“Tell your whole team I love them,” U.S. President Jimmy Carter commanded Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, when he got him on the phone in the moments following the Americans’ 4-2 gold-medal victory over Finland on this date, a Sunday, in 1980. It was the game two days earlier, of course, that everyone remembers, the one where Eruzione, goaltender Jim Craig (above, celebrating gold), and all their star-spangled teammates overthrew the mighty Soviet Union. Mostly they forget that the U.S. team still had plenty of work to do against the Finns. Under the complicated medal-round formula, an American loss combined with a Swedish win over the Soviets could have left the U.S. in fourth place. As it was, goals from Phil Verchota, Steve Christoff, Rob McClanahan, and Mark Johnson sealed the U.S. win, while the Soviets crushed Sweden 9-2. “Outside the arena an exultant throng counted down the final seconds,” Gerald Eskenazi reported for The New York Times, “then started to cheer as a Dixieland band began to play. When the doors of the field house opened, the crowd of 10,000 (including 1,500 standees) streamed into the Olympic Center driveway with chants of ‘U.S.A’ and ‘We’re Number One.’”
“The American victory was due largely to two factors. First, there was Tom Moone of Boston, who played a flawless game defending his cage. Second, there was the fact that the German forwards knew how to get down the ice close to the American cage but apparently did not know what to do after they got there.”
That was the word from Albion Ross of The New York Times early in February of 1936, when the United States opened its Winter Olympics schedule in Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a 1-0 win over the hosts from Germany at the main rink. Gordon Smith got the goal — that’s him here, dark-sweatered, bespectacled, putting the puck past German goaltender (and local Garmisch boy) Wilhelm Egginger in the first period. Two days later, when the U.S. lost in an upset to Italy, Smith was again at the fore, booed by the Italian bench for his rough play. At one point, he accused an Italian opponent of deliberately knocking his glasses off, complaining “bitterly” to the referee that a penalty should have been called.
Out in the lead against Germany, the Americans went with a stalling strategy, firing the puck down the ice when they got the chance, forcing the Germans back to retrieve it. The weather played its part throughout the game. “Starting the final period,” an AP correspondent advised, “the snow was so thick that newspaperman in the open stand scarcely could see across the arena and good hockey was impossible.”
The crowd of 8,000 included an odious trio of prominent Nazis in propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, and Dr. Alfred Rosenberg, Reich cultural director. The Times took note of them, and of Rudi Ball, “who enjoys the uncomfortable distinction,” Ross wrote, “of being very much a non-Aryan in a fanatically Aryan land.”
A speedy forward, Ball had long been Germany’s best player. “Without their Jewish teammate the German players would not have been much of a threat,” Ross continued. “Although it often and insistently has been repeated that the Jews have no place in ‘German sport,’ there could be no doubt that Rudi Ball was the Fuehrer of the German hockey team and without their Jewish Fuehrer the Germans would have been in a very embarrassing situation indeed.”
The U.S. Olympic hockey team played one last game before they sailed for Europe in January of 1936 to battle in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics. At Madison Square Garden they played a shortened exhibition (two 15-minute halves) against the EHL New York Rovers, the Rangers’ farm team. The Olympics won, 2-0, on goals from Franks Spain and Stubbs.
Several weeks later, mid-February, as the tournament was about to launch in Germany, a letter from a concerned citizen showed up in the pages of The New York Times. “I am a veteran follower of Canadian and United States hockey,” reader William Gill wrote from Boston, “and here is a prediction Canada will win the Olympic hockey trophy again. The United States is not up to its former teams, lacking experience, as college sixes usually do.”
Arrayed here before the Rovers game are, back row, left to right: Malcolm McAlpin, Fred Kammer, Phil Labatte, John Garrison, Frank Stubbs, and Frank Shaughnessy. Front: Elbridge Ross, Paul Rowe, Thomas Moone, Coach Walter Brown, John Lax, Gordon Smith, and Frank Spain.
(A version of this post appeared on page D3 of The New York Times on June 12, 2017.)
Long before President Donald J. Trump turned a protectionist eye to the iniquities of Canadians, another opinionated American tycoon decided that he had had enough. Eighty years ago, the cross-border irritant wasn’t Nafta or softwood lumber. As Major Frederic McLaughlin saw it, Canada was flooding American markets with too many hockey players.
In 1937, his short-lived America-first campaign was all about making the Chicago Black Hawks great again.
Canadians have long and fiercely claimed hockey as their own, a proprietary technology that also happens to be a primary natural resource. But the game’s south-of-the-border veins run deep, too. The first organized American game is said to have been played in the 1880s at St. Paul’s, a prep school in Concord, N.H.. The first fully professional league was based in Michigan, in 1904, though most of the players were Canadian.
When the N.H.L. made its debut in 1917 with four Canadian teams, it counted a lonely three Americans among 51 players.
“The climate is not suitable for hockey in the United States,” Lester Patrick (b. Drummondville, Quebec), the longtime Rangers coach and manager, explained in 1928. Unfair as it might be, Canadian boys donned skates at age 3.
“They start skating from the ankles, then with the lower leg up to the knee and at maturity they skate from the hip,” Patrick said. “It is an evolutionary process of time.”
“The Americans,” he held, “start too late to develop a full-leg stride.”
None of that mattered, of course, when it came to the potential profitability of American markets. The N.H.L.’s sometimes rancorous rush south saw Boston’s Bruins as the first United States-based team to join, in 1924. Pittsburgh’s Pirates and New York’s Americans followed in 1925 before the Rangers debuted in 1926, along with teams in Detroit and Chicago.
In Chicago, McLaughlin emerged as the majority shareholder. The McLaughlins had made their fortune on the Lake Michigan shore as coffee importers. In the 1850s, most American coffee drinkers bought raw beans and roasted them at home. W.F. McLaughlin was one of the first to sell pre-roasted coffee. When he died in 1905, his elder son took the helm of McLaughlin’s Manor House Coffee with Frederic, the younger son, aboard as secretary and treasurer.
Harvard-educated, Frederic found fame in those prewar years as one of the country’s best polo players. In 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to the restive Mexican frontier, McLaughlin served in the Illinois National Guard.
A year later, the United States went to war with Germany, and McLaughlin joined the Army’s new 86th “Blackhawk” Division, taking command of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion. Trained in Chicago and England, the division reached France just in time for peace to break out in 1918.
Postwar, McLaughlin returned to Chicago society as a prized catch among bachelor millionaires. But he gained national attention after secretly marrying Irene Castle, a ballroom dancer and movie star revered as America’s best-dressed woman.
As president of Chicago’s N.H.L. team, he reserved naming rights, borrowing from his old Army unit’s tribute to an 18th-century Sauk warrior. From his polo club, the Onwentsia in Lake Forest, Ill., he plucked the distinctive chief’s-head emblem that still adorns Black Hawks sweaters.
“Oh, boy, I am glad I haven’t got a weak heart,” McLaughlin is reported to have said at the first hockey game he ever attended, in November 1926, just a month before Chicago’s NHL debut. His newly minted Black Hawks were in Minneapolis, playing an exhibition that featured Canadian men named Moose and Rusty and Tiny.
McLaughlin and his fellow investors bought a ready-made roster to get their franchise going: 14 players who had spent the previous winter as the Western Hockey League’s Portland Rosebuds, men named Dick and Duke and Rabbit from Canadian towns called Kenora and Snow Lake and Mattawa.
While owners in New York and Boston hired old Canadian hockey hands to run their teams, McLaughlin decided he would do the job himself. Asked whether his team was ready to compete for a championship, he said, “If it’s not, we’ll keep on buying players until it is.”
The Blackhawks started respectably enough, making the playoffs in their inaugural season. Coaches came and went in those early years, while McLaughlin cultivated a reputation for ire and eccentricity. Still, after only five N.H.L. seasons, Chicago played its way to the finals. Three years later, in 1934, the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup.
Key to Chicago’s winning formula was McLaughlin’s decision to replace himself with a veteran (Canadian) coach and manager, Tommy Gorman.
“I’m sending myself to the cheering section,” McLaughlin grinned, announcing his midseason surrender in 1933. “I’m convinced that I’m just an amateur in hockey. It’s been a case of the blind leading the blind as far as my influence on the team goes.”
The joy of victory did not linger. Gorman resigned, and Charlie Gardiner, the team’s beloved goaltender, died at 29.
Charged with the reconstruction was a former Black Hawk defenseman, Clem Loughlin, a son of Carroll, Manitoba. Hired in the fall of 1934, he was Chicago’s 11th coach in nine years. The team remained largely Canadian during his regime, with several talented American exceptions, including Doc Romnes and the goaltender who arrived in 1935, Mike Karakas.
A photograph promoting Loughlin’s 1936-37 squad bore the slogan “Lightning On Skates.” When the season opened, Chicago’s still largely Canadian roster struck for a pair of listless ties. Then they started losing in earnest. By Christmas, they had won only two of 16 games.
The new year brought no relief. Coach Loughlin threatened a shake-up and then shook, releasing center Tommy Cook, an eight-year veteran accused of “failure to keep in playing condition” and “lax behavior.”
The remaining Hawks won a couple of games before reverting to type. Mulched in Montreal, trimmed in Toronto, they returned to Chicago to lose again and solidify their hold on last place in the league’s American division.
That’s when McLaughlin announced that he had an answer, or at least a vision. Having already lobbied the N.H.L. to replace Canadian referees with Americans, he divulged his plan to shed the yoke of northern tyranny: within two years he would have only American boys skating for the Black Hawks. And he would be changing the team’s nickname to Yankees.
“I think an all-American team would be a tremendous drawing card all over the league,” McLaughlin said.
He was also said to be annoyed that his Canadian veterans rejected the daily calisthenics he insisted they needed.
“We’ve found out you can’t make athletes out of hockey players,” he declared, “so we’ll try to make hockey players out of athletes. Give me a football player who can skate and we can show this league a lot of hockey.”
He already had a so-called “hockey factory” up and running, with five prototype Minnesotans and Michiganders in training on the ice and at Chicago’s Y.M.C.A. These were men in their 20s named Bun and Butch and Ike. Plucked from quiet amateur careers, none of them had yet shown particular signs of stardom. In command was Emil Iverson, a former Danish Army officer who’d coached college hockey in Minnesota and — briefly — the pre-Gorman Hawks.
Meanwhile, the Hawks went to New York, where they hammered the Americans, 9-0. The Americans, as it happened, were almost entirely not — Roger Jenkins of Appleton, Wis., was the only exception. Chicago’s goals were all scored by importees.
Ridicule was brewing in Canada. John Kieran, a columnist for The New York Times, reported that the north-of-the-border consensus was that an all-American team would dominate at “the same time that the Swiss navy equals the combined fleets of the United States, Great Britain and Japan in total tonnage and heavy armament.”
Coach Loughlin stood by his boss. “It isn’t as silly as it sounds by any means,” he said. “I contend that most hockey players are made, not born.”
By March, the future had arrived. With the Hawks out of the playoffs, McLaughlin decreed that his five factory-fresh Americans would debut against Boston.
It went well — for the Bruins, who prevailed by 6-2. The Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings wired Frank Calder, the president of the league, to protest Chicago’s use of “amateurs” while other teams were still vying for playoff positions.
Boston Coach Art Ross called McLaughlin a “headstrong plutocrat.”
“I have been in hockey 30 years,” he railed, “and never in its entire history has such a farce been perpetrated on a National Hockey League crowd.”
He demanded Chicago refund the price of every ticket —“that’s how rotten the game was.”
“I don’t know whether our constitution will allow the cancellation of an owner’s franchise,” Ross continued, “but if it does, I’ll do everything I can to see that the board of governors do it.”
Unsanctioned by the league, the Hawks went to Toronto, where loudspeakers blared “Yankee Doodle” as “the cash customers prepared for a comedy,” one correspondent reported. Ike Klingbeil of Hancock, Mich., scored a Chicago goal in a losing effort, though a Canadian critic deemed his skating “stiff-legged.”
The new-look Hawks got their first win at home, outlasting the Rangers, 4-3. That night at least, the Times allowed that McLaughlin’s experiment might not have been so far-fetched after all.
The Hawks themselves weren’t entirely contented. A New York reporter listened to a Canadian veteran on the team grumble about the new Americans. “We score the goals and make the plays and they do nothing but a lot of spectacular heavy back-checking,” he said, “but they get all the headlines and all the praise.”
Chicago lost its final two games, finishing a proud point ahead of New York’s even-worse Americans. When the playoffs wrapped up, the Stanley Cup belonged to a Detroit team featuring one American among 21 Canadians with names like Hec and Mud and Bucko.
Come the off-season, the Major gave Clem Loughlin a vote of confidence, right before the coach decided he preferred a return to wheat-farming and hotelkeeping back home in Canada.
Chicago’s five experimental Americans were released. None of them played another N.H.L. game.
The team’s new coach was appropriately unorthodox, for McLaughlin: Bill Stewart, born in Fitchburg, Mass., was best known to that point as a Major League Baseball umpire who carried a wintertime whistle as an N.H.L. referee.
McLaughlin’s wife sued him for divorce that summer, which may have distracted the Major from his all-American plan. In any case, Stewart announced that it was on hold, and the team would continue as the Black Hawks.
When the new hockey season opened, the team started slowly. By March of 1938, they surprised most pundits when they beat the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup.
The trophy itself was absent from the final game, so the champions had to wait to hold it high. Eight of Chicago’s 18 players that season were Americans, men named Doc and Virgil and Cully, who had learned their hockey in Minnesota towns called Aurora, Minneapolis and White Bear Lake.
No N.H.L. champion would count more Americans until last year, when the Pittsburgh Penguins had 10.
(Note: Chicago’s NHL team was Black Hawks for the first 60 years of its history; Blackhawks became one word in 1986.)
The Finns said they were out, sorry, apologies, but they wouldn’t be playing in the hockey tournament because (and I quote) ice hockey sport is too young in Finland to venture upon powerful international tryouts. This was a week or two before the Olympics were due to open in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, if not quite the eleventh hour then maybe the tenth.
The Americans were still in London at this point, losing an exhibition game to Streatham by a score of 8-4.
The Canadians, having played their single European exhibition in Paris, headed on for Germany.
The Germans had Rudi Ball back in their team, a dynamic forward, their best player, who happened to be Jewish, and had left the country for Paris and Milan after Adolf Hitler came to power. He’d been persuaded to return by the Reich sports leader, Captain Hans von Tschammer und Osten.
Ball was scoring goals in Germany’s exhibition games in January; Captain von Tschammer und Osten was no doubt busily involved with all the last-minute Olympic preparations being reported daily in North American newspapers. Germans planning to attend events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen were being told they should go in civvies, for example: “Because the games are primarily international athletic competitions, it is the wish that spectators wear sport clothes and not uniforms.” Also: local restaurants, cafés and hotel bars could stay open until 6 a.m. for the duration of the Games.
Oh, and from Munich came word that the city was at last ready to comply with a government order to remove all “Jews Not Wanted” signs from public spaces. They’d been cleared from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and elsewhere for a while, but stubborn Munich had been holding out.
The weather in Bavaria was balmy, and while there was plenty of snow on the mountains above the town, and Lake Riesser was still frozen, the bobsled run was closed, leaving (the Associated Press reported) the world’s “bulky bobbers” with nothing “to do except eat their usual five square meals daily.”
Italy was looking forward to the next Olympics, declaring their bid and the hope that the world would gather in 1940 in beautiful Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The U.S. played in Paris, where a team of French-Canadians beat them 6-2. They did better in Brussels two nights later, dismissing the Etoile du Nord by a score of 9-5.
From Canada, the news was that Pud Kitchen was a dandy, and that Dinty Moore and Hugh Farquharson were decided assets. Albert Pudas was the source of the praise, the Canadian coach, writing about his team in a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Port Arthur News-Chronicle. “Ken Farmer,” he added, “says he is the best hockey player in Canada, except Hooley Smith. That is a great spirit to have.”
As opposed, I guess, to the not-so-great version that, according to Phil Drackett, Canadian captain Herman Murray possessed. No-one was reporting this at the time: it was 1992 before Phil Drackett published Vendetta On Ice, a history of hockey at the German Olympics, in which he gives us a Murray who’s gruff and somewhat dour (Ken Farmer’s view) and a troublemaker (Albert Pudas’).
Vendetta On Ice is a distinctly British view of the tournament, if I can mention that without impugning the author’s honour, or suggesting any outward hostility towards Canadians and their interests. Drackett says that Murray had a notoriously bad temper and a nickname to commemorate it: Needles. Unless it was Dave Neville who was Needles: he was, after all, tall and thin. Drackett does say that Alex Sinclair and Malcolm Cochran agreed with Pudas about Murray, and quotes another source to the effect that he, Murray, liked to fight, and reports that in the Canadians exhibition in Paris he got very irked when the local scoreboard styled the visiting team as “Port Arthur” instead of “Canada” — he was, you’ll recall, one of the Montreal Royals who’d been added to the corps of Bearcats — and that when teammate Bill Thomson told not to worry about it, Murray thought it might be worthwhile to fight him and the team’s trainer (also a Port Arthur man), Scotty Stewart.
If that’s true, it does make you wonder how Pudas and Cochran came to name Murray to the captaincy in the first place. And was it just too late to make a change in Paris, if/when the captain started beating up teammates and support staff?
January was about to turn to February. Other breaking news of the day included reporting that the German government, via their embassy in Tokyo, was demanding that Japanese publications cease from caricaturing Chancellor Adolf Hitler in print, given that he was a national leader rather than a politician and therefore, by rights, owed immunity from lampooning.
The Japanese, for their part, voiced their annoyance at a recent speech of Hitler’s in which he’d mentioned (as The New York Times reported it) the right of Europeans to rule coloured peoples. A spokesman from the Japanese Foreign Office said he wasn’t entirely sure in what capacity Hitler was speaking,
but that his ideas, as reported, were offensive to the Japanese, who did not believe it was their destiny to be ruled by whites. Such utterances, he said, made it difficult to persuade Japanese newspapers to regard Hitler as exempt from the criticism to which politicians exposed themselves.
January 30 marked the third anniversary of the Nazis having come to power, and there were more speeches in Germany to mark the occasion. Hans Frank, minister without portfolio, said, “We do not care what the world says about our Jewish legislation.” Nazi law, he explained, took account of five cardinal factors: blood, soil, honour, labour, and the will to defend.
At a Berlin festival attended by 26,000 soldiers, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels got things going by declaring how proud he was that the capital was a German city now, free of Jews and Marxists. “You, my storm troop comrades,” Hitler said, “are the guarantors of the future.”
German roller-skate authorities announced, meanwhile, that it looked like plans for adding roller hockey to the schedule at the forthcoming Berlin Summer Olympics were going ahead.
The weather in Garmisch-Partenkirchen turned wet. Snow was falling in town, but it was a slushy stuff, and the bobsledders were still only feeding, and the speedskaters couldn’t practice.
Back home, Ottawa had its claim on in for coldest place in Eastern Canada, at -16. Governor-General Lord Tweedsmuir was taking advantage of the weather, heading out into the snowy capital to pursue his newest passion: cross-country skiing. While Lady Tweedsmuir took a sleigh-ride, His Excellency undertook a brief but strenuous expedition with Colonel J.T. Thomson, Dominion franchise commissioner.
It was only a week or two since the Tweedsmuirs had witnessed their first Canadian hockey game, in Ottawa, when the Senators beat the Montreal Victorias. The Governor-General had been impressed, reported The Montreal Gazette, smiling and applauding warmly, sitting throughout the game without a hat.
The Americans arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. They were tired. Their lacklustrous showing in the exhibition games they’d played since arriving in Europe had (1) allayed the fears of Canadian observers and (2) caused disquiet among American fans and officials.
Finland’s withdrawal left 15 teams, organized into four preliminary-round groups:
Group A: Canada, Austria, Poland, Latvia
Group B: Germany, USA, Italy, Switzerland
Group C: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, France, Belgium
Group D: Great Britain, Sweden, Japan
The two best teams in each group — eight nations — would qualify for the semi-final round, explained The Ottawa Journal to readers in mid-January. Two teams from each of those groups (for a total of four) would then advance to the final round, wherein a winner and three runners-up would be determined.
Canada’s first game was slated for Thursday, February 6: right after the opening ceremonies, they’d lace up for a meeting with Poland.
The Americans said they were due to give their northern neighbours a surprise in the hockey tournament. Some Americans did. Boston’s Daily Globe called the Canadians strongly favoured. Olympic previews published back home in the Hope, Arkansas Star, for instance, noted that while the U.S, team was the only one likely to give the Canadians a run for their money, they weren’t exactly lighting up the continent.
Still, Canadians were wary of them. They did have a Canadian-born goaltender, after all, in Tom Moone, and their best forward, Frank Shaughnessy, had been captain of the McGill University team before graduating to star for the Montreal Victorias. “The pre-game dope,” said The Ottawa Citizen, had the U.S. “figured to give the Canadians their stiffest argument.” They would prove, others opined, Canada’s most dangerous foe. No to worry too much, of course: “The feeling exists, however, that they will protect the Dominion’s hockey supremacy at Garmisch-Partenkirchen with plenty to spare.”
The Globe was assuring its readers, too. “There never was need for great concern over Canada’s chances in Olympic hockey.”
The Ottawa Journal was picking Canada and the U.S. to make the final four along with Germany and either Sweden or Switzerland.
J.F. Fitzgerald from The Toronto Telegram was looking at the U.S. to come in third, with the Great Britain or Switzerland in second. The British, of course, had so many Canadian-trained players among them that they were more or less a second Dominion squad, which was why it would be nice to see Canada and Great Britain to run one-two.
Erwin Schwangart was on the ground for The Globe, and on the eve of the Games getting going, he talked to several Canadians about how they thought the hockey tournament might unfold. One of these was Canadian baking mogul W. Garfield Weston, who’d made the journey over from London where he was working; another was Val Hoffinger, who’d grown up in Saskatchewan and played a bit for the Chicago Black Hawks in the late ’20s.
“Hoffinger gave Canada the nod for first place by a wide margin,” Schwangart reported two days before the Olympics opened. A generous opinion, given that Hoffinger was coaching the home team, Germany.
He’d been working hard to prepare his team of fourteen players, most of whom he’d had together for six weeks. Hoffinger had put together a second team, strengthened with four Canadians, to test Rudi Ball and the rest of his charges. Hoffinger didn’t think much of the Americans: he looked to the Swiss and the British to be battling for second.
A funny thing, European hockey. “Very noticeable,” Erwin Schwangart was writing in The Globe, “is the complete absence of bodychecking.”
Hoffinger explained that this came as a consequence of the refusal of the attacking players to penetrate the defence from close range. They favour a big swerve toward the corners. Watching some of the practices I could conceive easily that he is trying to teach the boys how to shift but it seems to be rather hard for the players to accomplish this, as they are not natural players, but just play according to teaching. They, just as the rest of the European players, have a tendency to grab their opponent’s stick.
King Gustav stopped by in Berlin to visit with Hitler. The Swedish monarch was on his way to the French Riviera for a winter break. With the German chancellor preparing for his departure for Bavaria, I suppose it’s possible that the two of them talked some winter sports, maybe even some hockey. Though nobody was expecting too much from the Swedes, even though they, too, had a Canadian coach — Vic Lindquist, from Winnipeg, who’d won a gold medal playing for Canada at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid.
Nazis said later — some Nazis — that it wasn’t until Hitler’s train pulled into the station at Garmisch-Partenkirchen that the serious snow began to fall, but in fact the winter weather arrived before the Reichskanzler. Monday, February 3, was when temperature dropped and thick snow mantled the town. Even the sulking bobsledders emerged, said The Daily Boston Globe.
Muhammad Ali is here, from 1967, and so too is Billie Jean King, circa 1973, and Nelson Mandela from 1995. The images are of boxers and tennis players, politicians, NBA point guards, NFL stars turned soldiers, drivers of racing Chevys, murdered Olympic athletes. All are depicted in a new series of 20 artworks commissioned by the web sports colossus Bleacher Report and something called the Creative Action Network, a collective of artists and designers from around the world. Those taking part in Transcend: Moments in Sports That Changed The Game were charged with creating “a single work that captures a sports figure, event or evolution that hold power and meaning far beyond any scoreboard.” And so Ali’s refusal to join the U.S. Army is represented alongside King’s victory over Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” and the role Mandela played in turning a Rugby World Cup into a pivotal moment in South African history. Hockey’s here, too, thanks to Michigan artist Mark Forton and his take on America’s now-and-forever myth-making miracle that unfolded on the ice of the Olympic rink at 2634 Main Street, Lake Placid, New York, in February of 1980.
“David versus Goliath,” Forton has written about his work, here, “good versus evil.
One of the greatest hockey games ever to be played is not only a historical snapshot of Olympic competition but also of our world at that time. Nothing defined our culture and who we were as Americans like this hockey game did 35 years ago in the shadow of the Cold War. With this project I wanted to reflect on the historical aspects of the game of hockey represented in the old-style hockey mask and also the divisions that separated the USA and the old Soviet Union at that time. Even though the divisions were great at that time — the red that runs through the Soviet Union flag and the red in our US flag bleeds the same. Like the red blood that runs through our veins. Equal, two equally fantastic teams that defined Olympic competition at its best. It was an honor to work on this project for the Miracle on Ice.
Hard to say what’s going on with the puck in this imaginatively enhanced German photo-illustration of Canada’s first meeting with the United States at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. If the teams did indeed play the game batting about the lid of a teapot, it’s not something the newspapers noticed. What we do know is that this was the opening outing of Canada’s least-dominant Olympics up to that point, even if they did — spoiler alert — end up grabbing gold.
It was the Winnipeg Hockey Club representing Canada that year, the Allan Cup champions, and despite what you see above, they (a) wore regular shinpads and socks and (b) affected plain old red maple leaves on their sweaters, no exoskeleton needed. Going into these III Winter Olympics, Canadians back home wondered whether the Winnipegs were worthy representatives. Could they get the job done? The team was considered weak, writes Andrew Podnieks in Canada’s Olympic Hockey Teams (1997), not to mention lacking in lustre. I don’t know that it’s fair to say that the country suffered a national sinking feeling as the team rode east out of Manitoba on Canadian National’s Continental Limited flyer, but neither am I ruling it out.
Against the U.S., the Winnipegs may have been thrown off by the fact that the game was played outdoors. Goalie Bill Cockburn had sun glaring in his eyes, and the team in general was (said The Globe) “as nervous as an amateur theatrical troupe on ‘the big night.’” Also, did I mention that the rink was disconcertingly small?
Canada was not only “sluggish” for the first two periods, but “wobbly.” In the second, the Americans scooped up a wild Canadian pass in front of Cockburn and … scored.
That woke up the Winnipeggers. Time to step it up. In the third, as The Globe told the tale,
Franklin Farrell, the United States goaler, was on his knees most of the time batting away shots with his elbows and his hands.
Hack Simpson finally beat him. In overtime, despite taking two penalties, the Canadians prevailed when Vic Lindquist drove at the net, fell, collided with Farrell and, somehow, shoved the the lid of the teapot into the net. “Twas a close squeeze,” Globe sports editor Mike Rodden exhaled next morning.
Now’s not the time, probably, to get down on the Winnipegs for what happened next. With an eye to selling tickets, the Americans had organized a series of exhibition games throughout the Olympics, which is how Canada played and lost to the team from McGill University next day. Canadian management attached no importance to the game but still, a loss is a loss.
Next, back to the fight for gold, came Germany. They insisted on succumbing by a mere 4-1. This was just getting silly. Four years earlier, Canadians had been winning games by scores of 33-0 and 19-2. The Winnipegs did record a restorative 9-0 drubbing of the Poles next, and that must have calmed some nerves. The Germans got the message, sort of, losing 5-0 when the teams met for a second time. Next day, when it was Poland’s turn again, the Winnipegs patiently re-drubbed them 10-0.
Which was better. More Canadian, certainly. In the final, the Winnipegs faced the United States again. Twice the Americans had the audacity to take the lead and twice — “a little shaken by the unexpected turn of events,” as The Globe reported — Canada was forced to tie it up. That’s how the game ended, 2-2, which was just enough to give Canada the gold, on points, even as the country considered the disturbing shift in Olympic hockey that we’ve been struggling with ever since: other teams, from other countries, seemed like they wanted to win gold just as much as we did.
The United States won Olympic gold for the first time in 1960 at Squaw Valley and when someone writes a book about that, modern-day American teams can study it for guidance. In the meantime, American blueprints for Olympic victory will have to make do with the many volumes commemorating that other golden campaign, in 1980, which include Miracle On Ice: Victory For America! and One Goal (“the victory that united a nation in an explosion of joy and pride”) to Going For The Gold and The Boys of Winter. The latter, by Wayne Coffey, is the best of these chronicles, if not not the one we’re talking about here today in our review of Olympic-hockey how-to books. What does Joe Dunn’s Miracle On Ice (2008) have that the rest of those others don’t? More pictures, fewer words, a whole bunch of very angry and obviously steroid-ridden Russians, and the quickest guide to getting hold of the gold.
It’s tough times in the 1970s for America. The energy crisis, inflation, Iranians taking hostage. The world is in turmoil.
Forget all that. Focus on the Olympics. Can anybody beat the Soviet Union? They’ve won five out of the last six gold medals. Their players are wily and old and, also, young and quick. They have square heads, and scowls on their faces.
Hire Herb Brooks. Convene a number of tryout camps. Test your players mentally as well as physically. Pick a team. Condition them. Train them to work hard and be fast.
Play a gruelling exhibition schedule. Lose your last game to the Soviets by a score of 10-3.
Go to Lake Placid. Don’t worry about the Canadians — in fact, you know what? Don’t even mention them. Tie Sweden. Dominate the Czechs 7-3. Beat Norway, Romania, Germany.
Meet the still-scowling Soviets in the medal round. Scowl at them. Let them be aggressive in the first period, taking shot after shot. Have a goalie named Jim Craig be up to the task of stopping them all.
See Krutov finally score.
Don’t be discouraged. Tie the game. See Makarov score. Tie it up again, scowlingly.
Be shocked when the Soviet coach pulls Tretiak after the first period in favour of Myshkin. Wilt a bit, but don’t collapse. Eventually take a 4-3 lead. Hold on to it. Win. Skate around with a flag for a cape while the crowd chants U!S!A! and U!S!A! Call it one of the greatest moments in sports history, a miracle, but don’t forget, you still have to beat Finland if you want to win the Olympics.
Miracle On Ice
by Joe Dunn, illustrated by Ben Dunn
(Edina: Magic Wagon, 2008)
It’s not a White House tape that’s going to displace any of Richard Nixon’s recordings on the all-time register of executive audio infamy, but John F. Kennedy’s feelings about the failings of the 1963 U.S. national hockey team deserve a listen.
Thanks go to The Toronto Star’s reporter in Washington, Mitch Potter, who tweeted an alert this afternoon to the tape in question. It’s not new in its availability: recordings from the Kennedy White House have been public for some time. As they’ll tell you there, a Dictaphone taping system was set up in the Oval Office — “and possibly in the President’s bedroom” — in the fall of 1962 to track telephone conversations. Robert Kennedy ordered the system disconnected on the day the President died, November 22, 1963. The telephone recordings — 12 hours’ worth, preserved on “dictabelts,” were later sent to the National Archives in Washington and, in 1976, to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where the process of declassifying them took place of the course of the following two decades.
It was a Wednesday in March, and the President had been browsing the papers. What he found in the sports pages soured his cereal enough that he put in an emergency call to David Hackett to talk about the fortunes of the U.S. hockey team taking part in the world championships in Sweden.
“Dave,” said the President.
“Yeah, how are you?” Hackett was an old friend, from prep school, of Bobby Kennedy’s, and he was serving now as executive director of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime. More to the point on this particular morning: after soldiering as a paratrooper during World War II, he’d attended Montreal’s McGill University. He’d played hockey there, and was good enough to be chosen for the 1952 U.S. Olympic team. (He broke his ankle and missed the tournament in Oslo.) Continue reading