Category Archives: News

Engraved in History… 2022… 1912… and 1907

Congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche who, on Sunday night, became Stanley Cup champions for the 2021-22 NHL season. It’s Colorado’s first Cup victory in 21 years, since 2001, and the team’s third since relocating from Quebec City for the 1995-96 season. The Nordiques, of course, never won the Stanley Cup, although they were Avco Cup champions of the World Hockey Association in 1976-77.

(Congratulations also to the newest members elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, who were elected on Monday: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Alfredsson, Roberto Luongo, Riikka Sallinen, and Herb Carnegie.)

Image off of my TV of the Avalanche with the Stanley Cup.

Top-tier hockey in Quebec City dates back to around 1879, and even though the Nordiques were never champions of the NHL, Quebec is not without a Stanley Cup title. Two, in fact. You just have to go back 110 years to find them. In 1912, and again in 1913, the Quebec Bulldogs of the National Hockey Association won back-to-back championships.

Not surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of similarities between Colorado’s victory in 2022 and Quebec’s in 1912. For one thing, the Avalanche completed an 82-game schedule and four rounds of playoffs with a championship victory on June 26. The Bulldogs became champions on March 5 at the conclusion of an 18-game regular season without the need of playoffs. And Quebec certainly wasn’t facing a team from Tampa Bay in 1912. American cities weren’t yet allowed to complete. The key victory for Quebec that year came in Ottawa, with later wins at home against a team from Moncton, New Brunswick.

These are the 1913 Bulldogs … but it’s a better image than the 1912 pictures.

Hockey was a very different game back then. It was played on natural ice that relied on cold (winter) temperatures. The players would look ridiculously small, and poorly equipped, to modern eyes. There was no giant 32-team league that controlled the Stanley Cup, as the NHL does today. Train travel meant leagues were small and regional. In order to ensure that the Stanley Cup was a Canadian national trophy, the champion of one league was able to challenge the champion of another for the ultimate hockey prize.

Before the 1911-12 season, a new league was added to the national landscape: the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Brothers Frank and Lester Patrick raided the NHA’s Bulldogs, as well as the Montreal Canadiens and Montreal Wanderers, to help stock their new teams in Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster. Only the defending NHA and Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators were left in tact, a move which left most experts of the day predicting Ottawa would romp to another NHA title. Instead, the four-team race that year was remarkably close.

Heading into the final weekend of the season, Quebec had a record of 9-and-8. Ottawa was 9-and-7, while the Wanderers were 8-and-8. Only the Canadiens were out of contention at 7-and-10. On March 2, 1912, the Canadiens beat the Wanderers 2-1 to eliminate them from championship contention while the Bulldogs visited the Senators. A win for the home team would clinch another NHA title, but a win for the visitors would keep their championship hopes alive.

A small group of fans was on hand from Quebec City, but they were drowned out by 6,000 Ottawa faithful as the Senators took a 2–0 lead after one period. Future Hall of Famers Joe Hall and Joe Malone of Quebec scored in the second to tie the game before Ottawa went back on top with two goals midway through the third.

The summary in Quebec’s Daily Telegraph shows Joe Malone with the
overtime winner, while the summary in the Chronicle lists Joe Hall

Again Quebec fought back for a tie, but Ottawa went ahead 5–4 with just three minutes remaining. As the final seconds were ticking down, many Ottawa fans began to take their celebration into the streets, but with only about 10 seconds to go, Joe Malone scored to tie the game. It took until three minutes into a second overtime session for Quebec to emerge with a 6–5 victory — and newspapers seem to be equally split over whether Joe Malone or Joe Hall netted the winner.

Over 10,000 people greeted the Bulldogs when their train arrived back in Quebec City on Sunday evening. There was a brass band and a bugle corps leading a parade through the streets, and players were called on to make speeches. The Quebec Chronicle refers to Joe Hall as being treated as the hero of heroes, though the Daily Telegraph credited Malone with the winner. But whoever had scored, the Bulldogs hadn’t won the NHA title and the Stanley Cup just yet.

The Senators now had to make up a protested game from earlier in the season. If they beat the Montreal Wanderers they would be tied with Quebec and there would be a playoff. So, on the evening of March 6, 1912, the Bulldogs and some of their fans gathered for a banquet at the Victoria Hotel in Quebec City.

Course after course of fine food was served from a menu on which the first page paid tribute to Quebec players Paddy Moran, Goldie Prodger, Joe Hall, Jack Marks, Eddie Oatman, Jack MacDonald, and Joe Malone. The tribute was in the form of a song parody, spoofing the popular 1910 Billy Murray hit, What’s the Matter with Father? (People of my vintage will likely recognize the tune from What’s the Matter with Flintstone? from an early episode of the cartoon we all watched for years at lunch time.)

What's the matter with Goaler 'Pat'?
          He's all right!
To 'Goldie' Prodger lift your hat —
          He's all right.
Joe Hall would make a team alone;
Marks and Oatman hold their own.
What's the matter with 'Mac' and Malone?
          They're all right.

A special telegraph wire was set up to provide everyone at the hotel with details of the game in Ottawa. When word came that the Wanderers had scored a 5–2 victory, the celebrations started all over again, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that people were soon singing the new song in rooms all over the hotel and then in the streets throughout the city.

The following week, the Bulldogs played a Stanley Cup challenge series against the Moncton Victorias, champions of the Maritime Professional Hockey League. “Whether the trophy will remain here long or not, will depend on the ability of he Moncton team,” reported the Quebec Daily Telegraph, which reminded its readers that, “Judging from the advance notices, Quebec will have no easy thing to handle in the Moncton team.”

But, in fact, Quebec had a very easy time as the Bulldogs romped to victory in the two-game, total-goals series with a 9-3 win on March 11 and an 8-0 rout two nights later. The next season, with the NHA expanded to six teams with the addition of the Toronto Blueshirts and the Toronto Tecumsehs, Quebec rampaged through the 20-game season with a record of 16-and-4, and then crushed another Maritime team, the Sydney Millionaires, 14-3 and 6-2 to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

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My New Book is Available Now!

It’s fairly obvious to anyone who reads the stories I post that I love these “time travel” hockey tales. That’s why, when Rick Brignall contacted me a little over two years ago and asked if I’d be interested in writing the full story of the Kenora Thistles’ Stanley Cup victory of 1907, I told him that I’d kick myself if this book came out someday and I wasn’t involved with it. Now, finally, the book is ready!

As you may recall, Engraved in History: The Story of the Kenora Thistles and the Stanley Cup was originally scheduled to come out last November. A tactical delay, and then more Covid, pushed things back. (Floods this spring around Winnipeg and Kenora didn’t help either!) Now, the book is coming out in two stages. There will be a “National Launch” this fall, when you’ll be able to find the book on Amazon or, hopefully, at a store near you.

Until then, the book is available in Kenora, and will be available in my hometown of Owen Sound as well. But if you would like to purchase copies right now, and can’t get to Kenora or Owen Sound, fear not! You can order them online and copies will be mailed to you right away. You will have to pay for shipping, however.

The site is: ratportagepress.com. Click on the book cover when you get there. (The site is a little slim at the moment, but it will improve in the days ahead and is already good to.)

If you prefer to support an independent bookseller, Elizabeth Campbell Books/Darlington Gallery in Kenora has copies for sale too. Go to the Contact page on Elizabeth’s web site, where you’ll find a phone number you can call, or a comments section you can fill out.

If you are in Kenora, Rick will have the first copies for sale today at the local Farmer’s Market. (There will be a bigger event on Canada Day and the books will be available at the Cottage Guide booth at the Farmer’s Market all summer long.) They’ll also be available soon at the Lake of the Woods Museum.

In the Owen Sound area, I’ll have a few copies to sell at the Farmer’s Market in Flesherton on the morning of Saturday, July 16. Copies should be available at The Ginger Press in Owen Sound a little before that. (We’ll have something of a “Christmas in July” to celebrate at Ginger Press around the 25th or so.)

Come fall, with the full launch, we’ll have much more publicity, promotion and events.

In the meantime, if you have any other questions, you can contact me directly at
eric@ericzweig.com.

Colorado Wins on History (But Don’t Doubt Tampa!)

The Stanley Cup Final starts tonight. For those among my readers who haven’t been following the NHL playoffs, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Colorado Avalanche. By all accounts, it should be a good one!

I’m not much as a hockey analyst. I don’t really watch with a critical eye. So, as I offer my thoughts, I wouldn’t exactly go rushing off with them to one of the many (MANY!) sports books being advertised on hockey broadcasts throughout the playoffs.

Personally, I think that Colorado has the more talented team, but Tampa has the better goaltender. That often makes the difference. Before the playoffs started, I offered the opinion that I didn’t think the Lightning were going to win again. If they do, it’ll be three in a row. To me, that would automatically place them among the greatest teams of all time — especially when considering all the obstacles over the past couple of years. I’m not really convinced they’re that … but I wouldn’t bet against them at this point.

This is the earliest reference I have found to hockey in Denver.

That being said, you don’t come to me expecting analysis. You come to me (I hope!) for some historical perspective. So, here we go…

This year’s Colorado–Tampa Bay matchup guarantees it’ll be at least 30 years by 2023 since a Canadian team last won the Stanley Cup. I think that as much as some Canadian fans enjoy watching hockey, they enjoy bashing Gary Bettman just as much. Though Bettman is the guy who spearheaded hockey’s southern expansion — capitalizing on the success of Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles — he probably can’t take the blame for this long drought. I don’t really have an answer as to why Canadian teams haven’t won for so long. (I don’t think anyone really does.) It’s probably just a statistical quirk.

Denver versus Leadville for the State Championship.

Colorado, being ski country, at least seems like a winter state where there’s no reason not to enjoy hockey. And, indeed, the origins of hockey in Colorado go back to at least the late 1800s. According to the web site International Hockey Wiki, it was noted in the town of Leadville, Colorado, on December 17, 1890, by a Mr. M.A. Morland that there were a number of good skaters in the city, and that “There used to be a hockey club here and I cannot see why one should not be gotten up now.”

Leadville is in the center of the state, about 100 miles from Denver and not too far from Vail and Aspen. A game of ice polo (a similar, but different, sport) was reportedly played in Leadville on December 8, 1894, and hockey games were played at the Leadville Crystal Palace as part of the Leadville Crystal Carnival hockey tournament in 1896. Apparently, the Denver Athletic Club formed a team that same winter.

Leadville beat Denver 7-1.

The first mention of a hockey team in Denver that I could find in newspapers doesn’t appear until February of 1898. On February 2, 1898, the Leadville Herald Democrat reported that arrangements had been made for a game between the Denver AC and the local club for later that week. On game day, February 5, the same paper noted that the game that Saturday night would be for the state championship. The next day, the Leadville newspaper, with a lead in language so politically incorrect it just wouldn’t fly anymore, reported on the 7–1 victory of the home team, whose maroon, red, and white colors weren’t all that different from what the Avalanche wear in the NHL today.

Not surprisingly, hockey history in the Tampa Bay area isn’t quite as old. Though there was hockey being played in the Miami area as long ago as 1938 (which you’ll be able to read quite a bit about in my book Hockey Hall of Fame: True Stories when it comes out this fall), the first hockey team on Florida’s west coast isn’t quite that old, though its first campaign of 1971–72 was still 50 years ago this season.

According to information on the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research, the old Eastern Hockey League granted a franchise to the St. Petersburg area on May 12, 1971. However, the earliest reference I could find in a Tampa newspaper was from May 30, 1971. Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen confirmed the story on June 3, 1971, under the headline ‘The Icemen Cometh.’

As of then, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Wauchula area team had no name, but McEwen speculated that they would surely be dubbed “Suns, Stringrays, Porpoises, Pelicans, Sharks, Senior Citizens, Mullets, Geritols, Oysters, Ecologists, Suncoasters, Catfish, or Whatnots.” McEwen had cast a wide net, but he was more or less right on two counts when the rival Tampa Times reported on July 26, 1971, that the team had officially been dubbed the Suncoast Suns.

The Suncoast Suns lasted just two seasons in the EHL, and played a third and final year in 1973-74 in the Southern Hockey League. The team boasted at least two NHL players. There was Ed Kea during that first season of 1971–72. A native of Collingwood, Ontario, Kea went on to play with the Atlanta Flames and the St. Louis Blues between 1973 and 1983. There was also Cliff Pennington, of Winnipeg. Pennington, who finished out his hockey career playing all three seasons with the Suns in both leagues, had previously played in the NHL with Montreal and Boston over three seasons in the early 1960s.

So, there you go!

Tampa Tribune, June 3, 1971.

And, changing subjects… my Facebook memory this morning noted that it was two years ago today that I signed a contract to write a book about the Kenora Thistles. Two-plus years from signing to publication isn’t unheard of, but it is a little bit on the long side for me. So, here is a long-awaited update.

Engraved in History: the Story of the Stanley Cup Champion Kenora Thistles has now been printed! I expect to receive my own author’s copies any day now. The book will soon be available in the Kenora area in time for summer cottage season in the region. There will also be a web site where the book will be more widely available. As soon as I have information on that, I will pass it along. However, at this point, the book won’t truly go into “wide release” until the fall. At that point, you should be able to purchase copies on Amazon and through other booksellers too. We’ll have a full launch, with promotion and public appearances, in the fall as well.

Tampa Times, July 26, 1971.

Thanks, everyone, for your patience. Covid — and spring floods in Winnipeg and Kenora — certainly haven’t made this easy!

Two Gone Too Soon

The Montreal Canadiens announced the passing of Guy Lafleur this morning. Lung cancer. Age 70. His death comes just one week after Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders. Age 65. Lung cancer. Too soon for the two of them. Too sad for their millions of fans.

Admittedly, I was too young and probably too stupid, to appreciate just how good Guy Lafleur — and the Montreal dynasty of the 1970s — was. A Toronto native, and a Leafs fan of teams that were quite good, but not nearly Canadiens good, my memories of Lafleur are mostly of jealousy.

We didn’t see a lot of Mike Bossy on Canadian TV … until the playoffs rolled around. By the time of the Islanders dynasty (a couple of years after the Maple Leafs eliminated them in the 1978 quarterfinals — before losing to Montreal — in one of the two biggest highlights of my young Leafs fandom) the Leafs were in decline, I was a little bit older, and Mike Bossy was a sight to behold. He didn’t have the obvious speed and style of Guy Lafleur, but nobody scored goals like Bossy did. Of course, by then, I was more into Wayne Gretzky, so I probably didn’t appreciate Bossy as much as I should have either.

So much has been written and said about these two superstars following their deaths. I don’t know that I have anything new to add. So, I’ll contribute something old. Both players were included in chapters of my 2010 book, Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals. It’s a lot of reading, but if you care to, or when you have the time, please check out these stories on Guy Lafleur and Mike Bossy.

Looking At The Uke Line…

A few days ago, I got an email from my friend Tosh suggesting that perhaps a story about the Uke Line might be of interest these days. I haven’t taken a lot of requests on this web site. As I indicated in my most recent post, I don’t usually give a lot of thought to what story comes next. Something usually just pops up.

In his email, Tosh included a link to an online post from The Ukrainian Weekly that gives a pretty good history of the Uke Line. (You can read it here if you’d like.) But he wondered if I had something from my own “unique perspective” to add to the story.

Well, I did know of one thing. And sort of stumbled on to some other things too. So, here we go…

Having all played together in the minors with the Edmonton Flyers of the Western Hockey League in 1954-55, the Uke Line was formed for the 1957-58 NHL season after the Boston Bruins acquired center Bronco Horvath and left winger Johnny Bucyk in a couple of separate transactions. At training camp, the two newcomers were teamed with right winger Vic Stasiuk (who had been with the Bruins since 1955). They were a big success and by the midway point of the NHL season, the Boston trio trailed only the Montreal line of Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, and Dickie Moore as the top-scoring unit in the NHL.

On January 6, 1958, Herb Ralby of The Boston Globe wrote that back in training camp, Bruins coach (and former star) Milt Schmidt had “remarked that the new Uke Line reminded him of his Kraut Line,” Boston’s high-scoring trio of the late 1930s and 1940s. Schmidt was impressed by the way Horvath, Stasiuk, and Bucyk “were forever huddling to talk over mistakes and possible plays.”

“When Bobby (Bauer), Woody (Dumart), and I were playing on the Kraut Line,” Schmidt said, “we always huddled after rushes in practice to talk things over. We also were inseparable. We lived together, ate together, and went out together as well as playing together. The Ukes do the same thing. That’s what makes a good line.”

In The Boston Globe of January 18, 1958, Ralby wrote that Horvath, Stasiuk, and Bucyk had rented the home of former Bruins defensemen Pat Egan and were living together there. All three apparently enjoyed cooking, and they ate a “varied menu,” although it was always steaks on game day.

“We usually buy $7 worth of steaks,” explained Bucyk. “They’re really good size. Vic broils them while Bronco is the salad man. He’s good at it too.”

The Uke Line had a strong season in 1957-58, slumped a bit in 1958-59, and enjoyed their best year together in 1959-60. In fact, Bronco Horvath found himself in a tight race for the NHL scoring title with Bobby Hull that year. It went right down to the final game of the season, which pit Hull’s Chicago Black Hawks (two words in those days) against Horvath’s Bruins.

Horvath had 39 goals and 41 assists for 80 points heading into he finale at the Boston Garden on March 20, 1960. Hull had 38 goals and 41 assists for 79 points. The Golden Jet equalled Bronco with his 39th goal early in the second period, and picked up his 42nd assist and 81st point when he set up Eric Nesterenko with just 6:59 left in the game. Horvath was kept off the scoresheet all night, and when the game ended in a 5-5 tie (no overtime in those days), Hull had won the scoring title by a single point.

Some time after the season ended, Bruins radio play-by-play man Fred Cusick interviewed longtime former Bruins coach and executive Art Ross on a sports program Cusick hosted from the Clubhouse restaurant in Boston’s Kenmore Hotel. Ross, of course, is the namesake of the trophy given to the NHL scoring leader, which he and his sons, Arthur and John Ross, donated to the league after the 1947–48 season.

In earlier years, Bruins stars Cooney Weiland (1928-29), Milt Schmidt (1939-40) and Bill Cowley (1940-41) had all led the NHL in scoring. Ross told Cusick that when he had the honour of presenting his new trophy to Elmer Lach of the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum in 1948, “I said then I hoped I’d live long enough to see one of the Bruins players win it.

“This was my big year,” said Ross, “so I was really disappointed.”

Later, Phil Esposito (five times) and Bobby Orr (twice) combined to win the Art Ross Trophy for seven straight seasons from 1968-69 through 1974-75, but Ross had passed away in 1964 so he never got to see a Bruin win his trophy.

Bronco Horvath was the closest Ross got.

But was Bronco Horvath actually Ukrainian?

Before I started writing this, I was pretty sure I remembered reading somewhere that one member of the Uke Line didn’t actually have Ukrainian heritage. Wikipedia notes that Horvath was born to an ethnic Hungarian family that emigrated from Transcarpathia after the end of World War I, when it became part of Czechoslovakia. It does appear as though that region has also been part of Ukraine over the years … but I don’t know enough about the history to say that for certain.

However, Elmer Ferguson wrote in the Montreal Star on January 9, 1958, that he had received a letter from a proud Hungarian Canadian taking him to task “for referring to the Uke Line as a trio of Ukrainian boys,” on a recent Hockey Night in Canada Broadcast.

“We believe that you, Mr. Ferguson, owe Bronco Horvath an apology…” wrote George Horwath of Leron, Saskatchewan. “I have the acquaintance of several fine Canadian Ukrainians. None have intimated that they wish to be known as Hungarians, and for the same reason we Hungarians wish to keep our racial identity in tact…. [A] public retraction of your error will, I am sure, suffice the rest of us Canadian Hungarians.”

Elmer Ferguson wrote that, “Our humble apologies go forward at once, and in these, we hope, the Bruins publicity department headed by the esteemed Herb Ralby, will join us.”

Still, Bronco Horvath was inducted into the Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 (Bucyk was inducted in 2017; Stasiuk in 2018).

So – as I often say – “Who is knowing?”

[NOTE: It turns out that Fred Addis, president of the Society for International Hockey Research, and a native of Port Colborne, like Bronco Horvath, is knowing! Have a look at the post at the bottom of the comments below.]

Wanna Bet?

There hasn’t been much said lately about the news coming out at the end of July that the NHL will investigate claims made in a series of tweets by the estranged wife of Evander Kane that Kane not only bet on NHL games but that he had thrown a number of games while playing for the San Jose Sharks. Kane is known to have a gambling problem, and to be deeply in debt. Still these accusations have yet to be proven. But legal gambling is a big business, so sports leagues continue to cozy up to casinos and online betting sites, and the Canadian government has now legalized single-sports wagering effective tomorrow.

Hockey has no history of gambling scandals to rival anything like the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 when eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life from baseball for conspiring with gamblers to rig that year’s World Series. (This was actually just the biggest of many gambling scandals to plague baseball in the 1910s and ’20s.) Still, hockey has had its own problems. Most notably, in 1948, when Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger of the Boston Bruins were given lifetime suspensions (eventually rescinded, but not until 1970) for feeding information about their team to gamblers and for betting on games. Possibly even against their own team. Unlike Kane or the Black Sox, there was never any indication that the two players had conspired to throw games.

Perhaps the first gambling scandal in hockey history occurred in Toronto back in 1915.

Ottawa Journal, February 23, 1915.

A story reported out of Montreal on February 22, 1915, appeared in several newspapers across Canada the next day. It was about bribes (and other efforts) made to players in the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) by gamblers. The news broke when players on the Quebec Bulldogs told their story while passing through Montreal on their way back home after a game in Toronto. The story claimed that Harry Mummery of the Bulldogs, and team trainer Dave Beland, had been offered bribes before a Saturday night game on February 20, 1915, to let the Toronto Shamrocks win.

Mummery was said to have been offered $1,000 to throw the game. Beland was reportedly offered $50 to deliver a spiked drink to a few Quebec players. Both refused, and reported the incidents to the team manager, Mike Quinn, who reported it to NHA president Emmett Quinn.

Newspapers noted that it was not the first time something like this had happened in Toronto. Another report mentioned attempts to bribe players on the Canadiens and the Toronto Blueshirts. No names were mentioned, but Harry Cameron of the Blueshirts — a future Hockey Hall of Famer — was cited in a different vein.

Harry Cameron of the Blueshirts and Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena.

“Last week,” said president Quinn, “a gambler in Toronto invited Cameron of the Toronto team out, and induced him to break training [ie, got him drunk] with the result that he was unfit to play that night. It was found out the gambler and his friend had bet a large amount on the opposing team.”

Nothing much really came out of all this in 1915. Lol Solman, owner of the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, believed the stories had been greatly exaggerated. Still, the Toronto Telegram on February 23, reported that President Quinn had instructed all NHA managers “that any player shall be expelled who has been proven guilty of offering, agreeing, conspiring, or attempting to lose any game of hockey or in being interested in any wager thereon.” Quinn vowed that he was going to take action to stop this sort of thing.

Gambling may or may not have been stamped out at Toronto’s Arena Gardens and in the NHA back in 1915, but it would certainly be prevalent in the NHL at Maple Leaf Gardens in future. If there wasn’t gambling at the Gardens right from its opening in 1931, there would certainly be a so-called “bull ring” of bookies operating from a promenade behind the blue seats at one end of the rink soon enough.

A Chicago newspaper called Collyer’s Eye and The Baseball World provided plenty of details in an issue on December 1, 1934. The paper noted that reports on hockey gambling were up all around the NHL early in the 1934–35 season. “There are even rumors that efforts have been made to [bribe] some of the goaltend[er]s.”

Montreal was said to be the long-time center of hockey gambling, but it was much quieter there that season than New York. Detroit was labeled as the new hot gambling mecca, with Boston only lukewarm. Nothing is said about Chicago, or St. Louis (where the Ottawa Senators had recently relocated), but it was noted that there was plenty of action on NHL games in non-league centers such as Kansas City, Missouri, and the Minnesota cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. There were plenty of details about Toronto too:

“Toronto is a spot where one can get a bet down at any time. In fact, in the bull ring at Maple Leaf Gardens they will give you anything you want in the line of wagering accommodations, though they deal the nuts on Leafs. You can bet on goals, the most shots, or penalties. One favorite wager is that Leafs will score as much in one period as the other team does in the whole game.”

Other stories from other sources indicate Toronto was so rife with gambling that fans were known to place bets on whether the next spectator to be hit with a puck in the stands would be a man or a woman!

Babe Pratt and Maple Leaf Gardens.

Efforts weren’t made to clean out the bull ring in Toronto until 1946, after Maple Leafs star defenseman Babe Pratt was expelled from the NHL for gambling. (Pratt would be reinstated after missing five games and forfeiting his salary from January 29 through February 14.)

But even at that, in an article about the Gardens in Maclean’s magazine on March 1, 1958, John Clare wrote: “in an emergency, as at playoff time when the public need for the service is greatest, the bookies have been known to drift back and ply their trade with the same discretion and high ethical standards that made them a tradition in less censorious times.”

For more on the bull ring, and the Toronto gambling scandals of 1915 and 1946 (and plenty more on a wide range of subjects!), look for my new book from Firefly Books, Hockey Hall of Fame: True Stories, which is due out this fall but already available for pre-ordering. For more on Evander Kane, keep an eye on the sports news. And if you’re a fan in Canada who loves to risk your money, it should be even easier for you now…

Sports and Protests…

I’ve never been much for taking a stand. You know that story, “and when they came for me, there was no one left…” I’ve always thought that would be me. I’m not proud of it … but I know myself. These days, though, “Silence is Violence,” so here’s what I’d like to see in terms of sports protests.

First of all, despite all the plans now in place, I’m not convinced that any sports will (or should) start up right now. And if they do, it’s one thing for the Canadian government to say we’ll allow NHL players into Toronto (or Edmonton or Vancouver) because at least they’ll be sort of self-isolating. But, despite writing and commenting mostly about hockey, I’m a baseball fan above all else. A Blue Jays fan above all else. Still, I sure as hell hope the Canadian government won’t let the Blue Jays play at home, coming and going from the United States every three days to a week, and bringing in players from visiting American teams equally as often. That seems like madness to me. If Dunedin is unsafe (and I sure wouldn’t want to be in Florida right now), let the Blue Jays play out of Buffalo.

IF sports do resume, I hope that athletes will continue to protest. But if they do, here’s what I’d like to see. Please do not protest during the National Anthem. Not that I disagree with doing that, but by removing the National Anthem from the protests, you’d remove all the wrong-headed “they’re disrespecting the flag” nonsense. Don’t give them the chance.

Instead, when the referee or umpire brings the teams together for the opening kick-off, face-off, tip-off, or pitch, please take a knee then. On opening day, in each sport, perhaps take a knee for the 8-and-a-half minutes it took to murder George Floyd. The rest of the time, maybe a symbolic 30-seconds will do.

Stadiums will mostly be empty, but, if not, I bet there’d be a fair share of people booing and expressing “shut up and play” sentiments. Even if many people wouldn’t feel emboldened to speak out these days, I suspect plenty still feel that way. Even without the ability to say it, I’m sure there are too many who would like to see Black people kept in their place. I hope I’m wrong.

You may disagree with me if you’d like. Maybe my thoughts are naive. I won’t respond to comments on this story regardless of whether they’re positive or negative. If you agree with my thoughts on protesting, feel free to share this post. I’m not on Twitter, but if you are, and you agree, I’d be happy to have you Tweet this. But that’s up to you.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking…

Philosophical Differences

Been a long time since I’ve written about hockey on my web site. Just haven’t felt like I’ve had anything much to say. But, recently, I’ve done a few TV and radio hits about Don Cherry and Mike Babcock. Many of you have seen or heard them through Facebook, but for those who haven’t, I’ve posted links below.

The truth is, I’m not really sure why I was called on in these cases. Both events seemed more suited to modern analysis than historical perspective, but I’m hammy enough that even when I’ve wanted to say no, I haven’t turned them down. (For those who are curious, no, they do NOT pay me – which might be why they actually call!) It’s nice to know that they think I can handle myself, and I suppose it means they also believe I have something to contribute to the discussion. So here’s what I might have said about Babcock from an historical perspective if there had been more time…

One of the things that struck me most about firing Mike Babcock is how far the Leafs have strayed from their tradition. (And, yes, I know there’s been a long tradition of being terrible the last 50+ years, but that didn’t used to be the case!)

It’s been a long time, but when the Leafs were at their historical best – in the 1940s and the 1960s – they were defensively sound with star players who put the coach’s systems ahead of their own statistics. Of course, coaches ruled the roost in those days, but I still find this interesting. Traditionally, Montreal had bigger stars and played a more exciting style, but remember that prior to expansion, both Toronto and Montreal won the Stanley Cup 13 times in the NHL’s first 50 seasons. (The Canadiens also won in 1916, before the NHL was formed.) So despite their philosophical differences, there wasn’t much to choose results-wise between the NHL’s two greatest franchises

Yes, Toronto did have some star power over the years. Players such as Charlie Conacher, Busher Jackson and Syl Apps were once among the biggest names in the game. But guys like Dave Keon and Teeder Kennedy (who were ranked first and third among the team’s top 100 back in the 100th anniversary season – Apps was second) were “200-foot players” well before that was a term. Those two didn’t win a ton of individual honours, but they won the Stanley Cup plenty of times!

Hap Day and Mike Babcock.

When I was putting together my book The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, I was struck by how similar the coaching philosophy of Mike Babcock seemed to be to that of Hap Day. Day was named team captain in 1927-28 and later became the most successful coach in Leafs history in the 1940s before moving into upper management. Here’s how he explained his coaching philosophy to Jack Batten for his 1975 book The Leafs in Autumn:

“When I was a defenceman on Toronto, I saw all kinds of players in front of me, and I learned right then that it’s defence that wins hockey games…. When you think of defence, you think of the two men, the defencemen, isn’t that right? Wrong! Think of all six men doing the job on defence. I told my players if they worked as hard coming back as they did going down the ice, we’d be okay. Of course, you had to have the proper type of player to handle that approach – or make them into the proper type of player. A player’s got to learn to keep his mind on defence, apply himself.”

Now, I’m not saying the Leafs were wrong to fire Mike Babcock. If they truly believe they have the run-and-gun skill team Kyle Dubas wants, Babcock no longer looked like the right man for the job. As I said on TV and radio, he seemed determined to make the team fit his system (or die trying!) rather than adapt his system to fit the team he had. But Day didn’t adapt either, even with scoring stars like Apps and Max Bentley. He made them play defense. And he got results with Stanley Cup wins in 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948 and 1949 (plus another as GM in 1951) to point to.

I found this interesting too…

This is what Sheldon Keefe said in one of his early press conferences after being named Leafs coach: “I’m not focused on what this team isn’t. I’m focused on what this team is.”

It put me in mind of what new coach Billy Reay said back in 1957 when he was hired after Day was let go: “I try to capitalize on a player’s strong points, rather than in trying to build up his weak ones.”

Similar sentiments, I think!

Billy Reay and Sheldon Keefe.

But it didn’t work out so well for Reay. The Leafs went 21-38-11 in a 70-game season in 1957-58 and finished last in the overall standings for the only time in the six-team era. After getting off to a 5-12-3 start the following season, Reay was fired and Punch Imlach took over. Like Day, Imlach ran a team where star players had to fit into his system … and there were Stanley Cup parades again in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967.

Now, I’m not suggesting the Leafs need someone like Punch Imlach, whose dictatorial ways couldn’t possibly fly today. (Nor am I saying that Babcock’s implacability makes him some sort of modern-era Imlach – though we are starting to hear more and more about his vindictive personality.) Nor do I believe the Maple Leafs were ever quite as tough as Conn Smythe’s “beat ’em in the alley” philosophy intimates, but I do agree that there are other ways of being tough that don’t involve beating up on someone. I actually hope the Leafs can succeed on offensive skill, but I’m not yet convinced they have those other kinds of toughness. But I have no analytical insights into that.

So, was changing coaches a good move? Only time will tell…

(Links: CTV News Channel TV / John Oakley Show Radio.
For my money – or lack-there-of! – radio is much more fun!)

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

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.