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

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

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

 

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

four at the door

Rejected: No, not Jean Béliveau — he wouldn’t start wearing Montreal’s number 4 for another nine years after this photograph was taken at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 11, 1945. Trying his luck on net here is Canadiens’ defenceman Leo Lamoureux. Turning him away is 20-year-old Ranger netminder Doug Stevenson, from Regina, Saskatchewan, on a night off for New York’s regular 1944-45 goaler, Ken McAuley. Canadiens eventually prevailed on this night, leaving town with a 4-3 victory sealed Elmer Lach, another Saskatchewanist, whose winning goal was his second of the game.

madison square eye in the sky

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

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

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

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

eustace tilley on ice

Front And Centre: A gallery of some of the The New Yorker‘s hockey covers through the years. The first of them was Constantin Aladjálov’s (bottom row, second from left), from January of 1927. Centred here is the newest exemplar, by Bruce McCall, from the magazine’s issue of February 7, 2022.

Professional hockey arrived in New York in 1925 wearing the stars and stripes of Bill Dwyer’s Americans, who skated their claim out on the ice of Tex Rickard’s newly built Madison Square Garden. That was the same year that Harold Ross launched The New Yorker and while the magazine’s offices on West 45th Street weren’t even a mile’s stroll away from the rink on Eighth Avenue, it was the winter of 1926 before hockey began to find a place in its pages.

The New Yorker’s first hockey cover, which adorned the magazine’s 100th issue, was the (charming) work of artist Constantin Alajálov. It debuted on January 15, 1927, by which time the New York Rangers had arrived in town, and were 19 games into their inaugural season. That same issue, R.K. Arthur’s “Sports of the Week” column featured the magazine’s first substantive hockey coverage with a round-up of recent Garden action that included a description of a rush by one of the Americans’ Sudbury-born Green brothers, Shorty or Red (Arthur didn’t say which), on Boston Bruins’ goaltender Doc Stewart:

Stewart, on one occasion, foiled Green after he had outwitted the entire Boston team, by nose-diving straight at the puck and the shot on the top of his head. Green could have been excused if he had retired to a corner and shed scalding tears.

This month, 95 years later, hockey players are back on the cover of the magazine. “Boxing Rink,” by illustrator, humorist, and long-time New Yorker contributor (also, Simcoe, Ontario-born) Bruce McCall, evokes a 1924 painting by George Bellows to make a point about the performative violence of NHL hockey. Fighting is on the slow wane and mostly, these days, out of the news, which is how the NHL prefers it. Still, I can’t imagine that the league can be pleased to see The New Yorker’s reminder of the game’s testy tendencies broadcast so broadly. McCall talks about the tribute to Bellows’ work on the magazine’s website, here, if not the punching that hockey still, somehow, tolerates.

In the years separating Alajálov and McCall, hockey scenes have appeared at least 15 times on the cover of The New Yorker, inspiring the talents of artists Abe Birnbaum, Robert Day, Peter Arno, Leo Rackow, and Charles E. Martin, among others.

The thorough chronicling of the game that the magazine has done since Niven Busch set up in the late ’20s as a regular hockey columnist has been undertaken over the years by the distinguished (and incisive) likes of Robert Lewis Taylor, Herbert Warren Wind, Roger Angell, Alec Wilkinson, Charles McGrath, Adam Gopnik, Nick Paumgarten, and Ben McGrath.

They’ve celebrated the joys of pick-up puck (see Charles McGrath’s 1993 “Rink Rat”) and recounted the costs of concussions (Paumgarten, “The Symptoms,” in 2019). They’ve explored the game’s hinterlands and the sublime talents its yielded: see Taylor’s 1947 profile of Phil Watson, Wind’s feature from 1970 on Bobby Orr, or Ben McGrath in 2014 on P.K. Subban.

McCall’s is the first cover to focus on fighting, but The New Yorker has a long tradition of reflecting on the battering hockey players do, lampooning and (persuasively, to me) lambasting it. There are lots of instances of the former, including here below, and here; for the latter, I’d refer you to Adam Gopnik’s online essay from 2012, “Hockey Without Rules.” That’s the one in which he writes, “Either the NHL is going to end the violence, or the violence is going to end the NHL.” You can read it here.

(Image: Nick Downes, The New Yorker, December 23, 2019)

americans pastoral

Bentleys Backcheck: It was on this date in 1972, a Friday, that Hall-of-Fame left winger Doug Bentley died at the age of 56. Here he is in early 1942, during his third season with the Chicago Black Hawks; the following year he’d lead the NHL in goals and points. Chicago was in at Madison Square Garden this January night to meet and beat the Brooklyn Americans: the score was 7-4 Chicago, with Doug Bentley contributing a pair of goals. He’s at the far right above, with brother Max checking back beside him. Brooklyn’s Ken Mosdell is the lone Brooklyn attacker, with Earl Seibert and Art Wiebe of the Hawks alongside. In goal, having made the save, is Sam LoPresti.

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.

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.

 

what a shame to see a great morale-building game like hockey go into the discard

With the NHL preparing for the mid-January launch of a second COVID-era season, I’ve been reporting for The New York Times on how hockey fared in some past times of crisis and contingency. That’s on the page in today’s paper, as well as online over this way.

This part didn’t make it into the Times piece, but as I was charting back through the challenges the NHL faced during the Second World War, I was reminded of another echo of former times that 2020’s fraught hockey season awakened.

Back in far-off February of last year, the NHL got a first inkling of the disruptions that were to follow when two major suppliers of hockey sticks, Bauer and CCM, shut down manufacturing operations in China as the coronavirus continued its insidious spread. Equipment managers fretted, along with some prominent players. None of them, of course, imagined at the time that the entire league would be summarily shuttered — along with everything else — just a month later.

The Second World War tested hockey’s supply chains, too. It was a lack of manpower at North American sawmills and lumberyards that raised the spectre of a scarcity of sticks in 1946, not a global pandemic. “We’re still making a few,” a Spalding spokesman warned early that year, “but we have no reserve stocks of lumber on hand. When these are finished, there won’t be any more this year.”

CCM faced a similar predicament. Disaster seems to have been averted — hockey carried on — but several minor leagues did wonder whether they’d be able to play, and those with sticks in hand were advised to wield them with caution, to preserve what they had.

Associated Press report from January of 1942.

Wartime shook hockey to its core — specifically, the small, black one at the centre of every game. In 1941, with war in the Pacific limiting the supply of raw rubber even as military demand was increasing, news of North American shortages began to spread.

In December of the year, just a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Canada’s minister of Munitions and Supply, C.D. Howe, announced a ban on the sale of all rubber tires save those new vehicles. Two months later, one of Howe’s deputies, Alan Williamson, warned that Canadians didn’t understand just how dire the rubber situation was: it was “the gravest problem confronting” Canada and the Allies, he told the Canadian Hardware Convention and Exposition that February.

In another address, he upped the ante even higher, saying that he did not consider it “an exaggeration to say that anyone who uses rubber for any unnecessary purpose is committing an act of treason.”

For effect, Williamson enumerated some of the things for which rubber was no long being made available: “rubber soles, rubber heels, rubber bands, rubber bathing suits, garters, suspenders, foundation garments, tennis balls, flooring, rubber mats, shower curtains, tires for passenger cars, bathing caps.”

In January, the Canadian Press quoted Williamson as saying that while his department did not propose “to tell manufacturers of hockey pucks, tennis balls, and golf balls to stop making them, it would be ‘nothing short of a miracle’ if they were to get the rubber to do so in 1942.”

“New Composition Expected For Hockey Pucks,” an Ottawa Journal headline announced that winter, without offering any specifics: “the future of this staple article in Canada’s winter sports calendar is still obscure” was as far as the accompanying article was willing to go.

NHL teams were already doing their best to maintain their strategic puck reserves. The Chicago Black Hawks posted signs at the Stadium asking fans to return any puck that found a way into the crowd because, well, the very future of the league depended on it.

A New Jersey newspaper reports on puck paucity in December of 1941.

“This is a great national emergency,” a team spokesman reasoned. “Everything must be saved. Rubber is in great demand and we must conserve it. Pucks are made of rubber and we must conserve them, too. It would be a great shame to see a great sport and morale-building game like hockey go into the discard because of a shortage of pucks. That’s why we call upon our fans to throw back our pucks in the interest of sport and conservation of valuable defense material.”

Earnest as it was, this appeal didn’t convince everyone. When the Black Hawks hosted the Boston Bruins on Sunday, December 14, 1941, the only puck to leave the rink during the teams’ 3-3 tie was not returned, proving (as Edward Burns wrote in the Tribune) “a souvenir bug will cling to almost anything.”

Efforts were made at other rinks, too. Madison Square Garden was still home in 1941-42 to two NHL teams, the Rangers and the Brooklyn Americans. Games there began with advisories over the public address system emphasizing that that repatriating pucks that strayed was the “patriotic” thing to do.

Those who tossed them back, it was duly noted, were cheered lustily. Louis Schneider, a syndicated financial columnist, reported on the fate of the bold soul who tried to hang on to a puck in New York. “The hockey fan that grabs one and refuses to throw it back is all but mobbed by soldiers and sailors in addition to being booed by the crowd.”

cal gardner does his time (cameo by sin bin sally)

Born in Transcona, on Winnipeg’s east side, on a Thursday of this date in 1924, Cal Gardner made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers before a trade took him to Toronto in 1948. He won two Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs. He was briefly a Black Hawk and then finished his 12-year career in the NHL with four seasons with the Bruins. The scene here dates to his final year, 1957, when Boston visited Madison Square Garden and the Rangers beat them 5-2. Dean Prentice scored the winning goal for New York; Gump Worsley (Rangers) and Don Simmons (Bruins) were the goaltenders.

There was no penalty box as such at the old Garden in those years, which meant that if you transgressed and went to wait out your sentence, you sat just west of the Rangers’ bench on the 49thStreet (south) side of the rink, amid paying customers. Gardner served two time-outs that night, in the first period (for slashing) and in the third (hooking), visiting, unavoidably, with Sally Lark on both occasions.

“Now that some of the Rangers’ games are being televised nationally, she is becoming to many more who assume that she is the wife of someone connected with the team.” That’s from a short profile Sports Illustrated ran in ’57. No, not so, no such connection: 28-year-old Lark was an interior decorator from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, just a big Ranger fan with a season’s ticket that kept her front and centre. “Sin Bin Sally,” the papers sometimes called her. She’d attended her first game in 1942, and in the 15 years since, she’d only missed about ten home games.

“It’s better not to talk to them at first,” Lark said of the players from visiting teams who ended up in her precinct. “They’re not in a very good humour. But if a player gets a major penalty he usually has time to cool off before he leaves the box. Then, maybe, we speak.”

The night of Gardner’s visit was a busy one, despite being brawl-free: Rangers Lou Fontinato, Harry Howell, Prentice, Red Sullivan, Andy Bathgate, and Bill Gadsby all dropped by the penalty bench at one time or another, along with Boston’s Fleming MacKell, Don McKenney, Fern Flaman, Johnny Peirson, and Allan Stanley.

Lark had tickets for two more seats on her right, for friends; on her left sat the Garden timekeeper. In all her years at the Garden, she was injured only once, before the Garden installed glass around the boards in 1946, when she was hit by a puck in the ear. “Just a few drops of blood,” she said. “Even now,” SI advised, “if she wears a hat, she is likely to have it knocked into her lap by some player thrashing about her on the penalty bench.” Lark said she didn’t mind: life by the ice was “exciting but safe.”