righteous on the rideau: ottawa shocked, lord stanley denounced

Never On A Sunday: In 1890, MP John Charlton joined some of Ottawa’s clergy in condemning Lord Stanley and his vice-regal family and friends for desecrating the Sabbath with their Rideau Hall hockey games. Charlton, seen here in winter warms in 1884, didn’t just rail: he introduced a bill in Parliament to shut down Canadian Sundays entirely. (Image: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada)

Nothing against the Vegas Golden Knights or Washington’s own Capitals, who’ll meet tonight to decide who gets to claim the Stanley Cup and brandish it aloft.

If we’re a little quiet up here in Canada when the time of your triumph comes in a week or two, sorry: it’s not you, it’s us. It’s painful, for us, that yet again none of our true-north teams is in the mix. Even after all these years of yielding the former Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup to foreign powers, we’re still not quite used to the idea. Best not to remind us, either, that the trophy we covet so dearly was mostly an offshore affair from the start. It’s not just that the original Stanley Cup was bought and smithed overseas, in London. As much as it has occupied the imaginations of Canadians since then, this sacred cup of ours was first dreamed of by a 51-year-old Englishman who’d come here for work.

We’re still a little raw about that, too.

Not that we don’t revere Baron Stanley of Preston and that foundational gesture of his. If he’s not exactly the reason for the (hockey) season, Lord Stanley is written indelibly into Canada’s hockey story as a founder of the feast. Apart from anything else, he and his family remind us of how alluring our winter game is, and that it’s actually okay for foreigners to learn and love it — good things can happen.

Strange ones, too. With time to spare ahead of tonight’s game, can we dwell on an episode that’s got a little lost in the annals of our sixth governor-general’s association with the game we like to claim as our own? Is it possible that there was a time when Canadians actually rebuked Lord Stanley and his hockey-adoring family for their very enthusiasm?

It is, and we did, some of us, back in 1890, two years before Lord Stanley got around to commissioning his famous trophy. The whole affair roiled Ottawa, briefly, and made international headlines — small ones, it’s true, but pithy enough. With all that’s been written about the Stanleys and the cup that goes by their name, this is a bit of a missing chapter. It’s not a long one, and it vanished from the newspapers as quickly as it had appeared. It could, I suppose, have soured Lord Stanley on hockey for good, thereby endangering the entire future of hockey history — except, of course, that it didn’t.

First, some background. Baron Stanley of Preston arrived at Rideau Hall in June of 1888, he and his wife, Constance, were accompanied by four of their ten children. Much of the family embraced hockey enthusiastically during their first Canadian winter, including 13-year-old Isobel, a great hockey-playing story in her own right.

Vice-Regal Roster: The Rebels of Rideau Hall, circa 1889. From left, they are Captain Wingfield, one of Lord Stanley’s ADCs; Arthur Stanley; James Creighton, hockey pioneer and Senate law clerk; (standing behind) Nova Scotia Senator Lawrence Power; (sitting in front) Lieutenant Aubrey McMahon, ADC; Ontario Liberal MP John Barron; Ontario Liberal MP Henry Ward; J. de St. Lemoine; Edward Stanley; (seated, far right) H.B. Hawkes. (Image: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-204250)

She was skating, stick in hands, in February of 1889. That same month, her brother Arthur (19) organized the Government-House team that would become known as the Rideau Rebels. At least two other Stanley brothers were in on this: Edward (24) and Victor (22). In their original alignment, the Rebels also featured a pair of vice-regal military aides, including Lieutenant Aubrey McMahon, who’s in the photograph here. The team’s earliest opposition was a five-man team made up of (mostly opposition Liberal) members of Parliament.

Much of this has been carefully documented, notably by Kevin Shea and John Jason Wilson in their 2006 biography, Lord Stanley: The Man Behind The Cup, where you’ll find a detailed account of what happened when the Stanley boys got serious about the Rebels during their second Ottawa winter, organizing a busy exhibition schedule for the team both on home ice, at Rideau Hall, and out and about across Ontario.

Arthur Stanley seems to have been the driving force in this, abetted by Ontario Liberal M.P. and keen hockeyist John Barron. The team sported crimson sweaters and white trousers and caps, and seems to have travelled in style, possibly by way of the Governor-General’s vice-regal railway car.

In the first week of February of 1890, the team travelled west from Ottawa to play in Lindsay, Ontario, where Barron had his legal practice. From there, they carried on to Toronto, playing a pair of games on Saturday, February 8. In the afternoon, the Rebels beat the team from the Granite Club, 5-4, before falling 1-4 to St. Georges in the evening. High sticks and fights featured in both games, “to the point,” as Shea and Wilson note, “that hockey received its first appreciable coverage in Toronto, albeit through editorials denouncing the violence of the game.”

Back in Ottawa, meanwhile, a different and mostly, now, forgotten scandal was brewing.

The first of the fuss appeared in the press just as the Rebels were embarking on their road trip. Before their departure, the team would seem to have been preparing, as teams do, with practices. Were they out scrimmaging on the Rideau Hall rink on Sunday, February 2? Seems so. There’s no indication that Lord Stanley himself was skating — indeed, I don’t know that we know if he ever got up on blades, or tried a vice-regal wrist-shot. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t about to be excoriated for desecrating the Sabbath.

It wasn’t only local Ottawa papers that took up the cry: The New York World was on it quickly, too, and within days, the news had carried to the pages of papers in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Lawrence, Kansas. Before long, the English press was taking note as well.

The scandalous word was out: the fact that Lord Stanley and members of his household and “some leaders of Ottawa’s upper society circle” were said to have been playing hockey on Sundays was said to roiling the city’s “religious circles.”

Naming Names: News of Lord Stanley’s turpitude reaches a Sheffield paper in England in February of 1890.

The World’s report was the one that spread widest, and it promised further fall-out: “His Excellency will probably be rebuked from one or more of the city church pulpits next Sunday.”

And so it was. I don’t know about the more, but here’sone:at the Congregationalist Church that in those years occupied the corner of Elgin and Albert streets, Reverend John Wood set aside his usual lesson from the Old Testament to orate on the law of God in regard to the Sabbath and (as was reported next day) “the example of the Saviour of His apostles in respect to its observance.”

Shame: Word reaches Philadelphia.

Reverend Wood said the hockey was only hearsay, but even that was bad enough: he “exceedingly regretted” having heard it. He wasn’t inclined to believe the rumour, he went on, except that one of the players involved had been so bold as to write a letter that Reverend Wood had seen. It didn’t just confirm that there washockey being played at Rideau Hall on Sundays, this letter — the writer was positively glorying in the shame of it.

Would Her Majesty Queen Victoria allow such a thing on the grounds of Windsor Castle? No. Why, then, should it permitted on the grounds of the vice-regal residence in Canada? It was bad enough when the poor violated the Sabbath, Reverend Wood continued; it was, if possible, even lesspardonable for the rich.

“Mr. Wood’s remarks met with the decided approval of the congregation,” The St. Louis Dispatchreported.

We don’t know what Queen Victoria was thinking about all this — chances are that she wasn’t. Lord Stanley? He must have been — we just don’t have any record of the shape or temperature of whatever was on his mind that week. The Advertiserin Montgomery, Alabama, did inform its readers that an unnamed member of the Rideau Hall staff was wondering why the people of Canada should be interfering at all in what was so clearly a private matter. According to anonymous him, regular people back home in England “did not regard a game of hockey on Sunday as so very criminal.”

Beloved as his name may be to generations of hockey fans over whom he never reigned, Lord Stanley was not, in February of 1890, having a banner month in the press. That much we do know. In fact, the very same day that readers in Missouri were learning what Reverend Wood thought in Ottawa, the headline front-and-centre on page one of The New York Times read “Lord Stanley Denounced.”

The Times hadn’t registered (or didn’t care about) the outrage of Sabbath hockey. Instead, their correspondent had his eye on the indignation fermenting among members of the Canadian Parliament that was threatening to make Lord Stanley “one of the most unpopular Governor Generals Canada has ever had.”

The cause? Lord Stanley, it seems, had cancelled the annual Rideau Hall state ball. The reason given was that Lady Stanley was “indisposed,” but everybody knew better, according to the Times: “in reality his Excellency and the vice-regal household are averse to having the vulgar crowd of common people invade the privileged precincts of the vice-regal residence.”

Lord Stanley had, subsequently, relented. Somewhat, anyway: invitations had gone out for a pair of dances to be celebrated at Rideau Hall that very February week.

The storm abated, if only until Ottawa discovered who hadn’tbeen invited to twirl: many members of Parliament and the Senate, along with most of the city’s business and merchant elites. The word was that much of the guest list was taken up by civil servants who happened to have English blood and a good family name in their favour. “It is enough,” an editorial in Toronto’s Globe raged, “that Rideau Hall is a rat hole for many thousands of public money without becoming a nursery for snobbishness.”

Other papers were reporting that Lord Stanley was to be recalled to England imminently. His successor? The Vancouver Daily World said that the Duke of Fife had already been appointed — “a very popular and sensible nobleman.” The Winnipeg Tribune was hearing that the prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, would take the job himself.

Not everybody was willing to drop the matter of the Sabbath having been defiled. In light of what was happening at Rideau Hall, MP John Charlton announced that he would be introducing a bill in Parliament to outlaw Sunday hockey.

Charlton was not, so far as I can determine, a hockey player. Even if he had been, I’m not sure that he would have ever allowed himself to chase a puck past midnight on a Saturday. The fact that he was a colleague of the Rebels’ John Barron in the Liberal caucus doesn’t seem to have moderated his view, either.

American-born, Charlton had migrated to Canada as a young man. Now 61, he had a pre-politics background in farming and the lumber business. He’d been a town councillor in southwestern Ontario before seeking and winning election to Parliament as the member for Norfolk North in 1872.

Forestry and the lumber trade with the United States took up most of his attention as a politician, but as Thomas Ferns and Robert Craig Brown make clear in The Dictionary of Canadian Biography,

his religious beliefs and strong convictions about moral reform also found frequent expression, both commercially and politically. A member of the Presbyterian Church from the 1850s and a confirmed Sabbatarian, he did not permit labour in his lumber camps on the Sabbath and he managed to confine his business travels to the other six days of the week, returning home … by Sunday. For Charlton public morality and national strength were most definitely connected.

By 1890, Charlton had been lobbying for a stricter national policy on slowing down the nation’s Sundays for more than a decade. When the Lord’s Day Alliance of the Dominion of Canada was established in 1888, Charlton was elected vice-president.

Now, he clearly saw that an opportunity was at hand: with Sunday hockey at Rideau Hall as his wedge, Charlton had his bill ready to introduce to Parliament by early March. “It is a physical necessity that man should have a day of rest at regular intervals,” he told the House of Commons ahead of the bill’s first reading, “and experience teaches that one day in seven is the natural period, the observance of which is for both his physical and moral well-being.”

This 1890 bill of Charlton’s packed its no-fun agenda into 11 sections stipulating all that Canadians wouldn’t be able to do when they woke up of a Sunday morning. Forbidden under Charlton’s law would working at any job, or compelling anyone else to work; selling and buying anything; tippling in any inn, anywhere; promoting or causing any horse or foot race, or cock-fight; revelling; swearing; hunting, shooting, or pursuing any game; going out fishing, or catching or killing even the tiniest fish; printing or delivering any newspaper; opening any canal in Canada, or post office, or railway station; running any train, freight or passenger (with a few exceptions); allowing any steamboat to embark on — that’s right — any excursion.

Nowhere in the bill did the word hockey appear. I guess Charlton must have felt that the ban in Section 3 was strong enough without it, specifically the part that prohibited “any noisy public game whereby the peace and quiet of the Lord’s Day is disturbed.”

For Sunday outlaws, the bill proposed fines ranging from $50 to $400. The New York Times took note of this in reporting the news of Charlton’s proposals in another page-one column. The fact that the new law would not apply to Canada’s Indigenous peoples caught the Times’ interest, as did the opposition of Quebec MPs, which was said to be near universal — the bill, to them, smacked of Puritanism.

This new Times dispatch duly mentioned how Lord Stanley and his family and their Sunday hockey had “shocked the strict Christians of the Dominion” before reaching their own New York conclusion: “If the bill passes, which is unlikely, Canada will be indeed a dead country on Sunday.”

The bill didn’t go anywhere — not in 1890, anyway. By the time Parliament did enact its Lord’s Day Act in 1906, John Charlton was out of politics and Lord Stanley and his hockey-mad family had long since decamped for England. The new law, which took effect in March of 1907, still didn’t mention hockey specifically, though the old injunction against noisy games still stood. Most commerce was prohibited, along with sports and amusements, though there were nuances now, and exemptions than in Charlton’s day — you were free to fight a fire or flood, for instance, and also to make maple syrup, so long as you did so in the woods.

Back in 1890, the crisis as it affected the vice-regal hockey rink seems to have passed promptly enough. Towards the end of February — on a Saturday — the Rebels hosted the Lindsay team they’d visited earlier in the month. Arthur Stanley refereed the first game and played in the second; the Rebels won both. In between, Lord Stanley gave the hockey players lunch at Government House.

If there was more outrage in Ottawa that winter for any other hockey turpitude, it doesn’t seem to have filtered out into the world’s press — like the hockey season and the natural ice it relied on, the commotion melted away with the coming of spring. I don’t know whether the Stanleys learned their lesson and ended up curtailing Sunday shinny on the rink at Rideau Hall to placate Ottawa’s disapproving pulpits. I kind of hope not — I’m hoping that they just got stealthier, and that somehow all their secret skating and furtive shooting made those Rebels better, craftier hockey players.

What I can say is that Lord Stanley wasn’t recalled in 1890, and didn’t turn his back on hockey, such that in March of 1892 a letter he wrote ended up at a banquet celebrating the successful season the Ottawa Hockey Club had just finished.

The venue that night was Ottawa’s Russell House Hotel, at the corner of Sparks and Elgin — just two blocks north, as it happened, of Reverend Woods’ Congregational Church.

Supper was over by ten o’clock; there were toasts, then, to Queen Victoria and her Governor-General, who wasn’t in attendance. The Earl of Cavan, Lord Kilcoursie, was, and he rose to make a reply. A 52-year-old Irishman, Kilcoursie served Lord Stanley as an aide-de-camp. Before coming to Canada, he’d distinguished himself as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy during the Crimean and Second Opium wars. Later, he’d been elected as an MP to the English Parliament.

In Ottawa, he was known to skate with the Rebels, which made him the right man to be reading out the letter with which Lord Stanley had entrusted him.

“I have for some time past been thinking,” it began, “that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion.”

Say It Ain’t So: The news lands in Lawrence, Kansas.

roach clip: the case for the port perry poultry king

jrr

The Years With Ross: John R. Roach early in his career as guard of Toronto’s NHL nets.

I understand now, but for a while there I assumed that

100great

would be followed up, and challenged, by subsequent lists from Heineken, Moosehead, Kokanee, and Sapporo, and thereby justice would be done for Dit Clapper, Aurèle Joliat, and Frank Nighbor.

Back in October, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who revealed

one-hundred-leafs

How would Home Hardware have done it differently? Included Greg Terrion, maybe, and Pete Langelle at the expense of (maybe) Gus Bodnar and Ed Olczyk?

Impossible to say. These lists, as I’ve noted already, are monuments to exemplary players, no more than that: admirable, arbitrary jumbles of skill and achievement, with next to no science to them. I’m all for them, if only for the opportunities they open up to agitate about their content for many winter weeks to come.

The NHL list, which isn’t ranked, was compiled by a Blue Ribbon Panel (capitals theirs, or maybe Pabst’s), 58-members strong. This eminent assemblage included retired players (Ken Daneyko, Guy Carbonneau) and legendary coaches and managers (Scotty Bowman, Harry Sinden), many broadcasters and print journalists (Pierre McGuire, Stan Fischler), an owner (Jeremy Jacobs), and NHL brass (Gary Bettman, Bill Daly). Everybody voted for 100 players, with each vote counting for one point.

The Leafs’ conclave of 30 counted mostly journalists, broadcasters, and writers. No players took part, though long-time Leafs’ equipment manager Brian Papineau did, along with the Leafs’ veteran organist, Jimmy Holmstrom. The three names that appeared on both NHL and Leaf panels were author and broadcaster Brian McFarlane; Sportsnet reporter Christine Simpson; and former Toronto Star columnist Frank Orr.

The Leafs decided to rank their players, which called for a bit more rigor in the process. They thought they’d throw in some democracy, too. “The One Hundred list is the result of rankings submitted by a 31-member committee made up of prominent members of the hockey community, including a public fan vote that counted as the 31st member,” the team explained.

“Each committee member submitted a ranked list with a first-place rank garnering 100 points and a 100th place rank receiving one point. 191 of 949 eligible players received at least one vote. Ten different players received at least one first-place vote from the committee.”

The ballot fans online saw offered up the names of 154 Leafs, divided up by decades. Some 300,000 votes came in that way.

After it was all over, I talked to a couple of the panelists, informally. I wondered what guidelines they’d been given. Were there players, say, of short duration who, dominant as they might have been elsewhere in their careers, were too brief as Leafs to be considered? No, I was told, absolutely nyuh-uh.

I don’t know, though. Maybe there was no official directive, but no-one was really going to make a case for Phil Housley, who played just four games of his 1,580 NHL games for Toronto, right? I mean, judged purely as a defenceman, Housley was a true great, as verified by the Hall of Fame. I think we can all get behind an objective determination that in terms of greatness his exceeded that of, say, Todd Gill, who features on the Leaf list at number 84.

Nothing against Gill. I wish him well. Peace be upon him and his people. I salute his workmanlike service, and recall his yeoman years grimly persisting in defence of the Leaf blueline with … not joy, exactly. But I remember. He was a Leaf, by god, and for all his subsequent peregrinations — to San Jose and St. Louis, to Detroit and Phoenix, back to Detroit, down to Colorado, to Chicago, and Lausitzer Füchse — he remained a Leaf in the same way that Housley, for all his late-career wanderings, will always be a Sabre.

Everybody understands this, if only in their bones, at a deep level to which language doesn’t reach. Nowhere but in Toronto was Todd Gill great; the greatness that Gill achieved in Toronto wasn’t like regular greatness they have elsewhere. It’s specific to the service Gill did in blue-and-white, suffering through the Harold Ballard years, playing for John Brophy, wearing that funny helmet he wore with a certain kind of dignity.

So that’s why Phil Housley isn’t on the list. Same, I guess, for Frank Nighbor, whose greatness resided somewhere beyond the 22 games he played as a Leaf. Brian Leetch (28 Leaf games) too. The list of elsewhere-great Leafs goes on: Ron Francis (24 games), Eric Lindros (33), Joe Nieuwendyk (73). Nobody needs to justify their absences.

I would take an explanation, if anybody’s offering one, regarding goaltenders. Nine of them made the Leaf cut: Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, Curtis Joseph, Harry Lumley, Terry Sawchuk, Lorne Chabot, Mike Palmateer, Ed Belfour, and George Hainsworth.

It’s a sterling cadre, no question, anchored by five Hall-of-Famers. What a crew! Hail to you all! Not one of them could I easily argue to oust.

I just wonder — well, Palmateer? I know, I know, he played a long time, was cheerful and beloved, put up manfully with Ballard & etc. I grew up watching him; he has my respect. I can, if I squinch my eyes shut, work out for myself why he rates ahead of, say, a Hall-of-Famer and positional trailblazer like Jacques Plante, who (by the by) played more games as Leaf than Terry Sawchuk, though Sawchuk (of course) won a Stanley Cup with Toronto, in ’67, which Plante never did.

I might just sit down here for a second, collect my breath. Not worth getting an ulcer worrying over this sort of stuff.

Though — um — sorry — what about Frank McCool?

He only played two Leaf seasons, just 85 games, it’s true, but one of them was spectacular. In 1944-45, with Turk Broda away at war, McCool not only won a Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie, he helped the Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. How does he not make the Leaf list?

Or John Ross Roach? If I were going to make a stand, he’s the one I’d be making. Let the record show that if push came to proverbial shove, I would be stood all over J.R. Roach. If I were to litigate the Toronto One Hundred, his would be the case I’d prosecute.

Nobody remembers him now, but his Leaf greatness is unimpeachable. I challenge you to impeach it. Well, mostly he was a St. Patrick; he only wore the maple leaf for two of his seven Toronto seasons. Same thing, though, right? And yet as accomplished and admired as he was in the hey of his day, his reputation failed to endure. It didn’t last.

It just didn’t have the — well, whatever it is that keeps memories of hockey players alive and healthy, he was lacking in it. It’s a long time since he played, it’s true: there’s plenty of natural fading involved. In some cases, I guess, it’s just a bit more thorough. So entirely has John Ross Roach been effaced from the Leafscape that he didn’t even make the ballot for his decade when the for the One Hundred.

I will say, as you gather your outrage to join it with mine, that while Roach wasn’t the first goaltender to backstop a Toronto NHL team to Stanley Cup championship, he was the second, after Hap Holmes got the job done for the Arenas in 1918.

Roach was the first — not to mention the only — Toronto goaltender to captain the club.

Before he was forgotten, he had lasting power, too. Pre-Roach, Toronto went tried out seven goaltenders in four years. Once he made his (slightly delayed) debut in 1921, he kept the Toronto net for seven years, playing 222 out of 226 regular-season games, along with a further nine playoff and Stanley Cup games. All told, he won 102 of these, registering 14 shutouts.

If his size — 5’5”, 130 pounds — didn’t seem to interfere with his puckstopping, it was constantly reflected in reports from the games he played. “The robust little Port Perry guardian” an Ottawa paper called him in 1923; before that he was “an infant prodigy,” which would seem all the more demeaning if it was attached to the phrase “the most spectacular net minder in the game.”

He hailed from Port Perry, Ontario, 80-odd kilometres northeast of Toronto, on the Lake Scugog shore. “I’m the only boy from that little town to play pro hockey,” Roach was saying in 1929, and it’s still the case today, NHLwise.

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pluck, sinew, pride, gumption

2014 olympics

Once Sochi’s Olympics open on Friday, Canada’s women are quick to the ice, starting the tournament on Saturday against Switzerland. The men face-off with Norway on February 13. Today, hints from history that may or may not help maple-leafed teams find success. Originally published on February 16, 2010, “The Secret To Olympic Hockey Gold” appeared in The Globe and Mail

The Winnipeg Falcons went over to Antwerp in 1920 aboard a ship called the Melita and when they disembarked what they did was win the hockey gold at the Olympics. Of course. I mean, obviously. That’s what Canadian hockey teams do at Olympics, in case you weren’t paying attention. How do we do it? Apart from skating faster than anyone else, passing better, scoring ridiculously good goals? The grit we have isn’t like other people’s, not to mention our pluck. If you could see inside our hearts, that’s what you’d witness, pluck and sinew, pride and gumption — mixed in with the, you know, regular blood. That’s what wins us golden hockey medals — that, and because we’re Canadian and nobody else is.

Or so we thought. History doesn’t necessarily agree. That’s worth knowing as we head into our own Olympics. That’s history job: to complicate what once seemed straightforward. History doesn’t like to see a glass of still water sitting on the counter. It just can’t resist dumping in a big spoonful of flour and stirring.

I’m not saying those 1920 Falcons weren’t great. Or the Toronto Granites, who won gold in 1924. I have nothing but respect for all those senior teams that used to ship out to Europe to defend our national honour at all those old Olympics and world championships. Belleville McFarlands! Terriers of Galt! Vees and Sea Fleas, Eaters of Trail Smoke! Hats off to all of you. Great work, Whitbyites, Lethbridgers, Pentictonavians!

Trounced is the word the newspapers used in 1920 to describe the 15-0 beating we laid on Czechoslovakia, a good word, too, deriving from the Middle English for bouncing mercilessly next to somebody on a trampoline until they fall down and still you don’t stop, even when they say please. We’ve done a lot of that over the years, bamboozling Hungarians by 15, shamwowing the Austrians 23-zip. Early Olympic hockey looks like we were punishing all the novice hockey nations for the crime of loving our game so much, wanting to learn from us, be like us.

Not so. In 1920 the Falcons ran practices and clinics for their opponents before games, tutoring before they trounced. In 1924, the Granites schooled the attentive Swiss in the primary hockey principle that if you let us score 33 goals while notching none for yourself, well, that’s going to be pretty embarrassing for you.

Tough love? You have to remember, hockey was really the only imperialism we had available to us for a long time. And, plus, did we have a choice? A member of the 1924 team explained how it worked. “We weren’t trying to rub it in. … They would never improve if we played down to their level; instead they should expect to come up to our standards. Besides, it doesn’t flatter anyone to ease up on them; and it hurts the morale of your own team when you ask the players to give less than their best.”

Exactly. What we also realized was if we were going to do this triumphing properly, what we really needed was to do was develop a set of verbs that truly reflected and paid tribute to the magnificent margins of our whompings. It took a while, this, mostly because of our national inbred Canadian inclination to hold back, not to seem sore in our winning.

Though if we were so merciless on the ice, did it really matter how kind we were in print? Topple, overwhelm, stun: all the vanquisher verbs we take for granted now have their roots in those early hockey Olympics. A couple of useful rules of thumb: verbs associated with fairytale ogres marauding through tiny upland villages also work well for big hockey victories, e.g. conquer, smash, crush, squash, quash. The contractor renovating your basement is a pretty good guide, too: hammer, plaster, and shellac. For some reason culinary terms don’t really translate, which is too bad when you consider how the satisfaction involved in speaking aloud words like fricassee and spatchcock.

These are lessons that that Soviets never really absorbed. To them, when then smoked us 11-1 at the 1977 world championships, the best they could come up with was defeat. “I hate them,” said Walt McKechnie, a member of the losing team. “I don’t like their way of life. I don’t like anything about them. They stink.” Two years later, in Moscow, they drubbed us 9-2. Sorry: “They insulted us,” is how Alan Eagleson saw it. “I felt they were a little cruel in rubbing it in,” he steamed. “There was no need for it.” Had they never heard of respect? “I just hate to let them think they can treat us arrogantly and get away with it.”

We’d like to think that these Olympics of ours will be decided on merit, and that our alloy of Crosbys, Iginlas, and Brodeurs will provide all the mettle we need to win. And maybe in the future, one day, that’s exactly how Olympic hockey tournaments will be decided. In the meantime, we’ll have to work with what we’ve got. What we know now, after nearly a century of sending hockey teams to Olympics and world championships, Summit Series and Izvestia tournaments, Cups Spengler, Canada, and World, is that hockey adds up to no more than a quarter-measure of the formula that decides these things. Without the other three determinants — nautical, nominal, botanical — there’s only so far that the hockey can carry us.

1. The Ship They Came In On

This one is pretty obvious. Does anyone really believe that the 1920 Falcons would have won Olympic gold without Canadian Pacific’s Melita to ship them to Belgium? Where would they have been without it? Saint John, New Brunswick is where. On the voyage out, nobody got seasick. The ship’s carpenter is supposed to have carved all the sticks that the Falcons wielded in Belgium, which is pretty great, if true.

I guess the Toronto Granites could easily have steered an overland passage to Chamonix in 1924. And you know what? They probably would been better for it, just in terms of bonding as a team and, you know, generally toughening themselves up as they trekked the sea-ice between Alaska and Siberia, cutting down to meet antiquity’s Salt Road, on to the Silk Route, quick left at the road to Damascus, straight on through via the Appian Way and the Path of Righteousness. Instead they shipped over aboard Montcalm. Continue reading