the decider

Lace Up: The Sudden Death Kid they came to call him, that spring of 1939. Mel Hill was a right winger, at the time, for the Boston Bruins, a 24-year-old product of Argyle, Manitoba, who was playing in his second NHL season. The Bruins’ Stanley Cup semi-finals series against the New York Rangers was the first in NHL history to go to seven games, with Boston prevailing on the strength of Hill’s three overtime winners. In early April of ’39, he ended the deciding game when he Bill Cowley set him up in the third overtime to put a puck past Bert Gardiner. Hill another two (non-overtime) goals in the Finals that year as the Bruins dismissed the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games to take the Cup. Hill won another Cup with Boston in 1941 before going the Leafs, with whom he won a third championship in 1945. Mel Hill died on a Thursday of this date in 1996 at the age of 82. (Image: Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library)

tuning peg

It’s A Wrap: Born on a Thursday of this same date in 1913, Peggy O’Neil played the right wing for the Boston Bruins in the 1930s. He was named James at the start, Jim, originating in Semans, Saskatchewan, which you’ll find on the map between Punnichy and Elmer Lach’s hometown of Nokomis. (O’Neil played parts of couple of seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, too.) Here, in a scene from February of 1937, O’Neil undergoes a restorative wrapping by Bruins’ trainer Win Green at Boston Garden. (Image: ©Richard Merrill, Boston Public Library)

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.

diesel power

Benchview: Born in Capreol, Ontario, on a Wednesday of this same date in 1933, Doug Mohns started out a defenceman, winning a pair of Memorial Cups with the Barrie Flyers in 1951 and ’53. In the NHL, the man they called Diesel played a decade with Boston, which is where coach Phil Watson converted him to a winger. With Chicago, he made his name as a member of the Black Hawks’ high-yield Scooter Line, lining up alongside Ken Wharram and Stan Mikita and scoring 20 goals or more in four consecutive seasons. He later played for the Minnesota North Stars, Atlanta Flames, and Washington Capitals before setting skates and sticks aside. The Stanley Cup eluded him: all in all, Mohns played 1,484 NHL games without winning a championship. (Artist: Tex Coulter)

can take care of himself in any kind of sailing

Hot Shots: Ranger linemates (left to right) Grant Warwick, Ab DeMarco, and Hank Goldup face the camera in January of 1945 during a week in which the trio accounted for seven Ranger goals in two games.

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.

pappinin now

Pappy Birthday: Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on a Sunday of this same date in 1939, Jim Pappin is 82 today: manifold returns of the day to him. He made his debut as an NHL right winger in 1963 when he joined Punch Imlach’s roster in the wake of their second successive Stanley Cup championship. In 1967, Pappin not only scored the Cup-winning goal against Montreal, he led the league in playoff scoring. After five Leaf seasons, he went to Chicago in the trade that brought Pierre Pilote to Toronto. Pappin played in seven seasons for the Black Hawks, and saw action, too, with California’s Seals and the Barons of Cleveland. 

 

 

rod gilbert, 1941—2021

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.  

  

who can impress the forest?

Branch Plant: Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on a Saturday of this same date in 1957, Ron Duguay is 64 today. A sometime centreman and right winger, he was drafted, you’ll maybe remember, by the New York Rangers in 1977, and in his rookie campaign scored 20 goals and 40 points. He reached the goal-scoring peak in 1981-82, when he scored 40 goals. In two stints with the Blueshirts, Duguay played parts of eight seasons with New York. Veteran of a dozen NHL seasons in all, he also suited up for the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Los Angeles Kings. He played for Canada in the 1981 Canada Cup. In recent years, Duguay worked as a TV analyst on MSG Networks’ Rangers broadcasts. 

mite is right

“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.”

In A Minor Key: Johnny Gagnon, Howie Morenz, and Aurèle Joliat.

a niche for mitch

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

elbow room

SaskTale: It was on a Saturday of this date in 1928 that the great Gordie Howe was born in Floral, Saskatchewan. About 30 kilometres north, outside Saskatoon’s SaskTel Centre, this is the statue that stands to commemorate, among other things, the view that many a defenceman would have had in the corner of a mid-century rink as Detroit’s #9 made his approach. Gordie Howe died in June of 2016 at the age of 88. (Image: Stephen Smith)

the kladno kid

 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 @gypsyoak or visit the Gypsy Oak Art Studio, here.