doesn’t agree.

Reminders of Nykoluk’s (supposed) trailblazering resurfaced last week, too, so maybe time for some clarifying. For all his achievements through the years, Nykoluk wasn’t even close to being the NHL’s original assistant coach.

Jeff Marek, Sportsnet’s esteemed hockey broadcaster, keeps a careful eye on hockey’s history, and he was attentive in seeing the record corrected …

… up to a point.

Because while Al McNeil and Doug Harvey did indeed precede Nykoluk as NHL assistants, others went before. Many others. Onward into the obscurity.

The first? That distinction would seem to belong to Dick Carroll, in Toronto, all the way back in the league’s inaugural season, 1917-18. There’s some cloudiness to this, so bear with me, if you will.

To start with, some straightening out of terminology is in order: in those early decades of pro hockey, teams tended to have one man who both coached and took care of player personnel, and he was usually called (in the baseball way) the manager. This was true, for example, in the mid-1920s, with icons like Art Ross in Boston, Lester Patrick of the New York Rangers, and Jack Adams in Detroit.

Toronto’s manager for the 1917-18 season was Charlie Querrie, who happened to be the man who ran Toronto’s Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, home to the new team. Querrie was appointed in early December of ’17, two weeks before the NHL’s opening night. Dick Carroll’s appointment as Querrie’s aide was announced at the same time.

So there it is: Dick Carroll was the NHL’s first assistant coach.

Ottawa’s Journal reporting the news (and misspelling the name) in December of 1917.

If that’s clear enough, here’s some cloud to obscure things: as the modern-day Maple Leafs recount it, Carroll was head coach in 1917, steering the team through its first 40 games and onward through to 1919. Querrie’s 1917 service is recognized in the team’s list of GMs; as a coach, he’s recognized for two later tours he served in the ’20s, by which time the team had turned into the St. Patricks.

Got that?

Wrong, I’d say, in my nitpicking way, with a kicker to the effect that, by failing to acknowledge the way things used to be, the Leafs have (not for the first time) muddled their own history.

Further fogging things is the fact through the course of the 1917-18 season, Toronto’s bench was anything but settled.

Charlie Querrie had taken the job in Toronto on the understanding that he’d be free to operate without the interference of Eddy Livingstone, the NHA owner, Toronto hockey eminence, persona non grata — it was to ostracize and spite Livingstone that the NHL was formed in the first place in November of 1917. Livingstone’s ongoing meddling seems to have prompted Querrie’s resignation at the end of December, after Toronto had played just three NHL games, leaving Dick Carroll in charge: the assistant coach was now the coach.

Unless Querrie didn’t quit.

Newspapers that had reported that Querrie was finished were soon correcting the record to say that he was still on the job, or would be again as soon as the team’s owners at the Montreal Arena Company guaranteed him that Livingstone would really, truly, be kept away from the team. Querrie also seems to have sought to download some of the coaching he was doing to Carroll.

This all seems to have taken some negotiating, leaving Carroll in charge. Querrie did return to the fold, but as of January of 1918, Carroll does seem to have assumed day-to-day — and game-to-game — control of the team, with Querrie moving more into the realm of — well, yes, what we would today recognize as GMing.

That April, when Toronto won the first Stanley Cup of the NHL era, accounts of the final series only confirm this division of labours: Carroll was coach, Querrie was manager. Glory to them both, along with a footnote or two: Querrie’s NHL’s coaching record should include those first three games that he coached, the very ones that constitute Carroll’s entire tenure as the league’s original assistant coach.

Hawk’s Nest: Helge Bostrum (left) and Clem Loughlin in May of 1934. The caption on this photo, as it appeared in the Chicago Tribune: ‘Loughlin’s appointment as the new manager of the Chicago Blackhawks was confirmed yesterday morning. Helge Bostrum, former Hawk defense star, will be his assistant.”

Next in the NHL’s long line of assistant coaches? A non-definitive listing might look to Boston.

Sprague Cleghorn was 37 in 1927, playing out the last year of his long, distinguished, and very brutal career with the Boston Bruins. He was team captain again that year, as he had been previously, and he had a new role, too, as manager Art Ross’s (playing) assistant. Cleghorn was running practices and stood in as interim coach for several games in early 1928 when Ross was home with a stomach ailment. So he seems to have been second among assistant coaches.

Born in Copenhagen, Emil Iverson went from head coach of the University of Minnesota hockey team in the 1920s to being hired as the NHL’s first full-time physical director when Major Frederic McLaughlin brought him on with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1930. Iverson was appointed head coach after that (the league’s first European-born pilot), only to be replaced in 1933 by Tommy Gorman … whom Iverson continued to serve as assistant.

Gorman departed in 1934, having won the Stanley Cup. When Clem Loughlin was named his successor, the newly retired Chicago defenceman Helge Bostrum signed on as his assistant.

More and more teams in the ’30s were hiring deputies, a review of newspaper archives shows, some of them who were still playing, some others fresh off hanging up their active careers. To wit:

Bill Cook aided Lester Patrick with the New York Rangers in 1936-37, with Frank Boucher stepping in to take up the same role the following season, ’37-38.

Frank Boucher’s Ranger role was reported in September of 1937.

Larry Aurie served as a playing assistant to Jack Adams with the Detroit Red Wings in 1938-39.

Paul Thompson was Chicago coach Bill Stewart’s playing assistant that same season.

When the Montreal Canadiens shifted coaches in the latter stages of that season, swapping in club secretary Jules Dugal to replace Cecil Hart, Babe Siebert was named captain and playing assistant.

In Chicago in 1938, Carl Voss was hired to assist Paul Thompson, now the coach of the Black Hawks. And in 1941, Helge Bostrum resurfaced as an assistant to Thompson.

The Bruins had a run of distinguished assistants through the ’40s and ‘50s, with Dit Clapper, Jack Crawford, and Milt Schmidt all appointed to the role at one point or another.

In 1958-59, Bert Olmstead served as a playing assistant to Toronto Maple Leafs’ coach Punch Imlach. King Clancy, too, served Imlach and the Leafs the same role in Toronto in the ’60s, as well as working as assistant GM.

This is, again, no official register, but it does make clear that at least 17 men served as assistant coaches in the NHL before Mike Nykoluk started in Philadelphia in 1972.

I don’t know exactly how the Nykoluk glitch get into regular rotation, but it seems it started at the source. Discussing the hiring that June, 50 years ago, Flyers GM Keith Allen is quoted in several newspaper reports as confirming Nykoluk as a pioneer, with Fred Shero weighing in on the breakthrough, too. Why not add an assistant? “Football and baseball have assistant coaches,” Shero opined, “and those sports are not as physical or mentally demanding as hockey.”

The error was enshrined early on in the local literature. The Flyers’ 1975-76 yearbook, for instance, casually mentions it.

In Full Spectrum, a comprehensive history of the team from 1996, Jay Greenberg scales it back a bit: Nykoluk is identified there “one of the NHL’s first assistant coaches.”

Keith Allen is quoted as crediting Flyer owner Ed Snider for the hire. “Eddie came from football, where they had assistant coaches, and thought Freddie could use some help,” Allen recalled. “Mike had never been fast enough to play in the NHL,  but he was a smart player and I had a lot of respect for him.”

Helpmeet: A team-issued photo of Al McNeil, who appointed an assistant to Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Ruel in 1970 and, a few months later, succeeded him.

 

amazons prime

Banff Bosses: The 1922 Vancouver Amazons. Top rank, from left: Betty Hinds, Florence Johnson, manager Guy Patrick, Phoebe Senkler, Amelia Voitkevic. Bottom, from left: Lorraine Cannon, Kathleen Carson, Nan Griffith, Nora Senkler, Mayme Leahy. (Image: City of Vancouver Archives)

“In all Canada — the land of scenic grandeur and romance — there are no events that portray the national spirit to a greater extent than the Banff Winter Carnival.” So ran the marketing, anyway, for the annual Alberta jamboree that in 1922 embraced the winter in late January and into February with a festival of curling, “art” (i.e. figure) skating, snowshoe-racing, “ski running and jumping,” tobogganing, swimming (in the warmth of the local sulphur pools), and hockey.

The Banff women’s hockey tournament featured three teams, as far as I can tell, a pair from nearby Calgary, the Byngs and (the Alpine Cup holders) the Regents along with the Vancouver’s Amazons. The latter were owned by Frank Patrick, who was (along with brother Lester) the founder of the PCHA and all-round baron of West-Coast hockey. The team’s coach was a younger Patrick brother, Guy, who served in the First World War with the Canadians Expeditionary Force before retiring to manage Vancouver’s (Patrick-built) Denman Arena. Also attending the team at Banff, though she doesn’t appear in the team portrait above: the team’s chaperone, Mrs. B.E. Green.

The Amazons lost their opening game 1-0 to the Byngs, with Lucy Lee scored the deciding goal for Calgary. “Fine goalkeeping on either side made the game an interesting one to watch,” the Vancouver Daily World decided.

“The mainstay of the Vancouver team is undoubtedly Kathleen Carson, who played a speedy game on left wing,” according to the Calgary Albertan. Vancouver captain Phoebe Senkler was (said the Vancouver Sun) “a tower of strength on defence,” though she eventually had to leave the game after falling and injuring a knee. “For the Byngs, Miss [Helen] Tees in goal could show many men how the nets could be guarded as Miss Carson’s shots were equal to those of Tommy Phillips of Rat Portage fame, so said some fans.”

I’m not sure that the Byngs and the Regents met in Banff; the Amazons duly claimed the Alpine Cup by beating the Regents 2-1 in overtime in what the Albertan called “one of the fastest games ever witnessed at the mountain resort.” With Phoebe Senkler unable to play, the Amazons used Helen Tees of the Byngs as a substitute on defence.

Syd Brewster was credited Calgary’s goal, though the puck seems to have gone in after a Vancouver pass hit a Vancouver skate. For the Amazons, it was Kathleen Carson scoring a pair to decide the matter.

The game was not, as they say, without incident. Here’s the Vancouver’s Province on a first-period fracas:

Florence Johnson [of the Amazons] was penalized for two minutes after being hit on the head by one of the Regents, to which she retaliated. After going to the penalty box she collapsed and had just reached the dressing room when [teammate] Nannie Griffiths was laid out, leaving the Amazons with only six players. Although shot after shot was rained in, it was impossible for the Regents to penetrate the Amazons goal, owing to the “eagle eye” of Amelia Voitkevic, who played a magnificent game.

One last social note: Kathleen Carson and Guy Patrick were married in Vancouver in September of 1922. Lester Patrick was on hand, though I don’t know that Frank was. Standing up as best man was Pete Muldoon, a former coach of the Vancouver Ladies Hockey Team who also steered the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans to a Stanley Cup championship in 1917 and, in 1926, was named the very first coach of the Chicago Black Hawks.

the dawn-defying whoopee

A birthday today for Lester Patrick, legendary rushing defenceman (and stopgap goaltender), hockey innovator, and architect of the New York Rangers, born in Drummondville, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1883. Here he is, with headgear, at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto in April of 1940, when his Rangers seized the (detachable) Stanley Cup from the Maple Leafs in six games. Patrick was 56 that year, and just GM, having handed over coaching duties that year to Frank Boucher after 13 seasons on the bench. This was the sixth Cup of Patrick’s illustrious career. It was the Rangers’ third championship; they wouldn’t win a fourth (as New York fans might remember) until 1994. Cavorting with Patrick are Rangers (from left) Bryan Hextall and Neil Colville.

“Pandemonium reigned in the Ranger dressing room,” a CP dispatch noted of events at Maple Leaf Gardens before the party moved over to the Royal York, “as [Toronto] manager Conn Smythe and members of the Leaf team congratulated the New York players. In their own quarters, the Leafs proved good losers and many of them later joined the Rangers in the dawn-defying whoopee.”

 

 

spit take: nels stewart, newsy lalonde, and a jolt of tobacco juice in jakie forbes’ eye

Poison Control: A 1952 magazine ad for Pleasant Moments whisky celebrated Nels Stewart’s 1931 record-setting outburst with this imaginative view of one of the two goals he scored within four seconds to lead his Montreal Maroons to a win over the Boston Bruins. (Artist: John Floherty Jr.)

By early afternoon, the signs at Montreal’s Forum were already up: Standing Room Only. “And long before the referees called the teams together at centre ice to start the game, all this space had been grabbed up,” the Gazette’s Marc McNeil would recount. “It was a complete sell-out Saturday night. And those 13,000 fortunates witnessed a mighty spectacle that crammed action and thrills into every minute of play.”

Playing a leading role that night in January of 1931: Nels Stewart, star centreman for Montreal Maroons and the reigning Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP. In a battle between two of the NHL’s best teams, Stewart, who was born in Montreal on a Monday of yesterday’s date in 1902, powered his team to a win over the visiting Boston Bruins with a third-period outburst, setting a record for speedy scoring that stands to this day.

That being the case, today’s another day that I’ll be pleased to gripe that Stewart doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. His absence from the NHL’s 2017 list of the 100 Greatest Players in league history tells you everything you need to know about that marred memorial. Stewart won a Stanley Cup with the Maroons in 1926 and was the first man to win the Hart Trophy twice. Along with his seven seasons in Montreal, Stewart played another five for the New York Americans along with four for Boston where, though the Bruins themselves have forgotten it, he captained the team. In 1937, the man they called Old Poison overtook Howie Morenz as the NHL’s all-time leading goalscorer, a height he held until Maurice Richard overtook him in 1952. Stewart was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.

Toronto Telegram columnist Ted Reeve grew up with Stewart in the Beaches, in Toronto’s eastern end. “The best natural all-round athlete I have ever seen in Canada,” Reeve called him.

“Extremely deceptive,” was Frank J. Selke’s verdict, “the brainiest player I have ever known.”

Selke also testified that Stewart “couldn’t backcheck a lick.”

“He is worthless as a defensive player, always has been,” Herb Manning wrote in the Winnipeg Tribune in 1939. “There is nothing streamlined about him. He lumbers along like a truck on a steep grade. He always seems to be ten feet behind the play, whether they are going backward or forward.”

But?

“But a split second is all the time he requires to complete a chore in the enemy zone.”

He got his chores done, scoring 324 goals in 650 regular-season NHL games, nine more in 50 playoff games.

In Montreal, he centred the famous S line, flanked by Hooley Smith and Babe Siebert. “Babe and Hooley did most of the work,” Stewart later said, “because I was a shambling six-footer who took relays from the corners.”

In 1938, the Ottawa Journal wrote about his “careless, almost lazy style,” noting also that “no goalie ever feels at ease while he is lurching and wandering around the vicinity of the net.”

Ottawa Senators goaltender Clint Benedict: “Nels liked to park and take a puck and fire it quick.”

“Nels was one helluva hockey player,” New York Rangers centreman Frank Boucher said. “He was almost impossible to move once he got in front of the net.”

Harold Burr of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle consulted former Senators star defenceman Eddie Gerard on Stewart’s virtues in 1932, when Gerard was coaching the New York Americans.

“Big and wide of beam,” was Burr’s description of Stewart, whose playing-days metrics came in at 6’1’’, 200 pounds.

No other player in the National Hockey League practices his loafing around the nets of the enemy. He doesn’t look dangerous. He isn’t a fast skater or a hard shot. But he does all his playing from the other fellow’s blue line.

“Watch him lift his shoulder to draw the goalie out,” warns Gerard, his old Montreal boss. “That’s why he scores so frequently — he makes the goalminder make the first move. But watch further. Nels never shoots from the shoulder. He just flips his wrist.”

Boston bought him in 1932. “He is a two-fisted fighting player,” coach Art Ross said at the time, “and the greatest inside player in the game.”

Greatest Inside Player in the Game: Montreal Maroons’ star Nels Stewart as he actually looked in the early 1930s.

Which brings us back to that night at the Montreal Forum in 1931, Saturday, January 3. Nearly halfway through the season’s schedule, the visiting Bruins were heading up the league’s American section, while the Maroons were atop on the Canadian side, neck-and-neck with the Canadiens, defending Cup champions.

Maroons prevailed, 5-3, despite going into the third period trailing 3-1. D.A.L. MacDonald wrote up the game for the Montreal Gazette, and he speculated that if the frenzied Montreal fans had any regrets, they might have centred on the hurry with which the home team turned the game around.

First winger Jimmy Ward scored. Six minutes later, Stewart stepped up after Hooley Smith slammed a shot into Tiny Thompson’s pads. “The rebound dropped barely a foot in front of the Boston goalie and big Nelson Stewart was in like a flash to flip the puck over his prostrate form,” was how MacDonald saw it. “If Nels had scooped it up with a dessert spoon he couldn’t have done it more neatly.”

That tied the game. Four seconds later, Stewart scored the winner. It went like this:

From the face-off once again, Stewart slipped a pass over to Smith that left the Boston front rank behind and at the defence back came the disc to Nelson. The big fellow rode right in on Thompson and the goalie never had a chance. Another flip of those steel wrists and Maroons were in front to stay.

Two goals in four seconds. “Shades of Frank McGee!” MacDonald enthused. “For quick scoring feats and high-powered excitement, Nelson the Great has few equals.” It would, indeed, take 64 years for another NHLer to match Stewart’s record. No, not Gretzky or Lemieux: in1995, Winnipeg Jets defenceman Deron Quint scored a pair of goals in four seconds versus the Edmonton Oilers to slip into the record book alongside Stewart.

Is there any indication that in scoring his brisk brace, Stewart might have distracted or disabled Tiny Thompson by spitting tobacco juice into his unsuspecting eye?

No, none. Though that is a stratagem that is persistently attributed to Stewart in latter-day accounts of his career. Mostly it’s offered up as passing proof of his cunning and/or outright nastiness, often with a hint of admiration — if not any specificity.

The general tobacco-spitting charge shows up in Stewart’s Wikipedia profile, for instance. Floyd Conner slots it into Hockey’s Most Wanted (2002), with his own twist: the eye-spitting was motivated by Stewart’s “contempt” for goaltenders. In his 2012 book, Next Goal Wins, Liam Maguire goes out on a limb of his own to venture that the nickname Old Poison derived directly from “his habit of spitting chewing tobacco into the eyes of opposing goaltenders.”

Stan Fischler has been one of the more enthusiastic purveyors of the expectorating story over the years; it repeats throughout his broad oeuvre. Here it is in his The All-New Hockey’s 100 (1998):

It was not uncommon for Stewart to chew a wad of tobacco, produce juice, and then spit it unerringly in the eyes of a goalie as he shot the puck.

None of the above mentions is sourced; not one identifies a particular instance which any first-hand accounting to back up the chewing/juicing/spitting combo that Stewart is reputed to have employed to such (purported) devilish effect. None of the authors cited above seems to have done any digging of their own. If they had, they’d have found that no-one seems to have been taking note of Stewart’s spitful habit when he was actually playing: my scourings of contemporary newspaper accounts from Stewart’s active years in the 1920s and ’30s haven’t turned up even a fleeting mention of any tobacco-chewing let alone spitting.

The legend does (fittingly?) crop up in the five-part hockey-history TV series that Vancouver’s Opus Pictures produced in 1996, Legends of Hockey, and my guess (it’s mostly a guess) is that it’s from this (also unsourced) documentary that the subsequent literary mentions originated and proliferated. (Wikipedia’s mention of Stewart’s adventures in chaw footnotes it.) The second episode includes short biographies of several colourful hockeyists, including Eddie Shore, Red Horner, and Ol’ Poison himself. You can click in to review it here, starting at the 27:26-minute mark, where you’ll soon hear narrator Alan Maitland intone:

As well as being poison around the net, the Montreal Maroons’ Nels Stewart had the nasty habit of spitting his chewing tobacco in the goalie’s eyes. Never a great skater, never a great checker, he was still a lethal goalscorer.

As Garth Woolsey of the Toronto Star wrote back in 1996, Legends of Hockey is, as a whole, a delightful confection. Specifically citing Stewart and his alleged spitting, Woolsey also notes that “in the off-hand fashion of such productions, this pungent detail is presented without elaboration. Legends delivers with more similar tidbits of history, whetting the appetite. What it might not explain meatily, the series suggests delectably.”

Is it possible that there’s truth at the root of the legend, wherever that might lie? Of course. But without any first-hand account of where Stewart might have been chewing his tobacco and loosing it on contemptible goaltenders, or when, or who the goaltenders might have been, I’ll be wary of treating the tale as fact. I don’t mind James Marsh’s formulation in his biography of Stewart in The Canadian Encyclopedia:

The story that he spat tobacco juice in the eyes of opposing goalies may be apocryphal but apparently is in keeping with his temperament on the ice.

If Newsy Lalonde merits a mention here (and he does), it’s because he’s a, well, key witness in the larger case — as well as a prime suspect.

Lalonde, of course, was one of hockey’s greatest talents, as well as another fairly glaring absentee from that centenary list from 2017. His pro career on ice started as early as 1906, and he went on to play seven NHL seasons, mostly with the Montreal Canadiens, before it was over in the late 1920s. He was famously uncompromising — which is one generous way of saying that he played the game violently and often with what still looks like, over the distance of years, breathtaking spite.

Not that he was (apparently) alone in his willingness to twist rules or (as the case may be) soak them in tobacco juice in those early decades. Long after he’d hung up his skates he was still recalling the transgressions of opponents like Paddy Moran, Stanley-Cup-winning goaltender for the Quebec Bulldogs and a fellow Hall-of-Famer. Here’s Lalonde reminiscing in 1951, as reported in the Montreal Gazette:

“Paddy chewed tobacco,” Newsy said, “and he could hit a keyhole at 40 paces. You had to duck when you skated behind his cage or he’d get you right between the eyes.”

Lalonde elaborated on this theme a decade later. This time he was talking to Andy O’Brien for a feature on hockey malice for Weekend Magazine.

“Paddy [Lalonde said] was in a class by himself by himself when it came to chopping toes of opposing forwards who came within range, and in those days the skate toes weren’t  so well padded. But his pet skill was squirting tobacco in your eye.”

In 1961, Newsy Lalonde implicated Paddy Moran for his chaw crimes.

What would it have cost Any O’Brien to press for just a few more details? As it is, I guess Lalonde’s long-range memories do get us closer to a confirmed case of tobacco-juice-in-the-eye without pinpointing anything precisely. The best we might be able to hope for on that count focusses again on Newsy Lalonde, though he’s not (and probably shouldn’t be expected to be) implicating himself this time. It’s another goaltender of old giving evidence here, Jakie Forbes, who was playing for the Toronto St. Patricks in the early 1920s when Lalonde was skating for — and captaining and coaching — the Canadiens.

Forbes’ news wasn’t exactly fresh when he got around to reporting it: one version I’m looking at dates to 1969, 50 years after the fact, when Forbes was 72, and the other is from Trent Frayne’s 1974 book The Mad Men of Hockey.

Both accounts are, it has to be said, fairly vivid, even if they don’t perfectly match up.

The first, from a genial Globe and Mail retrospective, has Forbes telling his tale this way to writer James Young:

The game is much faster now, but not nearly as rough as it was. In one game at the old Mount Royal rink in Montreal, Newsy Lalonde came around the net and caught me in the eye with his stick. I went skating out to protest to the referee and skated right into him, knocking both of us down. He said he had not seen the incident and sent me back to the net.

The next time Lalonde came down to my end of the ice I went out to stop him, using a high stick if possible. He skated to the side of me, spit his tobacco juice in my face and when I fell skated around me to score in the open net.

Trent Frayne’s framing of this same tale five years later isn’t quite the same; it does up the colour balance.

“He was,” Forbes says this time, by way of introducing Lalonde, “the dirtiest son of a bitch I ever played against.”

In Frayne’s version, Forbes stopped Lalonde and the puck was headed back the other way. As Lalonde rounded the net to follow it, he paused to punch Forbes squarely — and hard — in the face.

“Blood spurted from the goaler’s nose,” Frayne writes, “and he took off after Lalonde, brandishing his stick like a lariat.”

The referee is named as Cooper Smeaton, and he does get knocked down. Jumping up, he’s quoted threatening Forbes:

“Get back in the goal, you crazy little bugger,” he shouted at the five-foot-five goaltender, “or you’re out of the game.”

Frayne adds some fine points to the final act of the piece, too. Near the end of the game, with Canadiens leading 4-1, Lalonde broke in with the puck. Forbes was ready for him, “readying an axe-swing at Lalonde’s head.”

But at the last instant the flying Lalonde spat a long stream of tobacco juice into Jakie’s face, circled the net laughing, and pushed the puck into the goal past the sputtering Forbes.

Triangulating with a few of the details provided by Frayne, it’s possible to key in a couple of games from the two seasons Forbes spent with Toronto. The first time he played Canadiens in Montreal was on Wednesday, March 10, 1920, a night on which the local Gazette found plenty in his performance to praise: “Forbes the Youngest Goaler in NHL Made Many Brilliant Stops at Mount Royal Arena,” reads a subhead from the next morning’s dispatch.

Too bad for Forbes, Montreal won, 7-2, with Lalonde scoring a hat trick. But contemporary accounts mention no high sticks, punches, or other hijinks. Also, the referee that night was Harry Hyland. So that’s probably not the night in question.

A better bet altogether is a game from almost a year later, a Monday-nighter played on February 28, 1921. It was noteworthy affair on several counts. A former U.S. president was one of the 5,000 spectators on hand, for one thing: what’s more, William Howard Taft was “in position to have a good view” of a first-period fight between Toronto’s Ken Randall and Didier Pitre of Montreal.

It was a thoroughly bad-tempered occasion even before the teams hit the ice. Toronto was lending winger Cully Wilson to Canadiens that season, but just before the game, with centreman Corb Denneny ill and unable to play, the St. Pats tried to claim Wilson back for their own line-up.

NHL President Frank Calder was in the building and presided over a summit in the referee’s room. The Montreal Star mapped the terrain:

If he played with Canadiens, Toronto would protest him. If he played with Torontos, Canadiens would no doubt protest him, and if he refused to play with Torontos, whose property he was, he would be suspended. The president, however, refused to counsel him what to do, and told him to suit himself, bearing in mind that he was Toronto’s property.

Wilson sat out and, indeed, never suited up for either Montreal or Toronto again: the following season he turned out for the Hamilton Tigers.

In Montreal in 1921, the game went sourly on without him. “There were many unparliamentary clashes,” the Star reported. The Mount Royal Arena’s natural ice deteriorated as the game continued, too. In the second interval, the Star’s reporter watched as “the men who were supposed to scoop the snow off the ice only got water for their pains, and when the third period began, the ice was like mud. When a man fell he got up sopping wet.”

It was in the second period that Forbes and Lalonde first sparred, though whether it was a high stick or a punch that the latter perpetrated isn’t clear. Press reports make no mention, either, of a collision between Forbes and Smeaton. “Lalonde was given a minor for charging Forbes,” is as much as we get from the Gazette, though with an interesting coda: “Lalonde was booed for his attack on the net custodian.” (Le Droit: “Lalonde was hissed when he jostled Forbes.”)

In Trent Frayne’s telling, the game ended 5-1 for Montreal, which wasn’t the case on this night. Lalonde did score Canadiens’ final goal, towards the end of the third, to complete a 4-0 Montreal win (and Georges Vézina shutout). As the Star had it, “Lalonde’s brilliant lone-handed shot finished the scoring.”

But if reporters present saw Lalonde score, none of them would seem to have noticed him spit his tobacco or laugh, and nor did they catch Forbes’ sputtering as he failed to foil him. That doesn’t mean that a spit-assisted goal isn’t part of hockey history which remains, after all, mostly a matter of the many moments, savoury or not, that go unrecorded.

Famous Five: Lined up from left, Newsy Lalonde, Lester Patrick, Odie Cleghorn, Frank Calder, and Cooper Smeaton, circa the … early 1930s? (Image: La Presse)

 

 

 

clem loughlin: viking elder, coach in chicago, victoria’s stanley cup captain

Taking Stick Stock: Chicago defenceman Earl Seibert consults with coach Clem Loughlin during the NHL’s 1935-36 season.

As boys growing up in Viking, Alberta, the Sutters knew him well: Brian did odd jobs at Clem Loughlin’s main-street hotel and out on his nearby cattle farm, and Darryl had him as a coach when he played midget in the early 1970s. “We idolized him,” Darryl would say years later, after he’d ended up taking the same job Loughlin had done 57 years before him. “I remember one bus ride to St. Albert or Stony Plain where I got to sit right beside him. I was amazed by all his stories. We didn’t have anybody in our town who’d done the things he’d done.”

Born in Carroll, Manitoba, on a Tuesday of this date in 1892, Clem Loughlin did a lot of hockey things in his time. A defenceman, he won an Allan Cup in 1915 with the Winnipeg Monarchs before turning pro with the PCHA’s Portland Rosebuds. He played a decade in the west-coast league, with the Victoria Aristocrats, who then turned into the Victoria Cougars, and shifted leagues in the WHL.

It was a powerful Cougars outfit that manager Lester Patrick assembled in 1925, with a 33-year-old Loughlin captaining a line-up that also included  Frank Fredrickson, Jack Walker, Frank Foyston, and Hap Holmes. That March, they beat the Montreal Canadiens to take the Stanley Cup in four games, the last time a team not from the NHL claimed the trophy.

Loughlin had a short NHL career after, joining the Detroit Cougars that same fall. After two seasons in Detroit, he played part of the 1928-29 season with the Chicago Black Hawks. After coaching the IHL London Tecumsehs, Loughlin returned to Chicago in 1935, succeeding Tommy Gorman behind the bench a year after Gorman had steered the Black Hawks to their first Cup.

Whatever the challenges of coaching in the NHL in the 1930s, Loughlin had the added burden of working for Major Frederic McLaughlin, the domineering coffee tycoon and former polo star who owned the Black Hawks and couldn’t leave the running of the hockey team to those with experience in the game. It was Loughlin who had to contend with his boss’s 1936 plan to do away with Canadian players and make do with only Americans. (McLaughlin also planned to re-name the team the Yankees.)

Loughlin dealt with the mandate from on high as best he could — and even defended McLaughlin all-American scheme. “It isn’t as silly as it sounds by any means,” he told the Montreal Gazette in early 1937. “I contend that most hockey players are made, not born. The superstars of the game, like Chuck Conacher, Howie Morenz, and Bill Cook, of course, are great athletes and were born to be headliners in hockey. But take some of these other fellows that aren’t athletes in any line of sport except hockey. It’s the only game some of them play, in fact. Coaching and an eagerness to improve themselves in a big-money game is what has made them capable players.”

“Of course,” he allowed, “the Major’s plan will take some time in developing, for we must practically at scratch in this thing. But, you may laugh at me or not, I do believe that the scheme has possibilities.”

Maybe so; we don’t know. It never really launched, and in May of ’37, Loughlin resigned his post. He back in Alberta by then, where he had his farm and his hotel. Major McLaughlin said he regretted the loss to the Black Hawks. “Our relations have been so extremely pleasant,” he said, “and he is a man of such high ideals and splendid character that he will be missed.”

Next up at the Chicago helm was Bill Stewart, the NHL referee and baseball umpire. The following year he did what Tommy Gorman had done and Loughlin, guiding the Black Hawks to another Stanley Cup.

“He was a real gentleman,” Darryl Sutter said in 2001,” always in a fedora and topcoat. He coached me my last year of midget. I don’t think Clem had coached anybody 40 years, but we needed somebody. He used to come out on the ice in his long black trenchcoat. And he had these skates, back to when he played. He had the date right on them. We loved of all of his stories.”

Clem Loughlin died in January of 1977 at the age of 84. It was 1992 when Darryl Sutter, now in his second stint as coach of the Calgary Flames, followed his mentor’s footsteps to the Blackhawks’ bench. In ’01, when he was coaching the San Jose Sharks, he had a photograph of Loughlin hanging on the wall of office. By then, another Loughlin acolyte, Brian Sutter, had taken over as Chicago’s coach.

Coaching Clinic: Clem Loughlin weighs in with Toronto’s Globe in 1936.