charlie conacher lends a hand

Palmistry: Charlie Conacher, in the foreground here, shows goaltender Earl Robertson how it’s done at Madison Square Garden circa 1940. Otherwise, from the right, that’s Ranger Dutch Hiller (#8), Amerks’ Busher Jackson in the distance, and Ranger Phil Watson tussling with (I think) Art Chapman. Note the chicken-wire fencing protecting the fans. The only question: where’s the puck?

Birthday tidings today for the great Charlie Conacher — unless those are due tomorrow, or on December 20? Questions abound; you can review them here, if you’re in a mood. The scene here dates to the Big Bomber’s latter NHL years when, after ten seasons starring for the Toronto Maple Leafs and another year’s stop in Detroit, Conacher played his final two seasons with the New York Americans. Red Dutton’s team was not very good in those years, going 15-29-4 in 1939-40 and 8-29-11 the following year. Conacher’s own returns were modest, compared to the heady days when he was playing the Toronto wing, earlier in the decade. In New York, he contributed 10 goals and 28 points in 47 games his first year, 7 and 23 in 46 in his last.

Take a note, here, of the hand he’s showing. Cutting the palms out of hockey gloves is an old trick, of course, that someone like Conacher might have pleaded allowed him a better grip on his stick. That may have been the case; palmless gloves also aided in the freer and more surreptitious clutching of opponents in tight quarters. The NHL eventually cracked down on the practice, though not until 1964, when Leaf defenceman Carl Brewer was caught in the act and copped to the reason why his gloves were doctored. A new rule followed: all NHL gloves, after that, had to be fully palmed.

Toronto, remember, was on a three-year run winning Stanley Cups at the time. Coach Punch Imlach griped about the new rule, and others: he thought they were part of anti-Leaf campaign to throw the team off its championship form. “Those changes are aimed at us,” he said.

rubber? very mention of it gave earl robertson ague and jitters

This is shot that got by Earl Robertson on the Thursday night of March 23, 1938, when the New York Rangers took on the New York Americans at Madison Square Garden in the second game of their Stanley Cup quarter-final; Ranger centre Clint Smith fired the puck, scoring his second goal of the game, and winning it for the Blueshirts, 4-3. “Rubber?” Harold Parrott wrote in his dispatch for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Very mention of it gave goaler Earl Robertson of the Amerks the palsy, ague, and jitters today. He saw so many pucks last night he thought it was an endless rubber band the Rangers were snapping at him.”

The Americans did eke out the last laugh in the series, eliminating the Rangers in three games to earn a semi-final meeting with the Chicago Black Hawks. The Hawks won that match-up and went on to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs to take the Cup.

Robertson, who was born in 1910 on a Thursday of this date in Bengough, Saskatchewan, played six NHL seasons. It was with the Detroit Red Wings that he got his start; his last season was 1941-42, the one for which the New York Americans turned into the Brooklyn Americans, though they continued to play their games in Manhattan. It was the team’s final hurrah, too: after finishing bottom of the league, the Americans suspended operations for the duration of the war, never to return to NHL ice.

newsy bulletin

Old Guard: A collection of former Canadiens’ greats gathers on Forum ice in December of 1953. From left, they are Pete Morin, Georges Mantha, a 66-year-old Newsy Lalonde, Claude Bourque, and Sylvio Mantha.

“One of the brainiest hockey players in the game,” Toronto’s Daily Star tagged him: “not one of the showy type of player, but is very effective and has a wicked shot.”

He was Newsy Lalonde, one of hockey’s true greats, a dominant centreman in his day, who happens also to have been one of the best lacrosse players Canada has ever produced. Born in Cornwall, Ontario, on a Monday of this same date 134 years ago, in 1887, Lalonde was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950 and the lacrosse pantheon in 1965.

On the ice, Lalonde was a force unto himself, a goalscoring engine, who was also known, it has to be said, for his merciless temper and violent tendencies. That Star appraisal dates to 1916, when Lalonde, then 29, was named playing coach of the Montreal Canadiens, the team he’d been starring for since 1912, helping Montreal to win its first Stanley Cup championship in 1916.

Lalonde was coach and captain of the Canadiens when the NHL dawned in 1917, scoring a goal in the Habs’ NHL debut and continuing on from there: he would score 16 goals in Montreal’s initial eight games that year. Lalonde led the NHL in scoring in 1919 and again in 1921. Departing Montreal in 1922, he went west to play for the WCHL Saskatoon Sheiks before making a return to the NHL to coach again. He steered the New York Americans for a season, 1926-27, and took another turn in Montreal, for the 1932-33 season.

no greater new york brydge

Born in Renfrew, Ontario, on a Sunday of this date in 1898, defenceman Bill Brydge first took to NHL ice in 1926 in Toronto, when the team was still the St. Patricks. So far as I can tell, the scar that’s apparent here dates to that season: in January of ’27, in a game against the Rangers in New York, he caught an errant stick in a scramble in front of the Toronto net, suffering cuts that were closed with eight stitches.

The image here dates to 1933, when Brydge was 35. A lyric of John K. Samson’s comes to mind, from his 2007 song “Elegy for Gump Worsley:”

He looked more like our fathers,
not a goalie, player, athlete period.

From Toronto, Brydge went to Detroit, traded for Art Duncan. He played a year, 1928-29, on the Cougars’ blueline, and was subsequently sold to the New York Americans for $5,000. He played seven seasons for the Amerks. Bill Brydge died in 1949 at the age of 51.

 

small comfort

Crease Violation: Boston winger Lloyd Gross celebrates the puck he’s put past a dispirited Roy Worters of the New York Americans in a game at the old Madison Square Garden. “Once a bosom companion of little Roy Worters,” the Daily News reported, “[Gross] skated right up to him and let him gave it, zingo! Like that.” Just a month after Ace Bailey’s grievous head injury, this game marked the first time a New York crowd had seen the Bruins wearing, to a man, “the new-fangled helmets.”

Hockey pundits used to like to talk about Roy Worters’ stature, which was slight, and I guess that hasn’t changed. “Worters, who is but five feet and two inches tall, weighs 128 pounds, and has hands so small he cannot catch the puck as it speeds toward the goal mouth, is one of the best skating goalies in hockey.” That’s from a 1928 dispatch, just as a trade was converting Worters from a Pittsburgh Pirate into a New York American.

Born in Toronto on a Friday of this date in 1900, the tiny-handed man they called Shrimp played 12 NHL seasons, most of those for the Americans. He won a Hart Trophy in 1929, finishing ahead of Toronto’s Ace Bailey and Boston’s Eddie Shore, and collected a Vézina for his miniature efforts in 1931. He never won a Stanley Cup. Worters died in 1957 at age 57. He was voted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1969.

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.

chairman of the boards

New York State of Play: A birthday today for Red Dutton, born on another Friday of this date, the one in 1897, in Russell, Manitoba. Dutton did it all in the NHL, captaining the Montreal Maroons as a stout 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. When NHL founding president Frank Calder died in 1943, Dutton stood in as interim boss, before Clarence Campbell took over the job. In 1950, he was appointed a Stanley Cup trustee. Pictured here on the Americans bench in 1940, Dutton was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. He turned his back, alter in life, on the hockey establishment, refusing for some 35 years to darken the door of an NHL arena. He died in 1987 at the age of 89.

locomotive at large

Lionel Conacher played 12 seasons in the NHL, but if you want to know why in 1950 he was voted Canada’s greatest athlete for the first half of the 20th century, I’m going to have to ask that you consider the pre-NHL years of the man they called The Big Train. Born in Toronto on a Thursday of this date in 1900, Conacher was a superlative talent in whichever sport he tried … which was pretty all of them. He was a wrestler and a boxer, starred on the grass at baseball and football and lacrosse, as well as on the ice. He’s in Canada’s Football and Lacrosse halls of fame, and was elected to hockey’s pantheon in 1994.

In December of 1921, after scoring 15 points that helped the football Argonauts win the Grey Cup at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, 21-year-old Conacher headed over to the rink at Arena Gardens to captain the Aura Lee senior hockey team in the title game for the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association senior trophy. Aura Lee lost that one, though Conacher did score a great goal. Turns out this kind of thing was almost routine for the kid: three years later, in the summer of 1924, he hit a double to win a game for his baseball team, the Hillcrests, before catching a taxi across Toronto to score two goals in a winning effort for the lacrosse Maitlands.

He made his NHL debut in 1925, and was a dominant defensive force there, mostly for teams that don’t exist now: other than a year as a Chicago Black Hawk, he did his skating for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, and Montreal Maroons. His NHL CV includes 82 goals in 527 games, along with two Stanley Cups; twice he finished runner-up in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He also compiled a gruesome catalogue of injuries, including eight breaks of the nose. Charlie and Roy, his younger brothers, are both in the Hall of Fame, too.

After hockey, he went into politics, first in the Ontario legislature and then, in 1949, as a federal MP in Ottawa with Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals. Conacher was just 53 when he died — of coronary thrombosis in the sixth inning of a Parliamentary softball game, after hitting a triple.

A writer for  Ottawa’s Citizen was one of many to write a remembrance that May, in 1954. “It was a strange twist of fate that the game Conacher played least well kept him in public life longest,” Austin Cross wrote of his hockey career. And yet Conacher wasn’t a natural on the ice the way he was on the grass, Cross felt: starting out, he was “poor on skates.” He continued:

I first remember him, not as a football player, but in baseball uniform. He came to Ottawa to play for Hillcrests, and after he had murdered the ball out at Lansdowne Park, I went out with my camera and took a picture of him in his ‘monkey suit.’ I had the print until just recently. It revealed a fair-haired young boy, tall and handsome, and a face without guile. His nose was not broken in those days, and he was a most attractive type of man. Members of parliament who looked at him these last few years, and who studied that beat-up face, and looked at the atrociously pounded-in nose, have remarked more than once that it was hard to get into their heads that this bald-headed man with the comic nose was once Canada’s greatest athlete.

Theme Park: Conacher and his legacy are commemorated in a midtown Toronto park.

(Top image, c. 1937, from the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

americans dream

Red Handed: New York Americans coach Red Dutton congratulates right winger Lorne Carr on the night of Tuesday, March 29, 1938, after their team beat the Chicago Black Hawks 3-1 at Madison Square Garden to take the opening game of their playoff semi-final. The Americans had sailed past the Rangers in the first round, but couldn’t keep up the momentum against the Black Hawks, losing the next two games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Red Dutton did it all in the NHL. A star defenceman in the old WHL, Dutton, who died on a Sunday of this date in 1987 at the age of 89, joined the Montreal Maroons in 1926, anchoring the defence and ending up captain of the team before moving on to the New York Americans after four seasons. He played six further seasons with the Amerks and ended up as coach of the team — and caretaker owner, too,  after the NHL separated Bill Dwyer from the franchise in the 1930s. The Americans, of course, didn’t survive the tumultuous years of the Second World War; Dutton, meanwhile, took over as interim president of the league after Frank Calder’s death in 1943. A Hall-of-Famer and Stanley Cup trustee, Dutton ran a highly successful construction based in Calgary, where also, through the years, he was owner and president of the CFL Stampeders and headed the city’s famous Stampede.

busher the kid

Action Jackson: Born in Toronto on a Tuesday of this date in 1911, Harvey Busher Jackson made his NHL debut with the hometown Maple Leafs at the age of 18 in 1929. He played left wing on the Leafs’ legendary Kid Line, skating with Joe Primeau and Charlie Conacher, and together they won a Stanley Cup in 1932. In 1934, in a game against the St. Louis Eagles, he became the first NHLer to score four goals in a period. After a decade in Toronto, he played a couple of seasons with the New York Americans and three more with the Bruins in Boston. In later life, he suffered from alcoholism and a host of health challenges; Jackson died in 1966 at the age of 55. Despite Conn Smythe’s best efforts to keep him out, Jackson was finally elected to hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1971 — whereupon Smythe quit the Hall’s Selection Committee in dissent.

old poisoneer

Goalgetter: I don’t know that Nels Stewart gets the credit he deserves as a goalscorer. He scored 34 in 36 games in his first year in the NHL, 1925-26, and a couple of years after that he put away 39 in 44 games. If there had been a trophy recognizing the NHL’s best rookie that first year, 23-year-old Stewart would have won it, but since there wasn’t, he made do with leading the league in scoring, collecting the Hart Trophy as MVP, and helping his Montreal Maroons win a Stanley Cup championship. Born in Montreal on a Monday of this same date in 1902, Stewart centred Babe Siebert and Hooley Smith on Montreal’s famous S Line through the ’20s. He won a second Hart in 1930. Later he skated for the Boston Bruins and the New York Americans. In 1937, the man they called Old Poison bypassed Howie Morenz as the NHL’s all-time leading goalscorer, a height he held until Maurice Richard overtook him in 1952. Stewart died in 1957 at the age of 54, so his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1962 came posthumously.

starred + striped

Sen, Amerk, Eagle, Bruin: Of the four NHL teams for which Jeff Kalbfleisch worked the defence in the 1930s, only Boston’s Bruins remain. Born in New Hamburg, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1911, Kalbfleisch did brief duty as well for the (original) Ottawa Senators as well as the New York Americans and St. Louis Eagles. He died in 1960 at the age of 48.