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.

guilt trip

Binned For His Sins: Toronto Maple Leafs’ right winger Bill Ezinicki visits the penalty bench at the Montreal Forum at some point in the late 1940s. The absence of gloves and Ezinicki’s reputation both suggest he’s been exchanging punches with a galled Canadien, maybe Murph Chamberlain or Ken Reardon. A three-time Stanley Cup winner with Toronto, Ezinicki was a bumptious and thereby much-sanctioned member of the Leafs; he led the NHL in penalty minutes in 1948-49 and almost did it again the following year, finishing a minute behind Gus Kyle of the New York Rangers. Off the ice, Ezinicki was an accomplished golfer, turning pro after his hockey career reached its end in the later 1950s.

(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.”

headlong horner

It was on a Wednesday of this date in 2005 that Leaf legend Red Horner died at the age of 95. He played all 12 of his NHL seasons with Toronto, leading the league in penalty minutes in seven of those. In 1932, he aided Toronto’s effort to win the Stanley Cup. He succeeded Charlie Conacher as Leaf captain mid-season in 1938 and continued in the role until he retired in 1940. Inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1965, he was booster of kitchen appliances and Alka-Seltzer  as well as a Maclean’s coverboy. Carrot-topped is a common epithet associated with him during his days on the defence; buxom in size and crude in action is how the Montreal Gazette described him in 1934.

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 he called 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.”

sinned » binned

Time Share: Lionel Conacher of the Montreal Maroons, left, shares the penalty bench with Roger Jenkins of the Bruins, serving out their sentences together during the 1935-36 season. Possibly it was on the night of December 10, 1935, when the Bruins blanked the defending Stanley Cup champions 2-0. Art Ross had warned the lowly Bruins that if they didn’t show something that game, the changes would ring. Red Beattie scored both Boston goals on the night, which ended with Conacher flailing at a front-row spectator who (as the newspapers put it next day) “clipped” him from behind. The benches cleared. There was “a free-for-all.” It was “furious.” It last “a full minute.”

The photograph here — guessing — is from earlier, the second period, after this happened:

jenkins conacher

(Photo: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)