murph ’n’ turf

Old Hardrock: Born in Shawville, Quebec, on a Sunday of this date in 1915, Murph Chamberlain was an adept checker in his day, fore and back. An energetically abrasive forward, he started his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1937, and he saw service as well for the Boston Bruins and New York Americans. Mostly, though, he was a Canadien, spending eight of his 12 NHL seasons with Montreal, with whom he won Stanley Cups in 1944 and ’46.

This photograph dates to March of 1948, on a night when the Canadiens visited Toronto to beat the Leafs, 3-2. Chamberlain is #12; the referee sentencing him is Bill Chadwick, with linesman Sam Babcock inbound. Billy Reay is arriving on the scene (top of the face-off circle), and that’s Leaf defenceman Gus Mortson on his knee. In the first period, Mortson boarded Hab goaltender Bill Durnan, which brought down Chamberlain and Ken Reardon on his — Mortson’s — head. Chadwick assessed majors to all. According to NHL Rule 32b governing goaltenders and majors, Durnan didn’t go to the box, but faced a penalty shot instead … which Max Bentley missed. I feel it’s my duty to report here that Chamberlain and Mortson shared a nickname in those years, with wartime rationing still in effect, I guess: both were known as Old Hardrock.

 

Update: This post has been amended. Having speculated that the scene here might have been from a game in October of 1948, I stand corrected by hockey historian Paul Patskou: it was a Wednesday-night game at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1948.

paging back through hockey’s pulp fiction with bumps cathaway, iceberg callahan, and beef mulligan

Problems? Star Chicago Condors centreman Vic Paulson has two pressing him, one of which you don’t often see in big-time hockey, while the other one is a concussion — a very hockey problem indeed. Vic, see, stands accused of writing an article in a big Canadian newspaper in which he rudely denigrates the game that’s given him so much — bites the puck that feeds — and now all the hockey world (his teammates included) is mad at him.

Jerry Moad of the Rangers has a concussion, too, thanks to a vicious blindside hit by Eskimos’ defenceman Cyclone Couture, but his main problem is love: the devotion he used to have for hockey has strayed to Nona Velmar.

Willie Tittus? A dandy defenceman for the Black Hawks, his only problem is a bad bout of self-doubt. The predicament for Clarence Tillingworth, new wing for the Blue Demons, is that everybody thinks he’s a coward because he … reads a lot.

Swede Hansen, husky left wing for the Detroit Red Arrows — I can’t remember what his problem is. Lost his memory, maybe, or his nerve, or his house key? Possibly, like Falcons’ centreman Blackie Magee, he has a father problem that’s also very much a coach problem, as in he plays for his hard-bitten dad and just can’t seem to please the old man, no matter how hard he tries.

Can Blackie turn it around? Any hope for Jerry’s head and/or heart? What about Clarence: will he repent his literary sins?

Like the trials and tribulations of all these beleaguered hockey players, the answers to these urgent questions can be found in a new self-published anthology of hockey-minded pulp literature originally published in the U.S. in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

Compiled by Cambridge, Ontario, historian Paul Langan, Classic Hockey Stories has as its core seven rollicking short stories by writers you’ve (almost certainly) never heard of, from magazines like Ace Sports Monthly and 12 Sports Aces, bearing titles like “Blue Line Blazers” and “Pardon My Puck!” wherein characters yell “Attaboy!” to encourage the hockey players who feature, and “Take him out of there! Smear him! Knock his ears off!” to intimidate them.

Classic Hockey Stories debuted in December; if you’re interested in acquiring a copy, steer over to Langan’s website, here.

Mining a mostly forgotten vein of hockey fiction, Langan lays bare a fascinating geology. T.W. Ford, Theodore Roemer, and Giles Lutz, et al: the (all American) authors included here aren’t exactly household names in the annals of hockey literature, but they were all prolific pulp writers who knew how to get from the start of a story to the end in prose as raw and furious as the action on their imaginary rinks.

Bumps Cathaway, Montreal Cassidy, Beef Mulligan, Iceberg Callahan. Whether they’re memorably named or not, the characters in these stories tend to be colourful, if only roughly rendered. The plotting isn’t always what you’d call sophisticated, and the values on display are often musty antiques. Dialogue from French-Canadian characters sometimes reads (unfortunately) like this outburst from Big Georges Flandreau in “Charge of the Ice Brigade:”

“Always I say to them fallers, Vic Paulson he belong in beeg hockey league. They play you dirty treek somewan, huh? We feex mebbeso, by gar!”

At least the hockey is … not always entirely clichéd and/or implausible in its details and mechanics. Say this: it can be hard to look away from the page once a story like “Blonde Bullet” or “Charge of the Ice Brigade” gets on its careening track.

In December, when I e-mailed Paul Langan to ask him about the book, he was good enough to answer. Our conversation went like this:

What inspired you to put this collection together?
Like most Canadians, I’ve always loved hockey, and I was researching pulp magazines and dime novels. Early on in my life, I read pulp westerns, and I knew there were many other genres of pulp fiction: sci-fi, detective stories, westerns, mysteries. They’re all available online as pdfs now at very low prices. I only came across a few sports pulps, and the vast majority of them were baseball, basketball, football, and boxing stories. Hockey-themed stories were even harder to come by.

What were the challenges of tracking down the stories? How many did you read and consider for the book?
Extremely challenging for me. There are two sides to this issue of finding them. On one hand, there are the easily accessible ones that people have converted to pdfs and offer online at really great — cheap — prices. Then there are the collectors who collect the original magazines in which the stories appeared. These are expensive. I could only find 25 hockey novelettes and stories, and of those I used nine for the book. Finding Canadian- themed stories, or stories with even a hint of Canadiana, was even more difficult. Eventually I gave up looking for inexpensive avenues of finding hockey-themed stories and novelettes from the pulp days and just went with what I had.

Many of these stories are written by American writers for American publications. Do you think they played a part in promoting the spread hockey in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century?

To me, the breakdown of number of stories written on particular sport at that time was representative of where hockey was at that time. If I remember correctly, I believe hockey-themed stories were number six or so among the sports pulps. I doubt the hockey stories influenced anyone.

What’s your opinion of the literary quality of these stories?
Honestly, the stories are not that great. I don’t think the vast majority of people reading the pulps back then bought them thinking this was going to be a great literary experience. It was pure escapism and entertainment before the popularity of TV destroyed them. They’re just like YouTube videos today, I think. If you read the book, just sit back and enjoy the fun.

Do you have a favourite story?
“Charge of the Rink Brigade” is a well-written novel by Joe Archibald, who had a long career and wrote more than 50 novels. They were not on hockey topics, but he was a good writer. I love this one because he has Canadian characters and includes cities like Winnipeg. As the old saying goes, a good story is one that paints a picture. This novel paints a clear picture.

Also, “Stooge for a Puck Pirate” by C. Paul Jackson. This is a sentimental favourite for me: I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, across from Detroit, Michigan. I used to go to Red Wings games in the 1970s and ’80s, some at the old Olympia Stadium.

What was the thing that surprised you most, putting together this project?
There’s a short section at the end of the book on the authors who wrote for the pulps. Researching them, I learned a lot about what writers had to do back then to make a living. They wrote and submitted stories for a variety of genres just to make some money to pay the bills. This definitely reflected in the quality of the hockey stories. With some of them, it seems like they didn’t really know the game. There’s one story where the author wrote several times that one player “blockered” another. He meant to say he “checked” him, but evidently was unaware of that term.

Classic Hockey Stories: From the Golden Era of Pulp Magazine, 1930s—1950s
Paul Langan
(Self-published, 240 pp., $13.66 in paperback)

This interview has been edited and condensed.

(not so) bad (as all that) joe hall

Joe Hall’s shocking death is fixed in hockey’s history within the context of the 1919 Stanley Cup finals, famously stopped in Seattle by a wave of Spanish flu before they could be completed. Hall, a veteran defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens, died of pneumonia within days of the final game having been abandoned, that April. He was 37.   

PCHA President Frank Patrick paid him tribute that week. “Joe Hall was one of the real veterans of hockey,” he said. “He has been playing senior since 1902, and the game suffers a great loss by his passing. Off the ice, he was one of the jolliest, best-hearted, most popular men who ever played.”

Born in 1881 on a Tuesday of this date in Milwich, just south of Stoke-on-Trent in England’s Midlands, Joe Hall acquired a whole other reputation on the ice, of course. Going back to the earliest days of his hockey development in and around Brandon, Manitoba, Hall proved himself to be a highly skilled and determined competitor. He could also be, and consistently was, vicious with stick and skates and fists. He was often suspended, and several times banned outright; there’s a case to be made that the nickname he acquired during his playing days doesn’t adequately represent the record of his wanton acts. Particularly in his younger years, Bad Joe Hall was Heinous.

It might be worthwhile to explore some of that history — maybe in a follow-up post? Stand by for that. Today we’ll go the other way, to wonder whether, actually, was Hall not so bad as all that? Was he misrepresented, misunderstood, unfairly vilified? Is his reputation in need of redemption? 

As early as 1911, efforts were afoot to rebrand him. Maybe in his past he’d been headstrong, heedless, ever verging on the violent, but that was all behind him now. He was with the NHA’s Quebec Bulldogs by then, and would be a key component in the back-to-back Stanley Cup championships they collected in 1912 and ’13.

“Bad Joe Hall is no longer ‘Bad Medicine,’” the Edmonton Journal declared, “and recent dispatches from Quebec state that the Jesse James of hockey is now so tame that he will eat out of the hand.” 

He had, true enough, “gained an international reputation for pure cussedness and was really better known to the penalty timers than to the fans, as he used to spend at least half of every game in the sweat box.”

The problem now was that referees who, refusing to look forget the past, would penalize him simply because he was Bad Joe. And, you know what, even in those old days, maybe his intentions weren’t as malign as they seemed. According to the Journal, many people (none of them named) felt that Hall was “far from being a bad actor.”

“These [same people] also ventured the opinion that when he was caught in the act of delivering a body blow, he was only endeavouring to get even for something that had been handed him earlier in the evening.”

This got to be a bit of a theme over the next couple of years. Here’s a columnist by the name of C.C. Stein writing in the Winnipeg Tribune in 1913:

“Joe is a living example of that old and true saying, ‘Give a dog a bad name,’ etc. Just as long as Hall plays hockey, he will carry the appellation of the ‘bad man’ of the game. He can’t get away from it.”

As rough and ready as he might have played it in his youth, Stein insisted, Hall had changed his game, and was now as well-behaved as they came — other than “on occasion when he is forced to retaliate for self-defensive purposes.”

“Hall wants to play clean hockey, but how can he when his opponents take advantage and slash and cut him when they find Joe is a lamb instead of a bear? And the moment Joe starts to retaliate officials pounce upon him. If Joe wants to get by with a clean game all he has to do is forget that his bones are breakable, and smile every time he is cracked on the shins or ankle.”

The inimitable Joe Malone weighed in on this same issue many years later. A teammate of Hall’s on those triumphant Quebec teams in ’12 and ’13, Malone did some reminiscing for The Hockey Book, Bill Roche’s 1953 anecdotal miscellany. 

“His title of ‘Badman,’ which he acquired through his aggressive (not dirty) play, was one that he enjoyed and laughed at more than anything else,” Malone recalled. “Some long-forgotten hockey writer, probably in a fit of pique, pinned the ‘bad’ tag on him when Joe was playing right wing for the Houghton team of the old blood-and-thunder International Pro League, back around 1905-06. It was a brand-new catchword at that time and, unfortunately, it stuck.”

“His type of play was not of the mean sort,” Malone insisted. “He checked heavily for the sheer sport of bodily contact, and he was always ready to take as well as to give. That was all the more remarkable when one remembers that his normal weight was only about 150 pounds.” 

“There were plenty of huge, rough characters on the ice in Hall’s time, and he was able to stay in there with them for about 19 years. That, I know, was largely because of the fact that his personal habits were above reproach and a model to his teammates.”

Malone still hoped that Hall could shed his moniker. 

“Just the name, Joe Hall, should stand down through hockey history as a symbol of pluck, aggressiveness, and courage. The addition of ‘bad’ is, and always has been, unfair and wrong.”

penetanguishene’s pig iron

For The Defence: Bert Corbeau was born on a Friday of this date in 1894 in Penetanguishene, Ontario. I don’t have good information on the origins of his nickname, Old Pig Iron, other than to propose that it related to the remorselessness of the defending he did on behalf of the Montreal Canadiens, Hamilton Tigers, and Toronto St. Patricks in the early days of the NHL. He won a Stanley Cup with Montreal when they played in the NHA in 1916. I wish I had more to say about the Canadiens’ uniform he’s wearing here. My guess is that it’s a practice-version rather than an official game-worn get-up.

suitcase and his socks

Luggage On The Left Coast: Gary Smith guarded Vancouver nets from 1973 through 1976.

Born in Ottawa on a Friday of this date in 1944, goaltender Gary Smith is 77 today. The nicknames he acquired during his career don’t really need a whole lot of explication, but here goes: Suitcase referenced his travels around the NHL, WHA, and minor leagues, wherein he played for 13 teams in 16 seasons during the 1960s and ’70s; Axe underscored his propensity for swinging sticks at passing opponents. His father, Des Smith, played defence starting in the late 1930s for four NHL teams, including Boston; brother Brian was a left winger for Los Angeles and Minnesota in the latter ’60s. Gary shared a Vézina Trophy with Tony Esposito for their work in the Chicago Black Hawks’ crease in 1972, and Smith backstopped the WHA Winnipeg Jets to the 1979 Avco Cup.

The following year was Smith’s last in hockey; it happened to be Winnipeg’s first in the NHL. Defenceman Barry Melrose was a teammate that season, and it’s to him we go for this news of Smith’s in-game rituals.

“He wore 13 pairs of socks in his goalie skates,” Melrose recollected in 2009, “because he hated pucks hitting his feet. He also wore long underwear and after every period, he took off all his gar and had a cold shower. Can you imagine the laundry the trainers had to do? It was 50-some socks per game plus four sets of underwear. The Axe was a weird dude.”

callithumpian kenny: at madison square garden in new york, they had a hate reardon club

Bruising is a word you often see associated with Ken Reardon’s colourful stint as a defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens during the 1940s; others are rugged, rambunctious, pugnacious, and full of zeal. Beloved by Hab enthusiasts, he was known, as the Montreal Gazette noted in 1950, for stirring other teams’ fans into a dither. “At Madison Square Garden in New York,” the paper levelly recorded, “there is a Hate Reardon Club, whose members have dubbed the tough Irishman ‘HORSEFACE.’”

Born in Winnipeg on a Friday of this same date in 1921, Reardon had what Dink Carroll described in 1966, on the occasion of his election to the Hockey Hall of Fame, as a “brief but meteoric NHL career.” Debuting in 1940, he played two seasons in Montreal before enlisting in the war effort. The RCAF turned him down (for colour-blindness), but the Canadian Army took him. He won an Allan Cup with the Ottawa Commandos in 1943, then headed overseas, where his non-hockey service in Europe was rewarded in 1944 with a Commander-in-Chief’s Certificate for Gallantry, which he received from Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery himself. In ’66, Carroll recalled that Reardon’s dynamic on-ice stylings earned the nicknames The Locomotive and The Express. “He had a unique skating style — he ran rather than stroked — and bowled over anyone who was in his way.” The Wild Irishman was another moniker. It was this time of year in 1950 that Canadiens took on the Rangers in New York in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After Reardon drew five penalties in a single game at MSG, he returned to Montreal as a newly minted 29-year-old to find birthday greetings from his sister in Regina awaiting him in a telegram addressed, simply enough, “Care of penalty box, Forum.”

It’s true that Reardon’s renown was built, too, on fights with fans (he and Montreal teammate Leo Gravelle were briefly jailed in Chicago in 1949) and tales of his vicious ongoing feud with Cal Gardner of the New York Rangers and, later, Toronto’s Maple Leafs. In 1950, after Reardon threatened vengeance on Gardner in a magazine interview, NHL president Clarence Campbell fined him $1,000. It wasn’t so much a penalty, Campbell said, as a personal cash bond to guarantee Reardon’s continuing good conduct. The money was returned when back injuries precipitated Reardon’s retirement in the fall of ’50. The New York Times carried the latter news by way of a CP article identifying Reardon as the bushy-browed basher. As a player, he’d helped Montreal win the 1946 Stanley Cup. Working in management — he served as Canadiens’ assistant GM and, later, as vice-president — he was aboard for five more Cups from 1956 through 1960. Ken Reardon died at the age of 86 in 2008.

who’s that hedberg?

Hot Liner: Anders Hedberg celebrates a momentous goal, his 50th in 49 games, on the night of Sunday, February 6, 1977, at the Winnipeg Arena. The dejected Calgary Cowboys are goaltender Gary Bromley, alternate captain Chris Evans, and (possibly) Jacques Locas. (Image: University of Manitoba Archives)

Born in Örnsköldsvik in Sweden on this date in 1951, when it was a Sunday, Anders Hedberg made his original North American mark as a right winger playing for the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets in the mid-1970s before he and linemate Ulf Nilsson migrated to the NHL’s New York Rangers. Nicknamed the Swedish Express, Hedberg won the Lou Kaplan Trophy as the WHA’s top rookie in 1975. Teamed with Nilsson and Bobby Hull on Winnipeg’s Hot Line, he helped the Jets win a pair of Avco championship trophies.

Deserving of more hoopla than it’s ever received is Hedberg’s record from the winter of 1977 when, at the age of 25, he became the first player in major-league hockey history to score 50 goals in fewer than 50 games. A 23-year-old Maurice Richard, of course, scored 50 in 50 for the Montreal Canadiens in 1945, and Hull did it at age 36 for the Jets during their 1974-75 campaign. Going into Winnipeg’s February 6, 1977, game against the Calgary Cowboys at the Winnipeg Arena, Hedberg had 48 goals. It was Winnipeg’s 49th game of the season, and the 47th that Hedberg had played in. Hedberg, who’d finish the year with 70 goals, scored two that night on Calgary goaltender Gary Bromley — that’s the second one he’s celebrating, above — and another into an empty net, sealing Winnipeg’s 6-4 win. “They’ll see Richard,” the winger said later, “they’ll see Hull in the record books, but they’ll still ask, who’s that Hedberg?”

Another Lou Kaplan Trophy-winner would subsequently surpass Hedberg’s mark, of course: in 1981, aged 20, Wayne Gretzky of the NHL Edmonton Oilers scored his 50th in 39 games.

lemons and turnips greeted bert corbeau

Irish Times: The Toronto St. Patricks weren’t long for the world when these four posed in early December of 1926 at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena. The following February, Conn Smythe and a parcel of investors bought the team and decided change was order. Just like that, in mid-season, green-and-brown St. Patricks turned to blue-and-white Maple Leafs. Above, looking stern, left to right, are Hap Day, Al Pudas, Bert Corbeau, and Ace Bailey.

Born in Penetanguishene, Ontario, on this date in 1894 — it was a Friday there, then — Bertram Orion Corbeau was better known in his hockey-playing years as just plain Bert, as well as by his distinctive nickname: Pig Iron. His mother was Fanny; his father, Francois, made a busy living as a carriage-maker, undertaker, and furniture-store owner, and later, in the 1920s, served as mayor of Penetanguishene. A defenceman whose adjectives included sturdy (1916), husky, and blond backwoodsman (both dating to 1917), Bert Corbeau signed with the NHA Canadiens in 1914, helping Montreal win a Stanley Cup in ’16. He worked the Canadiens’ blueline in the team’s earliest NHL years, before Montreal sold him to the Hamilton Tigers ahead of the 1922-23 season. Traded the following year to the St. Patricks, he played his final four NHL seasons in Toronto. It’s a dubious distinction, but noteworthy all the same: in 1925-26 he became the first player in NHL history to amass more than 100 penalty minutes in a single season (he finished with 125 that year, just ahead of Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons, who had 121.)

Corbeau went on to serve as an NHL referee and, subsequently, as a minor-league coach in Ontario and with Atlantic City of the Eastern U.S. Hockey League. Bert Corbeau drowned at the age of 48 in September of 1942 when the 75-foot launch he owned and was piloting in the waters of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron capsized. Vern DeGeer remembered him in the pages of The Globe and Mail the day after the shocking accident, in which a total of 25 men died. “Although the barrel-chested, sandy-haired son of Penetanguishene was one of the roughest and toughest of the men of iron that jolted and jarred their way through major pro puck competition in the gory era of the sport,” DeGeer wrote, “Corbeau was a thoroughbred campaigner. Friend and foe respected the raw courage of the man.”

Headliner: Corbeau’s ongoing feud with Punch Broadbent of the Senators coloured a February, 1920 visit by Canadiens to Ottawa.

 

a horse for hooley

S & S: Hooley Smith (right) spent a single season with the Boston Bruins, in 1936-37, after starring for the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Maroons. Here he poses with his old Maroon linemate, Nels Stewart. (Image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Before he got going on a 17-year NHL career that would see him elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Smith was the youngest member of the Canadian team that brought back hockey gold from the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, in France, and one of its leading scorers. Aged 21, he netted an impressive 18 goals in five games. Of course, Canada’s schedule did include a 33-0 drubbing of Switzerland and a 30-0 squeaker over Czechoslovakia, and Smith’s bounty of goals was only half as many as that of his teammate Harry Watson — but still, gold is golden, and when Smith got home to Toronto that March, the neighbourhood where he’d grown up fêted him on a scale — well, I’m not sure that any local hockey player has seen the likes of the welcome that the Beach organized for Smith.

Born on a Wednesday of this date in 1903, Smith started out under the name Reginald. As a toddler, the story goes, he had a thing where he navigated the family backyard with a tin can balanced on his head, just like the namesake of the popular American cartoon The Happy Hooligan, which is how his father started calling him Hooligan which, soon enough, diminished to Hooley.

Out on the ice, it was as a centreman that Smith helped the Toronto Granites win the 1923 Allan Cup, which is how they ended up representing Canada at the Olympics in ’24. Arriving home triumphant in Toronto a month after vanquishing the United States for gold, the team climbed aboard a bus that paraded them from Union Station up Yonge Street to City Hall. Mayor W.W. Hiltz was one of the speechifyers there: paying his tribute, the Star reported, he mentioned “fine calibre of young manhood which composed the team” and “the manly attributes of the Canadian athlete” before expressing “hopes of continued success.” Engraved gold cufflinks were the gift the city gave the players. Before they were released, they also received three cheers and a couple of anthems, “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “God Save The King,” for their troubles.

Later, at a winter carnival in the city’s east-end Kew Gardens, Smith was honoured with displays of fancy skating and fireworks. His appreciative neighbours also unveiled a 400-ton likeness of their hockey hero that they’d sculpted out of ice and illuminated with coloured lights. One of my dearest new year’s wishes is to find a photograph of that — I’m still looking.

NHL clubs were eager, post-Olympics and ice-statue, to sign Smith to a pro contract. The Montreal Canadiens maintained that he’d agreed to join them, and the Toronto St. Patricks were eager to lure him, too, but in the end he chose Ottawa’s Senators. He played three seasons in Canada’s capital, where he learned how to hook-check from the maestro himself, Frank Nighbor, while helping the team win a Stanley Cup in 1927. He subsequently joined the Montreal Maroons, for whom he played nine seasons, captaining the team to a Cup in 1935. It was as a Maroon that Smith played on the famous S line alongside Nels Stewart and Babe Siebert. After a single season with the Boston Bruins, Smith played his final four seasons in the NHL as a New York American. Hooley Smith died in 1963 at the age of 60.

I think that just about covers it, though maybe is it worth mentioning also his gift for, well, getting gifts? When he played for the Senators, Ottawa owner Frank Ahearn gave him a fur coat. I’ve seen it reported that as a Maroon he was given a Rolls Royce and a yacht. Because he wasn’t a sailor, he’s supposed to have returned the yacht in exchange for a farm. Kenneth Dawes might have been the generous donor in question in both these cases, though I can’t confirm that. What I do know is that Dawes, a brewing magnate who served on the Maroons’ executive committee, did promise Smith a horse if the team won the Stanley Cup, which it duly did. The presentation of the black Percheron went ahead in Montreal in April of 1935 in front of a crowd of some 3,000. Smith got the horse, but it was Maroons’ coach Tommy Gorman who climbed aboard to take the first ride.

mr. elbows

Born in Flin Flon, Manitoba, on a Tuesday of this date in 1933, Eric Nesterenko turns 86 today. Having made his NHL debut in 1952 as an 18-year-old right winger for Toronto, he played parts of five seasons with the Leafs and a further 16 in Chicago, helping the Black Hawks win the 1961 Stanley Cup. At the age of 40, he put in a single season in the WHA, 1973-74, for the Chicago Cougars. “He was a player who does everything well,” is a summing-up of Andrew Podnieks’. “He scored, played physically, stickhandled nicely, and backchecked.” He accumulated a whole parcel of nicknames over the course of his hockey career: Mr. Elbows, Nester, The Hinge, Eric The Great, Swoops, Sonja, the Shadow, the Silent One. Off the ice, he coached, worked for a brokerage firm, and as a ski instructor. He had a bit of an acting career, as well, featuring in a 1979 CBC movie about hockey violence called Cement Head. More famously, he took on the role of Blane Youngblood, father of the eponymous hero played by Rob Lowe in that 1986 epic of the ice, Youngblood.

frank boucher: his noodle is packed with hockey savvy

Breadliners: Frank Boucher between his long-time Ranger wingers, brother Bill (right) and Bun Cook.

Here’s to Frank Boucher, born in Ottawa, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1901, one of the greatest centres the NHL has ever seen, even if — outrageously — the league forgot him when it dreamed up an anniversary list of its 100 best players in 2017, and despite the fact — are you kidding me? — that the Rangers have only seen fit to recognize the number Boucher wore in New York, 7, in Rod Gilbert’s honour.

Frank was one of four Boucher brothers to play major-league hockey: in 1923, while he was starring for the PCHA’s Vancouver Maroons, his elder brother Buck was anchoring the Ottawa Senators’ defence while two other siblings, Billy and Bobby, were forwards for the Montreal Canadiens. Following a two-year career as a constable with the Northwest Mounted Police, Frank had made his professional debut with Ottawa before making his way west to Vancouver. When the western league dissolved in 1926, Boucher’s rights were sold to Boston. It was on Conn Smythe’s short-lived Ranger watch that Boucher came to the Rangers before playing a single game for the Bruins. Having made his debut in New York in 1926, he soon found himself skating between brothers Bill and Bun Cook on the famous “Bread Line.”

With their help, New York raised two Stanley Cups, in 1928 and 1933. Seven times he won the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, and by the time he retired (for the first time) as a player in 1938, he was the NHL’s all-time leader in assists. Succeeding Lester Patrick as coach of the Rangers in 1939, he steered the team to another Stanley Cup in 1940. He wasn’t quite finished playing: in 1943, aged 42, he returned to the Rangers’ line-up for 15 games. Elected to hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1958, Frank Boucher died in December of 1977 at the age of 76.

Arranging a Boucher miscellany, I’d make sure to mention:

• His adjectives. If you look him up in old newspapers, you’ll find that these included scintillant (1925) and burglarious (1923). The latter refers to his skill in stealing pucks from opponents, the art of which he studied playing alongside the master himself, Frank Nighbor, when they were teammates in Ottawa. Hence Boucher’s nickname, Raffles, borrowed from the novels of E.W. Hornung, and most eagerly applied by newspapermen when Boucher was playing in Vancouver. As the local Sun explained in 1924, “The original ‘Raffles’ was the most gentlemanly burglar known to fiction and Vancouver’s ‘Raffles’ is the most picturesque and polite puck thief in hockey.”

Here’s Ed Sullivan hymning his praises in a 1931 syndicated column — yes, that Ed Sullivan:

Boucher has been up in the big leagues of hockey for ten years now. He could stay up in the top flight for ten additional years. Even if his speed were to desert him, Boucher could get by on his smartness. His noodle is packed with hockey savvy.

• Boucher’s recollection that the contract that manager Tommy Gorman of Ottawa’s (original) Senators signed him to in 1921 paid C$1,200 for the season — about C$17,000 in today’s money. “I leaped at the chance,” he later recollected, “little knowing what a terrible year was in store for me. I spent practically the whole season on the bench.”

The problem was the Ottawa line-up. In front of Clint Benedict’s goal, the Senators lined up Frank Nighbor, Punch Broadbent, Cy Denneny, Eddie Gerard, and Frank’s brother Buck. “They were all 60-minute men. In those days you didn’t come off the ice unless you were carried off.”

Dey’s Arena in Ottawa was, in those years, unheated, so along with fellow spares Billy Bell and King Clancy, Boucher petitioned Gorman and coach Pete Green to allow them to wait in the warmth of the Ottawa dressing room until they were needed. Management wasn’t keen on that, but they did finally relent, installing a buzzer system by which the bench could call forth replacements as needed. Boucher:

One buzz meant Clancy, two buzzes meant Bell and so on. So, for the balance of the season we sat in the dressing room, in full uniform, playing cards, with the roar of the crowd and the stamping of feet over our heads.

• The circumstances under which Boucher came to own the original Lady Byng Trophy in 1935. Nighbor was the first to win it, in 1925 and again in ’26, followed by Billy Burch in ’27. Boucher was next, and next, and next, and … next. Joe Primeau relieved him of his crown in 1932, but the following year Boucher was back for another winning run, this one lasting three consecutive years.

After Boucher won his seventh Lady Byng in 1935, Ottawa Journal columnist Walter Gilhooly wrote an open letter to the trophy’s donor patron respectfully suggesting, well, “that the cup be withdrawn and your trustees be instructed to turn it over to Frank Boucher to become his permanent possession” as a “well-earned keepsake of his time and his achievements in the National League.”

And so it happened. Within a week, the wife of Canada’s erstwhile governor-general had written from England to express her desire to see it done. NHL President Frank Calder saw to it. That’s how a new Byng came to be born in 1936, when Doc Romnes of the Chicago Black Hawks was voted the winner. We’ll never know whether, on merit, Boucher’s reign should have continued: having collected the original trophy for his mantelpiece, Boucher voluntarily withdrew his name from consideration for future Byngs.

• A partial inventory of the swag presented on “Frank Boucher Night” in February of 1951, when the Rangers celebrated the man and his service to the club at Madison Square Garden.

“Boucher had enough gifts to make a jackpot on a radio quiz program,” the Globe and Mail reported. “The fans gave him a 1951 Studebaker, the team a television set. The hockey writers presented him with a typewriter. His hometown friends at Mountain, Ont., contributed an oil burner for his farm.”

• A coda: in 1962, February, fire swept through the farmhouse, burning it to the ground. Boucher was in Regina, where he was serving as commissioner of the Saskatchewan Junior League; his son Earl and family escaped the flames. Not so Boucher’s hockey mementoes, most of which were destroyed, including the original Lady Byng Trophy.

The cause of the fire was thought to be mice chewing through electrical wires.

Bench Boss: Frank Boucher, hatted at left, coaches the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship in April of 1940 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. On the bench before him, that’s Neil Colville (6), Muzz Patrick (15), and Alex Shibicky (4).

olympicsbound, 1928, with dr. joe and stuffy guarding canada’s nets

Today’s the day that Canada names its men’s team for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games. This is, of course, the first time since 1994 that Canada won’t be sending a squad of front-rank NHLers. GM Sean Burke, who was once one of those, also backstopped Canada’s silver-medal performance at the 1992 Albertville Games. What to expect in the team he’s unveiling today? “We have speed, we have skill, but our team is going to based around being a harder team to play against,” he told The Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran earlier this week. “More role players. We want our team to be quick. I think we can do that.”

With Olympics and goaltenders on the docket, seems like a good day to stop in with Dr. Joe Sullivan, pictured here amid Swiss mountains in 1928. That year, when the University of Toronto’s Varsity Graduates bore the maple leaf at the second Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Sullivan was the main man guarding the goal, with Norbert (a.k.a. Stuffy) Mueller backing him up. The Canadians rode a bye directly to medal round, which meant they ended up playing just three games. Spoiler alert: they won the gold. This wasn’t, let us say, a taxing tournament for the Canadians: on three successive days, they smoked Sweden 11-0; battered Great Britain 14-0; and stampeded Switzerland 13-0. Sullivan was on duty first and last, with Mueller stuffing in for the British game.

Sullivan, 27 at the time of this triumphant shutout streak, is an interesting case. He’d graduated from the U of T’s Faculty of Medicine in 1926. Post-Olympics, there was mention that he’d be turning pro, joining the NHL’s Montreal Maroons, but while his Grad teammate Dave Trottier did just that, Dr. Sullivan signed up instead for a career in ears, noses, and throats: he opened his private Toronto otolaryngology practice in 1930. He served in the RCAF during Second World War and, in 1957, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (who was one of his patients) appointed him to the Senate. He died in 1988 at the age of 86.

In 1928, along with turning pucks aside, Dr. Joe sent back dispatches from Europe to Toronto’s Globe. Describing a pre-Olympic exhibition intra-squad scrimmage the Grads played in Antwerp, Belgium, he wrote of the hearty welcome the locals offered the Canadians as they hit the ice at the Palais de Glace:

The appearance of Mueller and myself caused an outburst of laughter and some applause for I suppose the formidable array of pads and body protection would seem strange to the people of Antwerp. Some people applauded our garb, evidently to counteract the effect of the laughter from the less thoughtful.