danny gallivan at 100: he was a student of the english language and he perfected it

“A degree of quietude has settled on the Forum.”
Danny Gallivan reports from the CBC broadcast booth during the first period of Montreal’s famous exhibition encounter with the Central Red Army on December 31, 1975

Mordecai Richler called him “the last of the literate TV play-by-play commentators,” which is — well, very Mordecai Richler. Danny Gallivan was, it’s true, a broadcaster like no other, and today’s the centenary of his birth.

Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia on April 11, 1917, he turned out to have an arm on him, such that that the New York Giants invited him to their training camp in 1938 to see him pitch. An injury curbed his Major-League dreams, and he served as teacher, a soldier, and a steelworker before ending up as sports director at Halifax radio station CJCH. His career with Hockey Night in Canada began in 1952 and continued, mostly in Montreal, calling Canadiens’ games, until his retirement in 1984.

When he died at the age of 75 in 1993, Jack Todd remembered him in The Gazette as a man who was as much a part of Montreal “as the cross or the river or the Forum.” His voice, high-pitched and lilting, is as memorable to those of us who heard him as the exploits of the Lafleurs and Gainey and Cournoyers he narrated. And of course there’s none other in hockey to match the Gallivan lexicon, with its cannonading drives, scintillating saves, and Savardian spin-o-ramas.

Bob Cole may not have been able to rise to Mordecai Richler’s standard; I’m guessing he’s never actively tried. Cole was a protégé of Gallivan’s not to mention an enthusiastic admirer. Here he is, Gallivanting, in Now I’m Catching On: My Life On and Off the Air, a 2016 memoir:

I was always a hero-worshipper, and Danny Gallivan was one of my heroes. I will always remember him doing Wednesday and Saturday night games with Dick Irvin. It was fabulous. There will never be another Danny. There was that personal touch of his, his style, his sound. His feeling about what he was doing. You could tell he was into it.

They’re still playing that famous clip of his: “Lafleur coming out rather gingerly on the right side. …” Just listen to that. You can feel the game.

Danny told me that he would grab a dictionary and find a word and practice that word and then throw it into the game somewhere. He really did that. He would find a word in the dictionary and then think of where he could use it. “Sagacious” would turn into “sagaciously stopped the puck.” He worked at it. He was a student of the English language and he perfected it.

(Image, from 1957: Tex Coulter)

the wild man of guelph

e002505664-v6

A birthday today for Lou Fontinato, who was born in 1932, in Guelph, Ontario, whereabout he still lives. A defenceman, he was mostly, in the NHL, a New York Ranger, though he ended his career with Montreal in 1963. The on-ice activities he’s most often remembered for may be (i) leaping, which he’s supposed to have done sometimes in rage when called for a penalty and led to the nicknames Leapin’ Lou and Louie the Leaper; (ii) punching; (iii) getting punched, most famously by Gordie Howe in 1959.

Tex Coulter painted him for the cover of Hockey Blueline in 1958, as you can see here; for five other Fontinato glimpsings, we’ll go to the archives. It was The New York Herald Tribune and syndicated columnist Red Smith who called him “the wild man of Guelph, Ont.,” and we’ll start with him:

It wasn’t clear exactly what happened in a skirmish near the boards on the Fiftieth St. side. Maurice Richard, skating to centre ice, tossed his stick away but didn’t seem to be aiming at anybody’s head. He shoved with both hands against Fontinato’s chest, like a small boy picking a fight on the playground.

The Rangers’ dark defenseman is no admirer of the Marquis of Queensberry. Strictly a London prize ring man, he had his padded gloves off the fragment of an instant.

A lovely right caught Richard just outside the left eye. Skin burst and flesh cracked and blood ran in little parallel trickles down the Rocket’s face, staining his white shirt.

Players and officials moved in and, to the crowd’s astonishment, Richard drew back, showing no disposition for further action. Fontinato was raging, trying to shove past officials who held him off, starting little flank movements around the knot of men who fenced him off from Richard.

Pure joy swept the galleries. Crumpled papers and bits of waste were flung onto the rink. Photographers were out on the ice shooting eagerly. At length Fontinato was led to the penalty box for the second time in the evening, taking a comfortable led over Detroit’s Ted Lindsay as the league’s most penalized badman.

• Red Smith, “What Red Smith Thinks,” Toledo Blade, January 13, 1956

When Fontinato hit, he hurts. He’s a 22-year-old who weighs a streamlined 191 pounds and stands 6-foot-1 — without skates.

Galleryites never feel neutral toward the big bruiser. In Vancouver one time an irate fan threw his shoes at Louie the Leaper.

“They were new shoes, too,” said Fontinato thoughtfully. “I ground my skates into them to remove the newness and tossed them back.”

• Arthur Daley, “Rock ’n’ Roll,” The New York Times, January 22, 1956

Lou is a bachelor. So he rooms with other bachelors on the Rangers when the team is in New York. He lives with Larry Cahan, Gerry Foley and Hank Ciesla in a three-room suite at the Kimberly Hotel, 74th St. and Broadway. Each player has his chores. Lou is the cook.

“He’s a good cook,” Foley says. “His best dish is spare ribs. But we don’t eat anything fancy. Steak. Roast beef. He cooks the breakfasts. Eggs any style. Everything.”

Does the trigger-temper explode occasionally?

“Oh, yeah,” Foley smiled. “We do the dishes. He gets mad if something’s not clean. Starts banging pots around.”

• Dave Anderson, “Rangers’ Leapin’ Lou,” Hockey Blueline, January, 1958

Howe’s most notorious altercation was with Ranger defenceman Lou Fontinato in Madison Square garden in 1959. Frank Udvari, who was the referee, recalled, “The puck had gone into the corner. Howe had collided with Eddie Shack behind the net and lost his balance. He was just getting to his feet when here’s Fontinato at my elbow, trying to get at him.

‘I want him,’ he said.

‘Leave him alone, use your head,’ I said.

‘I want him.’

‘Be my guest.’”

Fontinato charged. Shedding his gloves, Howe seized Fontinato’s jersey at the neck and drove his right fist into his face. “Never in my life had I heard anything like it, except maybe the sound of somebody chopping wood,” Udvari said. “Thwack! And all of a sudden Louie’s breathing out of his cheekbone.”

Howe broke Fontinato’s nose, fractured his cheekbone, and knocked out several teeth. Plastic surgeons had to reconstruct his face.

• Mordecai Richler, “Gordie,” Dispatches from the Sporting Life (2002)

That’s the feeling around the NHL — an unwritten rule — you don’t fool around with big Gordie.

Lou Fontinato learned the hard way, one night in New York when the former tough guy of the Rangers tangled with Howe behind a net.

“I still hear that sound,” one of Fontinato’s former team-mates said recently. “I was only a few feet away. Gordie had his skates braced against the back of the net and he threw only one punch. It was the worst thing I’ve seen in hockey. It broke Louie’s nose, knocked him cold.

“I can still hear it — bone against bone. Nobody will ever know how much that hurt Lou. He had built a reputation as a tough guy and Howe destroyed it with that one punch. Louie was never the same after that.”

• Paul Rimstead, “Thwonk!,” Montreal Gazette, January 13, 1968

(Photo, taken January 14, 1961: Weekend Magazine/ Louis Jaques/ Library and Archives Canada/ e002505664)

alice munro at the rink: a fervent made-up sort of hostility

Huzzah for Alice Munro, whom the Swedish Academy tried to phone this morning to tell her that she’d won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. She didn’t pick up, according to The New York Times, so they had to leave a message.

It bears repeating: huzzah.

Munro isn’t known for her tales from the rink. You know that, everybody does — though it is possible that tourists crossing the country guilelessly guided by Frommer’s Far & Wide: A Weekly Guide to Canada’s Best Travel Experiences (2011) might believe otherwise. If Tofino is, as Frommer’s advises, the best surf town in North America and Nova Scotia’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs are a great place to look for fossils, then of course

Canadian writers ranging from Alice Munro to Mordecai Richler and Roch Carrier have written about hockey.

Technically it’s true. It’s not untrue. And if the hockey is almost entirely in Munro’s backgrounds, the glances she gives it show that her perception is rarely anything but lucent.

For instance: Continue reading

spinners down below

It’s surprising that this wasn’t bigger news when it broke this week in Gare Joyce’s report in Sportsnet magazine about the painful demise of the Montreal Canadiens (“Dead Empire,” January 30). Apparently, when Joyce was in Chicoutimi in October, and stopped by at Cimetière Saint-François-Xavier to visit the grave of goaling great Georges Vézina, news of Scott Gomez and Pierre Gauthier and all the rest of those responsible for the Canadiens having fallen so heavily from the heights of grace and glory had already sunken in: Joyce was certain he heard the Cucumber slowly spinning down below.

Which raises a couple of questions. One: are things so very bad that all dead Canadiens are twirling or is it only a select few of the team’s greats? Also, two, is Vézina on a continuous spin cycle or does he only get going when (a) things seem particularly bad at the Bell Centre and/or (b) when the still-living stop by for a visit?

It’s not the first time for Vézina, apparently. A quick look back reveals that The Toronto Star was pretty certain he was rotating in 1991 when the Canadiens lost 6-4 to the Buffalo Sabres in the playoffs in, quote, another game of bad pond hockey.

Other famous hockey men not at peace in their resting places:

• Legendary Detroit manager Jack Adams was assumed to be awhirl in his casket at the White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy, Michigan, when the 1977 Red Wings only took 11 shots on goal during a home game at the Olympia.

• Major Conn Smythe (said The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox in 2003) was apparently on a regular rotisserie at the Park Lawn Cemetery in Etobicoke, Ontario, on account of the pedigree of several recent Toronto Maple Leafs general managers, including Mike Smith (American-born) and John Ferguson, Jr. (American college boy).

• The absence of 50-goal scorers in the NHL in 2004 may not have been enough to spin Rocket Richard in his Montreal grave (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges), but (said Jim Kelley at espn.com) he was definitely up on one elbow.

• The performance of the U.S. Olympic team at the 2006 Winter Games was generally supposed to have had 1980 Miracle-on-Ice coach Herb Brooks spinning at the Roselawn Cemetery in Roseville, Minnesota.

• And finally, from Mordecai Richler, in Barney’s Version (1997):

The fumblebum Canadiens, no longer glorieux,
had disgraced themselves again, losing 5-1 to —
wait for it — The Mighty Ducks of California.
Toe Blake must be spinning in his grave.

Which is, of course, in Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery.