(Maclean’s cover by John Little, 1958)
étude for skates and sticks
Peter Gzowski spins out the story that may have inspired this 1944 W.A. Winter masterpiece in The Game of Our Lives (1981) and Trent Frayne had a rendition, too, in a 1953 feature, “How They Broke the Heart of Howie Morenz.” But Gzowski’s facts are off, slightly, and Frayne’s accounts may err on the side of romanticism, so best, probably, to go back to Morenz biographer Dean Robinson, who was born, like his subject, in Mitchell, Ontario, and can point out, if you go there with him as I did in 2017, the place where this all happened near where Whirl Creek joins the Thames River.
Here’s the pertinent passage from Robinson’s Howie Morenz: Hockey’s First Superstar, originally published in 1982, updated in 2016:
James Boyd, a retired dentist living in Kitchener, Ont., was a year older than Howie when the two were growing up in Mitchell. “We used to go down to the river on Saturday morning and scrape off a rink with scrapers we’d made at home,” recalled Boyd. “There’d be about six or eight of us, and by the time we’d finish, the snow would be about two feet high, and it would act as boards. We’d stay down there all day long. We might go home for some lunch, but we’d come right back again. We changed down at the river. At times we did build some benches, some roughshod benches, but mostly we just sat in the snow. Practically all of us wore magazines for shinpads. We’d pull our socks over them to hold them up.”
Darkness determined when the games would end, and for Howie there just weren’t enough hours in a winter day. His mom didn’t help matters by scheduling him for piano lessons. On those days, Howie would stash his skates under the bridge, and after school, instead of reporting to the home of Ida Hotham, his piano teacher, he would race down to the pond. It wasn’t the greatest of schemes, but it worked until his mother found it necessary to ask Miss Hotham why Howie seemed to be stalled at “One-Fingered Joe.” The teacher told Rose Morenz that her son had been getting along fine, but she hadn’t seen him in weeks. Howie never did learn how to play the piano, which in later years he said he regretted, but eventually he mastered the ukulele.
Red Dutton did it all in the NHL, captaining the Montreal Maroons as an energetic defenceman before shifting to the New York Americans, for whom he was playing coach in 1930s and then caretaker owner as the team lurched towards its demise in the early ’40s. “The robustious redhead,” Jim Coleman dubbed him a Maclean’s profile in 1950, describing his playing style as “reckless and enthusiastic.” Also? “The records reveal that he earned more penalties than goals.” Dutton’s own analysis? “I wasn’t a good hockey player,” he told Coleman, “but I was a good competitor.”
When the NHL’s founding president Frank Calder died in 1943, Dutton stood in as interim boss until Clarence Campbell took over the job. In 1950, Dutton was appointed a Stanley Cup trustee. In 1958, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Dutton, who died at the age of 89 on a Sunday of this date in 1987, didn’t lack for off-ice interests — or as Coleman put it, “he has made a hobby of collecting currency in large denominations.” Dutton’s Calgary businesses in the ‘40s and ‘50s included a highly successful gravel and paving company, a contracting operation, a precision-tool manufacturing plant, and four drive-in theatres.
Published 73 years ago today, the February 1, 1949 edition of Maclean’s magazine featured a couple of longstanding roughhouse rivals, Toronto winger Bill Ezinicki and Montreal’s Maurice Richard occupying the penalty bench at the Montreal Forum, as rendered by artist Franklin Arbuckle.
Richard was 27 that year and, as usual, in the thickest of things, scoring goals and, in the week before the magazine appeared, fighting Detroit’s Gordie Howe and Boston’s Fern Flaman.
But as the Globe and Mail reminded its readers later that week, Ezinicki, who led the NHL in penalty minutes, remained the Rocket’s “arch-enemy.” The main chatter as February got going was the — semi-serious? half-facetious? — offer the Leafs were said to be prepared to make to bring Richard to Toronto. Montreal’s management scoffed. “All the money in Toronto wouldn’t buy him,” said Canadiens GM Frank Selke. Coach Dick Irvin, a former Leaf himself: “It’s propaganda. All this is merely an attempt to upset my boys on the eve of a game.”
Maybe it worked. Thursday, February 3 was the date of the game in question, two days after Maclean’s hit the newsstands. In front of what Al Nickleson of the Globe described as “a violently partisan Forum gathering of 11,226,” Ezinicki and Richard duly engaged in the second period. Richard ran into Ezinicki, breaking his stick; Ezinicki loosed a “mild punch.” Nickleson:
Referee George Gravel blew his whistle to assess minors and both skated slowly toward the penalty box, talking quite earnestly, nose to nose.
Suddenly, Richard let go a right that caught Sweet William around the shoulders. Then they were into it, with [Leaf defenceman] Gus Mortson, never one to miss a battle, rushing to the fray, followed by other players. Combatants wrestled, tugged, and threw an odd punch as the main-bouters went into a wrestling hold. They were separated three times and at the end it looked as if the Rocket had earned a wrestling decision over Ezinicki, who took a couple to the chops, didn’t land any hard ones in return, although he tried mighty hard.
They went to off to serve the majors and minors that Gravel doled out. They were joined in detention by Mortson and Montreal defenceman Glen Harmon. Unlike the Maclean’s version, Canadiens and Leafs were separated in what was then still one big communal penalty box.
The Leafs won the game 4-1, on the strength of two goals by Max Bentley.
Born in Brantford, Ontario, on a Thursday of this same date in 1961, Wayne Gretzky is 61 today, so here’s a tap of the Titan TPM to him, followed by another from a notional Easton Aluminum HXP 5100. That’s young Wayne above, fronting Maclean’s in February of 1982, when he was 21 (the Trudeau mentioned was another, older-model prime minister).
Does the occasion call for some verse? Probably so. Here’s one of Gary Barwin’s from his “Haiku Night in Canada” sequence, which was published in his 1998 collection Outside The Hat:
Gretzky writes poem:
across the blue line the moon
like a puck, wayning.
the sort of jobs you get for playing hockey don’t lead anywhere
Don Harper’s boss at the grocery store in the northern Ontario mining town of Highgrade isn’t much of a fan. “Hockey!” Double-O Watkins sputters as his clerk heads to the rink again. “Hockey is only a game. Waste of time.” What’s the point? “The sort of jobs you get for playing hockey don’t lead anywhere.”
Don doesn’t care. The hero of Leslie McFarlane’s lively pulp yarn “Trouble On Skates” lives for hockey, but he only plays it for fun. He’s not looking for a hockey job — even if a job is looking for him.
Published as a serial in four installments in Street & Smith’s Sport Story Magazine in January and February of 1939, “Trouble On Skates” is a gem of the genre. That’s no surprise, of course. The father of broadcaster and hockey author Brian, Leslie grew up in and around the rinks of Haileybury, Ontario, and worked as a sports reporter at the Sudbury Star before going on to a career writing for TV, radio, and film, and penning (prolifically) popular fiction (including 21 Hardy Boys mystery novels).
McFarlane Sr. wrote a lot of hockey stories in his time. Some of them have been collected in a pair of handsome hardcover editions published in 2005 and ’06 as Leslie McFarlane’s Hockey Stories, volumes one and two. Many others (with titles like “Dunkel From Dunkelburg” and “But Mr. Referee, You Lug —”) are buried away in back issues of Maclean’s or (like “Trouble On Skates”) in Street & Smith’s. The ones I’ve read are fast-moving and funny, heavy (but not too heavy) on the high jinks, even if they do tend to creak a little in their old age and attitudes. The hockey McFarlane depicts is vivid and mostly plausible, which is saying something when it comes to hockey fiction.
As for Don Harper, honest-to-goodness groceryman and superlative right winger, here’s how Bingo McAllister, veteran radio play-by-play man, rates him:
Does everything he’s told, never squawks at a referee, never picks a fight, stays out of trouble, makes those goals look so blamed easy you think the goalie must have been asleep.
What he lacks, in Bingo’s book, is colour: Don needs to learn some showmanship, maybe develop a capacity for controversy to keep the fans interested. Don might not agree, but then (as mentioned) he has no ambitions in hockey beyond the horizon of the fun he’s having playing for the Highgrade Locals.
I have to confess that I don’t know how it all turns out for Don: I’m only caught up as far as the end of the first Street & Street installment from ’39. I know that there’s a scouting mix-up and that our hero finds himself on a train headed south for the big city and whatever awaits him there. Hockey stardom? Riches? Romance? The art, above, from the cover doesn’t exactly seem to bode well for Don, so I’m guessing that what’s in line for him is some shocking sort of come-uppance to prove his boss at the grocery store right. I wish I could say, I’m still trying to track down the subsequent chapters of “Trouble On Ice.” You’ll know what happens when I do.
August 4 was a Thursday in 1921, and the weather was fine: the morning edition of Montreal’s La Patrie promised that, despite some rain in Alberta and Saskatchewan, “il fait généralement beau et modérément chaud par tout le Dominion.”
The national news that summer’s day was of forest fires on the rampage near Dawson City in the Yukon, and also around Springhill Mines, Nova Scotia. From Toronto’s Don Jail came word of the hanging, on Wednesday, of two men, named Hotrum and McFadden, who’d been convicted of shooting a drugstore-owner, name of Sabine, they’d been robbing. “It was stated,” the Gazette reported, “that Hotrum smiled as he left the death cell.”
Closer to home, on the Montreal waterfront, vessels tied up included the Minnedosa, the Cornishman, and the Canadian Seigneur; the shipping news disclosed that others, includingthe Mina Brea, the Bosworth, and the Canadian Commander, were headed into harbour.
An open-air dance was on the cards that week, in the Summer Garden, the Jardin d’Été, at the corner of Sherbrooke and Saint-Laurent. At the pictures, the New Grand was featuring David Powell in Appearances, while the Belmont had Marie Doro starring in Midnight Gambols.
In foreign news, the world was reeling from the shock of the death in Naples on August 2 of Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, at just 48. Others headlines brought tidings from Dublin, where Éamon de Valera was taking steps to declare himself President of the Republic.
In London, the seventh anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany was noted but — for the first time since 1918 — not observed with any ceremony.
From Liverpool came news that Lord Byng of Vimy and Lady Byng were aboard the Empress of France, setting sail for Canada so that he could take up his duties as the new governor-general. The couple, along with their beloved spaniel, Pax, was expected to arrive in Quebec on August 11, where Prime Minister Arthur Meighen would greet them before the couple journeyed on to Ottawa the following day.
Lord Byng, of course, had commanded the Canadian Corps through the Vimy campaign of 1917. “A very simple living man, modest and retiring,” the press was reporting that week. “He has also a passion for tree-felling.”
As for Lady Byng, she had a new novel due out in the fall, Barriers, that McClelland & Stewart would be publishing. The winter ahead would also make her a hockey fan. Introduced to the defending Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators in December, she was soon taking a regular seat in the vice-regal box at Dey’s Arena, developing a devotion to the team, even as she came to wish that the game itself might conduct itself in a more gentlemanly way. With that in mind, before her husband’s tenure came to an end in 1926, she’d donate the trophy that bears her name.
Not noted in any Montreal newspaper columns that eventful week in 1921: the birth of a baby in Montreal’s east end on this day, all those 99 years ago, a first son for a young carpenter named Onésime Richard and his wife, Alice.
Joseph Henri Maurice was what they’d call their boy, known as Maurice, mostly, in his earliest years. Later, of course, when the world saw him on skates, and the intensity with he roared towards the goal with the puck on his stick, he was simply the Rocket.
hello, canada, and hockey fans in the united states and newfoundland
A big anniversary today for radio in Canada: it was 100 years ago, on a Thursday of this same date in 1920, that the first scheduled broadcast took place, when XWA in Montreal relayed a musical program from the top floor of the Marconi building on William Street to the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. That was a North American first, too: the inaugural American broadcast, emanating from Pittsburgh, didn’t hit the air until November of 1920.
Hockey’s radio debut came in the winter of 1923, via the Toronto Star’s radio station, CFCA. No, it wasn’t Foster Hewitt narrating the play, though he still often gets the credit. Historian Eric Zweig has cast the most light on this in recent years, and you can step into it here, if you have a subscription to the Star.
Hewitt was at the the paper in 1923, and did just a few days later get on the air to talk hockey. But it was in fact a part-time Star sports reporter Norman Albert who first gave a voice to hockey, on February 8, when he called the third period of an OHA intermediate game at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena.
Albert also seems to have been on the job for the first broadcast of an NHL game. That came on February 14, 1923, when the hometown St. Patricks overturned the Ottawa Senators, the eventual Stanley Cup champions that year, by a score of 6-4.
Again, listeners heard just the third period that night, which means that Jack Adams’ goal for the St. Pats was the first in NHL history to be broadcast. Ottawa’s Frank Nighbor was next, with a pair. His teammate Punch Broadbent scored the final goal of that auspicious evening.
Albert died in 1974. I’m hoping someone asked him if he remembered how he called those landmark goals, and/or whether the words “He shoots, he scores” formed in his mouth that evening. And if someone did ask? I hope they wrote down the answer somewhere where I can snuffle it out, at some point.
Even if he wasn’t first off the mark, Foster Hewitt quickly — and lastingly — became a hockey broadcasting institution, of course. In his 1975 book, A Pictorial History of Radio in Canada, Sandy Stewart notes that while radio soon featured prominently in Canadian living rooms in the 1920s, most of the listening the citizenry was doing was to American stations.
There were two reasons for this, he posits: “the Canadian government’s indifference towards financing radio broadcasting prohibited big Canadian stations and the Canadian radio programming was not significantly different from American programming, which did it better.”
It was hockey that made the difference, Stewart says.
In the U.S., “going to the movies” had become the Saturday night pastime, but in Canada there were not as many movie houses available to a widely scattered population, and so Canadians stayed home to listen to the radio. Since almost everybody in the U.S. was at the movies on Saturday nights, the American broadcasters often didn’t bother to list the evening’s programs, but in Canada General Motors sponsored the Saturday night broadcasts. Canadians tuned in and hockey became as Canadian as maple syrup and still is.
General Motors eventually gave way to Imperial Oil as sponsor of hockey on Canadian radio, but Hewitt remained constant all the way through to 1968. (From 1952 through 1963, his broadcasts were simulcast on television, too.)
Sandy Stewart expounds on how Hewitt’s on-air talents ensured that his hockey broadcasts dominated the radio scene through the 1930s and on through the Second World War. And yet when hockey went national in 1932, General Motors was worried that the broadcast wouldn’t be able to hold its audience between periods. Their answer? They switched to dance music from Toronto’s Silver Slipper Dance Hall.
Later they produced drama sketches during intermissions, and eventually they hit on the “The Hot Stove League” with Elmer Ferguson, Wes McKnight, and Court Benson discussing the game. Another institution that survived from the 1930s to this day is the 3-Star Selection inspired by 3-Star Gasoline, [which] advertised on the broadcast.
For years Foster started the broadcast after his introduction from Charles Jennings with, “Hello, Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland.”
During the war, he also greeted “our men overseas,” and on one occasion when it was known that the Germans were transmitting the hockey game to our troops in Belgium and Holland along with the pitch from a Nazi female broadcaster, “Why not call off the war and go home to see the hockey games,” Foster added on the Christmas broadcast, “and an extra big hello to Calamity Jane of Arnhem.”