manhattan’s mauler

For our text this morning we turn to Hilary Stead’s 2002 book, Guelph: A People’s Heritage, and in particular its accounting of the life and times of Maria and Liberale, who emigrated to the seat of Wellington County in Southern Ontario from Treviso, in Northern Italy 60 years ago or so, arriving with a half-full suitcase as their only luggage. For 40 years Liberale worked at the International Malleable Iron Company in Guelph; he also tended a five-acre market garden on St. George’s Hill, with a milk-cow. Maria and Liberale were blessed with six children, five daughters and a son. His name was Lou, the son, and let it be known that in his boyhood he (Stead says) “played in the quarry behind the rubber plant” and burned “oil-soaked cotton batting pulled from around the bearings of the wheels of the trains at the roundhouse near Alice Street.”

Liberale, Maria, and Lou Fontinato

I don’t know just what that tells us about the manhood that followed for that young Guelpher: something, I’m certain. We do know, more solidly, that the kid in question, Louis Joseph Fontinato, was born on a Wednesday of this date in 1932. Also that as a hockey player, a defenceman, he played nine rough-hewn NHL seasons, mostly with the New York Rangers, also with the Montreal Canadiens, before a broken neck ended his hockey career in 1963.

Leapin’ Lou, they used to call him. He fought, a lot, taking on all comers, including Jean Béliveau, including (against everybody’s better judgment) Gordie Howe. How rambunctious was Lou Fontinato? In 1956, in pre-season practice, the bruising of his bodychecks put two of his Ranger teammates out of action for a couple of days, Dave Creighton and Red Sullivan.

More text: “If there were a prize for refrigerated misbehavior,” Arthur Daley wrote in the New York Times that same year, “it’s a cinch that Louie the Leaper would win it.”

Fontinato was the first NHLer, I think, to shred an opponent’s sweater with his skates, though not the last. 1957 this was, in December, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, against the Montreal Canadiens. There was a 15-minute brawl, in the second period. While Fontinato punched, and was punched by, Canadiens’ defenceman Tom Johnson, Montreal’s Jean-Guy Talbot wrestled New York’s Andy Hebenton.

There’s not much on the record that I’ve seen about the aftermath, though we do have one key witness. Talbot lost his sweater at some point in the ruckus. NHL Referee-in-Chief Carl Voss was on hand to watch what happened before the combatants were stowed away in the penalty box:

After the fighting had been stopped Fontinato spotted Talbot’s sweater still on the ice. He went over and made a big production of stomping on the Hab jersey with his skates. Then he went around breaking all the loose Montreal sticks he could find. What a showman that guy is. The New York fans loved it.

Fontinato’s sentence in the wake of all this 15 minutes, five for fighting plus a 10-minute misconduct. Carl Voss (as maybe you already guessed) saw no need for any supplementary discipline.

When the two teams met again in Montreal a few days later, New York coach Phil Watson fought a fan who kicked him outside the Rangers’ dressing room. Fontinato features in accounts of this game for his third-period heroics. When a Forum goal judge flicked on his light to indicate a Montreal goal that wasn’t, in fact, a goal, Fontinato dashed behind the New York net to make his case. From the Montreal Star:

He threw a mighty right hook at the glass protecting the judge, and kept throwing punches at no-one in particular … sitting next to the judge was “Rocket” Richard, and Fontinato had a few words for the injured Hab ace, too.

I can’t say how seriously shredded Talbot’s sweater was in 1957. We have a more detailed damage report from a 1986 incident.

In this one, the Edmonton Oilers were in Calgary to aggravate the Flames, and Edmonton defenceman Marty McSorley did his part by bumping Calgary goaltender Reggie Lemelin. Flames’ centreman Doug Risebrough saw this as grounds for punching McSorley who, of course, punched back in what the Gazette’s Red Fisher described as a “free-swinging affair.”

“Somehow,” Fisher noted, “he found himself in the penalty box with McSorley’s sweater and promptly ripped it to shreds with his skates.”

Edmonton coach and GM Glen Sather wasn’t happy. He called Risebrough “childish” and declared that their friendship was over. He lodged a complaint with NHL disciplinarian Brian O’Neill. “What’s more,” Sather said, “the Flames will be getting a $1,000-bill for McSorley’s shredded sweater.”

The NHL declined to take up the case. Risebrough was contrite. “I’m sorry I did it,” he said, after a day or two. “It’s something you when you’re really upset. It was a bad reaction on my part and I’m embarrassed by it.”

According to Fran Rosa of the Boston Globe, Risebrough had been methodical in the moment, soaking McSorley “in water to soften it” before going to work with his skates.

The Oilers subsequently retrieved the remains, which they hung in their dressing room to stir their memories and anti-Calgary choler.

 

 

(Top image: Tex Coulter, 1958)

dave kerr turns a blind eye

Born in Toronto on another Tuesday of today’s date, this one in 1910, Dave Kerr got his NHL start in 1930 with the Montreal Maroons. He played seven seasons with the New York Rangers, with whom he had a very good year in 1940, winning a Stanley Cup championship and a Vézina Trophy. In 1944, Wilf Cude rated his old friend Charlie Gardiner as the best goaltender he’d ever seen, with Frank Brimsek and Kerr tied for second in his estimation. The Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee discussed Kerr’s candidacy in 1969 and ’75, but he didn’t get the support he needed to be inducted, and I guess his time has passed. Kerr died in 1978 at the age of 68.

In the 1980s, Montreal Gazette columnist Dink Carroll recalled his keen eyesight and extraordinary reflexes. Nobody could score on him on a breakaway or a penalty. “Like Ted Williams,” Carroll said, “he went out of his way to protect his eyes, wearing sunglasses and refusing to refusing to look out a train window at the snow.”

I haven’t seen Kerr talking about that, but in 1935 he did have an answer when Harold Parrott of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle asked him how many of the shots coming at him he failed to see because his vision was blocked.

“Fully 50 per cent,” he volunteered. “The rubber will come out of a scuffle, out from behind somebody, and you have to grab in the dark for those kind. Then they yell at you from the stands that you’re blind.”

 

the dawn-defying whoopee

A birthday today for Lester Patrick, legendary rushing defenceman (and stopgap goaltender), hockey innovator, and architect of the New York Rangers, born in Drummondville, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1883. Here he is, with headgear, at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto in April of 1940, when his Rangers seized the (detachable) Stanley Cup from the Maple Leafs in six games. Patrick was 56 that year, and just GM, having handed over coaching duties that year to Frank Boucher after 13 seasons on the bench. This was the sixth Cup of Patrick’s illustrious career. It was the Rangers’ third championship; they wouldn’t win a fourth (as New York fans might remember) until 1994. Cavorting with Patrick are Rangers (from left) Bryan Hextall and Neil Colville.

“Pandemonium reigned in the Ranger dressing room,” a CP dispatch noted of events at Maple Leaf Gardens before the party moved over to the Royal York, “as [Toronto] manager Conn Smythe and members of the Leaf team congratulated the New York players. In their own quarters, the Leafs proved good losers and many of them later joined the Rangers in the dawn-defying whoopee.”

 

 

curt ridley, 1951—2021

Stopgap: Curt Ridley’s 1977 O-Pee-Chee hockey card.

Sorry to say that Curt Ridley has died at the age of 70. Born in Winnipeg in September of 1951, he got his NHL start at the age of 23 with the New York Rangers in 1974 when Ed Giacomin was sidelined, nursing a wonky knee. Ridley was tending goals for the AHL Providence Reds that year when his coach, John Muckler, told him he’d be starting for the Rangers against the Boston Bruins. “Was he surprised?” Muckler was asked. “I dunno,” Muckler said. “He had his mask on.” The Bruins rang up six goals on Ridley before Giacomin limped in to relieve him. With Phil Esposito notching three goals and four assists, the Bruins won 11-3. Ridley found some redemption (and his first NHL win) ten days later when he was back in net for New York’s 2-1 triumph over the Kansas City Scouts. Ridley’s did his steadiest NHL work for the Vancouver Canucks, with whom he played parts of four seasons. He took several turns, too, in net for the Toronto Maple Leafs before his NHL career came to its end in 1981. In 2015, Curt Ridley was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.

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.

you are very star

Born in Melville, Saskatchewan, on a Sunday of this date in 1914, Jim Franks was another protégé of prairie hockey honcho (and the man who named Melville’s Millionaires) Goldie Smith. He was a 22 in early 1937, a spare goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, when (as reported by Saskatoon’s Star-Phoenix) he talked to Smith by “long-distance telephone” from Montreal. “I’ve been travelling with the team for several weeks now,” he said, “but you never can tell when the big opportunity will come.” That same night, in Detroit’s Stanley Cup semi-final against Montreal, Red Wings winger Herbie Lewis fell on Detroit starter Normie Smith in a goalmouth pile-up. With Smith retiring from the ice with a torn ligament halfway through the game, Franks made his NHL debut. Guarding the Canadiens net that night was Wilf Cude, a former Millionaire and disciple of Goldie Smith’s. According to the Regina Leader-Post, this was the scene as Franks took the Forum ice:

From his cage way down the ice, Cude raised his arm and waved. Franks waved back. Tucked inside his shirt was a note of greeting and good luck from his sporting rival.

As Franks was strapping on his pads in the Detroit dressing room, a messenger boy had passed him the paper. “It read something like this: ‘Good luck to you, kid. Remember Melville,’ and it was signed ‘Wilf Cude.’”

Two Montreal shots got by Franks, one that Johnny Gagnon, another from Babe Siebert that “knocked him over.” Canadiens prevailed by a score of 3-1.

Earl Robertson took over the Red Wing net after that; Franks finished the year with the IAHL Pittsburgh Hornets. It wasn’t all in vain: for his efforts in Montreal, Frank did see his name engraved on the Stanley Cup that the Red Wings went on to wrest from the New York Rangers that year.

It was with the Rangers that Franks got his main NHL chance. That didn’t come until five years later, 1942, when Franks started 23 games for a wobbly wartime New York team. He went 5-14-4 as the Rangers finished last in the NHL standings. The following year, 1943-44, his last in the NHL, Franks was back with Detroit. As it was in the beginning, so it ended up: he also got into a game that season as an EBUG for Boston, lent by the Red Wings after Bruins’ starter Bert Gardiner was hurt.

 

(Image: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 82627)

sweet j

Ready For Action: Born in in Winnipeg in 1920 on another Saturday of this same date, Sugar Jim Henry started his NHL career in 1941 with the New York Rangers. He was in uniform — and played military hockey — for much of the remaining the war years, before returning to New York. After a stint with the Chicago Black Hawks, Henry finished his NHL career in the early 1950s with the Boston Bruins. In 1952, he played in the NHL All-Star game and was named, at season’s end, the the 2nd All-Star Team.

ayrtime: buddy maracle’s story set to feature tonight on rogers hometown hockey

Card Game: From 2018, a souvenir card, back and front, issued in Ayr, Ontario, in recognition of Indigenous hockey pioneer Buddy Maracle.

Unremembered for so long by hockey’s history, neglected so adamantly by institutions (looking at you, NHL, New York Rangers, and the Hockey Hall of Fame) that should know and be better, Buddy Maracle is, 90 years after he took his historic turn on NHL ice as a New York Ranger, getting some of the recognition he deserves.

Already this fall the legacy of this Indigenous pioneer has been commemorated with a street-naming, and there’s word, too, that Maracle is slated to feature on an upcoming hockey card.

And then there’s tonight: with Tara Slone and Ron MacLean dropping the puck on a new season of Rogers Hometown Hockey on Sportsnet from the southern-Ontario township of North Dumfries, his story is set to be featured between periods on Monday’s broadcast of the modern-day Toronto Maple Leafs taking on the Blueshirts of Broadway.

You might have read about Buddy Maracle and the hockey establishment’s inattention, maybe even here on Puckstruck. (If not, you can find chroniclings of what we know about one of the NHL’s first Indigenous players and the NHL’s strange reluctance to recognize his achievements, here and here and herehere, too.)

In The News: Maracle Way got the front-page treatment in an end-of-September edition of the Ayr News.

You might remember that Maracle, an Oneida Mohawk who died at the age of 53 in 1958, was born in 1904 in Ayr, the seat of North Dumfries, on the traditional territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River. It was in Ayr, in September, that a street in a new local housing development was named Maracle Way. As has been the regular case in the revival of Buddy Maracle’s story as well as the effort to bring it to the fore over the past several years, Ayr News reporter Irene Schmidt-Adeney was instrumental in this effort; on hand for the unveiling were members of the Maracle family, including his great-great-niece, Christine Pritchard, along with her aunt, Nancy Maracle.

Word of a forthcoming Buddy Maracle hockey card has been afloat for a while — it’s due to debut as part of an Upper Deck promotional set highlighting Indigenous players, including Jimmy Jamieson — though it’s still not quite clear just what that might look like, or when it could be available.

Memories of Maracle: Display at a 2019 event honouring local NHLers as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day (known locally as Solidarity Day) on Six Nations of the Grand River.

 

 

 

this week in 1951: frank boucher turns 50, redraws the nhl rink

Let’s Stick Together: Frank Boucher, in the middle, poses with two of his elder brothers in 1928. George (a.k.a. Buck) Boucher, at left, won four Stanley Cups with Ottawa’s powerhouse Senatos in the ’20s and went on to coach the Boston Bruins; Billy, on the right, spent most of his career with the Montreal Canadiens before signing with New York’s Americans.

Frank Boucher’s legacy as an altogether upright and admirable citizen was already well-established in the fall of 1951 as the NHL prepared to launch into its 34th season on ice. Scion of a famous Ottawa sporting family, he’d served as a constable in the RCMP before starting into a stellar career as a pro hockey centreman for Ottawa’s original Senators, the old PCHA Vancouver Maroons, and (most notably) New York’s Rangers.

Elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958, Boucher had helped engineer Stanley Cup championships for the Rangers in 1928 and ’33, combining superlative skills with good graces, such that he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy seven times in eight years in the NHL’s first decades. The respect for fair play he learned, he always said, from his hero, the original winner of the Lady Byng, Frank Nighbor. Boucher took as coach of the Rangers in 1939, and served a decade in the job. By 1951, he was concentrating on his role as the team’s GM — and on refining the hockey that was playing out on NHL ice.

Born in Ottawa in 1901 on a Monday of this past Thursday’s date, October 7, Frank Boucher found himself turning 50 this mid-century week in ’51. He was with his team at training camp in Guelph, Ontario, working with Rangers’ coach Neil Colville to evaluate his team’s talent and, ever an innovator, tinkering with the tenor of the game.

Rangerswise, Boucher considered his team to be 25 per cent better than it had been the previous year, when the Rangers had finished fifth — out of the playoffs — in the six-team NHL.

“The big difference will be in offensive power,” he told Al Nickleson from the Globe and Mail. “Now we have more fellows who can put the puck in the net. One of the new ones, Gaye Stewart, can help us plenty. The team is in much better shape than at this time last year. Centre Ed Laprade looks better right now than he has for the last three seasons and shows no effect from the leg he fractured last winter.”

If the previous season had been a write-off for the Rangers, it did include, for Boucher, at least one rewarding night. In February of ’51, ahead of a Madison Square Garden meeting with the Chicago Black Hawks, the Rangers celebrated Boucher with a generous testimonial. Bill and Bun Cook, Boucher’s old Ranger linemates, were on hand, along with Murray Murdoch, another Ranger original. New York mayor Vincent Impelliterri presented Boucher with the keys to a brand-new black 1951 Studebaker sedan, paid for by fan subscription.

Other gifts included a typewriter (from New York’s hockey writers); a tool chest (from the St. Paul Saints, a Ranger farm team); a pen-and-pencil set (from the MSG Corporation). Ranger captain Frank Eddolls and his Ranger teammates chipped in for a television — and a 5-1 win over the Black Hawks.

In September, as the off-season dwindled away, Boucher was back in the news, advocating for the NHL to institute an amateur draft. The league didn’t get around to doing that, of course, until 1963; in the meantime, as the longtime chairman of the NHL’s Rules Committee, Boucher was doing his best to streamline (and possibly even improve) the game the league was unleashing on the ice day-to-day.

Try Out: Frank Boucher coached the New York Rangers rom 1939 through 1949 before he stepped back to focus on the job of GM. Here, circa the early ’50s, he measures up defenceman Allan Stanley.

By the first week of October, with the opening of the new season just a week away, Boucher’s mind was on the perennial challenge of how to keep players focussed on playing the hockey they were of capable of rather than concentrating on straying outside the rules to thwart their opponents.

A pre-season report from Guelph noted that he was telling his own players to cut out “hacking, slashing, boarding and other illegal tactics.”

“No particular person is to blame for the type of play that is spoiling the game,” he expounded. “The rules haven’t changed. The only thing needed is for the referees to call the play according to the book, and this rough stuff will be cut out.”

Boucher maintained that the rules committee was all for a crackdown. “Spectators like a good tough check, if it is clean, and the fans, players, club officials, and referees should be told that any rules infractions will be penalized. Then we’ll see some hockey.”

Unleash the league’s stars, Boucher implored. “[Montreal’s Maurice] Richard would be a truly great player if he didn’t have a couple of guys draped around him during a game.”

There’s no record of any official NHL response to Boucher’s opinionating — none that I’ve been able to unearth, anyway. League president Clarence Campbell was focussed on a project of his own: replacing the two 20-foot face-off circles that traditionally flanked NHL nets at either end of the rink with a single one, 30 feet in diameter, directly in front of each goal.

A decade had passed since the NHL’s introduction of the ten-foot circles. They’d been introduced to augment the face-off dots that had been in place since 1937 at the same time as the penalty-shot circle was erased from the high slot. The new-old face-off circle was described in press reports as Campbell’s “brainchild.” It quickly proved unpopular.

Campbell’s motive for refiguring each zone with a single central face-off circle? “It is his idea,” Windsor Star columnist Doug Vaughan explained, “that it will provide spectators with a clearer view of what takes place, livelier action, and prevent a lot of the old jamming along the boards.”

Frank Boucher didn’t agree. “Suicide,” he called it. The central face-off circle was, he said, unfair to goaltenders. “Also,” he argued, “the new circle will only prolong something we have long been trying to eliminate. At least under the old system the teams spread out for a face-off. Now they gang up in a huddle in front of the goal.”

Toronto Maple Leaf managing director Conn Smythe was with him. “In sport,” he ventured, “you want rules that won’t prevent the better side from winning. But you also them so that the better side doesn’t get the advantage of a rule. This new circle gives the advantage top the better team which can put on the pressure and keep the puck in there.”

“A goalie can make a great save, but can’t get rid of the puck before the whistle blows. Then, under this new plan, he’s actually penalized because the face-off is made directly in front of him. That’s not right.”

NHL referee-in-chief Carl Voss watched a couple of pre-season games in which the new circle was deployed and came out as another naysayer. “I was for it at first,” he said. “But now, in the last two games I’ve seen, the players seem to be getting on to it, and it’s not working out the way we had hoped.”

Major changes in the rules needed approval from all six teams. “It won’t get it,” Boucher said of unanimous support for Campbell’s plan. Never mind settling for the status quo, Boucher had his own variation to offer: keep the two face-off circles on either side of each net but enlarge them from 20 to 30 feet across.

The Rangers quickly put the expanded circles to the test in a pre-season game against the Black Hawks in Guelph. In Toronto, Smythe had them drawn in at Maple Leaf Gardens for a Leaf scrimmage. Both goaltenders, Turk Broda and Al Rollins, declared them a success.

Clarence Campbell, too, came around. He agreed that his idea posed problems for goaltenders. “We don’t want any rule which makes a good team better at the expense of its opponent,” he conceded. All six team were in favour of Boucher’s fix, Campbell said; it was duly adopted for the new season.

can take care of himself in any kind of sailing

Hot Shots: Ranger linemates (left to right) Grant Warwick, Ab DeMarco, and Hank Goldup face the camera in January of 1945 during a week in which the trio accounted for seven Ranger goals in two games.

It was on this date in 1999, another Monday, that former New York Rangers right wing Grant Warwick died at the age of 77. He was just 20 in 1942 when he was voted the NHL’s top rookie, winning the Calder Trophy ahead of Montreal’s Buddy O’Connor and Bob Goldham of Toronto. A proud Saskatchewan newspaper reported on the distinction: “Warwick, native of Regina, is just five feet six, but he packs about 175 pounds on that frame and can take care of himself in any kind of sailing on the ice.” He played parts of seven seasons with the Rangers through the ‘40s, twice notching 20 goals; he later had a 22-goal season with the Boston Bruins before finishing up his big-league career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1949-50. Skating alongside his younger brother Bill, he was the playing coach of the Penticton Vs when they represented Canada at the World Championships in West Germany and beat the Soviet Union 5-0 to win gold.

rod gilbert, 1941—2021

So sorry to hear the news this evening of the death of Rod Gilbert at the age of 80. Born in Montreal in 1941, he only ever skated in the NHL as a New York Ranger. He was a speedy right winger who scored profusely for the Blueshirts: the 406 regular-season goals and 1,021 points he collected in his 18 seasons with New York are still tops among Rangers. In 1979, a year after his retirement, the seven Gilbert wore on his sweater became the first number to be retired by the Rangers. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.  

  

out here stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?

Born in LaSalle, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1952, the ever-entertaining Gilles Gratton is 69 today. While his pro goaling career lasted just six years in the 1970s, the man they called Gratoony the Loony made sure they were memorable ones. He started in the WHA, spending the 1972-73 season with the long-lost Ottawa Nationals, then moved west when the franchise shifted to Toronto to reform as the Toros. In 1975, he arrived in the NHL, where he suited up for a season with the St. Louis Blues and then another with New York’s Rangers. 

When the great Roy MacGregor caught up with him in 1975 with a profile for The Canadian Magazine, the 22-year-old goaltender had signed a five-year, C$645,000 contract with the Toros that came with a bonus: a canary yellow Porsche 911-S Targa. “Nobody should be paid as much as I get,” Gratton told him. “In real work terms, I’m worth nothing. I’m not helping anyone, not making anything. What am I doing for the world? I’m stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?”

That’s not all. “The difference between me and a hockey player is this,” Gratton continued: “when summer ends, a hockey player gets itchy, I feel like killing myself. If I never played hockey again, it wouldn’t matter. A real hockey player would be broken. Me, I’m liberated.”