red-sweater days

Keeping It Light: A gathering of snowy-sweatered Habs in the Forum dressing room circa the later 1930s as depicted by artist Carleton “Mac” McDiarmid.

The problem was Detroit. Well, the design of Detroit’s Red Wing sweaters, anyway. The colour, to be specific, which was red. This week in 1932, the NHL discovered how much red was too much.

The NHL’s actual problems that Depression year included tottering franchises in Ottawa and Detroit, so in terms of trouble, this sweaters business was probably lower down on the list, low enough that nobody bothered to deal with it before the season got underway. The background, briefly, is that the Detroit Falcons, having faltered into receivership, were sold part and parcel with their arena, the Olympia, to James Norris, the Montreal-born, Chicago-based grain and cattle millionaire. It was Norris who changed the team’s name to Red Wings. He designed the new logo, too, the famous flyaway wheel. He’d wanted to call the team the Winged Wheelers, after the old Montreal Hockey Club, winners of the first Stanley Cup in 1893, but friends convinced him that the name didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

And, in early December of 1932, it was the Red Wings who were poised to relaunch themselves as part of the nine-team NHL. The league’s modern-day teams wear coats of many (and constantly changing) colours, but in those early years, most teams styled a single outfit for games at home and away. Notwithstanding the Expo-blue arrays that may have caught your eye this very week, the sweaters the Montreal Canadiens wore (and that bore their logo, banded around the torso) were, for most of the first two decades of their existence, solidly, gloriously, red.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were the first NHL team to give themselves options, adding distinctive white and blue arrays for the 1927-28 season, a year after they transformed from St. Patricks. This would have helped keep things clear when the Leafs took on New York’s blue-shirted Rangers, or New York’s (also) blue-shirted Americans, though I’m not sure how those two teams avoided overriding confusion when they played each other in Manhattan. I guess the Fourth-of-July extravagance of the Americans’ sweaters was enough for those trying to tell the two teams apart. (The Americans did introduce white sweaters for the 1932-33 season; it was 1951 before the Rangers diversified.)

In Montreal, Maroons and Canadiens were close on the colour chart but distinct enough — brownish crimson vs. Christmas-bright — to have co-existed for eight seasons without colourful incident. The sweaters the Detroit’s Falcons had worn were predominantly white, with red facings, so there was no clash there, either.

Norris’ new Red Wings went all-red — socks, pants, sweaters — with white accents. You know the look: nearly a century later, the team still wears more or less the same rig for home games. In 1932, Montreal saw the new Red Wings when Jack Adams’ team took its first road trip, arriving at the Forum to play the Canadiens 90 years ago this week. There, for the first time, the situation was deemed one that needed addressing. A Canadian Press dispatch from the scene told the tale:

Detroit and Canadiens both took the ice in red uniforms. To avoid confusion the Red Wings donned white pullovers which hid their identity completely, as the sweaters covered the players numbers. The next time the two teams meet they will have white sweaters for the visiting club, but with the numbers on them.

It’s not entirely clear whether this promise was kept or not. Following Canadiens’ 1-0 overtime win at the Forum that Thursday, November 17 (Wildor Larochelle scored the winner), the two teams met again four days later at Detroit’s Olympia. The home team exacted their revenge on Montreal with a 4-2 victory that was powered by a pair of goals from rookie defenceman (and future Canadiens captain) Walt Buswell. As seen in the photograph below, the Canadiens donned plain white — not noticeably numbered — pinnies.

Red November: Montreal goes white for a game in Detroit in November of 1932. From left that’s Aurèle Joliat, Gerry Carson, and Battleship Leduc, with Larry Aurie of the Red Wings swooping in at right.

The teams met on four more occasions that 1932-33 season, with (for the record) Detroit holding a 2-1-1 edge over their ruddy rivals. The teams had their final match-up on a Sunday in March, for which we have evidence (here below) that the pinnies did now bear identifying (though possibly fairly faintly printed) numbers.

Flurry In Front: Montreal’s (non-pinnied) goaltender George Hainsworth clears the puck at Detroit’s Olympia on March 12, 1933, after a shot from Detroit’s Carl Voss. Wearing white for Canadiens are defencemen  (left, wearing a faint #11) Gerry Carson and Battleship Leduc.

The following season, 1933-34, the league got things straightened out. Well, halfway, at least. Along with the New York Americans, the Canadiens added a second uniform to their wardrobe. In the case of the latter, this featured handsome new white sweaters coloured (as the Gazette observed) “only by the red, white, and blue insignia of the club.” (They sported snowy socks with these, too.) These they debuted in Detroit on the night of Sunday, November 27, 1933, as seen below.

New-Look Habs: Montreal goes all-white in Detroit in November of 1933. That’s Detroit’s Eddie Wiseman (at right, stick uplifted) putting a puck past Canadiens’ goaltender Lorne Chabot.

A few days later, they wore them at the Forum for a 3-1 win over the New York Americans. “The change in colour makes [Aurèle] Joliat look even smaller than he is,” the Gazette commented. “It gives Sylvio Mantha a more robust appearance.”

This is a full two years earlier, notably, than acknowledged by the most comprehensive of hockey references tracking these sorts of things, nhluniforms.com. (The catalogue for Montreal is here.) The Canadiens themselves have it wrong, too, on the website whereupon they track their own history: they, too, erroneously date the origin of the Canadiens’ all-white sweater to December of 1935 (here).

As for Detroit, they seem to have delayed adding a second sweater. During the 1933-34 season, Canadiens don’t seem to have worn their new duds when Detroit came to visit the Forum, which left the Red Wings to go with the pinnies again, as rendered here by the La Patrie artist who sketched Detroit’s 4-1 win over Montreal on Thursday, March 15, 1934.

As widely and accurately noted, the Red Wings got their white uniforms to start the NHL’s 1934-35 campaign. When, exactly, did they first wear them? While I haven’t found a contemporary press reference, it’s probable that the Wings took them for a spin on the night of Saturday, November 17, 1934, when they beat the Canadiens 3-0 to open Montreal’s season at the Forum.

By the new year, we know, Detroit’s players were getting into the habit of wearing white wherever they went on the road, following up another win over Montreal in early January in the new uniforms by wearing them next game, too, in Chicago, where the Red Wings won again in white.

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)

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.

blank slate, 1929: conn smythe tries something new as toronto (married men and bachelors) shuts out detroit

The 1928-29 Leafs line up outside Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. Top row, left to right, they are: Shorty Horne, Ace Bailey, Alex Gray, Andy Blair, Jack Arbour, Hap Day, Lorne Chabot. Bottom, from left: Art Duncan, Art Smith, Dr. Bill Carson, Danny Cox, Joe Primeau, Gerry Lowery, Benny Grant.

Big win for Erik Källgren the other night, great that the 25-year-old Swedish rookie volunteered himself as the missing piece that completes the puzzle that is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation, good night, good luck, see you in the Stanley Cup final.

Too much, too soon? Probably. No sense in getting ahead of ourselves, or the Leafs, maybe let’s just pause in the moment and say that Källgren looked good in his first NHL start as he made 35 saves to secure Toronto’s 4-0 home win over the Dallas Stars, careful, craftful, calm when he needed to be, hasty when haste was called for, agile, pliant, just lucky enough. He shouldn’t have had to explain himself once his work was done, but of course he was asked to, because that’s what TV demands.

“Ah, I mean,” Källgren gamely told TSN’s Mark Masters, “it’s a lot to take in right now, but obviously I’m really happy, and happy for the win, and how the guys played in front of me was unreal. So a lot of emotions right now but of course very happy.”

Gladdening the hearts of fans of historical significance, the NHL was quick to chime in on the evening’s historical resonances. This was the 100th regular-season win of Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe’s tenure, in his 163rd game behind the bench, which makes him the quickest Leaf to that milestone: Pat Quinn and Dick Irvin each took 184 games to reach 100 wins.

The NHL also tagged Källgren’s performance as the fourth in club history in which a Leaf goaltender had earned a shutout in his first game as a starter:

Notable. Sorry to say that that infographic is only partly true. Fans of historical nitpickery soon discovered that, with minimal due diligence. When it comes to Benny Grant, the actual fact of what happened in 1929 is stranger and altogether more interesting than the version the NHL boxed up this week for social media.

Benny Grant hailed from Owen Sound, up on the Georgian Bay shore. In 1927, he helped the Owen Sound Greys win the Memorial Cup, Canada’s junior championship. After a year with Bert Corbeau’s Canadian Professional Hockey League London Panthers, he signed with the Maple Leafs, where Conn Smythe was coach and manager, and another Owen Sounder, Hap Day, was the captain.

Grant was 20 years in the fall of 1928. Not every NHL team employed a back-up goaltender in those years, but Toronto did, maybe because the man slated to start for the Leafs that year was coming off a grievous injury that had almost cost him an eye in the previous spring’s playoffs. After two years with the Rangers, Lorne Chabot, 28, had arrived in Toronto in an exchange that sent John Ross Roach and $10,000 to New York.

Chabot’s health wasn’t a worry, though, as it turned out: he was fine. He ended up playing in every one of the Leafs’ regular-season games that season, along with all four playoff games. When Grant saw action, it was almost always in relief: he appeared in five games through the season (none in the playoffs).

In Chabot’s case, NHL records only have him playing 43 games through the 1928-29 regular season. Most other standard hockey references say the same. (The Society for International Hockey Research, in its wisdom, does credit Chabot with his full and rightful 44 games.)

A sliver of an oversight, yes? Maybe so.

Still, significant enough that it shifts the meaning of the very record that the NHL claimed last night for Benny Grant. The game that Chabot played that the NHL is missing is the one on Saturday, March 9, 1929 — Benny Grant’s first NHL start (against the Detroit Cougars), when he’s supposed to have recorded his first NHL shutout. But Chabot played in that game, too, so he shared in the effort to deny the Detroit Cougars a goal. Benny Grant’s first start, as it turns out, wasn’t quite the same as Erik Källgren’s week: in 1929, Grant had help. Should he get credit for in the record books? It’s not up to me to add or subtract official shutouts, but I will note that the same situation occurred five days later that March, with Chabot and Grant combining to blank the New York Americans, and neither one of them is credited in the official records as having recorded a shutout.

Got that? It’s all very arcane … as statistics are. Here’s where the story of Benny Grant’s NHL debut gets interesting, and a little strange. Unheralded as it is, that night at Toronto’s Arena Gardens is notable for a tactical innovation that Conn Smythe seems to have introduced that night.

Unless, of course, the Leafs were just fooling around, having some fun as the season wound down before the playoffs.

Toronto was in: with just four games remaining in the regular schedule, there was no danger, by then, of the Montreal Maroons catching them in the standings. Toronto’s first-round opponent, in fact, would be the same Detroit Cougars they were meeting on March 9.

Time (I guess) for the Leafs to cut loose, just a little.

As has been noted before, Dick Irvin experimented with the idea of platooning goaltenders when he was coaching the Montreal Canadiens at the end of the NHL’s 1940-41 season. That was in March, too, with the end of the season in sight. Goaltenders worked hard, wore heavy pads, and like everybody else, they tired: why not, Irvin wondered, dress a pair of goaltenders and shift them on and off just like regular skaters?

“If we’d had an extra goalie,” he mused after a Canadiens loss in New York to the Rangers, “we might have used him along with the regular goalie in an effort to improve the situation. Those Rangers really were boring in and sure kept little Wilf Cude busy.”

Later that month, in Montreal’s final regular-season game, Irvin gave it a go. With the New York Americans visiting the Forum, Bert Gardiner started the game in the Canadiens’ net, with Paul Bibeault replacing him halfway through. The experiment was a success, I suppose, unless you’re a stickler for stats: though Montreal won 6-0, the NHL seems to have been unable to compute the shared shutout, so while Gardiner got the win, neither goaltender was credited with a shutout.

Twelve years earlier, lining up against Detroit in March of 1929, Conn Smythe’s version of doubling up his goaltenders added a fun twist — he “introduced another of his popular innovations,” as the Toronto Daily Star framed it. With a line-up of 12 players at his disposal, Smythe “used two complete teams and changed them completely every five minutes. The teams were known as the married men’s team and the single men’s team ….”

Bachelor Benny Grant got the start: he and Phyllis Banks wouldn’t marry until 1934. In front of him Grant had Hap Day and Red Horner on defence and a front line of Danny Cox, Andy Blair, and Ace Bailey. Marital status wasn’t so strictly enforced: Cox was married, while in the connubial substitute line-up of Chabot in goal, Arts Duncan and Smith on d, and Shorty Horne, Baldy Cotton, and Eric Pettinger at forward, Smith and Horne were single men. (Chabot, for the record, had married Elizabeth Money in 1927.)

Again, the two shifts operated as complete units: “When substitutions were made,” the Globe noted, “all six players left the ice and the other six replaced them.”

According to the Star, the Leafs made it even more interesting for themselves. “It was agreed before the game that the squad scoring [sic] most goals should be provided with new hats and it remained for a married man to help out the single men’s cause as Danny Cox, assisted by Andy Blair, got two of the goals. The other one, secured for the married men, went to Shorty Horne, with an assist from Harold Cotton.

And so the Leafs prevailed, 3-0. Grant had relieved Chabot earlier in the season in a game in New York against the Americans, but this was his first outing on Toronto ice. “He upheld his end nobly,” the Star judged. “As a matter of fact he had a great deal more work to do than Chabot, the regular goalie.”

So much so, it seems, that Chabot’s contribution was ignored entirely by whoever was keeping records for the NHL. To this date, while the official online boxscore includes Chabot in Toronto’s line-up, it credits Grant with having played all 60 minutes of the game and collecting the win and the shutout.

What happened? Who knows. With the goaltenders switching out every five minutes, maybe it was just too much bother to keep track of them on the night. Even so, Chabot does deserve credit for his involvement in the game and (I’d argue) a share of the shutout that’s on Benny Grant’s record.

Chabot and Grant continued to share Toronto’s net for the rest of the regular season: in all three of Toronto’s three remaining games, Smythe used both goaltenders as the Leafs went 1-2 to finish the season, though it doesn’t seem that Smythe shifted his netminders quite so aggressively in these games. Records for all three of these games reflect the participation of both, even if (as mentioned) the shutout Grant and Chabot crafted in the penultimate game, a 5-0 home win over the Americans, was credited to neither man.

Former Toronto owner/coach/manager Charlie Querrie was writing a popular column in the Star in 1929. As he saw it, Smythe’s hasty goaling shifts were all for the show. “It is hard to create excitement,” he wrote, “with nothing at stake, but the Leafs did all they could to please the spectators, and the evening was worthwhile. It showed that the Leafs have plenty of good material and a round dozen players who can give a good account of themselves.”

As for the hats, the Globe’s Bert Perry delivered the goods on those. “The Maple Leafs will flash some Easter millinery this week,” he duly reported on the Monday following the Detroit win. That is, all the players got new hats, courtesy of management. “Ace Bailey,” he jibed, “will now be able to turn in his 1925 model for something modern.” The deal, Perry said, was that if the Leafs had lost to Detroit, the players would have been buying headgear for the team’s directors.

“Despite their recent successes,” Perry concluded, “the hat sizes of the Leafs have not changed since last fall. A more unassuming aggregation of athletes would be hard to find.”

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.

 

sturdy marty burke: small for a defenceman, packs a hefty bodycheck

Marty On Madison: Born in Toronto on a Saturday of this date in 1905, Marty Burke won a pair of Stanley Cup championships playing the d for the Montreal Canadiens, in 1930 and in ’31. After Montreal wrapped up the latter final by beating the Chicago Black Hawks , the local Gazette lauded Burke’s ability to shut down attacking opponents “quietly and effectively.” He was 5’8″ in those years, 160 pounds: though “small for a defenceman and he packs a hefty bodycheck and his steadying qualities have proved an inspiration to his team.” For seven Canadien seasons, Burke roomed with teammate Howie Morenz, and when Montreal traded the Stratford Streak to Chicago in 1934, Burke went, too, in a deal that also landed the Hawks Lorne Chabot. Burke spent five seasons with the Black Hawks before spending his final NHL season, 1937-38, back in Montreal.

chicago proud: dead fish from the gallery

“Oh, boy, I am glad I haven’t got a weak heart,” Major Frederic McLaughlin is supposed to have cried at the first hockey game he attended in person, a mere month before the Chicago Black Hawks, the team he launched into the NHL as owner and martinet-in-chief, made their debut in the winter of 1926. Scion of a coffee baron, McLaughlin was a crack polo player who was the second most famous member of his own (second) marriage, which was to Irene Castle, the ballroom dancer and movie star who was often revered in the early decades of the 20th century as America’s best-dressed woman. The Black Hawks won a pair of Stanley Cup championships during McLaughlin’s tempestuous reign, which ended on a Sunday of this date in 1944, when he died at the age of 67. You can read more about him and his eccentric ways here, if you’re interested.

In February of 1935, when Black Hawks goaltender Lorne Chabot became the first hockey player to adorn the cover of Time magazine, the owner and his wife featured in the article accompanying inside.

A year after Chicago’s first Cup win, Time reported, fans in the Windy City were restive. “Chicago hockey crowds, impatient because the team has done most of its winning away from its home arena, have lately taken to tossing dead fish down from the gallery. Gestures of this sort and the fact that attendance is not so far ahead of last year’s as it should be in view of the team’s prowess, irritate its owner, Chicago’s Major Frederic McLaughlin, who attends Black Hawks’ games with his famed wife, Irene Castle McLaughlin.”

Time noted that on Lorne Chabot — “disdainful, lazy, and alert” — the flying fish had no effect. Chabot was only bothered by pucks passing him by, the magazine reported, though he could get very bothered indeed. “Last fortnight he clubbed a goal judge for daring to assert that his opponents had contrived to score a goal. He was amused by news that the goal judge was suing him for $10,000.”

feeling for lorne

Running Amok: New York goaltender Lorne Chabot does his best on the Tuesday night of January 26, 1937, in the midst of a 9-0 shellacking that the Chicago Black Hawks applied to his Americans at Madison Square Garden. It would be the last game of his illustrious NHL career. Chicago right wing Glenn Brydson is at left, wearing number 3; the players strewn to Chabot’s left are New York winger Baldy Cotton (on the ice); Chicago winger Pete Palangio; New York defender Joe Jerwa (numbered 2); and (guessing) his partner Allan Murray.

On a busy day of hockey-player birthdays, here’s to Lorne Chabot, born in Montreal on this date in 1900, a Friday. His eventful 11-year NHL career had him deflecting pucks for six teams. He was in on two Stanley Cup championships, with the New York Rangers in 1928 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1932, and won the Vézina Trophy with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1935.

Chabot was 36 in 1937, having all but retired from the NHL after the 1935-36 turn with Montreal’ Maroons to concentrate on a job with a Toronto dairy. It was in January of ’37 that he answered Red Dutton’s call to fill the Americans’ net after 36-year-old Roy Worters, the New York starter, suffered a season-ending hernia. Chabot played in six games that month, going 2-3-1 before Dutton decided that he’d seen enough. Pictured here is Chabot’s final game — his very last in the NHL — in which he and his teammates suffered a 9-0 plastering at Madison Square Garden at the hands of the Chicago Black Hawks.

Even before the goals started going in that January night, New York was sitting dead last in the eight-team NHL, two points behind the also-faltering Black Hawks.

Pep Kelly led the Hawks, netting a hattrick on the night, with Paul Thompson adding a pair for Chicago, with Earl Seibert, Wildor Larochelle, Pete Palangio, and Johnny Gottselig contributing a single goal each. This was the very week, it’s worth noting, that Chicago’s volatile owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, had announced his plan to replace all the foreign-born players on his team— including all six of his team’s goalscorers against New York —with Americans.

“The score, of course, made Chabot look bad but the fault could not be called his entirely.” That was Joseph Nichols’ review in the New York Times next morning. John Lewy from the Brooklyn Times Union tended to agree, singling out the Americans’ sloppy defensive corps:

Forced to tend goal behind such a helter skelter performance as his mates were putting on, Lorne Chabot drew the jeers of the onlookers who, failing to put the finger on the real trouble with the club, singled him out as the obvious victim.

Hy Turkin from the Daily News wasn’t so forgiving: Chabot was “nonchalance personified as five goals whizzed past him in the first two periods”

Up in Montreal, the Gazette noted that (a) Chabot had surrendered 14 goals in his last two games and (b) word was that four of Chicago’s goals had beaten him from the blueline.

“Don’t blame Lorne Chabot,” Dutton said. “Point the finger at those high-priced stars who failed to give him any protection. Don’t overlook [Sweeney] Schriner, either. He was loafing and looking for points. He wasn’t backchecking.”

Still, Chabot was finished: Dutton called up 26-year-old Alex Wood for New York’s next game, from the IAHL Buffalo Bisons, which saw Wood lose his only NHL start by a score of 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens. Alfie Moore, 31, took the New York net after that, going 7-11 to finish off the season and maintain the Americans’ last-place standing.

calgary hal

Hal Winkler

Tiger King: The bald-pated custodian is a phrase sometimes associated with Hal Winkler when he used to play, back in the 1920s. Born in Gretna, Manitoba, on a Tuesday of this date in 1894, he was tender of nets for the WCHL Edmonton Eskimos when they lost out to the Ottawa Senators in the 1923 Stanley Cup finals. By the time he took this pose, above, it would have been 1925 or so, when he was with the WCHL/WHL Calgary Tigers. He got to the NHL in 1926, when he joined the New York Rangers at 32. With Lorne Chabot proving himself in the New York nets, Winkler was sold to the Boston Bruins that winter. He played only a season-and-a-half for the Bruins before Tiny Thompson took over, but Winkler was so much admired in Boston that the team made sure to include his name on the Stanley Cup they won in 1929, after a season in which Winkler appeared in not a single NHL game. With a few more minor-league campaigns notched on his pads, he retired in 1931, whereupon he returned to Manitoba to run a mink ranch. (Image: Oregon Historical Society. Oregon Journal Negative Collection, Lot 1368; Box 371; 0371N275. Used with permission.)

the goose that laid 50 eggs

Towering Tiny: An artist’s rendition of Boston’s mighty Tiny Thompson from 1930.

Score it 0-0: the game that particular February 24 on a Sunday night in 1935 ended up without a puck getting by either goaltender through three regular periods and a ten-minute overtime. New York’s Madison Square Garden was the scene, with 26-year-old Dave Kerr tending the nets for the hometown Rangers against Tiny Thompson and the Boston Bruins in front of a crowd of 16,000 or so. The ice, by one account, was wretched.

“For Rangers,” the Boston Globe disclosed the next day, “Kerr was the whole works.” He stopped 43 pucks, recording the 15th shutout of his five-year career. His closest call? Harold Parrott from Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle said it came on a “rifle shot” from Boston’s Babe Siebert, “which nearly tore the goaler’s little finger off and hit the goal post with that dull ping which signifies failure.” Thompson deterred 39 New York shots — or maybe 34. The NHL didn’t keep official counts in those early years, and the Globe and the New York Times begged to differ in their accounting of Thompson’s work. To the latter’s eye, his hardest test came in the second period on a “ripping long shot” from New York’s Murray Murdoch.

For Thompson, who was 31 and playing in his eighth NHL season, the night marked a milestone of distinguished denial: this was the 50th regular-season shutout of his career. He was the seventh goaltender in league history to make it to that mark, following in the venerable skates of (not in order) George Hainsworth, Clint Benedict, Roy Worters, Lorne Chabot, Alec Connell, and John Ross Roach.

 

quick march

All through the winter of 1934 and into the spring, Harold March laboured on ice, skating the right wing for Chicago’s Black Hawks. Mush, they called him, so you can, too: sturdyand small (skateless, he stood 5’5″) and demon are some of the adjectives he picked up in his day as a hockey player. Born in Silton, Saskatchewan on another Sunday dated October 18, this one in 1908, he was christened Harold; the nickname, borrowed from a cartoon character, he got growing up in Regina. It was a Saskatchewan connection to Dick Irvin, the Black Hawks’original captain, that saw March sign in Chicago, the only NHL team he played for in his 17-year career. He’s remembered for having scored the first-ever goal at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931: he beat Toronto’s Lorne Chabot. March still had the puck when he died in 2002: he kept it on his bedroom dresser.

When, in April of 1934, Chicago won its first Stanley Cup by beating the Detroit Red Wings, March was the one to clinch it. In the last of the series’ four games, after four and a half scoreless periods, March took a pass from Doc Romnes. Scuttledis the verb the Montreal Gazette uses to describe how he got around Detroit’s Walter Buswell; that done, he slasheda shot that flashed waist high past goalie Wilf Cude.

A month later he was (above) working the pumps. In years to come he’d spend his summers as a golf pro, but in ’34 as a Stanley Cup hero he put on shirt and tie, brogues and a suit of coveralls and leased this service station from Standard Oil. It was at the corner of Kostner and Montrose on Chicago’s North Side, where a Jiffy Lube does its own oily business today.

drill bit: the leafs fall in, 1928

In any other October, the NHL season would be just getting going instead of settling into the off-season … but then this is 2020, and everything’s bent out of shape. In 1928, when the NHL didn’t drop the puck on the new season until mid-November, October was the month teams stretched themselves in playing form. The Toronto Maple Leafs migrated to Port Elgin, on the Lake Huron shore, to get themselves readied in those years, as I wrote about once here and in the pages of The Globe and Mail. Taking charge of the team’s fitness regime that years as well as several subsequent others was Corporal Joe Coyne of the Royal Canadian Regiment, seen here standing over his Leaf charges. They are, starting in front, from the left: Ace Bailey, Art Duncan, Joe Primeau, Hap Day. Second row: Shorty Horne, Dr. Bill Carson, Art Smith. Third: Lorne Chabot, Jack Arbour, Gerry Lowrey. At the back: Alex Gray and Danny Cox.