Monthly Archives: September 2016

Canada’s Cup, But…

I like the chances of Team Canada wrapping up the World Cup of Hockey tonight in game two of the best-of-three final against Team Europe. I don’t mean to get ahead of things, but with gold medal wins at three of the last four Winter Olympics, and even at the last two World Championships (where we don’t get to play our best on best), Canadian men, as Wayne Gretzky said the other day, “seem to be getting better and strong.

Canada’s been Canada,” Gretzky said of the team’s performance at the World Cup. “We’ve been as good as we’ve ever been. We sell our sport worldwide, the game is getting bigger all the time, each and every year, but we seem to be getting better and better in our own country.

Everybody gets nervous and scared, are we losing our game? We’re never going to lose our game. It’s Canada’s game. I am just so impressed by how much depth and how many good players we have in this country.


One big advantage we still have over all the other hockey countries – even those with much bigger populations than ours – is that (with the possible exception of Latvia) we’re the only country in the world where the majority of the top athletes want to play hockey. Perhaps the biggest threat to that going forward will be the crazy-high costs of the game forcing more and more of those top athletes to choose less expensive games like basketball and soccer. Global warming probably isn’t going to help either.

In the meantime, while it’s nice to be the best in the world at the sport we care about the most, winning global titles isn’t the only thing that make Canada’s game Canadian. It won’t stop people from worrying about the Americans taking over the NHL. Not when so many decisions coming out on the NHL head office in New York can appear to Canadians to be based solely (soullessly!) on business rather than a love of the game … like when the NHL chooses to place its next expansion team in Las Vegas instead of Quebec City, or when it never seems to consider Hamilton – although that probably has as much to do with the influence of the Toronto Maple Leafs as it does with an unpopular American NHL Commissioner.

Globe 1924
One of the earliest warnings of a U.S. takeover of the NHL came in a Hamilton Spectator
story picked up by Toronto’s Globe newspaper on December 12, 1924.

When Las Vegas comes on board in 2017-18, that’ll make 24 U.S.-based teams to only seven in Canada. And before that, when the spring of 2017 comes around, we’re likely to hear plenty once again about how no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993. And remember, not a single one of those seven Canadian teams even reached the playoffs last year! Of course the NHL is big business, but things like this hardly make hockey feel like Canada’s game.

But fear not! With the NHL gearing up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its 1917 founding, it turns out that worrying about Americans taking over our game dates back almost as long as that. With Boston having just become the first U.S. entry in the NHL, one of the first voices of concern was sounded by the Hamilton Spectator in December of 1924. The newspaper warned that, with more American teams to come, “[t]he arenas across the border will be bigger than those in Canada, and the admission charges will be higher, which means that the United States magnates will be in a position to get the pick of the players.

Globe 1925
The Globe expressed Canadian fears with stories such as this one on September 26, 1925, although the story notes that it may be a while before the U.S. could produce enough good players. It also warns that a salary cap may be necessary to save Canadian teams.

New York would get its NHL franchise with the admission of the Americans – at the expense of Hamilton losing its Tigers! – in 1925-26, and the NHL would add a team in Pittsburgh that year too. Canadians were definitely starting to worry about a U.S. takeover, and The Globe in Toronto became the lead voice of that fear. On January 22, 1926, Sports Editor Frederick Wilson warned that Canadian cities could become nothing more than an afterthought as the NHL expanded into more and more populous U.S. cities with “their fat bank-rolls.” Canadian teams would be forced to sell out to American owners, leading to predictions of All-American leagues with cities like Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and others banding together to become little more than all-Canadian minor leagues.

Globe 1926
Conn Smythe used stories like this one on November 20, 1926, to convince the owners of the Toronto St. Pats to sell the team to his group. He would rename the team the Maple Leafs.

Fears became even worse when the New York Rangers, Detroit Cougars (later the Red Wings) and Chicago Blackhawks entered the NHL in 1926-27. The NHL was now a 10-team circuit with six of those clubs in the United States. Canada would never again have the majority of NHL teams, yet all these years later, it’s still our game … although it would be nice to see the Stanley Cup paraded through the streets of a Canadian city some time soon!

Frank McGee R.I.P.

One hundred years ago tomorrow, on September 23, 1916, word reached his family in Ottawa that the greatest hockey player of his day had been Killed in Action in World War I. Frank McGee had died in fighting at Courcelette in France, one week earlier, on September 16, 1916.

Pic Paper
The newspaper story is from The Ottawa Journal on
September 23, 1916,  confirming the death of Frank McGee.

McGee had left instructions that in case of casualty, his brother D’Arcy should be notified rather than his father, whom he’d listed as his next of kin. Rumours had begun to circulate on Friday, September 22, that McGee had died and D’Arcy McGee received confirmation that it was true while in his home at 12 Marlborough Avenue in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill District on Saturday. Another brother, Charles, had been been killed in the spring of 1915. A younger brother, Walter, would be shot through the shoulder in November, but he would survive the war.

From the war records of Frank McGee available on the Library and Archives Canada web site.

Frank McGee was one of thousands of Canadian casualties during the Battle of the Somme. His death hit his hometown, where he’d starred for the legendary “Silver Seven,” particularly hard.

[O]nce again there has been brought home with gripping grief and pain the grim reality of the present conflict of nations,” reads a story in the Ottawa Citizen. “It is doubtful if the loss of any one of the splendid young Ottawans who have fallen at the front since the outbreak of war has occasioned such keen regret as that of the late Lt. Frank McGee … Frank McGee dead? Thousands of Ottawans knew him. Few seemed able to believe that he too had given up his life in the struggle for freedom.

Frank McGee had a brief career at hockey’s highest level, playing only a handful of games over four short seasons from 1902-03 to 1905-06. But his Ottawa team won the Stanley Cup in each of those years (although lost it before the 1905-06 season ended) and he averaged nearly three goals per game during that time. He is best remembered today for scoring 14 goals in Ottawa’s 23-2 win over Dawson City in a Stanley Cup game on January 16, 1905.

An ad in The Ottawa Journal showing dates and ticket
prices for the 1905 Stanley Cup series with Dawson City.

McGee accomplished all that he did despite having been blinded in one eye when he was struck by a stick (or maybe a puck) in 1900. According to a story in The Ottawa Journal on the twentieth anniversary of his death, the injury had not caused the removal of his eye, but McGee’s vision was impaired to the extent that he could only distinguish between light and darkness with it. It didn’t seem to slow him down on the ice, but it should have been enough to keep him out of the army. So how did he get in?

The most common story that’s told today is that when he was taking his medical exam and was asked to read the chart on the wall, McGee covered his left eye with his left hand and then, when asked to read with his left eye, raised his right hand, crossed his face, and covered the same left eye again.

However McGee got himself into the army, this medical officer who examined
him later appears to have left the description of the vision in his left eye blank.

But the story being told up until 1936 was quite a bit different then the modern one. Back then, it was generally accepted as authentic that McGee had a friend who looked quite a bit like him take the eye exam for him. But D’Arcy McGee told a very different story to The Ottawa Journal for its anniversary story. D’Arcy admitted that because of his eye, Frank was nervous about his physical … but then the medical officer asked him his name.

“Frank McGee.”

“Not Frank McGee of the Silver Seven?”

“Yes, sir.”

“There can’t be anything wrong with you!”

The doctor laughed, giving McGee an admiring pat on the chest and passing him for the army.

The story of Frank McGee is one of the first tales of early hockey I can remember learning. I’m pretty sure I heard it for the first time on an episode of Peter Puck. This past year, I had the opportunity to tell parts of McGee’s story myself by contributing segments to two new books that are out this fall.

Though he was actually quite small, Frank McGee was depicted as a hulking giant
with an eye patch in the Peter Puck episode. And if you care to, you can check out
the books I contributed to for Firefly and The Hockey News.

Reggie and Me…

I’m sure I’ll get into the World Cup of Hockey when it starts up for real in a few days. But September is for baseball and pennant races! Of course I wish that the Blue Jays were doing better than 3-and-8 this month, but I’m trying to remember that for years (decades!) before last season, all I wanted was meaningful games in September. And, well, we’ve certainly got that now.

I was at the Blue Jays-Red Sox game on Saturday (the good one, that we won 3-2) with my two brothers and my nephew. Jorey is 13 now, and pretty much exactly like his father and uncles were at that age. At one point during the game, he wondered if any of us knew who was likely to be the next player to reach 3,000 career hits early next season. We didn’t.


Once upon a time, I’m sure I would have known that immediately. These days, of course, I could look it up with a few taps and swipes on my phone (which I’ve since done – though on my laptop). It’s funny how, now that it’s so easy to know this stuff if you want to, I don’t know it anymore. Back in the old days, when I had to study the all-time lists in the annual preseason Street & Smith’s Baseball Magazine and then, basically, keep it in my head all season, I pretty much did. Now I don’t.

So, any idea who, as of last night’s game, got his 2,926th hit (and 443 home run, by the way)? I’ll put the answer in at the bottom of this story … and I’ll be curious to hear from anybody who can tell me they honestly knew it without looking it up!

Jorey also asked us who, in 40 seasons as Blue Jays fans, is the greatest player we’ve ever seen. We threw out a lot of names, and then finally decided it was probably Ken Griffey Jr. But good as he was, Griffey never really won anything. So I was wondering if, maybe, given all he did on the largest stage, the greatest player was Reggie Jackson. All those “Mr. October” moments definitely made an impression on me when I was Jorey’s age.

That being said, I never liked Reggie Jackson. (I know I’m not alone there.) He was just too pompous and arrogant. But I do have one good Reggie Jackson story from my days on the Blue Jays ground crew.

During the early summer of 1983, when the Jays were first becoming contenders, the California Angels were in town. On this Saturday (June 18), Jim Clancy had pitched seven strong innings but surrendered our tight, 3-2 lead when he gave up back-to-back doubles leading off the top of the eighth. Joey McLaughlin came in, put a couple more guys on, but got out of trouble. The Jays then took back the lead with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, highlighted by a two-run home run from Lloyd Moseby.


But the Angels weren’t done. Bobby Grich led off the ninth with a homer and then, with two out, Rod Carew and Juan Beniquez singled, bringing Reggie Jackson to the plate. Bobby Cox went to the bullpen for a lefty – rookie Stan Clarke, who’d made his Major League debut just 11 days before. Clarke quickly jumped ahead 0-2.

“I wanted that situation bad,” Clarke told reporters after the game. “I wanted to strike him out. That’s all I wanted to do.”

In my memory, you could literally see Clarke shaking with the excitement of it. Almost laughing that he’d actually gotten Reggie Jackson to foul off a couple of pitches and was going to strike him out and save the game.

“I stepped back off the mound, and I told myself: ‘Relax and throw your best pitch.’ But it didn’t work out that way.”

Reggie slugged the next pitch for a three-run homer, and glared at Clarke as he rounded the bases. He’d seen the young lefty shaking too.

“I just wondered what he was doing when he was pounding his glove and jumping up and down after the first two strikes,” said Reggie after the game.


There was still the bottom of the ninth to come, but you just knew it was over. “The Blue Jays had no chance to recover,” wrote Allison Gordon in The Toronto Star. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

Now it was me who was practically shaking, but with anger. Anybody who knows me (and especially those who knew me then) will have no trouble envisioning me stomping around flailing my arms, muttering, “Stupid Reggie! Stupid Blue Jays! Stupid Game! How Could They Blow It!” Which is what I was doing when I fell down the steep flight of stairs that was practically a ladder after taking down the flags from atop the press box a short time later. (I threw down the flags as I was slipping and managed to grab onto the railing and break my fall.)

Getting back to what is sort of the point of this story, because I knew all the stats in those days, I knew that Reggie’s 476th career homer moved him past Stan Musial and Willie Stargell on the all-time list. So, the next day, when I happened to find myself standing beside the cage before the game while Reggie was awaiting his turn for batting practice, I said to him, “Congratulations on passing Stan and Willie, but I’m sure you understand why I’m mad at you.”

CNE Stadium
I was up there near the lower part of the red square when I fell …
but I would only have fallen as far as the bottom red line.

He didn’t say anything. Just nodded and smiled a self-satisfied smile. Stupid Reggie!

Oh, and the answer to Jorey’s question: It’s Adrian Beltre.

Your Guide to the NHL

The National Hockey League Official Guide & Record Book will be shipped from the printer’s this week. That means it’ll be showing up in bookstores later this month. (If you’re a customer who prefers to purchase it directly from our office, it’s time to send in your email order or click this link to the dda.nhl eBay site.) If you’re a media person who receives The Guide from the NHL, or from Dan Diamond & Associates, you should be getting your copy soon.

The National Cover

This year marks the 85th edition of The Guide & Record Book, which is pretty impressive – especially when you consider that this season marks the NHL’s 99th anniversary. All of us are certainly hoping to have the opportunity next summer of working on The Guide for the NHL’s 100th anniversary. (For something of a “behind the scenes” story, please have a look at Howard Berger’s photo essay and interview with Dan Diamond published yesterday on Howard’s web site Between the Posts. Scroll down from his top story about the Leafs’ quiet summer.)

As I said in my own story about The Guide last year,  we can’t match the up-to-the-minute aspect of the many sports web sites out there these days, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any one site on the Internet that can give you all the information we provide as neatly and concisely as what’s contained in the NHL Official Guide & Record Book. And I dare say you’ll have an even harder time finding one that does so with such attention to detail!

New York Rangers custom cover

In my story last year, I provided a brief history of the NHL Guide and my role with it. I also wrote about how Connor McDavid’s father had helped me to make sure we had Connor’s minor hockey stats correct. Nothing quite as impressive as that this year, but as usual, there were some 40+ people I contacted to make sure we got the stats for some 150 or so new North American Draft choices as accurate as possible. Many of these people have helped out year after year. Others I encountered for the first time this summer.

Among my favourite stories this year involves Adam Vay. Vay wasn’t drafted, but was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Wild in May. He’s from Budapest, Hungary, and is currently the only Hungarian in The Guide. (The Edmonton Oilers drafted Tamas Groschl of Budapest – who was still playing in Europe last year, although he never made it to the NHL – back in 1999).

Calgary Flames custom cover

Our International Editor and European expert, Igor Kuperman, was able to confirm the overseas stats for Vay that can be found on many web sites, but I wanted to track down the numbers for the two seasons he spent playing junior hockey – in Texas! – with the El Paso Rhinos of the Western States Hockey League. (Vay, by the way, is one of two players in the Guide to come out of the WSHL; the other being Jeremy Langlois – pronounced LANG-LOYS, not LAN-GWAH because he’s from Tempe, Arizona, not Canada. You’ve probably never heard of Langlois, but he spent the last three seasons in the San Jose Sharks’ system.)

Anyway, the Minnesota Wild did seem to have detailed numbers for Vay in their press release when they announced his signing – but nobody else did. I always like to be able to confirm such things and for whatever reason, a lot of the web sites that are great for minor and junior hockey stats aren’t very good for goalies. They seem to be set up mainly to track goals, assists, points, and penalty minutes, and often only show games and goals-against average for goalies. That was certainly the case with Vay, and the correct Pointstreak site that should have had the full numbers for the Western States Hockey League from past seasons was proving difficult to find.

LA Kings
Los Angeles Kings custom cover

It’s not always easy to get a hold of hockey people in the summer. That’s often a frustration in our job. So, I can’t say I was expecting much when, late on a Monday afternoon in early August, I called the office of the El Paso Rhinos. Much to my surprise, a young woman (who can’t possibly be as young as she sounded!) answered the phone. She’s the team’s Assistant Director of Hockey Operations, and was able to direct me to exactly where I needed to go to find Vay’s complete stats for his two seasons with the team. (The Wild had it right, by the way!)

“How does a kid from Budapest find his way to El Paso?” I asked.

“We have scouts all over Europe,” she said.

Who knew?!?

Adam Vay
Adam Vay in action with the El Paso Rhinos. For more on his story, click here.

Vay’s not likely to make the kind of impact in Minnesota this season that Connor McDavid has made in Edmonton. In fact, after spending last year back in Hungary, he may well find himself with the Wild’s American Hockey League farm club in Des Moines, Iowa, or even their ECHL team in Moline, Illinois. But I’ll certainly be watching to see if and when he makes it to the NHL!