face facts: the first men in the masks, winter olympics edition

Face First: Japanese goaltender Teiji Honma at the 1936 Winter Olympics.

Japan made the first of its eight Winter Olympic hockey showings in 1936 at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games in Germany. They played twice there, and lost twice, though by respectable margins. After going down 3-0 to the eventual gold medallists from Great Britain on February 7, they fell again the next day, 2-0 to Sweden. That left them in ninth place in the final standings for the 15-team tournament, tied with Poland, France, and Italy. (Japan’s best showing came in 1960 in Squaw Valley, when they ended up eighth.)

Stopping pucks for the Japanese in 1936 was goaltender Teiji Honma, here above, who also garnered attention for his protective facemask. In those years, of course, most goalies headed into the breach bare-faced. Elizabeth Graham did wear a fencing-mask when she tended nets for Queen’s University in the mid-1920s. A decade before her, Corinne Hardman of Montreal’s Western Ladies Hockey Club donned a baseball catcher’s cage. And Eric Zweig has written persuasively about an even earlier masking, in 1903, by Eddie Giroux of the Toronto’s OHA Marlboros.

In the NHL, Clint Benedict was first (famously) to don a mask in 1930 — unless George Hainsworth beat him to it. (Probably not.)

And at the Olympics? As far as I can determine, Frank Farrell set the precedent in 1932 when he backstopped the host team from the United States at Lake Placid. A Connecticut native, he was 23 when he got the U.S. job after proving himself playing for Yale and New York’s amateur St. Nicholas HC. Like Honma, he wore glasses and hoped, apparently, to protect them from pucks. The crude mask Farrell wore at Lake Placid is (not so clearly) visible in the U.S. team photo below.

In Lake Placid, Ralph Allen from The Winnipeg Tribune singled Farrell out for his communication skills. “Should have been a quarterback,” he wrote. “His leather-lunged method of delivering instructions to his mates would make any gridiron field general turn green with envy.”

Representing Canada on the ice, the Winnipegs came highly touted, but the U.S. gave them a run for their (slightly complacent) money. In the tournament’s opening game, “there was” (said the AP) “scarcely anything to choose” between the two teams. They were tied 1-1 going into overtime. It as Canadian forward Vic Lindquist who decided it, halfway through the non-sudden-death period, with a “blistering” shot.

Both Canada and the U.S. dispensed, and handily, with the other two teams in the tournament, Poland and Germany, and when two teams met again nine days later, the Canadians sat atop the standing two points ahead of the U.S. With a win, the hosts could force a playoff game that would decide the Olympic title; Canada could claim the gold with a tie.

The U.S. looked the stronger team for much of the game, taking the lead two minutes in. Hack Simpson tied the score for Canada before the U.S. scored again in the second on a two-man advantage. Canada left it late to reply: with just 33 seconds remaining in the third, Romeo Rivers snagged the puck and scored with what the Montreal’s Gazette saw as “a snipe shot.” He “stickhandled his way into position and rifled a smoking drive into the far top corner of the United States goal for a beautiful marker.”

The AP correspondent wasn’t quite so impressed, it might be noted. Rivers “let fly a hurried shot from near the boards at the blue line and the curving puck slipped past Goalie Frank Farrell for the tying goal:” that’s what he saw. Yet another (American) account told of “a crazily bounding disc that rolled past Goalie Frank Farrell.”

Thirty minutes of overtime saw no more goals. “With the fat thus pulled out of the fire,” advised the AP, “the Canadians set themselves to repel a series of fierce charges by the determined challengers.” It was good enough for gold, in the end, even if it wasn’t always so pretty. “So tired they could hardly skate,” the Gazette conceded, “the [sic] Winnipegers flung the puck to the other end of the rink whenever they got a chance toward the end of the game.”

Embed from Getty Images

Front row, kneeling, from left to right: Frank Farrell and his mask, Jack Bent, Buzz Hollock, John Cookman, Doug Everett, Ty Anderson, and Ted Fraser. Standing: Coach Al Windsor, Ding Palmer, John Chase, Bob Livingston, Frank Nelson, John Garrison, Gordon Smith, Joe Fitzgerald, manager C.J. Gleason, and Tom Murray.

pole position

The hockey tournament at the 1932 Winter Olympics was an intimate affair, with just four teams taking part. Joining the United States and Canada on the ice at Lake Placid, New York were teams from Germany and Poland. Posing here above is forward Wlodzimierz Krygier, captain of the latter. Scouting for The Winnipeg Tribune just before the pucks plummeted in early February, Paul Warburg advised that “Poland has improved remarkably in hockey, but their likelihood of being a serious contender to either the Canadians or United States teams is small.”

And so it proved. The Poles opened their account with a pairs of losses, 2-1 to Germany and 4-1 to the hosts from the United States. The Winnipeg Hockey Club was wearing the maple leaf in ’32, and on February 7 the Tribune’s Ralph Allen was on hand to watch “the valiant but futile Polska outfit” show its stuff. It turned out “a nice, easy workout for the Canadians,” Allen reported, who “showed lots of speed and combination when they felt like uncovering it.” Poland played cautious, “adopting a packed defence whenever possible,” and for the first ten minutes the ’Pegs were duly stymied. Eventually they found their way to a 9-0 win. Allen thought they could have netted more in the third period, if they’d felt like it. Leading the way for the Canadians were Romeo Rivers, Walter Monson, and Hack Simpson, who all scored a pair of goals each.

The Poles dropped another game to the U.S. by a score of 5-0. They lost again to Germany, too, 4-1, in a game featuring flurries of high sticks. Somehow, Ralph Allen reported, only two players were injured, including Polish goaltender Josef Stogowski, who suffered “a bad gash under the eye from the stick of a teammate;” the game was paused for ten minutes while he was patched.

When the Poles faced Canada again two days after their first encounter, Winnipeg’s eventual gold medallists showed their restraint by keeping the score to 10-0. Every Canadian player but goaltender Stanley Wagner notched a goal this time around, though they had to work for it. Ralph Allen:

Everything went along smoothly until it was nearly time to go home to supper, and someone discovered that Kenny Moore and Stoney Wise hadn’t had their turn at hitting the button. So everybody joined in and lent a helping hand to the victims of this shocking though unwitting neglect. Kenny and Stoney got their goals, and everybody was happy.