Fred Waghorne: Facing Off With History

Last month, I received an email from Don Weekes. (For those of you who don’t know, Don is a fellow hockey historian/author who has written several books of hockey trivia and hockey firsts, as well as Picturing the Game: An Illustrated Story of Hockey, which was — for my money — the best hockey book of 2023.)

In his email, Don asked: Have you done or seen any (solid) research on Fred Waghorne and the face-off? Is he really the guy who started the puck drop? I guess it would be nice if it’s mentioned somehow in an old game report from 1900. Have you ever run across anything to prove what has appeared any number of times in books?

In my own work, I often ask questions of my fellow writers/researchers, or experts in the field, or to the editors I’m working with. Whenever I do, I want an answer NOW! So, when people ask me, I try to respond as quickly as possible As soon as I received Don’s email, I gave him a call. We mostly talked about other writing-related things, so that after he received another call he had to take, I ended up texting him my answer:

Regarding Fred Waghorne, no, I’ve never seen any direct proof about the puck drop.

A longtime referee in both hockey and lacrosse, if you Google the name Fred Waghorne, you’ll come across lots of stories about him being the first referee to drop the puck for a face-off. (Also about whether he pioneered the use of whistles among hockey referees, or the old-time practice of using a cowbell instead.) Many of the face-off stories are very similar, though all are pretty vague. Even when they give places and teams, there’s never been any specific date attached. Not even a reliable year. Still, later that afternoon, I went searching for more. Having done this before, I didn’t really expect to find anything … but there are so many old newspapers available online that there didn’t used to bet so it seemed worth a try.

From The Toronto Star Weekly, March 24, 1928.

At first, I didn’t find anything. Then I found a story in the Windsor Star from December 19, 1953. It was actually about The Hockey Book, by Bill Roche, which had come out that year. “It is a collection of hockey stories and anecdotes,” the article explains, “by the game’s great personalities — Cyclone Taylor, Art Ross, Newsy Lalonde, and many more who are legendary already… One of the first referees is here, too — Fred C. Waghorne, who changed face-off and other rules.”

Nothing new there … but I have a copy of The Hockey Book. (Art Ross’s copy, in fact, given to him by Bruins chief scout Harold “Baldy” Cotton, and given to me by Ross’s grandson, Art Ross III.) I suppose I must have read Waghorne’s stories before, but now I had reason to read them again. Though he was 88-years-old by then, and it was some 50 years after the fact, here’s what Waghorne had to say about face-offs:

When young fans see hockey played these days, the face-off that starts play must seem to be a simple, obvious thing. The referee just tosses the puck between a pair of sticks and the game is on. But it wasn’t always done that way. There were years of exasperating and often painful experiences for referees before the present style of face-off was instituted. I know, because I’m the referee who brought it about.

First, I should point out that it was not “invented” by any great wave of mental brilliance on my part. I was really just acting in self-defence and trying something that would speed up the game.

Face-offs in the early days of hockey were similar to what they still are in lacrosse. The referee would place the puck on the ice between the blades of the centers’ sticks, lean over the puck to line up the sticks fairly, step back, and shout, “Play!” But, as Waghorne explains, things seldom worked out that way.

Just after the referee had placed puck and sticks, and before he had time to move out of range, one centreman would feel the other fellow’s stick wiggling a bit, and he’d try to beat the other boy to the draw. Both would start to slash and swipe at the puck. And before the referee could move away, he’d often get banged by a stick on a shin or toe. Also, every time the centremen started chopping away before the official had a chance to give the signal, the puck had to be faced-off again. This held up play so often that it got to be monotonous.

Waghorne explains that around the year 1900, he refereed a game in Southwestern Ontario. He could no longer remember the place, “but it was in the Brantford-Paris-Woodstock area.” The rival centers were definitely cheating on the draw that night, and Waghorne was tired of it.

I said to myself, “To heck with the rules in this case!” Then I told the centremen what I was going to do. They were to place their blades on the ice about a foot and a half apart and I’d stand back and toss the puck between their sticks. After the rubber hit the ice, they could do as they darned well pleased.

Waghorne says his face-off experiment worked out well, and that he kept thinking about it.

The following winter, having journeyed to Ottawa to referee a National Hockey Association game between the Ottawa Silver Seven and Renfrew, I was ready with a suggestion when asked to handle an amateur playoff at Almonte between teams from Arnprior and Renfrew… I told the clubs’ officers of my face-off innovation and proposed that it be tried in the game coming up at Almonte. They agreed.

Waghorne explains that after that game, “the new face-off spread rapidly across Eastern Canada, and eventually all leagues, both amateur and pro, made it official.”

So, there it was from the man himself.

But there were still plenty of problems.

Leaving out the question of where the game around 1900 had been played, there was the fact that the National Hockey Association wasn’t formed until the winter of 1909–10. So, if the Renfrew-Arnprior game at Almonte had been “the following winter” as Waghorne remembered it, he had either tried out his new face-off as late as the 1908–09 season … or “the following winter” actually had to be closer to 1901 and therefore several years before the start of the NHA. Also, Ottawa’s early hockey dynasty didn’t become known as the Silver Seven until winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the spring of 1903. (And only until about 1906.) So it seemed likely to me this had all happened between 1900 and 1906.

I knew (and confirmed with some quick online research) that hockey playoffs between the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League and the Lower Ottawa Valley Hockey League for the Citizen Shield (donated by the Ottawa Citizen) had begun around that time. In the winter of 1902–03, it turned out. So searching for a playoff game between Arnprior and Renfrew played in Almonte in 1903 or 1904 seemed like a good place to start.

It proved easy enough to find!

As it turns out, Waghorne journeyed to Ottawa late in February of 1904 — 120 years ago this week — when the Toronto Marlboros (for whom he was a club executive) faced the Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup on the 23rd and the 25th of that month. As it happens, on Friday night, February 26, 1904, Arnprior beat Renfrew 6–2 in a game played on neutral ice in Almonte to win the championship the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League and the right to meet the champions of the Lower Ottawa Valley Hockey League for the Citizen Shield.

The referee that night?

Fred Waghorne.

The image on the left is from the Ottawa Journal. The right is from the Citizen.

The game report in the Ottawa Citizen from Saturday, February 27, notes how “well pleased” everyone was with the job Waghorne had done. There’s also coverage in the Ottawa Journal that Saturday saying Waghorne “gave perfect satisfaction.”  No mention in those game stories about face-offs, but in a further story about the game in the Ottawa Citizen on Tuesday, March 1, 1904, the unnamed writer goes to great lengths in explaining the fine job Waghorne did in keeping the two teams under control in a contest where “The crowd was prepared to be treated to a slugging match.” The writer later noted:

Another little incident that impressed the spectators as being an improvement over the eastern style of play was that, in facing the puck … instead of letting the two men bang it around, each trying to have the advantage over the other … the referee simply dropped the rubber between their sticks and the game was on the moment it touched the ice…”

So, it would seem that February 26, 1904, is the true start date for the modern face-off.

As to the earlier game where Waghorne first tried it, that’s proven harder to pin down.

Newspaper stories from his hometown in Toronto in the 1920s make it fairly clear that Waghorne didn’t begin to referee games in the Ontario Hockey Association until the winter of 1902–03. Maybe not until 1903–04. Prior that that, he only seems to be involved in hockey through local Toronto leagues.

Searching the Toronto Star, the earliest reference I found to Waghorne in the OHA comes on December 29, 1902, when it was reported he was a referee in the OHA’s Intermediate division. Group 12 in the OHA intermediate series had teams in Brantford and Paris. Group 13 had teams in Simcoe, Stratford, Ingersoll, and Woodstock. So, it it all fits pretty nicely. Then again, going through the Globe as well circa 1902 to 1904, it doesn’t look like Waghorne actually called OHA games on a regular basis until the 1903–04 season … which matches a Star Weekly story from March 24, 1928, saying he didn’t begin in the OHA until his friend William Hewitt (Foster’s father) became the league secretary in December of 1903. So, maybe all the face-off stuff actually happened during the 1903–04 season?

Of course, there’s always the chance that Fred Waghorne merely popularized something he’d seen from someone else and then outlasted them so that he became the “inventor.” That same Star Weekly story about his 25-year-career as a referee says only that Waghorne “was one of the first to introduce the dropping of the puck,” not THE first. Then again, no one else ever came forward to claim the distinction. So, if Waghorne was remembering correctly that the Arnprior–Renfrew game in Almonte had come “the following season” after his first face-off experience in Brantford, Paris, or Woodstock, there’s a decent chance that happened during the 1902–03 season. But maybe it really was earlier in 1903–04. (For what it’s worth, I’m beginning to like the chances that’s actually the case.)

No luck yet in tracking down a face-off story from any of those cities in those years.

Good luck to anyone who wants to take on that challenge … and I want to hear about it if you find it!

Oh, and about the bells and whistles, here’s what Fred Waghorne had to say about that in The Hockey Book:

Alex Levinsky: What’s “Mine” is My…

Though many stories — then and now — claimed he was the first of his religion to play in the NHL, Alex Levinsky wasn’t quite the Jewish Jackie Robinson. At least three players, and perhaps a fourth, preceded him. There was Sam Rothschild and Joe Ironstone, both from 1924 to 1928, Moe Roberts in 1925, and also Charlie Cotch in 1924, who may have been born Jewish, but if so turned his back on his faith. Still, Alex Levinsky was the first Jewish player to have a full-fledged NHL career (nine seasons), and he was definitely recognized as — and embraced being — Jewish.

Playing with the Maple Leafs in his hometown of Toronto gave Levinsky a high profile as a Jewish hockey player during a time of open anti-Semitism. And even if he wasn’t the Jewish Jackie Robinson, he may well have been the Jewish Lionel Conacher. Ten years younger than Conacher — who was also from Toronto and would be named Canada’s outstanding athlete of the first half of the 20th century in 1950 — Levinsky is worthy of the comparison.

Two cartoons by Lou Skuce. The first appeared in the Toronto Star
on March 20, 1931. The second was part of a series of Maple Leafs coasters
produced by O’Keefe’s for the 1932–33 season. (Coaster courtesy of Irv Osterer.)

Levinsky’s son, Richard, says Alex was an even better baseball player than he was a hockey player. He was a pitcher and a hard-hitting outfielder who was offered a contract by the St. Louis Browns. Richard still has a letter from the Maple Leafs to his father allowing Levinsky to play baseball in the offseason, and while that was fairly common among hockey players of the time, Levinsky had also been a local basketball star and a football player in high school and university. He also starred in softball, was good at tennis and golf, and was apparently a strong swimmer. This isn’t just family pride talking, nor the hometown press lauding his many skills. A story in the Daily Eagle of Brooklyn, New York, on October 3, 1929, shortly after Levinsky had enrolled at the University of Toronto, refers to him as “probably the best all-around athlete in Toronto today.”

Alex Levinsky was born February 2, 1910, in Syracuse, New York. It was always known he’d come to Canada at a young age, but American newspapers often made it sound like he was an American. Technically, he was, but as Levinsky told Paul Patton of the Globe and Mail for a ‘Where are they now’ feature on November 11, 1985, “My mother was from [Syracuse] and she returned home to be with her mother when it came time to have me.”

Richard Levinsky confirms that baby Alex and his mother returned to Toronto right away after his birth. Though There’s no entry for the child, the 1911 Canadian census shows Alex’s father, Abraham, and his mother, Dora, living in Toronto with Abe’s father, Louis Levinsky. The Levinsky family had been in Toronto for quite some time by then.

Louis Levinsky was prominent in Toronto Jewish life.
This is from the Toronto Star on January 4, 1932.

The 1901 Census shows that Louis Levinsky was from Russia, and came to Canada in 1881 (the 1911 Census says 1880), bringing over his wife (also named Dora) and eldest son Abraham in 1883. Later records indicate the family came from Poland, so Louis Levinsky was likely born in the western part of the Russian Empire, rather than Russia itself; perhaps in the area known as the Pale of Settlement. He came to Toronto at a time when the Jewish population was growing rapidly. (In 1871, 157 Jews lived in Toronto, rising to 1,425 by 1891 and 3,090 by 1901.) The community grew in the wake of immigration from Europe, where Jews suffered from persecution and pogroms.

Differing records seem to show Alex’s father, Abe Levinsky, being born in 1881 or 1883. His World War I Attestation papers say 1892, but that must be wrong. Richard says his grandfather was born in Canada … and later Census records seem to confirm that. But even if he was born in Russia or Poland, Toronto was definitely home. And it appears Abe Levinsky was also an athlete. When he served in World War I, it was with the 180th (Sportsmen) Battalion of Toronto.

Alex Levinsky began to show his sporting prowess at a very young age. “When he wasn’t in school,” says Richard, “his mother would bring him lunch and dinner at the field or the rink.” By the time he was a teenager, Levinsky was earning city-wide recognition playing basketball and baseball for the Elizabeth Street playground team commonly known as the Lizzies. He was also a multi-sport star in high school at Harbord Collegiate.

Image courtesy of Ernie Fitzsimmons, Society for International Hockey Research.

The winter he turned 18 (1927–28), Levinsky played hockey for Moore Park, a top organization in the Toronto Hockey League, and helped the team reach the city finals in the juvenile division. A year later, he joined the powerhouse Toronto Marlboros, along with future Hockey Hall of Famers Charlie Conacher and Busher Jackson, who would soon be his teammates with the Maple Leafs. That April, the Marlboros won the Memorial Cup as Canada’s junior champions. Levinsky also played basketball for the Lizzies that winter, and in May, he led them to the Canadian junior championship as well. (In the fall of 1928, he’d led the Lizzies baseball team to the city finals, and in 1929 he would do the same with St. George’s. )

When Levinsky entered the University of Toronto in 1929, he played football in the fall and hockey in the winter. The Varsity junior hockey team reached the provincial semifinals of the Ontario Hockey Association, and when they were eliminated, Levinsky joined the senior team, who reached the provincial finals. While still a U of T student in 1930–31, Levinsky played senior hockey with the Marlboros. After they were eliminated from the OHA semifinals on February 28, 1931, he turned pro when he signed with the Maple Leafs on March 2. (NHL records currently show him and Marlboros teammate Bob Gracie playing their first games at home against the Canadiens on February 28, but local newspapers make no mention of that while reporting they would both play their first game for the Leafs in Philadelphia on March 3, 1931.)

At the time he turned pro, it had been expected that Levinsky would remain in school, having enrolled at Osgoode Hall to study law. Levinsky told Paul Patton (and Richard Levinsky confirms it) that Conn Smythe convinced him to go pro by arranging an off-ice job with the law firm of Plaxton, Sifton and Company. Hugh Plaxton had played for Smythe at the University of Toronto, and was a member of the Olympic gold medal-winning Varsity Grads of 1928. He was also Levinsky’s coach with the senior Marlboros. (A story in the Toronto Star on April 24, 1931, reports on Hugh Plaxton engaged as council for the plaintiff in a case with Levinsky as his assistant.) Levinsky never did finish school, nor practice law, but he would have a successful post-hockey career running several different businesses.

Copy of Alex Levinsky’s first contract, and a letter from
Frank Selke of the Maple Leafs. (Courtesy of Irv Osterer.)

Meantime, in reporting on his upcoming home debut with the Maple Leafs against the Montreal Maroons, Lou Marsh of the Toronto Star wrote on March 4, 1931: “Levinsky’s appearance in a Leaf uniform here tomorrow should be good for at least three thousand new faces at pro games, his race is solidly clannish when it comes to sports.”

This is an example of the sort of casual racism Levinsky would often face throughout his career. Richard Levinsky says his father didn’t face a lot of anti-Semitism; at least not among teammates and fellow players. At 5’10” and with his weight listed over the years as being between 184 and 205 pounds, Levinsky was big … and he was tough.

According to Richard, when members of the Swastika Club attacked Jews in the summer of 1933 in the infamous Riot at Christie Pits — where his father had played plenty of baseball — Levinsky got a phone call and rushed to the park with a bat to help in the fight. Unlike Jackie Robinson, who was embraced in Montreal in 1946, Richard says his father faced his worst anti-Semitism in hockey when playing on the road in Montreal, where fans would scream “Jew!” at him in French the moment he got on the ice. But there’s also an interesting incident in Toronto from early in Levinsky’s first full season with the Maple Leafs in 1931–32.

Image courtesy of Ernie Fitzsimmons, Society for International Hockey Research.

Though the Leafs would go on to win the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1932, when the season opened at the brand new Maple Leaf Gardens in the fall of 1931, the team started poorly with three losses and two ties in their first five games. In a letter to the Sports Editor of the Toronto Star (now Lou Marsh, taking over from Foster’s father, W.A. Hewitt) on November 24, 1931, a fan writes:

Can Conny Smythe give the fans any reason why Alex Levinsky, who was the best defenseman that the Maple Leafs displayed in their first two games, has not been used since?… There was a lot of talk up at the Arena Saturday night that some of the Leaf players have stated openly that they will not play on the same team with a Jew, and that if Levinsky plays they will refuse to step out on the ice and for that reason Smythe rather than hurt the feelings of some of his pet hirelings intends railroading the big lad to one of the minor league teams…. There’s something rotten in Denmark and I think Conny Smythe owes the fans an explanation.

Richard Levinsky had never heard that story. There’s no actual proof any of the Leafs felt that way, and Alex Levinsky himself had a good relationship with the team owner. “Smythe stood behind his players 100 percent,” he told Dick Beddoes years later for a story in the Globe and Mail on October 28, 1966. “Big on loyalty, even — (he laughed to himself as he said it) — even to the point of naming race horses after us.” Conn Smythe called the Levinsky horse Mine Boy, which was Levinsky’s nickname.

Max Kaminsky was the NHL’s next Jewish player after Levinsky.
(Image courtesy of Kevin Vautour.)

Interestingly, the earliest reference to the nickname I could find in newspapers is in the Owen Sound Sun Times on February 12, 1930. In a preview of game one of a series where the University of Toronto junior hockey team would eliminated the hometown Greys, the Sun Times notes: “Levinski [sp] is the lad to watch in this game. ‘Mine boy Alex’ as he is called by the Toronto fans, is a rushing back line man. And he has a shot!” Obviously, the nickname was already known in Toronto by then. The first reference to “Mine Boy” in the Toronto Star appears to come in a Lou Marsh report on a Marlboros game on January 8, 1931. It begins to appear regularly in Toronto papers very shortly after his Maple Leafs debut in March of 1931, and later stories mainly say it was Marsh who helped popularize it.

As the story goes, the nickname comes from the fact that Abe Levinsky would root for his son — his only child — by proudly shouting “That’s Mein Boy!” (‘mein’ or ‘meyn’ being the Yiddish word for ‘my’ … though technically מיין). Alex Levinsky in newspaper stories in 1934 said he preferred his nickname Mine Boy to any others, but there still may be some anti-Semitism behind it. Richard Levinsky says his grandfather was born in Canada and would have said “My boy,” not “Mein boy.” So, if it was Lou Marsh playing it up, he was likely playing to common stereotypes at the time. (There are certainly plenty of racist tropes in much of Marsh’s writing, which is why the name of the Lou Marsh Trophy, first awarded to Canada’s best athlete after Marsh’s death in 1936, was changed to the Northern Star Award in 2022.)

“Mine Boy” Levinsky was one of four Maple Leafs defensemen during his time in Toronto along with future Hall of Famers King Clancy, Hap Day, and Red Horner. He helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup over the New York Rangers in the spring of 1932, and reach the finals again when they were beaten by the Rangers in 1933. But ever since Levinsky had entered the NHL, there had been talk of what a success he would be in New York, where the Rangers so longed for a Jewish star they had tried to pass off goalie Lorne Chabot as Lorne Chabotsky. (Original NHL game sheets from the 1926–27 season occasionally list the names Shabatsky and Schavatsky for Chabot; Ollie Reinikka was sometimes listed as Rocco to appeal to Italian New Yorkers.) So, when the Leafs found themselves short of cash after the 1933–34 season, they had a pretty good idea how to come up with it. Frank Selke told the story to Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star on October 12, 1981:

Because we had been unable to sell as much stock [when building Maple Leaf Gardens] as we expected due to The Depression, there was a threat that the insurance company which held our mortgage might take over the building. Part of our agreement was that we must have at least $40,000 in our bank account at all times. At one stage, our cash on hand got so low that we had do do something quickly. I went down to New York and explained our situation to Lester Patrick (general manager of the Rangers). Lester bought Alex Levinsky from us for $12,000.

Image courtesy of Ernie Fitzsimmons, Society for International Hockey Research.

But Levinsky barely lasted half a season in New York. Richard says his father didn’t get along well with the coach … also Lester Patrick. There are certainly several newspaper articles in which Patrick is critical of Levinsky and future Hall of Fame defenseman Earl Seibert before Levinsky is sold to Chicago on January 16, 1935, where he would replace Taffy Abel.

Alex Levinsky spent four years in Chicago, helping the Black Hawks win the Stanley Cup in 1938 by defeating the Maple Leafs. But midway through the 1938–39 season, he was traded to the Rangers’ Philadelphia Ramblers farm team. Richard Levinsky remembers a very interesting story about that.

Richard recalls his father saying that when he was playing in Chicago, he became a favourite of Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Seigel. When the Black Hawks traded him to Philadelphia, the men asked Levinsky if he’d like them “to take the coach for a ride.” Richard was never sure he believed the story, until he saw it confirmed in a book. But the only reference I could find tells the story somewhat differently. In the book But He was Good to His Mother about the lives and crimes of Jewish gangsters, author Robert Rockaway writes of an unnamed group of Jewish mobsters offering to protect Levinsky on and off the ice after a particularly blatant anti-Semitic outburst.

Whichever version of the story is the real one, in both tellings, Alex Levinsky turned them down.

Ready, Willing, and Abel

One hundred years ago today, on January 25, 1924, the first Winter Olympics opened in Chamonix, France. Although the International Olympic Committee had decided to hold a winter sports week when Paris was awarded the Summer Games at its meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June of 1921, and the French Olympic Committee confirmed the events in June of 1922, the competition was originally known as the “International Winter Sports Week” — even though it actually stretched for 12 days until February 5, 1924. It was retroactively confirmed as the first Olympic Winter Games at the IOC congress in Prague in May of 1925.

I’ve written several stories over the years about hockey at the Olympics, including the 1924 gold medal victory of the Toronto Granites, the 1920 victory by the Winnipeg Falcons, and the 1928 win by the Toronto Varsity Grads. But this is a story about the 1924 U.S. Olympic hockey team — the silver medalists behind Canada — and one member of the team in particular: Clarence John “Taffy” Abel. The nickname, apparently, comes from his childhood love of the sticky candy.

Taffy Abel carries the U.S. flag through the streets of Chamonix
ahead of the small delegation of American athletes. (All photos
are courtesy of George Jones and used with his permission.)

Some of you reading this will recognize Abel’s name.

Some will even know the story.

But many won’t.

So, here we go.

I believe the first time I ever heard the name Taffy Abel was from Alex Levinsky. Levinsky was one of the first Jewish players in the NHL during the 1930s and a relative by marriage of the former wife of a cousin of mine. I met him at a handful of large family gatherings in the late 1980s. Back then, I didn’t know nearly as much about hockey history as I do now (and I’d never heard of Levinsky) but it was always fascinating to talk with him. He was a defenseman — as was Abel — and I remember him telling me once how difficult it was for any NHL forwards to get past Abel and his New York Rangers defense partner Ching Johnson … particularly in the days before forward passing was allowed in the offensive zone. Howie Morenz, the top NHL forward of this era, stood only 5’9″ and weighed just 165 pounds, and even other forwards who were as tall as 5’11” rarely weighed more than 180. Ching Johnson was 5’11” and 210 pounds, while Taffy Abel stood 6’1″ and weighed 225 pounds. Together, they formed a formidable barrier!

Taffy Abel with the Chicago Blackhawks circa 1930.

Levinsky faced his share of prejudice as a Jewish player in the NHL in the 1930s. Much of what’s reported is just the sort of casual racism that was typical of the time. I’m sure he encountered plenty of worse things that didn’t make the newspapers given that his Jewish background was well known. But nobody knew Taffy Abel’s true story. Born on May 28, 1900, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Abel was actually Native American — a Chippewa — who spent most of his life passing for white, which he began to do as a young boy in order to avoid being sent to an Indian boarding school.

Taffy Abel died in 1964, but in recent years, George Jones, a nephew, has been trying to get the NHL to officially recognize Abel’s role in breaking the NHL colour barrier when he first joined the Rangers in 1926. It has proven to be an uphill battle. Other, later, players of colour — Larry Kwong, who was Chinese, Fred Sasakamoose, who was Indigenous, and Willie O’Ree, who was Black — had no way to hide their racial features. But Abel — though apparently listed as Chippewa, along with his mother and sister, in the 1908 “Durant Roll” (a basic census count of Native Americans named for an agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) — was able to pass for white. So, nobody knew the truth at the time.

NHL head shots of Taffy Abel with the New York Rangers and with the Blackhawks.
(To me, his features look somewhat more Indigenous in the Chicago picture, but it’s easy to see how he could pass for White.)

According to Jones, Abel didn’t announce his Native heritage until the death of his mother in 1939, which was five years after his NHL career ended. With support from the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians, Abel was inducted posthumously into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989. He was later among those the National Museum of the American Indian honoured in a roster featured in its 2012 “Native Olympians” exhibition. Several Native Americans — including Jim Thorpe — had competed at the Stockholm Olympics in the summer of 1912, and Taffy Abel is now considered the first Native American Winter Olympic athlete … although — as with his NHL career — nobody knew that in 1924, when he was a late addition to the U.S. team.

A charter member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973, Abel’s biography on their website says he began to play hockey in 1918. He likely started earlier than that. The website of the Society for International Hockey Research begins tracking him with a Michigan Soo team during the winter of 1917–18. After four more seasons in his hometown, Abel moved on to the powerhouse St. Paul Saints of the United States Amateur Hockey Association in 1922–23. He was with that team again to start the 1923–24 season before being added to the U.S. Olympic team.

Taffy Abel is in the middle among U.S. athletes bound for France aboard the Garfield.

The American team departed for Europe from New York on January 9, 1924, and Abel wrote about the voyage in a letter to Charles Bye of Sault Ste. Marie. The letter was dated January 19, after arrival in Cherbourg, France, and appeared in the local Evening News on February 2. Abel writes of a rough passage after hitting a storm four days out from New York. “[W]e managed to come out of it all right except for missing a few meals,” he said. “It was five days before we finally came out of the gale. I was sure glad when we landed.”

By the time the story was printed, the U.S. hockey team had already scored a 19–0 win over Belgium, a 22–0 win over France, an 11–0 win over Great Britain, and then defeated Sweden 20–0 on February 1 to advance to the gold medal game on February 3. Abel had written before the competition started that it looked like a certainty that the United States would meet Canada in the final (Canada put up even more lopsided wins en route to the big game), but that the Americans would need to improve their teamwork from the few games they had played together in Boston before leaving for France. “If we play that way against Canada,” Abel worried, “they will need an adding machine to keep track of their scores.”

Still, Abel promised better things. “If the forward line will give [goalie Al “Frenchy”] LaCroix, [defense partner Irv] Small and myself just one goal to work on, we swear we will eat the puck before we let them score.”

The Americans did get one goal … but Canada scored six to win the gold medal. According to a story in the Pittsburgh Gazette Times on February 22, 1924, Abel believe the best team won that day, although he was convinced the Americans could have been better. “The Granites beat us on the merits of the teams as they lined up,” said Abel, “but I’ll never be satisfied that they could not be beaten if America had sent over its best available hockey team. They were too strong for us as things were in France, but if the best possible team had been picked and the best possible men had gone over, after having had plenty of practice, America would have won.”

Taffy Abel would never have another chance to win Olympic gold. He later won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1928 and again with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1934. Metis players Tony Gingras and brothers Magnus and Rod Flett won the Stanley Cup with the Winnipeg Victorias in 1901 and 1902. Abel is the first Native American to have won the Cup, and the first to do so with an NHL team … but the complicated legacy of early Indigenous players has made such feats difficult to track.

As George Jones told Stephen Whyno of the Associate Press for a story about Abel in December of 2022: “The reason he had to pass was not one of choice — it was one of survival. I’m proud of him, what he did — very proud. I know what he had to go through and the internal torment that he had to go through as part of this ‘passing’ thing. He had depression, he had drinking problems, but he survived.”

Happy (Hockey / History) Holidays for 2023

After an exhibition game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Montreal Wanderers four nights earlier, the first regular-season hockey game was held at Toronto’s new Arena Gardens on Mutual Street on Christmas night, December 25, 1912. (That’s coming up on a somewhat stylistically interesting – but not really significant – 111 years ago.)

In that season opener of the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the National Hockey League), the Canadiens beat the brand new Toronto Hockey Club (aka the Torontos, the Blueshirts, or the Blue Shirts), 9-5.

No matter what you celebrate at this time of year, I hope you have/had a happy one. And all the best to everybody for a happy and healthy — and peaceful — new year in 2024.

A Stitch in Time…

This is, I guess, a sequel of sorts to my recent story about Walter Smaill. When finishing up my research for that one, I came across a cartoon and a brief story in the Calgary Herald from February 27, 1932. It reported on Helge Bostrom of the Chicago Black Hawks (two words in those days; not Blackhawks) who had recently been cut for 140 stitches. Having previously suffered some 100 stitches from various minor injuries, Bostrom was now considered hockey’s Most-Stitched Player. “The former title holder,” the story reported, “… was Walter Smaill, of the old Montreal Wanderers, who suffered 168 in his career.”

The 1931–32 season marked Helge Bostrom’s third year in the NHL. He’d just turned 36 years old when he joined the Black Hawks in January of 1930, and had played plenty of hockey before that. His earliest records place him in military and patriotic hockey leagues in his home town of Winnipeg (some sources say he was born in Gimli, Manitoba), playing for the Ypres team against Walter Smaill’s Somme in 1917–18. After a year of military service in England and France, Bostrom played two seasons of amateur hockey with the Moose Jaw Maple Leafs in Saskatchewan before turning pro with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League during the 1921–22 season.

Calgary Herald from February 27, 1932.

Mostly a hard-hitting defensemen, but also something of a penalty shot specialist (in those days, penalty shots were taken from a fixed point, so a powerful blast was key), Bostrom helped Edmonton to a WCHL title in 1922–23, before a Stanley Cup loss to the Ottawa Senators. He spent the next four seasons with the Vancouver Maroons before top-level pro hockey collapsed in the west after the 1925–26 season. He then played three-plus seasons with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Hockey Association before finally entering the NHL.

As to the injury in question, Bostrom was hurt during the second period of a 1–1 tie with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 24, 1931. There’s not a lot of details about the injury in most game stories. The New York Times says nothing at all, noting only that Bostrom (they spell it Bostrum — as many papers did) was in the penalty box when the Rangers scored their only goal late in the first period. (Chicago tied the game late in the third period.) The New York Daily News reports, “The second session was marked only by an injury to Helge Bostrum … who cut a tendon in his leg in a mixup with [Earl] Seibert.”

From the back page of the New York Daily News, November 25, 1931.

Of the newspapers I’ve been able to check, the Montreal Gazette and the Brooklyn Times-Union had the most to say about Bostrom’s injury in their game reports the next day. “Early in the second period,” says the Gazette, “Bostrum was assisted off the ice after colliding heavily with Seibert and it was afterwards announced that the burly defence man had cut a tendon in his left leg.” The account in the Brooklyn paper says, “Bostrum was injured by a skate when he checked Seibert in the second period.”

The Times-Union story says it was Bostrom’s instep that was cut — though most stories later would say his ankle — “and the discovery of a severed tendon means that he will be lost to the team for several weeks.” The Brooklyn paper further notes that “Bostrum’s foot was to be operated on today.” A later story in the Chicago Tribune on December 6, 1931, reports that Bostrom was still in New York’s Polyclinic hospital when his Black Hawks teammates visited him there on a return trip to New York prior to a game that night against the Americans. The operation was likely performed there, as Madison Square Garden and New York Rangers team doctor Henry O. Clauss Jr. was a member of the surgical staff at the Polyclinic.

Helge Bostrom photo courtesy of Stephen Smith, Puckstruck.

In recalling the injury in the New York Times on January 4, 1932, John Kieran writes: “Remember the night Helge Bostrum of the Hawks was hurt at the Garden? Ankle cut by Earl Seibert’s skate. Didn’t seem so bad as he hobbled off the ice, but when Dr. Clauss checked up, three of the four tendons were cut and before they got through patching him up, they took exactly 142 stitches to pull him together.” (Stories in other newspapers put the number of stitches at 140 or 145, but the Minneapolis Star-Tribune asked “What’s [a] Mere 400 Stitches” in a headline above a story about Bostrom on February 12, 1932.)

Despite the early report that he would be sidelined for several weeks, word soon was Bostrom might never play hockey again. That was certainly a fear Black Hawks coach Emil Iverson expressed in a story reported in The Minneapolis Star on December 11, 1931. A story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle a month later, on January 10, 1932, explained more:

It was cruel the way the accident happened…Earl Seibert just stumbled over the half-prone Helge in a harmless-looking mixup around center ice. But the tip of Seibert’s skate bit like a rapier down to the bone, slashing tendon after tendon. The cut wasn’t more than an inch and a half long and the surgeons had to lengthen it, reach up and pull down the muscles, and fasten them. When they knit together Bostrom will be able to walk without even the semblance of a limp, but the repairs may not be able to hold under the strain of those sudden stops in hockey.

This cartoon and accompanying story appeared in several papers in January of 1931.

Apparently — according to a story in The Minneapolis Journal six years later (February 17, 1938) — things were so dire that Bostrom was receiving ads from casket owners (casket makers?) while he was in the Polyclinic hospital. But Helge was having none of it!

By early February of 1932, Bostrom was in the Twin Cities and skating again. “Out of hockey, nothing,” he roared for an Associated Press story out of St. Paul that appeared in papers on February 12. “I’ll be playing again before the season’s over.” The day before, The Minneapolis Star quoted him saying, “Whoever said I wouldn’t be able to play hockey again is crazier than the hombre who insists that the Hawks won’t be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Why, I expect to be in those same playoffs myself.”

And he was.

Maybe.

From the Minneapolis Star, December 11, 1931.

Bostrom was back in action on February 17, 1932, when the Black Hawks hosted the Canadiens in Chicago. According to the NHL game logs, he played in seven more games after that, but then missed the next five, before returning for two playoff games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The strange thing is, the newspaper accounts of games late that season don’t always match up with the NHL records. And for sure, those records must have it wrong when they show Bostrom playing in Boston on November 26, 1931 — two days after the injury. It seems highly unlike that he was hurt that badly on November 24, had surgery on November 25, played in Boston on November 26, and then returned to New York to spend another week or more in hospital there.

Regardless of how many games Bostrom actually played in 1931–32, he was not only back with the Black Hawks for the 1932–33 season, he was named the team’s new captain. But that December, he was traded to the St. Paul Greyhounds of the American Hockey Association, where he would be their player-coach. Bostrom continued to play in minor league cities through the 1935–36 season, finishing up with the Kansas City Greyhounds, whom he would later coach for two years from 1937 through 1939.

The image on the left from before the game shows Helge Bostrom in the starting line up.
In the image on the right, Bostrom’s name does not appear in the summary of the game.

And tough as he must have been, it seems Helge Bostrom may have done more for the sport of figure skating than hockey. According to Roy Shipstead, one of the founders of the Ice Follies, Bostrom gave the struggling Roy, his older brother Eddie, and their partner Oscar Johnson, a significant boost. Shipstead told the story to Vern De Geer of the Gazette for his column on February 1, 1961 while in Montreal for the Canadian Figure Skating Championship.

It wasn’t easy. We were fancy skating bugs in St. Paul when most of our neighborhood pals were busy on the hockey rink. Most of the hockey players were coming in from Western Canada. They were making good money and it looked like a good career for Minnesota boys. But it was one of those imports who persuaded me to follow Eddie and Oscar in the ice skating entertainment business.

Helge Bostrom, a fun-loving Norwegian friend of ours from Winnipeg, recommended us to an entertainment booker at the Chicago Sherman Hotel’s famous College Inn. That was in 1935. We were given four weeks trial and stayed for 16 months. It was the success of this run that started us in the travelling carnival routine the next year. And we’ve been at it ever since. We’ll be forever grateful to Helge for this.

A Smaill of a Tale…

Walter Smaill is not a name likely to be recognized by many hockey fans today. (Even my spell-checker keeps trying to change his name to Walter Small.) But that’s never stopped me before! Smaill is yet another OLD old-time hockey player I have great affection for.

Walter Sydney Smaill was born in Montreal on December 18, 1884. He grew up in Westmount, playing local sports with other future hockey stars such as Art Ross, Frank and Lester Patrick, and Sprague and Odie Cleghorn. (He would play most of his his pro hockey career alongside Ross or Lester Patrick.) As Frank Patrick would write of those neighbourhood kids in the Boston Sunday Globe on January 27, 1935, in one of an eight-part series on his life when he was the coach of the Bruins, “Almost every young boy competed in football, baseball, basketball and [track] as well as hockey.” Walter Smaill was no exception. He grew up to play hockey, football, and lacrosse at the highest levels. He was also an excellent paddler, sailor, and swimmer.

When Smaill died at the age of 86 on May 2, 1971, he’d outlived almost all his contemporaries, save for Cyclone Taylor. Smaill lived most of his life in Montreal, but spent time in Victoria, Winnipeg, and a few smaller cities across the country too. In his younger days, he worked as an athletic instructor, often running sports clubs for youths, and even after going to work as a car salesman around 1925 he stayed involved in sports for many years, serving as a coach, referee, or league executive in hockey, lacrosse, football, canoeing, and other sports. He even served as an NHL referee during the 1924–25 season, and was suggested as a potential president of a professional hockey players union before the 1925–26 season. “Smaill denied all connection with the movement,” reported the Montreal Gazette on September 2, 1925. “He stated that ten years ago there had been such a move in which he had been interested, but that the present plans … did not concern him directly.”

Smaill seems to have been a guy that people liked, and likely because of his “good guy” status — and also because he lived so long — many sportswriters (particularly in Montreal) who’d been on the job since his playing days would occasionally mention his name in columns during the 1960s as someone who should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was definitely a good player.

Smaill’s career at the highest levels of hockey lasted from the winter of 1904–05 through 1915–16. He played mainly with the Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and Cobalt Silver Kings of the National Hockey Association (forerunner to the NHL), and with the Victoria Aristocrats of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He played both forward and defense and had a couple of decently high-scoring seasons in his early days. He helped the Wanderers win the Stanley Cup in 1908, and Victoria to victory over the Stanley Cup champion Quebec Bulldogs in a “world championship” exhibition series in 1913. Still, he was probably more of a support player than a true Hall of Fame star — although he seems no less worthy of selection than some of the other inductees from his playing days.

One thing, it seems, most other players of his era agreed on was that Smaill was “the worst battered man playing hockey.” In a story that made the rounds in at least a few Canadian newspapers in January and February of 1918, Smaill’s numerous cuts and scars over the course of his career — “he has over one hundred stitches sewn into him by surgeons in all parts of the Dominion” — were detailed. One of the more than 50 times his nose had been cut occurred in the first game ever played in the history of the PCHA, on January 2, 1912, when he collided with future Hall of Famer Harry Hyland of the New Westminster Royals. Smaill was married six days later, and as several of the papers in Victoria, Vancouver, and Montreal that reported on the wedding noted: “[he] looked anything but the happy bridegroom with his nose all swathed up in bandages.”

The Vancouver Province, January 22, 1918.

The 1918 stories mention nothing of one of Smaill’s more unusual injuries/afflictions, which was detailed in the New York Telegraph on March 18, 1908, the morning after the Montreal Wanderers played the Montreal Shamrocks in New York:

Walter Smaill, who played with the Wanderers, has the distinction of being the only man in this or any other country who has a silver-plated shin bone. Vicious blows from hockey sticks in the hands of his opponents in games he has played have from time to time so battered Smaill’s right leg below the knee that he was for a time retired from the game. He sought medical aid for months, but was compelled to continue the use of crutches until he visited a prominent surgeon in Quebec. The physician told him that the hurt could be remedied if he was willing to undergo a very tedious and painful operation. He consented at once.

Suffering the most excruciating pain, he permitted the surgeon to lay bare the bones of his leg an inch at a time and bind it with thin plates of silver. The operation required more than three months to complete, but was very successful.

Back in Montreal, the Gazette repeated the story the next day, under the headline HIS SILVER SHIN, but explained the original injury had actually occurred while playing a different sport. “The foundation for the story,” said the Gazette, “is that Smaill was laid up three years ago from a kick on the leg received in a [Quebec Rugby Football Union] game against Ottawa on Atwater Park.”

The whole truth of the story is difficult to confirm, but you can see below in this article from the Montreal Star on October 23, 1906, that Smaill did hurt his shin playing football for Westmount and would likely require surgery:

While he did miss the end of the 1906 football season, which wrapped up early in November, he was out for practice with the Montreal AAA hockey team by mid December.

Ironically , Smaill suffered the worst injury of his hockey career shortly after the appearance of the newspaper articles outlining his battered career. It occurred on February 21, 1918. Technically, Smaill had retired from hockey by then.

Having spent four seasons from 1911 to 1915 playing and living in Victoria, work took Smaill to Winnipeg in the summer of 1915. Having been granted free agency by the PCHA, he returned to Montreal for the winter of 1915–16 and played for the Wanderers in the NHA. Hockey at this time was suffering during the years of World War I. Many amateur leagues shut down for the duration, and several pro teams went out of business. Not surprisingly, salaries were slashed. A Toronto Star story from December 14, 1916, notes that Smaill had once earned as much as $200 per week to play hockey (probably a $2,000 contract for 10 weeks with Cobalt during the first NHA season of 1909–10), but was being offered only $40 per week to return to the Wanderers for the 1916–17 season. He quit hockey instead, and took a full-time job working for the YMCA in Winnipeg. In the fall of 1917, Smaill was appointed secretary of the YMCA for military athletics in the Winnipeg area. “Smaill has had a vast amount of experience in sport,” reported the Winnipeg Tribune on November 20, 1917, “and should be able to provide many attractive events for the khaki boys.”

Smaill in the sweaters of the Cobalt Silver Kings and Montreal Wanderers,

Among the sports Smaill organized was a military hockey league, with three Winnipeg teams dubbed Vimy, Ypres, and Somme. (Future Hall of Famer Dick Irvin starred for Ypres, and led the league with 29 goals in just nine games played.) Smaill returned to the the ice with the Somme, and was injured in the final game of the season. A report in the Tribune on February 22, 1918, notes only that, “in clearing an attack Walter Smaill was badly hurt in the head and was obliged to retire.” The next day’s Manitoba Free Press tells more:

The greatest anxiety prevails among Walter Smaill’s friends on account of the serious reports received from the General hospital last night of his condition. On examination his skull was found to be fractured, and he had suffered a series of convulsions during the day and was unconscious the greater part of the time; it was found that the only relief can be found in an operation of a highly dangerous character. The physicians in charge of the patient believe there is either a blood clot on the brain or a piece of the broken bone pressing upon it.

When the accident happened at the Amphitheatre rink Thursday night in the Somme-Vimy game, the final of the schedule, Smaill and [Harry] Wilson were making an attempt to stop [Cecil] Browne who was going down at a rapid gait. The two Somme players bumped into each other and Smaill was a little overbalanced when he met Browne, and he fell heavily, his head striking the ice with terrific force. Though he was able to walk from the dressing room to the ambulance he was in a much more serious condition than at first believed.

There were concerns that Smaill’s injuries might prove fatal. As it was, he would spend five weeks in hospital before (as the Winnipeg Tribune would report on March 25, 1918), “his grand physique pulled him through in good style.” Even then, it was thought he would require another two or three weeks of recovery at home. He never played hockey again.

The Montreal Star, March 2, 1918.


Smaill had suffered a dangerous head injury once before, in a manner similar to the way in which hockey star Hod Stuart had been killed in the summer of 1907. On July 1, 1909, Smaill and some friends were standing on a dock in Cartierville in the North End of Montreal. A woman dropped her glasses into the river, and she asked Smaill — an expert swimmer — if he would dive in and recover them. “He was told,” reported the Montreal Gazette on July 3, 1909, “the water at this point was sixteen feet deep, and so he dived almost straight down.” But the water was only three feet deep with a rocky bottom. “The result was that Smaill hit bottom with sufficient force to stun him, and he remained for a few moments head down in the river.” His friends thought he was just fooling around, and were laughing until “he suddenly came up with his face a mass of blood and bruises…. He was badly dazed, and was helped to the shore, where he soon recovered.”

Still, with all of his sporting mishaps, perhaps the closest Smaill ever came to death was while he was helping in the construction of the Victoria Arena he would play in for four seasons. Smaill told the story to Lloyd McGown of the Montreal Daily Star for a column on February 22, 1941:

I went to the Coast to play hockey for Lester [Patrick] in 1911. I went with Skinner Poulin, Dubby Kerr and Bobby Rowe… We went out to play for $1,500, which was more than we were making here in the East…. We went out in August of 1911. The Patricks were building the rinks at Victoria and Vancouver. Both rinks went up at the same time, so we went to the contractor for jobs—Poulin, Kerr and Rowe and I. We bought canvas aprons with pockets, T-squares, chisels and hammers. We helped build the rink to play in at 50 cents and hour.

I almost fell from the roof, about a sixty-foot drop to the ground. I happened to catch a scantling [a small cross-section of lumber] and there I hung with my feet dangling over the edge. Finally they lassoed my legs and hauled me up to safety. I was sick for three days. It was that close…. [T]he sports writer of The [Victoria] Times was there. ‘Walter, I thought you were done for,’ he told me.

After that, Smaill helped install the ice-making system in the Victoria rink. (The Patrick arenas in Vancouver and Victoria were the first in Canada to feature artificial ice.) “We helped lay 15 miles of pipes,” said Smaill. “When we got them down they had a test and found about 150 leaks. We had threaded the pipe-ends the wrong way, though a plumbing inspector was supposed to be overseeing the job. We weren’t very good plumbers.”

It’s stories like these that are the reason I find hockey of this era so fascinating!

The Gorrie Details: A Hockey Romance

It’s been almost four months since I last posted a story on my website. I don’t usually go this long, but I’ve been pretty busy since June, working on three manuscripts due to publishers between the start of September and the end of October. Two done, one still to go for anyone who’s interested…

There’s a lot I could be writing about now. The Blue Jays are — probably — headed for the postseason. But they’ve been so frustrating this year. Yes, I do believe (as I heard on the radio recently) that any team that actually makes the playoffs deserves to make the playoffs, but baseball used to be about excellence over a long season. I really don’t like the fact that, after treading water for most of the schedule, they could get hot at the right time and possibly win the American League pennant.

That’s so hockey!

And, of course, the hockey preseason is under way. I could write about the Maple Leafs. But they’ll probably have another excellent season that will be undermined by an early playoff flameout. (That’s so baseball!) Or, I could chime in on the Boston Bruins’ selection of their 100 “Historic Players” to kick off the team’s centennial celebrations. But, despite literally writing the book on Art Ross (and contributing stories about him, and his era, to the Bruins’ centennial book and upcoming documentary), I’m not really a Bruins guy. My thoughts — as with the NHL and the Leafs in recent years — is that these lists “are what they are” and that too many old-timers get overlooked.

So, what am I writing about today?

Well, admittedly, this one’s a bit quirky even by my quirky standards!

Recently, while looking for something else (the best stories get found that way!), I came across some interesting things about a long-ago goalie named Clarence Gorrie.

Now, aside from the three people I’ve asked for a bit of help from for this story, I figure there are probably only about three or four other people out there who will recognize that name. Unless you were a pretty rabid fan of Toronto hockey about 120 years ago, you’d have no reason to know of Gorrie. But still…

Clarence Gorrie started playing goal for the Toronto Marlboros at least as early as the winter of 1900–01 when the team played in the Toronto Lacrosse-Hockey League. When the Marlboros entered the Ontario Hockey Association for the 1902–03 season, Gorrie played for their intermediate team. However, after the junior team won the OHA championship that season, he was replaced by the junior team goalie in the intermediate finals. (That goalie was Eddie Giroux, later of the Kenora Thistles, and I’m pretty sure that Gorrie’s name stuck in my mind after researching Giroux for my 2022 book about the Thistles.)

Anyway, a story I stumbled across about Gorrie recently in the Montreal Gazette on October 27, 1903, mentioned him signing to play in Pittsburgh that winter, where Canadian players had been lured for a few years with the promise of being paid. Most of the Canadians were hired for cushy off-ice jobs, but everyone knew they were really being paid to play hockey, which often got them banned from playing back home in Canada, especially in Ontario, where the OHA championed amateur hockey over professionalism.

The Toronto Marlboros Intermediate team of 1902-03.

I checked for Gorrie on the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research. There were no stats for him playing with the Pittsburgh Bankers in 1903–04. It turns out the Toronto Star had the same story back on August 7. Still, I couldn’t find any stories about him actually playing in Pittsburgh. But since there were a lot of gaps in his SIHR stats record, I did a little poking around. Turns out, Gorrie actually played — with the OHA’s permission — for the Markham intermediate team in the winter of 1903–04 instead of in Toronto with any of the Marlboros teams. (Eddie Giroux and Tommy Phillips of the Thistles led the Marlboros senior team to an OHA championship that season, and on an unsuccessful Stanley Cup challenge of the Ottawa Silver Seven.) Gorrie also played at least one game with a Toronto team known as “the Fearnaughts” at a tournament in Markham in February of 1904.

No reason as to why Gorrie left the Marlboros intermediates — though maybe there was a bit of bad blood over his being replaced. Yet, it seems he was at least at the preseason workouts with the Marlboros seniors in 1904–05 when they were looking for a new goalie after Tommy Phillips convinced Giroux to head north to Kenora — still known as Rat Portage at the time.

I won’t go into all the whys and wherefores of where Gorrie played over the next few seasons — except to note that he served as the secretary of the Toronto Aquatic Hockey League in 1906–07 instead of playing with the new Toronto professional team that season that was a feature of Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s hockey book. (Gorrie — and the Aquatic league — are mentioned briefly in Harper’s book.) The league involved the Parkdale Canoe Club, Toronto Canoe Club, Toronto Rowing Club, the Argonauts Rowing Club, and the Balmy Beach Canoe Club. Gorrie was a member of the Toronto Canoe Club, though the only record I’ve seen that indicates he may have played for the team was a listing for one game showing a player named Gorrie at center. He did serve as a referee in some league games.

When he wasn’t playing hockey, Clarence Gorrie worked for the post office in Toronto. In the hockey news in The Globe on November 14, 1907, under the headline A HOCKEY ROMANCE, the following story appeared:

The staff of the general post office yesterday presented Clarence M. Gorrie, the well-known hockey player, with a silver tea service as a mark of esteem on the eve of his marriage.
The bride-to-be is Miss Rundle, a member of the Wellington ladies hockey team which aggregation was under the management of the groom…. Mr. Gorrie is a versatile athlete and widely popular.

So, Gorrie the goalie married a goalie!

Miss Vera Rundle played goal for the Wellington ladies team from the winter of 1904–05 though 1906–07. (It was probably not considered proper for her to continue playing after she was married.) Her sister Amy was a center. Toronto papers covered the team — and other women’s teams of this era — in pretty decent detail.

From the Toronto Daily Star, February 15, 1907.

In reporting on one of the team’s early games, The Globe of January 18, 1905, said this:

The ladies’ hockey match, played last night on the Broadview Rink, was won by the Wellingtons, who defeated the Broadviews by a score of 4–0. The ladies did not play in crepe de chene, as some of the spectators imagined, but buckled down to hard work, donning white and red sweaters and short bicycling skirts.

The Toronto Daily Star on February 15, 1907, which reported on the Wellingtons’ second consecutive Ontario ladies hockey championship, said, “the game was by no means a burlesque. The girls were very much in earnest all the way, and considering the handicap afforded by three-quarter skirts, put up a very good exhibition of Canada’s national winter pastime.”

The Wellingtons defeated Waterloo by a score of 6–0. “The [team] is a well-balanced aggregation,” said the Star. “Miss Rundle in goal made many good stops.” As for her sister, “Miss Rundle, at center, a decidedly pretty girl, was very tired at the finish but she showed much ability while she was fresh. A jolt in the face from the butt end of a stick made her dizzy for a while, but she was plucky and continued.”

Though the Star story about the Wellingtons says they wore white uniforms with blue shoulders, it also mentions a letter W inside a maple leaf on the breast. I suspect this is actually their team. The date given is 1909, but the picture may have been taken earlier, so that still may be Vera Rundle standing in front of the goal.

Though both families appear to be working class, The Globe gave a decent amount of space to the Gorrie-Rundle wedding in the paper on November 16, 1907. “The bride wore a pretty dress of pale grey. Her sister, Miss Amy Rundle, was bridesmaid, in a mauve colienne.”

The last records of Gorrie playing goal are from the 1908–09 season, but he stayed in the game as a refereee, and was still prominent enough that the Toronto Star considered this story newsworthy on December 10, 1921:

Clarence Gorrie the well-known OHA referee and ex-goal keeper of the famous Marlboros senior team [that would appear to be an error], has been promoted by the Post Office authorities to Woodstock. Clarence, who has spent ten of his fifteen years’ service at Postal Station E., Markham street, was yesterday presented with a handsome club bag by his fellow employees prior to his departure for Woodstock tonight.

The Gorries would live the rest of their lives in Woodstock, with Clarence coaching the local OHA junior team during the 1921–22 season. He passed away on March 22, 1952. Vera survived him for another 30 years. They are buried together in Woodstock at the Hillview Cemetery.

The World Champs of 1930

Canada won the World Championship in hockey on the weekend. Yay, us! But the tournament has never really attracted a lot of attention in this country. When Canada was dominating in the early days, everyone here knew the amateurs representing the country in Europe weren’t the best players we had to offer, since the pros in the NHL weren’t allowed. And, of course, that became our national excuse when the Soviet Union began to dominate during the 1960s.

The vast majority of Canadian hockey fans have always been much more interested in NHL teams and Stanley Cup victories than the World Championships. It’s also part of the reason why, when it comes to international hockey, we long for the “Best-on-Best” format of the Canada Cup/World Cup and so enjoyed the Winter Olympic tournaments of 1998 through 2018, when the NHL was allowing its best players to compete … which hasn’t been the case at the last two Winter Olympics.

Still, the victory on Sunday — 5–2 over Germany — gave Canada 28 world titles all-time; one more than the Soviets/Russians. So, again, yay us! That said, I barely paid any attention this year myself … but it was an interesting tournament. Latvia won the bronze medal by defeating the United States 4-3 in overtime for the first World Championship medal in that country’s history. Germany’s silver was their first medal since 1953. And, it was the first time the Germans faced Canada for gold since 1930 … which was the very first year the hockey World Championships were conducted separately from the Olympic Games.

And therein lies the rest of my story.

I guess it was in early May, back in 1994, when I first began to do some research into the 1930 World Championships. I had, by then, published my first book, the novel, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada, and had since managed to sell a few articles about sports history (mainly hockey) to various Toronto newspapers. With Canada en route to its first hockey World Championship in 33 years, I figured there would be (or maybe there already had been — I can’t remember!) plenty of stories coming out about the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters. So, I thought, instead of re-hashing the last Canadian World Champion team, I would write something about the first one.

I remember reading a little bit about the 1930 tournament in the book Hockey is Our Game, by the esteemed Canadian sportswriter Jim Coleman. Coleman wrote that Canada was represented at the tournament by the 1929 Allan Cup champion Port Arthur Bearcats. That made sense to me, since I knew it was often the previous year’s Allan Cup champions — the senior amateur champions of Canada — who represented the country at the World Championships and Olympics in the early days of international hockey.

So, I went down to the Metro Toronto Reference Library to read through microfilm and see what I could find. Again, I can’t recall precisely, but my memory is I spent the whole day searching through either a Fort William or Port Arthur newspaper. (It’s possible I was searching through The Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail … but I don’t think so.) Anyway, I began in the fall of 1929, and just kept searching. The Port Arthur team started out playing their local season schedule … and kept on playing. As they did, I kept expecting to find a story one day saying they’d been invited to represent Canada overseas, and so had dropped out of the local hockey scene to head to Europe.

But then it was March and the playoffs were starting. And Port Arthur kept playing.

The Ports (as they seem to be called — not the Bearcats) won the Thunder Bay championship, and then defeated the Manitoba champion Elmwood Millionaires in a Western Canada semifinal. Meanwhile, the British Columbia champion Trail Smoke Eaters defeated the Alberta champion Blairmore Bearcats and then beat the Saskatchewan champion Saskatoon Quakers in the other Western semifinal (I looked all that up now) before Port Arthur eliminated Trail in the Western Final and advanced to play the Montreal AAA for the Allan Cup.

Even then, I still expected to find a story saying Port Arthur was going to bail on the Allan Cup and head over to Europe. I didn’t know yet that the 1930 World Championships had actually taken place between late January and early February. But then, I came across a photo in the newspaper of the Canadas Hockey Team of Toronto who had represented the country at the tournament!

Who were they?!?

I don’t remember when I began the research that would eventually lead me to write about the Toronto Canadas (who were actually the Toronto CCMs — more shortly). Nor do I remember how I tracked down a phone number for Jim Coleman. But I did. I don’t remember if he was still living in Toronto, or if he had already retired to Vancouver. Wherever he was, and however I got the number, I called him.

I told him he’d been mistaken in his book.

He couldn’t have cared less! Couldn’t have been ruder to me, actually.

(I shouldn’t hold a grudge, but nearly 30 years later, it’s still lessened my opinion of him!)

Anyway, I would come to learn the CCM sporting goods company had been entering a team in the Toronto Mercantile League since at least 1923. My brother Jonathan and I produced a short TV feature about the Toronto CCM team and the 1930 World Championship for TSN in 1997. Unfortunately, the Toronto Blue Jays fired manager Cito Gaston around the time our piece was supposed to air and we got bumped … but TSN did show it later, and it was pretty exciting for us.

I would later write about the team again for The Toronto Star on April 26, 2005. Much of what I’m about to say here comes from that story. As I wrote then, CCM won not only the Toronto Mercantile title in 1929, but also defeated the winners of the city’s Mining and Brokers League too, and that fall, CCM executive George S. Braden travelled to Europe on business. While there, he decided the growing number of hockey teams in Europe would benefit from increased exposure to Canadian teams. (He no doubt saw a lucrative new market for CCM merchandise too!)

Braden obtained permission from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to send the CCM team on a European tour. Since the International Ice Hockey Federation had decided to expand its annual European Championship into a World Championship in 1930, the Toronto team — wearing a white maple leaf on red sweaters and with the name “Canadas” emblazoned beneath — would represent the country at the new tournament.

Nine of the 11 men who had played for CCM’s championship team gathered at Union Station on December 5, 1929. One day later, goaltender Percy Timpson, defencemen Joe Griffin and Fred Radke, and forwards Gordie Grant, Wally Adams, Don Hutchison, Bert Clayton, Alec Park and Harold Armstrong, along with George Braden and coach Les Allan, set sail from Saint John, New Brunswick. They arrived in London on December 14 and defeated the British All-Stars 6-2 at the Wembley Ice Club three nights later.

Averaging a game every second night, the Canadas scored victory after victory en route to the World Championship, which was scheduled to begin January 27, 1930. Unfortunately, warm weather at the outdoor venue in Chamonix, France, pushed back the start until January 31. The round-robin system was abandoned in favor of a knockout format that would serve as the European Championship. With no U.S. team present, the Canadians were given a bye directly into the finals, where they would face the European champs for the World title.

To stay in shape while the European teams knocked each other out, the Canadas scheduled games in Vienna, and on February 7, 1930, during a stretch of three games in three nights, they dropped a 1-0 decision to the Austrian national team on an outdoor rink that had been waterlogged by a day of rain. They bounced back the next night with a 6-0 win over the Vienna Skating Club, then boarded a train for Berlin, where they would face Germany in the World Championship final (which had been relocated to an indoor arena) on February 10.

Buoyed by a hometown crowd and taking advantage of their weary opponents, Germany’s Gustav Jaenecke beat Percy Timpson for the game’s first goal, but Gordie Grant retaliated quickly. A few minutes later, Alec Park put the Canadas on top. Grant and Park scored again in the second period, while Red Armstrong and Joe Griffin tallied in the third for a 6-1 Canadian victory.

Back home in Canada, the World Championship victory was newsworthy, but hardly noteworthy. “The title is an empty one, of course,” wrote Toronto Star sports editor W.A. Hewitt in the paper on February 11, “and the Canadas will make no such pretensions when they come home. To their credit, however, they have played good hockey on their trip and plenty of it, and have done much to educate Europeans in the fastest of all sports.”

Having won the World Championship, the Canadas flew from Berlin to London and finished their tour. They arrived back in Toronto on the evening of February 25. In their 83 days abroad, the Canadas had travelled 22,500 kilometers, played 32 games, won 31, and outscored their opponents 304-26.

The City of Toronto held a small civic reception for the Canadas/CCM team at Union Station on the night of their return. In reporting on it in The Star on February 26, writer C.H. Good was quite complimentary of the team, and although his story mentions they would be “sure of a great reception when they show themselves at the Ravina rink where the Mercantile League first playoff game is scheduled, and also tomorrow noon when they will be guests of honor at a luncheon to be tendered by the West Toronto Kiwanis,” and, furthermore, that a civic dinner, or, at least “something of the sort” had been promised by the city fathers on hand at Union Station, I could find nothing to confirm any of it.

And so, Canada’s first World Champions of hockey soon faded into obscurity.

I wasn’t the first to uncover their tale, but I’ve certainly done my part.

And I still think it’s a pretty neat story!

Go Leafs Go!

On May 2, 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. It was the fourth time they’d won it in six seasons. Overall, in what was then the 50-year history of the NHL, the franchise had won the Stanley Cup 13 times; 11 since the team name had become Maple Leafs 40 years earlier. And how many times have they won it in the 56 years since then? Well, we all know the answer to that! It’s the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history.

When the city’s newspapers came out on May 2, 1967, they didn’t know yet that the Maple Leafs would win that night. Interestingly, they didn’t even consider the opportunity to win it to be front-page news. I don’t have access to the Toronto Telegram, but you can see the front page from the Toronto Daily Star and The Globe and Mail here:

Sports sections were a lot smaller back in 1967, but you can see that — even in the sports pages — the Stanley Cup news was limited to one page in each paper … and not even the full page:

Tonight, May 2, 2023, the Maple Leafs will face the Florida Panthers in the first game of their second-round playoff series. (Note that in 1967, the last year of the six-team NHL, it only took two playoff rounds to win the Stanley Cup.) I still get home delivery of the Toronto Star, and in my paper this morning you can see that Leafs news is featured on the front page (it may well have been even more prominent if not for the death of Gordon Lightfoot yesterday) and it fills the entire front page of the sports section:

Leafs news also dominates the next two pages inside the sports section (which is only six pages long these days):

And the Leafs also get space on two more pages in the front section:

What does all this mean?

Nothing, really.

I just thought it was kind of interesting.

Hope you do too.

Go Leafs Go!

Back in the Blue Jay Day…

Though I’m putting this out on April 11, I actually wrote it two days ago, on April 9. With the Blue Jays opening at home today, I’m waxing nostalgic about the home opener from 40 years ago, which was played on April 9, 1983. And, really, for that entire 1983 season.

What a great year!

So many memories…

My family has had Blue Jays seasons tickets since the moment they went on sale when the team began in 1977. I worked on the Blue Jays ground crew from 1981 until 1985. Those were the “Worst to First” years … and it’s hard for me to believe how long ago it was.

The Blue Jays ground crew. This might actually be 1985.

I am nothing like the sports fan I used to be. Though Lynn might tell you differently, I watch nowhere near the amount of hockey and baseball I used to. My two brothers still live and die a little with the Blue Jays. Even my mother does.

Me?

Well, I still enjoy baseball, but some times I feel like I only follow it as closely as I do out of loyalty to my younger self. Because, man, my younger self loved this team!

Our family was Blue Jays crazy … even with a team that lost more than 100 games in each of its first three seasons, and finished last (seventh place then) in the American League East five years in a row. That fifth season of 1981 was the strike year, when a big chunk of summer baseball was wiped out. The Blue Jays actually showed a lot of improvement in “the second half” of that season and, come 1982, I was optimistically predicting they would win 75 games. I remember us on the Ground Crew writing down our predictions and burying them under home plate before the season started … though I don’t ever remember digging them up to see if anyone had correctly predicted the Jays’ 78-82 record that year.

Celebrating the end of the season in 1982.

The 1982 Blue Jays finished strong. They went 44-37 in the final 81 games of the season, winning nine of their last 12. The 78th win was a 5-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on the final day of the season, and moved the Jays out of seventh place … albeit into a tie for sixth and last with the Cleveland Indians. Jim Clancy pitched a complete game, and though there were only 19,064 at the game, the crowd roared as he came off the mound. Clancy, and several other Blue Jays, fired their hats up into the stands, where fans were shouting “We’re Number Six!” and “Bring on the Indians!”

The Maple Leafs were particularly terrible in the mid 1980s … so I couldn’t wait for spring and for baseball to start again.

The Blue Jays began the 1983 season in Boston on April 5, and I can clearly remember watching on TV in the Common Room at C House in Otonabee College at Trent University. Not a lot of other people were watching. Rance Mulliniks hit a two-run homer to cap a four-run second inning and the Blue Jays romped to a 7-1 win over Boston. But, after dropping the second game to the Red Sox, the Jays were 1-1 when they opened at home against the Yankees.

Jesse Barfield rounds the bases after three Yankees collided.

I don’t remember much about that game (I had to look up most of this), but I do remember the key play. The Jays had led 2-0 since the bottom of the second, but the bullpen (a crippling weakness all that season, and the next) coughed up two in the seventh and two in the eighth and the Yankees led 4-2. In the bottom of the eighth, Damaso Garcia led off with a single off Doyle Alexander, and the Yankees went to Goose Gossage, who was a little past his prime but still one of the most intimidating closers (we called them “stoppers” then) of his day. But Gossage walked Dave Collins and then gave up a run-scoring single to Willie Upshaw and it was 4-3. Surprisingly, Cliff Johnson laid down a bunt, moving Collins to third and Upshaw to second.

That’s when the key play happened.

Ernie Whitt was the batter, and he popped up into shallow right field. Collins was fast, but no way this ball was deep enough to score him. But then second baseman Willie Randolph, center fielder Jerry Mumphrey, and right fielder Steve Kemp all collided.

They didn’t need a pitch clock to play quickly back in 1983!

The ball fell in!

I leaped so high I hit my head on the bottom of the concrete roof atop the third base photographers dugout where I was watching the game! But it was worth the pain. Collins scored to tie the game, and then Jesse Barfield hit a three-run homer. Roy Lee Jackson — who had pitched poorly over 1 1/3 ineffective innings, helping to blow that 2-0 lead — pitched the top of the ninth and hung on to get the victory as the Jays won 7-4. (Jackson did this sort of thing so often, we used to call a reliever blowing the lead but getting the win “a Roy Lee victory.”)

The Jays actually struggled during that first month of the season, but won a huge game on April 19. I was back at university in Peterborough, where I had trouble getting radio reception in my dorm room. (Not a lot of TV coverage in those days.) But for some reason, I could tune in the game on my car radio in the parking lot behind C House. So, I was sitting out there on a cool evening, listening to the bottom of the ninth. The Jays were trailing Cleveland 7-5 when — with two outs — first Cliff Johnson and then Lloyd Moseby (after a Buck Martinez single) hit two-run homers to pull out a 9-7 victory.

The cover of Sports Illustrated … and my souvenir Lineup card.

That big win turned the season around, and the Jays won 22 of their next 35 games. When they moved into first place all alone in the AL East with a 7-6 win over Detroit on May 24, I took Bobby Cox’s team lineup card from the wall in the dugout to keep as a souvenir.

Toronto, Baltimore, New York and Milwaukee were all in a tight race for first throughout June, and when they reached the All-Star break on July 3, the Blue Jays were 44-33 and on top by a single game. Not only was it the first time Toronto had been in first place at the All-Star break, it was the first time the team had been anywhere other than last place! Three days later, Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb started, and won, the 50th anniversary All-Star Game.

The Jays remained in first place until July 25. But not everyone was a believer. I remember Duke Snider, the Hall of Fame player and Montreal Expos broadcaster, saying, “Water always finds its level, and so will the Blue Jays.” And Hal McRae of the Kansas City Royals said something along the lines of he didn’t think the Blue Jays would win the AL East because they never had. That seemed stupid to me! Nobody wins anything until the first time they win something.

The Blue Jays did begin to slip from contention in August, but there were still highlights. A doubleheader sweep of the Yankees on August 2 … and Dave Winfield sort of accidentally-on-purpose killing a seagull with a throw two nights later. Still, it all fell apart late in August at the end of a two-week road trip with a series of crushing, last-inning losses in Baltimore and Detroit.

Monday Night Baseball came to Toronto on July 18, 1983.

Our family was in Detroit, visiting our American cousins, when the Jays played the Tigers. At least 10 of us were at the first game of the series on Friday night, which was a tense, tight, 3-3 tie through nine innings. With no faith anymore in our terrible bullpen, Bobby Cox stuck with starter Jim Gott to pitch the bottom of tenth … and, with two out, he gave up a game-losing homer to Alan Trammell.

Jim Gott was the friendliest Blue Jays player during my five years on the ground crew, and before the Jays set out on that long road trip, I had asked him if he would be able to put aside tickets for my brothers and me for the Saturday game in Detroit. Of course, at that time, I had no idea he’d been pitching on Friday night … nor how devastating that game would be. Still, on Saturday morning, he called at my aunt and uncle’s house to tell me he’d got the tickets.

(My family’s end of the bargain was that we were going to invite him and his wife to dinner after the season … but he never followed up on that. I was in touch with Gott via email through the Los Angeles Dodgers about 10 years ago and reminded him that we still owed him dinner! He didn’t follow up then either.)

Tiger fans celebrate Chet Lemon’s homer.

The Jays won that Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday, we drove back to Toronto from Detroit listening to the game on the car radio. The Jays were leading 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth when the bullpen struck again. Dave Geisel, who’d come on with two out in the seventh and done well since then, got the first out in the ninth, but then walked Lance Parrish. Bobby Cox went to Randy Moffitt (brother of tennis star Billie Jean King), who retired Glenn Wilson on a screaming line drive for the second out of the inning.

Maybe Cox always planned to use Moffitt for just one batter.

Or maybe the loud out changed his mind.

Whatever the reason, Cox made the switch to our supposed relief ace, Joey McLaughlin.

Tigers first baseman Rick Leach singled on McLaughlin’s second pitch.

Then, on Joey’s third pitch to Chet Lemon, the Tigers’ centerfielder smashed a three-run homer.

At that point, we had turned off the 401 at London for either a late lunch or an early dinner. That part, I can’t quite remember. But, what I can clearly recall is that as we drove up to the restaurant (a Swiss Chalet) in stunned silence, my father asked, “Anybody still feel like eating?”

None of us did.

So he turned the car around and got back on the highway.

A special Toronto Star section celebrating the 1983 season.

The Blue Jays finished in fourth place in 1983 with a record of 89-73, but were only nine games out of first. It took another two years, and the addition of Tom Henke to the bullpen, before they finally won the American League East in 1985.

It was another seven seasons until the first of back-to-back World Series titles.

It’s now been 30 years since that second Blue Jays championship.

We’re still waiting for the third.

Maybe this is the year.

Maybe not…

But, I guess I’ll remain loyal to my younger self a little while longer.