Monthly Archives: December 2014

The First Game on Christmas

The NHL hasn’t scheduled a game on Christmas day since 1971. The last games played on Christmas eve were in 1972. Since then, there’s always been a break from December 23 through December 25. In recent years, teams have had the 26th off as well. But before 1971 and 1972, playing on Christmas was a regular part of the NHL schedule, almost from the very beginning.

In the earliest days of the NHL, the season didn’t start until the latter part of December. The league’s third season of 1919–20 kicked off on December 23, 1919, with Toronto losing 3-0 in Ottawa. Two nights later, Montreal played its opener in Quebec City in the league’s first game to be played on Christmas.

Xmas 1919 1

The Canadiens held a practice on the evening of December 24 and caught a morning train to Quebec City early on the 25th. (Happy Holidays!) Apparently not in a giving mood, Montreal jumped out to a 5–0 lead after one period paced by three goals from star center Newsy Lalonde. The Canadiens upped their lead to 6–0 early in the second, and after letting Quebec close the gap to 8–5 midway through the third, added four late goals for a 12–5 victory. Georges Vezina got the win.

Xmas 1919 2

This was Quebec’s first game in the NHL after the club had withdrawn from the league two years earlier during the meeting that formed the NHL back on November 26, 1917. The lopsided loss on Christmas day set the stage for a season that would see the team win just four of 24 games and withdraw once again.

Of added note to hockey historians, the Montreal Gazette in describing the Christmas day game refers to Quebec as the Athletics, not the Bulldogs as the team was known throughout its days in the National Hockey Association. It seems pretty clear that the Quebec Athletic Club operated the hockey team during its lone season in the NHL (as opposed to the old Quebec Hockey Club), but the name Bulldogs can certainly be found in plenty of references throughout the 1919-20 season, plus the team wore the same colors as the Bulldogs, was run by the same people, and employed many of the same old players.

Gordie Who?

The latest news over the weekend about Gordie Howe is encouraging as he battles back from a stroke. So encouraging, in fact, that his family is hoping he’ll be healthy enough to attend an event with Wayne Gretzky in Saskatoon in February.

A lot has already been, and will continue to be, written and said about Howe, but here’s a story you may not know. The history of hockey – certainly the history of hockey in Detroit – would have been very different if this story had come to pass.

Some of you are already thinking that this is going to be the story of how Howe could have been with the New York Rangers. And yes, he attended a tryout camp with the Rangers as a 15-year-old in 1943. But this is the story of how Gordie Howe might have ended up with the Boston Bruins.

Howe Trade

According to Harold Kaese, writing in the Boston Globe on December 27, 1956, Art Ross tried to get Jack Adams to throw in Howe to sweeten a deal the two were working on in the summer of 1946. If Kaese was recalling all this correctly – which is certainly up for debate! – Howe would have just completed his one and only minor league season with the Omaha Knights of the USHL.

Art Ross was trying to make a deal with the Detroit Red Wings some 10 years ago. Like a good trader, he was hoping to get the edge over Jack Adams. And like a good kidder, he was determined to get a rise out of the irritable Adams even though he did not get the edge.

“I think you ought to throw in a little extra, just to make it more even,” suggested Ross.

“Yeah? What extra?” snapped Adams.

“Well, how about that big dumb kid you have for right wing?” asked Ross. “I can’t remember his name. Powell. Howell. Something like that.”

“Not Howell. Howe!” shouted Adams. “Why you–you–you…”

Kaese writes that when the trade was made, “Detroit, I think, got Roy Conacher. The Bruins got Joe Carveth.[NOTE: that trade certainly did take place during the summer of 1946] But they did not get Gordon Howe.”

Wishing all the best to Mr. Hockey … and to everyone during this Holiday season.

Blue Lines

A couple of years ago, we received a copy of an old letter in the offices of the NHL Official Guide & Record Book. It was a letter that referee Lou Marsh wrote to league president Frank Calder detailing events of a game played in Ottawa on February 1, 1922. (Some of you reading this will have seen that letter, and no doubt remember it!)

Sprague&Odie

Sprague Cleghorn (on the right) and his brother Odie (left) – but particularly Sprague – were talented but dirty players. They seemed to go out of their way to injure Ottawa players that night. (Sprague was a former Senators star playing in his first season with the Montreal Canadiens.) Marsh wrote of the injuries they inflicted, but also of the profane language Sprague used.

It’s sometimes difficult to think of people we only know from black and white photos, and from the literature of the times, ever uttering swear words. When HBO airs a program like Boardwalk Empire it’s easy to think the sex, violence, and swearing is exaggerated to appeal to modern audiences. But no.

Cleghorn Headline

Since children may read this, I’ll only hint at the worst language Marsh describes in his letter. About the tamest thing he says Cleghorn called him is, “a goddamn robber.” He also accused Marsh’s mother of being a female dog, and – most surprisingly! – there was repeated usage of the word that fans of the movie Bull Durham will recall got Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis character ejected from a game. (That was definitely not a word I’d have expected to hear in 1922!)

I don’t have a copy of the letter with me, so I might have the details of this part slightly wrong, but I believe Marsh noted that all of this foul language was used in close proximity to women in the crowd that night, and to a box where the Governor-General and a party from Rideau Hall were seated.

Hockey profanity

Just the other day, I came across this story of an Ottawa priest condemning so much use of profanity in public places. Interestingly, it appeared in the Ottawa Journal on January 16, 1922, a short time before Cleghorn’s spree. In addition to what you can see here, Father Fitzgerald went on to declare that:

Profanity was particularly noticeable at hockey matches, among players as well as spectators. Players who could not take part in games without swearing should withdraw from sport.

So it would seem that Sprague Cleghorn likely wasn’t alone with his blue lines on the ice.

Hockey Nerd in Canada – Part I

Generally speaking, I find the recent trend of athletes signing one-day contracts so that they can retire with their former team to be kind of dopey. That said, I think that Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators, and Ottawa hockey fans did a real nice job of it last week. Roy MacGregor wrote a fine column about it in the Globe and Mail on Friday.

I’ve enjoyed MacGregor’s writing for a long time, particularly when the topic is hockey or life at the cottage. He and I have met a few times over the years, and exchanged emails on occasion, and he’s always been great to talk to. So, I sent him a note telling him how much I liked his Alfredsson story … but pointing out one historical error.

Alfie Clancy

MacGregor had touched on a few of the greatest names in Ottawa’s long hockey history and briefly mentioned King Clancy playing every position including goalie during one Stanley Cup game. I told him that, “it’s in such high circulation these days that everyone believes it’s true, but the evidence is that while King Clancy played every position on the ice during the 1923 Stanley Cup playoffs, he did NOT do so in one single game.”

Roy apologized, and told me that he’d gotten the information from the Hockey Hall of Fame’s web site. “Certainly nothing to apologize about,” I wrote back. “I’m sure you’d find the Clancy story on MANY different web site … and my story only in my book!” (that book being Stanley Cup: 120 Years of Hockey Supremacy.) I added, “It’s like the line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – and one other John Ford film I can never remember: ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’ But then there’s always some lonely voice like mine, trying to sort out the facts…” He said that those lonely voices, “matter a great deal to the game and its history.”

For those who care to know what probably happened all the way back in 1923 (and who probably haven’t committed to memory every word in my G I A N T Stanley Cup opus), here’s what I wrote about King Clancy playing all six positions:

Clancy 1923

But, sadly, nothing is straightforward with this story. Hoping to fine a little more proof, I did some more digging this weekend. Turns out, Basil O’Meara, writing in the Ottawa Journal on April 2, 1923 after the final Stanley Cup game on March 31 had this to say: “Frank Clancy made hockey history,” and proceeds to write that, “the kid with the tousled thatch went in and played goal and tried his hand at every other position on the team.” Still, the game report on the previous page in that day’s Journal only seems to describe Clancy and Lionel Hitchman subbing in on defense, with Harry Helman taking a few turns relieving the forwards. (Maybe O’Meara’s copy editor back in Ottawa transcribed something incorrectly in type-setting the telegraphed story from Vancouver?) The Vancouver World says nothing about it.

So, I still think I’m probably right in what I wrote … but I’m not quite as sure as I once was!

The Late, Great Jean Beliveau

Jean Beliveau died last night. He was 83 years old.

I was only seven when Beliveau retired in the spring of 1971. I never saw him play live, but the 1971 Stanley Cup Final is the first one I really remember, so I know that I at least saw him play on television. I met him once, 22 years later, in 1993, when I was working at the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was every bit the classy gentleman that everybody always said he was! We only spoke for a few minutes, but he made it very warm and personal. I’ve met other players of his era before and since, but this was honestly something special.

1956 Beliveau

Other people who knew him better, and saw him at his best, will (and already have) written about him in ways that I never could. Still, I thought I’d share some of this story I recently came across, written about him on April 10, 1956. For some context, Beliveau was already a star from his junior hockey days in Quebec City, and probably the most-hyped hockey prospect in history in the early 1950s. In 1955-56, he’d just completed his second full season in the NHL, leading the league with 47 goals and 88 points. On April 8, 1956, he scored two goals in Montreal’s 3-0 win over Detroit to take a three-games-to-one lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. This article appeared in Dink Carroll’s column in the Montreal Gazette:

Jean Beliveau played such a magnificent game that the Detroit fans cheered him when it was over.

Murph Chamberlain, who is the toast of Chatham because of the job he had done with the Maroons, saw the Sunday game. He was asked how he rated Beliveau.

“I think he’s the best I ever saw,” said Murphy. “There isn’t anything he can’t do, and he does it all a little better than anybody else. I won’t say he’s a better finisher than the Rocket. You’d have to wait until he’s been in the league as long as the Rocket has, and he may not last that long.”

Wilfie Cude, the old netminder, was also a spectator. Wilfie is now a scout for the Red Wings. He listened in on the discussion about Beliveau.

“He’s a sweetheart,” Wilfie said. “Give him another three years in the league and I think we’ll be saying he’s the greatest of them all.

“I’m not saying he’s the best stickhandler I ever saw. I can’t forget what a great stickhandler Aurel Joliat was, but Aurel was small and that was a disadvantage. Beliveau is big, strong, and has such a long reach that it’s hard for opposing players to get at the puck.

“He makes great plays, he’s always a step ahead, he’s got hockey sense, he does a lot of forechecking, and he can score. He makes it all look easy, too.”

“How would you compare him with Syl Apps,” one of the reporters in the group asked.

“Apps wouldn’t come up to his ankles,” was the reply. “But Apps resembled him in that he was a gentleman, on or off the ice, and if you love hockey like I do that’s important.”

“A gentleman,” somebody kidded. “Beliveau had over 140 minutes in the penalty box this season. How about that?”

“I don’t care if he spent six years in the penalty box. He’s still a gentleman.”