Toronto and Montreal: Forever Rivals

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

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

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

1

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

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

– The Montreal Star, December 29, 1917.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The Toronto World, January 25, 1918.

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

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

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

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

2

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

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

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

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

– The Toronto World, January 29, 1918.

3

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

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

– The Toronto Daily Star, January 29, 1918.

 

Evite

End of the Line for Hockey’s Cy Guy

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

Clips
The second clipping here appeared in The Ottawa Journal.

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

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

Pics

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

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

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

Int
From the Ottawa Journal, February 24, 1960.

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

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

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

Toronto’s First NHL Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One hundred years later, here’s hoping!

A Sneak Peek…

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

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

Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A History of Sports and The National Anthem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston

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

Montreal

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

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

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

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

Scotty Bowman and … the Bruins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards. Scotty

It’s a Nice Idea, But…

With expectations high among Toronto hockey fans for the upcoming season, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and mayor John Tory announced this week that December 19, 2017, will be designated Toronto Maple Leaf Day. The date will mark exactly 100 years since the first games in NHL history, which were played on December 19, 1917.

“Our birthday comes on a Tuesday,” said Shanahan. (The original date in 1917 was a Wednesday.) “It’s a school night. So the decision was made [to play the game] at two in the afternoon.” It would have been nice to have had a more historically significant opponent than the Carolina Hurricanes, but what can you do? Shanahan said the Leafs are encouraging season ticket holders to bring a child with them that day, or to donate their tickets to the MLSE Foundation, which will give them to school-aged fans. Of course, the kids will have to get permission to skip an afternoon of school.

The Leafs will also be wearing special jerseys that night, modelled after the uniforms worn by the Toronto Arenas of old.

2017

My guess would be, this jersey – which the team didn’t actually wear until the second NHL season of 1918-19 – was chosen because it so prominently displays the Arenas name. It’s pretty widely known that Toronto’s team was called the Arenas before it became the St. Patricks and the Maple Leafs … but you can pick a pretty good fight among hockey historians by asking them whether or not the Arenas name was actually used in 1917-18. The team was clearly run that first season by the owners and operators of the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, but most newspapers referred to them that year as the Torontos, the Blue Shirts, or the Blueshirts. (Sometimes, just the Blues.) These were nicknames the team had been known as throughout the history of the National Hockey Association, forerunner of the NHL. But that’s another story for another day. (Or you can see some of the comments below.)

Still, if anyone had asked me, I’d have argued strongly for a sweater based on the uniform Toronto’s team actually wore during that first season of 1917-18. Yes, it’s a little bit plainer (and was pretty much the same uniform the team had worn for five seasons as the Blue Shirts/Blueshirts in the NHA), but it’s the uniform that was worn on the night of December 19, 1917. It’s the uniform Toronto players were wearing when they won the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of the first NHL season in 1918.

1917
Harry Holmes, on the left, in the uniform of Toronto’s team
of 1917-18.  Harry Cameron sports the jersey of 1918-19.

Instead of honouring the first NHL champions, the Leafs are going with a sweater that commemorates, arguably, the worst season in 100 years of Toronto’s NHL history.

The 1917-18 Stanley Cup winners completely fell apart in 1918-19. There were accusations that some team members played while drunk. That may or may not have been true, but the team was playing so poorly that the NHL decided to re-jig the entire schedule midway through just to keep Toronto in the playoff picture in a league that only featured two other teams! Even at that, the Arenas were so awful in 1918-19, and attendance in Toronto so terrible, that ownership suspended operations before the season was over. The team played just 18 games, posting an overall record of 5-13-0 for a “points” percentage of .278 that will probably always be the worst mark in franchise history. It would result in just 45 points in the current 82-game schedule. Toronto returned to the NHL in 1919-20 under new ownership comprising men who had previously run the senior amateur St. Patricks team of the Ontario Hockey Association. Hence the new name.

You can read all about those early years … and every other season in the first hundred years of Toronto’s NHL history in a certain new book due out in October…

Leafs book

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, if you’re already thinking about buying or recommending The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, please consider pre-ordering a copy at Amazon or Indigo or wherever you like to buy your books. And don’t be shy about ordering any of my other books there either!

Your New Guide to the NHL Season

Though celebrations pretty much started on New Year’s Day in 2017, the NHL will officially reach its 100th birthday late this fall. The league was formed in November of 1917 in a series of meetings that culminated on November 26. The first games in NHL history were played on December 19, 1917.

The NHL Official Guide & Record Book for the 2017-18 season began shipping from the printer’s yesterday. The Guide is not quite as old as the NHL, but it does have roots dating back to the 1932-33 season when Jim Hendy published his first Hockey Guide. As I said in a similar story two years ago, Hendy worked on his Guide until 1951, after which he turned over the book to the NHL. Through expansion after 1967 and right into the 1980s, the book maintained Hendy’s original “pocket” format, although as the NHL grew from six to 21 teams it was split into two books: a Guide and a Register. In 1984, Dan Diamond proposed a reorganization and redesign that saw the NHL Official Guide & Record Book remodelled into magazine-sized pages including photographs for the first time. Dan’s first Guide was 352 pages. This year’s is a record 680 pages!

Stores
The National Bookstore cover.

When I wrote two weeks ago about the changes necessitated by new information about Chicago Blackhawks coach Godfrey Matheson, one of the comments I received noted that it was nice to see that corrections can still be made based on events from 80+ years ago. The truth is, the NHL Official Guide & Record Book is ever-evolving. A few of the records we’ve updated since last season were among the oldest in the NHL.

NHL
The NHL Media cover.

Some NHL records my last forever. No one is likely to match the 2.20 goals-per-game (44 goals in 20 games played) that Joe Malone averaged in the first NHL season of 1917-18. Punch Broadbent’s record of scoring in 16 straight games in 1921-22 seems pretty safe too in this era of low-scoring hockey. Same with most of Wayne Gretzky’s records from the 1980s and ’90s. Even so, it’ll take some doing to match the 22 shutouts George Hainsworth posted in 1928-29 – especially considering that Hainsworth did it in a 44-game season! Tough to beat his 0.92 goals-against average too.

Rangers
The New York Rangers custom cover.

Still, Auston Matthews’ four-goal game in his NHL debut in October of 2016 has found its way into the NHL Guide & Record Book for this season – although Matthews only holds down second spot for the most goals by a player in his first NHL game … behind Joe Malone and Harry Hyland, who scored five goals on the first night in NHL history. Adding Matthews also allowed us to correct a 100-year oversight by including the name of Reg Noble on the list of four-goals debuts. He also accomplished his feat on the first night in NHL history.

Devils
New Jersey Devils custom cover.

Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks matched a pretty long-ago feat during the playoffs this past spring. While not quite as dramatic as the three overtime goals scored by Mel Hill in a single series for the Boston Bruins against the New York Rangers (including a game seven series winner) in 1939, Perry did join Hill and Maurice Richard (who did it over two series in 1951) as the only players in NHL history to score three overtime goals in one playoff year. Perry got one in the first round versus Calgary, a second in the second round versus Edmonton, and his third in the Western Conference Finals against Nashville.

Calgary
Calgary Flames custom cover.

As Dan Diamond writes in his introduction this year, the 2018 Guide & Record Book will also reflect a recent and welcome decision by the NHL to apply today’s standard to earlier years by identifying certain players who played the majority of the regular-season for teams that would go on to win the Stanley Cup. Previously, for various reasons, these players were not considered to be official Cup winners. This has changed. The following six players have now been added to their club’s list of Stanley Cup-winners: Vic Stasiuk (Detroit 1954), Jackie Leclair (Montreal 1957), Kent Douglas (Toronto 1964), John Brenneman (Toronto 1967) and Don Awrey and John Van Boxmeer (Montreal 1976).

The NHL Official Guide & Record Book will begin showing up in bookstores in September. If you’re a media person who receives The Guide from the NHL, or from Dan Diamond & Associates directly, you should be getting your copy soon. If you’re a customer who prefers to purchase it directly from our office, it’s time to send in your email order or click this link to the dda.nhl eBay site.

Book Business…

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, in addition to my usual busy summer working on the NHL Official Guide & Record Book (more on that next week), I’ve been working on a lot of books of my own recently. The biggest one in terms of size, time, and – hopefully! – impact is my new book for Dundurn, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History.

Some of you reading this will already know about this book. Some will also have seen the original cover. But just last week, my editor, Allison Hirst, sent me the new cover. Here it is:

Cover

The original cover was somewhat similar, but had just a generic image of a hockey stick and puck. I never loved it, but it was certainly hard to think about which one player should  be on the cover. A picture of Maple Leaf Gardens struck me as a possibility, but that’s hardly the most dynamic image. This redesign happened without any input from me, but I’m very pleased with it. It’s hard not to like a smiling Bill Barilko!

It was 66 years ago this week, on Friday, August 24, 1951, that Bill Barilko and Dr. Henry Hudson took off on their ill-fated fishing trip. Two days later, on Sunday, August 26, they crashed while returning to their hometown of Timmins, Ontario. A few months earlier, Barilko had scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens in overtime. The Leafs would not win the Stanley Cup again until 1962. A few weeks after that, the wreckage of Barilko’s long-lost plane was finally found. If it wasn’t a true story, it would have been too unbelievable for someone to make up.

Bill Barilko was only 24 years old when he died. He’d played just five seasons with the Maple Leafs, but had helped them win the Stanley Cup four times. Many of his former teammates would later say that Barilko had the makings of a perennial all-star or even a future Hall of Famer. He was certainly one of the hardest hitters in the NHL in his day, but despite scoring one of the most famous goals in hockey history, he was a defensive defenseman. Not a lot of those guys get the glory.

It’s impossible to know what would have become of Bill Barilko if he’d never taken that fishing trip. The truth is, when I was researching the 1951 Cup Final for my book, I came across a couple of indications that the Leafs may actually have been thinking about trading Barilko … or at least that the Canadiens might have been considering trading for him:

Vipond
Globe and Mail, Toronto, April 23, 1951. Page 21.

Dunnell
Toronto Daily Star, April 24, 1951. Page 18.

I don’t actually get into those rumors in my book, but I think that even if you know the history of the Maple Leafs up and down and backwards and forwards, you’ll still find plenty of stories you don’t know. I’m really thrilled with how it’s all come together. It was more like editing a huge documentary film than writing a book. I’ll be posting an even more obvious “commercial” for it in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, the publicists at Dundurn tell me it’s becoming increasingly important these days for books to get a good spike of online pre-order sales before they’re released. Pre-orders signal to bookstores that they need to stock up on the title. This can make a huge difference to overall sales. So if you had already been thinking about recommending or buying The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, please consider pre-ordering a copy at Amazon or Indigo or wherever you like to buy your books. Oh, and don’t be shy about ordering any of my other books through these links either!

Good Godfrey!

The NHL Official Guide & Record Book for the upcoming season was sent to the printer’s earlier this week. More on that in an upcoming post. For now, a story about my quirkiest contribution to this year’s Guide…

Godfrey Matheson is a name known only to hardcore fans of hockey obscurities. He was, very briefly, one of many coaches in the early history of the Chicago Blackhawks (then spelled Black Hawks). If you know the stories about him (and some of you will), you’re likely to know some variation of these:

  • Matheson was from Winnipeg, home of Chicago’s star goaltender Charlie Gardiner.
  • Matheson had little or no coaching experience when he was hired by Blackhawks owner Frederic McLaughlin after a chance meeting on a train.
  • Matheson’s main claim to coaching fame was leading a Winnipeg high school team to a juvenile championship.
  • Matheson devised a system of coaching the Blackhawks by whistle, which he would use to signal his players from behind the bench. One blast instructed the puck-carrier to pass; two toots meant shoot; three signalled a switch in defensive formation.

Strange as it sounds, most of these stories appear to be be true … except that Matheson never actually coached a regular-season game in his NHL career!

Train
This picture appeared in the Chicago Tribune on October 15, 1931 with the story announcing the hiring of Godfrey Matheson. He appears at the far left, with the hat low over his eyes.

For decades, NHL records have shown Godfrey Matheson coaching the Blackhawks midway through the 1932-33 season. He was thought to have held down the job for just two games between the brief tenures of Emil Iverson and Tommy Gorman. In fact, Matheson was actually hired in October of 1931, but by the time the season started on November 12, 1931 – with Chicago visiting Toronto for the opening of the brand new Maple Leaf Gardens – he was no longer with the team.

Frederic McLaughlin had a penchant for firing his hockey coaches in a way that makes the late George Steinbrenner’s treatment of his baseball managers seem almost tame by comparison. McLaughlin was married to Irene Castle, a jazz-era dance, film and fashion icon who was played by Ginger Rogers opposite Fred Astaire in the 1939 film The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Irene wrote a serialized newspaper biography that appeared in the Chicago Tribune late in 1958. She paints a rather unflattering picture of McLaughlin.

“The early 1930s were not good years for me,” writes Castle, “but not for the same reason they were bad for the country. My trouble was not money. Instead, it was the slow decline of a marriage which had not been too satisfactory even in its early stages. Frederic became interested in a hockey team, which kept him in a temper much of the time.”

Castle describes McLaughlin as running his team “with the zeal of an amateur who doesn’t know what it’s all about.”

“I often wished he had never seen a hockey stick,” she says. “He was always getting mad at somebody.… His favorite sport was quarrelling with [coaches].”

Irvin
Stories from the Chicago Tribune on September 6, 1931,
and the Globe in Toronto on September 7.

Dick Irvin, for example, had been the first star player in Chicago, and coached the team after a fractured skull ended his playing career. Irvin coached Chicago to the Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 1931, but that wasn’t enough to keep him employed and he became the seventh coach to lose his job in the five-year history of the team.

Some records show Irvin beginning the 1931-32 season as the coach in Chicago before moving on to join the Maple Leafs in Toronto five games into the schedule. The truth is he was fired or quit on September 5, 1931, six weeks before the Blackhawks began training camp. Irvin offered little about the reason for his departure in newspapers over the next couple of days, but it was later reported by Globe sports editor Michael J. Rodden that Irvin had not been in agreement with training methods favoured by Chicago management. Enter Godfrey Matheson, who was hired by the Blackhawks on October 14, 1931.

Stories at the time make no direct mention of McLaughlin and Matheson meeting on a train, but do state his brief success as a coach at St. John’s College in Winnipeg. Stories in the Winnipeg Tribune on October 24 and 28 discuss his having played earlier at the same school, and later with the Winnipeg Victorias team in the Winnipeg city league and with a local Bank of Commerce hockey team.

Workout
This photo appeared in the Chicago Tribune on October 23, 1931.

The Blackhawks and their new coach left Chicago for training camp in Pittsburgh on the evening of October 14. They would work out on the ice at Duquesne Garden, in the gymnasium at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, and engage in outdoor runs when the weather permitted. It would be years before stories of Matheson’s whistle system appeared in newspapers, along with tales of him training his goaltenders by have as many as three or four pucks at a time thrown at them (not shot) from all angles. Even so, Toronto Star sports editor Lou Marsh, writing on the eve of the new season on November 11, 1931, hinted at the unusual tactics and described Matheson’s odd attire at training camp: “He wore skates and knee pads – and had his garters on the outside of his knee pants… He looked like he was going to lay a cement sidewalk.”

But by then, Matheson was no longer with the Blackhawks. The Chicago Tribune reported on November 10, 1931, that the coach had entered a Pittsburgh hospital the day before with a stomach ailment. The Toronto Telegram had a very different story when the Blackhawks arrived to face the Maple Leafs without their coach: “Godfrey Matheson … has departed to Florida, a victim of a nervous breakdown.”

The Telegram believed that Matheson may have jumped the team before he was pushed, but a story in the Winnipeg Free Press on December 3, 1931, would note that Matheson was spending the winter in Daytona Beach after being ordered by doctors “to take a long rest.” His health was reported as improving, “but he will be unable to rejoin the team this season.”

And he never did. So, in consultation with the Blackhawks (they had a few other things wrong; so did we) and the NHL’s long-time statistician Benny Ercolani, here is the new Chicago Coaching History that will appear in the NHL Guide beginning this season:

History

There are also a few corresponding changes to coach’s Win-Loss records in the early years.