“Do you want to look fancy,” Terry Harper was saying in 1978, “or do you want to get the job done?” Harper, who’s turning 82 today, was talking generally about hockey at the time, but he might have been professing his own personal creed, the one that saw him through a 19-year career as highly effective and hard-to-daunt NHL defenceman. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, on a Saturday of this date in 1940, Harper won five Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens between 1962 and 1972. He went on to play for — and captain — the Los Angeles Kings and the Detroit Red Wings in the ’70s. He skated for the St. Louis Blues, too. He was an assistant coach for the Colorado Rockies in 1981 when, as a 41-year-old, injuries saw him drafted into the line-up for a 15-game run. “The game is 95 per cent mental,” Harper opined back in ’78. “A lot of people say it’s less than that, that it takes a lot of ability. It doesn’t. It’s 95 per cent or more here,” he said, tapping a finger to his head.
So sorry to see the news tonight of the death of Clark Gillies at the age of 67. Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1954, Gillies played a dozen unrelenting years on the left wing for the New York Islanders in the 1970s and early ’80s, captaining the team for three seasons and winning four Stanley Cup championships. He played his final season-and-a-half in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres before his retirement in 1988. The Islanders retired his number, 9, in 1996, and in 2002 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Islanders paid their respects tonight: they’re here.
This is shot that got by Earl Robertson on the Thursday night of March 23, 1938, when the New York Rangers took on the New York Americans at Madison Square Garden in the second game of their Stanley Cup quarter-final; Ranger centre Clint Smith fired the puck, scoring his second goal of the game, and winning it for the Blueshirts, 4-3. “Rubber?” Harold Parrott wrote in his dispatch for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Very mention of it gave goaler Earl Robertson of the Amerks the palsy, ague, and jitters today. He saw so many pucks last night he thought it was an endless rubber band the Rangers were snapping at him.”
The Americans did eke out the last laugh in the series, eliminating the Rangers in three games to earn a semi-final meeting with the Chicago Black Hawks. The Hawks won that match-up and went on to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs to take the Cup.
Robertson, who was born in 1910 on a Thursday of this date in Bengough, Saskatchewan, played six NHL seasons. It was with the Detroit Red Wings that he got his start; his last season was 1941-42, the one for which the New York Americans turned into the Brooklyn Americans, though they continued to play their games in Manhattan. It was the team’s final hurrah, too: after finishing bottom of the league, the Americans suspended operations for the duration of the war, never to return to NHL ice.
Born in 1902 on a Sunday of this date in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, northeast of Regina, the volatile Eddie Shore won a pair of Stanley Cup championships with Boston; four times he was handed the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable asset.
“Undoubtedly the greatest individual player in the game,” Niven Busch called Shore in 1929, when Boston’s number 2 was in full fettle.
“This Eddie Shore is an odd chap,” Busch pronounced in the pages of The New Yorker. “He was born at a Hudson Bay Station, and as soon as he had made some money playing hockey, he went back to Saskatchewan and bought a big farm there. He works on his farm in the summer, and does well at it for a fellow whose agricultural experience after boyhood consisted of such glimpses of the country as he was able to get from the locomotive cabs in which he was a fireman. Last year Boston paid him twelve thousand dollars and this year he asked for five thousand more, and got most of it — how much was not announced. At seventeen thousand dollars, if that’s what they pay him, he is the highest-paid player in hockey, as well as the ablest. In spite of what you can say for Dutton, Bourgault, Johnson, or Lionel Conacher, he is the only defenceman who also ranks as a great forward. He is perfectly built for hockey; not particularly heavy in the shoulders, but with a solid, barrel-shaped trunk, tremendous legs, and wide hips. He and Conacher are natural rivals. Both about the same size and equally aggressive. Conacher, an all-round athlete, good at baseball and lacrosse, and one of the best football players in Canada, is far better known in the North than Shore, who has made the most of his reputation in the United States.”
(Image, from 1937: Richard Merrill, Boston Public Library)
Let the record show (as it duly does) that it was on Monday, April 19 earlier this year that Patrick Marleau played in the 1,768th regular-season game of his 23-year NHL career and that while his San Jose Sharks lost on the night in a 3-2 shootout to the Vegas Golden Knights, Marleau did surpass fellow Saskatchewaner Gordie Howe’s record for games played on the ice in Nevada. Now 42, Marleau isn’t skating this season, but nor has he officially retired, so there’s a chance he could add to the total of 1,779 games he finished out last season with.
To honour Marleau’s achievement, the Sharks commissioned Ottawa artist Tony Harris to paint this portrait, which was presented to the Swift-Current-born centreman this past summer. Harris, of course, is an accomplished portrayer of hockey heroes and heroics: in 2017, he undertook to paint the NHL’s 100 greatest players for the league’s centenary. I wrote about that, and about Harris, for a New York Times profile you can find here (and also here); for more of his mastery, visit his website. Working up the Marleau portrait, Harris was noting earlier this month, he aimed to pay tribute to Marleau’s family in the details. So Marleau’s wife’s name, Christina, is inscribed in the cuff of a glove, and his sons’ initials appear on the stock of his stick. Marleau’s (and Howe’s) Saskatchewan roots are hidden in plain sight, too: Howe’s stick features a sheaf of prairie wheat, while the stars that fill the nighttime background depict the exact constellation that was arranged over Swift Current that April night earlier this year when Marleau skated out in Vegas for his record-breaking game.
(Top image courtesy of Tony Harris)
Born in Melville, Saskatchewan, on a Sunday of this date in 1914, Jim Franks was another protégé of prairie hockey honcho (and the man who named Melville’s Millionaires) Goldie Smith. He was a 22 in early 1937, a spare goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, when (as reported by Saskatoon’s Star-Phoenix) he talked to Smith by “long-distance telephone” from Montreal. “I’ve been travelling with the team for several weeks now,” he said, “but you never can tell when the big opportunity will come.” That same night, in Detroit’s Stanley Cup semi-final against Montreal, Red Wings winger Herbie Lewis fell on Detroit starter Normie Smith in a goalmouth pile-up. With Smith retiring from the ice with a torn ligament halfway through the game, Franks made his NHL debut. Guarding the Canadiens net that night was Wilf Cude, a former Millionaire and disciple of Goldie Smith’s. According to the Regina Leader-Post, this was the scene as Franks took the Forum ice:
From his cage way down the ice, Cude raised his arm and waved. Franks waved back. Tucked inside his shirt was a note of greeting and good luck from his sporting rival.
As Franks was strapping on his pads in the Detroit dressing room, a messenger boy had passed him the paper. “It read something like this: ‘Good luck to you, kid. Remember Melville,’ and it was signed ‘Wilf Cude.’”
Two Montreal shots got by Franks, one that Johnny Gagnon, another from Babe Siebert that “knocked him over.” Canadiens prevailed by a score of 3-1.
Earl Robertson took over the Red Wing net after that; Franks finished the year with the IAHL Pittsburgh Hornets. It wasn’t all in vain: for his efforts in Montreal, Frank did see his name engraved on the Stanley Cup that the Red Wings went on to wrest from the New York Rangers that year.
It was with the Rangers that Franks got his main NHL chance. That didn’t come until five years later, 1942, when Franks started 23 games for a wobbly wartime New York team. He went 5-14-4 as the Rangers finished last in the NHL standings. The following year, 1943-44, his last in the NHL, Franks was back with Detroit. As it was in the beginning, so it ended up: he also got into a game that season as an EBUG for Boston, lent by the Red Wings after Bruins’ starter Bert Gardiner was hurt.
(Image: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 82627)
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.