The Toronto Maple Leafs are paying tribute today to former captain George Armstrong, following the announcement of his death early on Sunday at the age of 90. With the modern-day edition of the team in action in Calgary, Armstrong’s likeness is fronting Scotiabank Arena in Toronto this afternoon, and the team laid flowers in front of his likeness on Legends Row. Nobody has played more games for the Leafs than Armstrong, who captained the team for 12 years and led them to four Stanley Cups.
It’s been a while since I wandered the halls of Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, more than a year, so I don’t know whether they’ve updated the portrait gallery by the men’s washrooms adjacent to Section 302. The last time I was there and roaming free it was a jostling, pre-pandemic time, October of 2019, and the then-presiding-Stanley-Cup-champions St. Louis Blues were in town, four games into John Tavares’ tenure as the latest of Leaf captains.
Tavares’ C was new enough, then, that the team still hadn’t gotten around to adding his handsome face to the photographic assemblage that constitutes its Section 302 Captains Wall. A photo may have gone up in the meantime; I don’t have good information on that.
But Tavares, as I was reminded back in 2019, wasn’t the only absentee. As then constituted, the Wall honouring those who’ve lead the franchise through its 103-year-history on NHL ice only depicted 22 of the 25 men to have been so privileged.
Also missing from the line-up? Two of the first four men to captain Toronto teams in the NHL.
I don’t know why. I’m assuming that the modern-day Leafs haven’t retrospectively revoked or renounced the captaincies of Jack Adams and Frank Heffernan. My guess is that it’s a case of nothing more nefarious than ordinary oversight. It’s sloppy and unbecoming of a team with a heritage that’s as rich as its corporate resources, if not exactly surprising. The Leafs don’t tend their history with the care it deserves.
Jack Adams, of course, is mostly remembered as a coach and manager, the man who built the Detroit Red Wings into an NHL powerhouse. As a player, he was a skilled centre who turned pro in 1918 with Toronto’s original NHL team, the plain old Torontos, helping them win a Stanley Cup that spring. Ken Randall was the captain that year, but Adams got the job when he returned to the team in 1922, by which time they’d rebranded as the St. Patricks. It was during that second stint in Toronto that Adams also served briefly as the team’s playing coach — even if (speaking of oversights) the Leafs don’t acknowledge him in their ledger of coaches.
But let’s leave Adams for another day and focus here on Frank Heffernan, who happens to have died on a Wednesday of yesterday’s date in 1938, when he was 46.
Moose, they called him, when he played. His career stats as an NHLer are scanty: he played just 19 games all told, scoring no goals and compiling one single assist to go along with his ten minutes of penalty time.
But Heffernan can claim a distinction so rare that it’s never been matched in Toronto or (I’m going to dare to venture) NHL history. Like Adams and another doughty early star, Reg Noble, Heffernan played for Toronto’s NHL entry while both coaching and captaining the team. He remains the only man to have coached, captained, and co-owned the team.
He was born in 1892 in Peterborough, Ontario: that’s worth saying, if only for those of us who also hail, proudly, from Peterborough.
Heffernan started his hockey career in his hometown as an OHA junior before going on to play university hockey in Ottawa. Look him up in newspapers from those years and you’ll find him described as huskyand sturdyand a sensational coverpoint, which is to say he was stout and effective, played defence.
By 1913 he was starring for the Toronto Rugby and Athletic Association team in the OHA’s senior loop. Pro teams came calling: the Montreal Wanderers of the National Hockey Association wanted to sign him, and so did the Ottawa Senators. “Big, a good stick-handler, and a speedy skater,” an Ottawa newspaper rated him at that time. “He is proficient in using the body, almost a lost art to the Ottawa team.”
He didn’t, in the end, turn pro, opting instead to stick to the amateur game, at least in name. In 1915, he took his talents to New York, where he seems to have worked in book publishing while playing for the local Crescents and, subsequently, the Wanderers. Back in Toronto in 1918, he suited up again an OHA senior, anchoring the defence for the Toronto St. Patricks.
The NHA had given way to the NHL by this time. In the new league’s second season, the team representing Toronto was called the Arenas, though not for much longer. In the fall of 1919, a syndicate headed by Fred Hambly, chairman of Toronto’s Board of Education, bought the team. Briefly rebranded as the Toronto Tecumsehs, the team ended up going Irish, seizing on another true and tried moniker, and, lo, the NHL’s green-shirted Irish-themed edition of the St. Patricks.
Charlie Querrie was a partner in the new ownership group as well as serving as what would today be called the team’s GM. The word was that the man he was after to steer the team was Art Duncan, the former Royal Flying Corps fighter ace who’d come home from the war to star for the PCHA’s Vancouver Millionaires. While Duncan did eventually end up, years later, as Toronto’s coach, this wasn’t his time.
Enter Heffernan, who was turning 27 that winter. Querrie brought him on as coach and captain 101 years ago this month, succeeding Dick Carroll in the former role and Randall in the latter. I don’t know the details of the stake Heffernan took in the team’s ownership, but that was part of the deal, too: he became a playing partner of the team he was leading on the ice.
The reviews as he took up his new NHL posting were nothing but glowing. “He has had his fling at amateur hockey,” the Globe declared, “where he always conducted himself as a gentleman and made a name for himself as one of the best defense men ever developed in the OHA.”
“The most flashy and spectacular defense man in the business,” Ottawa’s Journal affirmed. “Heff is a big chap with a [Jack] Laviolette turn of speed. Unlike most fast men, he is a superb stickhandler and has the knack of nursing the puck close to his skates.”
The NHL was a four-team league that year, with a schedule divided into two 12-game tranches. Toronto had some talent in the line-up, including Noble and Babe Dye, Harry Cameron, and Corb Denneny, but they couldn’t keep up to the mighty Ottawa Senators, who ended dominating both halves of the schedule and going on to beat the Seattle Metropolitans for the Stanley Cup.
It’s not entirely clear how Heffernan’s tenure played out. We know that Harvey Sproule, another partner in the team, took over as coach for the second part of the schedule that year, if not why — was it Heffernan’s own decision to concentrate on playing or maybe Querrie’s? The Globe reports that as 1919 was turning to ’20, he actually took on another job, as coach of the OHA’s Parkdale Canoe Club.
Heffernan’s first season in the NHL was his last. In the fall of 1920, he was reported to have lined up — and maybe even signed — with the Canadian Hockey Association, Eddie Livingstone’s effort to launch a new league to rival (and/or overthrow) the NHL. Heffernan quickly denied it, though. The archival record that I’ve seen is murky on just how it all went down, but before the new NHL season got going, Heffernan and Harvey Sproule both sold their shares in the St. Patricks to their partners, who included the Hambly brothers, Fred and Percy, Charlie Querrie, and Paul Ciceri.
There was a report in the winter of 1921 that he might be joining the Montreal Canadiens, but it didn’t pan out. Almost a year to the day that it began, Moose Heffernan’s NHL career was over.
The hockey players won’t be arriving until Sunday, but in Toronto yesterday the downtown lockdown that is the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was underway as the NHL prepares to quarantine itself away to try to get to the end of its 2019-20 season. By this morning, the Leafs’ own Scotiabank Arena (above) was fully fortified behind the fencing that will keep out the (possibly contagious?) public + any media who don’t work for the league while the hockey players attempt to do their thing until its done. Also sealed-off is the nearby Fairmont Royal York (below), one of two Toronto hotels that will be housing hockeyists and only hockeyists for the next two months. Yes, that’s right: as Kevin McGran explained this week in The Toronto Star, the NHL is restricting all but its own NHL.com writers when it comes to covering these strange, sequestered playoffs.
In this, the year of our dread and disruption, 24 teams will gather, 12 in Toronto, 12 in Edmonton, as the league follows its Return To Play Plan that will see teams (probably) hit the ice on Tuesday for a quick round of exhibition games before (here’s hoping) they get into the competitive sort in another week’s time, on Saturday, August 1.
What’s hub life going to be like for those on the inside? The NHL got into that, a little bit, yesterday, here, which is how we know that Toronto’s hub will be guarded by “97 security guards and health ambassadors” (Edmonton gets 125), and that the league has secured “more than 1,000 cases of Gatorade, 1,000 practice pucks, and 12,000 shower towels” in each city to last through the early qualifying games.
And for those of us on the outs, peering in? The man in charge of overseeing what fans will see and hear on TV is Steve Mayer, the NHL’s senior executive VP and chief content officer. “We hope that we do something that is memorable, sticks out, something that our fans will really enjoy,” is what he told NHL.com.
There won’t be, he says, virtual fans or cardboard cut-outs, or teddy bears in the stands. Broadcasters NBC and Sportsnet will be employing twice as many cameras as usual. For atmosphere, the NHL plans to pipe in “goal songs, goal horns, in-arena music compilations and motivational videos from each of the 24 teams participating.”
And if, in the coming weeks, you get the feeling you’ve crossed over from the real world into the virtual confines of NHL ’94? Know, too, that the league is partnering with EA Sports to fake the ruckus you’d be making if you were in the Scotiabank in person — or, as they phrase it, “to use [EA’s] library of in-game sounds to mimic some crowd noise.”