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.
Born in Pembroke, Ontario, on a Thursday of this date in 1890, Harry Cameron was a stand-out and high-scoring defenceman in the NHL’s earliest days, mostly with Toronto teams, though he also was briefly a Senator and a Canadien, too.
He scored a pair of goals on the NHL’s very first night on ice, December 19, 1917, when Cameron’s Torontos lost by a score of 10-9 to the ill-fated Montreal Wanderers. He was 27, then. A week later, in a Boxing Day meeting with the Canadiens, Cameron scored four goals and added an assist in his team’s 7-5 win. “Cameron was the busiest man on the ice,” the Star noted, “and his rushes electrified the crowd.” Belligerence enthusiasts like to claim that Cameron’s performance on this festive night qualifies as the NHL’s first Gordie Howe Hattrick, and it is true that referee Lou Marsh levied major penalties after Cameron engaged with Billy Coutu in front of the Montreal net. “Both rolled to the ice before they were separated by the officials,” the Gazette reported.
Cameron scored 17 goals in 21 games that season. In both 1921 and ’22, he scored 18 goals in 24 regular-season games. Overall, in the six seasons he played in the NHL, Cameron scored an amazing 88 goals in 128 games, adding another eight in 20 playoff games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.
A miscellany of other Harry Cameron notes and annotations to get you though today:
Out of Pembroke
His father, Hugh Cameron, was a lumberman. Working on a log boom when Harry was just a boy, he was struck by lightning and killed.
In 1910-11, Harry played with another legend of Pembroke’s own, Frank Nighbor, for their hometown team in the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League.They played another couple of seasons together in Port Arthur and were together again with the NHA Toronto Blueshirts in 1912-13. It was in Toronto that playing-coach Jack Marshall converted Cameron from a forward to a defenceman.
Also in Toronto: Cameron won his first Stanley Cup. That was in 1914, when the Blueshirts beat the PCHA Victoria Cougars in three straight games. Cameron won another Stanley Cup with Toronto in 1918 and a third in 1922, by which time Toronto’s team was called the St. Patricks. So there’s a record I don’t think has been matched in hockey, or ever will be: Cameron won three Cups with three different teams based in the same city.
That first NHL season, Cameron reported for duty in “pretty fair shape,” as one paper’s seasonal preview noted. His off-season job that wartime summer was at a munitions plant in Dundas, Ontario. “He has been handling 90-pound shells for six months,” the Ottawa Journal advised.
Skates, Sticks, And Curved Pucks
He never allowed anyone to sharpen his skates, always did it himself, preferring them “on the dull side,” it was said.
And long before Stan Mikita or Bobby Hull were curving the blades of their sticks, Cameron used to steam and manipulate his. Hence his ability to bend his shot. Another Hall-of-Famer, Gordon Roberts, who played in the NHA with the Montreal Wanderers, was the acknowledged master of this (and is sometimes credited with the invention), but Cameron was an artisan in his own right. Frank Boucher testified to this, telling Dink Carroll of the Gazette that Cameron’s stick was curved “like a sabre,” by which he secured (in Carroll’s words) “the spin necessary to make the puck curve in flight by rolling it off this curved blade.”
“He was the only hockey player I have ever seen who could actually curve a puck,” recalled Clint Smith, a Hall-of-Fame centreman who coincided with Cameron in the early 1930s with the WCHL’s Saskatoon Crescents. “He used to have the old Martin Hooper sticks and he could make that puck do some strange things, including a roundhouse curve.”
Briefly A Referee
Harry Cameron played into his 40s with the AHA with the Minneapolis Millers and St. Louis Flyers. He retired after that stint in Saskatoon, where he was the playing coach. After that, NHL managing director Frank Patrick recruited him to be a referee. His career with a whistle was short, lasting just a single NHL game. He worked alongside Mike Rodden on the Saturday night of November 11, 1933, when the Boston Bruins were in Montreal to play the Maroons, but never again. “Not fast enough for this league,” was Patrick’s verdict upon letting him go.
Harry Cameron died in Vancouver in 1953. He was 63.
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.