(big) trainspotting

Stars + Stripes: Born in Toronto on this date in 1900 (it was a Thursday, then), Lionel Conacher was known as The Big Train in his sporting youth, and he whistled his way to stardom at every venue he visited, excelling at football, wrestling, boxing, lacrosse, baseball, sculling, swimming, and track. Oh, and hockey: his Hall-of-Fame career as a defenceman spanned 12 seasons in which he won a pair of Stanley Cup championships, with the Chicago Black Hawks (in 1934) and Montreal’s Maroons (’35). With Joe Miller and Carl Voss, Conacher is one of the only three players in history to have had their names inscribed on both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup. Conacher was Liberal MPP in Ontario, too, and went on to serve five years as a federal MP representing Toronto’s Trinity riding until his death, which came at the age of 54, during a parliamentary softball 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.

bootle rocket

Stars & Smiths: April 2 was a Wednesday in 1902, and that’s the day that Alex Smith was born, in Bootle, on Liverpool’s Merseyside. It was across the unfrozen ocean in Ottawa that he grew up, and took to ice, evolving eventually into a defenceman. He joined the local Senators in 1924, and won a Stanley Cup in 1927 as part of a defensive foursome that also included King Clnacy, Ed Gorman, and Buck Boucher. In all, Smith played parts of eight seasons in Ottawa. He also suited up for the Detroit Falcons and Boston Bruins before playing one last NHL campaign with the New York Americans in 1934-35.

robustious red

Red Dutton did it all in the NHL, captaining the Montreal Maroons as an energetic 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. “The robustious redhead,” Jim Coleman dubbed him a Maclean’s profile in 1950, describing his playing style as “reckless and enthusiastic.” Also? “The records reveal that he earned more penalties than goals.” Dutton’s own analysis? “I wasn’t a good hockey player,” he told Coleman, “but I was a good competitor.”

When the NHL’s founding president Frank Calder died in 1943, Dutton stood in as interim boss until Clarence Campbell took over the job. In 1950, Dutton was appointed a Stanley Cup trustee. In 1958, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Dutton, who died at the age of 89 on a Sunday of this date in 1987, didn’t lack for off-ice interests — or as Coleman put it, “he has made a hobby of collecting currency in large denominations.” Dutton’s Calgary businesses in the ‘40s and ‘50s included a highly successful gravel and paving company, a contracting operation, a precision-tool manufacturing plant, and four drive-in theatres.

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)

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

A birthday today for Red Dutton, born on another Friday of this date, the one in 1897, in Russell, Manitoba. After starting his NHL service as an enthusiastic and highly effective defenceman for the Montreal Maroons and New York Americans, Dutton went on to coach the Americans bench, as he’s doing here in 1940. He ran the team eventually, and took a turn in the mid-40s as NHL president. Dutton was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. He turned his back, later 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.