Monthly Archives: March 2021

My Friend Art

As with many writers, I haven’t gotten rich doing what I do. But, I have (mostly) been able to earn a living doing something I enjoy. There’s a lot to be said for that. And even if I haven’t exactly made a fortune during all these years, I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Not surprisingly, most of the famous people I’ve met through my work have been athletes and media personalities. But it’s not just the famous people who are memorable.

Far from it.

As many of you known, I worked for 10 years on my biography, Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. Now, 10 years of working on a book is not exactly like 10 years of working in a coal mine! And it’s not as if I worked on it every day during those 10 years. But it was never very far from my mind. By publishing standards, the book was decidedly not a success … but I would never trade the friendships I made with the family of Art Ross.

Art Ross III — grandson of the hockey legend, and my good friend — died last week.

(Because of the times we’re living in, I guess I need to say that COVID-19 was not a factor.)

It was more by good luck than good management, but it was
perfectly fitting that Art received the very first copy of the book.

My father died several years before I met Art, and though he was never very comfortable with the idea the few times I’d mentioned it, he became a sort of father-figure to me. Especially after leaving Toronto for Owen Sound. In addition to sharing our research discoveries, I would often get in touch with Art just to say hello, or to moan about flooded basements, or roof repairs — the things about home ownership that always terrified me!

Not that I expected him to do anything about it, but his calming manner always helped.

I was never sure if Art’s discomfort with the father-figure idea was simply because he looked at us more as contemporaries, trying to figure out the stories in his family on the ice and off. Or if it was because of his strained relationship he’d had with his father, and his estrangement from his own son, which only ended a couple of years ago. (It’s a very odd thing that there have been at least five generations of father-son fallouts in the Ross family, going all the way back to the father of the “hockey” Art Ross; and probably extending to a sixth generation with “hockey” Art’s own father and grandfather.)

The young man in the photo is “My” Art. He is seated beside his grandfather,
Art Ross. Standing behind him is his Uncle John, Art Ross’s other son.

“My” Art Ross is how I often refer to Art when speaking about him with others. That was to differentiate him from his grandfather, Arthur Howey Ross, the hockey legend I wrote about, and from “My” Art’s own father, Arthur Stuart Ross. (“My” Art is, technically, Arthur Stuart Ross Jr.) He was actually the second family member I was in touch with when I first thought about writing my book back in 2005.

Among the very first people I had mentioned my idea to was Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Though he never acts like it, I’ve often heard that Phil knows EVERYONE. He told me that one of Art Ross’s granddaughters had introduced herself when she had been to the Hall a few years before, and that he had an email address for her. I wrote to Victoria Ross on September 28, 2005. When she wrote back a few days later, she said that she would love to talk … and that she would also forward my email on to her brother.

When Victoria and I spoke on the phone for the first time on October 20, 2005, she mentioned that her brother was the family genealogist and the one I should really be talking to. Art and I were in touch by email a few days later. And after that … boy, did we talk!

Me, enjoying an old family scrapbook on a visit to Art and Kathy in Tennessee.

Art and I were probably in contact every few days, often many times a day, until the book was published 10 years later. That was more than five years ago now, and really, it was only the confusion and memory issues brought on by his increasing struggles with Parkinson’s Disease the last two years that finally slowed us down.

In the beginning, I suppose we both wanted something from this relationship. I wanted the stories he was willing to share; he wanted those stories to be told. But we bonded almost immediately over, I suppose, a love of history, telling stories … and getting those stories right! (I’ve written before about the Art Ross birthday battles, and the old divorce hiding in the family tree.) Both Art and his wife, Kathy, and me and my late wife Barbara, love(d) history and books and movies. (Barbara and I may or may not have had more movies in our old collection, but Art and Kathy probably had even more books than we did!)

Over all those years, Art and I mainly “spoke” to each other via email; sometimes on the phone; and occasionally by text. (Texts especially when the Blue Jays were playing the Red Sox, or the Leafs and Bruins were hooked up in the playoffs.) Barbara and I also visited Art and Kathy a few times at their homes in Tennessee and Maine. They hosted a lovely party for us, along with several other Ross relatives, in Maine when the book came out in 2015.

Art and Kathy and Me and Barbara at the party in Maine in 2015.

It’s strange for me to realize as I write this that in the 15+ years Art and I knew each other, we probably spent less than 15 days of that time together in person. I’ve only met Victoria Ross in person once, younger sister Valerie twice, and youngest sister MacKenzie only via Facebook and Messenger. Yet, I feel a closeness to all of them. Kathy too, of course.

My friendship with Art, unusual though it may seem, was very special to both of us.

I am greatly saddened by his loss.

(For anyone who feels so inclined, donations can be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation or the Michael J. Fox Foundation.)

Goalies Scoring Goals

One year to the day of the declaration of a global pandemic, I’m using the somewhat flimsy pretext of an overlooked anniversary (of sorts) from last week as an excuse for running this story today. Really, it’s just another old incident I may have figured out something new about…

This past Sunday, March 7, marked the 115th anniversary of Fred Brophy of the Montreal AAA hockey team scoring a goal on Nathan Frye of the Montreal Victorias. What makes this goal noteworthy is that Brophy himself was a goalie! What makes the pretext somewhat flimsy is that this was actually the second time Brophy the goalie had scored a goal … and it’s his first goal — a little more than a year earlier, on February 18, 1905 — that I’m actually writing about.

That Fred Brophy scored a goal more than 80 years before Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ron Hextall shot a puck the length of the ice into an open net on December 8, 1987, is not unknown to hockey historians. It’s more than likely it first game to light in Volume 1 of Charles L. Coleman’s seminal work The Trail of the Stanley Cup, published around 1966.

Wikipedia’s account of Fred Brophy’s goal seems like this early table hockey game.

In writing about the 1905 hockey season, Coleman (who had poured over old newspapers for years to compile his three-volume set) stated: “Another unusual record was established by Brophy, the Westmount goaler, who on February 18th rushed the length of the ice and scored a goal against Paddy Moran of Quebec.”

Of his goal the next year, Coleman writes: “Brophy, the Montreal goaler, duplicated his performance of the previous year by scoring a goal against Victorias in the game on March 7th. In doing so, he stickhandled his way past the stars Bowie, Eveleigh and Bellingham.”

Brophy’s scoring ability got more play on December 24, 1969, in a Canadian Press story that appeared in numerous Canadian newspapers.

The CP story gives basically the same scant details that Coleman had provided. But somewhere along the line, more information about Brophy’s first goal surfaced. Wikipedia has this to say:

“The first recorded goal in competitive play, scored by a goaltender, was in 1905. According to a Montreal Star report, poor officiating resulted in only the goaltenders left on the ice in a February 18 game between the Montreal Westmounts and Quebec Bulldogs of the Canadian Amateur Hockey League (CAHL). Fred Brophy (Montreal) and Hall of Famer Paddy Moran (Quebec) exchanged scoring attempts, before Brophy beat Moran, while the latter and most of the spectators “convulsed in laughter.”

Fred Brophy’s data panel from the Society for International Hockey Research.

Now, I know that in the early days of the NHL, there was no rule limiting the number of players serving a penalty at one time. Still, I’ve had difficulty envisioning a situation in which the referees would call so many penalties that only the goalies were left on the ice.

Wikipedia credits the book Without Fear: Hockey’s 50 Greatest Goaltenders by Kevin Allen, Bob Duff, and Johnny Bower as the source of its information. So, I asked Bob Duff if he had that Montreal Star report. Bob said he’d only read about it, and thought it might have been in a book by Brian McFarlane.

So, I got in touch with Brian McFarlane … who could only recall the story from what he’d read in Charles Coleman. Who (if anyone) found that Montreal Star story? At this point, who knows!

A short report from the Montreal Gazette.

Unfortunately, the Montreal Star has never been digitized and is not easily accessible (especially these days) via microfilm. But plenty of other newspapers are online. So, I got busy. And if there was a story in the Star, it was either inaccurate at the time … or was transcribed inaccurately later.

English accounts of the game from Montreal are scarce. The Gazette has very little to say about it. Westmount had its own paper (as I discovered when doing my research on Art Ross — both Ross and Lester Patrick played with Brophy on the Westmount team this year, and in this game) but the Westmount News either doesn’t exist before 1907, or no copies have survived.

The 1905 game was played in Quebec City, and perhaps that’s the reason the best accounts I could find were in French. So, I sent a copy of the story in Montreal’s La Presse to Society for International Hockey Research colleagues Jean-Patrice Martel and Marc Durand. Marc has a special interest in the history of the Quebec Bulldogs, and was readily available to read the story … and provide me with translations.

The Quebec Chronicle (courtesy of Marc Durand) has a pretty thorough account.

The English-language accounts I’d seen had made it pretty clear that Paddy Moran had tried to score before Brophy did, and that there were a lot of penalties called in a very one-sided game that Quebec won 17–5. As Marc explained, the score was already 12–4 Quebec at the time, and it was getting to be late in the game. According to his translation:

“Paddy Moran played his typical game. He went the extra mile by taking advantage of the moment when Quebec had just one forward on the ice to try and score himself. The situation amused the public. Brophy, to not be left behind, returned the compliment by scoring, after a superb race, helped by a lot of goodwill on the part of the Quebec defense.”

La Presse had the best report from the Saturday night game in its paper on Monday. (Note that Art Ross got goal 10; Lester Patrick goal 16 and Fred Brophy goal 17.)

No explanation as to what that “goodwill” entailed, but it was clear that Brophy and Moran were not the only players on the ice. Quebec only had one forward who wasn’t in the penalty box at the time, but Moran had him and his two defensemen with him. Westmount had only one player in the box.

Marc and I both agree that, from what we know of Paddy Moran, he doesn’t seem like the type who would just let Brophy score on him, no matter what the score. (Especially after Brophy had just stopped him!) Goalies in this era didn’t have all the equipment they wear today. Their gloves weren’t all that different from other players; the pads on their legs were flimsy; and their sticks were only marginally wider than other players. Still, there’s no record of any other goalies doing what Brophy did at the game’s highest level in this era.

The fact that he did it again the next season shows it couldn’t have been a complete fluke.

And for people who haven’t see it already, I was one of those who Ken Dryden reached out to yesterday to share his message that we still need to be careful. Even with the vaccine rollout picking up the pace, Ken’s is a reminder that we still need to wear a mask…