Category Archives: Hockey History

Who’s Gonna Win?

Game seven for the Stanley Cup! I haven’t been following the playoffs nearly as intently as I used to, but even if it’s hard to relate to hockey in June when your team isn’t in it (which it most definitely isn’t) … well — it’s still Game seven for the Stanley Cup!

For those who’ve been following even less intently than I have, it’s the Boston Bruins versus the St. Louis Blues. The Blues — who joined the NHL as part of the expansion that saw the league double from six teams to 12 back in 1967–68 — have never won the Stanley Cup before. Boston has won it six times, with its first victory coming 90 years ago in 1929. Even so, the Bruins have never been part of a seventh game for all the marbles on home ice.

Art Ross drinks from the Stanley Cup bowl after Boston’s 1939 victory.

I heard someone mention on the radio the other day that this was the Bruins’ first Game seven at home, but that’s not quite as remarkable as it sounds. Boston did win its last Stanley Cup title in a seventh game in Vancouver back in 2011, but this is only the 17th Game seven since the Stanley Cup Final was expanded beyond a best-of-five format 80 years ago in the spring of 1939. (Boston beat Toronto 4 games to 1 that year.) In all that time, seven-game series have been the rarest of all possible outcomes:

Four games: 20 times
Five games: 19 times
Six games: 24 times
Seven games: 17 times

Boston becomes just the 12th NHL city to host a seventh game for the Stanley Cup. New York and Chicago (two other so-called “Original Six” cities) have only hosted the grand finale once. Montreal also has just one Game seven at home. Only the Red Wings and Maple Leafs have had a seventh game on home ice more than once. Toronto won the first Game seven for the Stanley Cup at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1942, and did so again in 1964. Detroit (who lost both of those games, by the way) has hosted the seventh game five times overall, winning three and losing two. Complete Game seven results are as follows:

June 15, 2011 Boston 4 at Vancouver 0
June 12, 2009 Pittsburgh 2 at Detroit 1
June 19, 2006 Edmonton 1 at Carolina 3
June 7, 2004 Calgary 1 at Tampa Bay 2
June 9, 2003, Anaheim 0 at New Jersey 3
June 9, 2001 New Jersey 1 at Colorado 3
June 14, 1994 Vancouver 2 at NY Rangers 3
May 31, 1987 Philadelphia 1 at Edmonton 3
May 18, 1971 Montreal 3 at Chicago 2
May 1, 1965 Chicago 0 at Montreal 4
April 24, 1964 Detroit 0 at Toronto 4
April 14, 1955 Montreal 1 at Detroit 3
April 16, 1954 Montreal 1 at Detroit 2 (OT)
April 23, 1950 NY Rangers 3 at Detroit 4 (2OT)
April 22, 1945 Toronto 2 at Detroit 1
April 18, 1942 Detroit 1 at Toronto 3

When the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup title in 1929, the final was just a best-of-three affair. Boston swept the New York Rangers in two straight.

Cartoon depictions of the Bruins 1929 victory in the Boston Globe.

Back in April, I wrote about the new playoff format that was introduced that year. It saw the Bruins, who’d finished first in the NHL’s American Division, play the Montreal Canadiens, who’d finished first in the Canadian Division, for one spot in the Stanley Cup Final, while the second and third place teams in those divisions played their only little mini playoff for the other spot. Even though the odd format had been introduced by Bruins owner Charles Adams and his general manager Art Ross, Boston sportswriters couldn’t help mocking the fact that the toughest series already seemed to be over and that the Rangers now had a chance to beat the Bruins for the Stanley Cup despite having lost five of six games to them during the regular season. A Boston Globe columnist known as “Sportsman” wrote before Game one on March 28 that, “The series starting tonight looks a good deal like an anticlimax to a season that has about run its course.”

And with the Bruins on the verge of clinching the Cup title in the second game the very next day, “Sportsman” wondered…

What would he possibly have made of hockey still being played in June?

But, hey, if you’re watching tonight (as I will be), enjoy the game!

Hockey Helmet History

I guess I’m lucky that my working life has mostly been an interesting one. I’ve always been a person who didn’t like to do anything he didn’t like to do — and I’ve mostly been able to get away with that! Barbara and I always used to say that we may not make a lot of money doing what we do, but we get to meet some very interesting people and have some pretty neat experiences.

As I’ve said a lot lately, I’m kind of burnt out on hockey. But it does still help me pay my bills, so I continue to pay at least some attention. I may not watch very much these days — it’s not my job to do that anymore — but it turns out that I still enjoy poking around in hockey history.

Next weekend, I’ll be attending the Annual General Meeting of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR) being held in Windsor, Ontario. (That’s the Victoria Day weekend for those you in Canada, or the “they have a holiday before Memorial Day?!?” weekend for you in the United States.)

In the most recent edition of the SIHR Bulletin, Bill Sproule of Houghton, Michigan, posted the following picture he’d recently come across of the 1914-15 Portland Rosebuds of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association…

picture

In this photo, Ernie “Moose” Johnson (third from the left) can clearly be seen wearing a leather football helmet. Bill’s accompanying story dealt with the well-told early history of helmets in hockey, which is always said to have begun with George Owen — a former Harvard football star — of the Boston Bruins in 1928-29. (It appears that football players began wearing helmets as early as 1893!) Bill rightfully wonders if Moose Johnson should be credited as the first pro hockey player to wear a helmet.

Now — surprise, surprise! — I have some doubts about the George Owen story. If he did wear a helmet during his rookie season in 1928-29 (and he may have), it certainly wasn’t widely publicized. Coincidently, when Owen played his first NHL game in Canada against the Canadiens on January 10, 1929, the Montreal Gazette had a story about a player named Nick Carter (aka Fred Carter) wearing a leather rugby football helmet to protect a cut on his head when his Canadian National Railway team faced the Bell Telephone team in a Railway-Telephone Hockey League game (I’m not kidding!) at the Forum the night before. In a story about hockey helmets following the death of Bill Masterton that appeared in The Boston Globe on January 18, 1968, veteran sportswriter Harold Kaese noted that Jack Culhane of Boston College wore a helmet playing hockey during the 1920s. So guys were definitely wearing them that far back, and it was making news when they did.

Whether or not George Owen wore a helmet as a pro hockey player during his rookie season in 1928-29, he definitely wore one during the 1930 NHL playoffs — but so did his Boston defensemates Lionel Hitchman and Eddie Shore. Hitchman, in fact, had already worn a helmet in the regular-season finale to protect a broken jaw, and the article below from the Montreal Gazette on March 20, 1930, mentions that Shore “has worn a headgear in the past.”

Bruins

During the Bruins’ rough opening-round series against the Montreal Maroons, John Hallahan of The Boston Globe noted that “Owen had a brand new one on that made him look something like a halfback.” If it was brand new, perhaps he’d been wearing an older helmet previously? If so, I’ve yet to see that story. And, if Moose Johnson was wearing a helmet during the 1914-15 season, he may well have been the first pro hockey player ever to wear one. But how come?

A brief search through old newspapers turned up the fact that Johnson (like Lionel Hitchman) had suffered a fractured jaw. He was injured either in a practice leading up to, or the pre-game warmup right before, Portland’s first road game of the 1914-15 PCHA season in Victoria, British Columbia, on December 15, 1914. Game stories make it clear that Johnson played for a while with his head bandaged and The Oregon Daily Journal of January 10, 1915, confirms that Johnson had been wearing a helmet in games. Another story from the same paper on January 24 notes that his jaw had finally healed to the point where Johnson might be ready to discard his headgear.

There’s nothing in the papers that claims Moose Johnson was the first pro hockey player to wear a helmet, but he was certainly wearing one long before George Owen. Admittedly, I’m not sure how a helmet that sits on top of your head protects the jaw on the bottom of your head — although I suppose the ear flaps on a football-style helmet help. But what I found most interesting of all was that sportswriters were already taking shots at the relative toughness (or lack-there-of) of baseball players versus hockey players as long ago as 1915, as this Oregon Daily Journal clipping from the January 10, 1915 edition confirms…

story

Playoff Payoffs

I recently had a very pleasant lunch with someone who asked me why I hadn’t been writing about hockey lately. His question was part of his larger concern for how I’ve been doing. As I’ve been saying all along, in the big picture, I feel that I’m doing fine. Or, at least as fine as can be expected.

So, my being depressed or not being depressed isn’t why I haven’t been writing about hockey. I actually have been writing quite a bit about hockey. I’ve written a new children’s book for Scholastic which will be out this fall, and I’ve done some other writing for a project by another friend whose work I’ve always admired. But the thing is, I’m kind of burnt out on hockey and still unhappy about certain ways in which the NHL Guide came to an end. So I haven’t bothered to write about hockey unless I’m getting paid. Still, I do find that I’ve enjoyed talking about hockey history when I’ve had the chance. So, I figured maybe it was time to post a story again. Because you can always find echoes of the past in anything new in hockey…

With upsets and more potential upsets abounding in the playoffs already, I read recently that this year marks the first time since NHL Expansion in 1967–68 that the top-ranked teams in both Conferences (or Divisions as it used to be) have been eliminated in the first round. The top teams in each Conference aren’t guaranteed to be the top two teams in the overall standings, but this year the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Calgary Flames did indeed rank 1–2 and yet both were bounced quickly.

Bracket
First-round results from the 2019 NHL playoffs.

Even before expansion, such a double elimination was very rare. In the 25 years from 1942–43 through 1966–67, there were only two times when teams that finished 1–2 atop the six-team standings got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. In 1964, third-place Toronto and fourth-place Detroit eliminated Montreal and Chicago before the Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup. Prior to that, in 1961, third-place Chicago and fourth-place Detroit knocked off Montreal and Toronto before the Blackhawks (still written as Black Hawks back then) beat the Red Wings in the finals. That’s it.

Prior to the so-called “Original Six” era, the NHL featured between eight and ten teams playing in two divisions for 12 seasons from 1926–27 through 1937–38. Never in that time did the top teams from both divisions get eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs … but that was because it was impossible under the playoff formats at that time.

In 1927 and 1928, first-place teams got a first-round bye in a format very similar to the way the Canadian Football League playoffs have usually operated. In 1928, both first-place teams from the regular season (the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins) came off their short first-round layoff and were eliminated in the division finals. After pulling off those upsets, the second-place New York Rangers then faced the second-place Montreal Maroons in the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers won.

format
The Ottawa Citizen on September 24, 1928, reports on the new NHL
playoff format and other changes heading into the 1928–29 season.

There were those who wondered if the time off in the first round dulled the two division champions, and the NHL certainly wasn’t happy with the fact that neither first-place team got to play for the Stanley Cup. So Art Ross and Charles Adams of the Boston Bruins proposed a new playoff format that was accepted for the 1928–29 season. With a few tweaks, it would essentially remain in place until the 1942–43 season — although even with all the complaints about the current playoff system, this one looks awfully strange from a modern perspective.

The new format basically created a two-tier playoff in which the first-place team from the Canadian Division faced the first-place team in the American Division in a best-of-five series with the winner advancing directly to the Stanley Cup Final. Meanwhile, the second- and third-place teams essentially played their own short tournament to determine the other finalist.

“The change in the rules,” reported the Montreal Gazette on September 24, 1928, “guarantees that at least one of the teams winning the top rung at the end of the scheduled series will be assured of a place in the [finals].” Of course, it also guaranteed that one first-place team would be eliminated! But it was impossible to eliminate them both. And it did create a viable way of keeping all teams active in a six-team playoff format.

Leafs
The past is a foreign place! Gordie Drillon gets a haircut and manicure
before scoring the series-winning goal in overtime for the Maple Leafs
over the Bruins in 1938. Turk Broda relaxes in his Boston hotel room.

Another historic note regarding the early ouster of Tampa Bay this year is that it marks the first time in the post-Expansion era that the team that finished first overall in the regular-season standings was eliminated from the playoffs without winning a single game. This has also happened previously, in earlier days of NHL history when series were only two, three or five games long, but it hasn’t happened since 1938. That year, the Toronto Maple Leafs (who’d finished atop the Canadian Division, but only third overall in the NHL standings) swept the first-place Boston Bruins in three straight games.

That 1938 victory over Boston offers something of a cautionary tale to Toronto fans who believe Tampa’s loss and the other upsets clear an easy path to the Finals for the Maple Leafs if they should get past the Bruins tonight. There were upsets aplenty during the 1938 playoffs as well, and a Toronto team that should have easily defeat Chicago for the Stanley Cup lost to what will likely forever be the team with the worst record (14-25-9 in a 48-game season) ever to win it.

But I’m guessing Toronto fans will be happy to take their chances if the Maple Leafs can just beat the Bruins!

Babe Siebert’s Sad Story

The death of former NHL goalie Ray Emery, who drowned in Lake Ontario at Hamilton this weekend at the age of 35, brought to mind the deaths of two other old-time hockey players. I’ve written before about the accident that killed hockey star Hod Stuart in the summer of 1907. Like Stuart, Babe Siebert left a young family behind when he also drowned at the age of 35. Siebert was swimming in Lake Huron near the town of St. Joseph, Ontario, on August 25, 1939.

Babe Siebert (whose given names are usually listed in hockey records as Albert Charles, but whose birth certificate and marriage documents record his name as Charles Albert) is not a well-known name today. He was a big star in the 1920s and ’30s and would later be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. But that was all a long time ago…

Gazette

Briefly, Babe Siebert was a star forward with the Montreal Maroons from 1925 to 1932, helping the second-year team win the Stanley Cup in his rookie season of 1925–26. He later played right wing on The S-Line (or Triple-S Line) with fellow future Hall of Famers Nels Stewart and Hooley Smith. Though lacking the size of a modern power forward (Siebert was pretty big for his era at 5’10” and 182 pounds) he was as tough as he was talented. A game against the Maroons was usually a rough one.

Playing with Boston in 1933–34, Siebert was moved to defense by Art Ross when Eddie Shore was suspended following the Ace Bailey Incident. Siebert soon became an All-Star at his new position, but even so, the Bruins traded him to the Canadiens before the 1936-37 season. He won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP that year.

Journal

“On the ice he’s a tough hombre,” wrote Harold Parrott of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, on January 19, 1937, “and Lionel Conacher of the Maroons says, he can’t be trusted with a stick in his hands. Off the ice he’s as gentle as a lamb, caring for his crippled wife. At home games at the Forum the Babe is always first dressed after the battle, and he hurries to carry his wife to their automobile. He always installs her, long before game time, in a comfortable seat behind the goal that the Canadiens will defend in two of the three periods – so that she can watch his play more closely.”

According to Siebert’s biography on the Hockey Hall of Fame web site, his wife (Bernice) had been paralyzed from the waist down after complications during the birth of their second child.

“‘A tough guy,’ they called the Babe,” said a piece in the Montreal Gazette by Harold McNamara the day after Siebert died, “but they didn’t see him working around the house, an apron draped over his suit, doing work that his wife was unable to do. They didn’t see him playing with his two children, showing pictures of them around the dressing room.”

Marriage

What makes Siebert’s death so tragic was that – having been named the Canadiens new head coach in June of 1939 – he was on a short vacation with his two girls, aged 10 and 11, at the time. He’d brought them to his parents home in Zurich, Ontario, towards the end of August a few days before an 80th birthday party for his father.

On the afternoon of August 25, 1939, Siebert, his two daughters, two nieces and a local friend, Clayton Hoffman, were enjoying a day at the beach. When it was time to go, and Siebert called in the children, one of them left an inflated inner tube floating in the lake. “Babe then went to get the tube,” Hoffman explained. “But the wind was carrying it along parallel to the shoreline and it was soon apparent he was in difficulty. I was standing on the shore fully dressed when I heard his cries for help.”

Hoffman went in after Siebert. He got within about 35 feet. “Before I could reach him, Babe had gone down for the last time.”

Efforts to recover Siebert’s body took three days. He was eventually found by his brother Frank and another local man in 150 feet of water about 40 feet from the spot where he’d disappeared. A funeral and burial took place in Kitchener, Ontario, on August 30.

“He was not only a fine man from a point of view of hockey but he was a model father and a fine husband to his sick wife,” NHL president Frank Calder had said upon learning of Siebert’s death. “He was a model of self-sacrifice. He was not the kind of player who made money in the winter and spent it in the summer. Siebert was a conscientious man who worked all year round. There is nothing too fine that can be said about him.”

A day before the funeral, the Montreal Canadiens announced that Art Ross had proposed a benefit game with the Bruins for before the season to raise money for Siebert’s family. It would expand into a game between the NHL All-Stars and the Canadiens played on October 29, 1939. The All-Stars scored a 5-2 victory in front of only 6,000 people. Still, it was said that the goal of raising $15,000 would be met.

I haven’t been able to learn much about Bernice Siebert’s life after her husband’s death, but she did live to see the Babe voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in June of 1964 and officially inducted that August. She passed away in Kitchener on November 24, 1964 at age 58. In addition to a brother and three sisters, she was survived by her two daughters and six grandchildren.

Obit

Fun With Another’s Family Tree

The very first thing I wrote in my first post to this web site four years ago said: “My favorite part of writing is doing the research. I love to look things up.” That was true back in 1990 when I began working on my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. It remains true to this day. It was never more true than when I was working on Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. It was never more fun either!

When I set out to write a biography of Art Ross, I had no idea where it would lead. I certainly had no inkling of the family saga I would get caught up in. The Ross genealogy – even without any connection to hockey – was simply fascinating! I have already written about my efforts to track down a correct birth date for Art Ross, but that’s hardly all…

When I first connected with Art Ross III in the fall of 2005, I had already stumbled onto the fact (via the 1901 Canadian census, which had only recently come on line) that when Art Ross was growing up in Montreal in the late 1890s and early 1900s, his mother was married to a man who was not his father. This other man was Peter McKenzie.

Maggie Peter
When she was young, the future Margaret Ross/Maggie McKenzie was said to be
the most beautiful woman in the Saguenay region. The young Peter McKenzie
was a handsome man of his era.

The story, as Art III heard it from his Uncle John, was that Thomas Barnston Ross had left his family “early and penniless.” While admitting that his father had not welcomed questions about what happened, John Ross had formed his own opinions. Barney – as those of us who have researched the heck out of this family call him – “might have (probably) taken his own life.”

Art and I soon discovered that wasn’t true. Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company (Thomas B. Ross was a fur factor) note that he died in 1930. Yet those same records said that Barney’s widow, Marguerite (Margaret) McLeod Ross – we call her Maggie – had married Peter McKenzie (who was himself a high-ranking HBC official). But given that they were married in December of 1895, Maggie was obviously not a widow!

1891
The Ross family circa 1891. The bearded man in the middle is Thomas Barnston Ross.
A young Art Ross leans against his shoulder.

As Art and I puzzled about this and other family mysteries (we communicated mostly by email – but often!), we were soon joined in our online endeavours by Serge Harvey. Serge is a distant relative of Art’s through Barney’s father’s family. Serge later connected us with Helen Webster, granddaughter of Thomas R. Ross, who was an older brother of the hockey Art Ross. (I’ve yet to mention here that Barney and Maggie had 10 children!)

Both the Ross and McLeod families had been prominent in the history of Quebec’s Saguenay district. Serge had found all sorts of fascinating family history in the Quebec archives. Helen had access to letters written by Maggie herself. So, eventually, we were able to put together bits and pieces of the story of a marriage that fell apart.

1901
The Ross family circa 1900. Barney is out of the picture. The bearded man
in the middle this time is Peter McKenzie. Art Ross sits in front of him.

Still, there was one thing we could never determine. Though Maggie and Barney both remarried, had they ever actually been legally divorced? Art and I both came to believe that Maggie had to be a bigamist – though it always seemed odd to me that she and Peter McKenzie moved so well through Montreal society if that was the case.

Serge searched even more diligently through Canadian divorce records than I did. (It was very difficult to get a divorce in Canada right up until 1968.) He wrote to church officials and searched through provincial records in Quebec. Nothing! He also concluded that Barney and Maggie must have been bigamists. While I don’t believe I have any emails from Helen stating it so bluntly, I think she felt the same way too.

Marriage
Peter McKenzie married Maggie on December 26, 1895, in Naughton, ON near Sudbury.
This is a segment of the record of their marriage from the Ontario Provincial Archives.

But enter a new character in our modern Ross family adventure. Darlene Ackerland is a descendant of Charles Ross, another of Maggie and Barney’s 10 children. In October of 2017, she connected with Art III as a DNA match through the Ancestry.com web site. Darlene has been a dynamo in chasing down her family story!

Now, admittedly, I am not actually a member of the Ross family. My interest is a lot more narrow than the others and when it all became a little overwhelming for me, I asked kindly to be removed from the flurry of new email activity. Still, I did say that if Darlene ever came across a divorce record for Maggie and Barney, I wanted to know about it…

Well, last Thursday, Darlene wrote the gang (me included) saying she thought she had found it. The names – as indicated in a hint through Ancestry – were a perfect match … but the location was odd. North Dakota?

Divorce 1
From the records of the Ross divorce, housed in
the archives at North Dakota State University.

“What do you all think?” Darlene asked.

It so clearly seemed that it must be them, and yet I wondered to the group: “Do we think they were divorced in North Dakota? Like the way people used to go to Reno?”

Now it was time for my research skills, although it turned out to be pretty simple. A few key terms on a Google search, and I discovered that North Dakota in general, and Fargo in particular, was the Divorce Capital from 1866 to 1899. People from all over the world flocked to Fargo for divorces. An entire industry sprung up around it. It wasn’t cheap, but it was fairly easy – and there was even a clever way to get around the three-month residency requirement. People would apparently take a train to Fargo, leave their luggage in a hotel for 90 days, and then return to pay the bill and collect their divorce.

Divorce 2
More from the records of the Ross divorce.

Serge wrote to North Dakota State University for copies of the divorce proceedings, which arrived as pdfs by email on Monday. It really is “our” Maggie and Barney, with Maggie initiating the proceedings against a reluctant husband. And so it was that in January of 1895, they really were legally divorced. No bigamy. Instead, confirmed drunkenness, cruelty and possibly even adultery. Wow!

Mr. Boucher & Mrs. Byng

The NHL Awards were handed out last night, as they have been, in some form or another, since the end of the 1923-24 season. That’s when the Hart Trophy for MVP was presented for the first time. The Lady Byng Trophy, which was first awarded for the 1924-25 season, is the NHL’s second-oldest individual honour. That means there has been an award for “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability” (as the league describes it) for longer than there’s been one for the best goalie, best rookie, best defenseman or leading scorer. Still, the NHL has had an odd relationship with this award.

“We want a hard, aggressive team with no Lady Byngers,” Conn Smythe is reputed to have said. (And if he didn’t say that exactly, he said many things very close to that while he was rebuilding the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 1946-47 season.) Don Cherry felt the same way when he was coaching the Boston Bruins. It’s said that Jean Ratelle apologized to Cherry after winning the award for the 1975-76 season, although Cherry really did appreciate that Ratelle – who had joined the Bruins from the New York Rangers earlier that season – played a tough game while keeping it clean.

Lady Byng
Portrait of Lady Byng, 1917.

“Sure, it’s nice to win it,” said Alex Delvecchio when he won the Lady Byng Trophy for the third time in 1969. Then he added a comment that just wouldn’t fly today. “But the name takes a lot away from it and what it’s meant to be.”

Though the game was certainly as rough in Frank Boucher’s era as it was at any time it’s been played, we’ll assume that this New York Rangers star of the 1920s and ’30s felt differently when he was given the original Lady Byng Trophy to keep in 1935 after winning it seven times in eight seasons.

Regardless of the mocking her trophy has taken, there is little doubt that Lady Byng was a hockey fan. She and Lord Byng attended many Ottawa Senators games when they were living in the Canadian capital while he was Governor-General from 1921 to 1926. Even when they were back in England, the couple continued to follow the Senators on their way to the 1927 Stanley Cup. Lady Byng sent a telegram of congratulations after Ottawa’s victory that year.

1927 CupThe Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1927.

It’s often been written that Lady Byng was so impressed by Frank Boucher that she decided to give him the trophy. Boucher led the NHL in assists three times and was top-10 in points seven times in nine seasons from 1926-27 to 1934-35 while never accumulating more than 18 penalty minutes. However, it’s pretty hard to believe that Lady Byng continued to follow the NHL closely enough from England for the next eight years to have been aware of Boucher’s exploits. That being said, it really is true that she agreed to let Boucher keep the original trophy and donate another. Here’s how it actually happened.

Despite having already won the award six times, it was claimed that Frank Boucher had never actually seen the Lady Byng Trophy before winning it for the seventh time in 1935. Shortly after the NHL season ended, Boucher was back in his hometown of Ottawa for a charity game involving local pros from the NHL and the minors. (The original Senators had moved to St. Louis that year.) The game was played on April 16, 1935. NHL president Frank Calder was there that night and he presented the trophy to Boucher as part of the evening’s festivities. It wasn’t Boucher’s to keep just yet, but the wheels were in motion.

ComicThe Ottawa Journal, March 16, 1935.

In the Ottawa Journal that same April 16, 1935, Sports Editor Walter Gilhooly wrote an open letter to Lady Byng. In what was really just his column for the day, Gilhooly recaps the history of the trophy since its donation. “Between 1925 and 1935 lie 11 full hockey seasons,” he writes, “and as I have mentioned, three players [Frank Nighbor twice, Billy Burch and Joe Primeau] held it through four of them. What disposition of the trophy was made through the other seven? Well, Lady Byng, it may be difficult for you to believe since you are so far away from the centre of things – I mean the hockey centre, of course – but one single player claimed it in those seven years, and that player is Frankie Boucher.…”

Gilhooly
Segments of Walter Gilhooly’s column. The Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1935.

Gilhooly  adds that, “the suggestion so often made, and that I would like to convey to you is this – that the cup be withdrawn from competition and your trustees be instructed to turn it over to Frank Boucher to become his permanent possession.”

It’s not clear if Gilhooly was aware of it or not, but Lady Byng was visiting Washington when his letter appeared in the Ottawa Journal. Upon the contents being communicated to her, she got in touch with officials at Rideau Hall and wrote that she would be pleased to see the trophy given to Boucher. Colonel O’Connor of Government House then contacted Frank Ahearn, the former owner of the Senators who was serving as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa. Ahearn got in touch with Frank Calder, who made it happen.

New x 2
Articles announcing the arrival of the new Lady Byng Trophy in the
Winnipeg Tribune and the Ottawa Journal, August 13, 1935.

Although Calder couldn’t be there himself, Frank Boucher was given the Lady Byng Trophy for his permanent possession on April 25, 1935, at a civic banquet honouring four Ottawa-born players who had just won the Stanley Cup as members of the Montreal Maroons. By August 12, 1935, a new Lady Byng Trophy sent from England had arrived at Frank Calder’s office in Montreal. Frank Boucher may well have won that one too during the 1935-36 season, except that in June of 1935, he wrote to Calder to say that he would like to withdraw from further competition for the trophy.

“It’s just the sort of sporting thing that Frank would do,” said Calder.

Though there’s no record of it, Lady Byng likely approved of that too.

Making a Case for Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin is closing on in 600 goals. He will become just the 20th player in NHL history to reach this milestone … and there’s a case to be made that he might just be the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history. If not the greatest, he’s certainly one of the greatest.

Ovechkin, at age 32, is under contract for three more seasons. Though he’ll have earned $124 million by then under the 13-year deal he signed in 2008, at age 35, he’ll likely choose to stick around for a few more years. Will he be able to score the nearly 300 goals needed to surpass Wayne Gretzky’s career record of 894 goals? Not very likely! But still…

Top 20
The top 20 scorers in NHL history … through games played yesterday.

There are a lot more skillful number-crunchers out there than me. I know there are those who can work the numbers to better reflect how relatively “easy” or “hard” it has been to score goals in the NHL in different eras. For me, I rely mainly on what I see. Yes, of course, the game is faster now than its ever been (but hockey has always been as fast as it could be). Still, one need only to look at how few players reach 50 goal or 100 points these days to know that scoring is at a premium in the current NHL.

So here’s the thing about Ovechkin. Virtually everyone who’s above him on the all-time scoring list played the majority of their careers in an era when goals were a lot more plentiful than they are now. The game was a lot more wide open and goalies were not as well-coached or well protected. Of the players ahead of Ovechkin, only Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull played the bulk of their NHL careers at a time when goals were as hard to come by as they’ve been for most of Ovechkin’s career.

In my less-than-scientific approach, I would offer that Ovechkin and Bobby Hull may just be the greatest scorers of all time. And their numbers are remarkably similar. Currently, Ovechkin leads the NHL with 40 goals this seaon. If he holds on (Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, and a few others are making it close), this will mark the seventh time that Ovechkin has led the NHL in scoring. That would match Bobby Hull for the most NHL goal-scoring titles. Phil Esposito did it six times, while Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard and Charlie Conacher did it five times each. Ovechkin also has seven 50-goal seasons, with a shot at eight this year. Only Gretzky and Mike Bossy, with nine each, have more.

Ovie Hull
Ovechkin has a huge lead on all other goal-scorers from the time his NHL career began
in 2005–06 through yesterday. The numbers were fairly comparable for Bobby Hull from
the time he entered the NHL in 1957-58 through the 1971-72 season when he reached the
600-goal plateau. (Hull jumped to the WHA after that season.)

When Kelly Hrudy and Ron MacLean discussed this briefly prior to the outdoor game between Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs in Annapolis last Saturday, they pointed out that at the age of 32, Ovechkin would be the oldest player to lead the NHL in goals since a 33-year-old Phil Esposito in 1974-75. Gordie Howe was also 33 when he led the NHL in 1962-63, as was Maurice Richard in 1954-55. Only 37-year-old Bill Cook, when he scored 28 goals in a 48-game season back in 1932-33, has led the NHL at a more advanced age. (Records have traditionally shown that Cook was “only” 36 … but genealogical sources reveal he was actually born in 1895, not 1896.)

Here’s a look at some of hockey greatest goal-scorers as they were approaching or just passing the 600-goal plateau. These numbers rank the top scorers during the times of the career for each player in question. For example, the statistics for Wayne Gretzky show the goal-scoring totals for players only from the seasons from the start of Gretzky’s career in 1979–80 through 1987-88 when he reached 583 goals. I think these numbers give pretty solid evidence that few players in NHL history have been as far ahead of the rest of the league during their time in the NHL as Ovechkin is today.

Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky scored 583 goals from his first NHL season in 1979-80 through 1987-88.
He had a pretty good lead on all other goal scorers during that period.

Howe
Gordie Howe also had a pretty good lead through 1964-65 on
the players who’d been active since his career began in 1946-47.

Richard
Maurice Richard retired with 544 goals in 1959-60. Only Gordie Howe was close
to him among the players who’d been active since Richard began in 1942-43.

Jagr
Jaromir Jagr ranks third all-time with 766 goals, but when he topped 600 in 2006-07
there were six others who’d scored over 500 goals since he entered the NHL in 1990-91.

BrHull
Brett Hull ranks fourth in NHL history with 741 goals. He
scored his first goal in 1986-87 and reached 600 in 1999-2000.

Dionne
Marcel Dionne entered the NHL in 1971-72 and was approaching 600 goals through 1983-84. Dionne would up his total to 731 over the next five seasons. Guy Lafleur had also been a rookie in 1971-72,  but would soon begin a three-year retirement before making a comeback.

Espo
Phil Esposito scored 596 of his 717 career goals goals from 1963-64 through 1976-77
and had a pretty good lead at the time on some pretty big names from those years.

Lemieux
When he retired for the first time after the 1996-97 season, Mario Lemieux had scored
613 goals in just 745 games. Most of the other top scorers from that era had played
150+ more games than Lemieux had since his debut in 1984-85.

Bossy
Was Mike Bossy the greatest scorer ever? When injuries forced him to retire in 1986-87,
he’d scored 573 goals in just 10 seasons. His career average of .762 goals per game
is the highest in NHL history among players with 200 goals or more.

What’s the Deal on Trade Deadline Day?

Trade Deadline Day seems a perfect creation for 24-hour sports television and all-sports radio. In Canada, TSN first aired a one-hour trade deadline broadcast 20 years ago in 1998. It’s been giving a major commitment of time to the Trade Deadline since 2001. In our current age of social media, tracking trade rumors has become almost a full-time job for some reporters. Teams’ fears of losing a free agent for nothing help fuel speculation that big names may be on the move, although salary cap considerations can make star-powered trades difficult.

But, of course, the NHL Trade Deadline is much older than the Internet and salary caps. How much older? In a year in which the NHL has marked its 100th anniversary, deadline day dates back those full 100 years to February of 1918. In fact, the concept of a trade deadline in professional hockey is older than the NHL, dating back another 10 years to 1908.

The first season in Canada in which hockey teams could openly pay salaries to their players was 1906-07. There had certainly been some form of “under-the-table” payment prior to that season, and teams had been known to bring in “ringers” for Stanley Cup games for several years already. But with professionalism, teams openly buying the best talent before big games was giving hockey a bad name.  Something had to be done.

1908
Pronouncements from the Stanley Cup Trustees, The Globe,
Toronto, March 2, 1908 and The Ottawa Journal, February 27, 1909.

In March of 1908, towards the end of the 1907-08 season, the trustees in charge of the Stanley Cup made an announcement. Beginning the following season, they would no longer consider any player eligible to play in a Stanley Cup challenge if they had appeared on more than one team during that season. Transactions in those days were usually more like  free agent signings than our modern concept of trades, but in a sense, the trustees established hockey’s first trade deadline as the day before the start of the 1908-09 season.

Despite the trustees’ announcement, Edmonton’s pro team loaded up with ringers for a Stanley Cup challenge against the Montreal Wanderers in December of 1908. Edmonton had won the championship of the Interprovincial Professional Hockey League (a three-team loop with clubs based in Alberta and Saskatchewan) in 1907-08, but – as was common in this era – their Stanley Cup challenge was put over until the start of the next season. Newspapers mocked Edmonton’s signing spree, but the Stanley Cup trustees realized that in a case like this – knowing that contracts in this era only bound a player to his team for one season –  it would be impossible and unreasonable to expect Edmonton to use all the same players from 1907-08. In fact, compelling the team to re-sign them all would give the players too much leverage in contract negotiations.

As a result, Edmonton’s ringers were allowed to play. The team lost anyway … and when new challenges for the Stanley Cup came in during the 1908-09 season, the trustees made it clear they would only allow players who’d been acquired by their teams prior to January 2, 1909 – the aforementioned start of the 1908-09 season.

1913
Agreement between the NHA and the PCHA, The Winnipeg Tribune, September 5, 1913.

The trade deadline in hockey became more formalized before the 1913-14 season. By then, hockey had produced two major professional leagues that ranked above all others – the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. On September 4, 1913, the two leagues signed a deal to create a Hockey Commission to oversee the pro game. (A similar deal would later be reached with the Maritime Professional Hockey League, but that outfit was nearing its end.)

The NHA and PCHA agreed to arrange a postseason championship between their two leagues. The teams in both leagues were free to trade or purchase players, but no player acquired after February 15 could be used by his new club. This agreement was ratified by the two leagues in November, and the Stanley Cup trustees soon agreed that the Stanley Cup would be offered as the prize for the championship series.

1917
Traded too late to be eligible, The Ottawa Journal, March 12, 1917 and February 27, 1918.

The NHA and the PCHA signed a new deal in the fall of 1916, which continued on after the NHL was formed in 1917. In this agreement, the trade deadline was moved to February 1. Players acquired after that date would be allowed to play in league games and playoffs with their new team, but they would not be eligible to compete in the inter-league series for the Stanley Cup. Hockey historians know the February 1 deadline was in force during the first NHL season because Toronto wasn’t permitted to use Rusty Crawford or Jack Adams (who’d both been acquired after February 1) in the 1918 Stanley Cup series with Vancouver. The same rule had made Reg Noble ineligible to play for the NHA’s Montreal Canadiens against Seattle in 1917.

1921
Agreement between the NHL and PCHA, dated September 24, 1921.

In 1921, the NHL signed a new deal with the PCHA which moved the trade deadline back to February 15. That date was maintained when a new agreement was signed with the Western Canada Hockey League in 1925.

1925
Agreement between the NHL and WCHL, dated June 12, 1925.

The collapse of pro hockey out west in 1926 left the NHL as the only league competing for the Stanley Cup in 1926-27. The first mention I could find in newspapers of an NHL-only “trading deadline” doesn’t appear until 1935, but nothing about that story gives any indication that this was a new rule. So it seems very likely that the NHL had continued to enforce a trade deadline as a way to prevent contending teams from loading up on star players from weaker teams before the playoffs.

1935
Reports on the “trading deadline” in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle,
February 11, 1935 and Toronto’s Globe and Mail, February 16, 1939.

Stories about the “trading deadline” continue to appear during the 1940s and ’50s, and become more prominent in the 1960s. (The Maple Leafs’ big deal for Andy Bathgate in 1964, and Toronto’s trade of Frank Mahovlich in 1968, were both made just before the deadline.) Over the years, the date jumped around as seasons got longer, but it seems that Trade Deadline Day has been part of the NHL since the very beginning.

When Olympic Hockey Began

Well, Canada is still alive for a medal in men’s hockey after a 1-0 quarterfinal win over Finland. With Germany upsetting Sweden, the path to a gold medal matchup against either Russia or the Czechs is a little bit easier. And on the women’s side, it’ll be Canada against the USA tonight in what promises to be a great game for gold.

The history of hockey at the Olympics predates the first Winter Games, which began in Chamonix, France in 1924. The first Olympic hockey tournament was held as part of a Spring Sports Festival prior to the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

Antwerp had bid to host the 1920 Olympics back in 1912, but no decision was reached before the outbreak of World War I. Shortly after the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the International Olympic Committee offered Antwerp the first choice to hold the Games in 1920 if the Belgians still wanted to do so. The move was seen as a way to honour the suffering of the Belgian people during the War. Belgium accepted.

Scenes
Antwerp was still full of soldiers in 1920, but the city was mainly in tact. The scene was much different when the Winnipeg Falcons, many of them war veterans, were given a tour of the Belgian countryside. All pictures are courtesy of Brian Johannesson, whose father Konnie Johannesson played for the Falcons. For more stories and images visit WinnipegFalcons.com.

On December 16, 1919, the official program and schedule for the Antwerp Olympics was announced. The bulk of the competition was slated for mid July until late September, but events would kick off in April with a hockey tournament. (Figure skating, which had previously appeared as part of the 1908 London Olympics, would later be added to the spring schedule.)

Canada was represented at the 1920 Olympic hockey tournament by the Winnipeg Falcons, winners of the Allan Cup as the country’s senior amateur champions. The United States sent an amateur all-star team made up of players from Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Boston. A few of the Americans were born and raised in Canada, but they’d played in the States for several years and become citizens after serving in the U.S. Army.

Falcons

National teams representing Belgium, France, Sweden, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia were also at the Antwerp Olympics, but everyone knew the gold medal would be decided when Canada faced the United States. Due to the luck of the draw and an unusual tournament format, this occurred in a semifinal game on April 25, 1920.

The big game (as all the games were) was played at Antwerp’s Palais de Glace. It was a beautiful arena, but it hadn’t been built for hockey. The ice surface was only about 185 feet long and 59 feet wide. It was normally used for pleasure skating and it’s unclear whether or not the arena actually had seats. It did have tables and chairs, and could accommodate about 1,600 spectators – as well as an orchestra!

Arena

Canada versus the United States was going to be the greatest hockey game ever played in Europe, and it was a tough ticket. W.A. Hewitt (father of Foster) was the sports editor of the Toronto Star and an officer of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (among many other jobs). He served as the honorary manager of the Falcons in Belgium, and sent special reports on the games to the Winnipeg Free Press. “The game proved such an attraction,” wrote Hewitt of the Canada-U.S. matchup, “that the Palais de Glace tonight was unable to accommodate one-tenth the number of people who sought admission.

“The streets in the neighborhood of the rink were crowded from 6 o’clock, although the game was not advertised to start until 9 o’clock.  The doors were finally closed about an hour before the match…. Special squads of soldiers were employed to get the players into the rink … [and g]entlemen in evening clothes on the outside implored the players to allow them to carry their skates and sticks so that they could obtain admission.

USA

“It would have been a great joke to his Winnipeg friends to have witnessed the entry of Monsieur Mike Goodman, escorted by a detachment of soldiers and three men in full evening dress and top hats, carrying his skates, stick and grip – and they all got way with it, too, as valets to ‘Monsieur le Canadienne.’”

For those who got inside, the night was definitely memorable. “No one will forget easily the Sunday evening at the Ice Palace where [Canada] battled against the United States,” reads a translation of a Belgian recap of the tournament. “A full house, agitated [and] feverish, so much the public was sensitive to the spectacle and the intelligence inspired by this show of force.”

Swiss
This image of the 1920 Swiss Olympic team is typical of what the European hockey
teams looked like. They’re dressed more like soccer players than hockey players.
The goalie is wearing a shirt and tie under his white sweater.

“I have never seen anything like this sports competition,” wrote a reporter for a Swedish newspaper. “Every single player on the rink is a perfect acrobat on skates. They jump over sticks and players with ease and grace. They turn sharply with perfect ease and without losing speed. They skate backwards just as easily as forwards. The small puck was moved at an extraordinary speed around the rink. The players fought for it like seagulls that flutter after bread crusts from a boat. The players attacked each other with a roughness that would have knocked you into the next week.”

The American team was supported by a number of USA army officers and their friends, but the Canadians were the crowd favourite. Belgian fans were impressed by the way the Winnipeg Falcons had taken time to work with the European teams. “One of the customs our boys instituted was to coach and assist all our opponents,” Hewitt wrote. The Canadians took it easy on the Czechs in a 15-0 win in the quarterfinals, whereas the Americans ran up a 29–0 score over Switzerland. “We tried to limit ourselves to 14 or 15 goals against the European teams,” Falcons captain and future Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Fredrickson would later say. “Believe me, it was difficult!”

Magazine
A recap of figure skating and hockey from the VIIth Olympiad in Antwerp in 1920.

The Americans were a strong team individually, but they weren’t a true team like the Falcons and that proved to be the difference in a 2–0 Canadian victory. “Their play was constantly more disciplined,” read the Belgian recap. “Never a single player looking for individual glory, these men, in their united action, playing their assigned and required places, never to the detriment of the overall play, a team success exceeding individual achievement.… These qualities ensured a brilliant triumph of Canada.”

The next night, Canada defeated Sweden to win the gold medal. The final score was 12–1. The only surprise was that the Swedes scored a goal. “They were without a doubt the best of the European teams,” Frank Fredrickson would say. “They were very friendly fellows and we liked them a lot. I guess it’s safe to say we gave it to them.”

In a very real way, the skill and sportsmanship the Winnipeg Falcons displayed in Antwerp in 1920 helped lay the foundation for the international game that hockey would become.

Another Birthday Mystery…

Quick trivia question for you. Which goalie holds the NHL record for lowest career average? No tricks. It’s not someone who played one career game and managed a shutout. Is it Georges Vezina? George Hainsworth? Terry Sawchuk? Jacques Plante?

Nope. It’s Alec Connell.

In 12 seasons between 1924 and 1937, Connell posted a career average of 1.91. He also set an NHL record with six straight shutouts during the 1927-28 season in a scoreless streak that stretched 460 minutes and 49 seconds. It’s true he only played 417 games in his career (a top goalie today would reach that number in about seven seasons) and that he played during the lowest-scoring era in hockey history with only limited forward passing for some of that time. Still, somebody has to be the lowest, and Alec Connell is it.

Card

Tomorrow marks Connell’s birthday. (His given name was Alexander, with no apparent middle name, but whether he actually went by Alex or Alec is a whole other debate!) He’d be turning 118 years old. Probably. He might actually be turning 119. Or maybe only 116.

I know… You’ve heard these things from me before. Just recently, I wrote a little bit about Johnny Bower’s birthday mystery and I’ve written entire stories about the birth dates of Art Ross and King Clancy. But I hope you’ll indulge me one more time.

NHL records show that Alec Connell was born on February 8, 1902. That’s what the Hockey Hall of Fame has too. It’s what we had in the two editions of Total Hockey back in 1998 and 2000. I don’t have access to any of the earliest NHL Guides, but I think that’s a date we inherited from way back. My guess would be that at some point in the mid 1930s, when it seems the first efforts were being made to catalogue this type of information, Connell decided it might be advantageous to be a few years younger.

It’s said that Connell didn’t begin to play hockey until he was in the Canadian Army and training at Kingston, Ontario, during World War I. He couldn’t even skate, which seems odd for a boy of his era who grew up as part of an athletic family in Ottawa. Still, with his prowess at lacrosse it was thought he’d be a natural at hockey, and being a non-skater, who was also a catcher in baseball, goalie seemed the best position for him.

By 1920, Connell was back in Ottawa and would begin to put up impressive numbers with various teams in the amateur City League. In 1924, he turned pro with the Ottawa Senators and beat out Joe Ironstone (one of pro hockey’s first Jewish players) with an impressive training camp and a strong performance in two preseason games against the Calgary Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League.

Clip Alec Connell’s debut with the Senators on November 24, 1924 earned a note
in the sub-headline and a cute cartoon in the next day’s Ottawa Journal.

Young and skilled, no one probably cared much about Alec Connell’s age at that point … and if someone had asked him, he might not have been sure of it himself! One thing seems pretty obvious, though. He was NOT born in 1902.

Connell must have been born by 1901 because he appears in the Canadian Census that year as the youngest of seven children in an Irish Catholic family. His birthdate is listed as 8 Feb 1900 and his age as 1.

1901

Ten years later, all seven Connell children are still living at home, but young Alex (as he’s listed) has aged 11 years and is now recorded as being born in 1899.

1911

His War records are equally confusing. He has a medical history that seems to show he enlisted in 1917, so he may well have chosen to lie about his age.

WWI 1917

Strangely, in an Attestation Paper apparently signed by him on October 7, 1918, (when he would have been of age) Connell’s date of birth is left blank.

1918

But in another Attestation Paper dated May 9, 1919, (which actually seems to be about the time that he was demobilized from the army) his birth date is recorded as 1899 February 8.

WWI 1919

(For those of you noting that his Trade or Calling is listed as “Chauffeur” and knowing that his nickname was “The Ottawa Fireman,” Connell didn’t actually join the Ottawa Fire Department until 1921. And he wasn’t really a fireman. He served for 29 years as Secretary to a succession of Ottawa Fire Chiefs.)

So, was Alec Connell born in 1899 or 1900? The best evidence points to 1900, although this birth certificate wasn’t actually filled out by his mother until 1919:

1919

Most convincing is the record of his baptism at St. Brigid’s parish in Ottawa, which occurred on February 12, 1900:

1900

Although it’s a little bit difficult to read, it says that Alexander Connell is the legitimate son of James Connell and Sarah Courneen, and that he was “born on the eighth inst.” Inst in this case being an abbreviation for the Latin instante mense, meaning a date of the current month.

So, happy 118th birthday Mr. Connell. And do you prefer Alec or Alex?