two so blue
gold for canada, 1932: apart from these eccentricities, the game more or less made sense
There was no miracle on the ice at Lake Placid on this date in 1932, just the same old same-old: Canada won Olympic gold.
But it was close.
For the first time in four Olympic hockey tournaments spanning 12 years and 17 games, a Canadian team failed to register a win. That Saturday 90 years ago, the best Canada’s team could manage was a 2-2 tie against the host team in front of a packed house at the Olympic Arena. The Americans were leading 2-1 almost to the end, too: with just 33 seconds remaining on the clock in the third period, Canadian left winger Romeo Rivers sent a shot in from the blueline that beat U.S. goaltender Franklin Farrell.
The teams played three 10-minute periods of overtime without another goal. A U.S. win would have seen the tournament extended by another game, with the two old rivals meeting again to decide a winner. As it stood, the tie was enough to secure the championship for Canada.
Canadians on the were, predictably, exultant. Winnipeg Mayor Ralph Webb was at the game and his exuberance was soon cabled back to Manitoba. “The boys played a wonderful game,” he declared, “and the score does not represent the real game they played. All Canada should be proud as Winnipeg is of them.”
Memories of the mighty Winnipeg Falcons were widely invoked, that plucky team of Icelandic-Canadians who’d claimed gold in Antwerp in 1920. Interestingly, according to W.A. Hewitt in the Toronto Daily Star and others, that original title wasn’t entered in official Olympic records.
“The international Olympic committee a few years ago decided to erase the 1920 Winter Sports from the records,” Vern DeGeer recalled in his Windsor Star column.
“According to the International Olympic committee,” reported Hewitt, a member of Canada’s Olympic committee, “it is only the third title for Canada.”
Amid the celebratory columns that showed up over the next few days in Canadian newsprint were several gleeful accounts of American gaffes.
The game was broadcast across both the NBC rand Columbia radio networks, with Ted Husing providing play-by-play for the latter. “He came out with a flock of new terms,” columnist Johnny Buss wrote in the Winnipeg Tribune, but considering it was his first attempt at broadcasting a hockey game he did well.”
The puck was always a ball, according to Husing, and the American players were constantly flashing like “blue streaks” down the “alleys.” The penalty box was the “jury box,” and once Bill Cockburn was guilty of “heeling the ball,” whatever that may mean. Apart from these eccentricities, the report of the game more or less made sense.
Toronto’s Daily Star told the tale of the band that was on hand at the Olympic Arena. With minutes remaining in the game and the U.S. leading 2-1, the bandleader told his charges to be prepared to play the Star-Spangled Banner. The Star’s account of this is unbylined, but it’s likely that it was written by sports editor Lou Marsh, who just happened to be refereeing the final.
“He was all excited and joyed up,” the Star wrote of the bandleader. And went on:
Now the band was stationed in the alleyway around the Canuck players’ bench and they heard his excited orders. Then Rivers scored the tying goal — the winning goal, really — and sent the game into overtime. You can guess what disposition the exulting Canadian players invited the bandleader to make of his anthem when Rivers tied the game up.”
And the band DID NOT play “The Star Spangled Banner!”
Neither DID they play “The Maple Leaf” or “O Canada!”
They just folded up and departed!
canada v usa, 1932: a little shaken by the unexpected turn of events
“The Canadian team had shown such terrible form … that their officers were commencing to cultivate brows like old-fashioned washboards.”
“To tell the honest truth, the team Canada has to depend upon looked worse than awful.”
Oh, it all worked out in the end in February of 1932, at the Winter Olympics, for Canada, in hockey. It just wasn’t as easy as it might have been for the Winnipeg Hockey Club, the team charged with upholding Canada’s golden honour at hockey’s fourth Olympics. That the gloomy words above were written and published for a national audience to ponder by the man who refereed every one of the Canada’s games during the tournament might seem a little strange, but, well, that’s how it went in those years. Lou Marsh, the sports editor for the Toronto Daily Star whose record of racism has recently come under renewed scrutiny, was in Lake Placid in ’32 as a working reporter, albeit one with a unique perch: along with an American colleague, Donald Sands, Marsh was one of the officials who oversaw every game at of the tournament. (He was, it’s true, a seasoned veteran, having moonlit as an NHL referee for more than a decade.)
By February 7, when Marsh was furrowing his own brow, Canada had played three games. After opening the tournament against the hosts from the United States with a 2-1 overtime win on February 4, they’d (reluctantly) skated in an exhibition game, losing 2-0 to McGill.
Next, back to the fight for gold, came Germany, who insisted on succumbing by a mere 4-1. This was just getting silly. Four years earlier, Canadians had been lapping Swedes and Czechs by scores of 33-0 and 30-0.
Lake Placid had a brand-new indoor hockey rink that year, but as Marsh explained it, the organizers preferred a second, outdoor, venue at the local Stadium, where they could accommodate more spectators and sell more tickets. The Stadium rink was narrow and, for the first meeting between Canada and the U.S., its ice was soft and spongy. That worried Marsh, on Canada’s behalf. “If these games continue on these outdoor rinks, Canada is not out of the woods yet, Anything can happen.”
The Americans, the referee warned, were a real threat.
“True enough,” he wrote following the overtime win, “it was nothing like a good hockey match to look at, but those Yanks know what it is all about and they made the going tough for the Canucks.”
Wearing his newspaperman’s hat, Marsh had done his best to toughen the going for the Americans before the tournament got underway. In January, Ralph Winsor’s U.S. aggregation of college players had played an Olympic warm-up game at Boston’s Garden against the NHL Bruins. The pros prevailed by a score of 5-1, with Art Chapman netting four goals.
But (the Boston Globe judged) “the amateurs left an impression that the shield of these United States is to be worn by a group of right smart hockey players.” The U.S. team further profited from the experience by receiving gate receipts from the game to help finance their foray to Lake Placid. If no-one south of the Canadian border saw anything untoward in this, there were those to the north who did. Lou Marsh took it upon himself to cable Paul Loicq, president of the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (forerunner of the IIHF), to wonder whether the U.S. hadn’t broken rules governing amateurism and the Olympics.
After years as a sports columnist at Toronto’s Daily Star, Marsh had in the fall of 1931 succeeded to the role of editor when his long-time boss, W.A. Hewitt, accepted a job from Conn Smythe as attractions manager of his brand-new Maple Leaf Gardens. Hewitt, Foster’s father, had strong Olympic hockey ties himself, having accompanied the 1920 Canadian team to the very first tournament in Antwerp as a reporter and representative of the Canadian Olympic Association.
In 1932, Hewitt was serving as the COC’s manager of winter sports while still writing for the Star. Pointing out the U.S. transgression, Marsh quoted Hewitt in his COC role as saying he didn’t think Canada should lodge an official protest. Which they didn’t, in the end. While Paul Loicq confirmed that the U.S. had broken the rules, without Canada’s objection, no further action was taken.
Back on the ice in the Adirondacks, Canada recorded a restorative 9-0 drubbing of the Poles on February 8, 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 (indoors at the Arena), the Winnipegs faced the United States again, on February 13. Lou Marsh noted a quirk of the American wardrobe in his Star column before the game: as seen in the image at the top, Ralph Winsor’s defencemen wore sweaters featuring a broad white band around the chest, to distinguish them and remind their teammates on the forward line of their defensive responsibilities.
“Any time a forward sees a player with this broad white band pass him going down the ice,” Marsh wrote, “he knows that the defence is temporarily weakened and that he must cover up for a return rush.”
In the game, the Americans twice had the audacity to take the lead and twice — “a little shaken by the unexpected turn of events,” as the Toronto 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.
US hopes for 1932 olympic hockey gold? we can win
“We have a good team, a strong team, a well-knit organization with a fine sense of team play and exceptional spirit, ” the coach wrote in a column published across North America as his team launched its bid for gold this week in 1932 as the games of the III Winter Olympiad kicked off in Lake Placid, New York. This was Ralph Winsor, long-serving coaching legend of Harvard hockey, where he’d captained before taking to the collegiate bench in 1902. Like this year’s U.S. Olympic team, Winsor’s 1932 charges were college star and minor-league veterans. Yes, Canada had an immaculate record through three previous Olympics, winning championships in 1920, 1924, and 1928. Sure, the Winnipeg team wearing the maple leaf in ’32 was strong. “But,” Winsor wrote in a pre-Olympic preview that the Associated Press sent out, “past experience has shown that no hockey team is invincible.”
Olympic rules, he pointed out, might help his team overthrow the Canadians: no forward passing was allowed in mid-ice or offensive zones, which would “militate against the effectiveness of brilliant individuals” and allow “a relatively slower team” to “be able, through team play, to use the Olympic system to advantage.” A caveat: “I believe, in justice to hockey, that the faster and better team should be enabled, under the rules, to win.” Winsor was optimistic that his team could solve the Canadians. “We tackle them today,” he wrote. “We can win.”
howling for blood and more blood, with shouts of “get him! get that man!”
St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, is proud of its puck-pushing heritage, styling itself as a bit of a hockey cradle: the first organized game in the United States is supposed to have been played on the ice of the prestigious prep school’s Lower School Pond in 1883. American hockey’s late, great, long-lamented legend Hobey Baker learned to ply the puck there, before making his name at Princeton and with New York’s St. Nicholas Club. Other prominent hockey-playing graduates include a couple of teammates from St. Paul’s 1961-62 varsity team: former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Robert Mueller, the erstwhile director of the F.B.I. who toiled in recent troubled times as Special Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice.
During the 1920s, the hockey coach at St. Paul’s was Thomas K. Fisher, a veteran of World War I who’d played previously for Harvard’s varsity team. When he wasn’t out on the ice, he did his best to spread the hockey gospel across the U.S. by way of pen on printed page. In 1926, Fisher published Ice Hockey, an instructional guide for players and coaches. It’s dedicated to the memory of Baker, America’s original hockey superstar, who died in France at the age of 26 in an aircraft crash while serving with the American Expeditionary Force in December of 1918. Baker, who played rover in the old seven-man configuration, was a sublime talent, by all contemporary accounts, and a football star, too, on Princeton grass. (F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of Baker’s admirers, and he forged him into a character in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise.) George Kennedy tried to sign Baker to play for the Montreal Canadiens in 1916 — but Baker wasn’t interested in a pro career. He was one of the initial inductees into both the Hockey Hall of Fame (in 1945) and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame (1973). The award that annually recognizes the best men’s NCAA hockey player bears Baker’s name, of course; it was established in 1980.
Thomas Fisher’s 1926 book laid a heavy emphasis on sportsmanship and, well, purity of play. Sample sentence, from the opening chapter: “The individual player in nine cases out of ten desires with his whole heart that the rules be followed and the game be clean, for otherwise it is not hockey and degenerates into food for the lower appetites of the purely bloodthirsty.”
Fisher would elaborate on his theme in the cover story he contributed to St. Nicholas magazine in early 1929. The piece is a lengthy one, and ranges widely, back through the history of the sport and on through Baker’s glorious career, which (to Fisher) still burned brightly as an example to all who might venture onto hockey ice.
“Here was a man,” he writes, “whose interest was wholly centred in the fun and skill of the game, in extraordinarily fast skating, clever dodging, lightning stick handling, accurate shooting; who never dreamed of touching an opponent with stick or body; who, when body-checked himself, sprang up with a grin and plunged back into the fun of the thing with never a thought of the man who had thrown him.
For all that, Fisher remains, in the St. Nicholas piece, pre-occupied, still, by the game’s seamier side. His optimism shows signs of having waned. In this exasperated excerpt he almost seems ready to give up on hockey’s corrupters, not to mention those guilty of egging them on:
It seems almost incredible that in a country noted for its fair-mindedness and sportsmanship, players should deliberately reach out and trip a more skillful opponent to prevent a score, or hurl an opponent to the ice, hit him with a stick, crash him against the side-boards, or even strike him with the fist. That a player so mistreated should resent such dirty play is very proper; that he should even lose his temper to the extent of seeking revenge in fisticuffs is not incredible, though deplorable, but it is then a sad fact that a sportsmanlike game has degenerated into a gladiatorial contest. Here is where many members of the general public are to blame, for they seem to forget that they have come to see a game of skillful skating, clever dodging, well-timed passing, and exhilarating team play, and howl for blood and more blood with shouts of “Get him! Get that man! Kill him!” They should have gone to a boxing contest if they lusted for a fight, but even then I suppose such people would have been disappointed, for boxers where padded gloves and would hardly discard them to grasp a neighborly cane with which to brain an opponent.
Fisher doesn’t despair, though. “I do not mean to imply,” he goes on to say, “that all hockey has degenerated into the spilling of blood. By no means!” All he asks for is a reckoning, by players, coaches, spectators, rule-makers … anyone with any kind of idealism to spare. By the end of the piece, he’s appealing directly to them all:
You, the player in this most superb of outdoor sports, you, the spectator, in or present at you next game, think deeply how this great game of ice-hockey can best be improved for future generations. The rules could be further improved by elimination of all bodily contact, making the game what it should be: one absolutely lacking in brute force, one of beautiful, rhythmic, elusive, thrilling skill — a game of which Hobey Baker would be proud.
olympicsbound, 2022: here’s to muscle cars and america’s industrial past
Canada’s botanically flawed 2022 Olympic sweaters weren’t the only ones to debut this week; USA Hockey divulged the wardrobe its players will be wearing in Beijing in February, too:
As in the north, so too in the republic to the south: USA Hockey is insisting on explaining the many meanings of its design. Like Canada’s own exegesis, it’s a brave bit of nonsense. Inspired by “American pride and ingenuity,” the look “pays homage to America’s industrial past, while representing the future of innovation.”
In a nod to America’s symbols, a subtle band of stars is set between red, white, and blue stripes that surround the chest and arms on the home and away [sic] jerseys. Drawing inspiration from American ‘muscle cars’ and traditionally bold hockey designs, Team USA’s alternate jersey bears a deep blue double stripe running around the chest and arms.
And then there’s “the internal back neck message.” No, it’s not XL … or it’s not just XL. “‘Driven by Pride’ serves as a reminder to athletes and fans,” USA Hockey alleges, “that they are, in part, driven by the pride of competing for their country.”
While we’re nodding at American symbols, I’m going to revert to a time before internal back neck messages and conclude here with the 1924 U.S. team. That’s them at the top here, on the ice at Chamonix in France, showing off a truly superlative suite of sweaters that, as far as I’m concerned, require no further explanation.
Pride was, I will add, a souvenir of the American experience in France that year. William Haddock was president of the U.S. Amateur Hockey Association at this time, and he coached the Olympic team in that second tournament. As the U.S. had done in 1920 in Antwerp, Haddock’s charges came home with silvery second.
“While I regret that I will not be able to report a championship victory,” he said in early March of ’24, “I nevertheless can say that I felt very proud of the team, which won all of its matches until it met our neighbors, the Canadians, and they only lost after a magnificent battle which was more closely contested than the score would indicate. I believe that our boys, as individuals, proved themselves every bit the equal of the Canadian players, but the Canadians had the advantage in having played together longer and therefore were superior in team play.”
The score indicated was 6-1 and while I’m not able to adjudicate on the closeness of the contest, I can report that Beattie Ramsay, who played on Canada’s defence in that game, did report at the time that the U.S. didn’t worry the Canadians so much.
Back home in late February, he unpacked an immaculate ingot of Canadian pride to tell a Saskatchewan newspaper that the Americans had tried to impede Canada “by rough work.” There had a row before the final over who should referee: both Haddock and his Canadian counterpart, W.A. Hewitt fretted that a European wouldn’t be up to the task. In the end, they’d settled on Paul Loicq, the Belgian lawyer and Continental hockey pioneer who’d played for his country at the 1920 games and had recently been elected president of the International Hockey Union, forerunner of the IIHF.
Beattie Ramsay, for one, wasn’t impressed by Loicq’s umpiring. “With an efficient referee, he declares, Canada could have won the final game by 20 goals. As it was, it was poor hockey.”
Ramsay did pick out a pair of Americans for praise, defencemen Herb Drury and Taffy Abel. Both went on to play in the NHL, Drury for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Abel as both a Ranger in New York and Black Hawk in Chicago.
In goal for the U.S. in 1924 was Alphonse “Frenchy” Lacroix, who would, a year hence, step into the breach in Montreal when the illustrious Canadiens’ career of goaltender Georges Vézina came to an abrupt end with the onset of his final illness.
owning up: don delillo comes clean
It’s a stretch of years now since Keith Gessen, a writer I’ll gladly follow into any paragraph he chooses to lead me, wrote his New York Times Book Reviewessay on hockey’s literature and its lacks, and I’m trying to remember whether, in 2006, I embraced his premise that when it comes to hockey books, two tower above all the rest —No question about Ken Dryden’s 1983 classic The Game— but what about Amazons (1980), the Cleo Birdwell novel that Gessen declared “the other monument of hockey literature thus far”?
You can read the Gessen here. I don’t think that I quite agreed with him on Amazons then, and still don’t, though the novel does tell a feisty, funny, bawdy, insightful story about the first woman to play in the NHL.
You’d expect that, the funny and the insight, of course, given that Birdwell was a masquerade and that the actual author was in fact Don DeLillo. It’s no secret that the man who gave us Libra and White Noise and Underworld has never openly acknowledged that he actually wrote Amazons, nor that he’s reportedly been adamant in his refusal to allow the novel to be reprinted: the mystery, if there is any, is in why he’s been so silent all this time in his spurning of his hockey romp.
No more. DeLillo, who turns 84 this month, has a new novel out, The Silence. Last month, in a New York Times Magazine interview with David Marchese, DeLillo finally came clean. I don’t know why this wasn’t bigger news, though I guess we did have our distractions in October. Anyway, the exchange came halfway through Marchese’s and DeLillo’s back-and-forth. The latter had already dangled a lure, earlier, mentioning Amazons in passing. DeLillo, it’s noted, laughed, but didn’t bite.
A little later, Marchese changed bait, bringing up a prominent DeLillo character. Here’s the exchange:
You know who else shows up in two of your books? Murray Jay Siskind. Both times described as having an “Amish” beard. Murray Jay! Remind me, what book is he in?
White Noise. And where else?
Amazons. Oh god. How do you remember that. Idon’t remember that.
I think I just got a scoop. I don’t know if you’ve ever publicly acknowledged that you wrote Amazons. I probably did, somewhere or other. [Laughs.] Maybe to an interviewer from Thailand.
And there it is. Boom.
I e-mailed David Marchese to congratulate him on his catch. I was also, I guess, hoping for an outtake or two, the rest of the conversation that he’d had to edit out, wherein DeLillo unpacked just how he’d come to write the book, and what he felt about the late-70s Rangers.
What was there in the Times was all there was on Amazons, Marchese told me. “He just sort of laughed and changed the subject,” he wrote. “I didn’t really follow up on it because it seemed a little bit too much inside baseball (to mix metaphors) for the general reader.”
Ah, well. DeLillo’s admission doesn’t really change anything. Whether he wants to talk about it or not, the book’s prose is his, along with its vision, and that’s worth paying attention to. For all the hockey in Amazons (not to mention all the sex), the novel’s particular subject is, as Keith Gessen points out, America, “the dark schizy heart of it.” It’s a book, he writes, that’s “not about hockey in just the right way.”
At one point, Cleo, who at 23 has just made the Rangers, is talking to the blusterous Kinross, president of Madison Square Garden, who hates hockey, doesn’t understand why he should bother to host it in his building.
“It’s a fuggin shit-ass game,” he tells her, “for my money. You don’t have a black or Hispanic element. It doesn’t reflect the urban reality. Who wants to see two white guys hit each other? The violence has no bite to it. It’s not relevant. It doesn’t reflect the streets and I come from the streets.”
Cleo isn’t fazed. “It reflects the Canadian streets,” she says. “It’s a Canadian game. It reflects ice and snow, that’s what it reflects.”
“Well and good,” he says. “I understand that. But this is New York, New York. Where’s the fuggin criminal element? Who do we root for? Escapist violence is all right in the movies. But this is live. Real people swinging sticks. Without any relevance, it’s kind of disgusting. If it doesn’t reflect the streets, you wonder what these guys are doing it for. What’s the point?”
loosening my grip on bobby orr
No quick thought-piece here on why Bobby Orr did what he did, or how terrible the disappointment tastes, or how patently absurd it would be to write a sentence like “President Trump has delivered for all the American people, regardless of race, gender, or station in life,” let alone submit it for publication. The ad that Orr paid to mar half of page A9 of today’s New Hampshire Union Leader is here, if you want to study it.
Me, I’m admiring “Winter on the Don,” above, another of Winnipeg photographer Diana Thorneycroft’s masterpieces, from her 2007 series “Group of Seven Awkward Moments.” Her interest here, she’s said, is in combining “iconic northern landscapes, which have come to symbolize Canada as a nation,” with “scenes of accidents, disasters, and bad weather.”
“By pairing the tranquility of traditional landscape painting with black humour,” Thorneycroft writes, “the work conjures up topical and universally familiar landscapes fraught with anxiety and contradictions.” For more of her bracing views of our north, visit dianathorneycroft.com.
no more team USeless, please
“No more Team USeless, please. No more Bicentennial Bullies or Team Lumber or any of the other cuties that have been hung on the American entry in the Canada Cup series. Just call them Team USA and let it go at that, OK?”
That was Gary Ronberg of The Philadelphia Inquirer demanding a modicum of respect for the team wearing stars and stripes at the inaugural Canada Cup following their 4-4 tie with the powerful team from Czechoslovakia in 1976. The Czechs were the defending world champions at the time, and would go on to face Canada in the tournament’s finals, and in their first two games that September, 44 years ago, they’d already dispensed with the Soviets and the Finns. The Americans, meanwhile, had lost both of their games, to Sweden and Canada. Playing at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, the Czechs went ahead on a second-period powerplay goal from Ivan Hlinka before the home team roared back with goals from Alan Hangsleben, Robbie Ftorek, and Craig Patrick (with a pair) to take a 4-2 lead in to the third. The Czechs scored two in the final frame to earn a point.
“It happens sometimes that you’re not rewarded for what you deserve,” US coach Bob Pulford said after it was all over. “Those guys deserved to win tonight and I feel sorry for them. I was very proud of them tonight.”
Team USA lost its next game to the Soviet Union by a 5-0 score, but rallied in their final showing to beat Finland, 6-3.
(Canada Cup posters by Thomas Ross McNeely. Images: Library and Archives Canada)
u!s!a! crossing the finnish line, 1980
“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.’”