The Lethbridge Herald, December 15, 1945
“When the decisions went against the Swiss in the vital game with Canada, a chorus of shrill whistles echoed through the Alps and a barrage of snowballs came down from the hillside.”
• Jack Sullivan reporting for Canadian Press, February 9, 1948
It wasn’t easy, but they did it: on this day 69 years ago, the RCAF Flyers won gold in St. Moritz at the V Winter Olympics Games. That’s them above, flanked by the silvery Czechs and bronze-winning Swiss. Capping off a tournament that didn’t lack for drama — it was very nearly downgraded to an exhibition event — the Canadians beat the host Swiss on the final day in what seems to have been a decidedly bad-tempered contest.
The Canadian view: the plucky Canadians overcame terrible ice and biased refereeing to win 3-0. “We played eight men —“the Swiss players and the referees — and still beat ’em,” Corporal George McFaul, RCAF trainer, crowed after the game.
Here’s Jack Sullivan again:
The ice conditions and the refereeing were so bad that at times the game threatened to develop into a farce. The officials, Eric De Marcwicz of Britain and Van Reyshoot of Belgium, were pointedly in favour of Switzerland, some of the latter’s decisions being almost unbelievable.
[Wally] Halder tried to check a Swiss player at one point but fell flat. The Swiss player also went down. Halder was thumbed off for five minutes by Van Reyshoot — “for tripping and interference.”
Later, Heinrich Boller, Swiss defenceman, cross-checked Thomas (Red) Hibbard, who fell heavily to the ice. Both players were sent to the penalty box. Near the end of the game during a scramble in front of the Canadian goal Boller punched [goaltender Murray] Dowey in the face but was given only a two-minte penalty.
During the second and third periods, the partisan Swiss crowd, taking exception to some of the referee’s decisions, hurled snowballs at the Flyers.
(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-22-2-E)
Force Majeure: The RCAF Flyers began their pursuit of hockey gold in 1948 with a victory on January 30 over Sweden. Hard to say just where the Swedish players were when this photograph was taken — strung out across centre ice, awaiting the Canadian onslaught? The Swedes’ Lindstrom opened the scoring in the first period of a game that The Ottawa Journal described as tough and bruising. George Mara tied the score before the intermission, and Wally Halder got the winner in the second. Both those players were civilian reinforcements; Flying Officer Reg Schroeter added an insurance goal in the final period. “Sticks flew and tempers flared in the final minutes of the game,” advised The Journal, “with a free-for-all threatening.” Didn’t happen, though the Canadian goaltender did end up taking a penalty for throwing his stick. Under Olympic rules, Aircraftman 2nd Class Murray Dowey went to serve the punishment himself with eight seconds remaining. No worries:
Defenceman Andre Laperriere took Dowey’s spot in the nets, without goaltending equipment, and a stout Canadian defence prevented a shot on goal before the final whistle.
(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-22-2-E)
It was on this day in 1948 that the RCAF Flyers wrapped up the hockey gold medal for Canada at the V Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Twelve years and a world war had passed since Canada’s awkward loss at the previous hibernal Olympics in 1936 and, this time, the Canadians made no mistake.
Well, next to none.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as straightforward as Canadians hoped it would be.
Having overcome the Swedes (3-1) and Britons (3-0), the airmen shellacked the Poles (15-0), lacquered the Italians (21-1), and enamelled the Americans (12-3). On February 6, the varnishing stopped: Canada could only muster a 0-0 tie against Czechoslovakia. “Real playoff hockey,” said Mike Buckna, the Czech’s Canadian coach. Canada was able, subsequently, to glaze both the Austrians (12-0) and Swiss (3-0) and thereby outrun the Czechs on goal average. The hosts from Switzerland secured the bronze.
Congratulations poured in from Canada. By the following day, the team had received more than 200 cables from home, including greetings (above) from Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. There were salutations as well from the Chiefs of Army and Naval Staff and from RCAF Headquarters. Colin Gibson, Minister of National Defence For Air, sent his cheers to the team for lived up to the RCAF motto, Per Ardua Ad Astra (Through adversity to the stars).
Hockey’s Hall of Fame — the original one, in Kingston, Ontario — sent a telegram, and so did (very sporting) members of 1936 British Olympic team, who wired, “Congratulations to the new champions from the Ex-.”
The cable that the players liked best came from the father of Pete Leichnitz, a 21-year-old spare forward on the Canadian team. “Congratulations,” Mr. Leichnitz wrote from Ottawa, “and what if it did cost me 10 bucks? Paw.”
The coach of the Flyers was RCAF Sergeant Frank Boucher, son of George (Buck) Boucher and nephew of his namesake uncle, the legendary New York Rangers centreman, coach, and (later) GM. The Flyers would not be able to reply individually to all the telegrams, Frank the younger said, but he asked the newspapermen to convey to Canada the team’s “warmest thanks.”
(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-17-9-E)
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.
As they went about beating Washington 3-0 last night at the TD Bank Garden, the Boston Bruins took a moment to wish a happy birthday to Milt Schmidt, who turned 96 on Wednesday.
A few stray Schmidt notes to celebrate, belatedly, the day:
• Born in Kitchener, Ontario, he played for his hometown Greenshirts with a couple of local boys by the name of Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart. All three signed with the Bruins in 1935. Schmidt was at centre; when they played for the Providence Reds, coach Battleship Leduc was the one who dubbed them the Kraut Line.
• His adjectives include flashy (1938); big (1946); 37-year-old (hustle-guy, 1956); great (competitor, 1957); most (aggressive, Hockey Hall of Fame); intimidating (Andrew Podnieks, Players) and oft-injured (ibid).
• He was named Bruins captain in 1951, the year he won the Hart Trophy. His Bruins were Stanley Cup champions in 1939 and ’41; in 1940, he led the NHL in scoring. The Bruins retired his number 15, and in 1961 he was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame. After his retirement in 1955, he coached the Bruins, and he was the GM, too, when they won the Cup in 1970 and ’72.
• In 1940, Schmidt, Bauer, and Dumart did the warlike thing and joined the Scots Fusiliers of Canada North Waterloo’s Non-Permanent Active Militia unit. They carried on playing for the Bruins until early in 1942, when all three enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Their last game for the wartime Bruins was in February, when they beat Montreal 8-1. The Krauts scored 10 points. At the end of the game, both took to the bluelines while the departing players got their going-away gifts. The New York Times reported:
The management gave them checks for their full season’s salaries, plus a bonus; their teammates presented gold identification bracelets, and Manager Art Ross, who described them as “the most loyal and courageous players in Bruins’ history,” rewarded them with wrist watches.
Players from both teams joined to hoist the three shoulder-high and carry them from the ice. Continue reading