Monthly Archives: November 2014

Nobody Expects the Spanish Royal Family

On October 21, 1928, it was announced that His Royal Highness Infante (Prince) Don Alfonso of Orleans-Bourbon, a first cousin of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, would be making an unofficial visit to the United States in November. His wife, the Infanta (Princess) Beatrice, would accompany him. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and the sister of Queen Marie of Romania. The couple’s eldest son, Alvaro, would also make the trip. The Spanish royals sailed from Southampton, England, aboard the Majestic on November 7. They arrived in New York six days later.

Spanish Ship

The royal entourage spent several days in New York with Cornelius Vanderbilt and his wife. They next made a whirlwind visit to Washington, where their short stay disappointed the society folk, though they did meet President Calvin Coolidge, for whom the Infante carried a personal message from his cousin the King.

Before sailing home on December 7, the Spanish royals visited Philadelphia, Boston, and Detroit. They also made stops at Columbia University, Princeton, and Harvard. Don Alfonso was the Minister of Aviation for Spain and particularly enjoyed speaking with Charles Lindbergh. His meeting with Henry Ford also impressed him.

The family also made a short visit to Niagara Falls and Montreal during their trip. Given all the impressive people they’d met in the United States, how did their Canadian hosts in Montreal choose to entertain Spanish royalty? They took them to a hockey game!

Spanish Royalty

On December 1, 1928, the Infante Don Alfonso, the Infanta Beatrice, and their son Prince Don Alvaro d’Orleans Bourbon, were among 12,000 spectators at the Montreal Forum watching the Montreal Maroons score a 3-0 victory on two goals from Nels Stewart and a shutout by Clint Benedict.


“I think your ice hockey is the finest and fastest game I have ever seen in my life,” Don Alfonso told a representative of the Montreal Gazette. “It is wonderful, and we all enjoyed every minute of the game. I have seen ice hockey at St. Moritz [Switzerland] and Chamonix [France], but never like we saw on Saturday evening in Montreal in your match against the New York Rangers.”

Before the Hockey Hall of Fame

The Hockey Hall of Fame officially welcomes six new members on Monday night. In the Players category are Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek and Mike Modano. Coach Pat Burns will be inducted in the Builders category. Referee Bill McCreary rounds out the field.

The first Hockey Hall of Fame inductions were made in 1945, but many future Hall of Famers were already getting together in the late 1930s at informal parties hosted by future member George McNamara.

Oldtimers 1939

For more, check out my story for the Society for International Hockey Research which is posted on the SIHR Blog.

Remembrance Day

Today, Canadians all across the country gathered in communities large and small to remember the men and women who have served us in war. This year’s ceremonies took on added meaning, given both recent events and the 100th anniversary of World War I.

One hundred years ago today, Canadians had not yet seen action during the First World War, but thousands of them were stationed at Salisbury Plain in England, receiving further military training after shipping out from Canada early in October. Then as now, wherever Canadians travelled in large enough numbers, hockey wasn’t far from their minds!

WWI article

The news story above appeared in papers all across Canada on November 19, 1914. It outlines plans for a hockey team in the Canadian camp. It’s unclear as yet if they ever actually played any games, though sports competitions took place regularly during training. Among those listed as taking part is future Hockey Hall of Famer Scotty Davidson.

Scotty Davidson

Scotty Davidson had captained the Toronto Blue Shirts to the Stanley Cup in March of 1914 before becoming the first pro hockey player to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in August. If you’re interested in more on Davidson’s war story, and those of other future Hockey Hall of Famers, click here for the original text of a story I wrote that is currently appearing in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Legend’s magazine.

Hockeyists article

Who’s Number One?

So, the Leafs are waiting (again!) for someone to step up and claim their number-one goaltending position. It seems that neither Jonathan Bernier nor James Reimer has taken (or been given!) the opportunity to run with the starting job. You’ve got to think coach Randy Carlyle and the rest of the team brass are getting a little bit desperate … but chances are they won’t resort to something Conn Smythe tried back on March 9, 1929.

The 1928-29 season was the lowest scoring in NHL history. Teams combined to score only 2.9 goals per game that season, meaning the average score of any game was 2-1 in overtime. George Hainsworth of the Canadiens posted a record 22 shutouts during the 44-game season and had a goals against average of 0.92! Toronto’s Lorne Chabot posted a 1.52 average but that was only good enough to rank him eighth among the starters on the 10 NHL teams that season. So Conn Smythe had every reason to see what the young Benny Grant (who’d led his hometown Owen Sound Greys to the Memorial Cup as a junior in 1926–27 before going pro in 1927–28) could do.

Chabot Grant 2

This was an era when the game’s top stars – especially defensemen – often still played the full 60 minutes, or very close to it. But in Toronto’s game against Detroit on March 9, 1929, Smythe chose to “roll” two full lines … including his goaltenders! Smythe made changes approximately every five minutes (presumably at whistles, not on the go) and the fans seemed pleased with the results in a 3-0 victory.

Chabot Grant 1

Smythe continued to use both Chabot and Grant for the final three games of the season, but he rotated them somewhat more traditionally by switching them up between periods. Over the next few seasons, the Leafs occasionally tried to work Grant into a regular rotation, but it never really panned out. Grant play professionally through the 1943-44 season, but only saw action in 52 NHL games in all those years. Because of the way the Leafs used him, his record is somewhat difficult to determine, but was either 17-27-4 or 18-27-4.

Chabot Grant 3

So, why were the Leafs so determined to try Benny Grant when they had a goalie like Lorne Chabot, who still ranks highly among the all-time shutout leaders? And why is Chabot – who has numbers comparable to all the great goalies of his era that have been enshrined – not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame?

I obviously never saw Chabot play, so I can’t say for sure, but I once asked 1930s NHL defenseman Alex Levinsky what he thought about it. Levinsky was a teammate of Chabot in Toronto and Chicago and a relative by marriage of the former wife of a cousin of mine. (Jewish Geography … or, actually Jewish Genealogy!) “He wasn’t that good,” Levinsky told me.

That seems hard to believe, but then again, there must be a reason why Chabot was traded five times in his 11-year career, including each of the final four seasons he played.

Recently, I came across a story in the Montreal Gazette from April 15, 1958 in which columnist Vern DeGeer discussed the athleticism of various NHL netminders. “One of the poorer skaters of the goalie fraternity was the late Lorne Chabot,” he writes. “He operated on shaky legs and often had to grab a goal-post to steady himself.” Still, DeGeer notes: “He was remarkably successful despite his blade weakness.”

Frank Selke once said his teammates all liked him, but you’ve got to think that if Chabot was playing today, fans and media (and probably the analytics crowd) would be all over him!


Better Than Nothing?

Perhaps it’ll all work out for the best. Perhaps the money saved by trading Adam Lind, the player with the highest batting average in the Majors against righthanded pitching, for Marco Estrada, the pitcher who gave up the most home runs in the National League, makes sense. Perhaps the .202-hitting Justin Smoak is ready to bust out. Or, maybe, these are just the earliest moves in an offseason (hopefully!) filled with better ones to come. Still, the Lind trade put me immediately in mind of one of the greatest headlines in Blue Jays history:

Donate headline

This story appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, December 13, 1980, the day after the Blue Jays sent Bob Bailor to the Mets for Roy Lee Jackson. Bailor put up some decent numbers with the Mets and Dodgers after leaving Toronto, but the Jays didn’t really miss him. As for, Roy Lee Jackson, he’s probably best remembered as a pretty fine National Anthem singer, but he did have better stats than people might recall.

Still, an awful lot of Jackson’s wins came from Jays rallies after he’d blown leads … so much so that where other people might refer to those types of pitchers as “vultures” in my family, we referred to those types of situations as “Roy Lee wins.”

Here’s hoping the donation of Lind works out better!