peerless percy

Born in Quebec City on a Monday of today’s date in 1881, Hall-of-Fame goalkeep Percy LeSueur won three Stanley Cup championships (in 1909, 1910, and 1911) with the original Ottawa Senators, for whom he also served as team captain and playing coach. He was a referee and a hockey commentator, too, in his time, as well as an innovator (designing an early hockey net) and an author (publishing, in 1909, How To Play Hockey). “Do not listen to remarks from the spectators,” he advised prospective netminders therein. “It is a habit, particularly at the general admission end of the rinks, to call all kinds of things at the goalkeeper and he cannot listen to them and keep his mind on the game. It requires very little extra will power to overcome this and it should certainly be practiced to the fullest extent.”

plucky si

V Formation: The 1911-12 PCHA Vancouver Millionaires line up in a … sauna? From left, they are Si Griffis, Newsy Lalonde, Allan Parr, Fred Harris, Sibby Nichols, Frank Patrick, Jack Ulrich, and Tommy Phillips. Griffis, Lalonde, Patrick, and Phillips would all get the call, in time, to hockey’s Hall of Fame. (Image: Stuart Thomson, Vancouver Public Library)

Si Griffis got his start in hockey in Ontario’s northwest, up near the Manitoba border, when Rat Portage was still Rat Portage, and the hockey team was a mighty one called the Thistles.

Born on a Saturday of this date in 1883, Silas Seth Griffis started out in in Onaga, in Kansas, though his family moved north to Canada before he was two. They settling first in St. Catharines before moving on to Rat Portage, a name I’m pleased to be able to repeat, again, while continuing to feel almost personally aggrieved that the town chose to change its name in 1905 to Kenora.

Hockey there was a seven-man game back then, and Griffis took up as a rover with the local Thistles. In 1903, the team put in a challenge to play for the Stanley Cup, and travelled to the national capital to take on the Ottawa Hockey Club. The famous Silver Seven prevailed that year and again in 1905, when the Thistles made a second attempt, their last (alas) as Rat Portage.

Third time luckier, or more skillful, maybe — anyway, the Kenora Thistles won the Cup in 1907, overcoming the Montreal Wanderers in a two-game series that March. Griffis had dropped back to play cover-point by then — defence — where he partnered with Art Ross. Both were as likely to rush the puck from the defence as headman it to a forward, which made them mavericks for their day — that’s not how it was done, in those years. The two of them made a “splendid combination,” an admiring correspondent from Montreal’s Gazettewrote during that ’07 series. “Each check closely and always for the puck, and each has such ability to get into speed at short range and bear away that this pair is really as useful as a brace of extra forwards.”

Plucky Si he was dubbed in those years, according to a 1912 description of his, well, pluck, I guess, and perseverance in the face of injury. By another later account, he played the second game of the Thistles’ championship run with a broken nose and “was so badly cut up and used up that he doesn’t even to this day remember anything about the game.”

Griffis, who married in 1906, moved to Vancouver, though the good folk of Kenora were so eager for him to stay on with the Thistles that (according to an obituary from 1950) they presented him with “a purse of gold” while offering him a “handsome home.”

Griffis hung up his skates after that, but he made return to the ice in 1911 with the Vancouver Millionaires, when the Patrick brothers launched their Pacific Coast Hockey Association. In his first game back after that four-and-a-half pause, he played all 60 minutes on the Vancouver defence, scoring three goals and notching a pair of assists.

He won his second Stanley Cup as captain of 1915 Millionaires when they beat the Ottawa Senators in a three-game sweep. While the 1911-12 team pictured above was 50 per cent Hall-of-Famers, the 1915 edition upped the quotient: seven of ten on the roster would get the call to hockey’s pantheon, including Griffis, Cyclone Taylor, Frank Nighbor, Barney Stanley, and Hughie Lehman.

Griffis was elected to the Hall in June of 1950. He died of coronary thrombosis a month later in Vancouver at the age of 66.

Two last stray notes worth noting: I’ve seen it said that back in his Kenora days, Griffis was one of the first players to adopt — and thereby popularize — the tube skate that would soon replace the solid-bladed skate most commonly used to that point in hockey history.

Also: Griffis played in a tuque. You can see how stylish it was in this magnificent portrait of the 1913-14 Millionaires.

Recalling Griffis in 1950, Cyclone Taylor referred to the hat as a toorie, which is say a tasseled Scottish bonnet. Tuque or toorie, Taylor recalled that he was very particular about it.

“We hid Si’s one night,” Taylor said, “but we never did it again. He was so distracted he wouldn’t go on the ice until it was recovered. We were five minutes late going out that night.”

Another time, as Taylor told it, Griffis stickhandled his way almost to the enemy’s goal line, needing only to tap the puck into the open net for a goal when a desperate defender ran into him, knocking his hat askew. While Griffis paused to fix his hat, the defender skated off with the puck.

 

why be a mere spectator?

“More men are being recruited or authorized here at the present time than at any period since the war started, and far more, of course, than ever before in the city’s history.” That was the word in the Montreal Gazette in January of 1916, just as the 148th Overseas Battalion, one of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s newest infantry battalions, was getting ready to start recruiting. Here, from the archives, are a couple of the posters that went up to aid in that effort. Above, somewhere in France, out beyond the artillery, a lone soldier wonders why he isn’t being reinforced. The answer is right there in front of him, wafting out of the barrel of his Ross rifle: hockey.

If, as a Canadiens fan seeing this on a wall outside the Montreal Arena, the guilt didn’t get you, maybe would the promise of a real game and/or a challenge to your manhood do the trick? The poster below tweaks the taunting a little, revealing the laggardly fan at home, slippers on, browsing the sports pages in his recliner as the spectre of that other poster rises accusingly from the pipe he’s fortunate enough to be smoking.

Whatever the battalion’s marketing department’s view of hockey fans might have been, the 148th didn’t see a contradiction in welcoming as many of them as possible to the Arena on the night of January 27, 1916, for a “patriotic benefit” pitting veterans of the famous Ottawa Silver Seven against a team of former Montreal greats. The teams had previously played in Ottawa, drawing 3-3 a few nights earlier. Montreal older-timers included defenceman Dickie Boon, who’d captained the Montreal HC to successive Stanley Cups in 1902 and ’03, along with a parcel of other future Hall-of-Famers in Russell Bowie, Ernie Russell, and goaltender Riley Hern. Ottawa’s line-up of retired greats featured House Hutton, Harvey Pulford, Alf Smith, and Rat Westwick.

“Those who journeyed to the Arena to see a burlesque on hockey,” the Gazette reported, “were surprised as the players of both teams played as they did in their palmy days.” Powered by Bowie’s four goals, Montreal prevailed by a score of 6-2. The seven-a-side exhibition raised $1,500 on the night, which was divided between the 148thand another incipient battalion, the 150th.

“At the conclusion of the game,” the Gazette noted, “the officers of the regiments for whose benefit it was played journeyed to the dressing rooms to thank the players for their kindness in staging the game.” Players and officers alike later repaired to the St. Regis Hotel for an informal dinner. Guests, including Stanley Cup trustee William Foran, listened while they supped, to a musical program, “while speeches were made by nearly all present.”