the human side of hockey!

Teddy Graham was a busy man in the winter of 1933. At his day-job, as a frontline defence for the Chicago Black Hawks, he and Taffy Abel were expected to do their best preventative work in front of goaltender Charlie Gardiner, keeping opposing forwards at bay, with minimal relief — Chicago was usually dressing just four defenceman at this time.

Then, that January, Graham got a promotion if perhaps not a raise: when the Black Hawks offloaded their captain, the veteran 39-year-old defender Helge Bostrom, Graham, 28, was appointed in his stead.

Still, with things so busy at work, Graham still managed to make a detour in early February of ’33 after the Black Hawks played in Detroit, heading north for a quick visit to Owen Sound, Ontario, his hometown, where he spent his summers playing baseball with the Brooke Millionaires.

Oh, and Graham was writing a syndicated newspaper column, too — well, lending his name and insight, if maybe not actually typing out actual sentences. In a series that would start appearing on newspaper pages across the continent in early March, Graham shared wild and woolly tales from his career. “Written On Ice,” the Tribune in Great Falls, Montana, headed the column, while the Buffalo Evening News touted it as revealing “The Human Side of Hockey!”

As it turned out, being human, Graham would fall to injury later around the same time. Along with several key teammates, he would miss the end of the schedule. Contemporary accounts aren’t clear on what was ailing him, exactly, but let’s assume that it had something to do with the wrapping we’re seeing in the scene here, dated to February, with Graham under the care of Black Hawks trainer Eddie Froelich and the supervision of coach Tommy Gorman.

Chicago finished at the bottom of the NHL’s American Division that month, out of the playoffs. With several games remaining in the regular season, Chicago owner Major Frederic McLaughlin announced that Gorman was the only employee on his payroll whose job was safe. “From today on,” he told the papers, “I will sell or trade any member of the squad, or all of them if necessary, to make certain of a berth in the Stanley Cup series next year.”

“It is apparent that not a few of our players have outworn their welcomes here,” he continued. “New faces are needed, and we’ll get them.”

That was good-bye for Teddy Graham: in October, he was traded to the Montreal Maroons in exchange for Lionel Conacher. (Charlie Gardiner succeeded him as captain.)

McLaughlin, it should be noted, got his wish: by the end of the 1933-34 season, Tommy Gorman had not only steered Chicago into the playoffs, he contrived to win the Cup, Chicago’s first.

 

(Image: © Chicago Sun-Times Media. SDN-074245, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

cooking with hockey players: roast beast is a feast

Put A Fork In It: Lionel Conacher played just a single season for Chicago, 1933-34, but it was a consequential one, as he helped the Black Hawks capture their first Stanley Cup championship. Seen here at home in Chicago with his roast in November of 1933, the 33-year-old defenceman was named to the NHL’s First All-Star team that year and finished second in balloting for the Hart Trophy behind Montreal’s Aurèle Joliat. (Image: © SDN-075730, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?

All of NHL History? Sportsnet was quick to tweet out the news last night. Others added the detail that the league has only been recording shift-times since 2009.

Jack Hughes was in it to … well, his team had to tie up the game last night in Newark before they could win it. In the end, Hughes’ New Jersey Devils ended up falling short: the visiting New York Islanders won the game 6-4. The Devils’ 21-year-old star centreman did give it his all, staying out on the ice as he hunted for goals — he also blocked a couple of Islander attempts on his team’s vacant net — for the final 6:02 of the game.

This looked exhausting.

It was also, as was quickly noted across social media, the longest shift in NHL history.

Well, not all 105 years of NHL history. As was also mentioned (mostly), in some of the breathless reporting, in brackets, and some small type, the NHL has only officially been logging shift-times for 13 years. The league’s PR office weighed in with the facts of the matter, for those who were interested: “Hughes recorded a 6:02 shift to conclude the game, marking the longest verified shift on record (since 2009-10), besting the previous benchmark of 5:52 by John Klingberg on Jan. 18, 2022 (Dallas Stars).”

Yeoman’s work, by any measure: a big bravo to Hughes, his stamina, and coach Lindy Ruff’s confidence in him. Also, inevitably, because it’s what happens here, we’re now going to have to harken back to the league’s first decades to recall that in those years players habitually stayed on the ice for entire games without relief.

These feats are, yes, unverified: nobody in the 1920s was recording the duration of shifts and filing them numbers with the NHL. It’s true, too, that rosters were smaller in those years, and certainly the tempo and overall tenor of the game was much different than it is today. We’ll add that to the mix. Still, the endurance of these earlier NHLers is remarkable, nonetheless. Be warned: just reading about them you risk ending up on the IR, or at the very least in need of a nap.

Newspapers from those years tell of many players who toiled without respite for their teams. Clem Loughlin was coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1936 when he reached back to remember his playing days a decade earlier. “It was customary,” he wrote then, “for a defense man in those days to play the entire game. There was no such system of changing men to allow them rest as there is now.”

“60-minute men,” they used to call them. While they were common enough before the NHL came along, that’s the league we’ll concentrate on here. The term is one you’ll come across often in the hockey archives once the league got going in 1917, associated with defencemen like Sprague Cleghorn and Herb Gardiner. In 1929, anchoring the blueline for the New York Rangers in a 5-5 tie with the Detroit Cougars that was extended by a ten-minute overtime, Ching Johnson was reported to have played 68 of the game’s 70 minutes alongside Leo Bourgeault, who played 64. The only time they missed was when they were serving penalties.

Lionel Conacher was in his early 30s when he was logging full games for the Montreal Maroons in the early 1930s.

The latest evidence of a 60-minute game that I’ve come across — that is, the most recent — isn’t from the NHL, though it involves a future Hall-of-Famer: in 1961, playing for the Junior A Canadiens, Jacques Laperriere played an entire game on defence against the St. Catharines Teepees.

Dogged non-defencemen of the day include Frank Frederickson, a hero of Canada’s 1920 Olympic team, who in 1928 was traded by the Boston Bruins to the Pittsburgh Pirates. “His stamina is remarkable,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette advised its readers, “and he has played 50 of the 60 minutes comprising a championship game, a remarkable record for a forward.”

Frankly Speaking: In 1924, Nighbor won the very first Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. A year later, he was awarded the inaugural Lady Byng Trophy.

It’s another superlative centreman I’d prefer to illuminate, Frank Nighbor, a favourite of ours here at Puckstruck, and a player whose name, we continue to believe, deserves to be better known.

It’s the early 1920s we’re focussing on here, when Nighbor was in his late 20s, and his prime as a graceful and supremely skilled defensive forward coincided with the heyday of the (original) Ottawa Senators. Starting in 1920, they won three Stanley Cup championships in four years — and returned in 1927 to collect another.

Through it all, Nighbor played a lot.

Take for a sampler a game in March of 1920 when Ottawa, dressing just seven skaters, beat the Canadiens 4-3 in Montreal. “Nighbor played the entire game,” the Citizen reported, “taking desperate chances.” He scored a hattrick, including the game-winner in overtime.  

Sometimes, Nighbor’s teammates joined him in just keeping going. When Ottawa beat Montreal 2-0 at home in January of 1921, Georges Boucher, Eddie Gerard, Nighbor, Jack Darragh, and Cy Denneny lined up in front of goaltender Clint Benedict to start the game. As the Citizen noted, only Denneny took a break, giving way in the third period to Jack MacKell. “All the others played from start to finish without relief.”  

By the following year, the man they called the Pembroke Peach had upped the ante. “Nighbor played another remarkable game for Ottawa,” the Montreal Daily Star testified after the Senators downed the Toronto St. Patricks 2-1 at home, “as he went the entire 60 minutes without relief.”

But then, at that point, seven games into the season, Nighbor had played every minute but two that the Senators had played — he’d been penalized for tripping in the previous game. He was, the Citizen proclaimed, “making history.” I haven’t got solid intel on whether he carried on with this consistency for the rest of Ottawa’s 32 regular-season and playoff games that season, but I’m not sure I’d bet against him.

Nighbor was back at it the following year, too. Good to know, I guess, that local observers weren’t taking it entirely for granted. We’ll end with this concerned nod from the Ottawa Journal from January of 1924:

 

 

 

the tooth and nothing but

Rink-Ready: Cecil Hart, and his skate-guards.

Charlie Dinsmore played his football with the Toronto Argonauts in the early 1920s (Lionel Conacher and Dunc Munro were teammates); in the NHL, he turned out at centre for Montreal’s new club in 1924, joining Munro and scoring the team’s very first goal when the Maroons-to-be played their very first game, at the Boston Arena, on a Monday of this same date, 98 years ago.

Art Ross’ Bruins were new to the league, too, and they ended up winning that historic first encounter, getting goals from Smokey Harris and Carson Cooper in a 2-1 final. This was one of only six games that the Bruins won that year as they finished at the bottom of the six-team NHL standings with a record of 6-24-0.

Montreal, who started the season with Cecil Hart as coach and manager, did a little better, finishing in fifth place with a record of 9-19-2. Both teams missed the playoffs. Hart didn’t last the season, as it turned out; he parted ways with the team in February of 1925, ceding the bench with nine games remaining to former Ottawa Senators star defenceman Eddie Gerard.

Gerard, impressively, steered the Maroons to a Stanley Cup championship to top off the following year, 1925-26, you may recall. Ross’ Bruins, meanwhile, had to wait until 1929 to claim their first Cup championship. Hart, of course, went on to coach the Canadiens, winning a pair of Cups with them in 1930 and ’31.

Ross and Hart, who would have been old Montreal acquaintances, seem to have laid something of a (friendly?) wager ahead of their inaugural meeting on December 1, 1924. That, according to this Ottawa Journal item published following Boston’s win:

mr. october

The Montreal Canadiens were never going to trade their superstar Howie Morenz … until, this week in 1934, they did just that, sending their 32-year-old centreman, along with goaltender Lorne Chabot and defenceman Marty Burke, to the Chicago Black Hawks in exchange for winger Leroy Goldsworthy and defencemen Lionel Conacher and Roger Jenkins.

Morenz’s former Montreal teammates bade him farewell the following week with a banquet at Café Martin, Leo Dandurand’s restaurant at 2175 rue de la Montagne. Dandurand himself played toastmaster that evening; Tommy Gorman, Aurèle Joliat, and Montreal mayor Camilien Houde all addressed the gathering of 200 guests.

Four days later, Morenz was in Chicago to sign a contract with the Black Hawks, before joining his new teammates in Champaign, Illinois, for the team’s pre-season training camp. That may be where this October photograph was taken; that Chicago coach Clem Loughlin standing in as umpire here, with winger Johnny Gottselig playing the catcher’s part. On the ice, Loughlin initially tried Morenz in a couple of  combinations, skating him between Mush March and Norman Locking to start camp, then lining him up with Gottselig and Lolo Couture. It was with the latter duo that Morenz made his Chicago debut when the Black Hawks opened their season on November 8, hitting the road to beat the St. Louis Eagles 3-1. That night, Morenz assisted on the goal Gottselig put past Bill Beveridge to open the scoring.

(Image: SDN-076744, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

(big) trainspotting

Stars + Stripes: Born in Toronto on this date in 1900 (it was a Thursday, then), Lionel Conacher was known as The Big Train in his sporting youth, and he whistled his way to stardom at every venue he visited, excelling at football, wrestling, boxing, lacrosse, baseball, sculling, swimming, and track. Oh, and hockey: his Hall-of-Fame career as a defenceman spanned 12 seasons in which he won a pair of Stanley Cup championships, with the Chicago Black Hawks (in 1934) and Montreal’s Maroons (’35). With Joe Miller and Carl Voss, Conacher is one of the only three players in history to have had their names inscribed on both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup. Conacher was Liberal MPP in Ontario, too, and went on to serve five years as a federal MP representing Toronto’s Trinity riding until his death, which came at the age of 54, during a parliamentary softball game.

strolling lord stanley

Out And About: Members of the Chicago Black Hawks takes the Stanley Cup for a stroll in October of 1938. From left, they are: Baldy Northcott, Joffre Desilets, Bill Mackenzie, Ab DeMarco, Russ Blinco, Johnny Gottselig (with Cup), Alex Levinsky (with other part of Cup), Carl Voss, and Roger Jenkins.

The clock was showing 9.45 p.m. on this night, 84 years ago, when veteran Chicago centreman Carl Voss took a second-period pass from Johnny Gottselig and batted the puck past Toronto goaltender Turk Broda. Though there remained half a game still to play, Voss’ goal would prove the winner as the Black Hawks went on to a 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs on that April night in 1938 to claim the team’s second Stanley Cup with a 3-1 series win.

The throng at Chicago Stadium was 17,204 strong that night. But for all the happy hullabaloo that enveloped the ice, Chicago didn’t actually take possession of the storied Cup that night: as we’ve told it here before, the silverware was languishing back in Toronto, and only arrived in Illinois two days after Carl Voss sealed the deal for the Black Hawks.

Do It Again: An account of Jenkins’ 1938 jaunt with Mike Karakas.

The Black Hawks did get in a parade, of sorts, midday on the Wednesday, April 13. Back in 1934, Hawks’ defenceman Roger Jenkins had promised goaltender Charlie Gardiner that if Chicago won the Cup that year, he’d trundle Gardiner around the city’s downtown Loop in a wheelbarrow. He was — as seen below — as good as his word.

As he was, again, in 1938, treating goaltender Mike Karakas to a ride, this time. Reports from this follow-up foray vary: did they go for five blocks or just the one? It was one o’clock in the busy afternoon, and the hockey players, it was widely reported, tied up traffic on State Street for several minutes.

The Black Hawks got to visit with the Stanley Cup again in the fall of 1938, October, just before the team departed Chicago for a training camp at the University of Illinois at Champaign. That’s when the photograph that tops this post was taken: after the team lunched, the players went walkabout, trophy and (for some) luggage in hand.

Coach Bill Stewart wasn’t there: he was back home in Dorchester, Massachusetts, recovering from a bout of appendicitis, and would join the team later. The new season brought new faces to Chicago’s line-up, and some of them are seen here on the stroll, too: Baldy Northcott, Joffre Desilets, Ab DeMarco, and Russ Blinco hadn’t been with the Black Hawks when the won the Cup the previous April.

Carl Voss and Roger Jenkins are, notably, on hand. Also of interest is the storefront the players are passing here: McLaughlin’s Manor House Coffee was, of course, the business concern of Black Hawks’ founder Major Frederic McLaughlin.

Barrow Boys: In April of 1934, after Chicago won its first Stanley Cup, Black Hawk defenceman Roger Jenkins fulfilled his promise to take goaltender Charlie Gardiner for a wheelbarrow ride around the city’s downtown Loop. Presiding at left is pipe-smoking teammate Lionel Conacher.

 

 

collateral damage: a faceful of rocket richard’s stick, and gloves, and other adventures with an nhl whistle

Purpled Hayes: That’s rookie referee George Hayes on the ice in January of 1947 at Maple Leaf Gardens, struck down by Maurice Richard’s flying stick. Attending the patient is linesman Eddie Mepham. Richard looks on with interest and, I think, concern; that’s the Rocket’s stick still airborne behind Hayes. Leafs’ #7 is Bud Poile.

The Toronto Maple Leafs won the game, but it was this photograph of stickstruck referee George Hayes that ended up making the front page of the Globe and Mail on the morning after, 75 years ago this week.

Welcome to life as an NHL official in the late 1940s. Well, the turbulent times of Hayes, anyway, whose start in the league was auspicious for all the wrong reasons, and whose temperament, — and/or lifestyle — and/or suspicion of doctors — didn’t seem to promise much in the way of a long career.

And yet, and yet: in the course of a 19-year career, Hayes would become the first NHL linesman to work 1,000 games. All told, he skated in 1,549 NHL games, regular-season, playoff, and all-star.

The scene above? On Wednesday, January 15, 1947, just months into that tenure, Hayes was working the whistle in Toronto as the Leafs entertained the Montreal Canadiens. Syl Apps and Gaye Stewart got the goals Toronto needed, but (said the Globe’s Jim Vipond) goaltender Turk Broda was “the main factor” in Toronto’s 2-1 win. It cemented the Leafs’ hold on first overall in the NHL, with Montreal standing second.

Here’s Vipond on the mishap depicted here, which Hayes suffered in third period:

Five stitches were necessary to close the gash which split open his left eyebrow. He returned to finish his job after being patched up in the Gardens hospital. Hayes was struck by Maurice (The Rocket) Richard’s stick which accidentally flew out of the Montreal player’s hands. A fraction of an inch lower and the referee might have lost an eye.

Fans at Maple Leaf Gardens booed the very notion of the 32-year-old referee as it was announced that he’d been hurt. For Vipond, that was a “new low for sportsmanship” in Toronto sporting annals. “And the mild clapping when he returned stitched up only partly atoned for the misdemeanor.”

Born in 1914 in Montreal, Hayes grew up in Ingersoll, Ontario. “I could skate before I could walk,” he told a newspaper reporter in 1975. He learned his officiating chops in the OHA and AHL. In 1946, he was considered one of the top amateur referees in Canada. He was, no question, of the busiest: through the 1945-46 season, he officiated 105 games, including the Memorial Cup final, travelling some 32,000 kilometres that year as he attended to his duties.

It was interim NHL President Red Dutton who signed him to a big-league contract in April of ’46. The salary was $2,000 a year, with a bonus of $25 paid for each game he refereed.

By the time Hayes started his new job that fall, former NHL referee Clarence Campbell had taken the helm of the NHL. The six-team league, which played a 60-game schedule, employed just four referees that year: Hayes joined King Clancy, Bill Chadwick, and Georges Gravel on the whistle-blowing staff, who were supported by a dozen or so linesmen.

It was as a linesman that Campbell first eased Hayes into his new job, through October and November of ’46. He got his first assignment as a referee in Boston, where on a Wednesday night, November 27, he adjudicated a 5-2 Bruins’ win over the New York Rangers. He seems to have done just fine, which is to say he managed to stay out of the papers. Let the record show that the very first infraction he whistled was committed by Bruins’ centre Milt Schmidt, a cross-check.

It was one of only two penalties Hayes called on the night, which presumably pleased Campbell who, to start the season and his regime, had declared that he’d told his referees to err on the side of silence. “There’ll be a full 60 minutes of action,” he promised. “I’ve instructed all officials to keep the game moving and to lay off the whistle unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

The first blood Hayes spilled in his NHL career would seem to have been on New Year’s day of 1947, when he was reffing Leafs and Red Wings in Toronto. “Gorgeous George essayed to wrestle [Leaf] Bud Poile and [Wing] Pete Horeck — both at the same time — and finished up counting his teeth carefully,” Jim Coleman wrote in the Globe and Mail. Actually, he got a stick in the nose in the melee and the game was delayed while he went in search of patchwork.

The encounter with Richard’s stick came next, which had Coleman calling him “a scarred hireling.” Following in quickish succession was another game featuring Montreal, this one in Detroit, in which Canadiens’ Ken Mosdell was so irked by a penalty that Hayes had assessed him that the centreman (as the Gazette described it) skated hard against Hayes’ leg and had him stumbling” Hayes stayed up; Mosdell got a 10-minute misconduct for his efforts.

Around this same time, it was reported that Campbell had taken the league’s newest referee aside for a chat in the wake of criticism (notably from the Detroit Red Wings) that Hayes was letting too much go in the games he was overseeing.

If so, Hayes seems to have got the message: at the end of the next game he reffed, a torrid one between Toronto and Chicago, he announced that he was augmenting the penalties he’d assessed with $25 fines to four players who’d been brawling. (His accounting, as it turned out, was slightly off: one of those punished was Leaf left winger Nick Metz, though it was his teammate and younger brother, right winger Don Metz, who’d been in the melee.)

George Hayes’ rookie season didn’t end quietly. That February, in another fractious game between Toronto and Montreal, he gave the notoriously peaceable Leaf captain Syl Apps a 10-minute misconduct. Here’s the Globe and Mail’s Al Nickleson describing what happened:

Apps, who had only one minor penalty up to Sunday, received his misconduct after a shoving and high-sticking bee in the Canadien end. Not on the ice at the time the fracas began, Apps said that as team captain, he skated out to talk to the referee after the whistle had blown. Hayes, he said, told him the penalty was for having too many men on the ice. No penalties were given participants in the fracas.

According to Jim Coleman, as Apps skated to the penalty box, Montreal’s designated rankler Murph Chamberlain followed along to apply his needle: “There goes the Byng trophy, Syl, old boy.”

Maybe so, maybe not: what’s true is that when the post-season votes were tallied that year, Apps was second to Boston winger Bobby Bauer. Hayes’ iffy misconduct was, by then, missing from Apps’ charge-sheet: upon review, Clarence Campbell deemed that Hayes had erred and so erased the penalty from the league’s records. That was an NHL first at the time and, as far as I know, it hasn’t happened again.

March of 1947 had its own trials for Hayes. After a playoff game between Montreal and Boston, Canadiens’ GM Frank Selke declared his officiating “the worst I’ve seen in my life.”

Rocket Richard again figured in the narrative, though this time he was the one who was cut, in a clash at the boards with Boston’s Ken Smith. The former felt the latter deserved a major, but Hayes called a minor, and when Richard slapped his stick on the ice in disgust, Hayes drew one his 10-minute misconducts from his quiver. Asked about Hayes after the game, Selke said, “Clarence Campbell shouldn’t have sent out a child to do a man’s job.”

Campbell came out in defence of Hayes on that occasion: he had “handled the game quite competently.” But the following season, Hayes was back working as an NHL linesman, mostly, his reffing assignments much reduced. Not that he was, on the lines, protected from further harm: in the first weeks of the 1947-48 season, he was either pushed or punched by Montreal defenceman Butch Bouchard, who was duly fined $50.

In 1954, Hayes got to rekindle his relationship with Rocket Richard. This was late December, just three months before Richard punched another linesman, Cliff Thompson, in the face on the way to a match penalty and the suspension that exploded in an eponymous riot. It was Leafs and Canadiens again, in Toronto, and Richard was sparring with Leaf centre Bob Bailey who, as the Rocket later told it, gouged at his eyes. Here’s Richard’s account of what happened next, from his 1971 Stan-Fischler-assisted memoir:

When I got up I was madder’n hell. But I couldn’t see very well. George Hayes, the linesman, was trying told hold me off, and that got me even angrier, because all I wanted to do was get back at Bailey. Hayes didn’t mean any harm to me but I was furious over anybody trying to hold me so I went after Hayes. I didn’t hit him with my fist; just my gloves with a sort of “get away, man, you’re bothering me” kind of push. I just didn’t want to see anybody around me. But Hayes was big and strong and he managed to keep me away. I got fined good for that one and, even worse, I didn’t catch up with Bailey.

“Molesting an official” was the charge entered by Clarence Campbell in fining Richard a total of $250 for that incident.

Hayes was an imposing figure on the ice in his day, 6’3’’, 200+ pounds. “Ox-like” was a description invoked at the time of his death, in 1987. “He used to smell trouble,” NHL referee Art Skov said then. “He’d step between players. He knew how to talk to guys like the Rocket and calm them down. He saved me and a lot of other referees a lot of trouble.”

Break It Up: Linesmen Mush March (left) and George Hayes attend a scuffle during the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Black Hawks at Chicago Stadium in December of 1950. “There were several fights in the final period resulting from the Hawks’ general frustration at not being able to score,” UPI noted in a write-up of the game, “but no one was hurt.” Embrangled here, that’s the Bruins’ Milt Schmidt, who’d end up winning the Hart Trophy that year as NHL MVP, atop Chicago’s Pete Babando. Referee Bill Knott punished the combatants with two-minute penalties, for roughing. Embrangled here, that’s the Bruins’ Milt Schmidt atop Chicago’s Pete Babando. Referee Bill Knott punished the combatants with two-minute penalties, for roughing.

Skov, who started as a linesman in the later 1950s, remembered Hayes telling him and his fledgling colleagues never to touch Richard, no matter what. “Talk to him, talk about anything,” Skov recalled Hayes saying, “the weather, the news, anything, but never handle him. When the Rocket was mad, he was mad. He might do anything.”

Obituaries would, eventually, cite Hayes’ individualism, hot temper, his stubbornness, love of argument, his drinking.

There was the story of his days as a talented amateur baseball player playing for the Tillsonburg Pandrieds in southern Ontario. Those came to an abrupt halt in 1940 when he took exception to the effrontery of an Aylmer second baseman. “I hauled off and broke his nose,” Hayes later recalled. In the ruckus that ensued, Hayes picked up an umpire and (as he told it) threw him over a fence.

Lionel Conacher was chairman of the Ontario Athletic Commission at the time, and it was the former NHLer who banned Hayes from playing any sports. By the time he was re-instated, he’d taken up as a hockey official.

The episode, Hayes said, taught him “tolerance for the player’s point of view.”

“I wanted to treat them the same as I’d like to be treated.”

Whisky (Canadian Club) and beer (Molson’s) were his drinks. There was the story that when Hayes started working the lines in the NHL, Campbell and referee-in-chief Carl Voss thought that putting him under King Clancy’s wing might regulate his intake. “Campbell knew King didn’t drink,” Hayes had once recalled,” and I did. But he didn’t know that King would sit up with me until five in the morning and drink ginger ale.”

“Hayes makes no secret of his drinking,” a 1965 profile reported, adding Hayes’ own disclaimer. “Sure, I took drinks after a game,” he said. “Who doesn’t? The players do, the officials do. This is a tough racket. But I’ve never taken a drink before a game. I’ve never been in a bar before a game.”

Hayes was fined, apparently, for having a friendly post-game drink with a couple Chicago Black Hawks, Pierre Pilote and Frank Sullivan: $50.

He got into trouble in 1961 for his travel habits: Campbell suspended him for two weeks for going coach on trains to games instead of riding first class while still charging the NHL for the more expensive ticket. At the time, Hayes insisted it wasn’t about the money. “I just can’t sleep in a sleeper, but I can sleep in a day coach.”

That may have been so; he also later said that all the officials were doing it. “the league only allowed us $10 a day and that was supposed to pay for the hotel, meals, taxis, and our laundry. We went in the hole every day. That’s why I rode day coaches — to make up the losses.”

“It would make you $20 or $30 per trip.”

Campbell said that NHL officials had no choice in the matter: they needed a good night’s sleep before a game. “We want officials who are fit and in proper condition to work,” he said.

In 1963, Carl Voss docked Hayes $50 for taking the ice unshaven for an afternoon game.

If it doesn’t sound like a sustainable relationship that Hayes and his employers had, well, no, it wasn’t. It came to its professional end in 1965 when Campbell required all NHL officials to undergo an eye test and Hayes refused.

“Hell,” he protested, “I’ve tested my eyes for years in bars reading the labels on whisky bottles. I can still do it, so who needs an eye test? A guy is an inch or two offside and I can call it from 85 feet away. There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight and there never has been.”

“We all took the test, except George,” Art Skov said in 1987, “and nobody could talk him into it. The part of it is, the guy doing the test was a war buddy of referee Eddie Powers and, even if you were blind as a bat, he was going to give you a good report.”

Campbell wasn’t backing down, either. Again, Hayes was suspended, though this time there was no going back. He never worked another NHL game.

“My name was mud,” he said. “They were going to get me one way or another.”

Nineteen years he’d worked the NHL ice. Towards the end, the job that had started at a base salary of $2,000 was paying him $4,000 a year for working 80 games. Linesmen were by then getting $50 for any additional games they toiled at, $100 for a playoff game. For 1963-64, Hayes made about $6,300 all in.

In his exile, Hayes returned to the family farm in Beachville, in the Ingersoll area. He refereed benefit and oldtimers’ games. He became a sports columnist for the Sentinel-Review in nearby Woodstock, Ontario, weighing in regularly to barrack Voss and Campbell. A 1967 profile said that he walked ten miles a day while noting that it was five miles from his gate to the Ingersoll Inn, his favourite pub, and that he didn’t drive.

He was bitter but not surprised at being overlooked year after year by the Hockey Hall of Fame. “I’ve been blackballed,” he told a reporter in the spring of 1987 when Matt Pavelich became the first NHL linesman to be inducted. “You don’t get any money for it,” Hayes said, “so I don’t really care if I ever get elected. But I’m not bragging when I say I should be in it.”

Georges Hayes died that year, in November. He was 73, though he insisted until the end that he was 67. He had circulation problems in his legs, and had developed gangrene, but he refused to see a doctor, let alone visit a hospital. “George was just as stubborn as always,” his widow, Judy, told a reporter in the wake of his death.

“George just didn’t believe in doctors,” Art Skov said. “We had a tough time getting him sewed up when he’d get cut during games.”

“Nobody could ever tell George what to do,” Matt Pavelich said. “He had no faith in doctors or hospitals. He wanted things in his own hands and that was that, his way or no way.”

No-one from the NHL showed up for Hayes’ funeral, or sent a condoling word, though a phalanx of veteran officials was on hand: Skov and Pavelich, Bruce Hood, John D’Amico, Scotty Morrison, Ron Wicks.

A year later, George Hayes did find his way into the Hall of Fame, a member of the class of 1988 that also included Guy Lafleur, Tony Esposito, Brad Park, Buddy O’Connor, and Philadelphia Flyers’ owner Ed Snider.

Today, if you look him up in the Hall’s register of honoured members, you’ll find Hayes remembered as a “controversial, colourful, proud, and competitive” character who “loved hockey with his every breath.” He’s credited there, too, as a trailblazer in collegial politesse: he was, apparently, the first official to hand-deliver pucks to his colleagues for face-offs, rather than toss or slide them over.

eddie shore: perfectly built for hockey

Born in 1902 on a Sunday of this date in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, northeast of Regina, the volatile Eddie Shore won a pair of Stanley Cup championships with Boston; four times he was handed the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable asset.

“Undoubtedly the greatest individual player in the game,” Niven Busch called Shore in 1929, when Boston’s number 2 was in full fettle.

“This Eddie Shore is an odd chap,” Busch pronounced in the pages of The New Yorker. “He was born at a Hudson Bay Station, and as soon as he had made some money playing hockey, he went back to Saskatchewan and bought a big farm there. He works on his farm in the summer, and does well at it for a fellow whose agricultural experience after boyhood consisted of such glimpses of the country as he was able to get from the locomotive cabs in which he was a fireman. Last year Boston paid him twelve thousand dollars and this year he asked for five thousand more, and got most of it — how much was not announced. At seventeen thousand dollars, if that’s what they pay him, he is the highest-paid player in hockey, as well as the ablest. In spite of what you can say for Dutton, Bourgault, Johnson, or Lionel Conacher, he is the only defenceman who also ranks as a great forward. He is perfectly built for hockey; not particularly heavy in the shoulders, but with a solid, barrel-shaped trunk, tremendous legs, and wide hips. He and Conacher are natural rivals. Both about the same size and equally aggressive. Conacher, an all-round athlete, good at baseball and lacrosse, and one of the best football players in Canada, is far better known in the North than Shore, who has made the most of his reputation in the United States.”

(Image, from 1937: Richard Merrill, Boston Public Library)

 

making waves on the montreal blueline

Born in 1902 in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield in Quebec on a Saturday of this date, Albert Leduc was a pillar of the Montreal defence for nine years, starting in the mid-1920s, winning two Cups with Canadiens along the way. (He also played short stints with the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers.) Accounts of his antics on the ice sometimes included the phrases “his legs working like pistons, Albert dashes down and swerves at no defence” (1931) and “crashed Paul Thompson into the fence so hard in the first period that said fence was broken” (1933). As a 23-year-old rookie, he scored ten goals in 1925-26, second among all NHL defencemen that year, outscoring Lionel Conacher, King Clancy, and Sprague Cleghorn.

The first money he was ever paid for playing hockey? Leduc had a story he told about that in 1935, by which time he was coaching in the Can-Am league. Back in his teenaged years, while he was still a schoolboy during the First World War, Leduc was a bright enough hockey prospect to be invited to play in an exhibition game against the NHA’s barnstorming Montreal Wanderers. The venue was Ormstown, Quebec, about 20 kilometres from home. It was a big opportunity that young Leduc didn’t mean to miss, and so to get to the game, he hired a horse on credit, counting on being paid for his hockey efforts. But: when he arrived, he was told his talents weren’t needed.

“I am stricken,” Leduc recounted in the ’30s, as told in a contemporary newspaper reporter’s rendering of Leduc’s diction, “I protest. I cry out. I cry out so loud that the great Arthur Ross come along and say, ‘Hey, what is all this?’”

A powerhouse defenceman in his own right long before he started with the Boston Bruins, Ross, the Wanderer captain for many of those wartime years, listened to Leduc’s tale of woe and unpaid horse-rental.

“The great Mr. Ross, he tell me: ‘O.K. for the ’orse. Cry no more but shut up. You play for us. We need a guy with a ’orse and maybe you better bring the ’orse on the ice with you.’ But I think he joke, though Mr. Ross always look very stern.”

So Leduc played for the Wanderers in Ormstown, scored a goal, even. “After the game, the great Mr. Ross comes to me and he says: ‘How much for the ’orse?’”

“I say: ‘Five dollar fix everything,’ and what do you think now? The great Mr. Ross say: ‘Here, kid, give those ’orse a few oats,’ and he hand me fifteen dollar. I am broke down at such kindness. I pay for my ’orse, I have a profit.”

locomotive at large

Lionel Conacher played 12 seasons in the NHL, but if you want to know why in 1950 he was voted Canada’s greatest athlete for the first half of the 20th century, I’m going to have to ask that you consider the pre-NHL years of the man they called The Big Train. Born in Toronto on a Thursday of this date in 1900, Conacher was a superlative talent in whichever sport he tried … which was pretty all of them. He was a wrestler and a boxer, starred on the grass at baseball and football and lacrosse, as well as on the ice. He’s in Canada’s Football and Lacrosse halls of fame, and was elected to hockey’s pantheon in 1994.

In December of 1921, after scoring 15 points that helped the football Argonauts win the Grey Cup at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, 21-year-old Conacher headed over to the rink at Arena Gardens to captain the Aura Lee senior hockey team in the title game for the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association senior trophy. Aura Lee lost that one, though Conacher did score a great goal. Turns out this kind of thing was almost routine for the kid: three years later, in the summer of 1924, he hit a double to win a game for his baseball team, the Hillcrests, before catching a taxi across Toronto to score two goals in a winning effort for the lacrosse Maitlands.

He made his NHL debut in 1925, and was a dominant defensive force there, mostly for teams that don’t exist now: other than a year as a Chicago Black Hawk, he did his skating for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, and Montreal Maroons. His NHL CV includes 82 goals in 527 games, along with two Stanley Cups; twice he finished runner-up in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He also compiled a gruesome catalogue of injuries, including eight breaks of the nose. Charlie and Roy, his younger brothers, are both in the Hall of Fame, too.

After hockey, he went into politics, first in the Ontario legislature and then, in 1949, as a federal MP in Ottawa with Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals. Conacher was just 53 when he died — of coronary thrombosis in the sixth inning of a Parliamentary softball game, after hitting a triple.

A writer for  Ottawa’s Citizen was one of many to write a remembrance that May, in 1954. “It was a strange twist of fate that the game Conacher played least well kept him in public life longest,” Austin Cross wrote of his hockey career. And yet Conacher wasn’t a natural on the ice the way he was on the grass, Cross felt: starting out, he was “poor on skates.” He continued:

I first remember him, not as a football player, but in baseball uniform. He came to Ottawa to play for Hillcrests, and after he had murdered the ball out at Lansdowne Park, I went out with my camera and took a picture of him in his ‘monkey suit.’ I had the print until just recently. It revealed a fair-haired young boy, tall and handsome, and a face without guile. His nose was not broken in those days, and he was a most attractive type of man. Members of parliament who looked at him these last few years, and who studied that beat-up face, and looked at the atrociously pounded-in nose, have remarked more than once that it was hard to get into their heads that this bald-headed man with the comic nose was once Canada’s greatest athlete.

Theme Park: Conacher and his legacy are commemorated in a midtown Toronto park.

(Top image, c. 1937, from the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

best friend a goaltender ever had

Here’s to the blockaders, hats off to their instinct to impede, all hail the higher calling of self-sacrificing interception, and all the fine arts involved in getting in the way of predatory pucks travelling at the speed of punishment.

There will never be a hall of fame for hockey shot-blockers, but maybe would someone organize, I don’t know, a vestibule or a … pantry? It would have to big enough to accommodate Horace Merrill, from the earliest days of the NHL, along with Lionel Conacher, Bucko McDonald, Earl Seibert, Al Arbour, Bob Baun, Rod Langway, Mike Ramsay, Craig Ludwig — oh and the greatest obstructionist, maybe, of them all, Bob Goldham.   

Born in Georgetown, Ontario, northwest of Toronto, on a Friday of this date in 1922, Goldham was renowned for his willingness to drop in front of pucks during his 12-year career as a defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Black Hawks, and Detroit Red Wings. He played a part in two of the Leafs’ Stanley Cup championships in the 1940s and was a key component with three more Cup-winning teams with Detroit through the ’50s. 

“Goldham was like another goalie back there,” Scotty Bowman recalled in the ’90s. He himself credited Bucko McDonald with having schooled him in just how and when to throw himself in front of a shot. Here’s a sequence showing Goldham with the Wings putting in the work (and paying the price).

He played until 1956, announcing his retirement on the train back to Detroit from Montreal after the Canadiens dethroned the Red Wings and took the Stanley Cup for themselves. He was 33, with a job lined up as a salesman with a Toronto construction firm. Detroit GM Jack Adams praised him as “one who gave his everything in every game as the bulwark of the defence.” 

Looking back over his own career, Goldham noted that he would have liked to have won more Stanley Cups. He had this to report, too: “You know, I’ve never played with a fellow I didn’t like. I’ve played against fellows I didn’t like, but never with one.”

Goldham later went to serve as a popular analyst on Hockey Night in Canada when it was still a CBC enterprise. He died in 1991 at the age of 69.