Monthly Archives: May 2021

Toronto-Montreal Playoff History

I was 3 1/2 years old when Toronto beat Montreal to win the Stanley Cup in 1967. I don’t remember it. (My hockey memories don’t kick in until after I saw my first game, at Maple Leaf Gardens in December of 1970.) But I remember well when the two teams met in 1978 and 1979. The Leafs of Sittler, McDonald, and Williams, Salming, Turnbull, and Palmateer are the true teams of my youth — and they were good teams too. Still, there was no way they were going to beat the Canadiens back then. Hard to believe its been 42 years!

Plenty of people have been waxing nostalgic recently with this renewal of the Leafs-Canadiens rivalry. So, I figured, why not me? But I’m going back a lot further than I can remember. Further, probably, than anyone can remember even if they were alive at the time. The two oldest franchises in the NHL have met in the playoffs 15 times (the Canadiens lead 8-7) going all the way back to the first Toronto-Montreal NHL series at the end of the first season in league history.

Toronto’s NHL team – depicted here in the Vancouver Daily World on January 17, 1918, – wore the same blue sweaters with a white T as the Toronto team in the old NHA.

The NHL had four teams when the 1917–18 season started, but just three when it ended. (The Montreal Wanderers withdrew from the league in January of 1918 after fire destroyed the Montreal Arena.) The season was played into two halves, with the Canadiens coming out best in the first half with a 10–4 record. Toronto topped the second-half standings with a record of 5–3. The playoff meeting between the two half-champions was a two-game, total-goals series played on March 11 and March 13, 1918.

Back in those days, the Canadiens were already known as the Canadiens, as they had been since the team was formed for the inaugural season of the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) in 1909-10. You can pick a pretty good fight with a hockey historian as to what the Toronto team was called. They’ve gone down in history as the Toronto Arenas, and they were operated that season by the Toronto Arena Company, but probably didn’t take that name officially until the 1918–19 season. The team had been known as the Blue Shirts (two words) or Blueshirts (one word) during its time in the NHA, and most journalists were still using one of those spellings — or referring to them as the Blues, or Torontos — during the 1917–18 NHL season.

The Toronto Star of March 14, 1918 refers to the team
as the Torontos and the Blue Shirts (two words).

“The hockey week here opens to-night with the first of the NHL play-off series between Torontos and Canadiens,” reported the Toronto Star on March 11, 1918. “The Blue Shirts, with the exception of Reg Noble, are in excellent shape for the final struggle, and are confident that they will take a three or four-goal lead to Montreal with them for the final game on Wednesday night.”

Another unnamed Star sports writer wasn’t so sure.

“When it comes to a real showdown,” read the column known as Random Notes on Current Sports, “Canadiens are the logical favorites for the NHL championship. They have shown themselves to be a real team – fast, brainy, and game – and many Toronto fans will be back them to win right here to-night.”

The Ottawa Journal calls Toronto the Blues and the Blueshirts (one word).

But the Toronto players were right. The Blue Shirts/Blueshirts/Arenas won game one by a score of 7–3.

“It is a fortunate thing, indeed, for Les Bons Canadiens that both matches of the NHL play-off series do not take place in Toronto,” said Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald on March 12, 1918. “You’d never know the old club from its play on Toronto ice last night, compared with its dash and brilliance in games played before the friendly faces at Jubilee Rink. And, by the same token, you’d never recognize the meek and inoffensive team wearing the blue shirts which we’ve been accustomed to seeing in the rampaging, aggressive and chip-on-the-shoulder gang which rode roughshod over our habitants last night.”

In the Ottawa Citizen, it’s Blue Shirts (two words) as well
as the team’s official name: the Toronto Hockey Club.

But even with a four-goal lead, hanging on to win the series in Montreal was no sure thing. As it turned out, the Canadiens won game two, but with only a 4–3 victory, so Toronto took the series 10–7 in total.

“The Canadiens chances faded away when they undertook to make the visitors quit by roughing it on every possible occasion” reported the Montreal Gazette on March 14. “Canadiens suffered through penalties… Toronto played the puck more than the man, and took the bumps handed out to them without retaliating to any great extent. This counted greatly in their favor.”

In the Vancouver Daily World, it’s Blueshirts (one word) and Torontos.

NHL summaries show that far more penalties were called in game one at Toronto. Even so, game two in Montreal must have been rougher.

“Bullfighting is prohibited in Canada for the reason that it is considered brutal,” wrote Harvey Sproule (a future Toronto NHL head coach, briefly, in 1919–20) in the Toronto Star, “but it is a regular ‘pink tea’ in comparison with the Donnybrook served up to the fans at the Jubilee Ice Palace last night…”

The official team portrait refers to Toronto as the Arena Hockey Club …
but it’s clearly been dated for the 1918–19 NHL season.

With the win Toronto took the NHL championship, but not yet the Stanley Cup. Winning the NHL title that season only entitled the Blue Shirts/Blueshirts/Arenas to host the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion Vancouver Maroons (who wore maroon-coloured shirts) in a best-of-five Stanley Cup Final. Toronto won that series 3-games-to-2 with a 2-1 victory in the finalé on March 30, 1918 to claim what was already a prized trophy.

And this year?

I think Toronto is good enough to win in four games, but probably five. Then again, if Leafs goalie Jack Campbell can’t carry the playoff weight, and the Canadiens’ Carey Price can turn back the clock … well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to trust Freddie Andersen in another seventh game!

Famous Jewish Sports Legends…

I haven’t posted anything since March. I’d been pretty busy until recently. In February, I started conversations with Firefly Books (for whom I’ve written several) about something new for their Hockey Hall of Fame series. They wanted something less stats-driven than most of their recent books … and they wanted it fast! So, in early March, I started writing and I delivered a lengthy manuscript at the end of April. It was quite the crunch.

The new book is called Hockey Hall of Fame True Stories. It’ll be out in November. And it’ll be a lot like the stories I post here. Some are actually re-writes of stories I’ve already posted. Many of the new ones would make great posts too … except it seems silly to “scoop” the book at this point. I’m sure you’ll hear more about this from me in the fall.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing about this story that’s so compelling I had to write it now, but I don’t like to stay away too long, and I thought it was sort of interesting since it demonstrates the twists and turns my research (I’m sure lots of people’s research!) often take. Also, I recently discovered that May is Canadian Jewish Heritage Month in Canada. So, there’s that too.

Martin Rosenthal as he appeared in the “Silver Seven” Stanley Cup photo circa 1904.

I rarely write about anything Jewish — although the very first thing I ever had published was a story about shtetl life that I wrote in my grade six religious school class and was printed in the Temple Har Zion bulletin. And just last week, I said to a few different people that I think I care less about Jews in sports than many other Jewish sports fans. But, I do like history, so I’ve long been aware of Martin Rosenthal and his role as an executive with the Ottawa Hockey Club from about 1901 until 1918.

The Rosenthal family, I’m told by my colleague Irv Osterer of Ottawa, was a pioneering Ottawa Jewish family. Aaron Rosenthal, Martin’s father, was born in Germany circa 1835. Aaron’s wife, the former Bertha Lehman, was also German, born in 1850. According to Aaron’s obituary in 1909, he spent much of his young life in Australia, India, and other countries. Martin was born in 1873 in Kent, England. Genealogical records show the family arrived in Quebec City on June 21, 1874. After settling in Montreal, the Rosenthals came to Ottawa around 1878.

Aaron Rosenthal was a jeweller, and several of his sons followed him into the business. In addition to the Jewish causes Aaron and Bertha supported (or created) in Ottawa, the family was very sports-minded too. Martin and his older brothers, Harry and Samuel, all played hockey at a fairly high level. And the family business supplied club pins to many Ottawa sports organizations too. After Martin got involved in management with the hockey team soon to be known as the “Silver Seven,” tickets to games were often sold through the Rosenthal business, and the Stanley Cup was sometimes displayed in the store window. (The building still exists, as the Birks Building, in Ottawa’s downtown Sparks Street Mall.)

From the Ottawa Citizen on August 3, 1900.

In doing my brief research on Rosenthal, I discovered that Martin didn’t seem to be very Jewish by the end of his life. His children had married outside the faith, his funeral was handled by a non-Jewish funeral home, he was buried in the Beechwood cemetery … and the service was officiated by a reverend. His obviously non-Jewish funeral, in fact, caused me to wonder if maybe the Rosenthal family wasn’t Jewish, but only German, and launched me into my brief genealogical search.

Clearly, the Rosenthal family WAS Jewish. Aaron and Berth had very strong ties to Jewish life in Ottawa. But Martin definitely shared fewer and fewer of those ties over the years.

Martin Rosenthal’s parents from newspaper stories at the times of their deaths.

In the the Canadian censuses in 1881, 1891, and 1901, when Martin Rosenthal still lived with his parents, the family is recorded as “Hebrew” or “Jewish.” By 1911, he’s married and has started a family of his own. The listing is tricky to find because the name has been transcribed incorrectly, but Martin, his wife, Mary, and son, Lionel, are all listed as Jewish. In 1921, Martin, Mary, Lionel, a daughter named Phyllis, and another son named Malcolm, all have “Jewish” listed as their religion … but for everyone except Martin, it’s been crossed out.

Sections of the Rosenthal entry from the 1921 Canadian census.

When Mary died two years later in 1923 (at about 52 years of age), her funeral service was conducted by Reverend T.E. Holling of St. Paul’s Methodist church. So, were Mary Belle Rosenthal (nee Adams) and her children every really Jewish?

Maybe.

Probably.

But I don’t know.

The Marriage record of Martin Rosenthal and Mary Adams. Perhaps she took Ruth as her Hebrew name if she did actually convert? (Religious denominations for the bride aren’t filled out for any of the three women married by Solomon Jacobs on this page.)

As you can see above, Mary Adams married Martin Rosenthal on October 10, 1905. They were wed in Toronto, and the record shows the marriage was performed by Solomon Jacobs. Though that name meant nothing to me, I do know that even now, it’s hard to find a rabbi to perform the ceremony for a “mixed marriage.” Solomon Jacobs certainly sounded like a Jewish name. But was he a rabbi?

He most certainly was!

British-born, and a rabbi to the once-flourishing Jewish community in Jamaica for 15 years, Solomon Jacobs became the rabbi at Holy Blossom synagogue in Toronto in 1901 and served until his death in 1920.

Because Rabbi Jacobs spoke English so well (I suppose most other Toronto rabbis at the time were from Eastern Europe and probably spoke Yiddish as their first language), he was often called on when newspapers were looking for the Jewish perspective on issues in Toronto. He seems to have been quite liberal in his views, but was able to keep the peace between older, Orthodox members of Holy Blossom and the younger Toronto Jews who would later push the synagogue toward the Reform movement.

Rabbi Solomon Jacobs.

Rabbi Jacobs seems like a fascinating guy. (Google him if you care to!) Still, he doesn’t strike me as someone who would have performed the marriage of Martin Rosenthal and Mary Adams unless she had converted to Judaism. But I don’t know that.

Still, for me, the connection (albeit brief) of Martin Rosenthal to Holy Blossom was particularly interesting. My family has a very long affiliation with that synagogue. On my father’s side, my Zweig grandparents were deeply involved there for years and years, and on my mother’s side, several of my Freedman and Rosen aunts, uncles, and cousins, are still members to this day. My earliest Jewish life began at Holy Blossom with Rabbi Gunther Plaut and then Rabbi Michael Stroh, a friend of my parents who presided over some of my first “lifecycle” events at Holy Blossom before moving to Har Zion, where he later performed the ceremonies at my bar mitzvah, my wedding, my father’s funeral, and many other family events as well.

So, in a strange way (and even though he seems to have fallen much further from the faith than I ever have or likely will), all of this feels like it has given my a bit of a “six degrees of separation” connection to Martin Rosenthal, and therefore to the Ottawa Silver Seven … which is kind of neat for someone like me.

This is the new book that will be out in November. One of three I’ve got due in the fall!

(Oh, and the title of this story… It’s a bit of a joke based on the leaflet handed out to the old woman in the movie Airplane! when she asked if there was something light to read…)