boxed set

The officials on duty at Detroit’s Olympia for the Red Wings playoff meeting with Boston’s Bruins on the Thursday night of March 28, 1957, were (from left) referee Frank Udvari along with linesmen Matt Pavelich and George Hayes. Once they hit the ice, the home team ended up prevailing, by a score of 7-2, squaring the semi-final at a game apiece. Of note: Detroit goaltender Glenn Hall finished the game despite taking a first-period puck to the face and, to repair the resulting damage, 18 stitches. The night was a busy one for Udvari — the busiest, in fact, in NHL playoff history: the 22 infractions he whistled down set a new post-season record.

“The penalties stemmed from various reasons,” Marshall Dann of the Detroit Free Press reported. “Both teams decided to play it rugged at the start, returning to style the old-fashioned bodychecks so rarely seen. Then in the late stages when all was decided, the Bruins peevishly rammed away with the off-hand thought that maybe these rough tough Red Wings could be softened up for Sunday.”

Born on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1924, Udvari made his start in the village of Srpski Miletić in what was then Yugoslavia (today it’s Serbia); he grew up in Kitchener, Ontario. Active as an NHL official from 1951 through 1966, he was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.

On The Spot: Frank Udvari keeps an eye out as Detroit’s Gordie How hounds Henri Richard of Montreal.

 

red-sweater days

Keeping It Light: A gathering of snowy-sweatered Habs in the Forum dressing room circa the later 1930s as depicted by artist Carleton “Mac” McDiarmid.

The problem was Detroit. Well, the design of Detroit’s Red Wing sweaters, anyway. The colour, to be specific, which was red. This week in 1932, the NHL discovered how much red was too much.

The NHL’s actual problems that Depression year included tottering franchises in Ottawa and Detroit, so in terms of trouble, this sweaters business was probably lower down on the list, low enough that nobody bothered to deal with it before the season got underway. The background, briefly, is that the Detroit Falcons, having faltered into receivership, were sold part and parcel with their arena, the Olympia, to James Norris, the Montreal-born, Chicago-based grain and cattle millionaire. It was Norris who changed the team’s name to Red Wings. He designed the new logo, too, the famous flyaway wheel. He’d wanted to call the team the Winged Wheelers, after the old Montreal Hockey Club, winners of the first Stanley Cup in 1893, but friends convinced him that the name didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

And, in early December of 1932, it was the Red Wings who were poised to relaunch themselves as part of the nine-team NHL. The league’s modern-day teams wear coats of many (and constantly changing) colours, but in those early years, most teams styled a single outfit for games at home and away. Notwithstanding the Expo-blue arrays that may have caught your eye this very week, the sweaters the Montreal Canadiens wore (and that bore their logo, banded around the torso) were, for most of the first two decades of their existence, solidly, gloriously, red.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were the first NHL team to give themselves options, adding distinctive white and blue arrays for the 1927-28 season, a year after they transformed from St. Patricks. This would have helped keep things clear when the Leafs took on New York’s blue-shirted Rangers, or New York’s (also) blue-shirted Americans, though I’m not sure how those two teams avoided overriding confusion when they played each other in Manhattan. I guess the Fourth-of-July extravagance of the Americans’ sweaters was enough for those trying to tell the two teams apart. (The Americans did introduce white sweaters for the 1932-33 season; it was 1951 before the Rangers diversified.)

In Montreal, Maroons and Canadiens were close on the colour chart but distinct enough — brownish crimson vs. Christmas-bright — to have co-existed for eight seasons without colourful incident. The sweaters the Detroit’s Falcons had worn were predominantly white, with red facings, so there was no clash there, either.

Norris’ new Red Wings went all-red — socks, pants, sweaters — with white accents. You know the look: nearly a century later, the team still wears more or less the same rig for home games. In 1932, Montreal saw the new Red Wings when Jack Adams’ team took its first road trip, arriving at the Forum to play the Canadiens 90 years ago this week. There, for the first time, the situation was deemed one that needed addressing. A Canadian Press dispatch from the scene told the tale:

Detroit and Canadiens both took the ice in red uniforms. To avoid confusion the Red Wings donned white pullovers which hid their identity completely, as the sweaters covered the players numbers. The next time the two teams meet they will have white sweaters for the visiting club, but with the numbers on them.

It’s not entirely clear whether this promise was kept or not. Following Canadiens’ 1-0 overtime win at the Forum that Thursday, November 17 (Wildor Larochelle scored the winner), the two teams met again four days later at Detroit’s Olympia. The home team exacted their revenge on Montreal with a 4-2 victory that was powered by a pair of goals from rookie defenceman (and future Canadiens captain) Walt Buswell. As seen in the photograph below, the Canadiens donned plain white — not noticeably numbered — pinnies.

Red November: Montreal goes white for a game in Detroit in November of 1932. From left that’s Aurèle Joliat, Gerry Carson, and Battleship Leduc, with Larry Aurie of the Red Wings swooping in at right.

The teams met on four more occasions that 1932-33 season, with (for the record) Detroit holding a 2-1-1 edge over their ruddy rivals. The teams had their final match-up on a Sunday in March, for which we have evidence (here below) that the pinnies did now bear identifying (though possibly fairly faintly printed) numbers.

Flurry In Front: Montreal’s (non-pinnied) goaltender George Hainsworth clears the puck at Detroit’s Olympia on March 12, 1933, after a shot from Detroit’s Carl Voss. Wearing white for Canadiens are defencemen  (left, wearing a faint #11) Gerry Carson and Battleship Leduc.

The following season, 1933-34, the league got things straightened out. Well, halfway, at least. Along with the New York Americans, the Canadiens added a second uniform to their wardrobe. In the case of the latter, this featured handsome new white sweaters coloured (as the Gazette observed) “only by the red, white, and blue insignia of the club.” (They sported snowy socks with these, too.) These they debuted in Detroit on the night of Sunday, November 27, 1933, as seen below.

New-Look Habs: Montreal goes all-white in Detroit in November of 1933. That’s Detroit’s Eddie Wiseman (at right, stick uplifted) putting a puck past Canadiens’ goaltender Lorne Chabot.

A few days later, they wore them at the Forum for a 3-1 win over the New York Americans. “The change in colour makes [Aurèle] Joliat look even smaller than he is,” the Gazette commented. “It gives Sylvio Mantha a more robust appearance.”

This is a full two years earlier, notably, than acknowledged by the most comprehensive of hockey references tracking these sorts of things, nhluniforms.com. (The catalogue for Montreal is here.) The Canadiens themselves have it wrong, too, on the website whereupon they track their own history: they, too, erroneously date the origin of the Canadiens’ all-white sweater to December of 1935 (here).

As for Detroit, they seem to have delayed adding a second sweater. During the 1933-34 season, Canadiens don’t seem to have worn their new duds when Detroit came to visit the Forum, which left the Red Wings to go with the pinnies again, as rendered here by the La Patrie artist who sketched Detroit’s 4-1 win over Montreal on Thursday, March 15, 1934.

As widely and accurately noted, the Red Wings got their white uniforms to start the NHL’s 1934-35 campaign. When, exactly, did they first wear them? While I haven’t found a contemporary press reference, it’s probable that the Wings took them for a spin on the night of Saturday, November 17, 1934, when they beat the Canadiens 3-0 to open Montreal’s season at the Forum.

By the new year, we know, Detroit’s players were getting into the habit of wearing white wherever they went on the road, following up another win over Montreal in early January in the new uniforms by wearing them next game, too, in Chicago, where the Red Wings won again in white.

now hear this

Talk Talk: Detroit coach Jimmy Skinner broadcasts instructions on the bench at the noisy Olympia in January of 1956. Listening up is #11 Marty Pavelich.

Jimmy Skinner’s spirits were high in mid-January of 1956. The coach of the Detroit Red Wings had his charges on a five-game winning streak, and he’d just seen them beat the league-leading Montreal Canadiens 2-0 at Detroit’s Olympia. Skinner was in his second year as Red Wings coach, and he had a record to maintain, having led the team to a Stanley Cup the previous year.

The new year had Skinner tinkering with his team, shifting Red Kelly from defence to left wing, slotting Ted Lindsay onto Alex Delvecchio’s wing, trying Metro Prystai on right wing instead of centre. Sitting third in the standings of the six-team NHL, the Red Wings were making ground on the second-place Rangers and the Canadiens ahead of them.

Playing a leading role in the shutout win over the Canadiens was goaltender Glenn Hall; centre Dutch Reibel had scored both Detroit goals. Credit was due, too, to the home crowd who’d cheered the Wings on: the 14,988 spectators who’d showed up on a Sunday night to see the Canadiens game made it the largest of the season to date.

Fans in the Olympia had been so enthusiastic, in fact, that Skinner’s players had been complaining that they couldn’t hear him on the bench. Skinner’s solution, pictured here, was to have a microphone installed, connecting to a series of “squawk boxes” installed strategically along the length of the bench facing the players. I don’t know how long this broadcast system lasted. I can report that while the Red Wings did make it back to the finals that year, they ceded the Stanley Cup to the Canadiens, falling in five games that April.

fluster out front

Incoming: The hometown Detroit Red Wings outshot the New York Rangers  42-20 at the Olympia on Thursday, November 11, 1965, but the Rangers’ rookie goaltender Ed Giacomin made sure they settled for a 3-3 tie. Seen here on the right gazing around Harry Howell, Gordie Howe scored the 599th goal of his career on the night. Also in the picture, waiting for the puck to arrive: New York defenceman Arnie Brown and Red Wing left winger Ab McDonald tussle in front of Giacomin.

masking up, 1979 edition: what would ted lindsay do?

Ted Lindsay was 53 in 1979, with his left-winging NHL heyday firmly behind him: 14 years after he’d last turned out in a competitive game for the Detroit Red Wings, he was on the job as the team’s GM. He did still get in on a regular Monday-night pick-up game at the Detroit Olympia, alongside a motley non-Hall-of-Fame crew of friends, sportswriters, and Zamboni drivers. “Jeez,” said one of those scrimmagers as he watched Lindsay do his middle-aged thing one night in April of ’79. “He must have been unbelievable when he was 24.”

The mask? No, there was no pandemic on the loose in Michigan that spring. The tuque, Lindsay explained to an interested onlooker, was for style, while the mask was to help warm the rink air as it went into his lungs. “It’s the same skiing,” Lindsay said. “The cold air is rough on me.”

greening the game

This week on 31 Thoughts: The Podcast, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman sit down with Ron Francis, GM of the NHL’s new and yet-unnamed Seattle franchise for a wide-ranging discussion of what’s coming on the west coast. They discuss Francis’ decision to join the project and how he’s staffing the new team, and about the state-of-the-art new rink they’re fashioning out of the old KeyArena. They touch on whether Kraken might be in the cards as a name (could be, Francis divulged, but maybe not) and Marek’s notion of raising a banner to the rafters to honour the Stanley Cup the Seattle Metropolitans won in 1917.

There’s talk, too, of movie and TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a co-founder and co-majority owner of the Seattle team, and what he might bring to the hockey table. “I think he’s excited to be a part of this,” Francis says, “I think he’s excited to help shape the organization as it moves forward, whether it’s colours, how it’s presented on TV, names, you name it.”

Which leads Marek to wonder about how radical some of the changes he might float could be. Could we see NHL games played on colourful ice instead of the wintry white we’re used to? Francis suggests that might be something that a Bruckheimer-inspired Seattle might indeed be aiming to introduce.

We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, let’s recall, why not, that NHL ice hasn’t always been so pallid as appears is now. In the earliest decades of the league, the ice tended to be murky. Here’s a description from The New Yorker in 1925, when the New York Americans debuted at Madison Square Garden (the Rangers would join them there as tenants the following year):

The ice, by the way, is coffee-coloured, and as the evening progresses, grows to look more and more like a big cake of maple sugar the mice have scratched up.

And one from Boston’s Herald in 1929, the year the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup:

The Garden ice, as usual, was dark brown. Boston and New York Garden have something to learn from Montreal Forum. There the floor is painted white under the ice and visibility is increased greatly.

On the New York end of things, that seems to contradict another New Yorker dispatch from early in 1926, reporting that “whereas a month ago the ice was a dirty and disturbing brown, it has lately become nice and white.”

“The procedure, until recently,” the item continued, “was to run a couple of inches of water over the concrete and freeze it, with the result that the concrete showed through a shabby chocolate colour.”

The rumour was that Garden owner Tex Rickard had arranged for milk to be mixed in with the water wasn’t to be credited: the deal was that rink staff were now freezing an inch of ice, painting it white, then freezing a further inch or so atop the paint.

Just when other NHL rinks got into the blanching of the ice isn’t clear — by one report I’ve seen, Toronto’s Maple Leaf Garden didn’t start whitening the ice until 1949.

Jerry Bruckheimer take note: 66 years ago, the Detroit Red Wings did play two regular-season games at the Olympia on green ice.

To be more specific: pastel green.

Edmonton Journal headline from January of 1953.

This was in early 1953. The first reference to this that caught my eye was in a French-language account, and the word that stood out was combattre. The thought I had, naturally enough, was bien sûr, c’est logique, bonne idée. I assumed that hockey had reached one of its breaking points, where the game on the ice had grown so tetchy and tempestuous that the league would try anythingto calm the tempers of its players, including dyeing the ice as green and soothing as grass.

The Red Wings were the defending Stanley Cup champions that season. Almost 50 games into the 1952-53 season, they were battling the equally mighty Montreal Canadiens for first place in the league standings. The last Saturday in January was when they first skated out on green ice, beating the Chicago Black Hawks by a score of 4-0. The next night they did it again, walloping the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 on the tinted ice. Already topping league scoring, Gordie Howe helped himself to two more goals and three assists against the Leafs.

If the cool of the green of the ice was supposed to bring down the thermometer of the players, well, let’s just note referee Jack Mehlenbacher did call seven roughing penalties before the night was out, sanctioning several noted hotheads in so doing, including Detroit’s Ted Lindsay and Marcel Bonin and Toronto’s Fernie Flaman.

The Globe and Mail weighs in.

In fact, the experiment of greening the ice wasn’t about mood-altering, at all. The combattre that caught my eye had to do with reduction that combat. As Red Burnett of the Toronto Star explained, “it was designed to cut the white glare that bounced off the eyeballs of customers in the upper balcony seats.” Locally, TV viewers of WXYZ broadcasts of Red Wings’ games had also complained that the white ice was hard to watch. The idea to tint it green was said to come from a Detroit newspaper photographer.

So with the NHL’s blessing, the Olympia’s ice-man, Red Tonkin, gave it a go, mixing in 15 gallons of green paint instead of the usual white with the 400 gallons of water he froze to make the playing surface.

According to Burnett, the colouring was “hardly visible to the naked eye.” The players were said to approve, and NHL president Clarence Campbell deemed the experiment a success, though that’s as far as it went. Four days after beating the Leafs, the Olympia ice was its regular chalky colour as the Red Wings tied the New York Rangers 3-3.

Toronto Star headline, quoting “one office wag.”

at home in hockeytown

What’s Sup?: Looks like spaghetti and meatballs. From left the Wings at the table on Lawton Street in the early 1950s are Gordie Howe, Bob Goldham, Metro Prystai, Ted Lindsay, and Marty Pavelich, with Ma Shaw serving.

“I can’t imagine that young Detroit players would go for a similar arrangement these days, but back then most of the Red Wing bachelors lived together in rooming houses organized by the team.”

That’s Gordie Howe writing, or at least Paul Haavardsrud, who ghosted Howe’s memories into Mr. Hockey: My Story (2014). In the 1950s, Red Wings’ manager Jack Adams had his Stanley-Cup-winning stars housed with nearby neighbours of Detroit’s old Olympia on Grand River Avenue. Howe’s memoir names some of them — Ma Tannahill and the Michaud brothers — though none was more renowned than Mr. Hockey’s own landlady, who welcomed a succession of Wings to her four-bedroom brick house a block over from the arena. “I was happy at Ma Shaw’s,” Haavardsrud’s Howe recalls.

Minnie Shaw (née Schunk) lived at 5721 Lawton Street which, if you Google over for a visit, looks very calm and green, if entirely houseless. (Where the Olympia stood is bleaker yet: barbed wire tops the fencing that defends the emptiness of the parking lot that used to be a rink.) What would Mr. Shaw, Asa, who was a real estate broker, make of the current view? It was after he died in 1938 that his widow began to take in hockey players. The pride of Pilot Mound, Manitoba, was her first, defenceman Black Jack Stewart.

A memorial post from Red Wings this morning shows Howe and Lindsay cavorting at home at Ma Shaw’s.

Gordie Howe got Bill Quackenbush’s room when he was traded to Boston, so 1949. Stewart was still there; Ted Lindsay and goaltender Harry Lumley were the other roommates. When Metro Prystai moved in after arriving from Chicago in 1950, Howe’s memoir says that, with Howe, Lindsay, Red Kelly, and Marty Pavelich already in residence, four became five. Sid Abel was there for a season, ’39-40; Kelly stayed for 11 years. The Metro Prystai Story, a 2015 biography by Frank Block, notes other Ma Shaw alumni: Glen Skov, Alex Delvecchio, and Red Wings’ trainer Lefty Wilson. I’d like to know what Ma Shaw’s arrangements were: none of the literature I’ve reviewed mentions just where in her own house she was sleeping.

Jack Adams had a man spying on the house to make sure the players didn’t violate his nightly 11 o’clock curfew. Sid Abel remembered this; also that Jack Stewart would watch the watchman, and once he departed, around 11.30, the players would scuttle out to the Crystal Bar on Grand River Avenue. The owner would let them in the back door, and they’d drink in the basement — “would rap on the pipes when they wanted a waitress and beer,” as a later account described the players’ routine.

Boarders paid about $10 a week at Ma Shaw’s. A normal day got going around 8.30 with breakfast, after which the players would walk to the Olympia for practice. Lunch was often at the Central Restaurant on Grand River Avenue, Ted Lindsay remembered, followed by pinball, and maybe a nap.

Detroit Free Press reporter Marshall Dann covered the Wings in the 1950s, and he recalled that the players like to bowl, once or twice a week, at the Lucky Strike Alley on Grand River. “Howe instantly became a good bowler,” he said. “I don’t recall Lindsay setting any records.”

If the Wings were playing well, Jack Adams was pro-bowling. When they lost, Dann said, he soured. “I don’t want anybody bowling,” he’d tell his players. “It’s bad for your legs.”

The players got their dry cleaning done at General Cleaners across from the Olympia. Pete Torigan was the owner. The players used to sit in the back, by the presses, play cards. Lindsay and Kelly had the most cleaning — “Kelly probably more than anybody.”

Torigan: “I used to go to Ma Shaw’s and get his clothes right off the hanger. He’d just say, ‘Go in and take it from the closet.’”

Ma Shaw hated mess, Howe said. “I had the big back room with a big double closet.” For a gag, his teammates would empty it, spread his clothes all around. “Ma would get bloody mad.”

What else? Marshall Dann recalled that when Howe was critically injured in 1950, reporters would telephone Ma Shaw for medical updates during the winger’s long recovery.

By Metro Prystai’s account, the neighbourhood had its, quote, scoundrels, but if they came across a parked car bearing Canadian license plates, they’d leave it alone, out of respect for the hockey players. But when Red Kelly got a new Oldsmobile convertible, “pretty fancy,” in Prystai’s telling, his “fancy hubcaps” were gone the first night.

After a game, the Crystal would be jammed with fans and hockey players alike. Sometimes the Wings would drive to Sid Abel’s home on Detroit’s east side for beers — or head home, to Ma Shaw’s, to review, replay, relive the night they’d had on the ice.

Minnie Shaw died in 1968 at the age of 86. A Detroit obituary noted some of her Red Wing tenants, How and Lindsay and Kelly, and ended with this:

She was practically a mother to the entire club.

sawchuk’s reward, this night in 1952? a smoke and a stanley cup

On this night in 1952, Terry Sawchuk deterred 26 Montreal shots to see his Detroit Red Wings to a 3-0 win over Canadiens and, thereby, a sweep of the Stanley Cup finals. It was the first of four Cups for Sawchuk, who also collected a Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. With his fourth shutout in eight playoff games, Sawchuk tied an NHL record that night at Detroit’s Olympia. As time ticked away to end the game, his teammates mobbed the 22-year-old in his crease as the organist played “Auld Lang Syne.” Later, Marshall Dann of the hometown Free Press found him in the dressing room, puffing on a cigarette and posing with the Cup. “This last game was the toughest of the entire series,” Sawchuk said, “and I believe it was my best game. The Canadiens were trying to rough me up in the goalmouth and knock me off my feet every time they skated by.”

(Image: Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / PA-209513)

when fans attack: out on the street in his skates, the eel gives chase

Shake It Off: Showing the wound he was willing to forgive, the New York Rangers’ Camille Henry makes peace with Detroit salesman Eric Steiner in January of 1960.

He was just small, the newspapers liked to point out: at 5’10”, the New York Rangers’ centreman Camille Henry scaled in at a feathery 151 pounds. In 1960, the Associated Press decided this was news enough to flash out as free-standing story across the wires to its North American readers. In his sixth NHL season, the 27-year-old Henry had made his mark in the league in other ways, too, starting out with a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in NHL. Dubbed, inevitably, the Eel, he was a reliable scorer. As a mostly peaceable presence on the ice, he won a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for gentlemanly proficiency in 1958. In his first five seasons, Henry accrued just 20 minutes in penalties, and while 1959-60 was a more delinquent year, his total by the end of the regular season was a mere six minutes.

That’s not to say that his restraint didn’t have its limits. On this day in 1960, he seems to have crossed over as he left the ice at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium at the end of a game that saw the Rangers tie the Red Wings 2-2. An account of what happened next made up of sentences cut and pasted from several contemporary newspaper reports might look like this:

Some fans threw small objects at the players and words were exchanged.
Bumped when the New York Rangers’ Camille Henry stumbled and dropped his stick …
Eric Steiner, a 37-year-old Detroit salesman, picked up the stick and gave Henry a good thumping under the right eye.
Henry — skates and all — lit out after the fan.
He caught Steiner in the street outside the stadium, some 50 yards from the rink, and held him for police.
A half-dozen other players were chasing fans but officers quickly quelled the uprising.

While the police questioned Steiner, Henry took on four stitches. Detroit coach Jack Adams conferred with New York Alf Pike and, by one report, they were all for pressing charges. But Henry demurred. He settled for an apology and (above) a handshake. “I just lost my head,” Steiner is on the record as explaining; he also gained a ban from attending future hockey games at the Olympia.

A week later, the two teams met again New York, tying again, 3-3. This time, the damage Henry sustained was on the ice, in the rush of play. Again he stumbled, crashing this time into a goal post, fracturing his left forearm. The Rangers’ Dr. Kazuo Yanagisawa took care of the surgery later that week, putting in a pin. Henry was back in the line-up by the end of February.

down in front

Rinkside: Bruins and Red Wings played to a 2-2 tie on the night of February 9, 1941, in Detroit. Here, in the second period, players from both teams share the penalty bench while they serve their respective second-period punishments. From left: Bruins Des Smith (helmeted) and Flash Hollett; Detroit’s Sid Abel; Eddies Wiseman (Boston) and Wares (Detroit).

Rinkside: Bruins and Red Wings played to a 2-2 tie on the night of February 9, 1941, in Detroit. Here, in the second period, players from both teams share the penalty bench while they serve out their respective punishments, all for minor penalties called by referee Mickey Ion. “On one occasion,” the Windsor Star reported, “there were no less than three Detroit and two Boston men in the box at the same time.” From left, here are: Bruins Des Smith (helmeted) and Flash Hollett; Detroit’s Sid Abel; Eddies Wiseman (Boston #7) and Wares (Detroit).