joe benoit: pacing a punch line in montreal, scoring a scad across pre-war europe

Punch-Line Original: Joe Benoit played three seasons for the Canadiens in the early 1940s before war interceded. After serving with Canada’s armed forces,  he returned to the Canadiens in 1945.

The Montreal Canadiens headed into the 1940 NHL season with optimism — though, of course, what else were they going to embrace, having finished the previous campaign plumb last in the seven-team NHL?

They did have a new coach at the helm, the great Dick Irvin, and as the team’s training camp wound down towards the start of the new season, he was talking … well, he sounded a little defensive, to be honest. “We’ll have a team by November 3,” he said; “we won’t be any pushovers.”

He did have an impressive rookie class at his disposal. That fall, Canadiens added 20-year-old centre Johnny Quilty, who end up winning the Calder Trophy that season as the league’s top rookie, along with a few other quality assets (and future Hall-of-Famers) in centre 23-year-old Elmer Lach, defenceman Ken Reardon, 19. Also making his debut: 24-year-old right winger Joe Benoit, who was born on a Sunday of today’s date in 1916.

With Irvin at the helm, Montreal did improve that year, clambering into the playoffs … before clattering out, in the first round, at the hands of the Chicago Black Hawks. Quilty finished as the team’s top scorer, with 18 goals and 34 points in 48 games, just ahead of the veteran captain Toe Blake (12 goals, 32 points) and Benoit (16 goals, 32 points).

As one of the NHL’s first Indigenous players, Benoit deserves more recognition than he’s been accorded to date. If we’re talking about the league itself, that recognition is — well, non-existent. At this late date, the NHL still, for some reason, chooses to ignore the stories of trailblazers like Buddy Maracle, Jim Jamieson, Johnny Harms, and Benoit.

His story, Joe Benoit’s, seems to have started in the northern Alberta community of Egg Lake, though he grew up (like Mark Messier and Jarome Iginla) in St. Albert, to Edmonton’s north. The records I’ve reviewed aren’t entirely clear on his family’s history.  His father’s mother was Métis. In 1921, when Joe was four, the Census of Canada lists his father’s “origin” as French and the rest of the family (his mother and four siblings) as Cree.

Later, the story of young Joe’s hockey origins was told this way: with no arena in St. Albert or even an outdoor rink, he puckhandled through the streets. “Benoit learned his hockey with a homemade stick and a piece of ice as a puck, stickhandling his way up and down the main street of the tiny western hamlet. He developed his stickhandling wizardry by flipping the pieces of ice out of reach of paws and jaws of two gambolling dogs. This was Joe’s only opposition until he went to the Edmonton South Side Athletic Club in 1935, where he had his first taste of team play.”

That’s from 1943. No telling now how romanticized a scene-setting that is. There’s no explicit mention, you’ll note, of skates, though subsequent retellings added those, too.

Benoit’s NHL career was noteworthy, interrupted as it was by war and service (and hockey) with the Canadian armed forces. He played just five seasons in the big league, all of them with Montreal. He was the original right winger for the Canadiens’ top line in the early ’40s, skating with Lach and Toe Blake on the original Punch Line, before a bright young prospect by the name of Maurice Richard took his place. Benoit’s best season was 1942-43, which he finished with 30 goals and 57 points. The year he returned to the NHL, 1945-46, Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, but a back injury kept him out of the playoffs, and his name wasn’t among those stamped in the silverware.

Back between his street-skating years in St. Albert and his first turn on Montreal Forum ice, Benoit, who died at the age of 65 in 1981, did win a couple of notable championships. In 1938, his Trail Smoke Eaters burst out of B.C. Western Kootenay Hockey League to win the Allan Cup, the national senior title.

That earned the team the right to represent Canada the following year at the World Championships, which they did, embarking on a truly remarkable odyssey through Europe on the brink of the war.

Sailing from Halifax aboard the Duchess of York in mid-December of 1938, the Smokies eventually made their way to Switzerland in the new year, where they defended the world title won the previous year by the Sudbury Wolves and by the Kimberley Dynamiters the year before that. In 1939, Trail went undefeated in eight games, beating Germany, Czechoslovakia (twice), and the United States along the way.

Glory to that, but that’s not the remarkable part. Before they set sail for Canada on the Duchess of Richmond in April of 1939, the Smoke Eaters barnstormed their way around Europe, playing 70 games in three-and-a-half months. In Scotland and England they skated, and through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.

Along the way, they compiled a record of 67-1-2, with their only loss coming by a score of 4-1 in London against an all-Canadian team, the Wembley All-Stars.

Joe Benoit counted the only goal for Trail that night. All told, he scored some 60 goals on the tour, leading all the Smoke Eaters in scoring, including a couple of other future NHLers in left winger Bunny Dame, who’d join Benoit in Montreal, and right winger Johnny McCreedy, who served a short stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mere months from the outbreak of war, the hockey players returned to Canada happy but tired, with tales to tell. “The players criticized the food in Germany,” the Regina Leader-Post noted, “where they said a lack of butter, white bread, and meat existed.”

“The players had never seen so many soldiers before,” reported Vancouver’s Province, quoting an unnamed player: “It was terrible in Germany — soldiers, soldiers, soldiers.”

“The streets were full of the them,” the Province continued, “and windows full of uniforms. England was busy digging tunnels as a precaution against air-raids and gas attacks.”

Our Joe: An Edmonton report on the European adventures of Benoit and the Smokies from January of 1939.

 

 

 

 

 

wizard of ice hockey

The years of pupilage, when the new game kept nonplussing the most experienced players, were left behind. Its intricacies were mastered and it was funny to think there was a time when the players could not tear the puck away from the ice.

•  V. Viktorov, Wizard of Ice Hockey (1957)

 

Born in Morshansk in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on a пятница of this date in 1922, Vsevolod Bobrov was a star soccer striker for CSKA Moscow  — he captained the Soviet Union at the 1952 Olympics, too — as well as a hockey left-winger who’s remembered as one of the greatest players to have skated his country’s ice.

The hockey, in fact, came first. Until he was 18, Bobrov only dreamedof soccer. That’s according to the 76-page official Bobrov biography pictured here above. Produced in the USSR in the late 1950s for foreign consumption, it’s a stiffly written (or at least stiffly translated) bit of propaganda that finishes up with a friendly if not particularly enthusiastic letter to the reader from the man himself.

Russian hockey is the hockey that Bobrov played as a boy, which is to say bandy, with a ball, eleven-a-side, on a big stretch of ice — the Soviet embrace of Canadian-style hockey was still more than a decade away. Bobrov’s father, Mikhail, was a good (Russian) hockey player in the ’30s when Vsevolod was growing up in Sestroretsk, near what was then Leningrad, as was his older brother, Vladimir.

Seve is what Lawrence Martin calls the younger Bobrov in his very fluently written, not-a-fleck-of-propaganda-to-it history of Soviet hockey, The Red Machine (1990). “He was scrawny,” he writes,

… poorly fed by parents who first met at a skating rink. They started their boys on the ice at age five, and when little Seve played on the youth team, Lydia, his mother, promised him a pretzel for every goal he scored. She was always running out of pretzels.

On the soccer field, Bobrov ended up in the starting eleven for CSKA Moscow in 1944. That’s skipping over a lot of wartime ground, bypassing all kinds of fine detail. The upshot is that by the late ’40s, he was playing soccer in the summer, hockey in the winter. Canadian hockey, now: in 1946, the Soviets had undertaken to figure out what the puck, the six-a-side, the smaller rink was all about, launching a league of their own, and thereafter, slowly, bit by bit, making strides into the international arena.

Smooch ‘Em If You Got ‘Em:
The Soviet team’s masseur kisses captain Bobrov after the Soviets beat Canada 7-2 in Stockholm in March of 1954.

Adjusting to the new game wasn’t always easy. Even those who’d played bandy — and excelled on the soccer pitch — were bamboozled, at first. That’s the pupilage that The Wizard of Hockey talks about up above. Viktorov on Seve’s struggle:

Bobrov soon overcame his bewilderment and feeling of helplessness, traits that were totally alien to his character. He made the puck obey him. Well, he told himself, if necessary he would start learning from the ground up again. If the Canadians were playing ice hockey for 80 years and found pleasure in the game, if the Swedes liked it and scored substantial successes, if the Czechs unravelled its secrets and won the world title twice, surely it was not beyond the powers of Soviet hockey players.

In his second winter of domestic hockey, Bobrov used his puck powers to score 52 goals in 18 games for CSKA Moscow. He kept on with the soccer, though by 1953, he’d decided he’d had enough of the grass, retiring at the age of 30 to focus full-time on the ice.

The Soviets were supposed to make their international debut at the 1953 World Championships in Switzerland, but Bobrov was injured, so they delayed a year. The Canadians skipped the ’53 tournament, too, but both teams were on hand the following year, in Stockholm, Sweden.

The first impression the hockey newcomers made there was not exactly to Canadian tastes, as the Soviets bushwhacked Canada’s team 7-2 to take the World title for the first time. Highlights, backed by a charming soundtrack, are below, with full coverage of the Soviet coaches and staff kissing their players starting in around the 5:20 mark. Wearing the maple leaf that year were the East York Lyndhursts from Toronto; leading the overwhelming was Bobrov, who captained the champions and scored their deciding goal. You’ll see the former standing around disconsolate after the kissing’s over, and the latter receiving the championship silverware from IIHF supremo Bunny Ahearne.

Bobrov’s playing career on the ice lasted until 1957, whereupon he took up coaching. When the great Anatoli Tarasov was deposed as coach of the Soviet national team in 1972, it was Bobrov who succeeded him — just in time, of course, to surprise another Canadian line-up, this one of overconfident NHL stars rather than Lyndhursts.

Vsevolod Bobrov died at the age of 56 in 1979.

 

sinnerman

“Your Eating And Meeting Place:”  A 1955 postcard from the Warwicks’ own Commodore Cafe at 314 Main Street (across from the Post Office) in Penticton, B.C. “We have found wonderful place,” the printed script on the back reads, “where they serve delicious food, midst pleasant surroundings.”

“We outsmarted them, outskated them, and outplayed them.” That was Bill Warwick in March of 1955 when, as a 30-year-old left winger, he helped Canada overthrow the mighty Soviet Union to win gold at the World Championships in West Germany.

Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, on a Monday of this date in 1924, Bill Warwick was the middle-born of three Warwick brothers who powered the Penticton Vs that year in Europe when they donned the maple leaf on the nation’s behalf. Grant, the eldest, was the coach and also a right winger; Dick, the youngest, played centre. Grant had a nine-year NHL career behind him that saw him skate for the New York Rangers as well as the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. Bill’s stay in the NHL was briefer: he played 14 games with the Rangers over two seasons in the mid-1940s.

It was as the 1954 Allan Cup champions that the Vs had won the right to represent Canada at the World Championships. They had a serious job to do there: restore the nation’s honour by claiming back the world title that the East York Lyndhursts had surrendered the previous year to the Soviets.

Canada launched its campaign with a 12-1 win over the United States, with Bill Warwick pitching in for six goals. He quickly became a focus for his off-the-puck activities, too: a couple of games further into the tournament and the Canadian Press was reporting that German sportswriters had dubbed him The Sinnerand that there was no other player that local fans liked to boo more.

To an American reporter who asked him what their problem might be, Bill said, “Well, I’m not the gentlest guy in the world.”

“In him,” CP reporter Arch MacKenzie elaborated, “European fans tend to see the personification of all they think is bad in Canadian jockey, and they let him know.”

“They shouted when the rugged, black-haired winger capered down the ice after scoring a tying goal in the 5-3 victory over the Czechs last Saturday night, they booed when he danced a jig during the playing of ‘O Canada’ and they bellowed their delight when Bill took a prat fall at center ice Monday night against the Finns, who were swamped 12-0.”

“Warwick sat on the ice, drinking in the clamor, and then waved affably to the crowd. That touched off a new round of noise.”

Canada romped on through the schedule, sacking the Swiss 11-1, whelming the West Germans 10-1, before they met up with the also-undefeated Soviets in Krefeld. Anchored in net by Nikolai Puchkov, the defending champions were led upfront by Vsevolod Bobrov, the man who’d end up coaching his country’s team during the 1972 Summit Series.

Warwick scored a pair of goals as the Canadians skated to a 5-0 win to take the championship. In Canada’s eight games, he notched 14 goals and 22 points to lead all scorers. He was recognized, too, as the tournament’s top forward.

Bill Warwick died in 2007 at the age of 82.

Wild Bill: A German cartoon commemorates the swath Warwick cut through Europe during the 1955 World Championships.

so canada

Laid Low: A joyful fan celebrates while sad scenes ensue around Canada’s net in the third period of Canada’s game against Great Britain at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The score was tied 1-1 when, in the moments before this photograph was taken, Britain’s Canadian-born defenceman Gordon Dailley skated in on Canadian goaltender Dinty Moore, before passing to Chirp Brenchley, who scored to win the game (and a surprise gold medal) for Britain.

Canada skates out to a rare World Championships meeting with Great Britain later today at the Steel Arena in Košice, Slovakia. The first time the two countries met in the tournament was in January of 1935 at Davos in Switzerland, when the Winnipeg Monarchs wore the maple leaf in a 4-2 Canadian win. There were clashes before that at the Olympics, starting in 1924 at Chamonix, France, when Canada’s victory was by a score of 19-2. Four years later in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Canada cruised to a 14-0 win.

At the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, the Port Arthur Bearcats formed the core of the Dominion team, who were (once again/as always) considered tournament favourites by dint of being Canadian. But after disposing with Poland, Latvia, and Austria, the defending champions lost in a 2-1 upset to Great Britain. It wasn’t the end of the world, but the shock and the same was severe. You’ll find more on that (+ bonus alibis and rationalizing) over here. Suffice to say that further Canadian victories over Hungary, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the United States wasn’t enough to snatch back the gold, which the British claimed, leaving Canada to settle, bitterly enough, for silver.

canada vs. russia, 1967

Aftermath: After winning three Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs, defenceman Carl Brewer joined Canada’s national team in 1966. Against the Soviets in March of 1967, he took a stick to the eye for his troubles.

A live look into Canada’s quarter-final match-up with Russia at the IIHF’s World Championships shows the Canadians leading 1-0 at the end of the first period in Copenhagen, Denmark. In March of 1967, in Vienna, the score was the very same at the end of the opening frame, as Jackie McLeod’s Canadians went ahead of the Soviet Union on a Fran Huck goal in that edition of the tournament. It was a round-robin affair in those years, and this meeting of undefeated teams looked like it would decide the title. Canada had a tie to go with their five wins to date, while the Soviets had won all their games. They had dispatched Sweden by a score of 9-1, whereafter Swedish coach Arne Stromberg held Anatoli Tarasov’s group to be “the greatest team in the history of hockey, amateur or professional.”

The Soviets tied the game in the second period in ’67, with Anatoli Firsov lofting the puck high in the air from the Canadian blueline, whereupon goaltender Seth Martin lost sight of it as it dropped over his shoulder into the net. The Soviets scored again in the third, when Martin couldn’t control the rebound of a shot from Boris Mayorov, leaving Vyacheslav Starshinov to score the winner and secure the championship for the Soviets.

The Canadians were upset. “You know,” coach McLeod said afterwards, “it’s a great disappointment to lose after coming all this way, particularly when the winning goal was offside.”

Canadian defenceman Carl Brewer left the game when he took a stick to the eye shortly after the Soviets tied the score in the second. He did return for the third once trainer Bill Bozak had succeeded in taping the eye open.

Canada had one last game left in the tournament, which didn’t go well: Stromberg’s Swedes beat Canada 6-0, good enough to give Sweden second place, bad enough to leave Canada third.

Toothfully: Brewer and Soviet forward Starshinov compare post-game notes.

 

the right way to rout: do not purposely avoid scoring against a team that has already lost

While much of Canada slept Sunday morning, the team battling in our name at this year’s IIHF World Championships in Denmark swept past South Korea by a score of 10-0. Maybe you woke up to watch the TV broadcast, but if not, and you relied on tidings from the internet, then it’s possible that you saw the victory framed as a kind of gratis Royal Caribbean vacation on the IIHF’s news-feed, where the headline over Andrew Podnieks’ report read: Canada Cruises At Korea’s Expense. A Team Canada “made up of NHLers started gently but poured it on,” he wrote. On Twitter it was deemed both a convincing and a dominant win; the Koreans were duly thrashed (Sportsnet.ca) and demolished (Hockey Night in Canada).

Was that really necessary, though? It’s the question that comes up after lopsided wins against lesser opponents, if not for those players on the ice perpetrating the lopsiding, then for some certain observers at home with an interest in sportsmanship and mercy. Could the Canadians have let up a bit yesterday — after, say, Pierre-Luc Dubois scored in the second period to make it 5-0? Or what about closing it down for the third, at the start of which Canada, ranked first among hockey nations, was leading the Southern Koreans, 18th in the world, by a score of 8-0? Wouldn’t that be a kinder way of administering a whomping?

There’s no easy answer, of course. You can’t really expect a parcel of NHL players notto do what they’re trained to do, i.e. skate and score right to the end. And in a round-robin tournament, wherein goal-difference can be a deciding factor, there’s no such thing as an excess of goals.

If you want the original written ruling on the matter, well, in fact the book that’s considered to be hockey’s very first has something to say. Arthur Farrell, a Hall-of-Fame forward, published Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game in 1899, the same year he helped the Montreal Shamrocks to the first of their two successive Stanley Cup championships. Over the course of 122 pages, Farrell waxes long and eloquent on everything from history and equipment to conditioning and tactics.

Hockey, he’ll tell you, is as salubrious an occupation as you’re going to find anywhere. “The very adhering to the rules,” he advises, “the spirit of fair play that characterizes a manly game, the overcoming of all fears and all difficulties, the modest victory, the frank acknowledgement of defeat, all tend to build up, to educate, the mental faculties, just as the long practice, the swift race, and the hard check help to develope [sic] the physical man.”

Keep fighting is advice that features, too, as in never give up. “It is a mistake,” he counsels, “to lose courage because your opponents score the first three or four goals.” Don’t start fighting, though, as in punch somebody: “Do not begin to play roughly because you are losing.”

And if you’re winning? Pour it on, Farrell counsels. “Do not purposely and ostentatiously avoid scoring against a team that has already lost, because even if a bad beating does discourage them they would rather suffer it than be humiliated by any such show of pity.”

Sound advice, I guess, though I’d maybe prefer to hear it direct from the badly beaten and downright discouraged themselves.

Were the Swedes glad to go unpitied to the tune of 12-1 when the met the Canadians at the Antwerp Olympics in 1920? What about the team they sent at Chamonix in 1924, losers to that year’s Canada by 22-0?

W.A. Hewitt was the manager of those Canadian teams, Foster’s father, and he was at the helm again in 1928 in St. Moritz when the University of Toronto Grads wore the maple leaf. Canada opened the tournament against Sweden, surging to a 4-0 first-period lead that … displeased Hewitt. The newspapers back home reported it next day: the boss “became impatient at the slow rolling up of the score.” The players calmed him down, apparently: they thought it best “to let nature take its course.”

Final score: 11-0.

Some of the Grads were still talking about the propriety of running up scores when Canada went to the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy and rolled over Austria by a score of 23-0. “It’s no credit to Canada,” opined Dr. Joe Sullivan, Grad goalie in ’28. “They shouldn’t beat these weak teams by more than ten goals.”

A teammate, centreman Hugh Plaxton, agreed. “I don’t think it does hockey any good.”

One last case study might be worth considering. Austria hosted the IIHF’s 1977 World Championships in Vienna, though they didn’t have a team in the tournament, and so didn’t have to worry about humiliations on the ice. Not so Canada. Here was a rare of instance of one of ourteams finding itself at the suffering end of a rout and, with it, a chance to see how we’d react.

Canada was back at the Worlds for the first time in seven years, and this time they’d be icing a team of professionals. Not quite the front-line accumulation that had won the 1976 Canada Cup, of course: this one would be staffed by NHLers from teams that hadn’t made the playoffs, or hadn’t lasted far into them. GM Derek Holmes had marshalled Jim Rutherford and Tony Esposito for the Canadian goal, Dallas Smith and Carol Vadnais on defence. Pierre Larouche, Ron Ellis, and Rod Gilbert were up at forward along with captain Phil Esposito, who was also named as a playing assistant to coach Jimmy Wilson of the Colorado Rockies.

Phil E. stressed the need for team unity. He’d seen in 1972 what effect dissension could have on a venture like this. “We must have complete harmony if we expect to do well,” he said. The team was young and the players didn’t know one another. “The results in the first exhibition games might give some people in Canada cause for alarm, but overall, we will be all right.”

By The Banks Of The Not-So-Blue Danube: Wilf Paiement’s 1977 World Championships sweater, and the team in happier, pre-rout formation. (Image: Classic Auctions)

Things did not, shall we say, get off to an auspicious start in Europe. After a pre-tournament stop in Sweden, the Canadian played West Germany in Dusseldorf, where they won, 8-1, in a penalty-filled game, and were jeered by 10,000 fans, many of whom threw their seat-cushions on the ice when it was all over.

A report in The Globe and Mail insisted that the barrage was ironic, “mock rage that actually was a favorable reaction to the hard hitting and sometimes cheap penalties the Canadians received.” As for the German press, they reported that Phil Esposito might have been drunk.

“There they go, mistaking me for my brother Tony again,” Phil said, laughing, when he heard that. “Actually, if I had been drinking, it doesn’t say much for their hockey club.”

Of his refusal to shake hands after the game with one of the Germans, Esposito said, “I guess I do not like him. He speared me in the private parts on the first shift and it got worse from then on.”

The Canadians did peaceably dine with the Germans, post-game, I should report. Then they left for more exhibitions in Prague. “That is when it is down to serious business,” Esposito confided.

The Canadians lost both of the exhibitions they played against Czechoslovakia, 7-2 and 4-1. The Czechs paid a price, losing one of their players in the first game to a bad knee injury and another to a broken arm. “If ice hockey follows the path shown by Canadians on Saturday,” one local newspaper warned, “one can only wonder if it will survive beyond this century.”

In Austria, there was a kerfuffle regarding the IIHF’s insistence that all players wear helmets. Several Canadians complained, saying headgear gave them headaches, and the team doctor gave them medical certificates to that effect. But the IIHF wouldn’t relent. Unhappy, the Canadians still fared well enough in their opening game, beating the US 4-1. The next game didn’t go so well: the Swedes we took such care to whup through the 1920s now prevailed 4-2.

Next up, the powerful Soviet Union, winners of the two most recent Olympics as well as eight of the previous ten world championships. They had Vladislav Tretiak in the crease, and ahead of him, the likes of Alexander Yakushev, Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, and Helmut Balderis.

Final score: USSR 11, Canada 1.

And how did Canada respond to finding itself thrashed and demolished and paying for Soviet cruising?

Larouche called the winners the best team he’d ever seen. Phil Esposito was quoted calling them “a helluva hockey club.”

That’s as gracious as we got. On to self-doubt and recrimination.

“It was humiliating,” coach Wilson said.

GM Derek Holmes announced his disappointment, which was bitter.

Montreal’s Gazette topped its front page the next morning with the bad news, leading with a story that included the words worst drubbing, romped, embarrassingly easypoor sportsmanship and shoddy play in the opening two paragraphs.

“The prestige and credibility of Canadian hockey was destroyed on the banks of the not-so-blue Danube,” George Gross wrote in The Toronto Sun. In the hours that followed, politicians in Ottawa took up the cry, with Ontario NDP MP Arnold Peters calling for Canadian hockey officials to be called to face a House of Commons committee to explain why we’d sent “second-rate players” to represent us.

The Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport was in Vienna, Iona Campagnolo, and she said this wasn’t something the government would get involved in. She was concerned about the conduct of our players. “I really don’t care whether we lose 20-1 or 2-1,” she said, “as long as we do it in a fashion that portrays us as true sportsmen.”

She did think that the Austrian press was making too much fuss, and the wrong kind. “It almost looked exultant,” she said. “One of the headlines I read was Canada Executed.”

Günter Sabetzki, president of the IIHF was concerned. He suggested that plans for a 1980 Canada Cup might now have to be reviewed. “We are not at all happy with the team representing the country we all considered to be the father of hockey.”

Had they learned nothing from history? “In 1954,” he said, “when the Canadians went to Stockholm, they thought they couldn’t be beaten and they ended up losing to the Russians. They were drinking too much whisky. This Canadian representative is also lacking in conditioning. I do not know whether they are drinking too much whisky, but I have heard the reports.”

Canada did go on to post a 3-3 with the Czechs, the eventual champions. We finished fourth in the end, just behind the Soviets.

Back at the rout, Al Strachan of The Gazette was on hand to document Canada’s failure to heed Arthur Farrell’s 1899 guidance on going goon in a losing effort. Rod Gilbert “swung himself off his feet” taking a “a vicious two-handed swipe” of his stick at a passing Soviet, while Wilf Paiement “acted like a malicious buffoon” swinging his stick at, and connecting with, the head of another Soviet player. “I figured I might as well hit somebody,” he said, later, “maybe hurt somebody. I don’t know. I wanted to do anything to win.” Canada was down at the time by 8-0.

You’d think those Soviets would have shown show respect, but no, they kept on with the scoring. Having argued to avoid putting helmets on, some of the Canadian players now refused to remove them once the game was all over and the teams lined up to hear the victor’s national anthem.

Centre Walt McKechnie of the Detroit Red Wings was one such, and he later shared his reasoning. “I didn’t ant to look at them,” he said. “I hate them. I don’t like their way of life. I don’t like anything about them. They stink. They’re great hockey players, you’ve got to give them that, but I hate everything about them. Am I supposed to stand there at attention when their flag is flying? Never in a million years. I’m no hypocrite.”

 

in russia, we have a proverb

cccpAnatoli Tarasov brought the Soviet national team to Canada in the winter of 1969 for an eight-game exhibition tour. The Soviets were on a seven-year golden streak at the World Championships at the time. The team they brought to Canada included Vyacheslav Starshinov, Anatoli Firsov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, and a stripling goaltender by the name of Vladislav Tretiak. Mostly they were here to play Canada’s ill-starred Nationals, coached by Jack McLeod, though there were also a few games against Junior A teams.

The Soviets starting with a win, in Winnipeg, while McLeod’s Nats took the second game, 4-3 — the first time a Canadian team had beaten their Russian rivals in almost two years. The Canadians had Wayne Stephenson for a goaltender and Fran Huck was in the line-up, along with a handful of former NHLers, including former Leafs Brian Conacher and Billy Harris. Earlier that year, the International Ice Hockey Federation had voted to allow Canada to bring nine non-NHL professionals to the upcoming 1970 World Championships, scheduled for Montreal and Winnipeg. So that was good, for Canada, right up until January, when the IIHF changed its mind, no pros would be permitted after all, and Canada withdrew from the World Championships and Olympics altogether, taking their pucks and going home. Or staying home — the World Championships went ahead in Stockholm, where the Soviets won, again. McLeod’s Nationals disbanded and Father David Bauer’s dream died; when Canadians returned to play in the World Championships in 1977 it was with a team of NHLers whose teams had missed the playoffs.

In 1969, Tarasov had no interest in playing the Junior A games that the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had arranged. “I am not happy to play with teams that are not good,” he said after the USSR beat the Ottawa 67s 8-3 on Christmas Eve. It was a game, as Rex MacLeod wrote in The Globe and Mail, that “degenerated into a high-sticking, slugging and punching match in the third period.” Starshinov and Evgeny Zimin left the game with separated shoulders; two players from each team were ejected after a late brawl.

“Next time we’ll bring our boxing team,” Tarasov muttered when it was over.

tarasovThe team went to Montreal on December 29 to play the Montreal Junior Canadiens, the defending Memorial Cup champions who felt the need to bolster themselves for the night with nine minor-league professionals. As The Toronto Star reported next day, the enhanced Juniors prevailed by a score of 9-3, with youngsters named Gilbert Perreault and Rejean Houle contributing a couple of goals each.

Appearing in the Star’s Sports pages alongside the report of that drubbing was an article (translated from the Russian) by the losing coach himself. My father, Denis Smith, was Master of Champlain College at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, at the time. He was one Canadian fan who read “Russia’s Tarasov Examines NHL Play” that day, the one who found a poem in it, waiting to be extracted and arranged, which he did, using the master’s own words, adding only a title:

The Lessons of Anatoli Tarasov

Your hockey, to begin with,
has a lot of merit.
It is a kind of beautiful entertainment.
In professional hockey,
you have very strong men —
athletes who are fit.
They have strength of will
and character.

And then, your spectators:
They know a great deal about the game.
Every person who is present in the arena
or who watches on TV
wants to be a part of this entertainment.
As I said earlier, though,
I am a coach:
So I have no room for sentimentality.

Your hockey,
both offensively and defensively,
is based on simple tactical decisions.
In Russia, we have a proverb
that in simplicity lies wisdom.
However:
I don’t think it applies
in the case of great hockey.

Remember how many times
you have seen this:
The player skates to the blue line,
s
h
o
o
t
s
the puck
and follows in —
never thinking
about setting up a beautiful scoring play.

It is impossible to play the same game
for years and years.
Surely,
the pattern of the game should be changed
from time to time.
In your game of professional hockey,
you get enough scoring,
but it is not satisfying to me, personally, how goals are scored.

Finally, a few comments regarding rules
and officiating.
It’s a pity, but
we are having the same problem in amateur hockey:
Show me, please,
where it is written in the bible
that it is legal to stop an opponent with a stick —
or to fight him.

all the president’s embarrassment

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