Sportsnet’s Hometown Hockey has parked its caravan in Pembroke, Ontario, this weekend; come Monday evening, Ron MacLean and Tara Slone will be hosting the broadcast of the Colorado Avalanche’s visit with the Philadelphia Flyers from the Ottawa Riverside seat of Renfrew County.
I don’t know what they have in mind in the way of celebrating Pembroke’s rich hockey history, but I’m declaring now that I’ll be sorely disappointed if Frank Nighbor isn’t duly fêted and/or festoons draped about for the local likes of Dave Trottier, Hughie Lehman, and Harry Cameron.
Trottier, a left winger, was the hero of Canada’s 1928 gold-medal-winning Olympic team, if you’ve lost track, and the apple of every NHL team’s eye once the Games were over. He won a Stanley Cup championship with the Montreal Maroons in 1935.
Lehman, a goaltender, won a Cup with the mighty Vancouver Millionaires in 1915, and later played (and coached) the Chicago Black Hawks. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.
Cameron played defence: he was a teammate of Nighbor’s in Pembroke before going on to win three Cup championships, all in Toronto, with the Blueshirts in 1914, the Torontos in 1918, and the St. Patricks in 1922. He found his way into the Hall of Fame in 1963.
Frank Nighbor’s star has faded a shade over the years, somehow, but in his day in the early decades of the pro game in Canada, he was often mentioned as one of the greatest players of them all. A centreman, he was on that Cup-winning Vancouver team with Hughie Lehman in 1915, and was in on four more Cup championships with the Ottawa Senators. He got his call to the Hall of Fame in 1947.
The last of Nighbor’s Cups came in 1927, which points us back to Pembroke. As the Ottawa Citizen was happy to highlight early in that ’26-27 season, a December 7 visit by the Senators to Chicago saw no fewer than four sons of Pembroke take the ice at the old Coliseum.
Nighbor, 33, was in his 12th year with Ottawa. He’d won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1924, along with the first two Lady Byngs.
Tending Chicago’s goal, Lehman, 41, was playing in his first NHL season after years of starring in the PCHA. Manning the Black Hawk defence, meanwhile, were 24-year-old Gord Fraser and Bob Trapp, 25, both of whom were Pembroke boys. Before getting to Chicago, Fraser had played in the PCHA, winning a Stanley Cup in 1925 with Lester Patrick’s Victoria Cougars.
In Chicago, 95 years ago this week, Nighbor scored a goal in a 3-2 Senators’ win.
The teams met on three more occasions that season, though Nighbor missed the February 9 meeting in Chicago, in which Fraser scored a goal towards a 5-3 Black Hawk win. Ottawa won 2-1 at home on February 5, 1927, and lost by the same score there on March 5.
By the time Ottawa secured its Cup on April 13 of that year, beating the Boston Bruins in four games, Nighbor was the lone Pembroker still skating.
Winter was on the way, but cases were on the rise, too, and as concerns over the spread of disease mounted, players in the National Hockey League did what they had to do and took a needle to make sure that the hockey season could proceed.
If the scenario sounds as familiar and up-to-the-moment as today’s (online) edition of your daily newspaper, the case at hand comes to us as 100-year-old history. Twenty months into our 21st-century pandemic, in a week in which the NHL’s modern-day Ottawa Senators have seen their schedule suspended under a weight of Covid-19 protocols, we’re casting back here to the fall of 1919 here.
Back then, in the wake of a world war, another devastating pandemic still wasn’t finished its dreadful work, but this isn’t a Spanish flu story. Seven months after that virulent virus shut down the Stanley Cup finals in Seattle, sickening most of the Montreal Canadiens’ line-up and killing defenceman Joe Hall, it was smallpox that was on the loose across Ontario.
News of a “mild” epidemic in Toronto made news in Ottawa at the beginning of November. “Fifteen cases are in the smallpox hospital,” the Journal advised, “but no deaths have been reported. All teaching institutions, included colleges, are ordered vaccinated. The City Council is to be asked to issue a proclamation ordering everybody to be vaccinated.”
By mid-month, the case count in the provincial capital was at 361, with 1,000 people in the city under quarantine. (Across the rest of Ontario, 541 cases were reported.) But Dr. Charles Hastings, the city’s medical officer of health, estimated that the actual number of infected Torontonians to be between 2,000 and 3,000. The smallpox vaccine was the first to have been developed against a contagious disease, going back to the end of the 18th century, and in Toronto that fall, the effort to vaccinate city’s population was working well, Dr. Hastings felt: in a city of some 520,000, as many as 100,000 had been inoculated by mid-November, “including a large proportion of schoolchildren.” Still, urgency was required: he sought compulsory vaccinations for all Torontonians.
The fact that Mayor Tommy Church and a majority of city councillors didn’t agree meant this was anything but a straightforward matter. Mayor Church declared his belief in vaccines; he just didn’t think the people of his city should be compelled to get them. Ontario’s Board of Health sent a letter requesting that the city issue a mandate; Council declined to issue one. Dr. John McCullough was the province’s top doctor: he reminded the Mayor and his stubborn councillors that any of them (as the Globe noted) “to whom responsibility for failure to issue this proclamation may attach will be liable to a penalty under the Vaccination Act.” There was talk of fines, of indictments under a grand jury, of jail sentences.
As Christmas approached — and cases increased — the struggle between the politicians and the doctors intensified. While the politicians refused to give ground, the local Board of Health saw to it that unvaccinated children were barred from city schools: on December 4, more than 1,000 were sent home. But it was politicians who manned the Toronto Board and by early January dissenting councillors had the upper hand, such that the city’s BOH not only refused to cooperate with the Ontario Board in its effort to enforce general vaccination, but suspended its earlier exclusion of unvaccinated schoolchildren.
The Ontario Board kept up its pressure on Toronto’s council, warning of lawsuits that would surely follow as a result of the city’s neglect and noting that smallpox outbreaks in the rest of the province were all traceable to Toronto. By early January, the Globe was reporting the epidemic’s first two Toronto deaths, a baby girl of 17 months and a man of 66.
Ontario’s neighbours were watching, and worrying. In November, the United States Public Health Service announced that all travellers crossing from the province into Michigan at Detroit would need to show proof of vaccination to enter; similar rules applied at Buffalo and other New York ports of entry. On December 20, Manitoba imposed a similar restriction. By January, Quebec was ready to follow suit, imposing “one of the most severe and sweeping health protection measures in years,” and extending an order already in place in Montreal requiring all visitors from Ontario be vaccinated was extended to include the entire province. “Quebec,” declared Dr. Hector Palardy, district health officer for Montreal, “has no smallpox whatever, and does not want any.”
It’s here that we circle back to the ice. Papers across the country carried the news as the old year shifted into a new one:
By then, the NHL’s third season had been underway for a week. It was a four-team loop that year, with Quebec having joined in with Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. The Senators would end up winning the league championship and the Stanley Cup by the time it was all over. With a line-up that included Clint Benedict, Eddie Gerard, Punch Broadbent, and Frank Nighbor, they were already working with a formula that would bring home two more Cups over the course of the next three seasons.
“None of the boys reported sore arms,” the Ottawa Citizen reported in the wake of Dr. Graham’s needling, “but they are liable to develop in a day or two and may handicap the club considerably in the championship race.”
Still: “As a husky healthy lot, Dr. Graham does not believe that any of the men will be disabled.”
Frank Nighbor wasn’t so sure. Along with teammates Broadbent, Jack MacKell, and Morley Bruce, he’d been previously vaccinated against smallpox while on military service during the war. Lacking certificates to prove it, all four had submitted to repeats from Dr. Graham. Nighbor hadn’t forgotten the first time: “he says he was a very sick boy when the Flying Corps surgeon jabbed him at Toronto.”
Several of Nighbor’s teammates did suffer in the days that followed. On January 3, before they hit the road for Quebec, the Senators traveled to Toronto to take on the St. Patricks. It was a rough game, with the home team prevailing, 4-3. Ottawa defenceman Sprague Cleghorn did score his team’s second goal, but the Citizen asked for some sympathy on his behalf: “Cleghorn went into the game so sick that he could hardly stand.” A week after Dr. Graham’s visit to the dressing room, he was still suffering. “His left arm was swollen,” the Citizen explained, “and he complained of pains and dizziness in his head. Yet Cleghorn insisted on playing.”
Ahead of Ottawa’s next game, at home to Montreal, the Citizen later revealed, a couple of Senators were ailing: while Punch Broadbent had a case of pleurisy, goaltender Clint Benedict’s “vaccinated arm was swollen was swollen twice its normal size.” Both insisted on playing in what turned out as a 4-3 Senators win; Broadbent scored a hattrick and added an assist.
It’s not clear whether or not Ottawa’s players were still feeling any side effects by the time they finally got to Quebec in mid-January. We do know that the road trip east yielded a split: after beating Quebec 2-1, they lost to Montreal by a score of 3-2.
When Toronto’s players got their vaccinations in early January, the news was that “several of the players were laid up with sore arms.” As for players from Montreal and Quebec — I’ve seen no mention in contemporary accounts of them getting their needles, though I assume that if they were travelling to Toronto and back home again, Quebec’s mandate must have caused them to be vaccinated, too.
Ontario’s Board of Health gave up its fight for a city-wide Toronto mandate in early January of 1920 after the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled that the board didn’t have the power to tell the city what to do. “The Provincial Board of Health has done its utmost to protect Ontario and others from the peril of smallpox,” Dr. McCullough said. “Owing to the opposition of the Toronto City Council, we have not been completely successful.”
Case numbers did begin to drop, even if Dr. McCullough didn’t soften his tone as the weeks went on. Addressing Windsor’s Chamber of Commerce at the end of January, 1920, he charged that “the city of Toronto has been guilty of spreading smallpox all over the province of Ontario and would have spread it all over the continent had not the Americans taken steps to prevent it.”
He was referring, of course, to U.S. border restrictions, but let’s not diminish Quebec’s efforts. After that province lifted its restrictions on Ontario travellers in early March, health officials went to the trouble of releasing a bevy of impressive analytics. In the two months of monitoring railway traffic from Ontario, Quebec inspectors had boarded 1,501 trains carrying 89,275 passengers. Of these, 69,933 were found to have vaccination certificates (“which were examined and stamped,” the Montreal Gazette divulged) while a further 12,549 rolled up sleeves to show vaccination marks (“which were verified”). Another 6,639 passengers who had neither certificates nor vaccination marks submitted to vaccinations on the spot.
And those who refused a frontier shot? There were 154 of them. “The inspectors were adamant,” the Gazette noted; “that number was turned back and prevented from crossing into this province.”
He started as a forward, and he was a good one, at that: in 1905, as what one newspaper would call “a wiry stripling of 17,” Hamby Shore was summoned to play left wing for the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven as the team fended off the challenge of the Rat Portage Thistles to hold on to the Stanley Cup they’d made a habit of winning in the early years of the new century.
An Ottawa boy, born and bred, Shore would play a part in three Cup championships over the course of his career, which included a season in the fledgling NHL in 1917-18, during which he anchored the (original) Senators blueline. His death on a Sunday of this date in the fall of 1918 jarred hockey’s tight-knit community. A victim of the virulent Spanish flu pandemic that killed some 50,000 Canadians between 1918 and 1920, Shore was just 32 when he contracted the virus as he nursed his sickened wife, Ruby. She seems to have recovered, but by early October, her husband was under care at the Rideau Street Hospital, where he died of pneumonia that October 13, a Sunday.
When he wasn’t on the ice, Shore was, like many a star of Ottawa’s early hockey scene, a faithful civil servant, working a job in the federal Department of Interior. On the ice, he made the switch to defence in 1909 when Cyclone Taylor departed Pete Green’s Ottawa concatenation to sign with the Renfrew Creamery Kings in the old NHA, and Shore dropped back from the left wing work from the old cover-point position. The report from the rink early on that winter: “His shooting, checking, passing, and skating were all to the merry.” That same winter he also seems to have had a close call, falling through the ice of the Rideau Canal and being saved from drowning by a friend.
In 1912, when Art Ross put together a team of all-stars from eastern Canada to take on the best of the west, Shore partnered the future Bruins supremo on the Eastern d. (Paddy Moran tended the goal they defended; Joe Malone, Odie Cleghorn, Skene Ronan, and Jack Darragh worked the forward line, with Sprague Cleghorn and Cyclone Taylor standing by as substitutes. For the West, Hugh Lehman played behind Frank Patrick and Moose Johnson, with Newsy Lalonde, harry Hyland, Tommy Dunderdale, and Ran McDonald on attack.)
The Ottawa Citizen may not have been an entirely independent authority, but in 1917, the paper declared Hamby Shore “the most effective chassis in the NHA” and “easily the most spectacular player in the game.”
“He rushes from end to end with more speed than he ever showed previously,” a hockey correspondent advised, “is blocking in clever style, and his shooting has been fatal to opposing goalkeepers.”
The key to his success? His take-off, apparently. “The average defenceman is slow in starting,” the Citizen’s man noted. “Not so with the Ottawa boy. One strike toward the puck, a neat sidestep, and away he goes like a flash.”
“He gets 15 yards on the other players before they know he is off,” added the distinguished referee Cooper Smeaton.
Shore played his final game in February of 1918, when his Senators overwhelmed the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 8-0 at Ottawa’s Laurier Street Arena towards the end of the NHL’s inaugural season. Ottawa released him a few days later: it’s not entirely clear why. The Ottawa Journal reported at the time that he himself was declaring that his career was finished and that “he would not attempt a comeback.”
Following his death eight months later, the Senators organized a memorial game in Shore’s memory and to raise money for his family. With the NHL season over, as the Montreal Canadiens prepared to depart for Seattle for their ill-fated (and never-completed) Stanley Cup series, the game was scheduled at the Laurier Street Arena for the end of March of 1919.
“Two of the fastest and strongest teams that have ever stepped out on the ice lined up,” the Ottawa Journal reported, “they being the All-Ottawas, a team consisting of thoroughbred home brews, and the Imported Stars.
Ottawa’s line-up featured Senators from stem to stern, with Clint Benedict in goal, Eddie Gerard and former Senator Horace Merrill (a former defensive partner of Shore’s) on defence, and a forward line of Jack Darragh, Punch Broadbent, and Buck Boucher. A former NHA Montreal Wanderer, Archie Atkinson, was Ottawa’s sub.
Toronto’s Bert Lindsay tended the other goal, with Ottawa’s Sprague Cleghorn and Harry Cameron on defence, and a forward line featuring Senators’ stars Frank Nighbor and Cy Denneny alongside Toronto’s Dave Ritchie, with Art Ross standing by as a sub.
Canada’s governor-general was on hand, the Duke of Devonshire, with a party of guests from Rideau Hall, and His Excellency brought along the band of the Governor-General’s Foot Guards to strike up a tune.
I haven’t seen word on how much money was raised on the night, but the crowd was reported to have been duly entertained, despite the sticky surface underskate: “the poor ice made the exhibition more of a burlesque than a contest,” the Citizen said. The Ottawas prevailed by a score of 8-3, with Buck Boucher busting out with six goals for the winning side.
The Journal noted that the GG was delighted by the hockey, taking “keen delight in the antics of the players.” Also? “The event was not without its excitement as a real fist-fight started in the bleachers and the police had to take a hand.”
A birthday today for Fred Taylor, who was born (probably; there’s some blurriness to the record) on a Monday of this date in 1884 in Tara, over towards Owen Sound, in southwestern Ontario. Taylor grew up a little to the south, in Listowel, northwest of Kitchener, and that’s where he honed his hockey. Cyclone he came to called, in his heyday, which was back in the first few decades of the 20th century, when Taylor was far and away one of the fastest and most skilled players to don skates and step out on the ice and, thereby, one of the game’s best-paid practitioners. Playing at rover and cover-point (defence), he starred in the IHL for Portage Lakes and for the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings before finding a home, for nine seasons, with the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA. Five times he led the league in scoring on the west coast, and in 1915 he helped the Millionaires beat the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup. It was Taylor’s second championship: he’d been with the Senators in 1909 when they played in the old ECHA and surpassed Art Ross’ Montreal Wanderers to take the Cup.
Taylor hung up his skates in 1922, at the age of 38. He was elected to the Hall of hockey Fame in 1947. Cyclone Taylor was 94 when he died in 1979.
Did Taylor score a goal for Renfrew in 1910 after having skated backwards through some or possibly all of the Ottawa line-up? Many paragraphs have been written on the subject, including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time … but while some reports (including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time) would seem to confirm the feat, Taylor himself told Stan Fischler that it never happened.
Not so well documented is another bit of lore relating to that 1909 championship. Insofar as I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else in the 112 years that have intervened since then, it may even qualify as breaking news. Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend doesn’t mention it, and nor do any of the authoritative histories of hockey’s most vaunted trophy, but Taylor may well have been the first player to take the Stanley Cup home with him to share with and show off to his kith and kin, a whole eight decades before it became standard practice.
The Stanley Cup’s annual summer tour is a rite of hockey’s post-season, and a charming one at that: each year, Cupkeeper Phil Pritchard escorts the venerable trophy to the hometowns of players, coaches, and staff across the globe so that those who’ve won the Cup can spend a day in its company, sharing the glory around with friends and family, eating from its silvery bowl, maybe feeding their horses.
Pandemics permitting, of course: while in 2019, the Cup travelled to eight Canadian provinces, seven U.S. states, as well as Sweden, Finland, and Russia on visits to happy members of the St. Louis Blues, COVID-19 meant that last year’s champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, could only celebrate with the Cup in Florida.
The Hockey Hall of Fame keeps an online catalogue documenting the Cup’s off-season travels that goes back to 2003, when the New Jersey Devils were champions: that’s here. These summer peregrinations were established as a routine in 1995, says the Hall. (The Devils reigned that year, too.)
The Cup did some house calls before that, too: in 1989, when the Calgary Flames prevailed, Pritchard himself took the Cup to visit Flames forward Colin Patterson at his home in Rexdale, Ontario. That same summer, the Cup was packed up and shipped — unaccompanied — to Saskatoon, where Calgary defenceman Brad McCrimmon’s dad, Byron, collected it at the airport and took it for a sojourn in McCrimmon’s hometown of Plenty, Saskatchewan.
Turns out Cyclone Taylor had a like-minded plan a full 80 years earlier.
In 1909, there was no Stanley Cup final, as such. Having finished atop the standing of the four-team Eastern Canada Hockey Association, Taylor’s Ottawa Senators inherited the Cup from the holders, Montreal’s Wanderers. A challenge did come in from the Winnipeg Shamrocks, and was accepted by Cup trustee William Foran, but by then it was mid-March, too late in the season for the series to be arranged.
The Senators and Wanderers did take a quick trip to New York in March, to play a two-game exhibition series, but that was on artificial ice. Ottawa prevailed, for anyone keeping score, winning the first game 6-4 and settling in for a tie, 8-8, in the second.
Back in Canada’s capital, the Senators were wined and dined at a banquet at the Russell House Hotel. The Cup, which looked like this in those years —
— had been absent from Ottawa since 1906, when the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven were ending a run of four consecutive championships. The line-up of the new champions featured five future Hall-of-Famers, including goaltender Percy LeSueur and forwards Bruce Stuart and Marty Walsh.
Reports of the 1909 celebration include an account of the Cup being filled (of course) with champagne and shared around the room. When it reached Taylor, he demurred. “I will drink only after the greatest hockey general in the game has done so,” he said, passing the Cup to Stuart, his captain.
Trustee Foran spoke a piece, too. He was positively giddy in his praise of the teams in the ECHA, declaring that their brand of hockey was the “greatest, fastest, and cleanest” ever seen anywhere. Ottawa’s team, he felt, further, was “the best team Canada or the world had ever produced.
He was confident, too, that the Stanley Cup, now in the 16th year of its youth, was here to stay: “Cups might come and cups might go,” paraphrased the Ottawa Journal, “but the Stanley Cup would always remain the true emblem of hockey supremacy.”
News of Cyclone Taylor’s initiative was carried in another dispatch from the banquet room. His request, which was deemed “unusual” by the correspondent writing about it, was this: Taylor asked “that he be allowed to take the Stanley Cup home to Listowell [sic] when he goes on his Easter holidays, guaranteeing to return it in safe order. Taylor remarked that it was his one ambition to be on a Stanley Cup team, and wished to take the famous mug to his native town so that the Listowell people could have a look at it. His wish may be gratified, providing the trustees do not object.”
Did William Foran give Taylor the go-ahead? That I can’t confirm. The Cup may well have been handed over to his care in April of 1909, and made the journey west to Listowel for a spell. If so, none of the major daily newspapers seem to have registered the event. I haven’t yet consulted local papers to see what they might have to report, but I’ll get to them and report back. Did the Stanley Cup parade down Listowel’s Main Street as Cyclone Taylor’s friends, familiars, and neighbours cheered? Possibly. Was it, anticipating the 1991 scene in Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh backyard, sunken to the bottom of the Taylors’ swimming pool? Not likely. Did anyone, including local livestock, feed from the Cup? To be determined.
In the meantime, if anyone has further intelligence on this, let me know.
Mainstay of the Maroons, they called him, Horatius at the Bridge, the Sphinx of the Nets. Also? The Ottawa Fireman. That was a nickname, the last one, but it was also a straightforward description, because throughout Alec Connell’s 12-year Hall-of-Fame career as an NHL goaltender, he remained a dutiful employee of the fire department in the nation’s capital.
His renown was such that when, on a Saturday of this date in 1958, Connell died, the news was front-page-centre in the Ottawa Citizen, his hometown paper. He was 58.
Twenty-nine years he served with the Ottawa Fire Department, starting in 1921. He was working as secretary to Chief Robert Burnett in the fall of 1924 when he was signed by the mighty Senators, Stanley Cup champions in three of the previous five seasons, to replace Clint Benedict. Connell’s sporting exploits were well-known in the city: “one of Ottawa’s best all-round athletes,” the Montreal Gazette advised.
“He is a little man as fast as a flash and as cool-headed almost as the great Georges Vézina of the Canadiens.” He was, moreover, “a fine, clean-cut youth.”
“Connell neither smokes nor drinks, and is in every way a credit to sport.”
He would play eight seasons, all told, with the Senators, often wearing what was described as a floppy hat, his face set with a serious expression that contemporary reports tended to classify as deadpan. He backstopped Ottawa to the 1927 Stanley Cup, and he was the Montreal Maroons’ goaltender in 1935 when they won the Cup. He had turns, too, with the Detroit Falcons and New York Americans before he gave up his pads for good in 1937.
On that subject, the pads, while Jake Forbes of the old Hamilton Tigers was the first NHL goaltender to transition from the old, narrow cricket-style pads to the new-fangled wider horsehide-and-kapok versions pioneered by Hamilton harnessmaker Pop Kenesky in the 1920s, Alec Connell was the second. These are Keneskys pictured in the image above, showing Connell in all his felted glory in 1931, when he was with Detroit; the pads are, in all probability, the originals that Connell commissioned from the legendary Pop Kenesky in 1927.
Some other Connell claims to hockey fame:
• He’s one of six goaltenders in NHL history to have captained his team, which in his case was Ottawa for the 1932-33 season. (Not counting Roberto Luongo here, whom the Vancouver Canucks recognized as their leader from 2008-10, despite the league’s latter-day rules that don’t allow captains in the crease.)
• Playing for the Maroons in 1934, Connell was the goaltender of record when Ralph Bowman scored the NHL’s very first penalty shot.
• Alec Connell still holds the record for the longest shutout streak in NHL history, 460 minutes and 49 seconds. That dates back to the 1927-28 season, when he strung together six consecutive clean sheets before Duke Keats of the Black Hawks solved him in a game in Chicago. Connell racked up 15 shutouts in 44 regular-season games that season — impressive, though not enough to win him the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender, which went to George Hainsworth of the Canadiens that year.
There was no better team in hockey through the 1920s than the Ottawa Senators, who won four Stanley Cups in eight years with a line-up stacked with future Hall-of-Famers. Coached by the brilliant (and sadly undersung) Pete Green through the first years of the NHL’s first decade, the Senators counted on a core of supremely skilled players in those years that included Clint Benedict in goal, King Clancy and Lionel Hitchman on defence, and Cy Denneny, Frank Nighbor, and Jack Darragh on the forward line.
Captaining the team through those first three championships was the anchorman of the defence, Eddie Gerard. Born in Ottawa on a Saturday of this date in 1890, Gerard deserves a bigger fame, better broadcast, than he has nowadays. The modern-day Senators could get things going — and should — by retiring his number 2 and raising it to the rafters of the Canadian Tire Centre. Then again, according to me, they ought to be hoisting a whole wardrobe’s worth of sweaters to honour that golden age, including Nighbor’s number 6, Cy Denneny’s 5, and Darragh’s 7, just for a start.
Gerard played his last NHL season in 1923, when, aged 33, he steered the Senators their third Cup in four years. (He actually got his name on four straight Cups, but that’s a tale for another day.) It was early March when the Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens in two games to take the NHL title, whereupon the team boarded a CPR train for Vancouver.
On arrival to the coast, Ottawa surpassed the PCHL Vancouver Maroons in four games to earn the right to meet the Edmonton Eskimos in for the Stanley Cup, which they collected by way of a two-game sweep of the WCHL Edmonton Eskimos.
On the rails heading west, the Senators were accommodated in a special carriage, the “Neptune.” It’s worth noting that they left two prominent members of their team behind in the capital: winger Jack Darragh and coach Pete Green were both unable to make the trip west. Canadiens winger Billy Boucher did join the Senators for their Stanley Cup swing — he was from Ottawa, after all, a brother to Senators’ defenceman Buck Boucher — but didn’t, in the end, play a single game on the coast. So Ottawa had just nine players available for the six games they played on their way to winning the Cup.
It wasn’t easy. During the finals, Harry Helman cut his foot and was unable to play. Buck Boucher and Lionel Hitchman played through injuries, while Eddie Gerard suited up for the last two games despite torn ligaments in a shoulder that was also doubly fractured. In the deciding game, after Clint Benedict was penalized for chopping at Joe Simpson’s skates, 20-year-old Ottawa defenceman King Clancy took a turn in goal, proving himself to be uniquely versatile — earlier in Ottawa’s undermanned visit to the coast, he’d also taken turns at centre and on both wings as well as doing his regular duty as a defender.
Back in Ottawa that April, Eddie Gerard was invited to address the regular Wednesday-night meeting of the youngsters of the Canuck Club at the YMCA. His young audience sat on the gym floor to listen to the Senator captain tell them (as the Ottawa Citizen reported it) “that the first man signed on by the Ottawa players before starting out West was ‘Mr. Harmony,’ and he said that without harmony nothing could succeed.”
His message was, of course, about playing as a team, with a shared purpose — but it was also about, well, harmonies.
Turns out that the Senators packed a small piano for their train journey west, with Gerard and trainer Cozy Dolan as principal performers, ably accompanied by Lionel Hitchman on violin, Clancy on harmonica, and Helman on drums. “This might appear on paper as a joke orchestra,” Citizen sports editor Ed Baker wrote, “but it is not. It’s a real honest to goodness band.”
Gerard recalled this a decade later, when he was coaching the New York Americans. “Harmony on a hockey club,” he told Harold Burr of the Brooklyn Eagle in 1931, “is half the battle. And one kind of harmony brings another. I like to sign singing players. If they knock around together off the ice, they’re liable to fight for another on it. Conversely, the player who curses his teammate in the hotel and on the trains isn’t going to pass him in front of the goal when he should.”
That’s when he remembered the musical rides of the ’20s. The Senators had shunted west in 1921, too, also (I guess) with a piano aboard? “All the fellows could sing,” Gerard testified in 1931, “but I think Sprague Cleghorn had the best voice. Our trainer, Cozy Dolan, could play anything from the big drum to the little piccolo.”
One more (non-musical note), on a matter of historical housekeeping: shouldn’t Tommy Gorman get the credit for coaching the Senators to that 1923 Cup? With Pete Green staying home in Ottawa, manager Gorman does seem to have taken charge on the Ottawa bench for those western playoff games that year. And yet in most of the standard records, Gorman’s coaching career is listed as beginning in 1925, when he took over the New York Americans. Seems like deserves the credit for the work he did in that regard for the Senators, too, in claiming that Stanley Cup.
A birthday today, yes, for Wayne Gretzky, who’s 60, and many happy returns to him. But another extraordinary (if under-remembered) talent born on this date, in 1893, when it was a Thursday? The pride and glory of Pembroke, Ontario, centreman and hook-check artist extraordinaire Frank Nighbor. The Peach, they used to call him, as well as the Percolator and Peerless; sometimes, in contemporary accounts of his hockey exploits, all three words show up in alliterative aggregate. He won his first Stanley Cup in 1915, when he played with Vancouver’s Millionaires, before returning east to star with the Ottawa Senators, with whom he won four more Cups, in 1920, ’21, ’23, and ’27. In 1924, was the first ever recipient of the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. The following year, when Lady Byng decided to donate a trophy to the league in the name of gentlemanly hockey played with supreme skill, Nighbor won that, too. Just for good measure, he won it again the following year, in 1926.
Here’s how the story goes. There was a river in Egmondville, and a winter, but no hockey. How that’s possible, in southern Ontario, in the early years of the new, 20thcentury, I don’t know, but that’s the story. So it was that young Ralph Weiland, our young hero, had only read about hockey, he’d never seen it, let alone played: hockey, to him, was all on the page. How to get from here to there? This elsewhere hockey dogged the boy’s imagination until finally it burst those bounds. So (in the story), Ralph and an unnamed friend jumped a freight train in their desperation for discovery.
If they’d travelled southeast just 20 kilometres down the line they might have run into a tyro Howie Morenz, whose childhood was underway in nearby Mitchell. Instead, the boys went north, ended up in Seaforth. If you study your Ontario map over towards Lake Huron, you’ll notice that Egmondville is actually right up alongside Seaforth, with just a few kilometres between the two — but the story says the boys took a train, so we’ll stick with the train. In Seaforth, one winter’s night, they found what they were searching for in the arena, which they snuck into with the help of a friendly ticket-taker.
I don’t know about the friend, but the hockey was all that Ralph, anyway, had hoped for. He was apparently so thoroughly puckstruck by the time the game was over that he stole a stick before legging it for home.
The friend here departs the narrative: back home, Ralph alone tries out his new pilfered prize, stickhandling a stone. That’s no good, obviously. He has the bright idea, then, of prying off the rubber heel from one of his father’s Sunday-best boots — much better. If you were expecting a Dickensian conclusion here, wherein the boy is cast out for his crime, has to make his way in the world alone thereafter, bravely facing up all its trials and troubles as stoutly as David Copperfield himself — sorry. In Ralph’s case, his father is fine when he finds out about the thieving and the vandalism, and our intrepid hero is launched on his hockey way.
That’s the way it goes, anyway, in a freewheeling Minneapolis Starfeature dating to the later 1920s, by which time Ralph had aged and prospered and was widely known as Cooney Weiland. He was stopping in Minnesota to play for the AHA Millers; in just a few more years he’d make his NHL debut. I’m not saying that the story isn’t true, but I will suggest that, categorically, it might be worth shelving it as close to the fairytales as to the annals of history.
The fact is, nevertheless, that November 5 is the day Cooney Weiland was born in Egmondville in 1904 (it was a Saturday, then). A centreman, Weiland did get back to Seaforth to play as a junior with the local Highlanders. He subsequently made a move up to Owen Sound, where he helped the Greys win the 1924 Memorial Cup.
Weiland would go on to star with the Boston Bruins, playing middleman to wingers Dutch Gainor and Dit Clapper on the Dynamite Line in the late 1920s, winning two Stanley Cups, and topping the NHL’s scoring chart in 1930. Trades took him to the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings in the ’30s before he made a return to Boston. He was named captain of the team in 1937. Later, he coached the Bruins, steering them to a 1941 championship. He ended up across the Charles River, coaching the Harvard hockey team from 1950 to 1971. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in ’71.
One of the All-Americans Weiland oversaw during his time with the Crimson was a defenceman named David Johnston, who revered him, and went on to serve as Canada’s 28th Governor-General. Johnston gave a eulogy at his old coach’s funeral when Weiland died in 1985 at the age of 80. During his time in office, the Right Honourable GG kept a reminder of his mentor in his Rideau Hall office in Ottawa: an ornately carved chair that had been awarded to Weiland for his conspicuous Harvard career.