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.

quaffing from the stanley cup: would a lot of shared consumption be a problem?

Bottoms Up: Readying the Stanley Cup for action in April of 1949 is Toronto Maple Leafs PR manager Spiff Evans. Steered by coach Hap Day (right) and managing director Conn Smythe (middle), the Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings in four games that year to earn the championship and the right to sip. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 3015)

“I’d like to have a dollar for every time the Stanley Cup has been filled with champagne.”

When Frank Calder, the NHL’s first president, said that in 1942, hockey’s most cherished trophy had already been won more than 80 times in its 48 years of history, going back to 1893, when the Montreal Hockey Club laid original claim on the Cup. Calder was in a storytelling frame of mind rather than a profiteering one, regaling reporters with tales of Cup shenanigans, some of them involving Lord Stanley’s chalice being misplaced, or maltreated, some of which may even be true. Calder wasn’t at the time harbouring a reliable quaff-count; his point was presumptive, recognizing that however hallowed a symbol it may be, the Stanley Cup will never escape its original self and purpose as a drinking vessel.

All of which gets us around to the question of the night: can you truly be said to have won the Stanley Cup if you don’t end up merrily slurping sparkling alcohol from its silvery bowl?

Seventy-seven times the Cup, in several incarnations, has been awarded since Calder spoke his piece in 1942. With a lock-out having washed out the 2005 season and Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning made it 78 last when they dispensed with the Dallas Stars in Edmonton to win these perturbed playoffs and receive the Cup from Calder-heir Gary Bettman, putting an end, finally, to the 2019-20 NHL season.

And, yes, champagne (and beer) was decanted into the Cup and duly poured out, into and onto the happy faces of the new champions. Was there ever any doubt that they  would partake, despite what public health officials might advise in, say, a surging  pandemic such as we’re in?

Not really.

No-one needs reminding how unlikely the whole idea of completing the hockey season seemed back in March and April when COVID-19 interrupted everything. Even when the NHL looked north for a bubbled restart at the beginning of August there was no guarantee that the summer’s emergency experiment would work out.

The NHL deserves credit for the fact that it has. Prudent planning, strict procedures, stringent testing, good luck: they’ve all played a part in getting the league to this point. When, back in August, I talked to some NHL high-ups for a New York Times feature I was working on, they were assuming nothing.

“I’m just hopeful we get to that point,” Dr. Winne Meeuwisse, theNHL’s chief medical officer told me when I raised a question about possible protocols involved in the eventual presentation of/sipping from the Cup. “We’re a long way away from that, and we have a lot of work to do to get there.”

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Everybody I spoke with emphasized that health and safety were — and would remain — the top priority.

I asked Dr. Meeuwisse specifically about infectious disease and risk and all the potential for Cup handling, passing around, kissing, and, yes, drinking from.

“Would hoisting the Cup be a problem? No. Would a lot of shared consumption be a problem? It probably would be.”

I asked the NHL’s deputy commissioner, too, Bill Daly.

“That’s a fair question,” he said. Without offering specifics, he suggested that it just might be something that the league would indeed regulate … maybe. The full quote: “For better or for worse, we’re roughly six or seven weeks away from having to deal with that. I think we have some time to figure that out. Quite frankly, I think that’s been a recurring theme in terms of our approach to the pandemic from the start, which is we want to remain nimble. We want to react, or be in a position to proact, where you can, but when as we learn more and new things become evident or apparent to us, we can and have you know proven to this point where we can we can adjust on the fly.”

I talked to Phil Pritchard, too, the Hockey Hall of Fame vice-president and curator who’s better known as the Keeper of Cup. “As we get closer,” he said, “we’ll see what rules and regulations we have to put into effect.”

I get it. Who, exactly, was going to tell Steven Stamkos, or Pat Maroon, that after 65 days sequestered in their Canadian bubbles, far from friends and family and fans, they weren’t allowed to touch their lips to the Cup in all the traditional ways?

Dr. Meeuwisse well understood the challenge. “At that point,” he told me a month ago, “is a player going to care enough about it to alter their behaviour?”

Dr. Andrew Morris was someone else I consulted in August. He wasn’t professionally involved in the NHL’s return to the ice, but he’s a fan and, as an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health and University Health Network, an interested observer.

Would the champions bow to best preventive practices and forgo the clutching of the Cup, the kissing, the swigging, maybe just wave to it across the distance in the dressing room?

“I think they’ll say, ‘We’ll live with the risk here,’” Dr. Morris. And that’s true for this disease in general: there are public health issues, and then there are people’s own personal risk assessment issues.”

 

why be a mere spectator?

“More men are being recruited or authorized here at the present time than at any period since the war started, and far more, of course, than ever before in the city’s history.” That was the word in the Montreal Gazette in January of 1916, just as the 148th Overseas Battalion, one of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s newest infantry battalions, was getting ready to start recruiting. Here, from the archives, are a couple of the posters that went up to aid in that effort. Above, somewhere in France, out beyond the artillery, a lone soldier wonders why he isn’t being reinforced. The answer is right there in front of him, wafting out of the barrel of his Ross rifle: hockey.

If, as a Canadiens fan seeing this on a wall outside the Montreal Arena, the guilt didn’t get you, maybe would the promise of a real game and/or a challenge to your manhood do the trick? The poster below tweaks the taunting a little, revealing the laggardly fan at home, slippers on, browsing the sports pages in his recliner as the spectre of that other poster rises accusingly from the pipe he’s fortunate enough to be smoking.

Whatever the battalion’s marketing department’s view of hockey fans might have been, the 148th didn’t see a contradiction in welcoming as many of them as possible to the Arena on the night of January 27, 1916, for a “patriotic benefit” pitting veterans of the famous Ottawa Silver Seven against a team of former Montreal greats. The teams had previously played in Ottawa, drawing 3-3 a few nights earlier. Montreal older-timers included defenceman Dickie Boon, who’d captained the Montreal HC to successive Stanley Cups in 1902 and ’03, along with a parcel of other future Hall-of-Famers in Russell Bowie, Ernie Russell, and goaltender Riley Hern. Ottawa’s line-up of retired greats featured House Hutton, Harvey Pulford, Alf Smith, and Rat Westwick.

“Those who journeyed to the Arena to see a burlesque on hockey,” the Gazette reported, “were surprised as the players of both teams played as they did in their palmy days.” Powered by Bowie’s four goals, Montreal prevailed by a score of 6-2. The seven-a-side exhibition raised $1,500 on the night, which was divided between the 148thand another incipient battalion, the 150th.

“At the conclusion of the game,” the Gazette noted, “the officers of the regiments for whose benefit it was played journeyed to the dressing rooms to thank the players for their kindness in staging the game.” Players and officers alike later repaired to the St. Regis Hotel for an informal dinner. Guests, including Stanley Cup trustee William Foran, listened while they supped, to a musical program, “while speeches were made by nearly all present.”

 

shake on it

Shaker Style: Montreal's Classic Auctions has on its block the golden watch that Montreal HC presented to Dickie Boon in 1902. He helped them win their third Stanley Cup that year and (just maybe) shook some hands when it was done. Bidding starts at C$5,000. The auction closes on June 17. (Photo: Classic Auctions)

Shaker Style: Montreal’s Classic Auctions has on its block the golden watch that Montreal HC presented to Dickie Boon in 1902. He helped them win their third Stanley Cup that year and (just maybe) shook some hands when it was done. Bidding starts at C$5,000. The auction closes on June 17.

I don’t mean to pick historical nits, except when I do, which today … yes, nits will be picked. After all, if there’s anything we in the business of hockey retrospecting have learned in the weeks since researchers Carl Gidén, Patrick Houda, and Jean-Patrice Martel published Hockey Origins, their blockbuster debunkery of Canadian claims on the game’s birth, it’s maybe this: assume that everything concerning the game’s early days is written on ice until it’s proved conclusively that it can’t be effaced.

Jeff Z. Klein has a nice feature in today’s New York Times wondering about the origin of the beloved handshake with which hockey playoff series traditionally end. That it baffles the logic to witness an embrace between a player (see Prust, Brandon) who might previously have broken another’s jaw (see Stepan, Derek) only seems to make it more, Klein’s word, “special.” Sometimes, sure, a guy will promise to fucking kill several other guys (see Lucic, Milan), but as Klein writes, that’s rare enough.

So far so good. It’s when he follows Liam Maguire’s hazy path back towards the beginnings of the hockey handshake that the discussion strays.

Maguire is an Ottawa radio-host and published author, an NHL historian and prospective city councillor. He sometimes refers to himself as “the worlds [sic] number one NHL historian.” In May, he posted a recollection online about running into an old-timer, name of Lamb, whose cousin Joe had played in the NHL in the 1920s and on through the ’30s.

This was in 1980, at a retirement residence near Manotick, Ontario. Maguire and Mr. Lamb got to talking hockey. There was beer and there were scrapbooks. There, in the latter, something very, very interesting caught the young researcher’s eye:

Among the dozens and dozens of newspaper clippings was a very yellow parched story detailing an all-star game in 1908.

This was the Hod Stuart benefit game; the cover-point for the Montreal Wanderers had died in a diving accident two months after helping his team win the 1907 Stanley Cup. The memorial game was a sell-out at the Montreal Arena, with a crowd of 300 or so raising $2,010 for his family. With Art Ross and Pud Glass in their line-up, Wanderers won, 10-7, defeating an all-star team featuring Percy LeSueur and Frank Patrick.

Maguire:

That day in Mr. Lamb’s room, in 1980 I was looking at a newspaper report of the game and some pictures. Among them was a picture of Art Ross of the Wanderers shaking hands with Frank Patrick from the all-stars. Looked totally normal, something we’d see a million times. But then Mr. Lamb said, ‘Son, do you realize that this is the first handshake recorded in hockey?’

A significant juncture in hockey history, then — very important. Until that moment, Maguire told Klein this past Friday, hockey players never shook hands. Are you kidding? There’s no way. The game was too violent in those olden times. But a man had died, a friend, a fellow, a teammate. This was different, and they shook. “It’s as plausible an explanation as exists,” Maguire said, “and I’ve done quite a lot of research on it.”

According to Maguire’s senior source 34 years ago, the practice spread from there — by hand, if you like: Art Ross and the Patrick brothers kept it up during subsequent Stanley Cup challenges, along with the rest of the players from the 1908 game. Thus the tradition began.

It’s a good story and, yes, plausible, even if you’re willing to believe that the clippings in question featured photographs of the Hod Stuart game. I confess I’m skeptical on that count — you rarely see hockey photos in the papers from that era — though I’d be pleased to be shown I’m wrong.

Did the players shake hands at the end of that game? Why not — probably so. The same contemporary accounts I’ve seen that don’t feature photos fail to mention handshakes, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. I’d bet they did.

They weren’t, however, the first recorded in hockey. Continue reading