All posts by Eric Zweig

Howie Morenz = 2 x 7

In the first four years of my doing this web site (2014 to 2018), I wrote pretty close to one story a week. In the four years since then, it’s been more like one a month, if that. And whether or not I’ve been writing a lot or a little, there have been so many times over these eight years when I’ve thought, “Well, that’s it. That’s the last story. I’m out of ideas.”

But something new (or something old!) always comes up.

Sometimes, how they come up is as interesting to me as what comes up.

Some of you, I hope, will recall the stories I wrote back in January of 2021 about Billy Gilmour, his hockey-playing family and his getaway from Nazi-occupied France. This past weekend, I got a comment on the family story from a genealogist in Ottawa who attends the same church the Gilmours had attended and is putting something together about the family for the church records.

This image is from Wikimedia Commons credited to Maniacduhockey.

Long story short, his email prompted me to go looking to see if any new information had turned up on the Nazi getaway. Specifically, I wondered if I might find something in the Montreal Star, which has recently became available through the newspaper site I like to use and which hadn’t been available when I wrote those stories.

I didn’t find anything more about Gilmour and the Nazis, but I did find a few other items of interest. One was in a column in the Montreal Star by the legendary sportswriter/editor Baz O’Meara, who was writing about Gilmour in his column on March 14, 1959, the day after Gilmour’s death. There wasn’t anything about Billy Gilmour that was new to me … but O’Meara did write something of interest later in his column about Howie Morenz.

“[Former Montreal Canadiens owner] Leo Dandurand calls our attention to the fact that Howie Morenz’s number seven was twice retired by the Canadiens. For the first time when he was traded to Chicago in 1933 for Lionel Conacher…. The Morenz number seven was retired, but when he was brought back to Canadiens in 1937 some time before he died, he resumed the number. Then it was retired for keeps.”

Now, Leo Dandurand is known to be a teller of tall tales. It was him, for instance, that came up with the story that the great Canadiens goalie Georges Vezina was the father of 22 children. To this day, you’ll often see that story reported as if it’s a fact … which it most definitely is not! And, of course, old-time writers like Baz O’Meara were known to be great at spinning a yarn themselves without always getting their facts right either. For example, in this case, I knew that Morenz had actually been traded in 1934, not 1933.

Howie Morenz (left) and his friend and teammate Aurele Joliat.

So, why should I believe the rest of it?

As I’d always heard it, (and I think, as everyone who’s heard it knows), Morenz’s jersey was retired as part of the tributes to him at the memorial game played in his honour at the Montreal Forum on November 2, 1937. (Morenz had died on March 8, 1937 — 85 years ago last week — some six weeks after his leg was shattered during a game.) But in this case, it turns out that Dandurand and O’Meara were correct! Fortunately, O’Meara had enough right in the rest of his story about the dinner he described where Morenz’s number was first retired that it wasn’t too difficult to find.

On October 11, 1934 (not 1933) – one week after Dandurand had traded Morenz from Montreal to Chicago – the Canadiens held a dinner for their now former star. In attendance was Dandurand and other members of Canadiens management, Morenz’s Montreal teammates, Canadiens former superstar Newsy Lalonde, Montreal Maroons captain Hooley Smith and coach/GM Tommy Gorman, plus Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde and a few other dignitaries.

“His number 7 will be preserved,” read an account of the dinner in the next day’s Montreal Star, “as a sort of memento of his great achievements in Canadien memories and it will never be worn by another player so long as Howie is in action. This announcement was made by Leo Dandurand last night in graceful acknowledgement of the part that Howie had played in building up the Canadien team and tradition.”

From the Montreal Star on October 12, 1934.

NHL jersey retirements were obviously in vogue at the time. The Toronto Maple Leafs had retired number 6 in honour of Ace Bailey on February 14, 1934, following his recent career-ending injury in Boston. Then eight days later, on February 22, 1934, the Bruins announced the retirement of number 3 when Lionel Hitchman played the final game of his NHL career.

Howie Morenz (who wore number 3 during his 1 1/2 seasons in Chicago, and number 12 in a half-season with the New York Rangers) did, indeed, resume wearing number 7 when he was traded back to Montreal for the 1936–37 season. But even with the first retirement of his number on October 11, 1934, Morenz would still be the third player in NHL history to have his number retired, which it was, permanently, in his memory in 1937.

Sadly, Morenz was the first in the NHL to have his number retired because of his death.

The Kenora Thistles: Try, Try Again

If all continues to go according to schedule, by early May you’ll finally be able to read my new book Engraved in History: The Story of the Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles. With the NHL season scheduled to end on April 29, and the Stanley Cup playoffs expected to start on May 2 (and quite possibly run until late June), I hope we’ll be able to generate some good buzz for the book during that time.

In my most recent post from last month, you may recall Evelyn Gunne of Kenora singing:

Three times you’ve tried to win, boys,
“Three times and out,” they say,
But now the Cup is ours, boys,
For you’ve brought it home to stay.

The Thistles, who beat the Montreal Wanderers in 1907, had first gone after the Stanley Cup in March of 1903, when Kenora was still known as Rat Portage. They faced Ottawa that year and were beaten rather easily in two straight games in a best-of-three series by the soon-to-be legendary Silver Seven. Everyone seemed to agree the Thistles were too young and unproven to win the Cup that year, but that they would be back.

Indeed they would.

The Rat Portage Thistles of 1904-05. Seven of the eight players (all but goalie Eddie Giroux) were either born or raised in the small town. McGimsie, Griffis, Hooper and Phillips would all one day be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Two years later – on March 7, March 9 and March 11, 1905 – Rat Portage (the town name wouldn’t change to Kenora for another two months) took on Ottawa for the Stanley Cup again in another best-of-three series. Hockey fans who know anything about the history of this era are likely to know of Ottawa trouncing Dawson City 9-2 and 23-2 (behind 14 goals from Frank McGee) in January of 1905. The Ottawa-Dawson series might be the most famous from the Stanley Cup’s early “Challenge Era,” but the Silver Seven versus the Thistles that March was easily the greatest series of that time.

The Rat Portage Thistles of 1904-05 were a powerhouse. Playing in the Manitoba Hockey League with the Victorias and the Rowing Club of Winnipeg, as well Brandon and Portage la Prairie, the Thistles were overwhelming favourites for the league title. They began their season on January 2, 1905, with a 14-2 win over Portage. After a shocking 3-2 loss to the Rowing Club, Rat Portage finished the season (hockey schedules were MUCH shorter in those days!) with six straight wins. The Thistles ended the 8-game season with a 7-and-1 record and outscored their opponents 81-22. The average score in their seven victories was close to 11-3.

The 1903 Rat Portage Thisles, shown in the Montreal Star on March 12, 1903.

The high scores, in those years and others, are the reason why there times in the book when I draw comparisons between the 1900s Thistles and the 1980s Edmonton Oilers.

The Thistles, of course, are remembered today because of the 1907 championship which made Kenora the smallest town ever to win the Stanley Cup. And yet star player Si Griffis thought the 1905 Rat Portage squad was actually the better team. (In the Edmonton analogy, Griffis would be the Thistles’ Mark Messier to captain Tommy Phillips’ Wayne Gretzky.) With a group of stars who excelled in speed and had the stamina to play the full 60 minutes without tiring, Griffis was quoted in a story for the Winnipeg Tribune on August 29, 1914, as saying, “I believe our seven of that season was the greatest ever placed on the ice.”

“Ottawa…” said Griffis of the 1905 team, “were better stickhandlers than the Thistles … [but as] a team, we excelled Ottawa.”

Rat Portage just didn’t get the breaks that year.

Headlines from the Ottawa Journal on March 8, 1905,
after Game One between Rat Portage and Ottawa.

If the Thistles of this era were the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, then the Ottawa team of the 1900s was the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers. The Silver Seven were talented, but they were tough … and they were dirty too. So when the Thistles challenged for the Stanley Cup in 1905, they asked for the new two-referee system that had been used for the first time that year in the Manitoba Hockey League.

Ottawa refused.

However, the trustees who oversaw Stanley Cup competition ordered that game one be played with the two-referee system (a referee and a judge-of-play), and game two with just a single referee. If a third game was needed — which it would be — there would be a referee and a judge of play in the first half but just the referee in the second. (Hockey was played with two 30-minute halves until the 1910-11 season.)

Like the Thistles, Ottawa had posted a 7-and-1 record in 1904-05. Playing in the Federal Amateur Hockey League with the Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Montagnards and teams in Brockville and Cornwall, Ontario, the Silver Seven outscored their opponents 60-19. Throw in the Stanley Cup victory against Dawson City in January, and Ottawa was 9-and-1 with 92 goals scored and only 23 goals against. Still, fans in the Canadian capital knew the competition hadn’t been great that winter and looked forward to a real test from the Thistles.

Images from the Montreal Star on March 8, 1905.

But no one could have expected what happened in game one!

Playing on hard, fast ice with two officials to call penalties, the Thistles stunned Ottawa with a 9-3 victory. Tommy Phillips scored five goals. (Some sources say six). Griffis added a pair and the two stars were recognized as the best players on the ice.

Ottawa had played that first game without future Hall of Famers Billy Gilmour and the great Frank McGee — who was Tommy Phillips’ only rival as the best player in hockey at this time. Both were back for game two, and with only one referee that night, Ottawa played much rougher.

Headlines from the Ottawa Journal on March 10, 1905 note the ice was slower.

“The second game of this series was the most punishing that I, or for that matter, any member of the old Thistles was ever in,” Griffis recalled for the 1914 Winnipeg Tribune story. “I don’t remember exactly what the other players received for their share, but I left the ice with my nose broken in two places, the first time by McGee, who was equally proficient in using the butt of his stick for jabbing as the other end for shooting purposes. Later on, I had it knocked back in position by Alf Smith.

“Players did not wear as many pads in those days as they do now,” Griffis continued, “and from having the wood laid on I had water on the knees, elbows, and hips. Even as late as today I have tangible evidence of the milling that I went through in Ottawa.”

Cartoons in the Ottawa Journal depict Si Griffis and Frank McGee.

The state of the ice in game two drew at least as much attention as the injuries and rough play in the newspapers the next day.

In the Capital, papers only remarked on the “slow” or “heavy” conditions, but elsewhere across Canada, fans were more than willing to believe the worst about Ottawa’s Silver Sluggers! In later years it would be claimed that after Rat Portage’s easy victory in game one, the Ottawa ice crew at Dey’s Arena, or possibly even the Ottawa fans, salted the playing surface in a deliberate attempt to slow down the Thistles in game two.

That probably wasn’t true.

Headlines in the Manitoba Free Press after Game Two.

However, it is possible that the ice was flooded a little too close to game time to allow it to freeze into a hard, fast surface. That’s what Griffis believed, although he didn’t think the Ottawa club had anything to do with it.

Still, “Ottawas Won by Doctoring the Ice,” cried the front-page headline in the Manitoba Free Press the morning after game two.

Soft ice wasn’t a problem for the final game of the 1905 series, and playing with the two-referee system in the first period, the Thistles led 2-1. Even with just the one referee, there were plenty of penalties called in the second half. Phillips and McGee traded hat tricks in the game, and Ottawa rallied for a 5-4 victory on a late goal by McGee. Yet everyone seemed to agree the Thistles would have tied it if there had been just a little more time left to play.

Game Three on March 11 was played on a Saturday night.
These were the headlines in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday.

“It was a hard fought game on the part of both teams,” said referee Mike Grant. “I do not care to say anything about the relative merits of the two teams, but it was anyone’s game until the final whistle sounded…. It was a great game of hockey, easily the best ever played for the Cup.”

Tommy Phillips, speaking for his team, said: “We were beaten, but only by the closest possible margin…. We led for three-quarters the distance and were only beaten under the wire by a nose. The gong saved the Cup-holders. The way the play was going we were sure of a score within a few minutes.”

“A couple of minutes more and they would have won,” said the Thistles’ honourary president Dr. Nelson Schnarr, speaking on behalf of the club executive. Schnarr added that he “really believed” the results might have been different if the judge of play had been used in the second half, “but it’s no disgrace to be beaten by a team of the calibre of the Ottawas.

The winners and still Stanley Cup champions: The Ottawa “Silver Seven” of 1905.

“I’m proud of the Rat Portage boys,” said Schnarr, “as proud of them in defeat as in victory. Where will you find another town of [this] size in Canada that can turn out such a team, all with one exception, home brews. We’ve been here before for the Cup and we’ll come again…. Next time, we’ll lift it for sure.”

And next time, they would.

If only for a little while.

For that story, you’ll have to wait a little longer … and buy the book!

Hockey Night in 1907

On this night 115 years ago (a Friday in 1907), a proud home town celebrated the Stanley Cup victory of the Kenora Thistles at the Hilliard Opera House. Kenora had won the Cup a few weeks before, with victories against the Montreal Wanderers on January 17 and January 21, 1907, to sweep their best-of-three series. Hopefully, around the time this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs start in late April, you’ll finally be able to read all about it in my new book, Engraved in History: The Story of the Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles published by Rick Brignall of Rat Portage Press.

As to that party 115 years ago tonight, “The reception promises to be an event unique in the history of Kenora,” said the local newspaper, the Miner and News, two days before, “and one in which everybody is invited to take part.” The night would be “a bright, joyful, enthusing occasion,” and “you will have regrets if you don’t attend.”

For people who wished to be there, “an admission fee of 50 cents will be charged the gentlemen.” This was in order to defray the costs of the civic celebration. “The ladies will be admitted free.” There were also tickets available to sit up in the gallery at 25 cents apiece. No account is given as to how many people actually attended, but a recap of the evening in Saturday’s paper describes an “immense audience.” It would certainly appear that a fine time was had by all.

The auditorium in the Opera House was decorated with flags and bunting, and there was “an imitation of an immense thistle, worked out with red, white, and blue electric lights.” The colour scheme matched the numerous Union Jacks surrounding the Stanley Cup, which was perched upon a pedestal at the front of the stage. It was described as, “a rather squat and somewhat insignificant looking piece of silverware when compared to the splendid championship trophy [the Stirling Cup of the Manitoba Hockey League] sitting to its left.” At the time, the Stanley Cup was only a little bit larger than the bowl (now a replica – the original is on permanent display at the Hockey Hall of Fame) that sits atop the trophy today.

The evening began with opening remarks from Mayor Charles Belyea, who also read letters of regret from Art Ross and Joe Hall. (The two players who had been borrowed from Brandon were now back in that Manitoba town and playing against Portage la Prairie that same night.) Next up were a few musical numbers, before team executive Dr. Nelson Schnarr addressed the crowd.

Schnarr’s “humour sallies” were “well approved by the audience.” In this new age of openly professional hockey players, he jokingly remarked that it was due to the ladies of Kenora that the town had the best team in the game. After all, efforts had been made from time to time by other clubs to lure away Kenora’s stars, but they had chosen to remain loyal to the team because “affection and sympathy will hold a man when dollars will not.”

This may be where the Stanley Cup reception was held. There were four buildings
known as the Hilliard House (a combination hotel/theater) on the same site.

After concluding his remarks, Schnarr relinquished the stage for several more songs and speeches. Another team executive, John McGillivray, was among the others speakers, and he gave a short history of the team’s attempts to win the Stanley Cup since 1903. “Nothing succeeds like perseverance combined with ability,” he said, “and the Thistles had both.” He concluded his remarks by saying: “We have made a record in going after the Cup oftener than any other team. Let us make another record by defending the Cup oftener than any other team.”

Next, came the hit of the evening. Evelyn Gunne, poet, singer, and wife of local doctor William James Gunne, sang a song she had composed specially for the occasion. Mrs. Gunne had written and performed a similar song at a reception for the team in 1905 after the Stanley Cup loss to Ottawa that year, but now she re-worked the words to celebrate the victory:

We sing of the might of Britain, boys,
     In the face of Britain’s foes,
And side by side, on the veldt, boys,
     We’ve fought for the English Rose,
We own a sneaking fondness, boys,
     For the Shamrock, green and bright,
But the bravest blooms of all, boys,
     Are the Thistles, we cheer, tonight.
The Union Jack, and the colors, boys,
     Are the things for which we fight,
But the colors that hold our hearts always,
     Are those of the Red and white.
We bid you welcome home, boys,
     The news from sea to sea,
Is only heard in praise, boys,
     And joy of victory.
We’re proud of you at home, boys,
     And of your well-earned fame.
We’re proud of your bumps and bruises,
     Because you have played the game.
The Thistles are the winners, boys,
     From Halifax to Nome;
They’re hailed as kings of hockey, boys,
     Our Thistles here at home.
We love to hear you praised, boys,
     We value what they mean,
When every message tells us,
     “Kenora men play clean.”
It’s words like these we prize, boys,
     The words we least could spare,
’Twas great to win the Cup, boys,
     But best you have won it fair.
The Thistles are at home again,
     Our bravest and our best.
We are not perhaps the biggest town,
     But the proudest in the west.
Phillips and Griffis and Ross, boys,
     McGimsie and little Giroux,
Hooper and Beaudro played, boys,
     As often we’ve seen them do.
The East has sadly laid, boys,
     Her hard won laurels down,
Before the whirlwind victors,
     From our little lakeside town.
Three times you’ve tried to win, boys,
     “Three times and out,” they say,
But now the Cup is ours, boys,
     For you’ve brought it home to stay.

After that show-stopper, former mayor A.S Horswill had the honour of presenting silver loving cups to the players, nine of which had been commissioned by the citizens of Kenora for presentation. (Art Ross and Joe Hall received their commemorative trophies later. Today, the Hockey Hall of Fame has both, along with the cup presented to Billy McGimsie.) There was also as a silver tea service for the team’s trainer, Jim Link, and a large silk hat for manager Fred Hudson. Tommy Phillips, the captain, stepped forward to receive the trophies on behalf of his teammates, and made a short address to the crowd:

On behalf of the club and the players, I would like to thank the citizen of Kenora for the splendid reception you have tendered us. It gives us pleasure to know that we have been fighting for a good cause and for a good bunch of people. We have tried, every time, to do our best as we felt we had the reputation of the town at stake. Now that we have the Cup, I hope the team that takes it from us will have as much trouble as the Thistles had in winning it.

Phillips also thanked the officers of the club for their support over the years, and then the evening concluded with a final song before everyone stood to sing “God Save the King.” Those in the audience remained standing to offer “hearty and ringing cheers” to “the world’s champions.” The players responded with three cheers themselves for the people of Kenora.

Art Ross showed off his loving cup from Kenora in the Boston Globe on December 23, 1956. The article on the right is from the Winnipeg Tribune on February 19, 1907.

After the celebration, the Stanley Cup was displayed for the whole town to see in the window of Johnson’s Pharmacy, the Main Street drug store owned and operated by Thistles president Joseph Johnson and his brother Lowry. But by the time the Cup arrived in town, it was already becoming clear that the team’s defence of the prized trophy was going to be difficult.

For more, you’ll have to wait a little longer … and buy the book!

But, if you’re looking for a little hockey & writing talk right now (or at least, on Thursday!), please join by Zoom at 7 pm on February 17 for conversation and Q & A with me and Paul White courtesy of the Owen Sound library.

No registration necessary. Just click here on Thursday at 7:

Canadian Hockey and the First Olympic Winter Games

The 13-hour time difference between Beijing and where I am makes it a bit confusing, but even though the official Opening Ceremonies aren’t for a couple of days, the Winter Olympics get started tonight … which is tomorrow afternoon in China. Women’s hockey kicks things off, with Canada facing Switzerland and the United States against Finland. Men’s hockey starts next week.

Leaving aside the issue of whether ANYONE should be going to these Olympics (for health or humanitarian reasons), we know that Covid is the official reason why NHL players won’t be there. NHL owners had previously given permission for the players to attend … but everyone knows the owners have little to no interest anymore in shutting down the NHL season for Olympic hockey.

In that way, things weren’t a whole lot different nearly 100 years ago before the first Olympic Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Back then – for a little while, at least – it was the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association that was less-than-thrilled about interrupting its season for international competition.

Canada versus the U.S. for gold. Olympic hockey looked very different in 1924!
(This and other images are from the VIII Olympiade Official Report unless noted.)

Word of the 1924 Winter competition was first announced late in 1922. “The French Olympic Committee,” reported the Globe newspaper in Toronto on November 10, 1922, “announces that the seventh renewal of the Olympic games will open … on January 20, 1924, with the program of winter sports.”

The uncredited Globe writer, in his Scanning the Sports Field column, reminded readers that, “Canada, will not, of course, have declared a champion hockey team until perhaps two months later. [So t]he hockey competition will probably be deferred until April, as at the [Summer] Olympiad of 1920 when the Falcons of Winnipeg won the Allan Cup and represented Canada, winning the world’s championship.”

But there would be no deferment.

Articles from the Globe, November 10, 1922; the Toronto Star
from March 28, 1923; and the Globe on October 15, 1923.

On January 11, 1923, the Toronto Star reported: “It is not expected that Canada will be represented in the Olympic hockey tournament … next January to defend the honors won by the Falcons of Winnipeg, according to Secretary Fred Marples of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Mr. Marples states that he has received word that the Olympic committee has refused to change the date of the tournament to later in the year, when Canada would have a representative team to send, and under the circumstances, does not expect the Canadian hockey body will send representatives.”

The subject would be re-visited during the Allan Cup finals in Winnipeg that spring, and, obviously, opinions changed. On March 21, 1923, the CAHA reversed course and decided unanimously at its annual meeting to recommend to the Canadian Olympic Committee that the winners of the Allan Cup (Canada’s amateur hockey championship) for this season should represent the country at the Olympic Games the next winter.

The Toronto Granites won their second straight Allan Cup the following day, and by March 24, it seemed certain that they would represent Canada. Their participation was virtually assured at a banquet held back in Toronto at the Granite Club on the night of March 27, 1923, when city officials and the government of Ontario promised to help fund the trip. The chairman of the Canadian Olympic Committee added that the Federal government had been asked to up its contribution of $15,000 from previous Olympic years to $30,000 in 1924.

The Globe, January 12, 1924.

Rumours in April that Paris might not get the 1924 Games after all, or that winter sports might be excluded if they did, soon proved false, and on May 27, 1923, the Granites formerly withdrew from the senior section of the Ontario Hockey Association for the winter of 1923-24. This cleared the way for the Granites to represent the country in France as the Canadian Olympic hockey team in January and February of 1924.

Unlike when the NHL has participated, there was now no schedule to interrupt when the Granites went to the Olympics … although there was some concern about losing the OHA’s best team (and therefore its biggest draw) for the entire season. Still, there wasn’t really any other way to accommodate a trip that would see the Olympic hockey team set sail for Europe on January 11, 1924 and not arrive back in Toronto until March 4.

Thirteen players had suited up for the Granites during the 1922–23 season, but not all would be able to take the nearly two months off work that was required for the Olympic trip. That was fine, since only nine players would be taken to France anyway. The Granites’ biggest star, Harry Watson, would make the trip. So would fellow future Hockey Hall of Famer Hooley Smith, as well as another future NHL star, team captain Dunc Munro. Team veterans Bert McCaffrey and Beattie Ramsay, as well as Jack Cameron and Ernie Collett (both goalies) would also make the trip. Harold McMunn of the Winnipeg Falcons (though not from the 1920 Olympic team) and Cyril Slater of the Montreal Victorias were added to the roster as well.

In addition to Canada’s huge victories, all the scores in Pool A were pretty lopsided.

Various members of the Olympic team (as well as some Granites from the previous season) saw action in a series of exhibition games to get into shape between December 1, 1923, and January 10, 1924. Sources often show the team playing 14 games, though it seems they actually played 15. They won all but two, and in both cases (defeats at the hands of the Hamilton Tigers and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who had been the Granites’ toughest opponents en route to the 1923 Allan Cup), the losses were avenged by victories in either previous or subsequent games against their two top rivals.

In truth, Canada could have sent the Tigers or the Greyhounds – and probably any number of other senior teams – to the Olympics and still won the gold as easily as the Granites did. Junior teams – possibly even youth teams! – likely would have defeated Canada’s European opponents.

Even playing under unfamiliar conditions on a huge, open-air ice surface with tiny boards to cordon off a playable rink, Canada crushed the European teams. They opened the tournament in Chamonix with a 30-0 win over Czechoslovakia on January 28, 1924, then defeated Sweden 22-0 the next day, and followed up with a 33-0 rout of Switzerland the day after that.

In Pool B, the 7-5 win by France over Belguim was the only close game.

A story told in the Globe the day after the team returned home to Toronto gives an idea of just how easy those three victories were. Apparently, in the first period of the game against Switzerland, a photographer jumped onto the ice and dashed over to Ernie Collett. He told the goalie he’d like to take a few pictures as soon as he was at his leisure.

“Well,” said Collett, “I’ll never be at more leisure than in this game. The play hasn’t been anywhere in this vicinity yet. So if you want to get some pictures, why shoot.”

“But you’ll have to go over to the side of the rink,” said the photographer.

“All right with me,” said Collett.

Apparently, he calmly skated out of his net and over to the side, where he posed for three pictures before returning to his position.

Medal results. The U.S. beat Sweden 20-0 before falling to Canada.
Britain beat the Swedish team 4-3 to win the bronze medal.

Canada’s semifinal game against Great Britain on February 1 proved somewhat more difficult but still resulted in a 19-2 victory. Even the United States didn’t provide much opposition in the gold medal game on February 3, 1924, as Canada scored a 6-1 victory. Beattie Ramsay later stirred up some controversy over that one.

Leaving the team early while they were in Paris after the Olympics, Ramsay arrived back in Toronto on February 14 … just in time for the birth of his first son. (He reportedly got to Toronto two hours before the blessed event, and reached the hospital with seven minutes to spare!) In papers that day and over the next week or so, Ramsay was quoted as saying the Canadians would have beaten the American team 20-0 on a regular rink like the Toronto Arena. He said the U.S. team only kept the score close by playing rough, that the referee lost control of the game, and (as I said above!) that any number of senior teams in Canada could have beaten the Americans. “Perhaps some of our intermediate teams would take a fall out of them,” he added.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Canadian Olympic hockey team remained in Paris a little longer (they had beaten the British team 17-1 in a five-on-five exhibition on an undersized Parisian rink on February 7), and then went on to London on February 15, where they were entertained by the Prince of Wales at St. James Palace on February 20 before sailing home two days later. The team would arrive in Saint John, New Brunswick, on March 2 and stop in Montreal the following day for a banquet and a night at the theater before returning to Toronto for a parade and more banquets.

Eight of nine members of Canada’s 1924 Olympic champions. My best attempt at identifying the players is (L-R); Harry Watson, Bert McCaffrey, Beattie Ramsay, Cyril Slater, Dunc Munro, Hooley Smith, Harold McMunn and Jack Cameron.

Prior to departure from Liverpool, captain Dunc Munro had mailed home a letter of interest. When the Toronto Granites had announced their intentions to skip the season to go to the Olympics back in May of 1923, the OHA had granted them the right to play the league champions upon their return for a chance to get back into the Allan Cup race and try for a third straight national championship.

“Just in case you want to know,” wrote Munro, “the Olympic team is through with hockey for the season.”

The Toronto Star, reporting on the letter on February 27, felt this was the proper choice.

“Their decision not to attempt to hog the honors by going into the Allan Cup finals will appeal to all sportsmen,” read the Star.

Or at least all sportsmen who don’t mind their teams running up the score against obviously inferior opponents! But such was the state of international hockey in its early days.

The Leafs in Owen Sound

Well, Hockey Day in Canada was supposed to be broadcast from Owen Sound 10 days from today on Saturday, January 29. Events were scheduled all around town from Tuesday to Friday leading up to it. Unfortunately, word came down two weeks ago that amid new provincial restrictions and a worsening surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, it’s all been postponed until 2023. The day-long marathon broadcast will continue, but not from here.

I had provided research for the Owen Sound broadcast, about the city of Owen Sound and its hockey history for Hockey Day. I prepared notes on players from Owen Sound and its teams specific to the games to be broadcast, as well as general notes about events from the past, and local historians who might be able to speak to them.

There are several stories I would have loved to post on my web site, but I didn’t want to jump the gun on anything Rogers might choose to broadcast. Many will hold over until next year. Still, I’m posting this one now because, although it may well be something Rogers will still cover, there’s no way they’ll go into the quirky personal connection I have with this story.

When Rogers finally comes to Owen Sound for Hockey Day in Canada, it will probably be the biggest hockey circus to hit town since the fall of 1944 when the Toronto Maple Leafs held training camp here at the Civic Auditorium-Arena. (The Leafs would train in Owen Sound again in 1945.) I have long wondered how much the fact that Hap Day was from Owen Sound played a part in that decision. Day had been the Leafs’ captain from 1927 to 1937, and the coach since 1940. His Owen Sound roots couldn’t have hurt, but it was the mayor of the city who’d done the leg work to bring the Leafs here.

Talk of Toronto holding training camp in Owen Sound in 1944 had been rumoured around town since that spring, when Day and Leafs assistant general manager Frank Selke were the headline speakers at the local arena for a banquet held by the Owen Sound Hockey League on May 31, 1944. Mayor W. Garfield Case presided over the banquet, and after it was announced at a committee meeting of the City Council on September 8 that the Maple Leafs were coming to town, the Sun-Times newspaper reported the following day that Case “has been conducting negotiations with Maple Leafs management for some time regarding the team coming here to practice.”

These pictures of Hap Day and his “Kid Line” teammates hung on our walls in the Webster-Case House. Now I wonder if Hap Day might have really been there!

That’s where my connection to the story comes in.

When we moved to Owen Sound in the fall of 2006, we moved into the Webster-Case House, previously owned by former Owen Sound mayors William Webster and Garfield Case.

Wilfrid Garfield Case was mayor of Owen Sound from 1942 to 1944. In 1945, he defeated Canada’s Defense Minister, General Andrew McNaughton, in a bye-election called specifically to give McNaughton a seat in the House of Commons. McNaughton had been parachuted in by the Liberals, but was opposed by Case of the Progressive Conservatives, who campaigned on the slogan “Send a Grey North man to Ottawa, not an Ottawa man to Grey North” and whose pro-Conscription position carried the day over the Liberals and Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily Conscription” view. Campaign meetings were held in Case’s home. Our home.

Case was born on September 23, 1898, and enlisted in the Canadian army during World War I. He later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, but was discharged after being seriously wounded. He served Grey North as its Member of Parliament from 1945 to 1949, and was defeated again in the election of 1953.

Later, in July of 1959, Garfield Case was admitted to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto for psychiatric treatment. I remember someone telling us that Case had killed himself in a store in downtown Owen Sound. Turns out, that’s not true. He was actually found dead on September 22, 1959, in the chapel at Sunnybrook Hospital … though he had killed himself.

A neighbour told us that Case haunted our house, but that he was a friendly spirit.

A couple of people even told us they had seen the ghost.

We never had any spooky experiences!

But getting back to the Maple Leafs… when the announcement of their coming to Owen Sound was made at the City Council meeting, Alderman Jean Honsinger had suggested that “perhaps it will bring them a change of luck.” After all, the Maple Leafs had experienced two straight first-round playoff defeats since last winning the Stanley Cup … all the way back in 1942!

Most of the team arrived in Owen Sound by train from Toronto on the afternoon of October 10, 1944. Others would trickle in over the next few days. The players were put up in a couple of hotels around town, had access to a local gym, held practice in the Arena, and played golf on a local course. Coach Day, trainer Tim Daly, star player Babe Pratt and a few others took part in a radio broadcast on CFOS on Friday night, October 20 from the Paterson House hotel, where most of the team was staying. During their two weeks in Owen Sound, the presence of Toronto’s NHL stars gave the Sun-Times something else to report on other than the War news that filled almost every other page.

The Leafs played just one preseason game in Owen Sound on October 23, 1944. It was an inter-squad game featuring a Blue team against White. The Blues won the game before an overflow crowd while a storm raged outside. “From the windows could be seen flashes of brilliant lightning,” the Sun-Times reported the following day, “and during lulls in the cheering could be heard peals of thunder and the sound of [heavy rain] pouring on the roof.”

The Leaf packed up on October 24, moving to St. Catharines, where they played another Blue and White game that night before kicking off the season against the New York Rangers at Maple Leaf Gardens on October 28. “Well, the Maple Leaf hockeyists are gone,” wrote Joe O’Neill in a Casual Comment on Sport column in the Sun-Times on October 25, “and the fans in particular feel just a bit lonesome.”

During the time the Leafs had been in Owen Sound, “all of them from the coach to the least rookie, whenever one met them, proved themselves gentlemen of the highest type. They made for themselves a warm spot in the estimation of the people of this city and they will always be welcome…. Fans will follow their battles in the hockey wars with greater interest now that they have come into contact with them and know them.”

The biggest stories out of the Owen Sound camp were the appearance of the three Chin brothers from a Chinese family in nearby Lucknow, and the emergence of goalie Frank McCool. (With Turk Broda in the Army, the Leafs had stuggled to get decent goaltending the previous season.) McCool had played hockey with the Currie Army team in his hometown of Calgary in 1942-43 until ulcers forced his discharge from the Forces, and had sat out the 1943–44 season when the Rangers were scared off by his stomach troubles. He made his NHL debut with Toronto in the season opener in 1944 one day after his 26th birthday. McCool went on to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1944–45 and, guzzling buttermilk to calm his ulcers during the Stanley Cup Final, led the Maple Leafs to that long-awaited NHL championship.

Photo courtesy of the Society for International Hockey Research.

“If I were to single any one for individual praise I would have to say that of all the team, McCool has come farthest since Owen Sound,” said Hap Day after the Leafs’ seventh-game victory over the Red Wings on April 22, 1945. “At Detroit last night when it was all over McCool came up to me and said, ‘Thanks, coach, for sticking with me.’ I think of all the boys, he got the greatest kick out of achieving Stanley Cup eminence in his rookie year.”

For Frank McCool, the end of the 1945 Stanley Cup Final was the end of his Cinderella story. He was slow to come to terms the next season (holding out for a $5,000 contract) and lost his Leafs job when Turk Broda returned from the army late in the schedule. McCool’s name would pop up in rumours for the next few years, but he never played hockey again. He returned to Calgary, where he would work for the Albertan newspaper and serve on many city boards for the rest of his life. McCool was only 54 years old when he passed away on May 20, 1973. His stomach cancer was said to have been related to his lifelong battle with ulcers.

Renfrew’s Thousandaires

I’ll admit that I was pleased with myself when I found that Merry Christmas/Happy New Year clipping I used in my year-end Holiday story three weeks ago. I’d found similar (ish) clippings to use for holiday stories in 2017 and 2019, but this one was fun because of the personal connections…

Similar to what I said in a story I posted about Lester Patrick last summer, any chance to poke around in the history of the Renfrew Millionaires is always fun for me because they were the team featured in my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. Really, so much of whatever I have accomplished/become in my “career” since that book came out in 1992 is attributable to the Millionaires. Probably no one since Bill O’Brien some 80 to 100 years ago has owed as much as I do to that legendary Renfrew team. (No idea who Bill O’Brien is? Check out the note and the end of this story.)

And, really, how can you ever go wrong with Sprague and Odie Cleghorn?

A mug from my brother Jonathan on the publication of my first book. He also cropped my early 1990s head onto the image of a 1909-10 Newsy Lalonde hockey card. (It’s not his fault no one on an old hockey card would have smiled like that!)

I’m sure I’d have hated them as hockey players. I’ve never been a big fan of the violence in the game, and they — especially Sprague — may have been the dirtiest players ever. Still, their names are just so much fun to say! My cat, Odie, was even named after the younger of the two Cleghorn brothers.

As it happens, I have a story about Sprague and Odie Cleghorn in the 2021 Hockey Research Journal of the Society for International Research which recently became available to members online. It’s about their season playing hockey in New York City during the winter of 1909-10. The brothers were from Montreal, but even Canada’s largest city was no match for The Big Apple, and the Cleghorns lived large once they got to Broadway! By season’s end, New York newspapers would accuse them of having too much fun to bother with practice and — although Odie led the league in scoring — blamed their lack of conditioning for their fondness for on-ice mayhem.

For his part, Sprague wasn’t impressed by the calibre of hockey played in America’s largest city, and, a year later, the brothers had no plans to play there again. So they had been receptive when George Martel of the Millionaires came to Montreal to woo them for the 1910-11 season.

From the first installment of his four-part Maclean’s feature; November 15, 1934.

“There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast in a world cruise than New York the winter before and Renfrew that winter,” Sprague would say in Maclean’s magazine on December 1, 1934, in the second of a four-part series on his life, “but once we settled down we liked the place.”

That had not been his first impression!

After signing their contracts in late December of 1910, Odie reported directly to Renfrew. Sprague “wanted a final whirl at Broadway, and … took the few dimes I had saved during the summer and spent them strutting my stuff among my New York friends.

“It was a bitter cold night … when I dropped off the train at Renfrew. I was wearing a light overcoat. Odie met me, peeking out over the top of a bale of sweaters…. I shivered and looked around. There was nothing to see but darkness.

“‘Good gosh!’ I said. ‘What is this?’

“My brother has a mean sense of humour. ‘This,’ he told me, ‘is Renfrew.’

“We walked out of the station to the cutter which Odie had borrowed…. I couldn’t see a house in sight, and I had just left Broadway and my ears were beginning to nip.

“‘I don’t think we’re going to like it here,’ I said.

“For twelve hundred dollars, we gotta like it,’ my brother told me.”

Hockey cards from the winter of 1910-11. (I have replicas of this set.)

Sprague makes it clear that he and Odie were paid $1,200 apiece for the three months that constituted the 1910-11 hockey season. At a time when a working man might only earn half that amount for an entire year, this was a lot of money. It was a lot for a hockey player that season too, given that, after team owners had spent so freely the previous winter, the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) had imposed a salary cap of $5,000 per team (!!!) for 1910–11.

For comparison’s sake, it has long been said that the Renfrew Millionaires had spent $5,000 or more just to lure Cyclone Taylor to town from the Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators for the 1909–10 season. Sprague Cleghorn certainly though it was true. The thing that he liked most about Renfrew, he said, was that, “the men behind the club believed that money was for spending – and they spent it.”

“The story,” wrote Sprague, “is that M.J. O’Brien [no relation to Bill O’Brien], paid $5,000 for Cyclone Taylor’s jump from Ottawa. I never saw the documents, but if Renfrew wanted Taylor and Taylor wanted $5,000, that is what was paid.” In his own MacLean’s profile a few years earlier in 1931, Bill O’Brien had also stated that Taylor signed in Renfrew for $5,000.

But had he?

It seems to be well-recorded in hockey history that Renfrew paid Lester Patrick $3,000 for the 1909-10 season. It was more money, he would write, than he thought possible for playing hockey. Though some stories would say that his brother Frank received $3,000 as well, Lester wrote that his younger sibling received only $2,000.

I bought these two original 1909-10 hockey cards back in 1992 because of
their connection to my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.

Interestingly, the Renfrew Mercury of March 25, 1910, quotes an Ottawa story dated March 19 about how “all the members of the millionaire septet were paid off” before the team made a postseason trip to New York. Claiming the total salaries paid came to $18,000, the paper noted: “Lester Patrick was the highest paid player of the team, he drawing $2,700 and expenses… Frank Patrick and Fred Taylor got $2,000 apiece.”

So what had Taylor actually been paid?

Renfrew’s negotiations for Cyclone Taylor (and many other players) made news in papers all across Canada in December of 1909. It wasn’t very different from the stories about free agents in sports we see today. In its December 4 issue, the Montreal Gazette reported that Taylor had been offered the captaincy in Renfrew (which would go to Lester Patrick, who signed with the team and reported to town sooner than Taylor) and a contract for $2,000 plus an off-ice job valued at $1,200.

Two weeks later, on December 18, the Montreal Star joked that, “At the rate of $3,000 per [player], Renfrew must be glad that there are only seven men on a hockey team.” Yet the reports that day that Taylor had agreed to terms would prove false. When he finally did sign with Renfrew, it rated front-page news in Ottawa on December 29, 1909, in both the Citizen and the Journal. But neither paper reported on the value of the contract. Strangely, the Edmonton Journal of December 30 (with a story datelined from Ottawa the previous day), did.

“After several weeks of persistent dickering with Taylor, the Renfrew promotors landed him. Taylor left last night for Renfrew, where he will play this season. His salary is said to be even better than the famous Lester Patrick. Taylor will receive $3,000 for his hockey salary and a steady position at $1,200 per year.”

Front-page stories from the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Journal
surround the newsier report from the Edmonton Journal the following day.

If that was true, then were does the talk of $5,000 come from?

The earliest reference I have found is in the Winnipeg Tribune from April 16, 1913. Taylor had just spent the 1912-13 season playing in Frank and Lester Patrick’s Pacific Coast Hockey Association (which they had formed in 1911–12) as a member of Frank’s Vancouver Millionaires. In a story (once again datelined from Ottawa the previous day) reporting that Taylor had decided to stay in Vancouver, it was noted that after winning the Stanley Cup in Ottawa in 1909, the Cyclone “was carried off by Renfrew” the following season “at a record breaking salary” said to be “$5,000 for two years service as a member of the Renfrew team.”

That would be only $2,500 per year … but a story on December 15, 1913, in the Brantford Expositor of all places, tells things very differently. A column headlined SPORTING COMMENT and written by someone identified as DOPESTER, reads:

“It is said that Cyclone Taylor got … $11,000 from the Renfrew hockey club during the two seasons he remained with them. A hockey fan who was on the inside in those days tells how Cyc worked the trick…. [He] was offered a contract for $3,000 by the creamery town and accepted; that is ancient history. For the next season the Ottawas were after him hot foot and the Renfrew bunch had to add a job, guaranteed to bring the Cyclone $5,000 a year. Taylor had the money deposited to his credit in a certain bank with the stipulation that he get it if the job was not forthcoming. Certain members of the Ottawa hockey club got busy and blocked the job part of the contract and the Cyclone, although he had a hard time, managed to collect his $5,000 from the bank. This is the way the story goes. Whether it is true or not only the Renfrew executive, Fred Taylor, and a couple of the Ottawa executive men know, and they probably wouldn’t tell.”

So, which story is true? Did Taylor make $2,500 a year for two years in Renfrew to reach the $5,000? Did he have a one-year contract for $3,000 plus a job paying him $1,200 for a total of only $4,200? Or did he actually make $3,000 per year for his two years in Renfrew, plus another $5,000 for the job he didn’t get?

It’s pretty much impossible to tell!

And what of the stories I haven’t even mentioned yet? That Taylor actually earned $5,250 during his first season in Renfrew in 1909–10? Where do those stories come from?

It appears those stories began in columns by Eric Whitehead in the Vancouver Province in the mid 1950s. Whitehead knew Taylor, and would write Cyclone Taylor: a Hockey Legend with him in 1977. In that biography/autobiography, Whitehead writes of the $3,000 contract offers “plus a soft job at $1,200 a year,” but states emphatically that Taylor signed for the sum of $5,250 which was deposited directly into his bank account before the start of play. Taylor told Whitehead that a friend, Jack McGinnis, did his negotiating and came up with the number, “although I don’t recall how he arrived at that particular figure.” Taylor also says that, “if I’d held out, I could have got a lot more money. They would have paid almost anything to get me, and they said so.”

Back in 1959, on a visit to his hometown of Tara, Ontario, not far from Owen Sound, Taylor spoke about his $5,250 contract for the 1909-10 season. Pictures of him appear on the front page of The Owen Sound Sun-Times on February 24, 1959, and in a story on page three, Taylor “ruefully admits his salary for succeeding seasons dropped considerably.”

The earliest reference to Cyclone Taylor being paid $5,250 that I could find for this story came from Eric Whitehead’s column in the Vancouver Province on April 23, 1953.

It has seemed to me over the years that Taylor (or maybe Eric Whitehead) didn’t always get his stories right … but that much, at least, is true! Taylor never got that kind of money for playing hockey ever again.

When talk of the new salary cap dominated Canadian sports pages in November and December of 1910, much was made of what Renfrew would do. Having spent those $18,000 for an exciting team that had still finished behind Ottawa and the Montreal Wanderers in the race for the Stanley Cup, what kind of team would they have now for just $5,000? Neither Frank nor Lester Patrick would return, nor would other future Hall of Famers Newsy Lalonde and Fred Whitcroft. Taylor, it was said then, was still under contract from the previous season that called for him to be paid $1,800 this year.

Where does that number come from?

I’m not sure!

Still, assuming that Cyclone Taylor was paid $1,800 by Renfrew for the 1910-11 season, and that Sprague and Odie Cleghorn earned $1,200 a piece, that’s $4,200 of the $5,000 salary cap for just three players. In this era of 60-minute men, Renfrew really only needed seven regular players, but they employed 13 in all that season.

Did they pay 10 other men just $800 in total?

Probably not.

There are plenty of stories from the 1911-12 season saying that while the salary cap was still on the books, teams would likely ignore it as they had done in 1910-11. So Renfrew might have spent more. But there were also plenty of stories back in the fall of 1910 saying that a few of the Renfrew veterans (Larry Gilmour, Bobby Rowe, Herb Jordan and Bert Lindsay – the father of Ted Lindsay) were willing to stick around again for other considerations … which were likely offers of better off-ice employment in town.

Sort of puts a different twist on the “hometown discount” we hear about in sports these days, doesn’t it…

And as for Bill O’Brien, mentioned at the beginning of this story … he was a longtime sports trainer who worked for years with the Montreal Maroons and Montreal Canadiens in hockey, the Montreal Royals in baseball, and even a season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, between 1924 and his death at the age of 58 in 1944. Born in Papineauville, Quebec, in 1886, he arrived in Renfrew with his railway contractor father in the early 1900s. Around 1904 (although he says it was when he was 16 years old, so maybe 1902 if his birth year is correct), he became the trainer of the Renfrew team in the Ottawa Valley league. After spending the 1909-10 and 1910-11 seasons working with the Millionaires, he then worked for teams in Ottawa and around the Ottawa Valley for a couple of years before winding up in Montreal during World War I. He trained hockey and soccer teams for the companies he worked with until joining the Maroons when they entered the NHL in 1924. But, like me, it all started for O’Brien with Renfrew.

(P.S. Bill O’Brien was also the father of sportswriter Andy O’Brien, who was born in Renfrew.)

Happy (Hockey) Holidays!

Late in December, the Cleghorn brothers did sign with Renfrew for the 1910-11 season of the National Hockey Association. Reportedly (according to Sprague Cleghorn in 1934), for $1,200 apiece. So, if it wasn’t a Merry Christmas, it was a Happy New Year.

Despite everything that’s going on again (still?), I hope you get/got everything you really need this holiday season. All the best to everyone in 2022, and thanks for reading these posts again this year.

The Leafs of 90 Years Ago

After a slow start to the NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs just blitzed through a November to remember. With 12 wins in 14 games, Toronto has taken over top spot in the Atlantic Division … although most Leafs fans still feel like “ain’t nothin’s nothin’” until the team finally win at least one round in the playoffs, to say nothing of another Stanley Cup after 55 years!

November hadn’t been as kind to Toronto’s team 90 years ago when they first moved into the brand new building known as Maple Leaf Gardens. Most stories noting the opening of the Gardens (and there were many marking the 90th anniversary back on November 12) point out the speed at which the arena was constructed (built in five months during the height of the Great Depression) and that the Leafs lost the opener 2–1 to Chicago, but went on the win the Stanley Cup that season. They did … but it took a coaching change that was officially made on this day in history, December 1, 1931, to get them there.

2017 Upper Deck Toronto Maple Leafs Centennial.

After the loss to Chicago, the Leafs tied their next game at the Gardens 1–1 against the Canadiens on November 14, 1931. They followed that with another 1–1 tie, this time in Chicago, four days later. Next came back-to-back losses, 5–3 at home to the Rangers on November 21, and then 3–2 on November 26 to the Canadiens in Montreal. In five games to start the season, the Leafs had no wins, two ties, and three losses.

Since the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens, the Toronto players may have had their minds on too many things besides hockey.

“Pro hockey players are pestered half to death by men and women who try to jimmy free ducats for their home games,” noted a story in the Toronto Star on November 28, 1931. “The other night, one of Alex Levinsky’s friends boned him for a couple of passes, saying, ‘Get me a couple of ducats, Alex, and I’ll come out and root for you.’ To which Levinsky replied, ‘Get yourself a couple of tickets and I’ll come out and sit with you.’ Joe Primeau says that everyone from the man who brings the ice to the chap who sells his grass seed asks him for passes. King Clancy says that the only one he fixes up is his friend the cop. As a matter of fact, each pro player is only allowed two passes. If they want any more tickets, they step right up to the box office and ‘lay it on the line.’”

Stories announcing Dick Irvin’s hiring in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.

By the time that story appeared in the Star, Leafs owner/manager Conn Smythe had already decided that the fault with the struggling Leafs lay with coach Art Duncan, who’d been hired the previous season. Duncan was fired on November 27, 1931, after a team practice at the Gardens.

“It is from the results to date – that is, the standing of our team with only two points, with the material available – that we are engaging a new coach,” read a club announcement from the Maple Leafs later that day. “It is thought that a new man, with an unbiased view on the older players, will work to the advantage of the Maple Leafs, and for these reasons we are making the change, and not from any personal feeling between the club, Manager Smythe, and Mr. Duncan.”

Frank Selke, Conn Smythe’s right-hand man, would write in his autobiography Behind the Cheering in 1962, that he and Smythe “had been so engrossed in getting the new building ready for the opening that we had neglected the hockey team. We had simply left the chore in the hands of Art Duncan. Art was too soft-hearted to drive the players during practice. In consequence, they opened the season many pounds overweight and not ready for stiff competition.”

The Globe, Toronto, Monday, November 30, 1931
and the Regina Leader-Post, December 1, 1931.

When Smythe fired Art Duncan, he hired Dick Irvin to coach the team. Given that this all went down on November 27, NHL records for many years credited Toronto’s 6–5 overtime win over Boston on Saturday November 28, 1931 (the team’s first win at Maple Leaf Gardens), to Irvin. Many accounts likely still do. However, newspaper reports at the time of Irvin’s hiring make it very clear that he was at his home in Regina, Saskatchewan, and wouldn’t even be leaving for Toronto until Sunday morning, November 29. Conn Smythe himself was the man behind the bench for Toronto’s win over Boston. Irvin didn’t appear at Maple Leaf Gardens until Tuesday December 1, 1931.

“I well remember Dick walking in, bright and early, hours ahead of his appointment that morning,” Selke would write. “‘What kind of man is Smythe, anyhow?’ Dick asked me. I cannot think of any more difficult task than to give a character sketch of Conn Smythe. But I did the best I could. I told Dick that above everything else, Smythe was the Boss with a capital B. And if Dick felt he could work under strict discipline, he would no doubt have a happy time in Toronto.”

Toronto Star, December 2, 1931.

Smythe and Irvin agreed that the new coach would watch the game that evening between the Maple Leafs and the New York Americans from the stands to get a sense of the team. Smythe was behind the bench again when the game began, but Irvin actually took over at the start of the second period. The Leafs were trailing 1–0 at the time. The Globe newspaper in Toronto reported that after the first, Irvin had remarked to Smythe that the Leafs lacked condition. “[I]t was noticeable,” wrote the reporters, “that the lines were changed more frequently in the later two periods.” Toronto rallied for a 2–2 tie that night.

Dick Irvin quickly got the Maple Leafs on track and they were soon staging a season-long battle with the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Canadian Division. Charlie Conacher led the league with 34 goals in the newly expanded 48-game season, while Joe Primeau topped the circuit with 37 assists, and Busher Jackson led the scoring race with 53 points. Jackson earned a First-Team All-Star berth at left wing, while Conacher (right wing) and King Clancy (defense) earned Second-Team selections. Primeau won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship.

Toronto Maple Leafs 1932 Stanley Cup photo turned into a puzzle.

In the end, Toronto finished the season in second place with a record of 23–18–7 and 53 points (which was nearly identical to their finish in 1930–31). They got revenge for the opening loss at Maple Leaf Gardens by beating Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, and then knocked off the Montreal Maroons to advance to the Stanley Cup Final where they swept the New York Rangers in what was then a best-of-five series.

Ninety years later, and without a Stanley Cup victory since 1967, Leafs fans can only hope things end as well this season.

Hometown Hockey in Oro-Medonte

Our family has had a cottage near Oro Station, on the shores of Lake Simcoe, at the foot of Oro Line 7, since the summer of 1970. (It’s Oro-Medonte Line 7 now. Has been for quite a while. But I still think of it under the old name.) About a month ago, when Rogers Hometown Hockey announced that the Township of Oro-Medonte would be the host site for the fourth broadcast of the season on November 8 (two days ago), I sent Ron MacLean a picture that my mother had taken of my brothers, our father, our dog Grover, and me playing hockey on the lake circa 1974.

“Beautiful!!” replied Ron, who also said that he could “use some Intel on that stop,” if I had any thoughts. “Will send our research in 2 weeks,” he added, “but if you find a nugget, don’t hesitate.”

Just the sort of challenge I enjoy a little too much! So, I went to a few of the newspaper sites I like to use and entered the search terms “Oro Township” and “Hockey” to see what turned up. A few interesting items did…

Among the first was the story of an Oro girls team playing for the championship of the B division in the 1962 all-Ontario girls hockey tournament. (Oro lost to Cannington; Don Mills beat out the hosts from Alliston to win the A series for the second straight year.)

I also learned that there had been an Oro Township Hockey League from as early as 1923 until at least 1939. A story datelined from Barrie on March 10, 1923, appeared two days later in The Globe from Toronto telling of how East Oro had defeated Oro Station 3–2 for the championship of Oro Township and the honor of being the first holders of the Drury Cup, donated by Ontario premier E.C. Drury. (Edward Charles Drury was from the area and, as the leader of the United Farmers of Ontario, he served as the province’s eighth premier from 1919 to 1923.)

Clipping from The Globe. Photograph from The Story of Oro (1972, 1987).

Another fun story I found was that of the Leigh family of Hawkestone (at Oro Line 11). Apparently, nine of the 11 members of the Hawkestone Hawks, who went undefeated in the Oro Township Hockey League for four straight seasons from 1936 through 1939, were Leigh family brothers or cousins!

Clipping from the Windsor Star on April 19, 1939.
(The Hawkestone team had fewer Leighs in 1927!)

But the story that intrigued me most was from The Globe and Mail on February 10, 1950. It was a small note about a bantam phenom (age 12) named Bob Garner of Oro Township “who scored 10 goals in a 15–0 win over Coldwater last week.” The writer advised that hockey scouts had better look him up.

As I wrote to Ron when I sent him the clippings, “When I was a kid, we used to get a lot of our hockey gear at Garner Sports in Barrie. It’s closed now. Don’t know if it’s the same family, but I like the chances!”

I did a Google search for Garner Sports and found a story from 2007 on the web site of Donna Douglas, a veteran Barrie journalist and communications consultant. From Donna’s story, I learned that Garner Sports had been founded by Bill Garner, a big name in Barrie sports, in 1931. It was later run by his son Jack (who would have been running it when we used to shop there in the 1970s) and then by his son, John. It would turn out that Bob was a part of that same Garner family (Bill’s son, and John’s brother), but that he never worked in the store.

Bob Garner with the Weston Dukes in 1951 and relaxing at home 70 years later.

I learned from Donna via email that the Garner family was from Shanty Bay (at Oro Line 2) and that there were 10 children in the family. (I believe that Bob later told me there were actually 11 children.) Donna didn’t know of Bob, but posted a query from me on a Facebook group for people who’d grown up in Barrie. Soon enough, I heard from Stew Garner, Bob’s son, who put me in touch with his father. Bob and I conversed by phone, email and by text over the next few days, and he told me some great stories about growing up in Oro and about his hockey career.

Like me (only probably a lot moreso), Bob played hockey with his family on Lake Simcoe while growing up. As a boy playing on Kempenfelt Bay, he told me that “on a clear day, it felt like you could have a breakaway and skate all the way to Brechin!”

The only indoor rink he remembers while growing up in Oro was in Guthrie at Oro Line 4. (The current rink there is the third or fourth to stand on the same site. The original was built in 1922 and opened in 1923, but was destroyed by a tornado in 1934. The rink Bob played in opened in 1937 – the same year he was born.) “It was great to play there, but you didn’t want to be the first to arrive [at six o’clock] in the morning,” he says. “You’d have to light the fire in the stove to warm the place!”

Bob doesn’t remember scoring those 10 goals against Coldwater in the bantam game for Oro back in 1950 … but he told me he scored even more goals in other games. NHL scouts may not have noticed him right away, but a few of them would soon enough.

The first indoor Oro arena at Guthrie.

Just a few days later, on Saturday, February 18, 1950, Bob played at Maple Leaf Gardens with a Barrie peewee team at what The Globe and Mail called “the Inter-Suburban Athletic Association’s second annual elimination tournament for under-13 hockeyists.” Teams included Weston, Barrie, Pape Playground, Leaside, York Township, Forest Hill, Brampton, Bowmanville, Cooksville and East York. Bob led Barrie to the finals, where they lost to Weston. According to the newspaper stories, he scored seven of his team’s eight goals in the three games they played.

The 1950 tournament was held in front of a “three-man board of judges composed of [NHL scouts] Bob Davidson, Harold Cotton and Reg Hamilton.” Bob tells me he kept in touch with Davidson for many years, but since Barrie was considered Boston Bruins territory because the Bruins sponsored the Junior A Barrie Flyers, Baldy Cotton spoke with Bob and told him that Boston was putting him on their negotiation list. “They could control players as young as 12,” Bob says, “and guys didn’t even know they were on the list.”

The Guthrie Arena after the tornado.

In 1951–52, Bob left home to joined the Weston Dukes in the Toronto suburbs. He was only 14 years old, and the Globe says he was the youngest person playing Junior B hockey in all of Ontario. Weston was a Toronto Marlboros farm team and therefore part of the Maple Leafs system. Future Leafs Billy Harris, Bob Baun and Kent Douglas, as well as a couple of other NHL players, were among this teammates over the next couple of years.

Bob told me that Hap Emms (who owned and operated the Barrie Flyers) must have traded his rights to Toronto … but I found a newspaper clipping in the Globe from January 7, 1953, where Emms accused Stafford Smythe and the Marlboros of stealing Bob Garner and Dave Sanderson out of Barrie. (Bob found that interesting!) He played six games with the Marlboros in Junior A during the 1953–54 season, but by that fall Emms had signed Bob away from the Marlboros and brought him back to Barrie.

After playing briefly with the Flyers in 1954–55, Bob spent most of that season and the next playing Junior B with the Brampton Regents. Bob says it was Rudy Pilous who brought him to Brampton … but I don’t know what Pilous’s connection to Brampton was. (Brampton may have been a Junior B affiliate of either the St. Catharines Junior A team or the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL. Or both.)

Bob says a big reason why Stafford Smythe got rid of him (and perhaps why Emms did too) was because he got married at the age of 16! That’s partly why he feels he never got a chance to play in the NHL. Also, he wasn’t all that interested in professional hockey because the money was terrible at that time. He had a job with the appliance company Moffat back then, and later worked as a dealer for another appliance company.

Bob continued playing intermediate and senior hockey around Barrie until the late 1960s. He played for Barrie teams in OHA intermediate and senior Georgian Bay circuits with teams in Collingwood, Midland and Orillia. There were a lot of former NHL players in those leagues too. Harry Lumley is probably the biggest name. Cal Gardner is another. Ivan Irwin, Bob Hassard, Ray Gariepy and Gerry McNamara too. “It was very competitive,” Bob remembers, “but fun.”

After hockey, Bob became a stockbroker in Toronto for many years. He’s now retired and living in Orillia. I’m glad he got to enjoy a brief moment of hockey fame all these years later (it was more like 15 seconds than 15 minutes!) when Ron MacLean mentioned him on the broadcast on Monday night.

Bob and I both enjoyed our correspondence over the last couple of weeks, and we look forward to meeting each other in person one of these days.

…it Happens

Though I’ve mostly enjoyed it (and managed to do pretty well for myself), writing books can be a very strange way to try and make a living. Remember how I was supposed to have two new books coming out this fall? (I’ve mentioned it here a time or two, I believe!) Hockey Hall of Fame True Stories and Engraved in History about the 1907 Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles. Remember those? Well, both books have now been postponed.

As Forrest Gump said while he was running across America (supposedly inspiring a somewhat ruder version on a bumper sticker), “…it Happens.”

The Kenora book was actually a tactical decision, and it’ll be just a short delay. With so many other hockey books due out this fall (as always), including new books about the Dawson City Stanley Cup challenge of 1905, and the history of pro hockey in Victoria from 1911 to 1926, publisher Rick Brignall thought it best to try and avoid this book getting lost in the crowd.

Obviously, this book is something of a niche interest, and the people in Kenora and Winnipeg and the scattering of really old-time hockey fans elsewhere who’ll (hopefully!) want to buy it will buy it whenever it comes out. So, it’s being pushed into late January of 2022, which will coincide with the 115th anniversary of Kenora’s Stanley Cup victory. But hey, if you were counting on Engraved in History as a present for the holidays, it is hoped it will be available for pre-order in November.

I’ll keep you posted.

As for True Stories … with the job shortages and interruption in the “chain of production” we keep hearing about in this not-quite-yet-post-COVID world, even though we met all of the deadlines on a very tight timeline, once the manuscript was sent to the printers, they told Firefly Books there was no way they could have it ready for November of 2021, and likely not until at least late January of 2022. Since this book was very much conceived as a gift book for your father/brother/uncle/grandpa at Christmas or Hanukkah, Firefly decided to hold it back until the fall of 2022.

It’s hardly the life-and-death issue so many other people have faced around the world for the past 18 months, so for someone who’s basically felt like he’s breezed through most of this Pandemic, it’s pretty hard to complain.

Besides, what can you do?

Even without COVID, publishing can be a strange industry. Remember, two years ago, when I wrote about J.T. Haxall kicking a 65-yard field goal back in 1882? At the time, I mentioned that I’d come across the story while working on a football book for National Geographic Kids. That book (It’s a Numbers Game! Football) was originally supposed to be published in the fall of 2020. Well, long before that — and completely unrelated to COVID — I was told that due to corporate restructuring at National Geographic, it was being bumped all the way to the spring of 2022!

So, over the past two years, this book has come back to me twice for updates from the 2019 and 2020 football seasons. Just yesterday it was returned to me one final time for my last notes and comments. (Sadly, the spring publishing date means there won’t be time for a final update after the current NFL season, which won’t end until about six weeks before this book should finally come out, but at least we’ll be able to add the record-breaking 66-yard field goal from this weekend.)

Again, what can you do?

At least I’ve been paid for the work on all three books (though I am still waiting for the final checks from Firefly) … and I do still have one new book that’s due in stores any day now. Hockey Hall of Fame Heroes: Scorers, Goalies and Defensemen is also from Firefly, and is the second edition (with updates and new players) of a book that was first published by them five years ago. If you’ve got a hockey fans around the ages of 9 to 12 years old, this would be a good one for them.

Speaking of younger hockey fans, right now I’m working on the fifth book in the Hockey Trivia For Kids series for Scholastic Canada. This one will also come out in the fall of 2022 but is due at the publisher this November 1 … a full 30 days earlier than any of the four previous books (which didn’t have to be delivered until mid December when I wrote the first one back in 2005). This time, COVID is the culprit again, with Scholastic worried about the chain-of-production delays brought about by the Pandemic.

What else can I say except, “… it Happens.”