The question of who first put numbers on sweaters in professional hockey remains befogged: while the Patricks, Lester and Frank, are often credited as the first to venture into numerical innovation in their Pacific Coast Hockey League in the winter of 1911-12, we know that the National Hockey Association in eastern Canada put numbers on their sweaters that same season.
When it comes to adding names to go with the numbers, Tommy Gorman led the way in the NHL in 1926.
He was coach and manager of the expansion Americans that year, the team that launched NHL hockey in New York. His line-up was well-stocked with stars, thanks mainly to the demise of the Hamilton Tigers, and with Billy Burch, Bullet Joe Simpson, Jakie Forbes, and the Green brothers, Shorty and Red, taking the ice in star-spangled finery, Gorman was keen to fill Madison Square Garden with fans to watch his fledgling team — and to help keep it afloat financially.
So the idea of aiding New Yorkers in identifying players on the ice seemed like a good one. Names on sweaters had appeared on amateur hockey rinks before this, notably in Stratford, Ontario, in the ’20s, but never yet in the NHL. The New York Sun first mentioned that possibility midway through the season, noting that Gorman’s brainwave was inspired when he watched labelled speedskaters make their rounds at the Garden.
A Montreal Gazette report from early 1926 spread the news: names on sweaters, Gorman believed, “might be applied to hockey with considerable success and help to acquaint the fans with the various players, especially those on the visiting clubs.”
That was the thing: while Gorman planned to start with his own Americans “next season,” he intended to lobby the NHL for a league-wide policy. “If the locals start the fad,” the Sun opined, “it is expected other teams will follow suit.”
But why put off the plan for a year? Gorman didn’t delay, it seems: according to a subsequent Gazette report, the team’s seamsters and seamstresses had the players’ names in place for their home game against the Ottawa Senators on the night of Saturday, January 30, 1926. None of the New York papers that I’ve studied took notice of the names in their dispatches from the rink. The New York Times did note that the place was packed: a raucous crowd of 17,000 showed up to see the Senators down the Americans 1-0. Reporter Harry Cross:
The crowd hit a high pitch of enthusiasm for New York hockey. Long before the game time the ticket windows were closed and the galleries were so jammed that there were standees, and many were perched wherever there was a chance to hang on. It was capacity to the last inch.
It seemed quite the proper thing for the folk who fill the arena boxes to come all decked in furs and feathers. Park Avenue and Broadway were all there and made plenty of noise. No one in this big hockey gathering had a chance to be blasé. Every nerve in the house was tingling at one time or other during the fray. The shouting, cheering and the squealing left many of our citizens and citizenesses with alarming symptoms of laryngitis.
Other mentions of the new-look sweaters from that season are few and far between. Ken Randall played the Americans’ blueline that year, and there is, notably, an image of the name-branded sweater he’s said to have worn against Boston in February of 1926 in the pages of The Pepper Kid, Shayne Randall’s 2017 biography of his grandfather. Otherwise, though, newspapers seem to have taken meagre interest in the revolution.
It didn’t spread to other teams, either. Toronto Maple Leafs did, eventually, follow Gorman’s lead, but that wasn’t until the 1929-30 season, when Conn Smythe’s team added players’ names to backs of their white road sweaters (I’ve seen no evidence that they wore them on their blues at home). As you can just see in the image of Busher Jackson at the top of the post, the Leafs went with a fancy cursive script. Also apparent here: the Americans had, by now, given up their names.
It’s not clear how long the Leafs continued to show their names in the ’30s. No other teams seem to have followed their example, and for the decades that followed, NHL players were backed by numbers alone.
The Leafs were back in the nominal news in the winter of 1978, when Harold Ballard, the team’s owner and blowhard blusterer-in-chief, decided to resist a new NHL bylaw mandating that all players’ names appear on their shoulders to make them more identifiable on TV broadcasts. It was Philadelphia Flyers’ chairman Ed Snider who introduced the resolution this time, in the summer of ‘77; it was adopted on a vote of 13-5.
Ballard initially agreed to the plan, before he decided to defy it. He was concerned, he said, that the change would hurt the sale of programs at Maple Leaf Gardens, wherein players were listed by number.
With every other one of the league’s 18 teams in compliance as the 1977-78 season went on, Ballard agreed to a compromise whereby the Leafs would wear their names on the road but not at home — promising, at the same time, that the lettering would be so small that spectators would need microscopes to read it.
By February he was calling NHL president John Ziegler “a dictator on an ego trip.”
“Technically speaking,” Ballard railed, “names on sweaters are a property right. I don’t have to put names on the shirts. I sent Ziegler a wire saying he had a lot of nerve doing business this way. I told him I thought he had a lot more sense than that.”
“What Mr. Ballard thinks of me is immaterial,” Ziegler said. “The governors made an agreement and he must live up to it. He said he would put names on sweaters for all road games this year and if the rule was still in effect next year, he would put them on sweaters for home and away games.”
If the Leafs refused to comply for a February 13 road game against the Buffalo Sabres, Ziegler said, the team would be fined $2,000. For their next away game, in Chicago on February 26, they would be docked a further $3,000, with the fines increasing by $1,000 each road game after that, up to a cap of $5,000.
Fined for missing the Buffalo deadline, Ballard then relented — in best bloody-minded Ballard style. Having announced that the Leafs would be duly identified in Chicago, he then saw to it that the lettering that was sewn on in the name of Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming, and the rest was the same shade of blue as the Leafs’ road sweaters, making them all but unreadable.
“I’ll never make it as a colour coordinator, will I?” Ballard crowed. “I’ve complied with the NHL bylaw. The names are stitched on, three inches high. It’s a pity you can’t see them.”
“Mr. John Ziegler is just going to have to keep his little nose out of my business,” he sneered. In case anyone was in doubt, he wanted the world to know this, too: “This move was done to make a complete mockery of the ruling.”
Ziegler kept his cool — outwardly, anyway. “I’ll let Mr. Ballard do the talking in the press,” he said. “Harold likes to see his name in print. The position I’m at will remain a private matter.”
Toronto’s next road game was in early March in New York, at a newer edition of Madison Square Garden than the one Tommy Gorman and his Americans knew. This time out, against the Rangers, the Leafs’ names appeared in white letters, for all the hockey world to browse at their leisure.
In the long fierceness that is the rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston leg of the Stanley Cup semi-final in which the two teams met in the spring of 1948 stands on its obstreperous own.
The Leafs had won the first two games at home. They were the defending Cup champions that year, featuring a stacked line-up that included the sublime talents of Ted Kennedy, Max Bentley, and Syl Apps, and they continued their dominance when the teams moved to Boston, beating the Bruins 5-1 at the Garden on the Tuesday night of March 30 to take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.
Boston didn’t go quietly that night, though. The game was an ill-tempered one throughout: “stormy” was the word the local Globe used to describe it.
For instance: when, early on, Milt Schmidt and Fern Flaman pinned Bill Barilko to the boards, a spectator leaned over to punch the Leaf defenceman. (Referee Georges Gravel did his best to see the fan ejected from the arena, in vain.)
For instance: a late-game jam between the Leafs’ Harry Watson and Boston’s Murray Henderson ended with a broken nose for the latter.
For instance: as the teams were departing the ice at the end of the game, another fan swung a fist at Leaf coach Hap Day.
That was how the Boston press framed it, anyway. Jim Vipond of Toronto’s Globe and Mail had a more nuanced account, alleging that two fans near the Toronto bench were heckling Day throughout the game, “repeatedly calling him ‘yellow.’” Vipond noted that Gravel tried to have this pair removed, too, but Bruins’ president Weston Adams “dashed to the side of the rink and refused to let the police interfere.”
When the game ended, one of these same agitators seized Day’s hat, a light-tan fedora. Other fans joined in, and Toronto defenceman Wally Stanowski came to his coach’s aid, followed by Ted Kennedy, assistant trainer Cliff Keyland, and defenceman Garth Boesch. The fracas spilled on to the ice; general tussling ensued; Boesch was punched in the face; linesman George Hayes and several policemen helped to restore the peace.
Day’s hat was lost, Vipond reported, and Boesch was dazed: he “had to be taken back to the hotel and put to bed.”
The Leafs were, understandably, outraged, but then so were many on the Boston side of things. Boston Globe columnist Herb Ralby went to the Leaf dressing room to apologize. Weston Adams went, too, but Leaf president Conn Smythe pushed him out before a pair of Boston policemen intervened.
“That was a disgraceful occurrence,” Bruins’ captain Milt Schmidt told Red Burnett of the Toronto Star. “They’ll have to do something to curb those morons,” said his teammate Jack Crawford. “The police should step in and chase them before they can molest visiting players. We don’t receive that kind of treatment in Toronto.”
Mrs. Crawford agreed. “That’s the worst piece of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen,” she said. “The better team won and that’s all there should be to it.”
There was more, though. The following day, as the teams prepared to resume their series, a Boston judge issued arrest warrants for linesman George Hayes and King Clancy, who’d been at the game as back-up referee. They stood accused of assaulting a fan by the name of Ed Shallow, an employee of Boston’s housing authority.
Shallow, it seems, had gone after Georges Gravel in the March 30 melee. According to his complaint, Clancy had “grabbed Shallow by the seat of his trousers and hustled into the officials’ room. Inside the room, Clancy and Hayes are alleged to have manhandled Shallow, whose glasses were smashed.”
No fooling: Clancy and Hayes appeared in court on the morning of April 1, with Clancy testifying that he didn’t know how Shallow ended up in the referees’ room, but that no-one had touched him there. Judge Charles Carr acquitted the officials; the assault, he said, was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. He had strong words nevertheless for Clancy: “I am absolutely certain you are not telling the truth,” Judge Carr told him.
Clancy and Hayes both worked the game that night. The Bruins pulled out a 3-2 win to send the series back to Toronto in what was a relatively peaceful encounter. “The teams tended strictly to their knitting,” Herb Ralby wrote in the Globe. King Clancy, he reported, ruled with an iron hand, “stopping all disturbances in the first period and from there on, the teams just concentrated on hockey.”
Security, he noted, had been stepped up. “There were so many policemen in the rink, it might have been misconstrued as the policemen’s ball.”
“We’ll do everything in our power to protect the visiting players,” said Garden president Walter Brown, “and to prevent a good sport like hockey from being ruined. Anybody who does anything wrong will go right out. Honestly, I can’t understand what’s come over Boston fans to act in the rowdyish way they have this year.”
Bruins’ games were normally policed by 20 patrolmen at this time; on this night, the crowd of some 13,000 was swelled by 50 Boston policemen, three sergeants, and a lieutenant, along with 12 Boston Garden security officers.
Back in Toronto two days later, the Leafs closed out the series with a 3-2 win of their own. Later in April, they went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep to take their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
The current-day Maple Leafs saw several team and individual streaks stopped last night when they lost 3-1 in New York to the Rangers, and you can find out about those elsewhere. In March of 1980, the Leafs were in the middle of a four-game losing slide when a fan shed his clothes, jumped the glass, and vaulted onto the ice near the end of a game against the St. Louis Blues. He kept his socks on, red ones, and brandished a sign: “Leafs are # 1.”
Maybe you recall the reality of the Leafs in the early ’80s: they weren’t. Sitting fourth out of five teams in the old Adams Division, the Leafs fell in the first round of the playoffs that year to the Minnesota North Stars.
A couple of Toronto policemen, Rene Lessard and John Pepper, chased the streaker down. According to one local account, Thomas Enright, 25, got a “semi-standing ovation” as he was taken away to be charged with indecent exposure. Down 3-1, the Leafs took heart and got a late goal from Darryl Sittler, thought that was as close as they came.
“I have never seen something like that before,” said the Blues’ Wayne Babych, who scored a pair of his team’s goals. “”You had to chuckle about it for a while after that and it was a bit distracting.”
“It was a great performance by that guy,” Maple Leaf Gardens president Harold Ballard said, adding that he was pleased to have an attraction in the building that he didn’t have to pay for. Enright’s naked ambition was front-page news in the Toronto Star next day.
A week later in Provincial Court, a fully dressed Enright pleaded his guilt. Judge Sydney Harris wasn’t having it, and dismissed the charge. “Naked in a public place, maybe, but not indecent exposure.”
“I just wanted to liven things up,” Enright told reporters afterwards. “It was just in fun. I’ll never do it again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The forecast for Boston and vicinity on this date, 89 years ago: partly cloudy and slightly colder, with strong northwest winds blowzing in. December 12 was a Tuesday in 1933, and if you’d paid your two cents and picked up a copy of the Boston Globe — that’s what it cost, two cents for 24 pages! — the front page of the Globe would have reminded you that just 11 shopping days remained before Christmas.
Otherwise, in the day’s news? Rear-Admiral Richard Byrd of the U.S. Navy was off on his second Antarctic expedition, and Colonel and Mrs. Charles Lindbergh were preparing to fly from Manaus, in the Brazilian Amazon, to Trinidad. The nation’s dry cleaners were resisting government attempts to regulate their prices. Just the week before, the Congress had ratified the 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ending 14 years of Prohibition, and now it was reported that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt, for the moment, that battling bootleggers was more important than talking about liquor taxes. For their part, Boston police noted that that the previous Saturday they’d arrested 153 men and six women on charges of drunkenness. Sunday they collared 73 men and no women.
It was hockey night, too, at the Garden, with the high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs making their first visit of the NHL season to Boston. Art Ross’ Bruins were lagging a little in the standings, but they’d won two games in a row as they prepared to welcome Conn Smythe’s Leafs.
“There’s likely to be an old-fashioned turnout of Garden fans,” ran the preview in the Globe. “The fans are like to see a good hard game, chock full of action and involving much body checking, particularly on the part of Bruins. Toronto always has welcomed the man to man stuff, and no matter which was tonight’s match runs there will be nothing in this little Garden party to suggest to the followers of the Bruins that they are watching any ‘pink tea’ affair.”
The Leafs would win, 4-1. The game would be the last hockey one their 30-year-old right winger Ace Bailey would ever play. In the second period, Boston defenceman Eddie Shore hit Bailey from behind. His skull was fractured in the fall, and he was carried from the ice. Doctors feared for Bailey’s life in the days that followed, and he underwent two brain surgeries before he was in the clear.
The NHL suspended Shore for 16 games. Bailey bore no grudge. “During the first year and a half I suffered some bad after-effects of the injury,” he later said. “Since then, I’ve felt fine. For probably a year after I was hurt, I got the jitters just watching hockey. I could see an injury shaping up every time there was a solid check. But that wore off too. No, I never bore any ill-will toward Shore. He and I are good friends.”
I wrote about the incident in my 2014 book Puckstruck. Some of that went like this:
Dr. G. Lynde Gately was on duty one night in 1933 at what was then still the Boston Madison Square Garden, when the Maple Leafs were in town to play the Bruins. The New York Times: “Both teams were guilty of almost every crime in the hockey code during the slam-bang first session.”
Then, in the second, Eddie Shore skated in behind Ace Bailey, and “jamming his knee in behind Ace’s leg, and at the same time putting his elbow across his forehead, turned him upside down.”
Afterwards, Frank Selke said, Shore stood there “grinning like a big farmer.” The rural glee ended, presumably, when the Leafs’ Red Horner punched him in the jaw, a heavy right that knocked Shore flat, causing him to crack his head on the ice. Horner broke his fist.
The rumpus, the Globe called it. Other contemporary accounts preferred the smash-up. Dr. Gately was treating a Garden ticket agent who’d been punched in the chin by a scalper. “I had just finished with him when a police officer was brought in with a finger someone had tried to chew off. I sewed him up and just then the Leafs appeared carrying Bailey and the Bruins were carrying Shore, both out cold.”
Dr. Martin Crotty, the Bruins’ team doctor, was working on Shore, so Dr. Gately looked after Bailey. Gately’s diagnosis was lacerated brain. (Later what he told the papers was cerebral concussion with convulsions.)
When Bailey woke up, Dr. Gately asked him what team he played for.
“The Cubs,” he said.
The doctor tried again a few minutes later.
“The Maple Leafs.”
Who’s your captain?
“Day,” Bailey said. He wanted to go back to the ice.
When a revived Shore came in, he said, “I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean it.” Bailey looked up, according to Dr. Gately’s recollection, and replied, “It’s all in the game, Eddie.”
Toronto Maple Leafs’ winger Mitch Marner scored an empty-net goal in his team’s 3-1 home win over the San Jose Sharks tonight and thereby recorded a point in his 18th straight game, matching the record for the longest point streak in franchise history. Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk each had an 18-game point run in consecutive games for Toronto, in 1978 and 1990 respectively. The portrait here is the work of Toronto editorial designer, illustrator, and endlessly interesting artist Nadine Arseneault. Her work has featured before on Puckstruck: you can find it here and here and here as well as here.
Shocked and very saddened at the news that Börje Salming has died at the age of 71. The Toronto Maple Leafs shared a statement this hour: it’s here.
(Top image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)
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.
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.
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.
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.