Hockey Hall of … Who?!?!

Well, the second round of the NHL playoffs get under way tonight.

Without the Leafs.

Again.

(But with the first Battle of Alberta in 31 years!)

It’s still a long way until we get to the Stanley Cup Final, and there will be the announcement of the NHL Award winners this year before we know the 2022 Stanley Cup champions. And the class of 2022 Hockey Hall of Fame inductions will be announced on June 27th, which should be around the same time the Final finally ends. As no class of 2021 was named, to allow for the induction of the 2020 honoured members, whose original ceremony had been cancelled due to Covid, there are a lot of new names eligible for the first time this year.

It could be a big year for Swedish players and for Vancouver Canucks, as among the likely selections new to be considered this year are Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings, twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Canucks, plus goalie Roberto Luongo. And perhaps Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson will be chosen from among a list of holdovers that includes several worthy candidates who have yet to be honoured.

Daniel Sedin, Roberto Luongo, and Henrik Sedin are Hall of Fame hopefuls.

The first inductees to the Hockey Hall of Fame were announced 77 years ago, on May 1, 1945. Only eight members were expected to be elected to that inaugural class, but a tie in the voting saw nine men named. All of those original inductees were deceased. They are (in alphabetical order):

Hobey Baker

Chuck Gardiner

Eddie Gerard

Frank McGee

Howie Morenz

Tommy Phillips

Harvey Pulford

Hod Stuart

Georges Vezina

Of those names, Vezina still resonates with hockey fans today because of the trophy for best goalie that was named in his honour. Some fans might still know of Morenz, and maybe McGee. Perhaps Hobey Baker as well, for the NCAA trophy in his name. But only fans who know the game’s history well generally recognize the others. Tommy Phillips is an historical favourite of mine, and as the captain and star of the 1907 Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles, he is well-covered in my upcoming book, Engraved in History, about that team.

Tommy Phillips is seated immediately to the right of the Stanley Cup.

Though I’ve been promising this for a while now, I really will be providing more details soon about the long-delayed launch of Engraved in History. (Promise!) And it was in looking up stories about Tommy Phillips recently that I stumbled across the articles that inspired this story.

Baseball elected the first members of its Hall of Fame in 1936, and opened a museum at Cooperstown in 1939. That opening seems to have inspired talk of a Hockey Hall of Fame, and as those talks gained momentum, sportswriters and former hockey stars were often asked for their opinion of who should make up the inaugural class. Many names — including several of those above — were bandied about in the early 1940s. This was mainly a Canadian pastime, but Americans offered their opinion too.

Boston Globe sports editor Jerry Nason chimed in on December 28, 1943. While admitting it was hard to select from among such great athletes as Lionel Conacher, Cyclone Taylor, Art Ross, Lester Patrick, King Clancy and more, Nason (who didn’t figure to be called upon when the time actually came, and acknowledged that he was no expert) offered three names: Morenz, Frank Nighbor, and Eddie Shore.

Frank Nighbor, Eddie Shore and Howie Morenz.

A week later, Nason’s column was all about an old-time Ottawa hockey fan living in the Boston area who’d been inspired by Nason’s list to offer his own Hall of Fame selections. Among those that Roy Welch was campaigning for were Tommy Phillips — whom he thought could skate backwards through the entire Boston Bruins team of that time — Lester Patrick, Joe Hall, and Moose Johnson. He also claimed to have known Cyclone Taylor personally. Still his picks (in reverse order) were:

Newsy Lalonde

Frank McGee

Marty McGuire

Marty McGuire?!?!

Marty McGuire, said Mr. Welch, was a star of the 1897 Ottawa Victorias. He credited McGuire with inventing both the hook check and the poke check. “For a defensemen,” said Welch, “he wasn’t big and he certainly was slow. He skated on his heels. He could go the length of the ice without picking up his feet — but you couldn’t get the puck away from him!”

Marty McGuire!?!?

Frank McGee and Newsy Lalonde.

Now, I don’t claim to know every old-time hockey player there ever was, but if a guy was good enough to be considered for the Hall of Fame, I’d like to think I’d at least have heard of him! Fortunately, someone at the Society for International Hockey Research (I’m looking at you, Ernie Fitzsimmons!) must have heard of him at some point, because SIHR has a fairly lengthy entry for McGuire.

It turns out that Marty McGuire didn’t play for the Ottawa Victorias in 1897. He played with the Ottawa Capitals, who were crushed so badly by the Montreal Victorias in a 15-2 loss in the first game of an 1897 Stanley Cup challenge that the second game was called off. But, two years later, McGuire played with Frank McGee for the Ottawa Aberdeens, a top local intermediate team. In 1899-1900 he played with McGee’s brother Jim and Hod Stuart’s brother Bruce (a Hall of Famer in his own right) with the Canadian Atlantic Railway Team in the Canadian Railway Hockey League. (This was an Ottawa-Montreal circuit that actually featured a few future stars of the game.)

A handful of articles mentioning Marty McGuire can be found when searching Ottawa newspapers from the 1890s into the early 1900s. Nothing, however, that makes him sound like he was a future Hockey Hall of Famer. Obituaries in newspapers in Ottawa and Vancouver (where he was living when he died in 1944) say nothing of his hockey career.

Marty McGuire?!?! (This is taken from his SIHR data panel.)

Still, from 1905 to 1909, Marty McGuire was playing hockey in Fort William and Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay, Ontario). If there is anything at all to Roy Welch’s claim that McGuire invented the poke check and the hook check, he may well have taught or inspired Jack Walker, who was playing hockey in Port Arthur at that time and is often credited (as is Frank Nighbor) as the originator of those moves.

Roy Welch’s thoughts in Jerry Nason’s column in Boston caught the attention of Baz O’Meara, writing in the Montreal Star. In his column on January 7, 1943, O’Meara takes Welch to task, referring to him as “one of those old timers who gets a bit misty in the minaret when he starts talking about old time stars.”

Clearly, O’Meara (who’d grown up in Ottawa in the 1890s and 1900s) had never heard of Marty McGuire either. He also dismissed Welch’s claims that Frank McGee used to practice by setting up planks of wood an inch thick and then breaking them with his shot.

“The late Frank must have done those things in secret,” says O’Meara, “because when he was an Aberdeen he was a hot shot, but not that good. When he was with Ottawa he was a very hard shot too, and very accurate, but he was no boardbreaker.”

In summary, O’Meara writes that, “The Welch findings sound to us like the maunderings of an old timer who dwells in the past.”

Whereas my story presented for you here today represents the maunderings (ramblings) of a middle-aged timer who dwells in the past!

How They “Watched” in the Old Days…

The NHL playoffs are under way. A pretty great start for the Maple Leafs … but we’ll see.

Can’t get to the game? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that!

But before there were apps for your smartphone, streaming services on your laptop or tablet, and even before there was television and radio, there was the telegraph…

Winnipeg Victorias at Montreal Victorias. Manitoba Free Press, February 15, 1896
Montreal Victorias at Winnipeg Victorias. From the Montreal Star, December 28, 1896
Winnipeg Victorias at Montreal Shamrocks. From the Montreal Star, January 29, 1901.
Montreal AAA (Montreal HC) at Winnipeg Victorias. Montreal Star, March 13, 1902.
Rat Portage Thistles at Ottawa Hockey Club. Montreal Star, March 7, 1905.
Montreal Wanderers at Kenora Thistles. Montreal Star, March 20, 1907.
Edmonton Hockey Club at Ottawa Senators.
Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, January 15 and 18, 1910.
Edmonton Hockey Club at Ottawa Senators. Manitoba Free Press, January 18, 1910.
Ottawa Senators at Quebec Bulldogs. Ottawa Citizen, February 4, 1911.
Victoria Aristocrats at Toronto Blue Shirts. Montreal Star, March 13, 1914.

And then, something new starting in 1922. Those same telegraph bulletins are now being read out loud on the radio.

Vancouver Millionaires at Toronto St. Pats. From the Vancouver Province,
the Vancouver Sun, and the Vancouver World on March 28, 1922.
Ottawa Senators at Edmonton Eskimos in Vancouver.
Edmonton Journal, March 31, 1923.
Vancouver Maroons at Montreal Canadiens. From the Montreal Star and the Calgary Herald on March 17, 1924. (Reports on subsequent games between the Calgary Tigers and the Canadiens were also aired on the radio.)

By 1931, there was the first live coast-to-coast radio play-by-play broadcasts by Foster Hewitt of the Stanley Cup Final.

Chicago Black Hawks at Montreal Canadiens. Montreal Gazette, April 14, 1931
Reports on the nationwide broadcast in the
Winnipeg Tribune and the Vancouver Sun on April 14, 1931.

And, after the first Hockey Night in Canada television broadcasts in 1952–53 (and a French-only broadcast of a few games during the Stanley Cup Final in 1953), the Stanley Cup Final was on TV in English for the first time in 1954 … joined in progress, but better than nothing!

Detroit Red Wings at Montreal Canadiens, from the Ottawa Journal on April 13, 1954.

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.

Buck’s Battle Has Me Feeling Blue…

The announcement on Sunday that Buck Martinez will be stepping away from Blue Jays broadcasts for a while to seek treatment for cancer has me feeling sad and nostalgic. Nostalgic is certainly not a new feeling for me. I like history; I write about history; and I’m lucky to have had a very happy childhood to recall. Yes, I like to look back … even to the sad things that have happened in my life.

My grandfather (my father’s father) died 50 years ago this summer. For my brothers and me, now all in our mid 50s, that is almost an entire lifetime ago. Even I, as the oldest, have very few memories of him … and the things I do remember, I don’t really know if I actually remember, or just know the stories from years of re-telling them.

From what I heard from my father in later years, his parents weren’t great parents. I think they were much more in love with each other than with the idea of raising children. My father, and his sister (my Aunt Monica) certainly weren’t neglected, or abused, or anything awful. I just think they weren’t surrounded by the same obvious love my brothers and I (and I hope my cousins) were. I remember my father telling me once that the only time his father had said he was proud of him was when I was born. I’m not sure that was much of an accomplishment on my father’s part! But like many men of an older generations who weren’t great fathers, my grandfather was a very good grandfather.

Me in my days on the Blue Jays ground crew during Buck’s time playing in Toronto.

In the few short years he had with us, Poppa Moe spent lots of time with us. I remember going to a movie with him. (The Gnome-mobile. I was probably only four years old. I don’t remember anything about the plot, but I can still hear parts of the song in my head.) I know he took David and Jonathan to Toronto Marlies hockey games. (Don’t remember why I didn’t go.) And I remember the delight he took when we were riding in his car and Jonathan, who was probably only about three or four years old, would see a sign for an Esso gas station and spell out the letters forwards and backwards.

“E-S-S-O.”

“O-S-S-E!”

I certainly remember meals with Poppa Moe and Nanny Betty at Smitty’s Pancake House in Yorkdale Mall. Poppa Moe used to say to us, “I can’t say pancakes. I can only say pwancakes.”

And we’d always shriek back, “You just said it!”

He’d say, “No. I didn’t say pancakes. I can only say pwancakes.”

“You just said it!” we’d shriek again.

I’m pretty sure the last time I saw him — at least the last memory I have of seeing him — was at Smitty’s. It would have been 50 years ago next month, probably in mid-to-late May of 1972.

David and Poppa Moe had made a bet on the 1972 Stanley Cup Final. David picked the Boston Bruins over the New York Rangers. I seem to have a memory of watching one of the games in that series at my grandparents’ house on Glen Cedar Road near Bathurst and Eglinton … though that might be incorrect, because they were certainly living in an apartment on Walmer Road (near St. Clair and Spadina) by that summer.

Anyway, the Bruins won the Cup and David won the bet.

The prize?

One dollar!

Over dinner at Smitty’s after the series (which ended on May 11, a Thursday, so perhaps as soon as that coming weekend though maybe not until later in the month), I remember Poppa Moe asking David how he’d like to be paid. Did he want a dollar bill, or four quarters … or a bag of pennies that might have more than 100 pennies in it? David chose the bag of pennies, and Poppa Moe handed it over.

I’m sure we counted it, though perhaps not until we got home.

I don’t remember how many pennies were actually in it.

And that was, I’m pretty sure, the last time I saw him.

Soon after that, Poppa Moe was diagnosed with cancer. I used to think it was liver cancer, but it may have been lung cancer. (He was certainly a smoker.) Whichever it was, he’d probably been sick for a while already. He didn’t last long; dying on August 26, 1972. I guess, as young kids, we were spared the sight of seeing him sick.

Four generations of Zweig men circa 1964. (That’s me, The Little Prince, sitting on the table.) On the right side, the little guy in the cap is my father, seated beside my grandfather and his sister, my Aunt Monica. The guy standing at the back is family friend Louis Rosenberg. (This picture may have been taken at Maple Leaf Stadium.)

During that summer, I remember my father taking me to dinner at my grandparents’ new apartment. Nanny broiled steaks … which my father would later say was one of the few things she ever actually cooked. As I remember it, we were on our way to a Toronto Argonauts football game. (Having just checked the schedule online, I see that the Argos played their first two home games that summer on August 3 and August 16, so I’d guess August 3 … though perhaps it was in July and not actually before a football game.) I remember Nanny serving the steaks to us at the small kitchen table. Poppa Moe wasn’t there. He was in the bed room. Resting. (Dying.)

I wasn’t taken in to see him. Or if I was, I don’t remember it. My last memory of him is from the payoff dinner at Smitty’s … but maybe I just choose to remember that because it’s a nicer story.

My grandfather was a big sports fan. And that trait was certainly passed down to my father, and then to me and my brothers. (There are plenty of sports fans on my mother’s side too, so we come by it honestly!) Poppa Moe and my dad went to Argos games, and then my dad took us. Football, and the Argos, were my favourite, until the Blue Jays and baseball took over. I was on the Blue Jays ground crew from 1981 through 1985. Those were my last two years of high school and three years of university, and the “worst-to-first” years in Blue Jays history.

Buck Martinez was traded to Toronto on May 10, 1981, and got into his first game the following night. Once Bobby Cox arrived as manager in 1982, Buck became a big part of his platoon plans at catcher with Ernie Whitt and the Blue Jays finally got good!

Though Dan Diamond and Associates was mostly a hockey publisher, working on the Blue Jays 25th anniversary book was definitely my favourite project! This picture of Buck Martinez calling out Bill Caudill is one I particularly like.

Buck had two great moments during the first pennant-winning season of 1985. The first came on June 6 against the Detroit Tigers. Ernie Whitt actually caught most of that game, as Jimmy Key took a perfect game into the sixth inning, and a no-hitter into the ninth. Key wound up going 10 shutouts innings of two-hit ball. Buck came on in the 11th inning after Manny Lee ran for Whitt. He caught Gary Lavelle in the top of the 11th and Jim Acker in the 12th. In the bottom of the 12th, Buck got his first at-bat of the game with one out and George Bell on first base. He was hitting just .134 at the time, and fell behind 1-and-2 in the count before taking Aurelio Lopez (Señor Smoke) deep for a two-run homer that won the game 2-0. It was a huge, confidence-boosting victory over the 1984 World Series champs!

Five weeks later, on July 9, 1985, in Seattle, Buck was involved in one of the most remarkable defensive plays in Blue Jays history. With one out in the bottom of the third, he tagged out Phil Bradley at the plate after a Jesse Barfield throw despite the fact that the collision with Bradley tore the tendons in his right ankle and broke his leg. Dazed, Buck threw the ball away trying to make a play at third base, but was still alert enough to take a return throw and tag out Gorman Thomas at the plate to complete the first and only 9-2-7-2 double play in Blue Jays history. (If you’ve never seen it, click here!)

Buck missed the rest of the season after that injury, but managed to return for a final year in 1986 before retiring to the broadcast booth. I like to think I had a small part in his post-playing career, as I read lines with him once after a game while he was preparing to tape a radio commercial with Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek. (Buck doesn’t remember it. I asked him about it once, a few years ago, at a Blue Jays season ticket holder event.)

It’s going to be an even tougher battle this time, but here’s wishing Buck Martinez all the best for another remarkable comeback.

Six Degrees of Cyclone Taylor

Future Hockey Hall of Famer Billy Gilmour spun some interesting tales from his bygone days for the Montreal Star on June 20, 1938. An uncredited writer had caught up with the former member of the Ottawa Silver Seven on the deck of the Cunard liner Alaunia before he departed from Montreal to meet up with his daughter in France for the summer.

Gilmour spoke about some of his teammates on the 1909 Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators. Specifically Cyclone Taylor. “We had our fast men,” said Gilmour of the players in his heyday. “I don’t think anything you produced today was faster than Fred Taylor. He could go backwards faster than a lot of the boys could skate forward.”

“How did he compare with [Howie] Morenz?” the writer asked.

“I think he was as fast as Morenz,” said Gilmour.

When asked who, as a right winger, was the greatest left winger he ever had to cover, Gilmour answered Tommy Phillips of the Kenora Thistles. As for the toughest defensemen to get around, “there were a lot of them,” Gilmour said. “But when you go back a long time, I think Dickey Boon was as good as they came.”

Cyclone Taylor and Billy Gilmour.

More than a decade later, on February 13, 1950, Baz O’Meara of the Montreal Star was talking hockey with Cyclone Taylor. In reminiscing about the old days, Taylor discussed Billy Gilmour, whom he thought was both a very good player and a very good looking player.

“He was one of the finest looking men I ever saw on the ice,” said Taylor. “He had wonderful style, could hit a terrific body check, and because he was so elegant looking some opposing players wold try to take rough liberties with him. They only did it once because Bill could handle himself in any company on any rink.”

Taylor, however, wasn’t one to glorify the stars of his day. When O’Meara assured him that, “a good many in any age would be a good man any time,” Taylor said: “I don’t know how I would have liked this game. I guess I would have done alright in it… but perhaps we undervalue some of the present day stars and overvalue some of the old ones.”

When asked if he had seen Maurice Richard play, Taylor said, “Yes, and I like him. He does things with the puck. He gives action and he takes a lot. He is a fine skater and is ideally adapted to the present type of game.”

Howie Morenz and Maurice Richard.

When Maurice Richard got older, he seemed to have a bit of a mad-on with modern hockey. Early in the 1980-81 season, Richard was in Lethbridge, Alberta to referee an oldtimers game. He spoke with local sportswriter Garry Allison, who wrote about their conversation in the Lethbridge Herald on December 2, 1980. The Rocket admitted that he didn’t get to too many NHL games anymore, and didn’t even watch them much on TV. He didn’t like the style of the modern game. “I don’t like these slap shots from centre, where they race in for the puck,” he said. “When you take the slap shot out of the game, you see more passing. You see guys carrying the puck into the other end. You see better hockey.”

Still, Richard was a fan of Mike Bossy, who was early on his his quest that season of matching the Rocket’s record of 50 goals in 50 games. Richard thought Bossy had a chance to do it, and he rated the Islanders’ sniper as a similar player to himself — not a super hockey player, but a superb goal scorer. “There were a lot better hockey players than me,” Richard admitted, “but they didn’t work as well as I did around the net.”

As Bossy closed in on the mark, the New York Islanders offered to pay Richard’s expenses if he wished to join the record watch. The Rocket said no, but wished Bossy well and reminded people that he had told the Canadiens to draft him back in 1977 after seeing the kid from his own Montreal North neighbourhood starring as a junior player.

Richard wasn’t there when Bossy scored goal #50 in game #50, but he telephoned him in the dressing room after the game. The Rocket also sent a telegram, which read, in part: “Congratulations from an old recordman to a young recordman. I always knew one day my record would be surpassed or tied [and] I had always hoped that it would be done by the player from Ahuntsic who I have admired from the start. We are proud of you here in Quebec.”

Mike Bossy and Auston Matthews.

Mike Bossy announced last October that he is battling lung cancer. He’s currently said to be resting peacefully at home, but apparently not in palliative care as was recently reported.

Like Maurice Richard, Bossy hasn’t always seemed like a fan of the game since his playing days ended, but it would appear that he did remain an astute observer. Last season, Steve Simmons wrote in the Toronto Sun in February of 2021, that Bossy was predicting Toronto’s Auston Matthews would win the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goals.

“I do like what I’m seeing from him,” Bossy said of Matthews. “Watch him, he loves to score goals, he has that natural goal-scorer’s instinct, he has the shot, or shall I say, shots. You can’t always explain scoring. It just happens.”

Matthews did, of course, win the Richard Trophy last year and is on pace to win it again this year, having recently tied Rick Vaive’s Leafs record of 54 goals in one season. He has 47 goals in his last 48 games, and is a favourite to win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP as well. But the playoffs will be the true test.

Bossy, it seems, would have loved to play under similar conditions to what offensive stars such as Matthews and Connor McDavid have in the NHL today. Around the same time last year that he spoke with Toronto’s Steve Simmons, Bossy told Larry Brooks of the New York Post, “you don’t see the cross-checking that we faced. You don’t see hooking and holding around the net and there’s not much hitting around the net nor in front of the net. There’s a lot of room out there that’s not talked about.”

No doubt Maurice Richard and Howie Morenz would feel the same way.

Probably Billy Gilmour and Cyclone Taylor too.

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.]

Howie Morenz = 2 x 7

In the first four years of my doing this web site (2014 to 2018), I wrote pretty close to one story a week. In the four years since then, it’s been more like one a month, if that. And whether or not I’ve been writing a lot or a little, there have been so many times over these eight years when I’ve thought, “Well, that’s it. That’s the last story. I’m out of ideas.”

But something new (or something old!) always comes up.

Sometimes, how they come up is as interesting to me as what comes up.

Some of you, I hope, will recall the stories I wrote back in January of 2021 about Billy Gilmour, his hockey-playing family and his getaway from Nazi-occupied France. This past weekend, I got a comment on the family story from a genealogist in Ottawa who attends the same church the Gilmours had attended and is putting something together about the family for the church records.

This image is from Wikimedia Commons credited to Maniacduhockey.

Long story short, his email prompted me to go looking to see if any new information had turned up on the Nazi getaway. Specifically, I wondered if I might find something in the Montreal Star, which has recently became available through the newspaper site I like to use and which hadn’t been available when I wrote those stories.

I didn’t find anything more about Gilmour and the Nazis, but I did find a few other items of interest. One was in a column in the Montreal Star by the legendary sportswriter/editor Baz O’Meara, who was writing about Gilmour in his column on March 14, 1959, the day after Gilmour’s death. There wasn’t anything about Billy Gilmour that was new to me … but O’Meara did write something of interest later in his column about Howie Morenz.

“[Former Montreal Canadiens owner] Leo Dandurand calls our attention to the fact that Howie Morenz’s number seven was twice retired by the Canadiens. For the first time when he was traded to Chicago in 1933 for Lionel Conacher…. The Morenz number seven was retired, but when he was brought back to Canadiens in 1937 some time before he died, he resumed the number. Then it was retired for keeps.”

Now, Leo Dandurand is known to be a teller of tall tales. It was him, for instance, that came up with the story that the great Canadiens goalie Georges Vezina was the father of 22 children. To this day, you’ll often see that story reported as if it’s a fact … which it most definitely is not! And, of course, old-time writers like Baz O’Meara were known to be great at spinning a yarn themselves without always getting their facts right either. For example, in this case, I knew that Morenz had actually been traded in 1934, not 1933.

Howie Morenz (left) and his friend and teammate Aurele Joliat.

So, why should I believe the rest of it?

As I’d always heard it, (and I think, as everyone who’s heard it knows), Morenz’s jersey was retired as part of the tributes to him at the memorial game played in his honour at the Montreal Forum on November 2, 1937. (Morenz had died on March 8, 1937 — 85 years ago last week — some six weeks after his leg was shattered during a game.) But in this case, it turns out that Dandurand and O’Meara were correct! Fortunately, O’Meara had enough right in the rest of his story about the dinner he described where Morenz’s number was first retired that it wasn’t too difficult to find.

On October 11, 1934 (not 1933) – one week after Dandurand had traded Morenz from Montreal to Chicago – the Canadiens held a dinner for their now former star. In attendance was Dandurand and other members of Canadiens management, Morenz’s Montreal teammates, Canadiens former superstar Newsy Lalonde, Montreal Maroons captain Hooley Smith and coach/GM Tommy Gorman, plus Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde and a few other dignitaries.

“His number 7 will be preserved,” read an account of the dinner in the next day’s Montreal Star, “as a sort of memento of his great achievements in Canadien memories and it will never be worn by another player so long as Howie is in action. This announcement was made by Leo Dandurand last night in graceful acknowledgement of the part that Howie had played in building up the Canadien team and tradition.”

From the Montreal Star on October 12, 1934.

NHL jersey retirements were obviously in vogue at the time. The Toronto Maple Leafs had retired number 6 in honour of Ace Bailey on February 14, 1934, following his recent career-ending injury in Boston. Then eight days later, on February 22, 1934, the Bruins announced the retirement of number 3 when Lionel Hitchman played the final game of his NHL career.

Howie Morenz (who wore number 3 during his 1 1/2 seasons in Chicago, and number 12 in a half-season with the New York Rangers) did, indeed, resume wearing number 7 when he was traded back to Montreal for the 1936–37 season. But even with the first retirement of his number on October 11, 1934, Morenz would still be the third player in NHL history to have his number retired, which it was, permanently, in his memory in 1937.

Sadly, Morenz was the first in the NHL to have his number retired because of his death.

The Kenora Thistles: Try, Try Again

If all continues to go according to schedule, by early May you’ll finally be able to read my new book Engraved in History: The Story of the Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles. With the NHL season scheduled to end on April 29, and the Stanley Cup playoffs expected to start on May 2 (and quite possibly run until late June), I hope we’ll be able to generate some good buzz for the book during that time.

In my most recent post from last month, you may recall Evelyn Gunne of Kenora singing:

Three times you’ve tried to win, boys,
“Three times and out,” they say,
But now the Cup is ours, boys,
For you’ve brought it home to stay.

The Thistles, who beat the Montreal Wanderers in 1907, had first gone after the Stanley Cup in March of 1903, when Kenora was still known as Rat Portage. They faced Ottawa that year and were beaten rather easily in two straight games in a best-of-three series by the soon-to-be legendary Silver Seven. Everyone seemed to agree the Thistles were too young and unproven to win the Cup that year, but that they would be back.

Indeed they would.

The Rat Portage Thistles of 1904-05. Seven of the eight players (all but goalie Eddie Giroux) were either born or raised in the small town. McGimsie, Griffis, Hooper and Phillips would all one day be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Two years later – on March 7, March 9 and March 11, 1905 – Rat Portage (the town name wouldn’t change to Kenora for another two months) took on Ottawa for the Stanley Cup again in another best-of-three series. Hockey fans who know anything about the history of this era are likely to know of Ottawa trouncing Dawson City 9-2 and 23-2 (behind 14 goals from Frank McGee) in January of 1905. The Ottawa-Dawson series might be the most famous from the Stanley Cup’s early “Challenge Era,” but the Silver Seven versus the Thistles that March was easily the greatest series of that time.

The Rat Portage Thistles of 1904-05 were a powerhouse. Playing in the Manitoba Hockey League with the Victorias and the Rowing Club of Winnipeg, as well Brandon and Portage la Prairie, the Thistles were overwhelming favourites for the league title. They began their season on January 2, 1905, with a 14-2 win over Portage. After a shocking 3-2 loss to the Rowing Club, Rat Portage finished the season (hockey schedules were MUCH shorter in those days!) with six straight wins. The Thistles ended the 8-game season with a 7-and-1 record and outscored their opponents 81-22. The average score in their seven victories was close to 11-3.

The 1903 Rat Portage Thisles, shown in the Montreal Star on March 12, 1903.

The high scores, in those years and others, are the reason why there times in the book when I draw comparisons between the 1900s Thistles and the 1980s Edmonton Oilers.

The Thistles, of course, are remembered today because of the 1907 championship which made Kenora the smallest town ever to win the Stanley Cup. And yet star player Si Griffis thought the 1905 Rat Portage squad was actually the better team. (In the Edmonton analogy, Griffis would be the Thistles’ Mark Messier to captain Tommy Phillips’ Wayne Gretzky.) With a group of stars who excelled in speed and had the stamina to play the full 60 minutes without tiring, Griffis was quoted in a story for the Winnipeg Tribune on August 29, 1914, as saying, “I believe our seven of that season was the greatest ever placed on the ice.”

“Ottawa…” said Griffis of the 1905 team, “were better stickhandlers than the Thistles … [but as] a team, we excelled Ottawa.”

Rat Portage just didn’t get the breaks that year.

Headlines from the Ottawa Journal on March 8, 1905,
after Game One between Rat Portage and Ottawa.

If the Thistles of this era were the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, then the Ottawa team of the 1900s was the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers. The Silver Seven were talented, but they were tough … and they were dirty too. So when the Thistles challenged for the Stanley Cup in 1905, they asked for the new two-referee system that had been used for the first time that year in the Manitoba Hockey League.

Ottawa refused.

However, the trustees who oversaw Stanley Cup competition ordered that game one be played with the two-referee system (a referee and a judge-of-play), and game two with just a single referee. If a third game was needed — which it would be — there would be a referee and a judge of play in the first half but just the referee in the second. (Hockey was played with two 30-minute halves until the 1910-11 season.)

Like the Thistles, Ottawa had posted a 7-and-1 record in 1904-05. Playing in the Federal Amateur Hockey League with the Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Montagnards and teams in Brockville and Cornwall, Ontario, the Silver Seven outscored their opponents 60-19. Throw in the Stanley Cup victory against Dawson City in January, and Ottawa was 9-and-1 with 92 goals scored and only 23 goals against. Still, fans in the Canadian capital knew the competition hadn’t been great that winter and looked forward to a real test from the Thistles.

Images from the Montreal Star on March 8, 1905.

But no one could have expected what happened in game one!

Playing on hard, fast ice with two officials to call penalties, the Thistles stunned Ottawa with a 9-3 victory. Tommy Phillips scored five goals. (Some sources say six). Griffis added a pair and the two stars were recognized as the best players on the ice.

Ottawa had played that first game without future Hall of Famers Billy Gilmour and the great Frank McGee — who was Tommy Phillips’ only rival as the best player in hockey at this time. Both were back for game two, and with only one referee that night, Ottawa played much rougher.

Headlines from the Ottawa Journal on March 10, 1905 note the ice was slower.

“The second game of this series was the most punishing that I, or for that matter, any member of the old Thistles was ever in,” Griffis recalled for the 1914 Winnipeg Tribune story. “I don’t remember exactly what the other players received for their share, but I left the ice with my nose broken in two places, the first time by McGee, who was equally proficient in using the butt of his stick for jabbing as the other end for shooting purposes. Later on, I had it knocked back in position by Alf Smith.

“Players did not wear as many pads in those days as they do now,” Griffis continued, “and from having the wood laid on I had water on the knees, elbows, and hips. Even as late as today I have tangible evidence of the milling that I went through in Ottawa.”

Cartoons in the Ottawa Journal depict Si Griffis and Frank McGee.

The state of the ice in game two drew at least as much attention as the injuries and rough play in the newspapers the next day.

In the Capital, papers only remarked on the “slow” or “heavy” conditions, but elsewhere across Canada, fans were more than willing to believe the worst about Ottawa’s Silver Sluggers! In later years it would be claimed that after Rat Portage’s easy victory in game one, the Ottawa ice crew at Dey’s Arena, or possibly even the Ottawa fans, salted the playing surface in a deliberate attempt to slow down the Thistles in game two.

That probably wasn’t true.

Headlines in the Manitoba Free Press after Game Two.

However, it is possible that the ice was flooded a little too close to game time to allow it to freeze into a hard, fast surface. That’s what Griffis believed, although he didn’t think the Ottawa club had anything to do with it.

Still, “Ottawas Won by Doctoring the Ice,” cried the front-page headline in the Manitoba Free Press the morning after game two.

Soft ice wasn’t a problem for the final game of the 1905 series, and playing with the two-referee system in the first period, the Thistles led 2-1. Even with just the one referee, there were plenty of penalties called in the second half. Phillips and McGee traded hat tricks in the game, and Ottawa rallied for a 5-4 victory on a late goal by McGee. Yet everyone seemed to agree the Thistles would have tied it if there had been just a little more time left to play.

Game Three on March 11 was played on a Saturday night.
These were the headlines in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday.

“It was a hard fought game on the part of both teams,” said referee Mike Grant. “I do not care to say anything about the relative merits of the two teams, but it was anyone’s game until the final whistle sounded…. It was a great game of hockey, easily the best ever played for the Cup.”

Tommy Phillips, speaking for his team, said: “We were beaten, but only by the closest possible margin…. We led for three-quarters the distance and were only beaten under the wire by a nose. The gong saved the Cup-holders. The way the play was going we were sure of a score within a few minutes.”

“A couple of minutes more and they would have won,” said the Thistles’ honourary president Dr. Nelson Schnarr, speaking on behalf of the club executive. Schnarr added that he “really believed” the results might have been different if the judge of play had been used in the second half, “but it’s no disgrace to be beaten by a team of the calibre of the Ottawas.

The winners and still Stanley Cup champions: The Ottawa “Silver Seven” of 1905.

“I’m proud of the Rat Portage boys,” said Schnarr, “as proud of them in defeat as in victory. Where will you find another town of [this] size in Canada that can turn out such a team, all with one exception, home brews. We’ve been here before for the Cup and we’ll come again…. Next time, we’ll lift it for sure.”

And next time, they would.

If only for a little while.

For that story, you’ll have to wait a little longer … and buy the book!

Hockey Night in 1907

On this night 115 years ago (a Friday in 1907), a proud home town celebrated the Stanley Cup victory of the Kenora Thistles at the Hilliard Opera House. Kenora had won the Cup a few weeks before, with victories against the Montreal Wanderers on January 17 and January 21, 1907, to sweep their best-of-three series. Hopefully, around the time this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs start in late April, you’ll finally be able to read all about it in my new book, Engraved in History: The Story of the Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles published by Rick Brignall of Rat Portage Press.

As to that party 115 years ago tonight, “The reception promises to be an event unique in the history of Kenora,” said the local newspaper, the Miner and News, two days before, “and one in which everybody is invited to take part.” The night would be “a bright, joyful, enthusing occasion,” and “you will have regrets if you don’t attend.”

For people who wished to be there, “an admission fee of 50 cents will be charged the gentlemen.” This was in order to defray the costs of the civic celebration. “The ladies will be admitted free.” There were also tickets available to sit up in the gallery at 25 cents apiece. No account is given as to how many people actually attended, but a recap of the evening in Saturday’s paper describes an “immense audience.” It would certainly appear that a fine time was had by all.

The auditorium in the Opera House was decorated with flags and bunting, and there was “an imitation of an immense thistle, worked out with red, white, and blue electric lights.” The colour scheme matched the numerous Union Jacks surrounding the Stanley Cup, which was perched upon a pedestal at the front of the stage. It was described as, “a rather squat and somewhat insignificant looking piece of silverware when compared to the splendid championship trophy [the Stirling Cup of the Manitoba Hockey League] sitting to its left.” At the time, the Stanley Cup was only a little bit larger than the bowl (now a replica – the original is on permanent display at the Hockey Hall of Fame) that sits atop the trophy today.

The evening began with opening remarks from Mayor Charles Belyea, who also read letters of regret from Art Ross and Joe Hall. (The two players who had been borrowed from Brandon were now back in that Manitoba town and playing against Portage la Prairie that same night.) Next up were a few musical numbers, before team executive Dr. Nelson Schnarr addressed the crowd.

Schnarr’s “humour sallies” were “well approved by the audience.” In this new age of openly professional hockey players, he jokingly remarked that it was due to the ladies of Kenora that the town had the best team in the game. After all, efforts had been made from time to time by other clubs to lure away Kenora’s stars, but they had chosen to remain loyal to the team because “affection and sympathy will hold a man when dollars will not.”

This may be where the Stanley Cup reception was held. There were four buildings
known as the Hilliard House (a combination hotel/theater) on the same site.

After concluding his remarks, Schnarr relinquished the stage for several more songs and speeches. Another team executive, John McGillivray, was among the others speakers, and he gave a short history of the team’s attempts to win the Stanley Cup since 1903. “Nothing succeeds like perseverance combined with ability,” he said, “and the Thistles had both.” He concluded his remarks by saying: “We have made a record in going after the Cup oftener than any other team. Let us make another record by defending the Cup oftener than any other team.”

Next, came the hit of the evening. Evelyn Gunne, poet, singer, and wife of local doctor William James Gunne, sang a song she had composed specially for the occasion. Mrs. Gunne had written and performed a similar song at a reception for the team in 1905 after the Stanley Cup loss to Ottawa that year, but now she re-worked the words to celebrate the victory:

We sing of the might of Britain, boys,
     In the face of Britain’s foes,
And side by side, on the veldt, boys,
     We’ve fought for the English Rose,
We own a sneaking fondness, boys,
     For the Shamrock, green and bright,
But the bravest blooms of all, boys,
     Are the Thistles, we cheer, tonight.
The Union Jack, and the colors, boys,
     Are the things for which we fight,
But the colors that hold our hearts always,
     Are those of the Red and white.
We bid you welcome home, boys,
     The news from sea to sea,
Is only heard in praise, boys,
     And joy of victory.
We’re proud of you at home, boys,
     And of your well-earned fame.
We’re proud of your bumps and bruises,
     Because you have played the game.
The Thistles are the winners, boys,
     From Halifax to Nome;
They’re hailed as kings of hockey, boys,
     Our Thistles here at home.
We love to hear you praised, boys,
     We value what they mean,
When every message tells us,
     “Kenora men play clean.”
It’s words like these we prize, boys,
     The words we least could spare,
’Twas great to win the Cup, boys,
     But best you have won it fair.
The Thistles are at home again,
     Our bravest and our best.
We are not perhaps the biggest town,
     But the proudest in the west.
Phillips and Griffis and Ross, boys,
     McGimsie and little Giroux,
Hooper and Beaudro played, boys,
     As often we’ve seen them do.
The East has sadly laid, boys,
     Her hard won laurels down,
Before the whirlwind victors,
     From our little lakeside town.
Three times you’ve tried to win, boys,
     “Three times and out,” they say,
But now the Cup is ours, boys,
     For you’ve brought it home to stay.

After that show-stopper, former mayor A.S Horswill had the honour of presenting silver loving cups to the players, nine of which had been commissioned by the citizens of Kenora for presentation. (Art Ross and Joe Hall received their commemorative trophies later. Today, the Hockey Hall of Fame has both, along with the cup presented to Billy McGimsie.) There was also as a silver tea service for the team’s trainer, Jim Link, and a large silk hat for manager Fred Hudson. Tommy Phillips, the captain, stepped forward to receive the trophies on behalf of his teammates, and made a short address to the crowd:

On behalf of the club and the players, I would like to thank the citizen of Kenora for the splendid reception you have tendered us. It gives us pleasure to know that we have been fighting for a good cause and for a good bunch of people. We have tried, every time, to do our best as we felt we had the reputation of the town at stake. Now that we have the Cup, I hope the team that takes it from us will have as much trouble as the Thistles had in winning it.

Phillips also thanked the officers of the club for their support over the years, and then the evening concluded with a final song before everyone stood to sing “God Save the King.” Those in the audience remained standing to offer “hearty and ringing cheers” to “the world’s champions.” The players responded with three cheers themselves for the people of Kenora.

Art Ross showed off his loving cup from Kenora in the Boston Globe on December 23, 1956. The article on the right is from the Winnipeg Tribune on February 19, 1907.

After the celebration, the Stanley Cup was displayed for the whole town to see in the window of Johnson’s Pharmacy, the Main Street drug store owned and operated by Thistles president Joseph Johnson and his brother Lowry. But by the time the Cup arrived in town, it was already becoming clear that the team’s defence of the prized trophy was going to be difficult.

For more, you’ll have to wait a little longer … and buy the book!

But, if you’re looking for a little hockey & writing talk right now (or at least, on Thursday!), please join by Zoom at 7 pm on February 17 for conversation and Q & A with me and Paul White courtesy of the Owen Sound library.

No registration necessary. Just click here on Thursday at 7:

Canadian Hockey and the First Olympic Winter Games

The 13-hour time difference between Beijing and where I am makes it a bit confusing, but even though the official Opening Ceremonies aren’t for a couple of days, the Winter Olympics get started tonight … which is tomorrow afternoon in China. Women’s hockey kicks things off, with Canada facing Switzerland and the United States against Finland. Men’s hockey starts next week.

Leaving aside the issue of whether ANYONE should be going to these Olympics (for health or humanitarian reasons), we know that Covid is the official reason why NHL players won’t be there. NHL owners had previously given permission for the players to attend … but everyone knows the owners have little to no interest anymore in shutting down the NHL season for Olympic hockey.

In that way, things weren’t a whole lot different nearly 100 years ago before the first Olympic Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Back then – for a little while, at least – it was the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association that was less-than-thrilled about interrupting its season for international competition.

Canada versus the U.S. for gold. Olympic hockey looked very different in 1924!
(This and other images are from the VIII Olympiade Official Report unless noted.)

Word of the 1924 Winter competition was first announced late in 1922. “The French Olympic Committee,” reported the Globe newspaper in Toronto on November 10, 1922, “announces that the seventh renewal of the Olympic games will open … on January 20, 1924, with the program of winter sports.”

The uncredited Globe writer, in his Scanning the Sports Field column, reminded readers that, “Canada, will not, of course, have declared a champion hockey team until perhaps two months later. [So t]he hockey competition will probably be deferred until April, as at the [Summer] Olympiad of 1920 when the Falcons of Winnipeg won the Allan Cup and represented Canada, winning the world’s championship.”

But there would be no deferment.

Articles from the Globe, November 10, 1922; the Toronto Star
from March 28, 1923; and the Globe on October 15, 1923.

On January 11, 1923, the Toronto Star reported: “It is not expected that Canada will be represented in the Olympic hockey tournament … next January to defend the honors won by the Falcons of Winnipeg, according to Secretary Fred Marples of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Mr. Marples states that he has received word that the Olympic committee has refused to change the date of the tournament to later in the year, when Canada would have a representative team to send, and under the circumstances, does not expect the Canadian hockey body will send representatives.”

The subject would be re-visited during the Allan Cup finals in Winnipeg that spring, and, obviously, opinions changed. On March 21, 1923, the CAHA reversed course and decided unanimously at its annual meeting to recommend to the Canadian Olympic Committee that the winners of the Allan Cup (Canada’s amateur hockey championship) for this season should represent the country at the Olympic Games the next winter.

The Toronto Granites won their second straight Allan Cup the following day, and by March 24, it seemed certain that they would represent Canada. Their participation was virtually assured at a banquet held back in Toronto at the Granite Club on the night of March 27, 1923, when city officials and the government of Ontario promised to help fund the trip. The chairman of the Canadian Olympic Committee added that the Federal government had been asked to up its contribution of $15,000 from previous Olympic years to $30,000 in 1924.

The Globe, January 12, 1924.

Rumours in April that Paris might not get the 1924 Games after all, or that winter sports might be excluded if they did, soon proved false, and on May 27, 1923, the Granites formerly withdrew from the senior section of the Ontario Hockey Association for the winter of 1923-24. This cleared the way for the Granites to represent the country in France as the Canadian Olympic hockey team in January and February of 1924.

Unlike when the NHL has participated, there was now no schedule to interrupt when the Granites went to the Olympics … although there was some concern about losing the OHA’s best team (and therefore its biggest draw) for the entire season. Still, there wasn’t really any other way to accommodate a trip that would see the Olympic hockey team set sail for Europe on January 11, 1924 and not arrive back in Toronto until March 4.

Thirteen players had suited up for the Granites during the 1922–23 season, but not all would be able to take the nearly two months off work that was required for the Olympic trip. That was fine, since only nine players would be taken to France anyway. The Granites’ biggest star, Harry Watson, would make the trip. So would fellow future Hockey Hall of Famer Hooley Smith, as well as another future NHL star, team captain Dunc Munro. Team veterans Bert McCaffrey and Beattie Ramsay, as well as Jack Cameron and Ernie Collett (both goalies) would also make the trip. Harold McMunn of the Winnipeg Falcons (though not from the 1920 Olympic team) and Cyril Slater of the Montreal Victorias were added to the roster as well.

In addition to Canada’s huge victories, all the scores in Pool A were pretty lopsided.

Various members of the Olympic team (as well as some Granites from the previous season) saw action in a series of exhibition games to get into shape between December 1, 1923, and January 10, 1924. Sources often show the team playing 14 games, though it seems they actually played 15. They won all but two, and in both cases (defeats at the hands of the Hamilton Tigers and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who had been the Granites’ toughest opponents en route to the 1923 Allan Cup), the losses were avenged by victories in either previous or subsequent games against their two top rivals.

In truth, Canada could have sent the Tigers or the Greyhounds – and probably any number of other senior teams – to the Olympics and still won the gold as easily as the Granites did. Junior teams – possibly even youth teams! – likely would have defeated Canada’s European opponents.

Even playing under unfamiliar conditions on a huge, open-air ice surface with tiny boards to cordon off a playable rink, Canada crushed the European teams. They opened the tournament in Chamonix with a 30-0 win over Czechoslovakia on January 28, 1924, then defeated Sweden 22-0 the next day, and followed up with a 33-0 rout of Switzerland the day after that.

In Pool B, the 7-5 win by France over Belguim was the only close game.

A story told in the Globe the day after the team returned home to Toronto gives an idea of just how easy those three victories were. Apparently, in the first period of the game against Switzerland, a photographer jumped onto the ice and dashed over to Ernie Collett. He told the goalie he’d like to take a few pictures as soon as he was at his leisure.

“Well,” said Collett, “I’ll never be at more leisure than in this game. The play hasn’t been anywhere in this vicinity yet. So if you want to get some pictures, why shoot.”

“But you’ll have to go over to the side of the rink,” said the photographer.

“All right with me,” said Collett.

Apparently, he calmly skated out of his net and over to the side, where he posed for three pictures before returning to his position.

Medal results. The U.S. beat Sweden 20-0 before falling to Canada.
Britain beat the Swedish team 4-3 to win the bronze medal.

Canada’s semifinal game against Great Britain on February 1 proved somewhat more difficult but still resulted in a 19-2 victory. Even the United States didn’t provide much opposition in the gold medal game on February 3, 1924, as Canada scored a 6-1 victory. Beattie Ramsay later stirred up some controversy over that one.

Leaving the team early while they were in Paris after the Olympics, Ramsay arrived back in Toronto on February 14 … just in time for the birth of his first son. (He reportedly got to Toronto two hours before the blessed event, and reached the hospital with seven minutes to spare!) In papers that day and over the next week or so, Ramsay was quoted as saying the Canadians would have beaten the American team 20-0 on a regular rink like the Toronto Arena. He said the U.S. team only kept the score close by playing rough, that the referee lost control of the game, and (as I said above!) that any number of senior teams in Canada could have beaten the Americans. “Perhaps some of our intermediate teams would take a fall out of them,” he added.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Canadian Olympic hockey team remained in Paris a little longer (they had beaten the British team 17-1 in a five-on-five exhibition on an undersized Parisian rink on February 7), and then went on to London on February 15, where they were entertained by the Prince of Wales at St. James Palace on February 20 before sailing home two days later. The team would arrive in Saint John, New Brunswick, on March 2 and stop in Montreal the following day for a banquet and a night at the theater before returning to Toronto for a parade and more banquets.

Eight of nine members of Canada’s 1924 Olympic champions. My best attempt at identifying the players is (L-R); Harry Watson, Bert McCaffrey, Beattie Ramsay, Cyril Slater, Dunc Munro, Hooley Smith, Harold McMunn and Jack Cameron.

Prior to departure from Liverpool, captain Dunc Munro had mailed home a letter of interest. When the Toronto Granites had announced their intentions to skip the season to go to the Olympics back in May of 1923, the OHA had granted them the right to play the league champions upon their return for a chance to get back into the Allan Cup race and try for a third straight national championship.

“Just in case you want to know,” wrote Munro, “the Olympic team is through with hockey for the season.”

The Toronto Star, reporting on the letter on February 27, felt this was the proper choice.

“Their decision not to attempt to hog the honors by going into the Allan Cup finals will appeal to all sportsmen,” read the Star.

Or at least all sportsmen who don’t mind their teams running up the score against obviously inferior opponents! But such was the state of international hockey in its early days.