It was on this date in 1999, another Monday, that former New York Rangers right wing Grant Warwick died at the age of 77. He was just 20 in 1942 when he was voted the NHL’s top rookie, winning the Calder Trophy ahead of Montreal’s Buddy O’Connor and Bob Goldham of Toronto. A proud Saskatchewan newspaper reported on the distinction: “Warwick, native of Regina, is just five feet six, but he packs about 175 pounds on that frame and can take care of himself in any kind of sailing on the ice.” He played parts of seven seasons with the Rangers through the ‘40s, twice notching 20 goals; he later had a 22-goal season with the Boston Bruins before finishing up his big-league career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1949-50. Skating alongside his younger brother Bill, he was the playing coach of the Penticton Vs when they represented Canada at the World Championships in West Germany and beat the Soviet Union 5-0 to win gold.
So sorry to hear the news this evening of the death of Rod Gilbert at the age of 80. Born in Montreal in 1941, he only ever skated in the NHL as a New York Ranger. He was a speedy right winger who scored profusely for the Blueshirts: the 406 regular-season goals and 1,021 points he collected in his 18 seasons with New York are still tops among Rangers. In 1979, a year after his retirement, the seven Gilbert wore on his sweater became the first number to be retired by the Rangers. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.
“Morenz was small,” I wrote between hardcovers in Puckstruck, page 141, “five foot nine, 165 pounds. His skates were small, one of his teammates remembered later, and so too were his wingers. Howie’s linemates, in fact, were even more diminutive than he was: Aurèle Joliat, five-seven, 136 pounds, on the left, while to the right it was Johnny Gagnon, nicknamed the Black Cat for his speed and his coiffure, five-five, 140 pounds. This miniature man, with his tiny skates, his micro sidekicks — just thinking about the three of them, you start to squint.”
Widen your eyes, if you would, then, for Gagnon, whose birthday falls today: born in Chicoutimi on a Saturday of this date in 1905, he was a Canadien for ten years through the 1930s, which means that he was in on Montreal’s 1931 Stanley Cup. He also saw duty, briefly, for the Boston Bruins and New York Americans. Goalswise, he had his best year, notching 20, the season of Morenz’s untimely death, 1936-37.
Gagnon went on, later, to serve as a scout for the New York Rangers. He died in 1984 at the age of 78.
Back to the ’30s and his gig as a flyweight partner to Howie Morenz. Here’s Harold C. Burr, writing in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in January of 1931 about the Stratford Streak’s wingers and the rivalry (possibly exaggerated) around what they displaced:
Joliat and Gagnon are two of the lightest men in hockey. Their skates are not the light regulation aluminum blades, for fear they would go right up into the rafter some night, so rumor has it. But that’s likely an exaggeration. You know how newspapers are.
It seems, though, that the little fellows are jealous of their weight, each scheming to be the lighter. Joliat is the taller and looks the heavier. But Gagnon doesn’t take anything for granted in hockey, which is ordinarily a wise precept. One night in Montreal the gamecocks almost came to blows over the question. Joliat shook his gauntleted fist under the Gagnon nose, stopping to get the low altitude, and Gagnon just spluttered back in French.
“Jump on the scales!” taunted Joliat, his volatile nature uppermost.
“Do it yourself!” screamed Johnny.
So it was arranged. It was a simple question to settle beyond further dispute. The athletes were naked. Possibly there was one more soapsud on Joliat than on Gagnon, but Gagnon wore a drop of perspiration to make up for it. Johnny was first on the scales.
“One hundred and thirty-nine pounds,” intoned the voice of the weigher.
A slight sneer mantled Joliat’s lean bronze face as he lithely took Gagnon’s place.
“One hundred and thirty-six,” cried the voice of the weigher once more.
Johnny Gagnon just gave a stricken gasp and ever since hearing those fatal figures has been trying to lose the three pounds that keep him [sic] for hockey fame. For, after all, it’s quite a distinction to be the smallest man in a game where beef is at a premium. “He’s fast — and heavy,” has been the description of the ideal forward ever since hockey was born in zero prairie weather and grew up in the little crossroads towns.”
Born in Markham, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1997, Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner is 24 today. Already in his fifth season in the NHL, Marner is a sublime talent and one of the best things that ever happened to Auston Matthews; if you’re new to the area, he is has-a-plush-toy-in-his-image famous in the Greater Leaf Region. (The exemplar above was on sale at Scotiabank Arena circa 2019.)
The portrait below is the work of Toronto editorial designer, illustrator, and endlessly interesting artist Nadine Arseneault. Her work has featured before on Puckstruck: you can find it here and here and here as well as here.
Born on a Tuesday of this date in 1972, Jaromír Jágr is, it turns out, not actually ageless: he’s 49 today. That said, he is still playing pro hockey, working the right wing for his hometown team in the Czech Republic,Rytíři Kladno, in the Chance Liga, the second-tier Czech league, a full 31 years after he made his NHL debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990. He’s played in 13 games this season, I’ve learned from the Kladno website, collecting a goal and three points. The player’s biography there is worth a browse. “If you are interested in a little about the privacy of Jaromír Jágr,” it tantalizes, “then know that his favourite dish is a Czech classic — chicken fillet with potato salad and banana ice cream as a dessert.” The youthful portrait here is by the artist who goes by the handle Gypsy Oak. Follow him on Twitter @gyspyoak or visit the Gypsy Oak Art Studio, here.
Born in 1903 on a Friday of this date in Bracebridge, Ontario, Ace Bailey only ever played for Toronto during his short NHL career. He debuted with the St. Patricks in 1926, the year they transformed into Maple Leafs, and played seven further seasons after that, on the right wing. He was speedy, and prone to scoring, leading the league in goals and points in 1928-29, and notching the goal, in 1932, that won the Leafs the Stanley Cup. His career came an end when he was 30 years old, one December night in 1933, after Eddie Shore of the Bruins blindsided him at the Boston Garden. His head hit the ice hard; a doctor at the scene diagnosed a lacerated brain. Two subsequent surgeries saved his life. “It’s all in the game, Eddie,” is what he’s supposed to have told Shore at the rink when the Boston defenceman apologized for knocking him down. After he didn’t die, when he’d recovered enough to never play hockey ever again, Bailey went on to coach the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues men’s hockey team. Later, he worked as a timekeeper at Maple Leaf Gardens. His number, 6, was the first in NHL history to be retired. Inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1975, Ace Bailey died in 1992. He was 88.