can’t stop, won’t stop
The bustling Boston Bruins, who lead the NHL standings by a stretch, visit the Bell Centre tonight to play the Canadiens, who don’t, not even close: middling Montreal sits in 26th place, 35 points back of their Beantown rivals. It was another story on the Wednesday night of March 15, 1967, when the Bruins, last on the ladder in the six-team NHL, stopped in at the old Forum for an 11-2 pasting.
“Every time I looked up, they were shooting at me,” Boston goaltender Eddie Johnston said afterwards. He stayed in the whole game, facing 43 shots in all, including this one from Canadiens’ defenceman J.C. Tremblay, who finished the night with a goal and an assist and was deemed by his coach, Toe Blake, to have played his best game of the season. He praised his centremen, too, Jean Béliveau, Ralph Backstrom, and Henri Richard. “But the Bruins,” Blake added, “weren’t checking.”
The pick of the Bostonese, according to the Gazette’s Pat Curran? That would be 20-year-old rookie defenceman Bobby Orr, on the left here, who took nine shots on Montreal’s rookie goaltender Rogatien Vachon. Bruins’ captain Johnny Bucyk did manage to make some history of this otherwise woeful night, notching a goal and an assist to give him 538 career points as a Bruin. With that, he nudged ahead of Bill Cowley on the team’s all-time scoring list, in behind Milt Schmidt’s 575.
Bucyk would, in shortish order, surpass Schmidt, of course. As of today, he stands second in the points ledger of all-time Bruins with 1,339, behind Ray Bourque’s 1,506. Still-active Bruins who are high on that list are Patrice Bergeron (in third place with 1,019); Brad Marchand (seventh, 839); David Krejci (ninth, 767), and (between Schmidt, in 14th place, and Cowley, in 16th), David Pastrnak (15th, 569).
the nokomis dandy
Jacques Plante played 398 games in the NHL over seven long bare-faced years before he donned his famous mask after a wicked shot from Andy Bathgate cut him on the Sunday night of November 1, 1959. Born in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec, on a Thursday of today’s date in 1929, Montreal’s goaltending great had suffered head traumas before that, along with nearly every other goaltender who braved the ice in the NHL’s agonizing early decades. Masks would have made sense throughout that time, of course, but the prevailing wisdom among the hockey cognoscenti (including Plante’s coach, Toe Blake) was that masks interfered with a goaltender’s view of things, showed weakness, not worth the trouble.
A maskless Plante was felled, above, for instance, in Boston in a Stanley Cup final game in April of 1957, when Vic Stasiuk crashed into him, or clipped him with his stick, or shot the puck in his face (contemporary accounts vary). He recovered that night, and finished the game.
In November of 1954, Plante didn’t start the game he was supposed to, which was at the Forum, against the Chicago Black Hawks. The image below shows the aftermath of a nasty friendly-fire incident in the pre-game warm-up when teammate Bert Olmstead caught him with a high shot. “Plante went down like a log,” Baz O’Meara reported in the Montreal Star, “with a scream strangling in his throat. His outcries could be heard as high as the standing room section, before they were stilled by a surge of unconsciousness.”
Called in as Plante’s emergency replacement was Andre Binette, 20 years old, a practice goaltender for the Canadiens and the QHL Montreal Royals. In his one-and-only NHL game, Binette helped Montreal down the Black Hawks by a score of 7-4.
At Montreal’s Western Hospital, Plante was found to have a fractured right cheekbone. In his absence, Binette would cede the net to Claude Evans and Charlie Hodge. He was back in the Montreal net in a matter of weeks, unmasked, stopping 29 shots in his mid-December return to help his team beat Gump Worsley and the New York Rangers 5-1.
“Plante came back brilliantly, had to make some nomadic rushes out of the net to save goal,” O’Meara reported, “did so with the fancy flourishes which have been his hallmark all through his career. … Plante showed no ill effects from his recent accident, gave a distinguished display.”
rallying the room
This was the scene in the Montreal dressing room at the Forum 83 years ago today when, on Saturday, November 25, 1939, the Canadiens lost their first game of the season. The Detroit Red Wings were the visitors that night; the final score was 6-4 Wings.
The hockey world was still in mourning that fall for Babe Siebert, who’d drowned in Lake Huron in a tragic summer accident. The former Canadiens’ defenceman had been slated to take over as Canadiens coach before his death. To replace him, Canadiens turned to another former star, Pit Lepine, who’d departed the team at the end of the 1938-39 season to serve as playing coach for the IAHL New Haven Eagles.
That’s Lepine on the left here, beside defenceman Doug Young. Centre stage is Jules Dugal, Montreal’s business manager (i.e. GM), who had himself served a stint coaching the team before Siebert’s appointment. Seated at right is centreman Charlie Sands, listening intently to the rallying words of Canadiens’ co-owner and team president Ernest Savard. The photo on the wall? That’s another former Canadiens defenceman, I think, Battleship Leduc.
Sands assisted on this night on a pair of Toe Blake goals to aid in Montreal’s losing effort, with Lou Trudel and Ray Getliffe adding goals for the home team. Detroit got their goals from Jimmy Orlando, Jack Keating, Don Deacon, Ebbie Goodfellow, Mud Bruneteau, and Syd Howe. Claude Bourque was Montreal’s goaltender; Tiny Thompson was in the Red Wing net.
Montreal’s season didn’t get any better after this: they ended up dead last in the seven-team NHL by year’s end, the only team to miss out of the playoffs.
(Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)
department of throwing stuff: nuts, steel bolts, smoked fish, bags of rice, bags of flour, boxes of soap flakes
Famous for the din of their allegiance to their beloved Black Hawks, fans who used to frequent Chicago’s old Stadium also, occasionally, got the team into trouble.
In April of 1944, for instance, when Chicago was vying with the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup. With Canadiens having won the opening game of the finals at the Forum, they took their show on the road, riding a Maurice Richard hat trick to secure a 3-1 game-two win in Chicago.
It wasn’t pretty. “It was an unruly crowd that held up the game for almost a quarter of an hour after Richard scored his final goal in the third period,” the Montreal Gazette reported the next morning. “It heaved everything — papers, pennies, compacts, decks of cards, and vegetables — down on the ice to show its displeasure over Referee Bill Chadwick’s refusal to call a penalty against Elmer Lach. It blew automobile horns and beat tin pans that it brought with it into the big rink. There were 16,003 fans in the crowd and they made a lot of noise.”
One of the quieter members of the audience was baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, sitting in the good seats and thereby, in the line of line. “It’s an unusual contest at the Stadium when hockey fans do not shower the rink with pennies, paper, hats, fruit, and other objects that endanger the safety of contestants,” Arch Ward noted in his Chicago Tribune column. On this night, he continued, a chair came sailing out of the upper balcony, narrowly missing Landis, “who promptly decided there were more enjoyable ways of spending an evening than watching a hockey game.”
For his part, NHL President Red Dutton was not best pleased by Chicago’s game-two enthusiasm. His statement ahead of game three went like this:
In response to a telegraphic vote which I requested from the board of governors of the National Hockey League resulting from a 20-minute delay in the third period in the Stanley Cup game in Chicago on Thursday, while the ice was being cleared of debris thrown by fans, I have been empowered to forfeit any future game to the visiting club if a repetition of this kind occurs in any of the forthcoming games, and I definitely intend to exercise my authority.
Game three hit the ice on a Sunday of this date. Fans arriving at the Stadium was subjected to searches. The Gazette:
The big throng of 17,694 spectators were frisked for missiles on the way in, particularly those who had seats in the top gallery, and the following is an inventory of articles collected: coat-hangers, nuts, steel bolts, smoked fish, bags of rice, bags of flour, lemons, oranges, limes, boxes of soap flakes, rolls of toilet paper, megaphones, candy, peanuts, beer and pop bottles, large and small bells, playing cards, pieces of steel, cartons, pennies in 25c rolls, 1,000 paper scooters, and several folding chairs.
Paper scooters, anyone? Airplanes is my guess. The good news, for Red Dutton and lovers of public order:
The denuded onlookers had nothing left to throw and there was no debris hurled on the ice.
Montreal won that game 3-2, with Phil Watson notching the deciding goal. They wrapped up the series in Montreal four nights later with a 5-4 overtime win (Toe Blake scored the winner), sweeping up their first Stanley Cup since 1931.
None of this implicates the two cacophonous Black Hawk fans depicted here: there’s no evidence that Mrs. Georgia De Larne (top) or Irving Birnbaum (below) ever partook in any missile-launching. Seen here in Chicago Stadium’s upper balcony during a Black Hawks game in 1941, these two seem to have been more committed to making a racket than a bad example. A contemporary newspaper described Mrs. De Larne as “one of the many noisemakers present in the galley.”
winterspiele 1936: the revenge of jimmy foster
So instead of referring to this game as the triumph of England it could be labelled “The Revenge of Jimmy Foster.” The stirring episodes at Garmisch yesterday could be woven into a movie scenario which would be sure of four-star rating in at least one section of the country.
If he never stops another puck in the Olympics, he has ensured his place in the hockey hall of fame so far as international honours are concerned — while he has probably ensured it forever in the Maritimes.
• Baz O’Meara, writing in the Montreal Daily Star on Wednesday, February 12, 1936, after goaltender Jimmy Foster and his teammates on Great Britain’s team handed Canada its first-ever loss at the Olympic Games, going to claim Britain’s first (and only) gold medal.
Columnist Baz O’Meara was mostly on the money. If Jimmy Foster’s stardom didn’t quite end up soaring into eternity, not even in Eastern Canada, he did find his way into a hall of hockey fame: the British one, into which Foster was inducted in 1950. This much, too, may be safe to say: Foster, who died at the age of 63 on a Saturday of this date in 1969, never had a better night in his long and distinguished puckstopping career than he did disappointing Canada in the winter of ’36.
That was indeed the year that Canada’s four-tournament, 16-year reign as Olympic champions came to a shocking (and, for Canadians, controversial) end. Foster was a leading character in that — even before Britain took on its hockey-mad colony at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen games.
Born in Glasgow, in Scotland, in 1905, Foster emigrated to Canada when he was six and his family relocated to Winnipeg. That’s where he took up hockey goaltending, and refined his craft. He resume from those early years includes stints with the Winnipeg Argonauts, the University of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Winnipegs, and the Elmwood Millionaires. When he wasn’t on the ice, he was raising a family of three with his wife while working in PR for a distributor of Orange Crush. That’s according to Rob Jovanovic, author of an exhaustive history of Britain’s 1936 hockey gold, Pride & Glory: The Forgotten Story of Great Britain’s Greatest Olympic Team (2011).
Foster broke a leg at some point and was told he’d never play hockey again. Wrong: in the early 1930s, the work he put in playing with the senior Moncton Hawks earned him a reputation as one of the best goaltenders not in the NHL. Jovanovic:
In four years with the Hawks, he was reckoned to have saved over 6,000 shots, missed only one of 220 games, and won two Allan Cups. During one spell he went 417 minutes without conceding a goal, almost seven full games.
There was a brief buzz to the effect that Foster might find his way to the Chicago Black Hawks, where the death of another Scottish-born, Winnipeg-raised goaltender, Charlie Gardiner, had left an absence that needed filling. But nothing came of that.
In 1935, at the advanced (hockey) age of 29, it looked like Foster would finally get his chance in the NHL: that February, the two amateur prospects Tommy Gorman was most interested in signing for his Montreal Maroons were reported to be Foster and a promising winger by the name of Toe Blake. Blake signed and Foster agreed to terms, according to Montreal’s Gazette. For the latter, it wasn’t to be: Foster denied that he’d committed to anything. By fall, word was that he’d signed to play for the Richmond Hawks of the newly formed English National League, where his old Moncton coach, Percy Nicklin, was in charge.
Born in Midland, Ontario, Nicklin had learned his hockey in Port Arthur, now part of Thunder Bay. Named to coach Britain’s entry into the Winter Olympics that would hit the ice in February of 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the heart of Adolf Hitler’s Bavaria, Nicklin picked Foster as his starting goaltender.
For all the confidence the coach had in Foster, he was worried about the defence in front of him. “Nicklin fears that his team will be comparatively easy to score against,” a Canadian Press dispatch from England confided that January.
In the event, off-ice politics threatened to spoil the British effort in Germany as much as any hockey opposition. Most of the players on the British team had honed their hockey on Canadian ice; winger Gerry Davey was born in Port Arthur. Before the Games opened on February 6, Canada’s hockey delegation complained that two players, Foster and winger Alex Archer, had failed to seek releases from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association before migrating from Canadian club teams to British.
Hockey’s governing body sided with Canada, and the night before pucks were set to drop, the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (as the IIHF was then known) ruled that Foster and Archer were ineligible to play for Britain. Irked, the British talked about withdrawing from the tournament. In the end, Canada withdrew its protest (if only for the duration of the Olympics), and the British played on with Foster and Archer in the line-up.
I’ve written elsewhere about the team representing Canada in ’36 (they were from Port Arthur, too). As Canadians, they were the clear favourites going into the Games, with the United States and hosts Germany seen as their strongest challengers.
Nicklin didn’t mind being counted out. Rob Jovanovic writes that he was focussed on preparing his team for the job ahead, insisting that his charges “were all in bed by 10 p.m., made no night-time telephone calls, smoked no more than two cigarettes a day, and didn’t drink any alcohol at all.”
The British campaign started with a pair of victories — and Jimmy Foster shutouts —over Sweden (1-0) and Japan (3-0). It was in the second round that the upset of the tournament — and Olympic hockey history — occurred, with Britain’s modest-smoking teetotalling squad pulling out a 2-1 victory over the favoured Canadians at the Garmisch Eis-Stadion. Gerry Davey was one of the British heroes that day, scoring Britain’s opening goal, and so too was Foster.
“His goaltending was superb, “Phil Drackett writes in account of British Olympic brio, Vendetta On Ice (1992), “as he outguessed the Canadian sharpshooters and coolly turned away bullet-like drives, the rhythmic motion of his jaws as he chewed gum being the only sign of emotion.”
A bad outcome for Canada only got worse: the way the tournament schedule was organized, the defending champions found that though both they and the British advanced to the final stage, the results of the earlier round carried over, and the two would not meet again.
That meant that while the Canadians went 4-0 after their historic loss — running up routs of Czechoslovakia (7-0) Hungary (15-0) along the way — the British were able to claim gold with the 2-0-2 record that they put together after beating Canada.
The winners’ glee was great. Britain’s “Ice Hockey Miracle,” London’s Daily Express called the team’s gold-medal performance. Canadians, meanwhile, groused and entertained excuses: nobody explained the tournament format beforehand, and anyway, it was ridiculous, and anyway, since all the Brits were more or less Canadians anyway, wasn’t this actually a triumph for Canadian hockey after all?
“England won because she was better coached,” the controversial Alex Archer told a reporter in Winnipeg that May, “and you can give all the credit in the world to our coach, Percy Nicklin. England played typical Nicklin hockey, the sort of hockey which he taught the double Allan Cup winners, Moncton Hawks. We went out to get a goal and when we got it we played a tight defensive game.”
Jimmy Foster stayed on in England, making a move (with Nicklin) to the Harringay Greyhounds, and helping Great Britain win back-to-back European championships in 1937 and ’38.
Set to sign with the Brighton Tigers in 1939, Foster sized up the European forecast of war and opted for a return to Canada. He played three years of senior hockey, turning out for the Quebec Aces and, in Nova Scotia, the Glace Bay Miners and North Sydney Victorias before he retired in 1942.
A couple of last notes, to take us back to where this began: in all my reading about Jimmy Foster, I’ve never seen evidence that vengeance played a part in his perfromance in 1936. As per Baz O’Meara’s reverie, I can report that the stirring episodes at Garmisch were indeed woven into a movie scenario in England in the wake of Britain’s glorious Winter Olympics.
Producer and director Monty Banks was the force behind Olympic Honeymoon, which was shot in the months following the tournament though never, as far as I know, released. Jimmy Foster didn’t participate, but three of his Olympic teammates featured, including Gerry Davey and back-up goaltender Art Child.
Jake Milford was in it, too: a winger for the Wembley Canadians at the time, he went on to serve as GM of both the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1984.
Milford’s Wembley coach wangled a part, too: fellow Hall-of-Famer Clint Benedict played a stylish referee in the movie, sporting plus fours and a silk scarf.
doug harvey: cool, can think, and lift a team
Born in Montreal on a Friday of this date in 1924, Doug Harvey was a defenceman whose dominance helped the Montreal Canadiens win six Stanley Cup championships between 1953 and 1960. Seven times he won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best blueliner, the last of those after his move to the New York Rangers. He’s wrangling here with Lorne Ferguson, winger for Detroit in the later ’50s; the spectacled defenceman in the background is Al Arbour.
In 1958, Montreal Gazette columnist Dink Carroll deemed Harvey and the Boston Bruin’s dauntless Eddie Shore to be the best blueliners in NHL history. “Harvey is the best I’ve ever seen,” Shore himself said. “He’s cool, he can think, and he can lift a team.” Toe Blake, Harvey’s coach with Montreal, was asked to weigh in. He, of course, had played against Shore in the 1930s, when Blake was a winger for the Maroons and Canadiens. “Yes, he’s ahead of Shore,” Blake said. “He can do more things — when he wants to.”
larry kwong: broke the ice, a little
“I broke the ice a little bit,” is what Larry Kwong said, looking back on the trail he blazed in 1948 to hockey’s big league. “Maybe being the first Chinese player in the NHL gave more of a chance for other Chinese boys that play hockey,” he told David Davis of the New York Times in 2013.
Born in 1923 on a Sunday of this date in Vernon, B.C., Kwong was the first player of Asian descent to play in the NHL. For all that he achieved in a long and productive minor-league career, his hockey history is framed by the discrimination and outright racism he faced as a Chinese-Canadian, as well as by the lingering disappointment associated with his call-up to the NHL.
Summoned by the New York Rangers in March of 1942 for an end-of-season game against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, Kwong watched the first two periods of the game from the New York. Finally, late in the third, coach Frank Boucher sent him out. “He had the puck briefly,” Tom Hawthorn narrated it in the pages of the Globe and Mail a couple of years ago, “made a pass and then just as quickly was back on the bench.”
Kwong’s NHL career lasted less than a minute. The next day, he was back with the EAHL’s New York Rovers. “I didn’t get a real chance to show what I can do,” he told the Times.
He signed the following year for the Valleyfield Braves of the QSHL, where coach Toe Blake would deem him indispensable. He later played in the IHL and, at the end of his career, in the early 1960s , in Switzerland. Larry Kwong died on March 15, 2018. He was 94.
The glimpses here from Kwong’s career are from a 2018 biographical comic by Richmond, Virginia, artist Robert Ullman. You can find more of his work at robullman.com.
(Images courtesy of Robert Ullman)
on a day like this, 1955: toe picked
The early months of 1955 were tumultuous ones for the Montreal Canadiens. In March, as the regular season was winding to an end, Maurice Richard’s suspension roiled the team and, soon enough, the city of Montreal. The Canadiens did get to the finals that spring, but without the Rocket they fell to the Detroit Red Wings, who won their second consecutive Stanley Cup. That was in April. To start May, the news from Montreal was that after 15 seasons and three Cup championships, coach Dick Irvin was moving out and on, to Chicago, where he hoped to resurrect the Black Hawks.
There was plenty of speculation in Montreal, of course, on the matter of who might take Irvin’s place. Canadiens Managing Director Frank Selke was quick to rule out a couple of candidates with experience on the Montreal blueline: Ken Reardon, who was already ensconced in the organization’s front office, was thought to be a GM-in-waiting, while Butch Bouchard still hoped to play another season or two. Former Leaf great Charlie Conacher had experience coaching in Chicago, and when he was seen chatting with Selke, the rumour was quick to spread that he was the man. Another defenceman on the Canadiens roster, Tom Johnson, told a reporter that while he’d heard the names of former Canadiens Leroy Goldsworthy and Toe Blake bandied about, he didn’t think either man would end up in the job: he suspected the new man would be a Quebecer. So maybe Roger Léger, yet another former Canadien (and one more defender), who was coach of Shawinigan in the Quebec league? Billy Reay was mentioned, too, though he was from Winnipeg, an erstwhile Canadien now coaching the Victoria Cougars in the WHL.
By the end May, Maurice Richard was weighing in. No disrespect to his old teammates Léger and Reay, but the Rocket felt — or knew — that it would be his former linemate, Blake, who should be taking charge. “I think Blake is the best of the three men, as he can handle men both on and off the ice,” Richard told reporters on a visit to Timmins, Ontario, to receive an award. “He should get the job over Reay or Léger, although they both have done good jobs.”
Blake, who was 42 that spring, and a son of Coniston, Ontario, which is now p[art of Sudbury, had been coaching previously in Montreal’s farm system, notably with the Valleyfield Braves of Quebec’s Senior League. As predicted by the Rocket, he was appointed to the job of Canadiens coach 11 days later, on a Wednesday of this date in 1955.
“I am stepping into a big pair of shoes in taking over from Dick Irvin,” Blake said told the press that day. “I have always considered him the best in the league, and with the help of Mr. Selke and Mr. Reardon and the players, we will continue to keep Canadiens hockey name on top. The team won’t let the fans down. I am not going to promise the Stanley Cup, but we will continue as a great fighting club.”
Blake’s first game in charge came that October, when Montreal beat Toronto 2-0 in the opening game of the 1955-56 season. The Stanley Cup that Blake’s Canadiens won the following spring was the first of five in a row, of course, as Blake steered Montreal to eight championships in the 13 years he remained at the helm before retiring in 1968 and handing over to Claude Ruel.
(Image, from the late 1960s: Antoine Desilets, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)
phil watson’s piston trouble
Phil Watson’s credentials as an NHL coach were forged out of a 13-year NHL career as a rumbustious right winger, all but one season of which he spent with the New York Rangers. Born in Montreal on a Friday of this same date in 1914, Watson took up behind the bench the year after he hung up stick and skates in 1948, at first with the New York Rovers, then of the QSHL, and later with the QJHL’s Quebec Citadelles.
In 1955, a 42-year-old Watson succeeded Muzz Patrick as coach of the Rangers. Pictured here is the end of his first campaign, which came on a March night in 1956. On their way to another Stanley Cup that season, the Canadiens dispensed with Watson’s Rangers in five first-round games, completing the job with a 7-0 demolition at the Forum.
Doug Harvey, Henri Richard, and Dickie Moore each scored a pair of goals; the shutout was Jacques Plante’s. The Gazette described the moment we’re seeing here: “When the siren sounded to end the game the Ranger players shook hands with their conquerors. Then Phil Watson and Toe Blake, the rival coaches, met at centre ice. Toe took off his hat when he received Watson’s congratulations. The crowd liked it and roared approval.”
Watson steered the Rangers through five not-specially-glorious seasons before he was fired midway through the 1959-60 season. He would go on to coach the Boston Bruins for another two seasons in the early 1960s. His coaching finale came a decade after that when he took charge of the WHA’s Philadelphia/Vancouver Blazers for two seasons in the ’70s.
Back when Gay Talese was writing hockey dispatches for The New York Times, he caught up to Watson after a game against the Boston Bruins. This was October of 1958; Watson explained the situation this way:
“My club is like a new car that has little things wrong with it. We got trouble with the windshield wipers, squeaks in the rear, and brakes need adjusting. It’ll take 10,000 miles to break this club in. In Boston I had piston trouble and we’re tied, 4-4. They also had the referee on their side.”