Category Archives: Hockey History

50 Years Ago Tonight

On May 2, 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. It was the 13th time a Toronto team had won the Cup during the first 50 seasons in NHL history. No one needs reminding that they haven’t won it since.

There have already been many commemorative stories about the 1967 Leafs, and I’m sure there will be plenty more today. I was looking to find something a little bit offbeat; a story of the 1967 Leafs that hadn’t been told before. Well, this one at least is new on me.

In the Thumbnail Tales notes at the bottom of his column on the day of the game, Toronto Star sports editor Milt Dunnell wrote about Leafs captain George Armstrong lingering in front of his locker after practice “long after most other players had showered and departed.” Armstrong, who would score the clinching goal into an empty net in the team’s 3–1 victory over Montreal that night to win the Stanley Cup in six games, explained that “this could be my last hockey practice. I hate to leave it.” (Armstrong would indeed retire briefly a few weeks later, as he would several times over the next few years before officially calling it a career in 1971).

Red Burnett of the Star noted that as Armstrong sat in the dressing room, he looked across the way to where rookie Mike Walton was shaving the shaft and blade of his hockey stick.

Players
Longtime Leafs captain George Armstrong (left) and 1967 rookie Mike Walton (right).

“I wonder how [Conn] Smythe and Hap Day would have acted if we’d tried those curved blade sticks in the days when I was a rookie,” mused Armstrong, although he knew that Walton was actually shaving his stick because he thought it was too heavy, not to try and deepen the curve.

“When Hap and Mr. Smythe were in charge, they insisted that every stick on the club weigh 23 ounces or better.” Armstrong explained that he didn’t like a heavy stick and would try to get by with a lighter one. However, “from time to time, Hap would take all the sticks out of the racks and weigh them. If you had a stick under 23 ounces, it was an automatic $25 fine. I paid a few fines before I got wise to the fact that you couldn’t fool the scales.”

Burnett relates that Smythe and Day had issued the order after Garth Boesch and Bill Barilko broke their sticks on the same sequence of plays, leaving the Leafs defence … well, defenceless.

That would have been between 1947 and 1950. “Times have changed,” Armstrong said. “Nowadays, the players have more say – and rightly so – in the type of equipment they use.”

Today, the average NHL sticks weighs about 400 to 515 grams. Converting 23 ounces into grams comes out to just a shade over 652. So, the sticks that Day and Smythe insisted on in the 1950s weighed as much as 50 percent more than the sticks of today. I’m sure that even with the shaving, Walton’s wooden stick was a lot closer to 23 ounces than it would be to the 400-gram composite sticks of today.

Personally, I have no comprehension of how the difference in weight and material effects shooting, but you only have to have watched a game in recent years to see how much faster players can fire the puck. Still, given the way even modern observers complain, you have to wonder what men like Conn Smythe and Hap Day would make of the fact that these $300-plus rocket-launchers seem to snap if you even look at them too hard!

A Coach’s Lament

“Overtime goals in the Stanley Cup [playoffs] are very nice to get, but very bitter to take. It never seems so bad to be beaten in a straight hour’s playing time.”

With a record 18 overtime games in the first round of the playoffs this year, and three of eight series decided during an extra period, there are a lot of coaches – and fans – who might be feeling this way right now. It was a Toronto coach who expressed the opinion above, but it came long before Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs had their surprisingly satisfying season end abruptly with an overtime loss to Washington on Sunday. It was Dick Irvin who said this; recalling a series of disappointing moments during his tenure in Toronto for Bill Roche of the Globe and Mail back in 1938.

Irvin, who for years was the winningest coach in NHL history, had guided Toronto to the Stanley Cup in 1932 and would lead the team to the Final six more times without success before moving on to Montreal in 1940. His overtime disappointments dated back to his amateur playing days in Winnipeg in 1916, but reached new levels with the Maple Leafs.

Irvin 1
Syl Apps, Conn Smythe, Dick Irvin and Gordie Drillon, circa 1938.
Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library/
Digital Commonwealth Massachusetts Collections Online.

“[There] was a goal that Bill Cook scored in Maple Leaf Gardens in the spring of 1933 when the Rangers beat the Leafs by 1-0 in overtime to take the game and the Stanley Cup. We had both [Bill] Thoms and [Alex] Levinsky in the penalty box when Cook scored the heart-breaker. And the next one came when Maroons beat the Leafs three straight in the Stanley Cup Final in 1935. Our woes began in the first game when [Dave] Trottier scored to beat us 3-2 after more than 33 minutes of overtime.” Trottier actually scored at just 5:28 of OT, but it did spark a surprising Maroons sweep.

“Then, in the Cup playdowns of 1937, I still can see Babe Pratt of the Rangers scoring that goal in New York to beat us 2-1 in overtime to decide the series.” The Leafs would also lose the Stanley Cup to the Rangers in overtime again in 1940, but that was still in the future at this point.

Irvin’s recollections are timely … but what I found most interesting about his conversation with Bill Roche was his take on something that people have obviously been complaining about for a lot longer than I’d ever realized.

When asked, basically, why there wasn’t as much creativity in the game as there used to be, Irvin answered that, “in one sense I blame it on my own fraternity, the coaches. The youngsters are being over-coached. I don’t think young fellows who are getting into pro hockey these days are developing their own natural ability….

“These days, the kids are coached, coached, coached from pee-wee right up through to the pros. Six or seven coaches may handle a youngster before he reaches an NHL coach. And so much stress has been placed on team play, systems and methods along this coached route that few lads ever really develop those individualistic arts which are gifts of natural ability, such as stickhandling and fine shooting to finish off a play properly.”

Irvin 2
Dick Irvin was declared ineligible to play with the Winnipeg Monarchs
during the 1914 Allan Cup playoffs. They lost that year, but regained
the Canadian amateur championship with Irvin on board in 1915.

Irvin reminisced about growing up in Winnipeg, playing with gangs of kids on corner lots and frozen rivers. “The kids who had the skill and stamina became individual stars. They stood out far above the rest. And much later in their careers they learned team play….

“Many of the kids these days have never played on a frozen river or pond where they could practice all day. Instead, they have only short practice hours in an artificial ice arena, and they’ve never got the real groundwork or background…

“Why, we could shoot like young fools from all distances and angles long before we ever got near an organized team. If you couldn’t shoot, and if you couldn’t stickhandle from one end of the rink to the other through the mob of players, well, you had no chance to get any kind of hockey job. These days, it seems to me, they are teaching the kids too much system without first having them get the real fundamentals of skating, stickhandling, shooting and checking.”

Irvin admits it was “dog-eat-dog” in his childhood hockey days – and his head might explode if he saw how fast and how physical the game has become – but if he thought kids were being over-coached in the 1930s, what would he think of the way they play today?

The Comeback Kids

On April 18, 1942 – 75 years ago today – the Toronto Maple Leafs capped the greatest comeback in sports history. With a 3–1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto recorded its fourth straight win after dropping the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final. A few other hockey teams have rallied to win series after 3–0 deficits since then, and the Boston Red Sox did it in baseball against the New York Yankees in 2004, but no team except the 1942 Maple Leafs has done it to win a major championship.

“That Detroit club invented something that’s common now, shooting the puck in from center and then forechecking like hell,” said Bob Goldham as quoted by Jim Proudfoot in a Toronto Star story in 1993. “It had us completely buffaloed.”

“We had decided before that series that Toronto, with [Syl] Apps and a powerful club, would be a problem,” Detroit’s Syd Howe told the Ottawa Journal in 1965. “It was [coach and GM] Jack Adams’ idea that we should fire the puck into their end of the rink and go and try and check the Leafs before they could get started. I never did like the idea of it, but we had a meeting and decided on it.”

Langelle
Pete Langelle celebrates his goal to put Toronto
ahead 2-1midway through the third period of Game 7.

Leafs coach Hap Day also said the team was “buffaloed” in discussing the 1942 series with Stan Fischler for his 1976 book Those Were the Days. “That was the first time any club ever shot the puck into the end zone and flooded in after it,” Day continued. “There was no center red line then, and the Detroits would simply get the puck across their own blue line and let it go into our end. Then they’d race in and get to it before we did.”

“We had tried that style of play back in 1936-37,” Howe remembered,  “but it wasn’t until [then] that we really put it to use in earnest.”

Syl Apps admitted to Fischler that after dropping the first three games, “We felt we were licked.” He said the team hoped to win Game 4 to avoid being swept but that, “the Stanley Cup wasn’t even on our minds at that point.”

As the story goes, Hap Day read a letter to the team that he’d received from a young girl prior to Game 4. “I had always found in coaching,” Day told Allen Abel of the Globe and Mail in 1983, “that it was harder to get a team ready mentally than physically… What happened after we lost the third game that year was we got a letter from a 15-year-old girl in Detroit who was a Leaf fan. She wrote that she still had confidence in our team. I read the letter to the boys in the dressing room before the fourth game. By the time I finished, you could see the walls bulging…”

Cup
NHL President Frank Calder presents to the
Stanley Cup to Conn Smythe, Syl Apps and Hap Day.

Day did something more tangible too. He benched veterans Gord Drillon and Bucko McDonald, who’d been worn out by Detroit’s dump-and-chase tactics. Younger and faster Don Metz and Hank Goldup were inserted into the lineup, and Gaye Stewart was summoned from the farm team in Pittsburgh. The Leafs also changed tactics, as Sweeney Schriner – who would score the first and third goals in Game 7 – recalled to Trent Frayne as reported in the Globe in 1987.

Schriner remembered coming down early for breakfast in Detroit’s Leland Hotel on the morning of Game 4. Hap Day was huddling with Conn Smythe, and Smythe called Schriner over. “He looked worried,” Sweeney remembered. “He said, ‘Dave, what’s wrong with our hockey club?’ and I told him I thought it was that we’d changed our style. We’d been a good-staking, good-scoring team all season, but in these games with Detroit we were playing their game, bumping and grinding. That night, before the game, Hap made the player changes and we went back to our own style.”

Frayne had planned to use Shriner’s memory to open a 1970s story for Reader’s Digest in which Foster Hewitt recalled the 1942 series. “But it never saw the light of print,” wrote Frayne in his 1987 piece. “A phone call from the magazine’s editorial office in Montreal a day or two before the deadline advised me that the research department had been in touch with Day and Smythe. Both said the incident never happened.”

ad
A section of the ad the makers of Eno ran in Toronto newspapers after Hap Day had
written to them to say that their product had helped to keep his team in fighting trim.

Admitting that he was “feeling like a jerk,” Frayne asked if they’d checked with Sweeney Schriner. What he was told gives a pretty good indication of the type of control men like Smythe and Day exerted over their players.

“Yes, he says it did happen, but he also says that if Smythe and Day said it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, and he’s not about to get into a shouting match with them.”

Frayne opened the Foster Hewitt piece with Day’s story about the letter instead.

*               *               *

Relating to last week’s story about Toronto’s 1922 Stanley Cup banquet and comments about parades, here’s some information on how Toronto celebrated the Leafs Cup wins in 1932 and 1942.

A day after the Leafs’ victory in 1932, City Clerk James Somers announced there would be no banquet for the team, nor for the amateur National Sea Fleas who had just won the Allan Cup. There was no budget for such things during the Great Depression. The city’s Civic Reception Committee, said Somer, “has been forced to limit entertainment to a minimum on account of prevailing conditions.” With Canada at War in 1942, the team held its own small banquet for players, Gardens employees and the press. “We are gathered here today,” said team executive George Cottrelle, “to pay tribute in a mild way, in keeping with the times, to our championship hockey team.”

There doesn’t appear to have been a big to-do for the Leafs’ Cup win in 1947 either, but in 1948 after the team returned from winning the Cup on the road in Detroit, the city celebrated with a ticker-tape parade and a reception at City Hall.

1948

Toronto’s First Stanley Cup Banquet

With the Leafs back in the playoffs tonight, let’s dream big! Would a Stanley Cup parade in Toronto rival the scenes from the World Series parade for the Cubs in Chicago last fall? Quite likely. But whatever happens (and whenever it happens), it’s certainly bound to outdo the show the city put on at its first Stanley Cup civic reception 95 years ago.

It appears that there was no public display in the city when Toronto won the Stanley Cup as a member of the National Hockey Association in 1914, nor at the end of the inaugural National Hockey League season back in 1917–18. Things were different when the Toronto St. Pats won the Cup in 1922 by defeating the Vancouver Millionaires in the final game of their best-of-five series.

Headlines
Headlines from Toronto’s Globe and Daily Star sports pages on March 30, 1922.

“Mayor Alf Maguire was as tickled as a schoolboy when the St. Pats won the Stanley Cup last night,” reported the Toronto Daily Star on March 29. “Right away he arranged a banquet for the boys which will take place at the Carls-Rite tonight at 6:30.”

Given that footage exists of a Stanley Cup parade in Ottawa when the Senators returned triumphant from Vancouver in 1921 (unless that’s actually 1923), it seems unlikely that this event in Toronto was the first of its kind for a professional sports team in Eastern Canada as the Star reported … although it was likely a first for pro sports in the city. The evening seems to have been a fairly tame one. None of the accounts I’ve seen mention how many people were there, nor what kind of food or drink was served. For sure there were a lot of politicians and team executives present, and a lot of speeches were made.

Hotel
The site of the Hotel Carls-Rite is currently a parking lot not too far
from the Maple Leafs’ current home at the Air Canada Centre.

Mayor Maguire led the festivities, making a speech in which he lauded the St. Pats for the attention they had brought to the city through their fair play and skill. He asked that the players “continue through the summer the clean living which has characterized their winter’s work.”

Coach George O’Donoghue and manager Charlie Querrie replied on behalf of the players, who received their winner’s checks from the Stanley Cup series prior to the dinner (no mention of the amount, but likely a few hundred dollars each) and were presented with silver-mounted rabbits’ feet by a fan known as  Oh Boy Saunders, the Human Fly, (more on that if I ever find it!) afterwards.

The highlight of the evening came when Mayor Maguire presented the Stanley Cup to team president Fred Hambly after NHL President Frank Calder had presented the O’Brien Cup – aka the O’Brien Trophy, symbolic of the NHL championship at the time – to St. Pats captain Reg Noble.

Banquet
This dining room was likely the site for Toronto’s 1922 Stanley Cup banquet.

“This cup was lost for some time,” said Calder, “and when I dug it up it was being used as a watering trough for a bulldog. May you and your team show the proverbial tenacity of the bulldog who drank out of it, in defending it.”

“We will do our best to keep it here,” replied the captain.

But it would be 10 years before the next NHL championship came to Toronto.

I don’t suppose anyone needs reminding that this year marks 50 since the last one!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Spring is here. Baseball season is under way. Hockey playoffs are just around the corner. Can’t beat it! No real story this week. Just some fun images from this day in history. Click on each one to see it in greater detail.

On this date 85 years ago in 1932, April 4 was a Monday and Toronto newspapers were reporting on Saturday night’s win by the Maple Leafs in overtime against the Montreal Maroons to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. You don’t see many action photos from this era.

Leafs 1932

April 4 was also a Monday 40 years ago in 1977. The Blue Jays would wrap up spring training  in Dunedin that day and fly to Toronto at night ahead of the franchise’s first Opening Day on April 7.

April 4 Star

April 4 Globe

Hello Out There…

Since at least  1896, when the Winnipeg Victorias traveled east to face and defeat the Montreal Victorias in a one-game challenge for the Stanley Cup, hockey fans have been coming up with ways to follow the game when they couldn’t be there in person. Telegraph lines first made this possible. Special wires were often set up in hotels, where people could gather in comfort to hear scores and details, or outside of train stations and newspaper offices, where people had to stand in the cold.

1896
The Manitoba Free Press, February 15, 1896.

“Hundreds would gather to get the latest bulletins,” superstar Cyclone Taylor would recall from his childhood for biographer Eric Whitehead. “The mobs would hang around at night in sub-zero temperatures just waiting for the operator to leave his key and come dashing out with an announcement…. He’d chalk the score up on a blackboard and then go back to his office, and we’d just stand there and talk hockey and wait for the next bulletin.”

Of course, you didn’t have to wait in the cold if you didn’t want to … as long as you had a telephone. Newspaper offices often put extra operators on duty to give out score updates to those who called in. But beginning in 1922, newspapers had a more efficient way of getting scores out to anyone living within a thousand miles of their office. They could do it with the magic of radio.

Mar 21
The Vancouver World, March 21, 1922.

I’ve written before about my interest in early hockey broadcasts. (See … Radio Active and …Listening In.) The technology was virtually brand new in Canada in 1922. The earliest radio stations had been set up in Montreal in 1920, but it took another two years before the concept took off. According to the timeline of The History of Canadian Broadcasting on the Canadian Communications Foundation web site, no other stations came on board in 1921, but by 1922 there were 23 new stations in six more provinces across the country. Many of these new radio stations were owned by newspapers, including CFCA in Toronto, which was owned by the Toronto Star and would feature the first live play-by-play hockey broadcasts by Norman Albert, and then Foster Hewitt, in February of 1923.

18
The Vancouver Sun reporting  on its radio coverage of Game 1 in the 1922 Stanley Cup Final.

Eleven months before those hockey broadcasts in Toronto, in March of 1922, three Vancouver newspapers — the Province, the Sun, and World — were all racing to get their own radio stations on the air. The Province was first, on March 13, followed by the Sun two days later, and then the World on March 23. Unfortunately, the archives of the Province can’t be searched on line, but the others can, so we know for certain that in addition to news reports, stock prices, and musical programs, the Sun and the World (likely the Province too), were providing almost up-to-the minute reports on the Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Millionaires and the Toronto St. Pats which took place in Toronto between March 17 and March 28.

22
The Vancouver Sun, Game 2. Toronto won 2-1 in overtime.

From the newspaper accounts, it’s unclear exactly how much information the Sun was providing for its listeners during Vancouver’s 4-3 win in Game 1. Just the scores? Or was some effort being made to recreate (or at least read) the play-by-play accounts that telegraphed reports had long been able to relay? And were they providing more by Game 2?

Sun 24
The Vancouver Sun, Game 3. The Millionaires won 3-0.

It’s hard to imagine anyone reporting “that it was as good as being at the game” if all they were getting was score updates. But Sun readers were reporting that again after Game 3.

World 24
The Vancouver World, March 24, 1922.

When the World reported on its triumphant first broadcast, which had been made the day of Game 3 on March 23, it bragged of “Hockey Results Told as Fast As Plays Were Made” but provided no further details of what that actually meant.

27 28
The Vancouver Sun, March 27, 1922 and Vancouver World on March 28.

After a 6-0 win for Toronto in the fourth game of the series on March 25, the St. Pats and Millionaires were even at 2-2 in the best-of-five series. Interestingly, the Sun noted on March 27 that it would be “giving a complete and comprehensive story of the final world series hockey game” … but the game wasn’t actually played until March 28! By then it appeared that the Sun station had already given up on daily broadcasts, and all the World was promising was the final result, which would be a 5-1 Stanley Cup-winning victory for Toronto.

St Pats

So, whatever it was that fans in Vancouver were tuning into 95 years ago, it was far from the multi-platform experience we’ve become used to today. But everything has to start somewhere!

Marathon Men … and Kids Too

We’re coming up on the anniversary (although the 81st is a little inelegant) of the longest game in NHL history. At 8:30 pm on the evening of March 24, 1936, the Montreal Maroons and the Detroit Red Wings faced off at the Montreal Forum. There wouldn’t be a winner (there wouldn’t even be a goal!) until almost 2:30 am the following morning. Nearly six full hours of hockey were played that night; 176:30 by the game clock, with 116:30 of that coming during six overtime periods. The series was a best-three-of-five, but the Maroons and Red Wings played nearly three full games on that evening alone!

In Montreal, the defending Stanley Cup champion Maroons were favoured to defeat the Red Wings and go on to win the Stanley Cup again. Not surprisingly, Detroit coach and GM Jack Adams felt otherwise. “We were the best team over the regular season and proved it by getting more points than any other club in either [division],” said Adams. “The playoffs will merely confirm this fact. We have the best team Detroit ever had and this year we should be good enough to win the Cup.

Maroons
Ad in the Montreal Gazette, March 24, 1936.

It would turn out that Adams was right, but in truth, the Maroons and Detroit were very evenly matched. The teams had nearly identical records (Detroit was 24-16-8; Maroons 22-16-10) and fairly comparable scoring statistics. Still, nobody could have predicted what happened in game one. Detroit goalie Normie Smith turned aside all 90 shots he faced. His Red Wings teammates managed only 68 shots on the Maroons’ Lorne Chabot (some sources say 67), but Mud Bruneteau fired the one that mattered. As Elmer Ferguson wrote in the Montreal Herald the next day:

At twenty-five minutes past two this morning, a bushy-haired blonde veteran of hockey, Hector Kilrea, a sturdy, scarlet-clad form wearing the white emblem of Detroit Red Wings, went pounding tirelessly down the battle-scarred, deep-cut Forum ice, trying to pilot a puck that was bobbling crazily over the rough trail, almost out of control.

It looked like another of the endless unfinished plays – when suddenly, in shot the slim form of a player, who through this long, weary tide of battle that ebbed and flowed had been almost unnoticed. He swung his stick at the bobbling puck, the little black disc straightened away, shot over the foot of Lorne Chabot, bit deeply into the twine of the Montreal Maroon cage. And so Modere Bruneteau, clerk in a Winnipeg grain office, leaped to fame as the player who ended the longest game on professional hockey record.

Bruneteau
Story segment and advertisement from the Montreal Gazette, March 25, 1936.

But as of a few days ago, the game between the Maroons and Red Wings has lost its distinction as the longest in professional hockey history. Norwegian pro teams Storhamar Dragons and Sparta Warriors faced off in Hamar, Norway, at 6 pm on March 12 and didn’t have a winner until 2:32 am on Monday the 13th. After eight-and-a-half hours of hockey – 217:42 on the game clock – Joakim Jensen scored to give the Dragons a 2-1 victory in eight overtime periods. The win gave Storhamar a 3-2 lead in the series, but Sparta bounced back to take the series in seven.

Norway
Screen shots of the winning goal and celebration from Storhamar’s 2-1 overtime victory.

Still, as marathon hockey games go, the Maroons and Red Wings and Storhamar and Sparta have nothing on the gang of kids I grew up with on Argonne Crescent.

Kids
North York Mirror clips from Zweig family photo album. (That’s me inside the oval.)

Despite what the caption on the photo says – we got mentioned on the radio too – our goal was not to raise money for charity (although a few relatives did donate to the United Jewish Appeal in honour of our game). We wanted to get into the Guinness Book of Records!

The story that accompanies the photo says that we’d been told the record for playing road hockey was 8 hours. I do remember that we thought it was … but I have no idea who told us, or why we believed it! As I recall, a few weeks later, there was a story about a group of college kids that played ball hockey in a gym for about 100 hours. But, hey, they had squads of players coming and going throughout those four days. We were just nine kids aged 7 to 11 who all had to go to school the next day.

We made it through 12 straight hours. Kept score and everything. The white team, including my brothers David and Jonathan, our cousin Bobby Freedman, Benji Rusonik and Jeffrey Kirsh, beat the Blue team of me, Alan Rusonik, Joel Kirsh and Howard Hamat 250-228.

As my brother Jonathan once said, “at least we didn’t fall asleep like Bobby and Cindy Brady trying to break the teeter-totter record … and if you look in the Guinness Book of Records you’ll find us there – under dumbest kids who ever thought they’d break a record.”

Long Live(d) The King!

This Saturday, the Maple Leafs will be wearing Toronto St. Pats uniforms for their home game against Chicago. It’s a nod to the team’s heritage during its 100th season and, of course, to the fact that Friday will be St. Patrick’s Day.

StPats

Way back on March 17, 1934, the Maple Leafs celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by declaring it “Clancy Night” in honour of King Clancy, their own Irish leprechaun whom Conn Smythe had acquired as the key piece he felt he needed to build the team into the powerhouse he envisioned. (Clancy did exactly what Smythe hoped he would and, basically – except for few years – remained with the Maple Leafs for the rest of his life.)

Green
King Clancy wore this green shirt – sold a few years ago by Classic Auctions –
on Clancy Night in 1934 … until Lester Patrick of the New York Rangers
demanded he put on his regular Leafs uniform.

Over the past few years, a man I have never met named Daniel Doyon has been emailing me notes about the books I write and corrections to errors he’s come across in the NHL Official Guide & Record Book. (And, honestly, he’s never sent me anything where it hasn’t turned out that he was right!) A few weeks ago, on February 25, he sent me a note saying that it was King Clancy’s birthday and did our records show he was turning 114 or 115, because although hockey sources have long listed 1903 as Clancy’s birth year, he’d come across a document indicating it really should be 1902.

72Birth

Even with web sites such as Ancestry.com and others like it, this type of research is far from perfect. Despite the fact that King Clancy himself signed this document stating that “I certify the foregoing to be true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief,” it was still 70 years after the fact. He could have been wrong.

Even with Daniel’s track record, I needed more than this to go on. So, I checked the Census of Canada records. In 1911, Francis Clancy (he inherited his famous nickname from his father, Thomas, who was a rugby star known as “The King of the Heelers,” but he wasn’t born King Clancy!) appears to have had 1902 written overtop of 1901 (yes, it looks a lot like 1907!) and had his age of 10 crossed out and changed to a 9. In 1921, where no birth years are recorded, he’s listed as being 19 years old.

Census

These were two more bits of evidence for a birth year of 1902 … but I know from past experience that Census information from these days can’t always be trusted. What is much more reliable, however is the statement of baptism. Clancy’s is hard to read, but it says: “On this the first day of March one thousand nine hundred and two we the undersigned parish priests of St. Joseph’s Church have baptized Michael Francis, born on the 25th inst. of the legal marriage of Thomas F. Clancy and Catherine J. O’Leary…”

Baptism

Bingo!

But maybe not. Clancy’s name is supposed to be Francis Michael, not Michael Francis. Still, with everything else a perfect match, it must be him, right? Fortunately, as it turns out, Clancy’s wedding record from 1933 also lists his name as Michael Francis (and shows his age as 31, which would again indicate a birth year of 1902).

Marriage

And to erase any lingering doubt about that record possibly being the wrong Clancy, newspaper coverage in both Toronto and Ottawa shortly after the wedding match the names and dates too perfectly for this to be anyone else.

Wedding
Ottawa Journal, October 14, 1933.

Yet the hockey records showing his birth year as 1903 are so prevalent that you will find plenty of stories today claiming that Clancy was 18 years old in 1921 when he broke into the NHL (reputedly as the first teenager in league history – I haven’t looked into that!). But in his hometown of Ottawa at the time, people knew better. The Ottawa Journal in reporting on his signing on December 15, 1921, noted that Clancy was 19:

Journal19

And two years later, on February 24, 1923, there was this story in the Journal noting his 21st birthday:

Journal21

As well as this one that same day in the Ottawa Citizen:

Citizen21

All this evidence has pretty much convinced me that Clancy really was born in 1902, but then, clearly, some time after he got to Toronto, Clancy lost a year, as this short item in The Globe notes on February 25, 1936:

Globe

So, I began to wonder two things. First, when did the NHL start to “officially” record birth dates? I sent an email to Benny Ercolani, who’s been with the NHL since 1976 and its head statistician since the 1980s. He didn’t know the answer. Neither has anyone else I’ve spoken to.

It seems reasonable to me that recording birth dates may have begun in 1932 when Jim Hendy published his first NHL Guide, which was the forerunner of the publication I’ve been working on with Dan Diamond and Associates since 1996. Hendy was publishing newspaper stories that included player birth dates at least as early as 1931 … but I’ve never seen a copy of his 1932-33 Guide. The earliest edition in the archives at the Hockey Hall of Fame is from 1936-37 … and Phil Pritchard informs me that Clancy is listed in that one as being born in 1903. (No surprise there!)

Did Hendy solicit birth dates from players? And if he did, did Clancy decide around 1932 that he’d be better off as an aging NHLer who was 29-years-old rather than 30? Maybe. But that’s nothing more than a guess.

To see if the Clancy family could shed any light on this, I contacted his son, Terry Clancy. When I asked Terry what he knew about his father’s age, he told me: “I know that he was 83 when he died (in 1986).” I told him that he may actually have been a year older than that, and then I asked him the second thing I’d been wondering about. Did he have any idea why his father filled out that form in 1972?

I wondered if Clancy had needed a passport to go to Russia for the 1972 Series in September … but Terry said his father hadn’t gone. I also wondered, with Harold Ballard soon to serve a jail sentence for fraud, if maybe Clancy was suddenly worried about his job with the Maple Leafs and decided it might be a good idea to apply for his pension.

Terry had his doubts about that … although it’s hardly the kind of thing a father would have discussed with his children. Still, he got in touch with his older sister to ask her if she’d ever heard anything. “She told me she knew something about the two [birth dates],” he wrote, “but she always went on the assumption that he was born in 1903.”

1983
Toronto Star, February 22, 1983.

Despite having filled out that form in 1972, King Clancy certainly appears to have carried on as if he’d been born in 1903. He happily took part in 80th birthday festivities in 1983 – when he was probably turning 81.

“My father never really cared about his age,” Terry Clancy told me.

I wonder what he’d make of all this effort today!

Other Stories of the Spanish Flu

For the second time in just over two years, an outbreak of mumps has hit the NHL. This one, which began in late February, doesn’t seem to be as widespread as the outbreak in November and December of 2014, which hit five teams. So far, only a few players in Vancouver and Minnesota have been infected, and with no new reports so far this month, perhaps it’s been contained.

I had the mumps as a child. This would have been around 1971, although I have read that the mumps declined by 99 percent after a vaccine was introduced in the 1960s. (Was I just unlucky?) Booster shots since then are apparently effective only 88 percent of the time.

Crosby
Sidney Crosby with the mumps in 2014.

The NHL outbreaks might make a good story for anti-vax conspiracy theorists, but the truth is that the mumps remains most prevalent where people congregate in close settings and it spreads through mucus and saliva. Sounds an awful lot like every hockey dressing room I’ve ever been in!

The truth is, flu bugs and other germs hit teams in every sport often enough. It’s usually nothing serious – but it can be.

The most famous incident of hockey and disease involves one of the most deadly pandemics in world history. The so-called Spanish Influenza of 1918 to 1920 infected as many as 500 million people around the world and killed as many as 50 to 100 million. The Spanish Flu resulted in the final game of the Stanley Cup series of 1919 being cancelled after several members of both the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans came down with the disease.

Many people who read this will know that Joe Hall of the Montreal Canadiens died of the Spanish Flu. (Technically, he died of pneumonia, as did most of the flu’s victims, when he passed away in Seattle’s Columbus Sanatorium on April 5, 1919.) Some will know that Canadiens owner George Kennedy never truly recovered from his bout before passing away on October 19, 1921.

Hall
Report of Joe Hall’s death in the Seattle Times Sunday edition on April 6, 1919.
Photo courtesy of the Society for International Hockey Research.

Hall and Kennedy are the most famous members of the professional hockey fraternity to die of the Spanish Flu, but they aren’t the only ones.

Hamby Shore isn’t a name many people know anymore, but 100 seasons ago when the NHL was just starting out, he was an important member of the Ottawa Senators. Shore had first played with his home town team back in 1905, and although injuries slowed him down during the NHL’s first season of 1917-18, he was still a fan favourite and was expected to be an important veteran presence on Ottawa’s 1918-19 team.

Shore
Ottawa Journal, October 15, 1918. Photo courtesy
of the Society for International Hockey Research.

But around the beginning of October in 1918, Shore’s wife took ill with the Spanish Flu. He contracted the disease while nursing her at home. Ruby Shore recovered, but Hamby would spend a week at Ottawa’s Walter Street hospital before succumbing to pneumonia on October 13, 1918.

On the day of Shore’s funeral in Ottawa, October 16, 1918, the hockey world suffered another tragedy when the son of future Hall of Famer Jack Marshall died of pneumonia brought on by the Spanish Flu. Bobby Marshall was just 12 years old.

Marshall
The Montreal Gazette on October 16, 1918 reports on the
death of Bobby Marshall and the funeral of Hamby Shore.

By the time the NHL opened its second season in December of 1918, the Spanish Flu had seemed to vanish from the eastern part of North America, but it was still raging in the west. Captain Eddie Oatman of the Victoria Aristocrats was too sick to play when the rival Pacific Coast Hockey Association began its season. Oatman was better within a few weeks, but other Victoria players got sick too.

Lester Patrick caught the flu right after Oatman. Patrick wasn’t just a player in Victoria. He was also the team’s owner, coach and general manager. Having been sick himself, Patrick took no chances when other players showed symptoms. According to a February 21, 1919 story in the Victoria Times, if anyone had even a hint of a fever, he was sent home to bed, and the team doctor made a visit. Despite the precautions, seven Victoria players in all caught the flu during the 1918-19 season, but with prompt care, and some very good luck, not a single one of them died.

Victoria
Various stories from the Victoria Colonist from January and February of 1919.

It’s long been said that Joe Hall, George Kennedy and the other members of the Montreal Canadiens caught the Spanish Flu in Victoria while awaiting the winner of the PCHA playoffs prior to the Stanley Cup Finals. This was even reported in newspapers at the time, but Seattle defeated Vancouver for the PCHA title while the Canadiens were still on the train heading to the West Coast from Montreal. They arrived in Vancouver on March 16, 1919 and played an exhibition game there on March 17 before immediately catching an overnight ferry directly to Seattle. They arrived there on the morning of March 18.

There was no opportunity for anyone with the Canadiens to be biding their time in Victoria, and even if there had been, virtually everything ever written about the Spanish Flu mentions how remarkably short its incubation period was. There’s no way someone could have been exposed to the flu even if the ferry stopped briefly in Victoria on March 17-18 and then not show any signs of illness for two weeks until March 31.

Ferry
Ferry schedule from 1919 sent to me by Canadian Pacific archivist
Jo-Anne Colby during research for my Y/A novel Fever Season.

Given that there were two days off between some of the games in Seattle during the series, it’s not impossible (though highly unlikely!) that a player or two may have gone to Victoria for a visit during their time off. But no newspaper I’ve come across reports on that happening during a hard-fought series where rest would have been the top priority between games.

I think the simple fact that so many players in Victoria had been sick during the 1918-19 season meant that it was easy (and lazy) speculation on the part of reporters at the time to say that the Montreal players got sick in Victoria. Unfortunately, nearly 100 years later, the story still persists.

Little Jeff

Last week, I caught some of The Prizefighter and the Lady on Turner Classic Movies. It stars Max Baer, who was a top heavyweight contender at the time, in his first movie role as the Prizefighter, and Myrna Loy as the Lady. It was made in 1933 and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Story. Generally speaking, it still gets good reviews. Admittedly, I didn’t see that much of it, but from what I did see, it seemed much more interesting now as a piece of history than it did as a movie.

I won’t go into the plot, but it builds towards a big fight scene at the end where Baer’s character (Steve Morgan) fights the real heavyweight champion of the time, Primo Carnera. (In real life, Baer would beat Carnera for the title a year later.) In the film, the fight is promoted and also refereed by Jack Dempsey playing himself, and before the bout begins Dempsey is joined in the ring by other legendary heavyweight champions of the past, Jess Willard and James J. “Jim” Jeffries. I recognized Jeffries right away from his strong resemblance to hockey legend Cyclone Taylor!

Movie
Movie poster plus the hand and footprints of William Powell and Myrna Loy at the
Chinese Theater in Hollywood. W.S. Van Dyke, who directed The Prizefighter and the Lady, would later direct Powell and Loy in the first of “The Thin Man” movies.

I first learned of Cyclone Taylor’s resemblance to Jim Jeffries in Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend. (Reading that book, and then Whitehead’s biography of Frank and Lester Patrick, inspired me to write my first book, the historical fiction novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.) Whitehead writes of hockey fans in New York City taking to Taylor because of his skill and because of his resemblance to the former heavyweight champ. He says they called him “Little Jeff.”

While I couldn’t find any newspaper references to that specifically, Jeffries was actually in New York at the same time as Taylor and the Ottawa Senators were there to face Art Ross and the Montreal Wanderers in a postseason series in March of 1909. Jeffries was very much in the news, with fight promoters offering him huge money for the time – $50,000 and up – to come out of retirement to fight Jack Johnson. (Jeffries would be the first “Great White Hope” to fight the controversial Black heavyweight champion when he lost to him on July 4, 1910.)

The clipping below doesn’t use the nickname “Little Jeff” but does come pretty close to confirming Whitehead’s account by referring to Cyclone as “Jeffries” Taylor…

TribArticle in The New York Daily Tribune on March 18, 1910, when Taylor
returned to New York as a member of the Renfrew Millionaires.

And while you wouldn’t exactly confuse one for the other (especially considering that Jeffries was about 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds in his prime while Taylor was 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds), there definitely is a resemblance…

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