Monthly Archives: January 2016

50 Goals in 50 Games

Thirty-five years (and two days) ago, on January 24, 1981, Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders scored his 50th goal of the 1980-81 season. He did it just 50 games. Wayne Gretzky would obliterate this unofficial record with 50 goals in 39 games the next season, but we had no way of knowing this at the time, so it was all pretty exciting!

I was definitely caught up in the race as both Bossy and Charlie Simmer of the Los Angeles Kings took their shot at the 50-50 milestone. Simmer fell just short, with three goals in a 6-4 afternoon victory over Boston that same January day to give him 49 goals in 50 games. Bossy had reached 48 goals through 47 games but was shutout in two straight, and then for two periods that Saturday night against the Quebec Nordiques. He finally scored #49 with 3:10 remaining in the third, and then got #50 with just 1:30 to go. By that time, Hockey Night in Canada had gone live to the game, so I was watching when Bossy scored it. It was quite a moment.

Bossy 50

Entering the 1980-81 season, there had been 23 players who’d scored 50 goals in a season since Maurice Richard had first done it in 1944-45. Many, like Bossy, had reached the milestone more than once. But none until that night had managed to match the Rocket’s feat of 50 goals in just 50 games.

Twenty years before Bossy, in the 1960-61 season, Frank Mahovlich, Dickie Moore and Boom Boom Geoffrion were all in the hunt to join Richard as the only 50-goal scorers in NHL history. At the time, there were those who claimed that even if one of them made it (Geoffrion was the only one who did), the record would be tainted because the NHL season was then 70 games long. Richard was not among those who saw it that way.

On January 25, 1961 – with Toronto’s Frank Mahovlich having scored 37 goals in 46 games – Richard spoke about his 50-goal record. “Naturally, I’d rather see someone on the Canadiens do it first,” he said, “but what does it matter? Records are meant to be broken, aren’t they?” When asked about scoring 50 in 70 games versus the 50 he’d played, Richard didn’t see any issue. “The record is for most goals in a season,” he said, “not in so many games. After all, Joe Malone once scored 44 goals in 22 games.

Rocket 45

Joe Malone had actually scored his 44 goals while playing in just 20 of 22 scheduled games during the NHL’s inaugural season of 1917-18, but Malone was certainly supportive when the Rocket broke his record in 1944-45. He was at the Forum on February 25, 1945, when Richard netted #45 in his 42nd game and the next day in a bylined article in the Montreal Star, Malone wrote that Richard:

is one of those players that comes along every once in a while, and I hope he goes on to even greater feats… Ever since he became such a talked-about player I have followed his career with interest… I am happy that my record was broken by such a fine young player. They say he is a fine-living boy, who keeps in tip top shape.

Richard wasn’t able to be there when Geoffrion became hockey’s second 50-goal scorer on March 16, 1961.

Boom Boom 50 copy 144Click to enlarge.

He wasn’t there when Bossy scored 50 in 50 in 1981 either, but he phoned him after the game and sent a telegram of congratulations. Richard was particularly pleased that Bossy was from suburban Montreal. “In fact,” he told reporters later, “I told the Canadiens to draft him in 1977, but they wouldn’t listen to me. They said he wasn’t good enough defensively.

What the Canadiens didn’t understand,” Richard added, “is when you can score goals like he can, you don’t watch your man. He watches you.

Interestingly, Billy Reay said almost the exact same thing about Richard when he left the Canadiens organization to become coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the spring of 1957. In discussing his philosophy of letting a player do what he does best, Reay said: “Take Rocket Richard as an example. He’s so tremendous at carrying the puck in and scoring goals that no one ever worries about his defensive ability. Generally, the man covering him is too busy to think about scoring.”

Coaches don’t think like that anymore, and it’s a big reason why on January 26, 1981, Marcel Dionne led the NHL with 90 points in 50 games (Gretzky had “only” 83 in 47) and Bossy had his 50 goals, while today Chicago’s Patrick Kane leads with 30 goals and 73 points in 52 games … which is actually pretty high by recent low-scoring NHL standards.

Of Pucks and Pilots…

In his 1944 autobiography Winged Peace (a follow-up to his 1918 Winged Warfare), Billy Bishop wrote about the interview process when he wished to transfer from the Canadian Cavalry to Britain’s Royal Flying Corps in 1915.

“Can you ride a horse?” Bishop was asked.

He pointed out that he was a cavalry officer.

“Do you ski?”

Bishop heard, “Do you she?” and only later realized what had really been asked. “Yes,” he answered, although he didn’t understand the question … and he didn’t ski. (He did enjoy the company of women, which he thought might be what had been asked of him.)

Bishop books

“How well can you drive a motor car?”

Bishop had never driven a car before. “Very well,” he lied.

“How well can you skate?”

Here was another question he could answer truthfully, although he exaggerated somewhat. “Very well,” he said.

“Did you go in for sports at school–running?”

Bishop was a crack shot with a rifle, but had never been much of an athlete otherwise. Still, he reasoned that the RFC wasn’t going to take the time to check on his records back in Owen Sound. “Yes,” he said, “a great deal.”

The future flying ace was beginning to wonder just how much running, skiing and skating he might be called upon to do, but in 1915 it was believed that people with good balance made good pilots. An ability to withstand cold temperatures was thought to be an asset too. No wonder so many hockey players who enlisted in the First World War found their way into the Air Force. Among them were Hockey Hall of Famers Harry Watson, Frank Fredrickson (both of whom were mentioned in a story recently) and Conn Smythe – as well as the first American-born hockey superstar, Hobey Baker.

For more on Baker (who died with his orders to return home in his jacket pocket while taking “one last flight” five weeks after the Armistice), you can read his entry on Wikipedia, or the One-On-One Spotlight at the Hockey Hall of Fame, or see the web site for the Hobey Baker Award. But for now, I share with you some newspaper clippings. Most of these were printed 98 years ago this month as Hobey Baker took to the skies over the Western Front.

Hobey 2 Hun
American Hobey Baker was big news in Canada too.

Hobey 2 Pro
The story on the left appeared in the New York Tribune on January 14, 1918.
The story on the right had been in the
Vancouver Daily World on December 27, 1915,
confirming at least one flattering Canadian offer for Baker to go pro.

Hobey Cartoon 1
From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, January 20, 1918.

Hobey Cartoon 2
The cartoon appeared in the Washington Herald on January 18, 1918.
The poem had been in the same newspaper on January 13.

Hobey Story Click to enlarge.

You Say It’s Your Birthday…

Tomorrow is Art Ross’s birthday. It would probably be his 131st … but most records indicate it’s “only” his 130th.  In the early days of researching my biography, I probably spent way too much time going back and forth with Art Ross III about the actual year of his grandfather’s birth. Then again, I figured that getting the birth date right was an important part of writing about him! Only some of what I found about Ross’ birthday made it into the book, but there’s plenty more if you’re interested.

Unless I’ve already gotten to them,  the vast majority of hockey sources that list birth dates say Art Ross was born on January 13, 1886. Unfortunately, there’s no actual birth certificate to confirm this. The only official Canadian document to offer proof is a page in the 1911 Census that lists Ross’s birth month as January and the year as 1886. No actual day is listed. However, his 1934 Immigration Registration card from the United States, his 1939 Declaration of Intention to become an American citizen, and his 1942 U.S. World War II draft registration card all list his birthday as January 13, 1886. In interviews, articles, and letters he wrote over the years, it certainly seems that Art Ross himself believed (or, at least wished others to believe!) he was born in 1886. Still, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he was actually born in 1885.

AHR Immigrate
Art Ross III has his grandfather’s U.S. identification card from World War II.

Old census forms are notoriously unreliable when it comes to determining ages and birth dates. Art Ross’s records are no exception. In the 1891 Canadian Census, he is listed as being seven years old, which would indicate a birth year of 1884. In the 1901 Census – which is the only early Canadian Census with columns for the month, day and year of birth – all the Ross children have a blank space where the year should be. The entry for “Arthur” lists only 13 Jan, but his age of 16 would indicate a birth year of 1885. Similarly, in the 1906 Census of Canada’s western provinces, taken when Ross was living in Brandon, Manitoba, Arthur’s 21 years of age would again suggest he was born in 1885.

AHR BMOI was amazed that the Bank of Montreal HAS an archivist, and that she could find this …
although the middle name Houri (it should be Howey) is a little odd.

More promising than the Census records are the records on file with the Bank of Montreal, whose archives include information on employees with the Merchants Bank of Canada that merged with BMO in 1922. Those records indicate that Arthur Ross began work as a clerk with the Merchants Bank in Montreal on October 4, 1903. His date of birth is listed as January 13, 1885. Of course, it’s possible that Ross was lying if he had to be 18 to get the job. However, a birth date of January 13, 1885 is listed in a biographical entry for Arthur H. Ross in a 1915 guidebook to Montreal and its history. Also, Ross spent one year at the prestigious Bishop’s College School in 1898–99, and according to the school’s archivist, in correspondence with amateur Ross family genealogist Serge Harvey, Bishop’s records also show that Ross was born on January 13, 1885.

AHR Bishops
Confusion again with the middle name. Herbert, this time, instead of Howey.

Though it’s all little more than circumstantial without a birth certificate, perhaps the most compelling argument that Art Ross was born in 1885 comes from fellow hockey legend and childhood friend Frank Patrick, for whom baptismal records survive to confirm his birth date of December 21, 1885. In the first of an eight-part autobiographical series that ran in the Boston Sunday Globe shortly after Ross hired him to coach the Boston Bruins, Patrick had this to say about his boyhood chum:

FP Headline

When I first met Art Ross he was 12 years old and I was 11. Between then and now, Art seems to have lost time. He now claims he is a year and 23 days younger than I. My belief is that he is that year, less 23 days, older. But Art has lost his birth certificate (accidentally?) somewhere en route, so he has the edge on me there.

Of course, even Frank Patrick seems a bit confused, because if Ross was claiming to be a full year and 23 days younger than Patrick, that would mean that he was born on January 13, 1887. Clearly, though, Patrick recalled that Ross had been older than he was when they were boys, and he believed him to have been born earlier in the same year that he was, and that year was 1885.

AHR Guide
This Montreal City Guide from 1915 shows a birth date of January 13, 1885.
Then again, it credits Ross with two extra years of working for the Merchants Bank.

When the grandchildren of Art Ross commissioned a new headstone in 2014 to replace the somewhat shabby original one marking his final resting place in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, Art Ross III, who has done years of genealogical research on his family, had the birth year 1885 etched into the bronze.

AHR Grave

It’s not quite carved in stone (and most sources will never catch up) but there you go.

You Can’t Win ’em All…

I’ll be honest. When I came across this old newspaper clipping, I hoped it would make for a fun story after Canada won another gold medal at the World Junior Championships … or had at least qualified for the medal round! But really, the strong showings this year by Finland, Russia, the U.S. and Sweden just goes to show how right this story was.

Although Canada will hold the dominating position in the hockey world for some years to come,” this scoring star and future Hockey Hall of Famer wrote, “it may not always be that the Dominion will develop and produce the winning teams.

As Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said in the wake of Canada’s disappointing performance in Helsinki: “How long can we say other countries are getting better? I’ve been doing this for 25 years. Other countries have been good for a long time.”

That’s certainly true, and the use of the word Dominion in the clip I found is a pretty good indication that the writer wasn’t Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky or even Phil Esposito. So, who was it? It was the star who’d led Canada on a romp to the gold medal with the Toronto Granites at the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924: Harry Watson. He wrote his thoughts in the Toronto Star on December 28, 1929.

Euro Paper

Canada will always be recognized as the home of hockey and will continue to contribute more players to the game than any other country,” Watson continued, “but already some of the United States colleges are producing players of the first rank and increased interest in hockey on the other side [of the border] will help to bring them on more and more.

Czecho-Slovakia and other European countries were almost childish in their knowledge of hockey several years ago, but their interest is keen and the development since then has been rapid. The men we came up against in the Olympic competition showed all kinds of natural ability and proper instruction, with competition against better teams, should bring about improvement. The Czecho-Slavs will make good hockey players. So will the Swiss and the Germans.

Euro Canada
Two shots of Canada in action against the United States while en route to a 6-1 victory in the gold medal game at Chamonix, France in 1924. Canada had previously run up scores of 30-0 versus the Czechs, 22-0 vs Sweden, 33-0 vs Switzerland and 19-2 over Great Britain. Harry Watson (seen at the far left) scored 37 goals in those five games.

Interestingly, Watson had nothing to say about Sweden or Finland. But in 1929, Finland had yet to appear at a major world tournament and hockey fans would already have been aware of the Swedes. “They were without a doubt the best of the European teams,” Frank Fredrickson of the Winnipeg Falcons said after leading Canada to gold at the 1920 Olympic tournament (which was held in the spring, in conjunction with the Summer Games in Antwerp, Belgium), and Sweden had recently won a silver medal at the 1928 Winter Olympics.

Of course, no one was talking about the Russians as a hockey power in 1929. The sport didn’t really get started in the Soviet Union until the early 1930s, and didn’t take off until the end of World War II. In 1948, the LTC Prague team from Czechoslavakia came to Russia and could manage no better than a 1-1-1 record in three games with the Moscow Selects. This was big news behind the Iron Curtain, but little notice was taken of it here in the West. By April of 1951, the growing success of the Russian national team against other Communist countries was harder to ignore. The articles that follow all contain the same story, but the different headlines seem to indicate that few in North America took it very seriously.

Euro Headlines
From The Globe and Mail (Toronto), the San Antonio Light, the Ottawa Journal,
the Decatur Herald, the Terre Haute Star and The Pantograph (Bloomington, Illinois). 

My friend and colleague Igor Kuperman had some information for me about this game. The Soviets were coached by the soon-to-be legendary Anatoli Tarasov and the team had gone to Berlin to practice on artificial ice and play games against the East Germans.

It would be another three years before the Soviets finally entered the World Championships, but they won the tournament at their 1954 debut, and added an Olympic gold medal in 1956. By the 1960s, Canada could no longer expect to dominate international hockey tournaments merely by showing up. Canadians still expect gold from their hockey teams – and often get it – but you can’t win ’em all.