Category Archives: Hockey History

An Ode to Old Goalies

On this day in history 100 years ago, on January 9, 1918, just three weeks into its inaugural season, the NHL made an important rule change. It would now allow goalies to leave their feet and fall to the ice to make a save. This rule change was the focus of a story I wrote last month for the New York Times. It’s also in a story I wrote three years ago for this web site.

To make the New York Times story different, I sought out several NHL goaltenders past and present to speak with. This gave me my first opportunity to talk with “Mr. Goalie” Glenn Hall … and what would sadly turn out to be my last chance to speak with Johnny Bower.

Bower
Paintings by Darrin Egan. Visit him on Facebook.

I spoke to Johnny Bower on October 17. It was a couple of weeks before his 93rd birthday. He answered the phone, but for the first time (and admittedly, I’ve only spoken to him a few times before), he sounded old. I explained that I would like to ask him a few questions, and he told me he really didn’t like to do interviews anymore. He wasn’t sure he still had the memory for it. I said I’d ask him one question, and if he didn’t feel he could answer, we didn’t have to continue. I asked him my question, and one thing quickly led to another. No problem with his memory that I could detect!

As noted in my Times story, Bower told me he was unaware there had originally been a rule requiring goalies to remain standing. He also told me it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference to his decision to become a goalie. “No one really flopped down,” he said. “As a child, I would stand up, I was scared. No one had to say anything to me.”

But, of course, there would be occasions when he had to drop to the ice to make a save. “My dad said, ‘you fall to much.’ I said ‘Dad, you don’t know hockey. I have to do what I have to do.’ It turned out just great.” Bower told me he always considered himself a standup goaltender, “but the poke check was a big plus.”

1918
This announcement  was made by NHL president Frank Calder from his office
in Montreal on January 9, 1918. (From the Ottawa Journal, January 10, 1918.)

The poke check, often diving head first (without a mask!) toward an on-rushing opponent, became Bower’s signature move.  As Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told reporters shortly after Bower’s death on Boxing Day: “Not too many people in sports have a name where it almost becomes a verb. If you were playing street hockey and you poke-checked somebody, you’d yell, ‘Johnny Bower. I just Johnny Bowered you.’”

Like Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall regarded himself as a standup goaltender, even though he’s considered the pioneer of the butterfly style. Spreading his legs wide to block the bottom of the net was merely an extension of his natural style. “I always played in a deep crouch,” he explained. “[Terry] Sawchuk did too. But I looked at the other goalkeepers who were just a little before me; Chuck Rayner and Sugar Jim Henry were two of my favourites. Both were standup.”

Hall told me that when he was playing junior hockey in the Red Wings farm system in Windsor, Ontario, he would go to Detroit to watch NHL games. “That’s when I saw those guys … but I never saw a goalkeeper I didn’t like. You didn’t steal from them exactly, but you noticed what they were doing and if it was getting results or making things more difficult.”

Hall
Contact Darrin at: inthebluepaint@gmail.com

Hall was aware of the old rule about goalies standing. “I think at one time I knew that,” he said. But even long after the rule had changed, coaches in his era weren’t exactly progressive in their thinking. “They had a few silly rules. Coaches would holler, ‘Stand up. Don’t touch the puck unless it’s going in the net.’ So many stupid things.”

There were no specialized goalie coaches in Glenn Hall’s time. The men behind the bench were usually ex-forwards or defensemen. “You never thought of the coaches,” he said. “They didn’t know anything about playing goal.” Former Boston Bruins goaltending great Tiny Thompson was a Black Hawks scout when Hall got to Chicago. “I liked to talk to him, but he never offered any hockey advice. Nor did I ask him.”

I asked Hall who was the best goalie he ever saw. “I never played against anyone I thought was better than me,” he said with a smile in his voice. But he did admit that, “Sawchuk, in his first four years, was unbelievable.” He also loved Gump Worsley and Johnny Bower. “Both were great goalies.” (Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until we were done that I hadn’t asked him about Jacques Plante.)

1917
Clint Benedict’s habit of accidentally falling to the ice is often credited with changing
the NHL rule about goalies, but Art Ross had spoken in favour of the change prior to
the start of the first NHL season. (From the Ottawa Journal, December 17, 1917.)

More recently, Martin Brodeur was someone Hall admired, but he had trouble relating to Dominik Hasek. “Hasek was different,” he said. “I wasn’t watching a lot of hockey then, but I hated to guess and a lot of Hasek’s moves looked like guess-type moves. He must have known what he was doing, but I would have had trouble playing like that.”

So would Mr. Goalie – a man who has a reputation for being sick to his stomach before nearly every game he played – still have wanted to be a goalie if the rules had required him to remain standing?

“Yes, of course! I didn’t start playing goal until I was about 10 or 11, but I found out it was the most interesting spot to play. That’s where all the action was. That’s what made it enjoyable. That’s where things were happening.”

Before He Was Bower

Leafs legend Johnny Bower passed away on Tuesday at the age of 93. Much has already been said and written about him, most of it conveying that as great a goalie as he was, Bower was an even better person. My personal experiences with him were few, but any time I had the opportunity to speak with him, it was always special.

Bower

Bower’s exact age had long been something of a mystery. As a young boy, he lied about his age to join the Canadian Army in World Word II. (Many stories say he was only 15 at the time, others say 16). During his career, he enjoyed playing along with the guessing game, but in recent years it was determined that he was (probably!) born on November 8, 1924. His name at the time was John Kiszkan.

A respiratory infection in 1942 likely saved Bower/Kiszkan’s life when he had to be hospitalized instead of being sent to France for the disastrous Dieppe Raid. After being discharged due to rheumatoid arthritis in his hands in 1943, Kiszkan returned to his home town of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he quickly resumed his hockey career. He played for the Prince Albert M and C Warhawks and helped them win the Western Canada Intermediate hockey championship at the end of the winter in 1944.

Bower 1
The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix of February 26, 1944, reports on Prince Albert’s 5-2 victory
over the Notre Dame Hounds to open the Intermediate Provincial championship.

Bower 3
Stories on Prince Albert’s two-game sweep of the Western Canada title
are from The Lethbridge Herald on March 18 and 20, 1944.

In the fall of 1944, John Kiszkan had a professional tryout with the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League. He didn’t catch on, returning once again to Prince Albert where he played Junior hockey. His Prince Albert Black Hawks won the North Saskatchewan championship in 1945 but lost the Provincial title to the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Southern Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Bower 4
Cleveland Barons story from the New Philadelphia (Ohio) Daily Times on September 29. 1944. The Saskatchewan Junior story is from The Lethbridge Herald on March 9, 1945.

The next season, 1945-46, Kiszkan began his lengthy minor league apprenticeship in Cleveland that would eventually lead to his great success in Toronto.

Bower 6
From the Athens (Ohio) Messenger on December 28, 1945.

A year later, John Kiszkan (whose last name had often been misspelled in newspapers, and must have been mispronounced by broadcasters as well) decided that his surname was just too difficult for the sports media. Bob Duff, co-author The China Wall: The Timeless Legend of Johnny Bower, told me that Johnny’s parents had separated by then, and when he turned 21, Johnny had his sister Rose, who worked in a legal office, help him change his name to Bower. It was their mother’s maiden name.

Bower 7
The Cleveland Barons were training in the Manitoba Capital when
this story appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune on September 24, 1946.

His name appeared as John (Kiszkan) Bower in many newspapers throughout the 1946-47 season with Cleveland … but he would be Johnny Bower for ever after.

On This Day in History … Or That Day in History

For close to 90 years, the NHL noted the date of its creation as November 22, 1917. It’s easy enough to understand why. Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald long claimed to be the lone observer still on site at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal that day when the formative meetings wrapped up. Much of what is known about the formation of the NHL comes from stories he wrote about it over the years – and he always wrote November 22.

Gazette 22
From the Montreal Gazette, November 22, 1917.

More than just the word of Elmer Ferguson, we have the writings in the original Minute Book of [the] National Hockey League housed at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Page 1 begins: “At a meeting of representatives of hockey clubs held at the Windsor Hotel, Montreal, November 22, (the notation 1917 appears to have been written in later), the following present…” It then goes on to list those in attendance and the steps they took to form the National Hockey League as a replacement for the old National Hockey Association.

“It sounded both quick and congenial,” notes my friend Andrew Ross, author of Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, “but the minutes elided both time and space. Despite the evidence of the official records, newspaper reports suggest not all the decisions ascribed to the 22 November meeting were taken on that day.”

Indeed they were not.

Ott 23
This story from the Ottawa Journal on November 23, 1917,
indicates that nothing was done at the meeting on November 22.

When we at Dan Diamond and Associates published Total Hockey in 1998, Brian McFarlane noted of the November 22 meeting in his essay ‘The Founding of a New League’ that “no official report of their discussions was released.” He then added that the meeting was adjourned until November 24, “but was not actually held until November 26 at Montreal’s Windsor Hotel. On that day it was formally announced that there would be a new hockey league – the National Hockey League.”

Ott 26
The Ottawa Journal, quoting from the Montreal Star on November 26, 1917.

So, clearly, the date of the actual announcement of the NHL was known to those who had searched for it, and yet the formation date of November 22, 1917, remained part of the league’s “official” history. To the best of my knowledge, this didn’t begin to change until after the publication of Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey, by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth, in 2002.

TStar 26
This article from the Toronto Star on November 26 states that the meeting on November 24 was postponed and that plans for the new season would be announced that afternoon.

It’s long been said that the NHL was created to rid the others owners of Toronto’s meddlesome Eddie Livingstone. That appears truly to have been the case. In Deceptions, it’s stated that in the Ottawa Citizen on November 20, 1917, Tommy Gorman had made it known that the likely successor to the NHA would known as the National Hockey League. So, the name was already in the air, and it was expected that all would be worked out at the meeting in Montreal on November 22 … but it wasn’t. With Quebec dithering about whether or not to enter a team, no decisions were announced that day. It wasn’t until November 26 that Quebec officially opted out, and Toronto – under the stewardship of the owners of the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street – was given a team instead.

Two Nov 27
These stories in Toronto’s Globe and the Ottawa Journal on November 27, 1917,
confirm that the NHL had come into existence the previous afternoon.

It wasn’t until the publication of the 2006 NHL Official Guide & Record Book in the fall of 2005 (after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season) that the NHL began to recognize the date of its organization as November 26, 1917. It seems to have slowly made its way into the world as the correct date since then.

This week, on Sunday, the NHL will officially mark the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the League on November 26, 2017. I’m certainly of the opinion they’ve got it right.

Toronto and Montreal: Forever Rivals

With the team off to a great start, invitations to the Toronto launch of my new book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, went out by email earlier this week. If you didn’t receive one, and you’d like to come, I’d love to see you! A copy of the invitation is included at the end of this story.

The Leafs were pretty much at the worst of their recent struggles when I began working on this book. Still, the only real direction offered by my editor was “give me lots!” I took that pretty literally. We always knew that the book was going to be 10 chapters long, but when I finished the first draft of Chapter 1, I was already over 25,000 words! By the time all 10 chapters were complete, I delivered a manuscript of almost 170,000 words. We’re talking 100 years of history here, but clearly that was going to be too much. During the editorial process, we got it down to about 140,000 words. With pictures, that still came out to a book of 450 pages!

Some pretty interesting stories didn’t make the final cut. Here’s one, presented in the “oral” style of the book, highlighting the rough, early days of the Toronto-Montreal NHL rivalry:

1

Before Toronto qualified for the playoffs (by winning the second half of the split-season schedule), Charlie Querrie and George Kennedy of the Canadiens had expressed differing opinions on the style of play the Torontos employed, particularly when they were at home.

“The Toronto team, according to the Canadien players, are a dangerous outfit. Dangerous in more ways than one, for in their own city they play a brand of hockey not attempted by any other club in the league. Any other team who tried it would land up in jail. In Toronto, however, the blue shirts get away with it themselves, but woe to any other foreign player who attempts to retaliate. It is the bench at once, and the presence of a burly policeman behind the penalty box is a grim reminder that the jail awaits all unruly hockey players in Toronto – who do not belong to the home team.”

– The Montreal Star, December 29, 1917.

“Manager George Kennedy of the Canadiens has had his bluff called. George, the wise one, spread a lot of false reports when he returned to Montreal after his two beatings here. Kennedy told the Montreal newspaper men that the Torontos did not play hockey, but just cut his players down. Manager Querrie of the blue shirts has gone Kennedy one better, and wants the sporting scribes of Montreal and the Peasoup public at large to know that every team that visits Toronto is given a fair shake.

“Manager Querrie despatched the following letters to Montreal yesterday, and they speak for themselves:

“Mayor Martin, Montreal: Dear Sir, – On behalf of the Toronto Hockey Club, I wish to extend to you a cordial invitation to attend the Canadien-Toronto game at the Arena Gardens here on Monday, Jan. 28. Reports have been sent broadcast thru the medium of the Montreal press to the effect that the Canadien team has suffered from intimidation and interference from the police of this city, and we would be delighted to have you attend the fixture and see for yourself if this is true or otherwise

“We will reserve a box for yourself and party, and trust that you will be able to be in attendance.”

“George Kennedy, Montreal: Dear Sir, – As you have repeatedly made excuses for your club’s defeats at the hands of the Toronto hockey team at our Arena, claiming roughness and intimidation, we would advise you to extend an invitation to the sporting writers of Montreal to attend our next fixture here, on Monday, Jan. 28. We will place every facility within our power at their disposal to see for themselves how visiting teams are treated at the Arena. In view of the fact that you have claimed that your club has been defeated here by unfair tactics, this will be an excellent opportunity for you to show the Montreal scribes just how badly your team is treated in the Queen City.”

“Mr. F. Calder, President National Hockey League: Dear Sir, – Our club would be pleased if you would attend the game here on Monday, 28th January with the Canadiens.

“During the past few weeks Manager Kennedy of the Canadien Club has stated thru the press that his players are roughly used here, and also intimidated by the police.

“To judge for yourself, and in the best interests of hockey, we would be pleased to have you in attendance.”

– The Toronto World, January 25, 1918.

It’s unclear if Kennedy or Calder were in attendance on January 28. Toronto won the game, 5–1.

“All the goals were scored in the opening period. Toronto started off with a rush and in the first five minutes counted twice. When the period was finished Toronto had five goals to one for Canadiens. There was no further scoring.”

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

But the score of the game was not the biggest story that night.

2

“‘Bad’ Joe Hall of the Canadiens and Alf Skinner of the Toronto team are under arrest as the result of an assault and counter-assault which occurred in last night’s game between the two teams at the Arena. Toronto defeated the Canadiens by a score of 5 to 1 in a game in which there was an under-current of feelings that was responsible for many minor outbreaks throughout the contest. The collision which resulted in the arrest of the two players occurred shortly after the start of the final period. Skinner took the puck down the ice and was checked by Hall. He dropped to the ice and as he did made a pass with his stick at Hall, who was standing over him. Hall raised his stick and brought it down upon Skinner’s head and the latter was carried from the ice unconscious.

“Hall was immediately penalized and left the ice, holding his hand to his mouth, while blood stream down the side of his face. The police visited the dressing-room a few moments later and placed both men under arrest. They were later admitted to bail, and will appear in the Police Court to-day on a charge of disorderly conduct.”

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

“Both players were put under arrest by Plainclothesmen Ward and Scott and taken to No. 2 police station. Manager Querrie later bailed them out. The charge was common assault.”

– The Toronto World, January 29, 1918.

3

“Like a blessed peacemaker, more prone to pity than to punish, Squire Ellis to-day remanded for sentence Alfred Skinner and Joseph Hall, the two hockey players, members respectively of the Torontos and the Canadiens, who were arrested for disorderly conduct after the game at the Arena Gardens last night. ‘As the matter has apparently been settled to the satisfaction of all parties out of court, there will be no punishment here,’ remarked his Worship. The two erstwhile opponents who had whacked each other over the heads with hockey sticks in the heat of contest, smiled like brothers as they entered a plea of guilty. ‘They are the best of friends to-day,’ said their counsel, W. Hoskins, adding later that hockey games could not be played without a rap or two being given. Sergt. McKinney made an eloquent plea for clean sport. ‘Fracases like this are going to ruin sport,’ said he. ‘The public don’t want to see slugging matches.’ The sergeant further stated that Hall was the aggressor.

“Manager Querrie, who had been an attentive listener, informed the court that both men had already been fined $15 by the league. Apparently satisfied that they had been sufficiently punished, Squire Ellis forthwith bade them depart in peace, but not before he had said that the conduct of some hockey players was enough to disgust the public.”

– The Toronto Daily Star, January 29, 1918.

 

Evite

End of the Line for Hockey’s Cy Guy

On October 11, 1929, hockey fans reading their daily newspaper learned that Cy Denneny had announced his retirement the previous evening. Fans of long-ago hockey history still know Denneny’s name, but it’s not one that’s very familiar anymore. Still, this would have been pretty big news to the fans of the game 88 years ago today.

Clips
The second clipping here appeared in The Ottawa Journal.

Denneny began his pro career during the 1914-15 season of the National Hockey Association. He joined the Ottawa Senators in 1916-17, and remained with the team when it entered the NHL the following year. He finished up with Boston in 1928-29. Except for the fact that he won the Stanley Cup five times in his career (a pretty big difference!), Cy Denneny was sort of the Marcel Dionne of his day: a star player who was often overshadowed by someone else. Denneny led the NHL in scoring one time (in 1923-24), but finished second on five occasions and third and fourth one time each.

Like Dionne, Denneny didn’t really look like a hockey star. Dionne at 5-foot-9 was definitely small for a player in his day, while Denneny at 5-foot-7 was fairly typical for his time. Both were sort of pudgy, and I’d go so far as to say that photographs of Denneny are one reason why it’s hard for people to believe the calibre of hockey played in the 1910s and 1920s could possibly appeal to the fans of today…

Pics

You may be aware that the NHL has recently unveiled revised statistics put together during a six-year project to digitize old game sheets. This made news recently when it was announced that, among 6,000 bits of corrected information, Maurice Richard had now gained an extra assist among his career scoring totals.

When Cy Denneny retired in 1929, he did so as the NHL’s all-time leader in goals and points. But Denneny’s totals have also been revised. Instead of playing in 328 games over his 12 years in the league, he’s now credited with 329 games. However, he’s been downgraded to 247 goals instead of 248 … although he’s gained four assists, from 85 to 89, and now has 336 points instead of 333. (If you scroll down a bit when you get there, attempts to compare the numbers from his era to more modern stars put Denneny in some pretty good company.)

Cy Denneny, who was one of the first players to experiment with curving the blade of his stick, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959. A few months later he gave an interview to Tom Mitchell of The Canadian Press in which he compared the hockey of his time to the game as it was played in 1960. He thought the then current game was much more dangerous.

Int
From the Ottawa Journal, February 24, 1960.

“Today it’s the same as a crash between two high-powered cars when these boys meet,” said Dennney. “One or another has got to give.” Still, Denneny made it abundantly clear that the game was plenty rough in his time too. “You had to watch your head,” he said, “or it wouldn’t stay on very long.”

Many hockey players in Denneny’s time were lacrosse players too, and they tended to carry their sticks high. “One of the best lacrosse checks was to slam your stick down hard on the other fellow’s and try to jar the ball loose. The boys carried this into hockey and sometimes sticks came down on an arm.”

It wasn’t just his arms that took a beating. Denneny recalled that his hips were “black and blue after every game” and admitted that at the age of 68, he had a touch of arthritis in his left hip and leg and walked with a cane. He passed away at the age of 78 on September 10, 1970.

Toronto’s First NHL Game

The NHL opened a new season last night with games in four cities, including Toronto in Winnipeg where the Maple Leafs beat the Jets 7-2. After last season’s success, hopes are high in Toronto, where the home season begins on Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

One hundred years ago (albeit not until December 22, 1917), the first NHL game in Toronto was also played on a Saturday night. Three nights earlier, in Montreal on December 19, the Arenas (I won’t get into the name game again) had dropped the first game in NHL history 10-9 to the Wanderers.  High scores were not uncommon in this era, but 19 goals in a game was pretty unusual. Everyone in hockey knew that Toronto’s netminding tandem of Art Brooks and Sammy Hebert was nowhere near the quality of future Hall of Famers Georges Vezina of the Montreal Canadiens and Clint Benedict of the Ottawa Senators, nor even Bert Lindsay – the father of future Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay – of the Wanderers.

Ad Ad for Toronto’s NHL opener in The Globe on December 22, 1917.

It was generally agreed that the Wanderers had been outplayed in the Montreal game, but with Hebert surrendering five goals in the first period and Brooks five more over the final two, Toronto came out on the wrong end of the score. “Our most important need is a good goalkeeper,” said team manager Charlie Querrie in The Globe newspaper on the day of the home opener against the Ottawa Senators. The Globe provided a pretty scant preview of the game, but did report that Toronto’s net might be guarded that night by a well-known (but unnamed) local amateur. The Toronto World didn’t say much either, but also noted the goaltending would need to come up big.

World Pre-game coverage of Toronto’s NHL opener in The World on December 21 and 22, 1917.

The World also reported that a large crowd was likely for Toronto’s NHL opener. The Arena Gardens – aka the Mutual Street Arena – held about 7,500 at this time, but no story I’ve seen actually notes the attendance that night. Chances are it wasn’t a sellout … although the crowd must have been quite a bit larger than the 700 or so people estimated to have been at the Wanderers’ opener in Montreal.

Hockey fan or not, no one could really argue today that the best of the sport is played anywhere but in the NHL. That wasn’t necessarily the case in 1917. While the calibre of play in the NHL and its western professional rival, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, was likely better than that of the top amateur leagues across the country, there were just so many amateur teams and leagues in Toronto and area that the audience was easily fragmented. And, really, the brand-new NHL wasn’t seen as anything special back in 1917. It was merely considered a continuation of the old National Hockey Association (which had operated since the winter of 1909-10) under a new name.

NHA Hockey fans in 1917 would have noted little difference between the NHA and the NHL.

But the biggest problem facing the NHL in its inaugural season was that the World had been at war since 1914. Many amateur sports leagues in Canada had shutdown for the duration, and even though pro hockey was thought to be good for morale on the home front, attendance was falling and teams were folding. By 1917, there were plenty of people wondering why some fit young men were being paid good money to play hockey at home while others were fighting and dying overseas. Indeed, on the day of the Toronto opener against Ottawa, a preview of the game in The Toronto Star shared space on the sports page with a report that former pro hockey player Eddie Roberts (the brother of future Hockey Hall of Famer Dr. Gordon Roberts, who was then starring with the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans) had recently been killed in action.

Star The death of Eddie Roberts is noted in Random Notes on Current Sports.

As for the opening game, Art Brooks surrendered the first goal to Ottawa, “but thereafter,” according to The Star, “the Torontos were always in control of the situation. They displayed superior speed, checked back better, were better individually, and their flashes of team play bewildered the Ottawa defense.” The result was an easy 11-4 victory.

“The much-discussed weakness expected in the Toronto nets was not in evidence,” The Star added. “Although four counters were registered against him, Brooks played a cool, collected game throughout.”

Habs
Lineup showing Georges Vezina in goal against Art Brooks. (Program courtesy Kevin Vautour.)

After a decent showing in the next game at home against the Canadiens, Brooks looked bad in a 9-2 loss back in Montreal and was replaced by Sammy Hebert in a 6-5 win in Ottawa on January 2. Two days later, Toronto’s goaltending problems were solved when the team was able to sign a future Hall of Fame netminder of their own: Harry “Hap” Holmes.

With Holmes in goal, Toronto went on to win the second half of the split-season NHL schedule and beat the first-half champion Canadiens in the playoffs to win the league title. They then defeated the PCHA’s Vancouver Millionaires to win the Stanley Cup.

One hundred years later, here’s hoping!

A Sneak Peek…

My new book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, will be released one month from today. Invitations to launch parties in Toronto and Owen Sound will be sent out in October. Meantime, click on this link for a sneak preview.

If you won’t be able to make either of the launches in November, you can pre-order a copy now. (The link has details.) And here’s what some advanced readers have thought of the book:

Cover

Eric Zweig captures what the Toronto Maple Leafs have meant to many hockey fans since their inception. I had particular interest in the decades following their 1967 Stanley Cup victory, and Eric captures the ups and downs of the team for all fans of hockey. I particularly enjoyed reading of the present state of the Maple Leafs and how Eric has detailed the rebirth and future of this franchise.
– Scotty Bowman, Hockey Hall of Fame Builder and winningest coach in NHL history

… I am so delighted that my distant journalistic pal, Eric Zweig, has produced this magnificent, insightful, and all-encompassing oral history of the Leafs I so much loved. To put it simply — and historically — the moment I began turning these pages, I felt precisely the same thrill as when I heard Foster Hewitt shriek He Shoots! He Scores!! on a big Don Metz goal in that classic 1942 playoff comeback. Eric Zweig wrote — and he scored!
– Stan Fischler, hockey historian, broadcaster, and author

A standout hockey book of Leaf fortunes and foibles with a twist. Zweig calls on numerous chroniclers of Leaf history to make this one hum. Leaf Nation will love it.
– Brian McFarlane, bestselling author and former broadcaster

Eric Zweig has bled blue and white since he was seven years old. But this is far, far from just a fan’s book. When you combine the abject fan with a fine historian and a writer’s ear for grand storytelling, you end up with the book on the Toronto Maple Leafs, from past grandeur through years of debacle to today’s future promise. A wonderful read.
– Roy MacGregor, bestselling author and Globe and Mail columnist

Eric Zweig is acknowledged within the hockey community as one of its premier historians, and he unequivocally proves why he has few equals in his field with this outstanding history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eric leaves no stone unturned with his exhaustive research in this truly entertaining but equally important book.
– Kevin Shea, hockey historian and author

Not just another history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but generational work by one of hockey’s premier historians, period. Supremely researched and presented, as one would expect of Eric Zweig.
– Howard Berger, former Leafs radio reporter and creator of BetweenThePosts.ca

The hundred-year history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is so rich in drama and event and personality — there are even some (long-ago) Stanley Cups in there, somewhere. Trust Eric Zweig to wrangle it all into such a full and compelling narrative, which he has done — just as the Leafs look like they’re ready to dominate again.
– Stephen Smith, author of Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession

A History of Sports and The National Anthem

How is it, I was asked yesterday in the wake of recent news, that the National Anthem got hooked up with sports in the first place?

Although I had been asked specifically about hockey when I first looked into this back in 2009, the best answer I could find indicated that the practice of playing the National Anthem at sports events began when The Star-Spangled Banner was played during the 1918 World Series. That seemed reasonable to me, given that Major League Baseball cut short the regular season that year due to World War I.

However, I also found that, in a story in the Toronto Star from May 4, 1917, the National Anthem (presumably God Save the King) had been played prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opening game of the International League baseball season. No doubt World War I was the reason again, but clearly, while the World Series of 1918 must have garnered more attention in the United States, it couldn’t have been the first time. [NOTE: See this later story from the Boston Globe on October 25, 2017.]

Yesterday, I asked John Thorn, the Official Historian for Major League Baseball (who I’ve known since 1998 when Dan Diamond and Associates created Total Hockey for John’s Total Sports Publishing company) what he knew about the history of the National Anthem and baseball. As it says in the sub-title of the article he sent me, the story goes “back, back, back.”

It turns out that the connection goes all the way back to the time of the U.S. Civil War. It was the opening game of the Union Grounds ballpark in Brooklyn, New York, on May 15, 1862, and the band on hand for the festivities began the musical proceedings by playing The Star-Spangled Banner. I think both John and I are only speculating at a direct connection between the War and the playing of the National Anthem that day, but it certainly makes sense.

Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1862. Page 2.

I wrote about God Save the King being played prior to a game in 1910 in my very first book, the novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. The book was published 25 years ago and I honestly can’t remember anymore if I’d come across any evidence of this having actually happened at the time. (The book was fiction, after all!) However, the National Anthem was most definitely played prior to the opening home game of the Ottawa Senators early in the second NHL season of 1918-19.

This game between Ottawa and the defending Stanley Cup champions from Toronto was played on December 26, 1918, just a few weeks after the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Prior to the War, previous Governors-General had often attended games in the Canadian capital, but with the Duke of Devonshire in attendance that night, it marked the first time since before the war that, as newspapers put it, “the hockey season was ushered in under vice-regal patronage.” When the Duke and his party arrived shortly before the start of the game, the Governor-General’s Foot Guard “played the National Anthem and every person within the big rink stood up.”

Ottawa
This article appeared in the Vancouver World on December 27, 1918.

But when did the National Anthem become a regular occurrence at sports event? Apparently, it wasn’t until 1924 in Paris that National Anthems were played for every winner at the Olympics. John Thorn’s story mentions that although some Major League Baseball teams had begun playing the National Anthem before games in 1941, which was prior to the U.S. entering World War II, it became universal in baseball in 1942 after American  involvement. I haven’t looked into the National Anthem and football, but it seems reasonable to believe the practice started in the NFL around the same time.

As for hockey, it’s been said that the tradition of playing the National Anthem prior to games began around 1930. This picture of the Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons at the Boston Garden may well have been taken during the NHL playoffs in 1930. It’s often said to be an early example of the “new” trend.

Boston

Certainly the practice seems to have been common enough that no special reason was needed when this article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on January 12, 1931:

Montreal

Still, there’s reason to believe that, even if it wasn’t continuous from 1918, the link between National Anthems and the National Hockey League dates back to at least the mid 1920s, and perhaps before that. When the first NHL game was played in Madison Square Garden between the New York Americans and the Montreal Canadiens on December 15, 1925, bands played both The Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the King prior to the opening face-off.

In the PhD thesis that would become the basis of his book Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, my friend and colleague Andrew Ross notes that Tex Rickard and John Hammond (who ran the Garden, and soon the New York Rangers as well) “maintained the Canadian tradition of playing the national anthems before every game, not just restricting them to special occasions.” This practice, says Andrew, “continued thereafter and spread from the Garden to other cities and other sports.”

Andrew quotes Hammond from an article in the New York World-Telegram in December of 1934 as saying that The Star-Spangled Banner had been played before all hockey games at Madison Square Garden since the very first. “The Canadian anthem has always been associated with hockey there,” Hammond said, “and I think we should pay our anthem the same tribute.”

So even if baseball started it, it looks like it was hockey that made the National Anthem a regular part of going to a game.

Scotty Bowman and … the Bruins?

I don’t have a contact file filled with famous names. There are a few. Some I’ve known for a long time; others only recently. Still, it’s always exciting for me whenever I hear from any of them.

The first time I heard from Scotty Bowman was about five years ago. Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame emailed me to say that Mr. Bowman had pointed out an error I had made in his coaching record for my book Stanley Cup: 120 Years of Hockey Supremacy. It was basically little more than a typo, but I was horrified! Mistakes happen, but this one was pretty sloppy and, well, it was Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history. He certainly had a reputation for being pretty tough with some pretty talented hockey players. How was he going to treat me?

I wrote a very apologetic note and got a very nice reply. That was about as far as it went, until a year or so later when I was deeply into working on Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. I had just read a biography of Boston Bruins legend Dit Clapper by Stewart Richardson and Richard LeBlanc, which mentioned that Bowman and Clapper had been close when Bowman was starting out as a coach in Peterborough. So, I wrote again and asked Mr. Bowman if he’d ever heard any interesting stories from Dit Clapper about Art Ross.

Scotty
Boston’s Bill Cowley was the childhood hero of future Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman.

That evening, Scotty called me at home. (Very exciting!) No, he said, he hadn’t heard any stories from Dit, but when he was working with Lynn Patrick for the St. Louis Blues, Patrick had told him some stories that he was happy to share. I was thrilled to be able to include them in the book. Scotty later read and enjoyed an advanced copy and provided a very nice “blurb” for the back cover. He’s done the same for my upcoming book The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History.

Scotty Bowman celebrated his 84th birthday earlier this week. Dave Stubbs wrote a very entertaining piece with Scotty on the NHL web site for a Q&A feature called Five Questions With… After I read it, I sent Scotty a short email wishing him a happy birthday and saying that I had enjoyed the answer he gave saying that Art Ross was the one hockey person from any era he would like to spend some time with.

Scotty told Dave Stubbs that he had been a Bruins fan as a boy. That might seem strange for a child growing up in the Montreal borough of Verdun, but at the time, the Maroons had just recently folded and the Canadiens were struggling through what was then an unprecedented 13-year Stanley Cup drought from 1931 to 1944. The Bruins were a perennial powerhouse who won the Stanley Cup in 1939 and 1941. In his reply to me – which I share with you here – Mr. Bowman provides a little more detail:

Thanks Eric. As a 6-year-old, I started listening on radio to a strong Boston station I got in my home town of Verdun. A man named Frank Ryan did play by play. I stayed up for the 1st period and my Dad left a note for me to read before School with all the results. Somehow, I had Bill Cowley as my idol. My Mom worked at Eaton’s and she got me a Bruins sweater with Cowley’s #10 for Christmas one year. With World War II breaking out, they used to say about Cowley [a star center]: “HE MADE MORE WINGS THAN BOEING.” 

Regards. Scotty