the nhl’s first finn, only almost a leaf, was also the coach who didn’t get the gold in 1936

“They are stepping along nicely,” Al Pudas said that day, having put his team though their paces ahead of their opening game. It was 1936, February. The 36-year-old coach was confident. “This is the strongest club I’ve ever had,” he said.

Spoiler alert: Pudas, who died on a Thursday of this date in 1976 at the age of 77, didn’t get the gold medal he, his team, and all of Canada was expecting. Maybe you know the story of the ’36 Olympics, which were in Germany, and how they ended Canada’s golden hockey streak. There’s more on that, here and here, if you’re interested. What we’ll say here is that to that point, teams sporting the maple leaf on their sweaters hadn’t lost a game let alone a gold medal in four Olympics, going back to Antwerp in 1920. Also, this: the fact the fact that the ’36 team could only manage silver wasn’t really Pudas’ fault.

Before he was a coach, Pudas was a referee. Before that he played, mainly on the wing. He did most of his skating in the ’20s, for teams in Port Arthur, though the fact that he was summoned in late 1926 to the NHL means that he was the league’s very first Finnish-born player: born in Siikajoki in Finland in 1899, Pudas had emigrated to Canada with his family before he turned two.

Pudas was playing right wing for the Windsor Hornets of the Canadian Professional Hockey League in December of 1926 when the Toronto St. Patricks signed him. They brought in left winger Butch Keeling at the same time. Both made their debut in a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins at Toronto’s Arena Gardens. Pudas wore number 14 during his short stay with Toronto, which lasted just four games. By mid-January of 1927 he was back in the Can-Am with Windsor, which means that he was only almost a Maple Leaf: it would be another month before Conn Smythe and his partners swooped in to acquire the team and switch the team’s identity almost overnight.

Irish Times: The Toronto St. Patricks weren’t long for the world when four of them posed at the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street in December of 1926. From left to right, they are Hap Day, Al Pudas, Bert Corbeau, and Ace Bailey. A few months later, when Conn Smythe and a parcel of investors bought the team and decided the St. Pats would now be Maple Leafs, Pudas’ NHL career was over, and he was back in the Can-Am loop. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 9948)

 

edgar laprade, 1950: how’s it look to you, doc?

Tell Me Where It Hurts: New York Rangers’ doctor Dr. Vincent Nardiello gives Edgar Laprade’s wounded knee a once-over ahead of the Stanley Cup finals in April of 1950.

Born in Mine Centre up on Ontario’s Lakehead on a Friday of this date in 1919, Edgar Laprade was a reluctant NHLer. The Montreal Canadiens tried hard to sign him in the 1940s, after he’d led the Port Arthur Bearcats to an Allan Cup championship, but he joined the Canadian Army instead. He resisted the advances of the New York Rangers for a while, too, before eventually signing in 1945. Living in New York was “a headache,” he said in 1947, but that didn’t keep him from excelling on its ice: Laprade won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in 1945-46, as well as a Lady Byng, for peacefulness, in 1949-50, when he served one two-minute penalty through 60 games. That a was a relatively raucous year, for him: three times in his 10-year NHL career he made it through an entire season without taking a penalty. Laprade was a four-time All Star. Better late than never, Hockey’s Hall of Fame finally got around to welcoming him in 1993.

The closest he came to winning a Stanley Cup was in 1950, when the Rangers slipped into the playoffs and upset Montreal to earn the right to meet the Detroit Red Wings in the finals. Laprade was the Rangers’ top scorer that year, but in a late-February game against the Chicago Black Hawks, he tore a ligament in his left knee. He returned to action as the regular season wound down in late March, only to re-hurt the knee in another meeting with Chicago when Bill Gadsby tripped him.

“Laprade attempted to take his place on the Rangers’ offensive but quickly withdrew to the dressing room,” The New York Times reported of that incident. “There he was examined by Dr. Vincent A. Nardiello who stated that the player had suffered a torn lateral ligament in his left knee ‘and definitely would be unavailable for the Stanley Cup games.’”

Wrong.

Sporting a bulky brace, Laprade played in all 12 of the Rangers playoff games, finishing among the team’s top scorers. The Rangers couldn’t quite finish the job, losing in double overtime in Game 7 in Detroit, scuttled by Pete Babando’s definitive goal.

Funny Pages: Laprade’s knee injury immortalized in a 1951 comic.

 

 

 

jack walker, hook-check artist (can get a little tiresome)

Sultan of Swish: Jack Walker, at the ready, in Seattle Metropolitans’ stripes, circa 1917.

If you want to talk hook-checks, as you well might, the man you need to know about is Jack Walker, born on this date in 1888, when it was a Tuesday, in Silver Mountain, Ontario, up on the Lakehead, not far from what was then Port Arthur — modern-day Thunder Bay. He died in 1950, aged 61.

If he’s not now a household name, he was in his day, a century or so ago. Three times teams he skated for won the Stanley Cup: the Toronto Blueshirts in 1914, the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917, and the Victoria Cougars in 1925. Mostly Walker played on the west coast, in the PCHA; his NHL career was a slender one, lasting 80 regular-season games over two seasons in the mid-1920s when he joined the Detroit Cougars.

Walker did ascend to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1960, which is to say he was voted in. Hard to know from here how much of the case for his place in the pantheon has to do with the hook-check, but as a hook-check enthusiast I’m going to err on the side of a lot.

I wrote about the hook-check in my 2014 book Puckstruck— also over here, where I did some explaining about definitions and techniques. While Frank Nighbor is sometimes credited with having been the first to ply it on a regular and efficient basis, it seems clear that Walker was in fact the progenitor, and that when Nighbor joined Port Arthur in 1911, the Pembroke Peach learned if from him. Nighbor said as much himself, later on, sort of, talking about Walker’s poke-check, which is related but different, though they’re often conflated, even by the Hall-of-Famers who used them to best effect.

You don’t see much mention of hook-checking in accounts of that earliest Cup, but by 1917, Walker’s name was synonymous with it. Hook check star is an epithet you’ll see in the weeks leading up to the championship series. That came in March, when the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens travelled west to play for all the hockey marbles with a roster that featured Georges Vézina, Harry Mummery, Newsy Lalonde, and Didier Pitre.

Lining up Hap Holmes, Cully Wilson, and Frank Foyston, Seattle prevailed in four games, with Montreal’s only victory coming in the opening game. The score therein, 8-4, doesn’t exactly have the ring of a defensive struggle, but Walker was said to have stood out. This from the wire report in The Ottawa Citizen:

In purely defensive play, Jack Walker, with his clever hook-check, was [sic] the Seattle’s star. Walker took the puck away from the best stick handlers the Flying Frenchmen could produce as easily [as] taking off his hat and it was his work that spilled most of the offensive hopes of the Canadiens.

It was apparently contagious: all the Mets were hooking the second game. After Seattle won that one 6-1, The Vancouver Sun’s Royal Brougham opened his dispatch this way:

“Beaten by the Hookcheck,” might be an appropriate title of tonight’s struggle because it was the clever of this bit of hockey strategy combined with sheer speed and aggressiveness that put the Mets on an even basis with the invaders for the Stanley Cup.

“Every time,” he continued, “a visiting forward got the puck and ankled up the ice, swish, some local skater would slide along and hook the elusive pill from the Canadiens stick leaving the duped player bewildered.”

Seattle won the third game by a score of 4-1. It was the same story. “Jack worked his old hook-check so well and so frequently,” was the word in Vancouver’s Daily World, “that he checked the very life out of the Frenchmen’s offence.”

Going into what was the final game, Royal Brougham was already handing out laurels. “If Seattle wins the Stanley Cup, the glory should go to Jack Walker, the hook-check artist of the Metropolitans who, during the last two games has practically stopped every Frenchmen’s rush.”

Seattle went out in style, taking the decisive game and the Cup with a 9-1 win. Let’s leave the Daily World to give the man his due, if that’s what this does:

Jack Walker’s work has been an outstanding feature of the entire series, and Jack was up to all his tricks last night. He kept the hook-checking working with such monotonous regularity that it almost got tiresome, and he finally succeeded in making one of his shots good and broke through for a goal.

 

winterspiele 1936: golden britain

The hockey tournament at the 1936 Winter Olympics wasn’t without controversy. For Canada, it was very much with controversy, and long before the team from (mostly) Port Arthur ever arrived in Germany. The trouble they got into in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was complicated, but it boiled down to this: on February 11, Canada lost its first ever Olympic hockey game by a score of 2-1 to … Great Britain. Subsequent Canadian thwackings of Hungary (by 15-0) and the hosts from Germany (6-2) weren’t enough to shift the standings in Canada’s favour, which meant that they went home with silver medals, while the Great British won gold, and the right (above) to skate triumphantly towards a photographer on the ice at Lake Riesser.

feeling fine, he said; forgot to duck

stewart and henry son pkstrk

Gaye Stewart was the last Toronto Maple Leaf to lead the NHL in goalscoring: in 1945-46 he finished the season with 37 goals. Maybe that’s how you know the name. He was also the first NHLer to win a Stanley Cup before he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie, long before Danny Grant, Tony Esposito, or Ken Dryden got around to doing it. The Cup came in the spring of 1942, when he was 18; the Calder came the following year. He won a second Cup with the Leafs in 1947, then later the same year found himself on his way to Chicago in the big trade that brought Max Bentley to Toronto.

Stewart did fine for himself in Chicago, even as the team struggled. He was named captain of the Black Hawks for the 1948-49 season. It was in January of ’49 that he was photographed, above, with his goaltender’s son: Tom Henry was Sugar Jim’s two-and-a-half-year-old.

Stewart, 25, was only just back in Chicago following a hospital stay in Toronto. Struck by another puck, not the one depicted here, he’d left the Hawks’ January 8 game, a 3-3 tie with the Leafs, a few days earlier. Jim Vipond of The Globe and Mail was on hand to watch. In the second period, as he told it,

The ex-Leaf left winger was struck over the right eye by a puck lifted by Garth Boesch as the Toronto defenseman attempted to clear down the ice.

Stewart returned to action after a brief rest but collapsed in the shower after the game. After being removed to the Gardens hospital, his condition became so serious that a rush call was put in for an ambulance and arrangements made for an emergency operation.

Fortunately the player rallied soon after reaching Toronto General Hospital and surgery was not necessary. His condition was much improved last night [January 9], with the injury diagnosed as a bruise on the brain.

forgot to duck“I forgot to duck,” he was joshing by the time he was back in Chicago, as hockey players did, and do. Brain bruises, The Globe was reporting now. “I’m feeling fine,” Stewart said. “The accident was just one of those things. I expect I’ll start skating next week.” The Associated Press called it a concussion, and had the player’s side of the story to offer:

Stewart said that he when he returned to action in the game he felt tired. He remembered his mates coming into the dressing after the game, but then blacked out until he woke up in hospital.

There wasn’t much news, after that, of Stewart’s head or his recovery — not that made it into the newspapers, anyway. It was three weeks or so before he returned to play, back in Toronto again at the end of January, having missed six games. The two teams tied this time, too, 4-4. They met again in Chicago the following day. The Black Hawks won that one, 4-2, with Stewart scoring the winning goal.

All in all, it was ended up another fruitless year for Chicago. When the playoffs rolled around in March, they were on the outside looking in for the third consecutive season. When Tribune reporter Charles Bartlett buttonholed coach Charlie Conacher before he departed for Toronto, he asked him how he felt about his players.

“I’m not satisfied with any of them,” he answered. “It never pays to be satisfied with any team in sports. Creates a weak attitude. What I am pleased with, however, is the morale of the Hawks. I think their fifth place finish, and the fact that they won only won game less than Toronto will mean a lot when we start training at North Bay in September.”

He thought the team had played pretty well through December. But then Doug Bentley got sick and Stewart concussed, and Bill Mosienko and Metro Prystai had played that stretch of games with their wonky shoulders …

Conacher was headed home to his summer job — his oil business, Bartlett reported. A couple of Hawks were staying in Chicago for the duration, Ralph Nattrass to work in real estate and Jim Conacher at an auto agency. The rundown on their teammates as went their separate ways looked like this:

Goalie Jim Henry will join with his Ranger rival, Chuck Rayner, in operating their summer camp in Kenora, Ont. Red Hamill will go a talent scouting tour of northern Ontario. Doug Bentley and brother Max of the Leafs will play baseball and run their ice locker plant in De Lisle, Sask. Mosienko will return to Winnipeg, where he owns a bowling center with Joe Cooper, former Hawk defenseman.

Roy Conacher, who received a substantial bonus from the Hawks for winning the league’s scoring title, is headed for Midland, Ont., where he plans to open a sporting goods store. Gaye Stewart will run a soft drink agency in Port Arthur, Ont. A fish business will occupy Ernie Dickens in Bowmanville. Doug McCaig is enrolled in a Detroit accounting school. Adam Brown will assist his dad in their Hamilton filling station.

 

 

 

 

 

winterspiele 1936: wolverines, royals, and bearcats

img008 2

Wolverine-free: (Back, left to right) Gus Saxberg, Bill Thomson, Pud Kitchen, Herman Murray, Dave Neville, Hugh Farquharson, Ralph St. Germain, Num Friday, Ray Milton, (inset) Kenny Farmer (Front, left to right) Dinty Moore, Arnold Deacon, coach Albert Pudas, manager Malcolm Cochrane, CAHA secretary Fred Marples, trainer Scotty Stewart, Alex Sinclair, Jakie Nash.

It should have been Wolverines at the Olympics in 1936 playing for Canada, winning gold on the national behalf, but when the time came to sail for Europe, no, instead of Wolverines it was Bearcats.

Mostly Bearcats. The story of how that happened has its vivid moments that may be briefly superseded by this pressing question: when was the last time anyone in Ontario actually saw an actual bearcat and knew it?

April of 1935 is where we’ll start here, nearly a year before the Olympics got going, in Halifax. The best teams from Canada’s amateur senior hockey leagues were gathered there to decide the season’s national championship, vying for the venerable Allan Cup. By surprise, the local Halifax Wolverines had made the final, and by further surprise, on the efforts of Mickey McGlashen, Owen Lennon, Chummie Lawlor, Daddy Bubar, and the rest of the Wolverines, they defeated the team from Port Arthur, Ontario, the Bearcats.

The final game ended with a 4-3 Halifax win. Five thousand fans cheered as E.A. Gilroy, president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, handed the old silver trophy and the Dominion senior title to Wolverine captain Ernie Mosher. The team’s further (delayed) reward was on locals minds that evening, too: as Allan Cup champions, the Wolverines had booked themselves a ticket to represent Canada at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.

So that was exciting.

Then, next — well, a lot of the drama that saw the Wolverines shoved aside was administrative, hard to enliven for the page. Decisions were made in offices and (possibly) southbound trains, behind closed doors, under clouded brows, far from rinks. The background featured a dispute over just how amateur the senior hockey was in the Maritimes. This had been brewing for months. A CAHA ruling on player eligibility had torn apart the eastern Big Four League before the Wolverines lifted their Allan Cup.

When the cheering stopped and the team looked ahead to the fall of 1935, they found themselves with a league to play in. Players did what they had to do: for six of them, that meant signing for other teams, elsewhere. The coach left, too, exchanging the Wolverines of Halifax for the Wolves of Sudbury. As early as July, there was a rumour that the CAHA was considering options beyond sending a diminished Halifax team to the Olympics. Though W.A. Hewitt, CAHA registrar, denied it: “Unless the club itself refuses the trip,” he said, “the Wolverines will go to Germany.”

November. With no league to play in, no coach, little cash, and not enough players, Wolverines manager Jack Conn was doing his best to keep the team’s Olympic project alive. Maybe other senior teams could lend him players, and if someone with a generous heart, and/or the Canadian Olympic Committee, could spot him $5,000, he could launch a tour of Canada and the U.S. to get the team ready for competition.

That money didn’t materialize, and there was no such tour. There were meetings, finally, in Halifax. Port Arthur had made it known that they were willing to step in, and that seemed to be the answer that the CAHA’s E.A. Gilroy and P.J. Mulqueen of the COC were banking on. Gilroy had handed the Allan Cup to the Wolverines but now he was the one revoking their trip to Germany. Unless — there was also a late report that all the Wolverines who’d left were returning to the roost and the team would go.

Wrong. Maritimers thought it was treachery, but Jack Conn conceded that he couldn’t get his team together. Out went the invitation to Port Arthur, who wired back a quick acceptance. There was some small solace for Halifax fans: four Wolverines would go along to boost the Bearcats.

Beyond the upset in the east, there was some hue, too, from Quebec, where it was thought that the Montreal Royals should be the ones to go. They’d been the favourites, after all, going into the ’35 Allan Cup playoffs and had actually come closer to beating Halifax than Port Arthur had. Maybe the right thing to do would to organize a further playoff, let the best team prevail.

But Gilroy and the CAHA weren’t having any of that. Also, when in early December, Jack Conn told Gilroy that because Halifax was willing to contribute just as many players as Port Arthur to the “all-star” team, it should be called the Halifax Wolverines and he, Conn, should be the man to manage it, Gilroy sent a sharp reply back to the effect that, no, it wasn’t an all-star team, and if the Halifax players that Port Arthur was accommodating didn’t want to join in the fun, well, fine, they could stay home.

Conn backed off. The team, then, would be coached by Port Arthur’s Albert Pudas, with Malcolm Cochrane as the manager. They’d have 13 players in their charge: seven Bearcats, four Wolverines and two Royals — a fast, experienced squad, as the papers were soon reporting, that Pudas would have a month-and-a-half to build into a machine.

Heading into the new year, the component parts were these:

Goal
Daddy Bubar (Halifax); Jakie Nash (Port Arthur)

Defence
Ray Milton (Port Arthur); Herman Murray (Montreal)

Centre
Ernie Mosher, Vince Ferguson (Halifax); Alex Sinclair (Port Arthur)

Right Wing
Bill Thomson, Arnold Deacon (Port Arthur); Dave Neville (Montreal)

Left Wing
Chummie Lawlor, (Halifax); Num Friday, Gus Saxberg (Port Arthur)

The team started practicing in Port Arthur on December 20. Scrimmaging, Pudas had Sinclair, Thompson, and Friday playing on a line against Neville, Lawlor, and Deacon. Murray and Milton were one pair on defence, Mosher and Ferguson another. The coach wasn’t worried that he only had two regular defencemen: the problem, he said, would adjust itself. Another day, he ran three lines: Saxberg/Sinclair/Thompson; Deacon/Mosher/Lawlor; Ferguson/Lawlor/Neville.

On Christmas Day, they left for Winnipeg, where they played their exhibition, beating the local senior team 1-0 at the Amphitheatre. Smart second-period combination work by Neville and Sinclair got the puck to Lawlor, who scored on the powerplay. In goal, Daddy Bubar’s goaltending was superlative. Dignified patrons, said a local paper, cheered themselves hoarse. When the referee disallowed what would have been the tying goal, they littered the ice with programs and paper bags. Dunc Cheyne and Cam Shewan played well for the home team. High-stick sparring with the Winnipeg rearguard sent both Milton and Murray, Olympic defencemen, to the dressing room for stitches.

The Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association gave the team a banquet at the Fort Garry Hotel while they were in Winnipeg. Members of the 1932 Olympic team were on hand to wish them well, conveying sincere Good Luck greetings and urging the talented Canadians to bring back the flag.

The Winnipegs played a second game with the Olympics the following night, beating them this time, 5-4. High in the stands, protesters unfurled a 30-foot banner

Fair Play Demands Removal of Olympics From Fascist Berlin

that few in the rink noticed before policemen took it down.

The Bearcats played a pair of games against Fort William next, losing the first, 2-1, following up with a 5-1 win. They’d added another forward from Montreal, Ralph St. Germain. Bill Thomson scored a pair of goals, with Gus Saxberg, Vince Ferguson, and Dave Neville notching the others. One free-for-all showed the sincerity of the effort on the part of both teams but no one was hurt although Murray played most of the game with a big patch over his right eye, result of a collision with Konderka of Fort William, who was also hurt when the two heads bumped.

I’d be pleased to keep on writing the name Daddy Bubar indefinitely, but it’s here — which is to say, there, in Toronto, early January — that he departs — departed — the scene. Just what happened isn’t easy to decipher. Al Pudas was telling the papers that the team was rounding into top form, while Gilroy enthused that it was powerful in every position. There was nothing to the rumour, said manager Malcolm Cochrane, that they’d be adding a former Bearcat now playing in England, centre Jimmy Haggerty, to the mix: this was the team that was going to Germany.

“The squad is fifty per cent more powerful than the Bearcats of last season,” Cochrane was saying. “The added players have bolstered us defensively and offensively. Murray has fitted in like a charm with Milton on the defence while up front we have two lines who can go both ways with plenty of speed and scoring punch.” Bubar, he said, was one of the finest goaltenders he’d ever seen in amateur hockey. A man from The Toronto Daily Star watched the team practice at Maple Leaf Gardens as they prepared for a game against the Toronto Dukes: “Goals scored against this combination are going to be well and truly earned.”

And yet by the time the team skated out to play, it was without its four Halifax players: they’d been summarily excised from the roster. Continue reading

old bulwarks

l chabot

On this day in 1946 Lorne Chabot died in Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital at the age of 46, “his fighting heart finally stopped” (tolled The Globe) “by a lingering illness that had kept him bed-ridden for more than a year.”

His NHL career started in 1926 with the New York Rangers and he went on to play for Toronto, Chicago, and Montreal’s Canadiens and Maroons before his playing days came to an end in 1937 with the New York Americans. He won two Stanley Cups and a Vézina Trophy.

“Poison from osteo-arthritis and progressive nephritis, a chronic disease, had infiltrated his whole system,” The Globe reported, “and although Chabot had stoutly maintained he would recover, his friends have known for many months that he was a dying man.”

Frank Selke was manager of the Leafs during Chabot’s time in Toronto. He volunteered that the goaltender’s mechanical ability was exceeded only by his inspirational qualities. He was liked, Selke said, by all the players behind whom he had ever guarded a net.

edgar laprade, 1919–2014

Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Laprade and Mr. and Mrs. Bert Laprade. Date of Original: 1938(Thunder Bay Public Library)

Bearcats of the Lakehead: The Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Laprades (left) catch a train with the Mr. and Mrs. Bert Laprades in Port Arthur, Ontario, in 1938. (Thunder Bay Public Library)

If it were anyone else, we might be able to swing players around to fill the gap. But the loss of Laprade is serious trouble.
• Frank Boucher in January of 1951

Edgar Laprade was 94 when he died last Monday at home in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A revered New York Ranger, the closest he came to winning a Stanley Cup was in 1950, when the Rangers lost in Game-7 double overtime to Detroit. He was a four-time All Star and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in 1945-46 and the Lady Byng, for peacefulness, in 1949-50. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993 as a Veteran. That, he said at the time, was his biggest hockey thrill. Richard Goldstein has a good obituary in The New York Times. Otherwise, a few further notes on a quietly outstanding career:

1. Mine Centre, Ontario, was where he was born, in October of 1919, at the Lakehead, 190 miles west of Port Arthur on the Canadian Northern Railway. “There’s some good fishing there,” Laprade told Kevin Shea at the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.

2. Prospectors had struck copper in May of 1916. A year later the Port Arthur Copper Company was selling shares on the property at 30 cents apiece. “This is the great time in the world’s history for mining,” one of their ads crowed. “Metal is King. Copper is at the highest point in years.”

3. Playing in Port Arthur, Laprade was a Bruin before he graduated to the mighty Bearcats, for whom he starred with his brother Bert, a defenceman. They won the Allan Cup in 1939, beating the Montreal Royals, and would have gone on to represent Canada at the 1940 Winter Olympics if war hadn’t swept it off the calendar. In February of 1941, local fans organized Laprade Night ahead of a game with the Fort William Hurricanes where they presented the boys with silver tea services. Actually, no, just the one: it was wartime, after all, and they would have to be content to share.

laprade

4. He was the best senior hockey player in the country in those years. The New York Rangers held his rights and twice the manager there, Lester Patrick, invited him to training camp and each time Laprade said no. “We tried again this fall,” Rangers’ PR man Jersey Jones was saying in 1941, when Laprade was 22, “but it doesn’t look very promising. Lester’s raised the ante several times, I understand, but still no go. Probably when he makes up his mind to give the Rangers a break — if he ever does — he’ll have to make the trip in a wheelchair.”

5. After Elmer Lach broke his arm in the fall of 1941, Canadiens’ manager Tommy Gorman tried to lure Laprade to Montreal, and it looked like he might be lured, too, until Patrick said nyah-uh, refused to cede his rights.

6. As Don MacEachern has written in his review of western Canadian service hockey, the Port Arthur hockey team bifurcated in 1942, creating a new team, Shipbuilders, to compete against the Bearcats. Edgar and Bert stuck with the latter while a third Laprade brother, Remi, suited up for the new team. A hybrid version of the two ended up in the Allan Cup Final in the spring of 1942 where they lost to a powerhouse RCAF Flyer team boosted by the talents of recent Boston Bruins Woody Dumart, Milt Schmidt, and Bobby Bauer.

By the fall of 1943 Bert was on the ice for the RCAF. Edgar went to Ottawa to enlist in the Army’s Ordnance Corps. For the rest of the war he served, on the ice and off, in Winnipeg and Kingston.

7. That’s where Frank Boucher, who was coaching the Rangers, went to work, in the summer of 1945. Through a friend he found out that Laprade was worried about a $5000 payment on a house in Fort William. He got an old Kingston pal, former Ranger great Bill Cook, to arrange a dinner. Boucher’s offer was a two-year contract worth $15,000 along with a $5000 signing bonus. Laprade agreed. According to Boucher, he then had to convince Lester Patrick to go along with the deal. Which he did, eventually, grudgingly.

8. The Rangers weren’t sorry. At 26, Laprade won the Calder decisively, well ahead of Chicago’s George Gee and Montreal’s Jim Peters.

9. He impressed Lloyd Percival as the shiftiest puck-carrier in the NHL. And when the author of The Hockey Handbook (1951) asked veteran hockey writers who were the best skaters they’d seen, the list included Syl Apps, Eddie Shore, Howie Morenz, Max Bentley, Maurice Richard, Frank Mahovlich, Bill Mosienko, Gordie Howe, and Laprade.

10. He liked a nine lie on his stick, noteworthy because it’s unheard of. The lie, you’ll recall, is the angle between the shaft and the blade, and most players opt for a five or a six. This is from a Ranger teammate, Danny Lewicki:

He was very difficult to check as the lie of his stick meant he could keep the puck very close to his feet. I believe ‘Teeder’ Kennedy of the Leafs was the only other player of that era to also use the same lie stick.

11. The elusive little centre was a phrase used to describe him. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “His all-around ability and sparkling play made him the keyman of the team.” Around the Garden, there was a saying, apparently, in those years: “As Laprade goes, so go the Rangers.”

12. In 1949, he was said to be the hardest-working Ranger. It wasn’t a good team. In Laprade’s ten New York years, they only made the playoffs twice. It was his most potent weapon, his quickness. It helped him avoid some terrific smashes and even topped his superb ability as a stickhandler, a department in which he was as good as Detroit’s Sid Abel, “a real clever gent with a hockey stick.” This is all from Ralph Trost of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “That quickness,” he said, “is almost as sharp as that of a mongoose, the animal kingdom’s quickest operator in the clutches.” Just imagine if Laprade played between wingers like Howe and Lindsay. Which was more or less the point of the piece, headlined “Laprade’s Skill Lost With Rangers.”

13. A hard man to please, Ralph Trost. Here he is in 1951:

Few men in hockey have been better than Edgar. Between the blue lines, few have been his equal at puck control. Edgar and some other lad can dash in that center ice and both get spun around. But usually it is Laprade who comes up with the puck.

Yet, the same fellow within 15 feet hasn’t anywhere near the same control. His shots, when he gets them, are fluffy. The fastest man on balance at center ice seems to be the last one to get it down near the goal. How Laprade gets into that position where he has no shot but a futile backhander is a real puzzle.

Maybe if they could change that line around the goal from red to blue, nothing will stop him.

14. He never was a prolific scorer, it’s true. His best year, 1949-50, when he won the Lady Byng, he had 22 goals. In the 500 NHL games he played in his career, he notched 280 points, with another 13 in the playoffs.

15. Gentlemanly is an adjective he wears, and earned, no doubt. He went whole seasons, as the obituaries remind us, without incurring a single minute of penalty punishment. And yet he did what he had to do: in that tea-service game in 1941, the Laprades were front and centre in the game’s only fight, a double date in which they teamed up to trade punches with Fort William’s Stan Robertson and Joe Konderka.

16. “Like all peaceful guys,” wrote Tommy Holmes in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “he had the sins of the savage brought down upon him.” Which is to say that for all his lawfulness — because of it? — he seems to have been under constant attack. Here’s an erstwhile Red Wing, Benny Woit, from Rich Kincaid’s The Gods of Olympia Stadium: Legends of the Detroit Red Wings (2003):

Teddy Lindsay just nailed him this one time. You know, I still remember when he hit him. Oh, jeez, the blood all over the place.

That’s the only guy Ted Lindsay ever went back to and said he was sorry. He kind of looked at Edgar and he almost apologized. But I don’t think he did. Pretty close, yes.

17. “I never liked Gordie,” Laprade told The Globe and Mail’s Allan Maki in 2011. “Even his own linemates, like Ted Lindsay, didn’t like him. He wasn’t that clean of a player. He was a good player; you can’t take that away from him. But he elbowed me once for no reason.” Continue reading

war effort

krauts

Boston’s Kraut Line departed the NHL on February 14, 1942, which is when they became Aircraftsman, Class 2, for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Here, in a photo passed by military censors for general distribution, they are, from the left: Radio Mechanic Bobby Bauer; Physical Training Instructor Milt Schmidt, Clerk Accountant Porky Dumart. Extending a welcoming hand is Bill Touhey, coach of the RCAF Flyers, who was behind the bench three days later when the Krauts lined up against their old team in an Ottawa exhibition in aid of the RCAF’s Benevolent Fund. The depleted Bruins lined up with Frank Brimsek in goal that night; skaters included Flash Hollett, Roy Conacher, and Jacksons Busher and Art. With their new first line, the Flyers (said The Globe and Mail) had been transformed overnight into outstanding favourites to win the Allan Cup. Pickles MacNichol was their high-scoring secondary centre and in goal was Len Pinke, formerly of the AHL’s Springfield Indians. They played the Ottawa game before an Auditorium crowd of 7,604. Final score: 5-5. The air force rookies might need a few games to adjust fully to their new team: all they could muster were matching pairs of Schmidt goals and Bauer assists. The Globe:

Against the faster Bruins they provided a blend of brilliant yet spotty hockey which always pleased the dignified audience comprised in part of high-ranking military chiefs and Cabinet Ministers.

As for the Bruins, they lost the first three NHL games they played Krautsless. (In the trio’s farewell on February 10, they’d contributed 11 points to an 8-1 win over Montreal in Boston.) The team turned it around in March, though, going 4-3-1 and beating Chicago in the Stanley Cup quarter-finals before bowing to Detroit in the semis on the last day of the month.  A few days later, at the Forum in Montreal, 3,000 fans showed up to watch the RCAF Flyers practice. They’d just eliminated the Glace Bay Miners; next up, the Quebec Aces, who they play for the Eastern Canadian Senior title. Bauer was injured but (said The Globe)

Schmidt and Dumart obliged the fans by turning on the heat during the practice. The Krauts were deluged by requests for autographs from youngsters crowding the rail during the practice. Those that weren’t able to catch the Krauts then waited until after the drill and nabbed them coming from the dressing room.

The Flyers beat the Aces, which meant they were still playing at the end of April, taking on Port Arthur’s doughty Bearcats, and beating them, to win the Allan Cup.

More on Boston’s Krauts at war here and here

pentti lund, 1925–2013

Low Poke: Chicago's Doug Bentley reaches for Pentti Lund's puck in a game at New York's Madison Square Garden in December of 1949.

Low Poke: Chicago’s Doug Bentley reaches for Pentti Lund’s puck in a game at New York’s Madison Square Garden in December of 1949. “The game was a spotty one,” opined The New York Times next day, “with long sessions of aimless puck chasing interrupted by brilliant individual sallies. Still, the outcome proved satisfactory to most of the 9,174 spectators.” New York won, 2-1.

The New York Rangers eventually lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup semi-finals in 1971, but they had some big wins along the way. One of them included a hattrick by centre Vic Hadfield, the first to be notched in the playoffs by a Ranger since Pentti Lund managed it. “I remember Lund,” Jean Ratelle said after the game, Hadfield’s linemate. “From the bubblegum cards I had as a kid.” Hadfield: not so much. “I never heard of Lund,” he said. “How long ago did he do it?”

It was the spring of 1950, in fact, which is worth recalling, with word today from Thunder Bay today that Lund has died at the age of 87. The second Finnish-born player to make a mark in the NHL, those who do remember him in New York know that he not only won the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie in 1949, but Lund’s hattrick the following year almost — it was close — helped the Rangers win a Stanley Cup, too. Continue reading