the lightning game

That the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens three games to one in March of 1932 and advanced to play Toronto in the Stanley Cup final has no bearing on tonight’s meeting between the two teams, of course. If you’re a Canadiens’ fan, it might give you a bad, twitchy feeling all the same. Courage: those antique Rangers ended up losing to the Maple Leafs.

If it is 1932 that this British Pathé newsreel shows. If, as the title card tells us, it was a game played on New York ice and “CANADA (Montreal)” beat “AMERICA in play-off for Stanley Trophy — in the fastest game on earth!” … well, that didn’t happen in ’32. Montreal, two-time defending champions, only managed to win the first game that year, and that was at home. They then lost the second game, 4-3 (in epic overtime), before heading for the old Madison Square Garden and losses of 1-0 and 5-2. I think what we’re watching here is the middle New York game. That’s defenceman Ott Heller, number 14, we see scoring, as he did. A recent call-up from the Springfield Indians, he also scored in the next game, a pair of goals, but Montreal centre Pit Lepine didn’t play in that one, and he’s here in ours, number 9, at the opening face-off. (He’d collide with the Rangers’ Bill Cook before the night was out, breaking a leg.)

That said, L.S.B. Shapiro’s description of Heller’s goal in The Gazette doesn’t perfectly match up with what we see in skittering black and white:

The fair-haired rookie took the puck at his own defence, rushed down centre ice in a brilliant burst of speed and split the Canadien defence as though with a knife to burst in on Hainsworth. The goalie dived to save, but Heller played the shot with the wisdom of a veteran and flipped the puck over the goalie’s hurtling body high into the far corner of the nets. The exact time was two minutes and eight seconds after the start of the second period.

Close enough, I guess. Joseph Nichols from The New York Times saw it a little more succinctly. Heller picked the puck in his zone and sped along “the north lane.” Then:

Marty Burke advanced to check him, but the Ranger defense man feinted cleverly and evaded his eager opponent. Gaining a clear path for a shot, Heller rifled the puck past George Hainsworth, the Canadiens goalie, to register in 2:08.

When the final game of the series was all said and done, Heller was being hailed, again, as the difference-maker. The Gazette:

The brilliant reign of the Flying Frenchmen of Montreal ended in the coronation cheers of a new king of New York sportdom for, while the Canadien veterans, were fighting their hardest in the face of fatigue and painful injury, the flying feet and the tricky shift of 21-year-old Eberhardt (Ott) Heller proved the mainspring of the New York Rangers’ attack …

Hats off to him. Still, for me, Heller wins only supporting-actor laurels for his British Pathé performance. I’m much more interested in Ching Johnson’s headlong rush and Howie Morenz’s sinuous skating. Best of all, though, is George Hainsworth’s fantastic disgust with the puck in the moments after it has so brutally betrayed him.

under the influenze

On The Rhode: Mickey Murray (fourth from the right) lines up with the 1929-30 edition of the Providence Reds. Teammates include Johnny Gagnon (second from left), Gizzy Hart (fifth), and Art Chapman (seventh from right). The coach is Sprague Cleghorn (light overcoat). (Credit: Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society, http://www.rireds.org)

On The Rhode: Mickey Murray (fourth from the right) lines up with the 1929-30 edition of the Providence Reds. Teammates include Johnny Gagnon (second from left), Gizzy Hart (fifth), and Art Chapman (seventh from right). The coach is Sprague Cleghorn (light overcoat). (Credit: Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society, http://www.rireds.org)

Peterborough’s hockeyness has yielded 38 NHLers, including ironmen whom the Hockey Hall of Fame deems crafty (Steve Larmer); sudden playoff scoring wonders (John Druce); rugged customers (the HHoF on Steve Webb); doughty face-off artists with country superstar wives (Mike Fisher); and the best all-around player in the world, ever (as Viktor Tikhonov called Bob Gainey in 1981; okay, he didn’t say ever).

But let’s be honest: we don’t really do goaltenders in Peterborough. Forge them, I mean, polish them up, send them out into the world to shine. It’s just never been a specialty of ours. If you look to the ledger there are only three who got to the NHL. Zac Bierk was the longest lasting, playing 47 games for Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Phoenix between 1997 and 2004. He won nine of those — I was going to say just nine, but that seems harsh. Bierk was large-framed and quick-reflexed, it says in the HHoF’s register, a natural.

Cam Newton played 16 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 1970s, winning a quarter of those. The Hall calls his goalkeeping hot and recalls his bright blue mask.

Then there was Mickey Murray. He had a long career fending off pucks, starting in his hometown in 1915 and not giving it up for another 24 years, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along the way he got into precisely one NHL game, with the Montreal Canadiens, in 1930. Continue reading