Monthly Archives: September 2017

A Sneak Peek…

My new book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, will be released one month from today. Invitations to launch parties in Toronto and Owen Sound will be sent out in October. Meantime, click on this link for a sneak preview.

If you won’t be able to make either of the launches in November, you can pre-order a copy now. (The link has details.) And here’s what some advanced readers have thought of the book:

Cover

Eric Zweig captures what the Toronto Maple Leafs have meant to many hockey fans since their inception. I had particular interest in the decades following their 1967 Stanley Cup victory, and Eric captures the ups and downs of the team for all fans of hockey. I particularly enjoyed reading of the present state of the Maple Leafs and how Eric has detailed the rebirth and future of this franchise.
– Scotty Bowman, Hockey Hall of Fame Builder and winningest coach in NHL history

… I am so delighted that my distant journalistic pal, Eric Zweig, has produced this magnificent, insightful, and all-encompassing oral history of the Leafs I so much loved. To put it simply — and historically — the moment I began turning these pages, I felt precisely the same thrill as when I heard Foster Hewitt shriek He Shoots! He Scores!! on a big Don Metz goal in that classic 1942 playoff comeback. Eric Zweig wrote — and he scored!
– Stan Fischler, hockey historian, broadcaster, and author

A standout hockey book of Leaf fortunes and foibles with a twist. Zweig calls on numerous chroniclers of Leaf history to make this one hum. Leaf Nation will love it.
– Brian McFarlane, bestselling author and former broadcaster

Eric Zweig has bled blue and white since he was seven years old. But this is far, far from just a fan’s book. When you combine the abject fan with a fine historian and a writer’s ear for grand storytelling, you end up with the book on the Toronto Maple Leafs, from past grandeur through years of debacle to today’s future promise. A wonderful read.
– Roy MacGregor, bestselling author and Globe and Mail columnist

Eric Zweig is acknowledged within the hockey community as one of its premier historians, and he unequivocally proves why he has few equals in his field with this outstanding history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eric leaves no stone unturned with his exhaustive research in this truly entertaining but equally important book.
– Kevin Shea, hockey historian and author

Not just another history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but generational work by one of hockey’s premier historians, period. Supremely researched and presented, as one would expect of Eric Zweig.
– Howard Berger, former Leafs radio reporter and creator of BetweenThePosts.ca

The hundred-year history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is so rich in drama and event and personality — there are even some (long-ago) Stanley Cups in there, somewhere. Trust Eric Zweig to wrangle it all into such a full and compelling narrative, which he has done — just as the Leafs look like they’re ready to dominate again.
– Stephen Smith, author of Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession

A History of Sports and The National Anthem

How is it, I was asked yesterday in the wake of recent news, that the National Anthem got hooked up with sports in the first place?

Although I had been asked specifically about hockey when I first looked into this back in 2009, the best answer I could find indicated that the practice of playing the National Anthem at sports events began when The Star-Spangled Banner was played during the 1918 World Series. That seemed reasonable to me, given that Major League Baseball cut short the regular season that year due to World War I.

However, I also found that, in a story in the Toronto Star from May 4, 1917, the National Anthem (presumably God Save the King) had been played prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opening game of the International League baseball season. No doubt World War I was the reason again, but clearly, while the World Series of 1918 must have garnered more attention in the United States, it couldn’t have been the first time.

Yesterday, I asked John Thorn, the Official Historian for Major League Baseball (who I’ve known since 1998 when Dan Diamond and Associates created Total Hockey for John’s Total Sports Publishing company) what he knew about the history of the National Anthem and baseball. As it says in the sub-title of the article he sent me, the story goes “back, back, back.”

It turns out that the connection goes all the way back to the time of the U.S. Civil War. It was the opening game of the Union Grounds ballpark in Brooklyn, New York, on May 15, 1862, and the band on hand for the festivities began the musical proceedings by playing The Star-Spangled Banner. I think both John and I are only speculating at a direct connection between the War and the playing of the National Anthem that day, but it certainly makes sense.

Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1862. Page 2.

I wrote about God Save the King being played prior to a game in 1910 in my very first book, the novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. The book was published 25 years ago and I honestly can’t remember anymore if I’d come across any evidence of this having actually happened at the time. (The book was fiction, after all!) However, the National Anthem was most definitely played prior to the opening home game of the Ottawa Senators early in the second NHL season of 1918-19.

This game between Ottawa and the defending Stanley Cup champions from Toronto was played on December 26, 1918, just a few weeks after the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Prior to the War, previous Governors-General had often attended games in the Canadian capital, but with the Duke of Devonshire in attendance that night, it marked the first time since before the war that, as newspapers put it, “the hockey season was ushered in under vice-regal patronage.” When the Duke and his party arrived shortly before the start of the game, the Governor-General’s Foot Guard “played the National Anthem and every person within the big rink stood up.”

Ottawa
This article appeared in the Vancouver World on December 27, 1918.

But when did the National Anthem become a regular occurrence at sports event? Apparently, it wasn’t until 1924 in Paris that National Anthems were played for every winner at the Olympics. John Thorn’s story mentions that although some Major League Baseball teams had begun playing the National Anthem before games in 1941, which was prior to the U.S. entering World War II, it became universal in baseball in 1942 after American  involvement. I haven’t looked into the National Anthem and football, but it seems reasonable to believe the practice started in the NFL around the same time.

As for hockey, it’s been said that the tradition of playing the National Anthem prior to games began around 1930. This picture of the Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons at the Boston Garden may well have been taken during the NHL playoffs in 1930. It’s often said to be an early example of the “new” trend.

Boston

Certainly the practice seems to have been common enough that no special reason was needed when this article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on January 12, 1931:

Montreal

Still, there’s reason to believe that, even if it wasn’t continuous from 1918, the link between National Anthems and the National Hockey League dates back to at least the mid 1920s, and perhaps before that. When the first NHL game was played in Madison Square Garden between the New York Americans and the Montreal Canadiens on December 15, 1925, bands played both The Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the King prior to the opening face-off.

In the PhD thesis that would become the basis of his book Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, my friend and colleague Andrew Ross notes that Tex Rickard and John Hammond (who ran the Garden, and soon the New York Rangers as well) “maintained the Canadian tradition of playing the national anthems before every game, not just restricting them to special occasions.” This practice, says Andrew, “continued thereafter and spread from the Garden to other cities and other sports.”

Andrew quotes Hammond from an article in the New York World-Telegram in December of 1934 as saying that The Star-Spangled Banner had been played before all hockey games at Madison Square Garden since the very first. “The Canadian anthem has always been associated with hockey there,” Hammond said, “and I think we should pay our anthem the same tribute.”

So even if baseball started it, it looks like it was hockey that made the National Anthem a regular part of going to a game.

Scotty Bowman and … the Bruins?

I don’t have a contact file filled with famous names. There are a few. Some I’ve known for a long time; others only recently. Still, it’s always exciting for me whenever I hear from any of them.

The first time I heard from Scotty Bowman was about five years ago. Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame emailed me to say that Mr. Bowman had pointed out an error I had made in his coaching record for my book Stanley Cup: 120 Years of Hockey Supremacy. It was basically little more than a typo, but I was horrified! Mistakes happen, but this one was pretty sloppy and, well, it was Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history. He certainly had a reputation for being pretty tough with some pretty talented hockey players. How was he going to treat me?

I wrote a very apologetic note and got a very nice reply. That was about as far as it went, until a year or so later when I was deeply into working on Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. I had just read a biography of Boston Bruins legend Dit Clapper by Stewart Richardson and Richard LeBlanc, which mentioned that Bowman and Clapper had been close when Bowman was starting out as a coach in Peterborough. So, I wrote again and asked Mr. Bowman if he’d ever heard any interesting stories from Dit Clapper about Art Ross.

Scotty
Boston’s Bill Cowley was the childhood hero of future Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman.

That evening, Scotty called me at home. (Very exciting!) No, he said, he hadn’t heard any stories from Dit, but when he was working with Lynn Patrick for the St. Louis Blues, Patrick had told him some stories that he was happy to share. I was thrilled to be able to include them in the book. Scotty later read and enjoyed an advanced copy and provided a very nice “blurb” for the back cover. He’s done the same for my upcoming book The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History.

Scotty Bowman celebrated his 84th birthday earlier this week. Dave Stubbs wrote a very entertaining piece with Scotty on the NHL web site for a Q&A feature called Five Questions With… After I read it, I sent Scotty a short email wishing him a happy birthday and saying that I had enjoyed the answer he gave saying that Art Ross was the one hockey person from any era he would like to spend some time with.

Scotty told Dave Stubbs that he had been a Bruins fan as a boy. That might seem strange for a child growing up in the Montreal borough of Verdun, but at the time, the Maroons had just recently folded and the Canadiens were struggling through what was then an unprecedented 13-year Stanley Cup drought from 1931 to 1944. The Bruins were a perennial powerhouse who won the Stanley Cup in 1939 and 1941. In his reply to me – which I share with you here – Mr. Bowman provides a little more detail:

Thanks Eric. As a 6-year-old, I started listening on radio to a strong Boston station I got in my home town of Verdun. A man named Frank Ryan did play by play. I stayed up for the 1st period and my Dad left a note for me to read before School with all the results. Somehow, I had Bill Cowley as my idol. My Mom worked at Eaton’s and she got me a Bruins sweater with Cowley’s #10 for Christmas one year. With World War II breaking out, they used to say about Cowley [a star center]: “HE MADE MORE WINGS THAN BOEING.” 

Regards. Scotty

It’s a Nice Idea, But…

With expectations high among Toronto hockey fans for the upcoming season, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and mayor John Tory announced this week that December 19, 2017, will be designated Toronto Maple Leaf Day. The date will mark exactly 100 years since the first games in NHL history, which were played on December 19, 1917.

“Our birthday comes on a Tuesday,” said Shanahan. (The original date in 1917 was a Wednesday.) “It’s a school night. So the decision was made [to play the game] at two in the afternoon.” It would have been nice to have had a more historically significant opponent than the Carolina Hurricanes, but what can you do? Shanahan said the Leafs are encouraging season ticket holders to bring a child with them that day, or to donate their tickets to the MLSE Foundation, which will give them to school-aged fans. Of course, the kids will have to get permission to skip an afternoon of school.

The Leafs will also be wearing special jerseys that night, modelled after the uniforms worn by the Toronto Arenas of old.

2017

My guess would be, this jersey – which the team didn’t actually wear until the second NHL season of 1918-19 – was chosen because it so prominently displays the Arenas name. It’s pretty widely known that Toronto’s team was called the Arenas before it became the St. Patricks and the Maple Leafs … but you can pick a pretty good fight among hockey historians by asking them whether or not the Arenas name was actually used in 1917-18. The team was clearly run that first season by the owners and operators of the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, but most newspapers referred to them that year as the Torontos, the Blue Shirts, or the Blueshirts. (Sometimes, just the Blues.) These were nicknames the team had been known as throughout the history of the National Hockey Association, forerunner of the NHL. But that’s another story for another day. (Or you can see some of the comments below.)

Still, if anyone had asked me, I’d have argued strongly for a sweater based on the uniform Toronto’s team actually wore during that first season of 1917-18. Yes, it’s a little bit plainer (and was pretty much the same uniform the team had worn for five seasons as the Blue Shirts/Blueshirts in the NHA), but it’s the uniform that was worn on the night of December 19, 1917. It’s the uniform Toronto players were wearing when they won the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of the first NHL season in 1918.

1917
Harry Holmes, on the left, in the uniform of Toronto’s team
of 1917-18.  Harry Cameron sports the jersey of 1918-19.

Instead of honouring the first NHL champions, the Leafs are going with a sweater that commemorates, arguably, the worst season in 100 years of Toronto’s NHL history.

The 1917-18 Stanley Cup winners completely fell apart in 1918-19. There were accusations that some team members played while drunk. That may or may not have been true, but the team was playing so poorly that the NHL decided to re-jig the entire schedule midway through just to keep Toronto in the playoff picture in a league that only featured two other teams! Even at that, the Arenas were so awful in 1918-19, and attendance in Toronto so terrible, that ownership suspended operations before the season was over. The team played just 18 games, posting an overall record of 5-13-0 for a “points” percentage of .278 that will probably always be the worst mark in franchise history. It would result in just 45 points in the current 82-game schedule. Toronto returned to the NHL in 1919-20 under new ownership comprising men who had previously run the senior amateur St. Patricks team of the Ontario Hockey Association. Hence the new name.

You can read all about those early years … and every other season in the first hundred years of Toronto’s NHL history in a certain new book due out in October…

Leafs book

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, if you’re already thinking about buying or recommending The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, please consider pre-ordering a copy at Amazon or Indigo or wherever you like to buy your books. And don’t be shy about ordering any of my other books there either!