Six Degrees of Cyclone Taylor

Future Hockey Hall of Famer Billy Gilmour spun some interesting tales from his bygone days for the Montreal Star on June 20, 1938. An uncredited writer had caught up with the former member of the Ottawa Silver Seven on the deck of the Cunard liner Alaunia before he departed from Montreal to meet up with his daughter in France for the summer.

Gilmour spoke about some of his teammates on the 1909 Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators. Specifically Cyclone Taylor. “We had our fast men,” said Gilmour of the players in his heyday. “I don’t think anything you produced today was faster than Fred Taylor. He could go backwards faster than a lot of the boys could skate forward.”

“How did he compare with [Howie] Morenz?” the writer asked.

“I think he was as fast as Morenz,” said Gilmour.

When asked who, as a right winger, was the greatest left winger he ever had to cover, Gilmour answered Tommy Phillips of the Kenora Thistles. As for the toughest defensemen to get around, “there were a lot of them,” Gilmour said. “But when you go back a long time, I think Dickey Boon was as good as they came.”

Cyclone Taylor and Billy Gilmour.

More than a decade later, on February 13, 1950, Baz O’Meara of the Montreal Star was talking hockey with Cyclone Taylor. In reminiscing about the old days, Taylor discussed Billy Gilmour, whom he thought was both a very good player and a very good looking player.

“He was one of the finest looking men I ever saw on the ice,” said Taylor. “He had wonderful style, could hit a terrific body check, and because he was so elegant looking some opposing players wold try to take rough liberties with him. They only did it once because Bill could handle himself in any company on any rink.”

Taylor, however, wasn’t one to glorify the stars of his day. When O’Meara assured him that, “a good man in any age would be a good man any time,” Taylor said: “I don’t know how I would have liked this game. I guess I would have done alright in it… but perhaps we undervalue some of the present day stars and overvalue some of the old ones.”

When asked if he had seen Maurice Richard play, Taylor said, “Yes, and I like him. He does things with the puck. He gives action and he takes a lot. He is a fine skater and is ideally adapted to the present type of game.”

Howie Morenz and Maurice Richard.

When Maurice Richard got older, he seemed to have a bit of a mad-on with modern hockey. Early in the 1980-81 season, Richard was in Lethbridge, Alberta to referee an oldtimers game. He spoke with local sportswriter Garry Allison, who wrote about their conversation in the Lethbridge Herald on December 2, 1980. The Rocket admitted that he didn’t get to too many NHL games anymore, and didn’t even watch them much on TV. He didn’t like the style of the modern game. “I don’t like these slap shots from centre, where they race in for the puck,” he said. “When you take the slap shot out of the game, you see more passing. You see guys carrying the puck into the other end. You see better hockey.”

Still, Richard was a fan of Mike Bossy, who was early on his his quest that season of matching the Rocket’s record of 50 goals in 50 games. Richard thought Bossy had a chance to do it, and he rated the Islanders’ sniper as a similar player to himself — not a super hockey player, but a superb goal scorer. “There were a lot better hockey players than me,” Richard admitted, “but they didn’t work as well as I did around the net.”

As Bossy closed in on the mark, the New York Islanders offered to pay Richard’s expenses if he wished to join the record watch. The Rocket said no, but wished Bossy well and reminded people that he had told the Canadiens to draft him back in 1977 after seeing the kid from his own Montreal North neighbourhood starring as a junior player.

Richard wasn’t there when Bossy scored goal #50 in game #50, but he telephoned him in the dressing room after the game. The Rocket also sent a telegram, which read, in part: “Congratulations from an old recordman to a young recordman. I always knew one day my record would be surpassed or tied [and] I had always hoped that it would be done by the player from Ahuntsic who I have admired from the start. We are proud of you here in Quebec.”

Mike Bossy and Auston Matthews.

Mike Bossy announced last October that he is battling lung cancer. He’s currently said to be resting peacefully at home, but apparently not in palliative care as was recently reported.

Like Maurice Richard, Bossy hasn’t always seemed like a fan of the game since his playing days ended, but it would appear that he did remain an astute observer. Last season, Steve Simmons wrote in the Toronto Sun in February of 2021, that Bossy was predicting Toronto’s Auston Matthews would win the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goals.

“I do like what I’m seeing from him,” Bossy said of Matthews. “Watch him, he loves to score goals, he has that natural goal-scorer’s instinct, he has the shot, or shall I say, shots. You can’t always explain scoring. It just happens.”

Matthews did, of course, win the Richard Trophy last year and is on pace to win it again this year, having recently tied Rick Vaive’s Leafs record of 54 goals in one season. He has 47 goals in his last 48 games, and is a favourite to win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP as well. But the playoffs will be the true test.

Bossy, it seems, would have loved to play under similar conditions to what offensive stars such as Matthews and Connor McDavid have in the NHL today. Around the same time last year that he spoke with Toronto’s Steve Simmons, Bossy told Larry Brooks of the New York Post, “you don’t see the cross-checking that we faced. You don’t see hooking and holding around the net and there’s not much hitting around the net nor in front of the net. There’s a lot of room out there that’s not talked about.”

No doubt Maurice Richard and Howie Morenz would feel the same way.

Probably Billy Gilmour and Cyclone Taylor too.

9 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Cyclone Taylor

  1. Brilliant work by Eric. My wife, Shirley, and I interviewed Cyclone Taylor at his Vancouver
    home in 1968. The chapter is in my oral history, Those Were The Days. The Rocket is right about Bossy. In the 1982 playoffs Mike scored a spectacular goal, batting home the puck while Mike was in mid-air. Unlike Bobby Orr’s much publicized airborne goal — Orr scored then was tripped from behind by Noel Picard. Bossy’s was authentic but less-publicized.

  2. Records are fallacious. Rules change, size and strength grow and most of all the number of teams grow beyond the number of true star athletes available. Once hockey was a Canadian game, now it is international. At the HumanRights denying Beijing Games even China iced a team. Someday, as in figure skating, they will be a power, having one billion to choose from and a system (like the Soviets) that shaped the school curriculum around a single sport. When Jews escape the USSR for Canada, I was asked by people in JVS for help in suggesting where they might get work. Turned out some had a skill in, for example, weight lifting, but that was all.
    So a hockey player in 1910, holding down a job so he could eat, playing a tough group of other Canucks, was in a different world from a millionaire, with all the perks of the NHL today, facing off against a team of lesser mortals.
    And there is the old story that Babe Ruth would wolf down a couple of hot dogs and a beer, between innings, which accounted for his girth. Today things are different. Not to mention the medicines; some to rush players back to playing health, some to do a Barry Bonds. And in all sports players who have had a serious injury are not called sissies for taking some time off. No more Bobby Baun playing on a broken foot.
    Another great story about OUR game.
    Toss the fortune cookie. Go Leafs Go!

  3. There’ll never be another Leafs team like 47-48; never be leaders like Syl Apps and Ted Kennedy; never be devastating but clean bodychecker like Bill Ezinicki, never a defense led by Bill Barilko and the greatest of maskless goalies, Turk Broda.
    Conn Smythe was right: “That was my greatest team.” As a Leafs fan, I never had to chant,
    “Go, Leafs, Go!” They just went!

  4. Another great post! Fascinating hearing about Taylor talk about Richard, then Richard talk about Bossy, and lastly Bossy talk about Matthews. Just a random question, what player throughout history was your favourite to learn about?

    1. Learning about Frank McGee and the Dawson City challenge (from Peter Puck!) when I was a kid is the first I can remember being interested in the early days of hockey. Also, learning that a team called the Kenora Thistles once won the Stanley Cup.
      Reading about Cyclone Taylor and Frank and Lester Patrick as research for my very first book is what really got me into hockey history. I find stories from the early days to be fascinating. The Silver Seven, Dawson City, Rat Portage/Kenora, Renfrew Millionaires. I’ve learned a lot about Tommy Phillips, Joe Hall, Fred Whitcroft that I really liked digging into. The stories about Billy Gilmour I’ve written over the last year were a lot of fun too.

  5. It’s always been something of a longshot personal crusade of mine to find this…actual video footage of Cyclone Taylor in action. Could any exist? He’s always fascinated me, the legends and exploits we hear about him, what they said about his skating.

    In some attic somewhere has to be tape of him

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