revenge is sweep

Call him a double threat: as well as playing at centre for the Blue Haven Maple Leafs, Mart Norde moonlights as muscle for mobsters. So that’s obviously how, in the middle of the big game against the Tene River Terrors, “watched by thousands of Canadian spectators,” Mart ends up trying to strangle Larry Regan, captain and ace scorer for the Terrors.

Mart, see, is “in league with the ruthless racketeer, the Black Spot — that dreaded racketeer who had demanded 10,000 dollars from the Terrors, and when they refused to pay, had threatened them with death.”

I’m not going to get (much more) into the breathtaking whys and wtfs of Edwin Dale’s “The Ice-Rink Avenger” here. This installment of Dale’s vivid northern serial appeared in the rough-and-ready British schoolboy weekly The Champion in March of 1936 alongside stories of soccer, greyhound-racing, and boxing derring-do. I can’t tell you anything about Edwin Dale, other than he seems to have been prolific in his output of rollicking pulp adventures in his day.

Is it surprising that hockey tales set against cold Canadian backgrounds were popular in Britain the 1930s and ’40s? With the help of many Canadians, the game was taking hold in British rinks in those years, and ’36 was the year that Great Britain claimed gold at the Winter Olympics. Also, it’s not as if writers like Dale were being paid for painstaking documentary accounts of the game or its colonial home: for The Champion and its readers, the adventurous potential in Canada’s wild frontiers and exotic puck-fixated peoples must have seemed endless. Far-fetched a story like “The Ice-Rink Avenger” may seem today, but presented as it was on the page under the banner “Sports Thrills and Mystery in Canada,” in 1936, far-fetched was the point.

Lucky Larry survives, I should report, and am pleased to. The fact that nobody really notices Mart’s attempt at murder is dismaying, for Larry, who remains in danger, but also, don’t you think, for hockey. This is fiction, true enough, and a boisterous, British, none-too-subtle brand of it, at that, but still, the idea that nobody really blinks an eye when one player tries to choke the life out of another — hey, it’s a hockey game, stuff happens! — doesn’t really frame the game so flatteringly.

Does dastardly Mart get his come-uppance? I haven’t read to the end of the serial, so I don’t have the goods on that. The referee does, at least, sanction his throttling with a three-minute penalty.

And Larry does score the goal that wins the game for the Terrors, too, so there’s that. Mart is humiliated in the traditional Canadian way, too, as depicted on the magazine’s cover, above. (The artist, I’m sorry to say, is uncredited.)

What I can tell you about that is that, as the game ends, Larry and a couple of his teammates grab Mart and a couple of brooms, wrangle him up with some rope that they happen to have on hand. Then, as Edwin Dale writes it:

Roy Repton and Happy Scott each grasped one of Mart Norde’s legs. Then they began to propel him around the rink at hair-raising pace, waving their hockey-sticks in their free hands.

Mart yelled at the top of his voice to be released; speeding along with his face a few inches from the ice was a hair-raising experience. The whole crowd rocked with laughter as they watched the scene.

At last, after most of the rink had been swept with the villainous hockeyist, he was allowed to go.

He slunk from the rink, wishing he’d never tried to crock the Tene River Terrors’ skipper!

andy bathgate, 1959: the main thing in shooting is your grip

“The main thing in shooting is your grip on the stick,” Andy Bathgate divulged in January of 1959. “You don’t have to be big and you don’t have to be strong, but you have to have the right grip. People talk a lot about my slap shot — that’s an arm shot, you don’t break the wrists. But my best shot is a wrist shot with no followthrough. I know exactly where it’s going, and I can get it off pretty fast.”

Bathgate, who died on a Friday of this date in 2016 at the age of 83, was playing in his seventh NHL season in ’59. At 26, he was making such impression on the New York Rangers’ right wing that Sports Illustrated put him on its cover. “The most exciting player in hockey,” Kenneth Rudeen called him in the profile within, before casting back to Bathgate’s Winnipeg boyhood. “He had a hockey stick in his hands at 6,” Rudeen wrote, “and he was playing in organized community games at 9. He managed to get in as many as 100 games a season as an adolescent; during one winter he played on eight different teams and coached another.”

Interesting to hear Bathgate explaining how he developed his shot, which would become one of the most effective in hockey. He and his friends, he said, would skate as much as possible on outdoor rinks in the neighbourhood, and even when it was too cold to skate, he and a pal would switch to boots and stand on opposite sides of the ice, “some 70 feet apart,” to alternate shooting and playing goal. Rudeen:

Each wore a heavy gauntlet and tried to catch the puck as the other shot as hard as he could. There was a gentleman’s agreement to keep the puck high, because low shots broke sticks and ankles.

“We’d just keep shooting the puck harder and harder and harder,” Bathgate says. “After a while you developed something. Now all the kids are going in for curling In heated rinks! I’m afraid there aren’t many hungry hockey players coming along out there.”

While developing the ability to launch what is now one of the hardest shots in hockey, Bathgate unwittingly acquired the bad habit of making only high shots. When he discovered later that he could not expect to survive in professional hockey without a variety of shots, he buckled down to learn them. Today he mixes the high hard one judiciously with the rest, but even so he is conspicuous for his attempts to score from far out. Occasionally he succeeds spectacularly. For example, in a game last season he cracked a rising slap shot between the top goal post [crossbar] and the shoulder of the startled Montreal goalie, Jacques Plante, from beyond the blue line, about 75 feet away.

It was later that same year that Bathgate unleashed one of the most consequential shots in hockey history at Plante — only this time, he intended to hit him rather than put the puck past him.

November 1, 1959 was the day, when Montreal was in New York to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. As I’ve written before, Bathgate was mad at the Canadiens goaltender, who’d clattered him into the boards early in the game, cutting him. As Bathgate later told Plante biographer Todd Denault, he’d had revenge in mind when he broke in and let go a high (not-so-judicious, if very accurate) backhand. “I gave him a shot right on his cheek,” Bathgate told Denault.

Plante left the game bleeding from his wounds. When he returned, of course, he was wearing his famous mask.

 

 

 

best served cold

A tale of hockey revenge told in 1955 … what could that possibly look like? Maybe it would resemble the one that played out in Boston in March of that year, when the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe high-sticked and cut Montreal’s Maurice Richard and the Rocket responded in kind, scything his stick at Laycoe’s head. NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended Richard, of course, for his reprisal, and a few days, the city of Montreal exploded into riot.

In “La Revanche de Terry,” published just four months later, Jean Graton opted for a less bloody and more wholesome telling of hockey payback. Published in Paris, with Hergé’s Belgian boy-detective as its starring act, Le Journal de Tintin was a weekly compendium of comics for young readers showcasing the work of some of Europe’s best graphic storytellers, including Albert Uderzo, and René Goscinny. Like them, Graton was French. In the later 1950s, a few years before Uderzo and Goscinny launched Astérix and his adventures, Graton settled into his signature Michel Vaillant motorsport series.

For his hockey fable, Graton settled on a — what else? — Quebecois setting. “Dans cette petite ville Canadienne,” there skates an amateur team, the Lions, and as the story opens, they’re welcoming the famous pros from Montreal to town for a much-anticipated exhibition game. Terry Kern is the local star, and the first thing he learns as the Montreal Giants arrive in town is that their star forward, Bill Thompson, is a bit of a preening idiot.

Out on the ice, the Lions are game, but they just can’t match the skill and technique of their pro rivals, who surge to a 3-1 lead. When Terry scores to make it 3-2, he makes Bill look like a bit of a fool, which leads to Bill hoodwinking the referee (in his white waiter’s jacket and snappy shorts) into sending Terry to the penalty bench on a bogus call: five minutes for interference.

It’s during his extended stay in the box — “le banc d’infamie” — that Terry realizes that he and Montreal’s devious star have met before, fifteen years earlier, when they were boys. By no real surprise, Bill was a preening idiot back then, too.

If you need a spoiler alert, this is it. Released from custody, Terry returns to the ice with vengeance on his mind, which he duly exacts by scoring two quick goals to ensure that the game ends in a 5-5 tie. That’s as good as a win, I guess, insofar as Bill … is humbled? I think that’s the moral here. Montreal management is so impressed by Terry’s performance that they sign him to a contract then and there. That’s the end, pretty much, if not quite: Jean Graton devotes the last three panels of the comic to a finale that in a 1955 Montreal context might qualify as a surprise ending: Bill and Terry share a laugh, make their peace. Revenge, I guess, can be sweet.