Ted Lindsay was 53 in 1979, with his left-winging NHL heyday firmly behind him: 14 years after he’d last turned out in a competitive game for the Detroit Red Wings, he was on the job as the team’s GM. He did still get in on a regular Monday-night pick-up game at the Detroit Olympia, alongside a motley non-Hall-of-Fame crew of friends, sportswriters, and Zamboni drivers. “Jeez,” said one of those scrimmagers as he watched Lindsay do his middle-aged thing one night in April of ’79. “He must have been unbelievable when he was 24.”
The mask? No, there was no pandemic on the loose in Michigan that spring. The tuque, Lindsay explained to an interested onlooker, was for style, while the mask was to help warm the rink air as it went into his lungs. “It’s the same skiing,” Lindsay said. “The cold air is rough on me.”
Born in 1926 in Owen Sound, Ontario, on a Thursday of this date, Harry Lumley was — and remains — the youngest goaltender ever to have started an NHL game: he was just 17 when he made his debut in net for the Detroit Red Wings in December of 1943. As he got older, the man they called Apple Cheeks won a Stanley Cup with the Wings (in 1950) along with a Vézina Trophy in ’54. He was a Leaf in Toronto by then; Lumley also skated, in the course his 14-year NHL career, for the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks, and Boston Bruins. Inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, Harry Lumley died in 1998, aged 71.
(Image: Turofsky/Imperial Oil, from A Century of NHL Memories: Rare Photos from the Hockey Hall of Fame, used with permission)
“A sturdy six-footer,” The Star Weekly styled Boston defenceman Bob Armstrong in the copy accompanying this 1960 photo spread that featured him keeping tabs on Detroit’s Gordie Howe; his defence was, in its time, described as bruising and no-nonsense. At 29, having spent a decade on defence for the Boston Bruins, Armstrong played in his only NHL All-Star Game in 1959-60. He accumulated the best offensive statistics of his career that season, notching five goals and 19 points in 69 games — along with the 96 penalty minutes that put him ninth on the list of most-penalized NHLers that year, a little ahead of Ted Lindsay. Armstrong, who died on a Tuesday of this date in 1990 at the age of 59, wore number four for the Bruins for 11 seasons. Pat Stapleton got it after him for a while, then Bob McCord, then Al Langlois, before Bobby Orr made it his own in 1967.
(Image: Harold Barkley)
After a month of summertime hockey, we’ve learned what NHL playoffs look like when you play them in a pandemic: on the ice, they more or less resemble the game as it’s usually played, back in the pre-COVID past, with all the ensuing clustering, close-fought commotion, and bodily byproducts that players shed, the sweat, spit, blood, and teeth. If all goes according to script in a year in which so much hasn’t, in another month from now the Stanley Cup will be in the hands of hockey’s latest champions, riding high, and full of champagne. In today’s print edition of The New York Times — and online, here — I survey hockey’s daily tutorial — its crash course? — on how not to social distance.
Tending the nets for Montreal’s Wanderers, Lindsay started the league’s very first game on the Wednesday night of December 19, 1917, against the team from Toronto. (The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators also played that night, but that game was delayed, and started later in the evening.) Toronto’s goaltender, Sammy Hebert, conceded the first goal in league history when the Wanderers’ Dave Ritchie beat him a minute into the first period.
The game, let’s just say, was a tough one for any of the goaltenders involved. After Montreal put five pucks past him in the first period, Hebert gave way to Art Brooks, on whom the Wanderers scored a further five goals. Going the distance, Lindsay was beaten on just nine occasions, helping his team to eke out a 10-9 win. That meant that he was not the first goaltender to win an NHL game: briefly that night, he was the only goaltender ever to have won one. That distinction, of course, expired as soon as the Canadiens finished their game in Ottawa, beating the Senators 7-4, and Georges Vézina joined Lindsay as the NHL’s winningest goaler.
Bert Lindsay was born in the village of Belwood, Ontario, just north of Guelph, on the 23rd day of another July, this one in 1881. He eventually found his way north and east, to Renfrew, which is where he made his name as a professional hockey. For a couple of years starting in 1910, manning the nets for the NHA’s star-studded Renfrew Creamery Kings, Lindsay had Cyclone Taylor, Newsy Lalonde, Lester and Frank Patrick lining up in front of him. He subsequently played six seasons for the PCHA’s Victoria Aristocrats before returning east to join the Wanderers in Montreal.
He was the man in their nets for the final two NHA seasons. That gets us to 1917 and the NHL, wherein Lindsay guarded the Wanderer goal in the only four games the team ever actually played in the league. That opening-night win was the only one the Wanderers managed in its brief history in the league: Lindsay was on the losing end of four subsequent games.
The Wanderers were already undermanned, desperate for players, when in early January of 1918 the Montreal Arena burned down. While the building’s other tenant, the Canadiens, saw fit to make a move to the Jubilee Arena, Wanderers’ owner Sam Lichtenhein decided to disband his team. They defaulted two more games before their final extinction, and while many of their players joined other NHL teams for the remainder of the year, Lindsay didn’t catch with the Toronto Arenas until the following year, his last in pro hockey.
There are a couple of other facets to Lindsay’s place in hockey history. For one thing, Bert begat a Hall-of-Fame son, Ted, who was born in Renfrew towards the end of July of 1925.
For another, some 20 years after that auspicious event, Bert Lindsay devised a new and improved piece of hockey furniture.
This is 1947 we’re talking about now. Bert, who’d originally retired to Renfrew to run a car dealership and coach some hockey, was north now, living in Kirkland Lake. I don’t know long he spent cogitating on a safer hockey net, nor whether it had been in the works going all the way back to his own goal-guarding days.
It was a serious effort that almost (but not quite) made it to the big league.
The standard NHL net in 1947 was one that Lindsay’s old coach and teammate with the NHL Wanderers had invented: the Art Ross Patent Goal Net.
After his long and distinguished career playing defence came to end with the demise of the Wanderers, Ross took up as an NHL referee and then as a coach, originally with the Hamilton Tigers. When Boston entered the league in 1924, he signed up to shape the newborn Bruins.
As shrewd as he was a judge of hockey talent, and as careful a tactician, Ross was also one of the game’s supreme innovators, constantly working to refine the game and its tools.
He designed a better puck, one that the NHL officially adopted before the 1918-19 season.
To mitigate the damage those very pucks threatened to do to players’ feet, he devised a chainmail boot to fit over skates long before plastic skateguards became commonplace.
Ross experimented with metal-shafted sticks, too, years before aluminum and composite models became fixtures in the hands of hockey players everywhere.
As Ross himself told it, he was forced into renovating the nets that had been employed on NHL ice for the league’s first decade. This was the same model that had featured in the old NHA: flat-backed, all straight lines, it looked a bit like the unfinished frame for a chest of drawers.
Introduced in 1911, this net had been designed by another famous goaltender, Percy LeSueur, who’d end up (like Ross, if not Bert Lindsay) in the Hall of Fame. The problem: pucks could, and did, bounce out as quickly as they made their way into the LeSueur net, often defying the best efforts of referees and goal judges to discern their passage.
Ross’ patience for this lasted through the 1926-27 NHL season but not beyond. His solution was to invent the net that, in basic design, is the one we know today. Built on a base shaped like the number three, it featured angled metalwork within, along with a strip of interior mesh, all of which helped to corral pucks and keep them from bouncing out.
“After a game in Boston last winter in which four goals were disputed,” Ross said in the fall of 1927, “I began to plan it, and here it is.”
Hockey’s managers and mandarins were impressed when he revealed his prototype. “I wish we had thought of such a net years ago,” said Frank Patrick, no mean hockey visionary himself. The NHL was on board from the start, adopting the new Ross net for service effective that very season.
Affixed to the ice with steel pegs, the net that Ross conceived in 1927 did duty in the league for nearly 60 years, and it went more or less unchanged until 1980. That was the year that Mark Howe, then of the Hartford Whalers, suffered a horrific injury when he slid into and was badly sliced by the Ross net’s protruding middle plate. It was in the aftermath of that that the NHL did (eventually) get rid of the latter and switch out the uncompromising steel pegs in favour of the magnetic anchors used today.
While the fix that Bert Lindsay proposed in 1947 wouldn’t have adjusted the way nets were secured to the ice, he was focussed on the damage they could do to players, and how to improve their “yieldability.”
That’s a word from a patent application of his. “It is well known that in ice hockey,” Lindsay explained in his filing, “a player is frequently injured by collision with a rigid goal post. The object of this invention is to provide a goal that precludes or lessens such injury and is accomplished generally by the provision of yielding posts in the goal structure.”
Lindsay’s design put hinges in the goalposts, and backed them with heavy springs. Say Maple Leaf winger Gaye Stewart lost a wheel driving for the Detroit net one night, crashing into one of Harry Lumley’s posts. By Lindsay’s design, a mere seven pounds of pressure would cause the upright to give way. “When the force of the impact has been removed, the section … promptly returns to its normal position under the action of the springs.” The net itself might not be displaced, but Lindsay’s contention was that injuries to players would be “much less severe than if a rigid post were struck.”
Lindsay’s collapsing nets got some play in 1947, on the ice in Kirkland Lake, apparently. Then they gradually worked a way south. Following a demonstration in North Bay, Ontario, Lindsay Sr. arranged to ship a prototypical pair to Toronto towards the end of March.
He’d had discussions by then with the NHL president, Clarence Campbell, and it seemed possible that the new pliable nets would get a run out at Maple Leaf Gardens, where the Leafs were hosting a Stanley-Cup semi-final. Starring for their opponents from Detroit was 21-year-old Ted Lindsay, all grown up now, and in his third season playing truculent left wing for the Wings.
Bert Lindsay’s nets didn’t get their chance in the NHL on Saturday, March 29, 1947, as it so happened. Press reports don’t get into the details but in the end, the experimental nets only ended up being tested before the second game of the Toronto-Detroit game that night. The Toronto Daily Star reported their findings, awkwardly and without attributing them to anyone by name: NHL officials “found them fine after they smooth out a few rough spots.”
While his net didn’t make the opening line-up, Bert Lindsay did get to see his son put a pair of pucks into the old Art Ross cages, as the Wings overwhelmed the Leafs by a score of 9-1. It was a big night all around for Red Wing parents: Sid Abel’s mother had travelled from Melville, Saskatchewan, to see her son play for the first time in his seven-year NHL career.
The next time Bert Lindsay’s nets rated a mention in the popular press seems to have heralded their last gasp. It was a year later, 1948, when they showed up in New York. I don’t know much about this, but they seem to have had a trial in (I think) in the Eastern Hockey League, (possibly) at Madison Square Garden. They also seem to have been given a test run in Windsor, as the caption for the photo below suggests.
They didn’t catch on. A rough spot that hadn’t been sufficiently smoothed was the concern that sly goaltenders would seek to bend back the posts to help them keep pucks out.
Their failure to prosper that year seems also to have had to do with the problem that Art Ross had wrestled with 20 years earlier. The Lindsay nets were, the Boston Globe advised, too shallow: “pucks bounce out too easily.”
The old goaltender kept on working on his novel nets, retooling, refining. This we know because in 1950, two years after he’d filed his original specs, Bert Lindsay was back at the Patent Office with paperwork for a new and improved version of his innovative net. In vain, it seems: while he may have fixed its early flaws to his own satisfaction, nobody else in the hockey world seems to have given it a third chance.
Bert Lindsay died at his home in Sarnia, Ontario, in 1960. He was 79.
Ken Mosdell made his name in the NHL of he late 1940s as a defensive centreman, though later he blossomed into a bit of a goalscorer. Either way, his value to the Montreal Canadiens was never in doubt. Born in Montreal on a Thursday of this date in 1922, Mosdell played 15 NHL seasons, most of them with Canadiens, though he skated for the Brooklyn Americans, too, and the Chicago Black Hawks. He won four Stanley Cups with Montreal. In 1953-54, he was the centre voted to the NHL’s First All-Star Team, alongside Detroit wingers Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Big Moe, his teammates called him in Montreal, where he was honoured at the Forum for his service on Ken Mosdell Night in 1955. Ahead of a game against the New York Rangers, teammate Elmer Lach (he was out of the line-up) did a turn around the ice in a gleaming new Oldsmobile 98 before handing Mosdell the keys. Canadiens won the game 10-2, with Boom-Boom Geoffrion scoring five goals. Mosdell couldn’t buy so much as an assist on the night. He died in 2006 at the age of 83.
March of 1964 was a busy month for Gordie Howe. To finish up his 18th season with the Detroit Red Wings, he scored four goals in 10 games, giving him 26 on the season and 566 for his career. He ended up, again, as Detroit’s leading scorer, fifth overall in the NHL. Both The Hockey News and the Associated Press voted him to their Second All-Star teams, which is where he’d end up when the official NHL version was named in April. What else? As his 36th birthday loomed, on March 31, and Howe was signing a 10-year promotion deal with Eaton’s department store, he mentioned that he planned to play two more years of pro hockey before he retired and went looking for a coaching job.
Also: on this very date in ’64, another Sunday, deep in Chicago Stadium, Gordie Howe asked a young fan a question that — just guessing here — he thought of as rhetorical. Did the fan, Howe inquired, want a punch in the mouth?
Having just helped his team even its first-round playoff series with the Chicago Black Hawks at a game apiece, Mr. Hockey might or might not have gotten the answer he was or wasn’t looking for: we just don’t know.
What’s clear is that Howe put down the bags he was carrying to deliver the aforementioned punch — “a good one,” as he described it, later, to reporters.
Robert Rosenthal, 20, was the fan. He and his friend George Berg had gone down after the game to wait outside the Red Wings’ dressing room. This we know because the next day, Monday, Rosenthal presented himself at Chicago’s Monroe Street municipal court with an idea of obtaining a warrant for Gordie Howe’s arrest on a charge of assault.
“When the player came out,” Rosenthal recounted, “I said, ‘Why don’t you learn to play a little cleaner?’” Howe’s reply: “You want a punch in the mouth?”
To that, Rosenthal told the court, he said this: “You’re good at fighting guys smaller than you.”
Howe hit him.
Rosenthal testified that he’d retreated south, to nearby Cook County Hospital, where he’d taken on eight stitches to close the cut to his mouth.
Judge John Sullivan wasn’t impressed. “I will not,” he told Rosenthal, “perform a useless act.”
“On the basis of the evidence you’ve given me, any judge in my opinion would find Mr. Howe not guilty, since you admitted that you provoked him.”
Back in Detroit, Howe told reporters what he knew — and added several new punches to the mix-up.
“This guy got in the way and said to me, ‘The ref called ’em right for you?’ I said, ‘Sure, all right.’ Then he said, ‘Oh, he didn’t call them right, huh?’” He wasn’t making much sense.”
“I asked him if he was looking for trouble. Then he stepped into me and I let him have a light punch on the nose.”
“I took another step toward the bus and he hit me on the back of the head, so I put down both travelling bags and let him have a good one.”
“I don’t think they have the right to swear at you,” Howe said, summing up, “and I’m not going to stand for it when they use my mother’s and father’s name in vain.”
In the aftermath of Rosenthal’s dismissal at court, his mother, whose name may have been Veronica but is given in at least one account as Veronia, mentioned that lawyers would be consulted. Sure enough, before the week was out, just in time for Howe’s birthday, Rosenthal filed a lawsuit seeking US$25,000 for damages from number 9 and the Red Wings, claiming “Howe’s unprovoked attack humiliated, embarrassed, and held him up to public ridicule.” He noted, too, that his wound had become infected and swollen to three times its regular size.
Howe and/or Wings may have settled the suit — whatever happened, the incident vanished from the press. They had largely, true to Rosenthal’s claim, sided with the hockey player over the man who accosted him. A scrapbook of not exactly sympathetic headlines from that week, 56 years ago, might include:
Detroit Hockey Player Socks Annoying Fan
Fan Learns What NHL Players Know — Don’t Mess Around With Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe Decks Abusive Fan
Fist in Face Worth $25,000, Figures Fan
As for the NHL, president Clarence Campbell said he’d investigate, though he didn’t expect anything to come of it. “I’m not too excited about it,” he said, “and I doubt there’ll be any league action against Howe. After the game is over and he’s out of the rink, it’s not really an NHL affair, although these incidents can’t do anything for our public image.”
Born in Winnipeg on a Wednesday of this date in 1927, Jim Thomson was starting his 12thseason working the Toronto Maple Leafs blueline when he was named captain of the team in the fall of 1956. At 30, he was a four-time Stanley Cup-winner by then, and twice he’d been named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team. Coach Howie Meeker recommended his promotion to the captaincy ahead of the new season, succeeding Sid Smith. “This being a young team,” Meeker wrote to Leafs’ supremo Conn Smythe, “I think more than ever we should have a captain who can set an example on and off the ice for the kids.” Thomson had proved himself to be the Leafs’ best defenceman at training camp, the coach continued. And: “He is the only one of the possible captain candidates working for the honour on and off the ice.”
And so it was that Thomson, pictured here with his wife, June, proudly showing off his C’d sweater, took up as the Leafs’ on-ice leader. The season, unfortunately, didn’t go so well: the team stumbled from the start, and ended up out of the playoffs. By time it was all over, Smythe had accepted responsibility for what he called “a year of failure” — while summarily axing Meeker and long-serving GM Hap Day. As for Thomson, he signed on during the season as secretary for and Leafs’ representative to Ted Lindsay’s fledgling players’ association. When the players went public in February of 1957, Thomson soon found out what his boss thought of the whole business. Benched and stripped of his captaincy, Thomson was soon sold into exile, joining Lindsay and others on the NHL’s island of Broken Toys, a.k.a. the Chicago Black Hawks. “I find it very difficult to imagine,” Smythe railed, “that the captain of my club should find time during the hockey season to influence young hockey players to join an association that has no specific plans to benefit or improve hockey.”
Thomson played a year for the Black Hawks for he hung up his skates in 1958. He died in 1991 at the age of 64.
A glorious episode for the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night — unless, possibly, was it was the most embarrassing loss in the entire history of the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Either way, Carolina’s 6-3 win over the faltering Leafs at Scotiabank Arena was a memorable night for 42-year-old emergency goaltender (and sometime Zamboni-driver) David Ayres, who stepped in to make eight saves and earn the win after the Hurricanes lost netminders James Reimer and Petr Mrazek to injury.
Ayres’ achievement was roundly celebrated, and rightly so. In the giddy aftermath, some of the history surrounding emergency goaltenders in the NHL was trundled out, in TV studios and on social media. The league’s PR account was quick to proclaim Ayres’ debut as the most elderly in all the (regular-season) annals … before posting an update a few minutes later, recognizing Lester Patrick aged playoff appearance … before deleting the Patrick amendment.
On the embarrassment side of the ledger, there was mention, too, that the Toronto Maple Leafs were the first team in NHL history to lose to an EBUG — an emergency back-up goaltender.
Not so. Neither is Ayres the first emergency goaltender to win an NHL game, as has been reported.
While the acronym didn’t exist nine decades ago, the tendency for goaltenders to fall to injury goes back (of course) to the earliest days of the NHL. In those early years, of course, teams carried but a single goaltender. So when your mainstay took a puck to the face, say, as Lorne Chabot did in the New York Rangers’ net in April of 1928, while facing the Montreal Maroons the Stanley Cup Finals, quick decisions were called for.
In that case, when Chabot couldn’t continue, it was the aforementioned Lester Patrick, the Rangers’ 44-year-old coach and GM, who stepped into the breach. He’d previously subbed in on the Rangers’ defence, but this was his goaling debut in the NHL. He won it, 2-1, which meant that the Maroons lost.
But before that, Montreal lamented Maroons had already lost, previously, in the regular season, to an emergency goaltender.
And as compelling as David Ayres’ story may be, Moe Roberts’ may be more remarkable still.
Actually, I don’t know about that — just seeing now that in addition to being a Zamboni driver whose last competitive service was (per The Hockey News) “an eight-game stint with Norwood Vipers of the Allan Cup Hockey League where he allowed 58 goals with a .777 save percentage and a 0-8 record.” And, also, he’s a kidney transplant survivor.
Roberts’ is a pretty good chronicle all the same, starting with his 1925 journey (as rendered in the Boston Post) “from obscurity to the glare of the calcium in the short space of 28 minutes.”
Identified, generally, at the time we’re talking here as Maurice, he seems actually to have been born Morris— so maybe we’ll just go with Moe, the diminutive he’d go by later in life. One of the first Jewish players to skate in the NHL, he was about to turn 20 in December of 1925, a son of Waterbury, Connecticut, who’d attended high school in the Boston suburb of Somerville, played goal for the hockey team, the Highlanders. He’d worn the pads, too, during the 1924-25 season for the Boston Athletic Association, backing up Frenchy Lacroix, who’d later find himself stepping into the Montreal Canadiens net vacated by Georges Vézina.
NHL teams mostly carried just a single goaltender in those years, of course, though spares and back-ups did start to become more common toward the end of the decade. Wilf Cude would eventually be designated league back-up, available to any team that needed an emergency replacement, but that was still several years in the future, and wouldn’t really have helped in the Boston Arena this night in any case. Whether Roberts was on hand at the rink on Tuesday, December 8, or had to be summoned in a hurry — I don’t know. He seems to have been unaffiliated at this point — one contemporary account styles him as the Boston A.A.’s former “substitute and inactive goalie.”
Either way, the NHL’s two newest teams were playing that night, early on in their second campaign. With the score tied 2-2 in the second period, Maroons’ winger Babe Siebert collided with the Bruins’ goaltender, Charlie Stewart, who was also a dentist and so, inevitably, nicknamed Doc. Here’s the Boston Globe’s view of the matter:
Dr. Stewart in stopping a shot by Seibert [sic], was bumped by the latter as he raced in for the rebound. The two players went down in a pile. Dr. Stewart was unable to get up. After a long delay it was discovered that he had been so badly injured he would be out for the rest of the game and possibly for some time. Young Roberts was found and did yeoman work.
Montreal’s Gazette diagnosed Stewart’s trouble: “Doc Stewart was led off the ice with his left leg hanging limp. Later it became known that he had a bad cut, requiring several stitches ….”
Roberts got “a big hand” as he warmed up, the Gazette reported, “with all the Bruins firing testing shots at him.” The first hostile shot he faced was a long one from the stick of Maroons’ centre Reg Noble, and the stop “met with loud acclaim.”
There’s no record of how many shots Roberts faced in his period-and-a-bit of relief work — the Gazette has him “under bombardment” in the third — just that he deterred them all. Winger Jimmy Herberts scored for the Bruins, making Roberts a winner in his emergency debut.
His luck didn’t last. With Stewart unable to play, Roberts started Boston’s next game, three days later, in Pittsburgh, when the local Pirates overwhelmed him by a score of 5-3.
With Doc Stewart declaring himself ready to go for Boston’s next game, Roberts’ NHL career might have ended there and then. On the contrary, it still had a distance to go — across three more decades.
Moe Roberts eventually caught on with teams in the minor Can-Am Hockey League, guarding goals for Eagles in New Haven and Arrows in Philadelphia through the rest of the 1920s and into the ’30s. Towards the end of the 1931-32 NHL season, when the New York Americans were visiting Montreal, when regular goaltender Roy Worters fell ill, the Amerks borrowed the Maroons’ spare netminder, Dave Kerr, for their meeting with (and 6-1 loss to) the Canadiens.
Worters still wasn’t available two days later when the Amerks met their New York rivals, the Rangers, at Madison Square Garden, so they called up 26-year-old Roberts from New Haven. Maury and also Morrie the papers were calling him by now, and he was brilliant, stepping into Worters’ skates. From the Brooklyn Times Union:
He filled them capably at all times, sensationally at some, bringing down volleys of applause from the assemblage during the play and receiving ovations when he came on the ice for the second and third periods.
The Americans won the game 5-1.
While Roberts didn’t see any more NHL action that season, he did return to the Americans’ net the following year, starting five games in relief after Roy Worters broke his hand, and recording his third career win.
That still wasn’t quite the end of Roberts’ NHL story. Flip forward to 1951. Five years had passed since Roberts had played in a competitive game, in the EAHL, and he was working, now, as an assistant trainer and sometime practice goalie for the Chicago Black Hawks.
When the Detroit Red Wings came to town that November, Harry Lumley took the Chicago net to face Terry Sawchuk down at the far end. Neither man had been born when Roberts played in that first NHL game of his in 1925. Now, 26 years later, he was about to take shots in his ninth (and finally final) big-league game.
Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe had put pucks past Lumley by the end of the second period; the score was 5-2 for the Red Wings. Suffering from a bruised left knee, the Black Hawks’ goaltender stayed put in the third, ceding his net to Moe Roberts. Chicago continued to lose right up until the end — but Roberts stopped every shot he faced.
At 45, Roberts was making history, then and there, as the oldest player ever to have suited up for an NHL game, exceeding Lester Patrick’s record of having played for the New York Rangers in a famous 1928 playoff game in 1928. Roberts, who died in 1975 at the age of 69, remains the oldest man to have played goal in NHL history, ahead of Johnny Bower and Gump Worsley, though a couple of skaters have surpassed him since 1951: Chris Chelios played at 48 and Gordie Howe at 52.
Syd Howe’s big night in February of 1944 started halfway through the first period when his Detroit teammate Don Grosso passed him the puck and he put it by New York goaltender Ken McAuley. Howe, a 32-year-old centreman, who scored again 18 seconds later, just kept going at Detroit’s Olympia, 76 years ago tonight. By the time the game was over, he’d notched six goals to help the Red Wings hammer the visiting Rangers 12-2. It was a mighty feat, to be sure, and it unleashed headlines across the NHL realm.
“Syd Breaks the All-Time NHL Mark,” touted the Detroit Free Press, under a six-column banner across the front of the sports section: “Here’s How: Howe, Howe, Howe, Howe, Howe, Howe — and How!”
“Howe Smashes Six Goals To Smash Aged Record,” The Globe and Mail proclaimed.
“Howe Sets League Record With Six Goals as Red Wings Crush Rangers Again,” declared The New York Times.
They were mistaken. The writers — like the Red Wings and the NHL at large — had forgotten their history. In a day before historical game summaries could be summoned by the click of a mouse, long before newspaper archives were readily accessible, the actual record had simply faded out of view.
It wasn’t Howe’s fault. He’d done his job. “I just hit a hot night,” he said in the dressing room, after the game, wearing what the Associated Press described as “a broad grin.” As hockey players did in those wartime years, he had another job, off the ice, working days in the tool room of a Detroit plant manufacturing war materials.
“I wonder what the boys in the shop will say now,” he was quoted as dutifully saying. “Yes, I’ll be on the job at 7:10 a.m., just like I am six days a week.”
Ottawa-born, Howe had started his NHL career in 1930 with his hometown Senators, eventually landing in Detroit after stints with Toronto’s Maple Leafs and a couple of other teams that, like those first Senators, didn’t last: the Philadelphia Quakers and St. Louis Eagles.
He came to be a much-beloved and valued Red Wing, and stepped up to captain the team in 1941-42. The year of his six-goal outburst, he put on the best offensive showing of his 17-season career, compiling 32 goals and 60 points in 46 regular-season games. Playing the wretched New York Rangers helped: that same January, he’d notched a hattrick and two assists in a 15-0 Red Wing drubbing of the New Yorkers that still stands as the worst defeat in NHL history. The goaltender who went unrelieved on both occasions was an overwhelmed rookie by the name of Ken McAuley: “the one-time Saskatchewan truant officer,” the Detroit Free Press called him.
Talk of Howe’s achievement turned on the idea that he’d surpassed eight other NHLers who’d previously scored five goals in a game, going back to Harry Hyland of the Montreal Wanderers on the league’s opening night in 1917.
In fact, four other players had previously already done what Howe did: Newsy Lalonde of the Canadiens and Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs had each scored six goals in the winter of 1920, with brothers Corb and Cy Denneny (of the Toronto St. Patricks and Senators, respectively) repeating the feat the following season.
And Malone, of course, had done even better: he already owned the record for most goals in an NHL game, as he still does: a hundred years ago, on the last day of January, he scored seven in Quebec’s 10-6 win over Toronto. He could have had eight, in fact: another goal he deposited in the St. Patricks’ net was disallowed by the goal judge.
Twenty-four years later, Malone’s achievement continued to go unrecognized. Columnist Jim Coleman of The Globe and Mail seemed to be on the case within the week, writing that he’d heard from another Coleman, the industrious Charles L., no relation, who was a Toronto mining engineer with a passion for NHL history and statistics that he would eventually pour into three celebrated volumes of The Trail of the Stanley Cup.
Syd Howe’s six were all very well, but between them, the Colemans wanted it broadcast that both Newsy Lalonde and Tommy Smith had each scored nine goals in a single game. Lalonde’s triple-hattrick had come in 1910, when he was playing for Renfrew, while Smith’s was in 1914, on behalf of Quebec. Both of those outbursts had come, of course, in the old National Hockey Association, before the NHL’s time. Coleman’s list continued, too, citing six players who’d scored eight times in pre-NHL games, along with a further three who’d registered seven. Joe Malone was in the latter bunching, though not for what he did in 1920 in the NHL: he’d scored a whole other seven for NHA Quebec in 1913.
A year later, in March of 1945, Syd Howe surpassed Nels Stewart as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer when he notched the 515th point of his career by assisting Joe Carveth’s goal. The Red Wings were playing the Rangers again, and beat them 7-3 this time; Ken McAuley was, again, the goaltender.
A young Ted Lindsay was a teammate by then, though not Gordie Howe: he didn’t join the Red Wings until the year after Syd Howe retired from the NHL in the spring of 1946. The two Howes weren’t related: as the younger man’s fame grew over the years, the elder found himself clarifying this more and more. “I kid the people by telling them that Gordie’s my son,” Syd said in 1965, by which time, with Gordie as the NHL’s all-time leading goalscorer, the question was coming up two or three times a month.
Out of the NHL, Syd Howe, returned to his hometown, Ottawa, where he played a final year in the Quebec Senior Hockey League with the Senators. It was in February of 1947 that a former teammate of Howe’s on the old St. Louis Eagles, Bill Cowley of the Boston Bruins, overtook him for the all-time NHL tally of points.
It was the following month, March — a full three years after Howe’s six-goal performance — that the fact of Malone’s record seems to have started to surface in the NHL’s consciousness.
“It appears now that the NHL may have to revise its list of individual scoring records for a game,” Bill Westwick mentioned in his column in the Ottawa Journal. “Some fan has dug up evidence that Joe Malone once scored seven for the old Quebec Bulldogs against Toronto. If he did, Malone never bothered mentioning it.”
According to columnist Bob Mamini of the Calgary Herald, the NHL was looking into it. “Ken Mackenzie, head of the league’s information department, says the league will credit Malone with the seven-goal record,” he reported. “The newspaper files will be accepted as the authority, although the league may do more checking before it makes the change official.”
It seems to have taken a further three years for that process to play out. As Eric Zweig noted last week in his review of Malone’s seven-goal bonanza, it wasn’t until 1950, when the man they called “Phantom” was elected to hockey’s Hall of Fame, that the NHL seems to have fully ordained the record.
Even then, not everybody seems to have gotten the memo. On the June day Malone was inducted, a Canadian Press dispatch in the Calgary Herald acknowledged Malone’s seven goals as “a record that has not been equalled in National League play.” But if you were in Windsor, reading the local Star, this was the confusing news:
On January 31, 1920, [Malone] scored seven goals for Quebec against Toronto St. Pats. (NHL record books credit Howe’s one-game six-goal splurge the best since the NHL formed in 1917.)