Wasn’t That a Party!

George McNamara is not the best-known name among the 263 players that are currently enshrined as Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, though a new book by SIHR member Waxy Gregoire may help to change that. But to fans watching hockey 100 years ago, George McNamara was among the greats.

Born in Penetanguishene, Ontario, but raised in Sault Ste. Marie, McNamara began his pro career in 1906–07 with the Canadian Soo team in the International Hockey League. He made many stops in the various pro leagues of his day before winding up in Toronto, where he helped the Blue Shirts win the Stanley Cup in 1914. Brother Howard McNamara won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1916. When the two McNamaras played together, they were known as "The Dynamite Twins" (though they weren't twins) because of their bone-crunching body checks. A younger brother Hal also played professionally in this early era. George and Howard later served with distinction in the First World War. George also coached the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the 1924 Allan Cup and formed the McNamara Construction Company with his brother Howard. It became very successful.

As a wealthy businessman living in Toronto in the 1930s, George McNamara hosted lavish parties and held dinners at the Royal York Hotel for those who were down on their luck during The Great Depression. In March of 1938, McNamara invited a group of old hockey players to a party in his home at 55 Old Forest Hill Road. Current Maple Leaf Charlie Conacher was there, along with recent teammates King Clancy and Baldy Cotton, but it was the list of oldtimers that was truly impressive: Ken Randall, Babe Dye, Reg Noble, Corb Denneny, Harry Meeking, Alf Skinner, and many others.

Nearly a year later, on February 3, 1939, McNamara hosted another hockey party. Most of those who'd been present in 1938 came back and the turnout this time was even more impressive. Roy Worters, Hugh Lehman and Percy Lesueur were all there ... although Lesueur may actually have been among those who telegrammed their regrets, a list that also included Newsy Lalonde, Jack Marshall, Jack Laviolette, Odie Cleghorn, Harry Hyland, Ernie Russell and Pud Glass, all of Montreal, and Cyclone Taylor of Vancouver.

Lester Patrick was there this time, arriving the day before his Rangers were scheduled to play at Maple Leaf Gardens. Art Ross was there too, staying over after the Bruins' game in Toronto the night before. Ross and Conn Smythe were feuding in the newspapers once again, but the Maple Leafs boss was also in attendance. So was NHL president Frank Calder.

All in all, almost 30 old-time stars were at McNamara's home that night. "The 'remember when' phrase was flying thick and fast as these one-time greats in the game ... talked over incidents long since stuck away in musty newspaper files but still tops in the memory of all who were in on the development of the game," said a story about the event in the next day's Montreal Gazette. A story that appeared a few days later in Toronto's Globe and Mail says that when talk turned to the greatest stickhandlers of all-time, "The lads who struck out for Duke Keats and Mickey Mackay were outtalked and outvoted by the champions of Odie Cleghorn."

Art Ross, Conn Smythe, and Lester Patrick all stood up for the style of present-day hockey when the good-natured arguments were made over the comparatively entertainment values of the old and new games. Ross admitted to being plenty nervous when he was called upon to speak in front of the gathering of old friends and rivals, many of whom he hadn't seen in 15 or 20 years. "I got more thrill out of the reunion," he was quoted as saying in the Globe, "than anything I've experienced since I was doing a bit of puck-chasing myself for [the] Montreal Wanderers."

There was talk of meeting once more at George McNamara's house the following year, but it appears there never was another such party There likely wasn't another get-together of so many old-time hockey stars until the opening of the original Hockey Hall of Fame building on the Exhibition grounds in Toronto in 1961.

Please visit Eric Zweig's web site at: http://ericzweig.com/

Notes on the RPI-Union Route 7 Rivalry, Halloween Weekend 2014

Be your favorite college hockey team what it may, you probably have heard sports talk like the following:

"Maybe we're all wrong on this. Everyone I talk to ... 'ahhh, it'll be a blow out this weekend-- Union's gonna steam roll'm.' Ya never know," said Roger Wyland.

"That's why they play the games--ya don't play the games on paper," chimed Ken Schott.

"No, ya don't! You would think this would be two wins for Union, but you never know!" Wyland reiterated.(1)

These snippets are taken from an edition of Wyland's "Big Board Sportstalk" on Fox Sports 980 WOFX-AM, during which hockey columnist Schott discussed with Wyland the upcoming 2014-2015 home-and-home college hockey series between arch rivals Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

As I contend elsewhere, the RPI-Union hockey rivalry, from the early 20th century to the 2014 Mayors' Cup, has been fiercely competitive and bursting with exciting surprise, so that what has emerged as the Route 7 Rivalry in the last decade or so might be considered one of the greatest matches on today's US college hockey landscape. Now that RPI and Union have played their 2014-2015 home-and-home series, some questions spring to mind: What prompted the general consensus that Union would hammer RPI? What observations capture these games?

No college hockey team remains the same from one season to the next. But as the Route 7 Rivalry and the opening of the 2014-2015 ECACH campaign approached, who would ignore the recent feats of the Union College hockey program?

Union lost to RPI in the infamous 2014 Mayors' Cup, but the Dutchmen earned a win-loss-tie record of 9-1-1 in its last eleven visits to RPI's Houston Field House--a series of victories that enabled Union to bring its record against RPI as a Division I opponent to 30-30-9.(2) The Dutchmen skated into RPI's Houston Field House on Halloween 2014 as champion of the previous three ECACH tournaments and as the defending 2014 NCAA champion. Through the first month of the 2014-2015 season, the Dutchmen, considered by the USCHO.com poll/rankings to be the second-ranked US college hockey team behind the University of Minnesota(3), enjoyed perhaps its best start in its Division I history, outscoring its opponents 25-10, and producing a win-loss-tie record of 5-1-0.

Where Union's hockey team during the early 2014-2015 campaign looked something like Goliath, RPI's team looked as if it could not spell David. When RPI hosted Union in Troy, NY, for their seventieth Division I contest, the Engineers posted a dismal record of 1-5-0; and, in these six games, it had been outscored 21-6 and blanked three times! Furthermore, where Union's Rick Bennett was 10-1 against RPI since becoming head coach in 2011-2012, RPI's Seth Appert was 5-20-3 against Union since he took over as head coach in 2002(4). As Wyland put it, "RPI fans are not happy."(5)

On the morning of October 31, I received a telephone call from a friend who predicted Union would easily sweep RPI. "Compare their performances so far this season," my friend urged. "Look at their special teams stats, and Union's sixth leading scorer is defenseman Sebastian Gingras with 2 goals and 1 assist while RPI's leading scorer is forward Lou Nanne with 2 goals and 1 assist(6). A Union sweep is as indisputable as decapitation."

Oh dear! The series' outcome is captured well by local Sunday newspaper headlines. The Daily Gazette reports "Engineers Finish Sweep," while the Times Union reports "Engineers Complete Sweep."(7) RPI swept Union by scores of 6-1 and 2-1 (in overtime), its first league-series sweep since January 2004--a stunning sweep that propels RPI's command of the rivalry, with a 32-30-9 record.

So what had happened? As far as I can tell the answer probably cannot be extrapolated from the sentiments I overheard while visiting the Field House's men's room during the first game's second intermission where one fellow asked aloud, "What do we call those two periods?" to which someone else answered modestly, "a miracle." Nor do I count on the answer suggested during the middle of the third period (when a Dutchmen comeback appeared bleak) by an RPI crowd chanting: "Overrated, Overrated, Overrated!" After all, the US college hockey rankings are often useful, but (with a precious few exceptions) they are rarely excellent representations of the realities of who is better than whom and who can beat whom, until perhaps a season matures sometime in February. Maybe the stunning Halloween upset was not so much a case of the precarious rankings as it was the case of a struggle between two teams harboring divergent attitudes: one team absorbed by a sense of entitlement to reign supreme and the other team absorbed in the resolve to beat its biggest rival. Listen to snippets of coaches'post game interviews during which Bennett ruefully stated, "Are we a little bit chained to last year? It certainly feels like that ... like there's a little bit of entitlement," while Apart gibed, "it's what you expect, coming off a weekend we were not happy about, and playing our biggest rival who's the national champion."(8)

I attended both games (with my friend Kevin Kearns), and witnessed RPI on home ice clobber Union. In a post game remark, Bennett pronounced that RPI's performance was probably the best he had faced while coaching at Union(9). Meantime, it can be said, without too much exaggeration, that teams play only as well as their opponents allow them to play. As far as I discern, RPI skated with glaring surges of speed and playmaking poise and finish around the net but did so only because the Dutchmen lumbered uncharacteristically, as if its players were struggling against both RPI and a nasty flu.

RPI's admirable achievement in Troy was likely enhanced by Union's attitude of commingled overconfidence and unreadiness to compete against RPI. The next night at Union's Messa Rink the arch rivals played an opponent who was now more fully created by themselves--RPI was now more confident, Union was now less presumptuous and more prepared. On this night in Schenectady, NY, the game, aggressively contested all over the ice, was in constant transition as pucks moved fast from stick to stick and team to team and end to end. Appert called this game a "dogfight,"(10) which is the brand of ice hockey this rivalry's fans expect to see.

On Messa ice, Union outworked RPI, controlling face offs (40 of 53), shooting more pucks (35 to 27), and creating more good plays and quality scoring chances. Some very significant numbers favored not RPI but rather Union. But this game (like all hockey games do) comprised an unpredictable mix of the ebb and flow of quirky moments and critical moments when the game can be said to have swung for good or bad. It is hard, then, to overlook several rhetorical questions. Did Union fail to orchestrate on all six of its power play opportunities (one of them a two man advantage) because of bouts of momentary ineptitude or did RPI's penalty killers defend masterfully, with aggressive cohesion? Did Union turnover too many pucks or did RPI anticipate Union's passing strategy well enough until Mark McGowan intercepted the right puck in the right place at the right time and ably buried the tying goal? Did Union fire enough pucks on goal with surprise and precision or did RPI's unflappable goaltender Jason Kasdorf provide his team with what it needed when it needed it--particularly by blocking a blast from the slot in the closing minutes of regulation time--and thereby infuse his teammates with enough confidence and energy needed to create the dramatic, congested goalmouth scenario in overtime where Viktor Lillegren jammed home the winning number?

Fiercely competitive and bursting with surprise? Probably it depends on whom you ask. As for me, I agree with the aforementioned view expressed by Schott and Wyland, and I maintain RPI and Union are excellent opponents who continuously define each other in one of the greatest college hockey rivalries on the US college hockey landscape.

NOTES

(1) Ken Schott, "Parting Schotts, 'Slap Shots' podcast, with Reale and Unger," The Daily Gazette, 30 Oct 2014, http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/schott/2014/oct/30/slap-schotts-podcast-reale-unger-now-available/. (2) Engineers Ice Hockey program, 31 October 2014; and Union College Dutchmen Game Day program, 31 October 2014. While these hockey programs split 69 games as Div I opponents since 1991-92, RPI held an all-time 46-32-10 record. See Union College Dutchmen Game Day program, 1 November 2014, 14.

(3) USCHO Div. I Men's Hockey, Div. I Men's Polls/Rankings, 13 Oct 2014-27 Oct 2014, http://www.uscho.com/.

(4) Ken Schott, "ECAC: No need for extra precautions,"Daily Gazette, 31 October 2014, B-2.

(5) Ken Schott, "Parting Schotts, 'Slap Shots' podcast, with Reale and Unger," The Daily Gazette, 30 Oct 2014, http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/schott/2014/oct/30/slap-schotts-podcast-reale-unger-now-available/. (See also, http:/ /www.foxsports980.com/onair/rodger-wyland-1777/ken-schott-college-hockey-the-daily-12918267/). (6) During this call, I did not know these specific statistics, but my friend's statistical commentary was accurate, as my subsequent fact check confirmed: RPI's pp was 7.7% and Union's 17.2%, while RPI's pk was 71% and Union's 87%. See, Engineers Ice Hockey program, 31 October 2014; and Union College Dutchmen Game Day program, 1 November 2014.

(7) Ken Schott, "Engineers finish sweep," Sunday Gazette," 2 Nov 2014; Sean Martin, "Engineers complete sweep," Times Union, 2 Nov 2014, B-1.

(8) For Bennett, see Ryan Fay, "Rick Bennett post game 10/31/14," in Engineers throttle Dutchmen, 6-1," Union Hockey Blog: Audio/Video, http://unionhockeyblog.blogspot.com/. For Appert, see: Ryan Fay, "Seth Appert postgame 10/31/14," in "Engineers throttle Dutchmen, 6-1," Union Hockey Blog: Audio/Video, http://unionhockeyblog.blogspot.com/.

(9) "Rick Bennett post game 10/31/14," Union Hockey Blog: Audio/Video, http://unionhockeyblog.blogspot.com/.

(10) Ken Schott, "Appert's interview," Union-RPI postgame report: Saturday edition (with 4 videos), The Daily Gazette, http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/schott/2014/nov/02/union-rpi-postgame-report-saturday-edition-4-video/.

Shep Mayer

With World War II raging, the Toronto Maple Leafs--and the entire National Hockey League--struggled to find players. Sometimes, they found some gems, got them into the lineup, and then duty called.

Such was the case for Shep Edwin Mayer.

A native of Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, Mayer went to Sturgeon Falls Secondary and North Bay Collegiate. After a season with the Sturgeon Falls Indians in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, Mayer became a sought-after star on the Guelph Biltmores Junior A hockey team. He was placed on the Leafs' negotiation list in February 1942, and he inked a deal on April 4, 1942.

The Toronto Star wrote about the Leafs' acquisition of Mayer from Guelph on April 8, 1942: "Shep Mayer, aggressive star of the club, who plays an equally effective game at right wing, centre or on defence, has been signed by Toronto Maple Leafs N.H.L. club and will report to that club for training next fall. Shep came here last fall from Sturgeon Falls, and played a big part in the local junior's drive to the O.H.A. Finals."

Guelph was his favourite place to play, said Mayer's widow, Marie, who now calls North Bay, Ontario, home. "He enjoyed himself so much there. He had such fond memories of that year that he was there."

Documents in his file from Maple Leaf Gardens indicate that the Leafs intended to send Mayer to the Hershey Bears for grooming.

But need--and hype?--kept him with the big club.

The Star published a poem by F.B. Eye hyping him in its July 18, 1942 edition:

Shep Mayer is quite a player.
In fact, he is such a wowski
The hockey sages say that he
Will be a second Stanowski!!

The four-line ode ran as a part of a glowing piece by Ed Fitkin, who predicted that "before next winter is through his name should be a household hockey word."

Leafs boss Frank Selke compared him to a veteran defenceman: "Mayer will be strong than Bingo Kampman when he matures."

Fitkin found Mayer in Toronto's Wellesley hospital, recovering from surgery for a slight hernia.

Mayer laughed when Fitkin asked about the comparison to "Hercules" Kampman. "I don't know about Kampman," he said. "But I got my strength working in the Sudbury mines as a plain, ordinary mucker, sometimes 4,200 feet below surface."

In the piece, the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Mayer goes on to talk about playing on the frozen river in Sturgeon Falls, and a dream of being a big name boxer. He did, incidentally, do some amateur boxing in Northern Ontario, and that is where the hernia comes in. "I strained myself lifting ring equipment--four posts, the ropes and some dumbbells--on to my dad's truck to take home for training purposes. I was laid up for weeks."

In an article by Andy Lytle, Selke said the boxing was a bonus: "Mayer was boxing at Sturgeon Falls when I first flushed him," said Selke, "and while I counted nine different guys took the count at his feet."

Playing in Guelph, his skills improved in a hurry under the guidance of coach Al Murray, who replaced Tony Savage. "I was really a farmer playing defence until Al showed me how," Mayer said. "He taught me more about hockey once he took over than I ever knew before."

Cracking the Leafs lineup, coach Hap Day said Mayer "has thighs like bridge pillars. I think he can take it or hand it out."

Mayer potted one goal and lined up two assists in his brief run as a Maple Leaf.

He was needed in another Maple Leaf sweater, and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on November 9, 1942. He was sworn in on November 11, and posted to manning depot at Brandon, Manitoba.

New love would be discovered, said Marie Mayer.

"He went into the Air Force, and he loved flying," she said. "When he came back from the war, things were up in the air. I know he spoke with Mr. Smythe, but he never went into detail too much with me."

The RCAF wanted to keep him around.

"Because he had been a pilot, they called him back; they wanted him to come back and also play -- because at the time he was also playing hockey for the Air Force," she added. "He did go back, but he didn't go back because of the hockey; he went back because he loved flying."

Wherever he was stationed, it seemed that Mayer found a military team to play with, and it was a small news bit often. Here's one from the Medicine Hat Daily News on January 13, 1944: "Shep Mayer, who had a brief fling in the majors last season with Toronto Leafs, now is an R.C.A.F. pilot officer and has been playing this year with Pennfield R.A.F. station in New Brunswick."

While he was abroad, Mayer would drop the occasional line to Hap Day:

May 14, 1945

Dear Hap,

The way things are going now I should be able to get my discharge by next fall. I won't apply for it before then because I have a pretty good thing going right here. You know it is not very often that a fellow like me can pick up a $400 a month job without tax. However I was told I could get my discharge and I will do my best to do so. Could not get down to see you during the playoffs because I had too much work to do here. Hoping to hear from you, I remain

Yours truly,
Shep Mayer

The Leafs arranged for the reinstatement of Mayer's amateur status, which was granted as per the NHL Bulletin No. 248, dated February 28, 1946: "Player Sheppard E. Mayer has been reinstated as an amateur by the C.A.H.A. And his name removed from the Special Reserve List of Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club Ltd."

While he was in the RCAF, Shep also met Marie Boyer, and they were married for 60 years, until his death on February 7, 2005.

"I was visiting the high school, and Shep came in to meet with his coach," she recalled. She didn't know that he had played with the Leafs, and he didn't talk about it much.

The Mayers became five as they moved around--Winnipeg, North Bay, Ottawa, Montreal, even four years in France.

"We did see quite a bit of the country, and at the time, we were bringing up three daughters," said Marie.

When Shep switched into the Department of Veteran Affairs, he had an office in Peterborough, and as district director, his territory covered all of northern Ontario. In 1985, the family moved back to North Bay in 1985.

His last years were not pleasant. At various times, Shep Mayer suffered through five different kinds of cancer, and then was hit with Alzheimer's disease; "That was the most traumatic thing in our lives, no doubt about it," said Marie of the half-dozen years where her husband was lost to them.

Battling the diseases, Shep Mayer was not able to attend his inductions into the Sturgeon Falls Hall of Fame and Hockey Heritage North in Kirkland Lake.

His obituary ends with a simple Latin phrase: Per Ardua Ad Astra, which translated means "Through struggles to the stars."

THE PUNISHMENT SHOULD FIT THE CRIME

This article was actually written during a balmy week in June. Even as I basked in the sunlight in my backyard in Nepean, after the Stanley Cup had been won by the L.A. Kings, I knew it was just a matter of time before we would all be shaking our fists in anger at yet another boneheaded violent act. I just thought I would get a leg up on my assignment and put a sort of template together for when the incident would actually occur. What you are going to read is an interactive article that you can refer to every time someone does something stupid on the ice from now on. You can even laminate it and put it on the fridge at home or at the office. Keep a dry-erase marker and some Kleenex on hand for hours and hours of fun!

You would think we would learn, but we never do. Unnecessarily violent acts, such as the one everyone is talking about, keep reoccurring no matter what the NHL does to prevent them. Of course, we're all (circle appropriate personal response: sickened, disgusted, appalled, shocked) right now. The NHL's latest numbnut, _______________ (insert numbnut's name) (circle appropriate answer: slashed, stomped, blindsided, cheapshotted, assaulted WWE-style) _________________ (insert victim player's name) and has made us all wonder how this could have happened. We all have an opinion as to how many games said numbnut deserves to be suspended. In my opinion, _________________ (insert offending player's) should receive a suspension that is in line with the number of games ________________ (insert victimized player's) misses. The length of suspensions needs to be sufficient, and the aggressor's skill level should have nothing to do with the number of games meted out.

One of the reasons the NHL has seen more violent offenses the last two decades or so is that players' equipment is so durable and unforgiving that everyone feels invincible out on the ice. There are more violent incidents nowadays, but suspensions are so lax and meaningless that no one takes them seriously. A punishment should reflect the seriousness of the dirty deed. I believe there needs to be a minimum number of games a player can receive for a violent offense that doesn't cause any significant injury, and this minimum needs to be enough to make the aggressor realize his actions cannot be tolerated. The league also needs to decide on a maximum number of games a player can be suspended in the event the violent act results in the victim missing an entire season or retiring.

Depending on the act, the intention, and the extent of the injury, a maximum of 50 or 100 games would be sufficient enough to get the point across. I know, it sounds harsh, but bear with me. Major league baseball has handed out suspensions of this length to all-stars Ryan Braun, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, and others for using performance enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for the entire 2014 season for taking part in the Biogenesis scandal that rocked baseball. MLB is so vindictive that its all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, is ineligible for induction into the Hall of Fame for, according to Rose, betting on his own team to win! (1) Many more disgusting on-ice acts have been simply brushed aside by the NHL.

Hockey has a history of letting its star players get away with bloody murder. Alexander Ovechkin, for example, has been suspended three times in his career. In November 2009, he was suspended two games for being "involved in an incident where he extended his knee while delivering a hit" on the Carolina Hurricanes' Tim Gleeson. (2) In March of the same season, he was suspended two games because he had received three game-misconduct penalties in one season. This time, he had been called for boarding when he slammed Chicago's Brian Campbell into the boards. Campbell suffered a fractured clavicle and a fractured rib (3). He received another three games in January 2012 for an illegal hit on Zbynek Michalek.

On the other hand, Chris Simon, a repeat offender of lesser skill, had the book thrown at him numerous times. He infamously received a 25-game suspension for swinging his stick at the head of the New York Rangers' Ryan Hollweg, in retaliation for what Simon felt was a dirty hit earlier in the game (4). Simon later received a 30-game suspension for tripping Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu and then stepping on the back of Ruutu's right leg. Both suspensions were deserved.

Just three months later, Anaheim's Chris Pronger, a former Norris and Hart Trophy winner, committed an equally heinous act. Pronger tried to re-enact the closing scene of the movie Saw by slamming his skate blade into Canuck Ryan Kesler's calf. Pronger was not even disciplined for his actions! Simon was quick to point out the NHL's lack of disciplinary consistency. "It would be nice to have things treated fairly, at least," said Simon. "I don't think in that instance it's fair at all. I couldn't believe right away that nothing was going to be done about it." The NHL rescinded and gave Pronger eight games, even though at that point Pronger had previously been suspended seven other times (5). The NHL had got it right once when they suspended Todd Bertuzzi for a year for driving Steve Moore's head onto the ice back in 2004, but the league has had a spotty discipline record ever since.

Would it be too much to ask for a little consistency? After all, in hockey, most suspensions are related to violent attacks against another human being. Does it really matter who is responsible for the attack? A violent act is a violent act. Handing out suspensions that mean something might just make a player think twice the next time he wants to cut an opponent's Achilles tendon with his skate blade.

International hockey organisations have started penalizing players four minutes for running the goalie, an offense that has received a lot of ink in NHL circles. Remember not long ago when ____________ (insert boorish forward's name) rammed into _____________ (insert victim goalie's name)? Stiffer penalties could help convince players that goalies are not fair game. Coaches would become furious if their players kept taking four-minute penalties for running the goalie. Suspensions, like penalties, need to mean something. Two-game suspensions for a UFC-like elbow to the head do little to curb violence.

If the NHL is truly serious about eliminating (circle the most recent violent offense: cheap shots, hits from behind, slew footing, carving up players with a skate blade), it needs to start imposing harsher penalties and suspending players more appropriately. The NBA, in banning L.A. Clippers' owner Donald Sterling for life, set the bar pretty high for future acts of racism in their game. The NHL needs to do the same and set its bar higher to prevent future acts of violence. And it needs to stick to its guns! Players are not worried about losing two or three games salary. Teams are not so worried about losing a player to suspension for a few games because they are usually not stars who get suspended anyway. So the cycle of violence continues, and we'll all continue to feel shocked and offended. We really shouldn't be surprised __________________ (insert offender's name) is getting only ________ (insert number of games) games for what he did; there is precedent a mile long.

The league needs to overlook the fact that banishing a star player to the press box will cost them money. It needs to think about the big picture: reducing the negative media attention the NHL receives after an unnecessary act of violence. The league cannot waver, no matter who is responsible for the offensive act. It will take some time and there will be growing pains, but the sport will be better off if the league's disciplinary committee takes suspendable offenses seriously.

I wouldn't hold my breath that anything is going to change. After Bill Masterton's death in 1968, it took the league 11 years to mandate the wearing of helmets. The league still can't decide whether or not it wants to keep fighting in the game. And now, the league is dragging its feet on _______________ (insert present-day issue). Either you're serious about taking boneheaded moves out of the game or you're not: just do us all a favour and make up your mind, NHL!

(1) "Baseball's longest suspensions," Line Up Forms. Online: http://www.lineupforms.com/baseballs-longest-suspensions.html
(2) Rosen, Dan. "Ovi suspended 2 games; Day-to-day with sore knee," NHL.com, December 1, 2009. Online: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=508132.
(3) "Blackhawks say Campbell out 7-8 weeks," ESPNChicago.com. March 17, 2010. Online: http://sports.espn.go.com/chicago/nhl/news/story?id=5000549.
(4) Chris Simon. Wikipedia. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Simon#cite_note-7.
(5) "Simon stompin' mad on Pronger call," Toronto Star. March 15, 2008. Online: http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/2008/03/15/simon_stompin_mad_on_pronger_call.html.

Sweeney Schriner And The Dangers Of Back-Checking

The National Hockey League season of 1944/45 was of course the year of the NHL's first 50 goal season by Maurice Richard. The Rocket scored 18 goals more than any other skater that year, but if the fates had been different, we may have seen a fantastic two-man race toward the elusive 50 goal barrier. Toronto Maple Leaf, Dave "Sweeney" Schriner had tallied an amazing 9 goals in his first 7 games that year. Perhaps, if not for an injury that cost him almost half the season, Sweeney Schriner may have joined Richard as the first 50 goal scorer.

The 33 year-old Schriner would be shutout in his 8th game but notched 2 goals on November 8, 1944 giving him 11 markers in 9 matches. This would be the game in which he would be injured. After which Schriner was quoted;"That's one time the coach can't say I wasn't back-checking." The Toronto Star described the injury; "Schriner says he was cruising in home waters looking for a stray puck when he saw Mush March pounce and start for (goaltender) McCool with dirt in his eye. He swung along with Mush and next thing he knew he was mushed into the steel upright. 'You should see this leg', said he, 'It's turned hard like cement.' Sweeney thinks the fibre leg pad he wore saved the limb from a fracture."

His 11 goals were four more than any other player to this point in the season, four more than even Maurice Richard, the man who would be the first to score 50. By mid-December, even though he had missed over a month of playing time, Schriner and his 17 points still sat 13th in the NHL points race. The Rocket tallied 12 goals in the 8 games since Schriner went down with his injury, giving Richard the goal scoring lead with 19 goals through 17 games, well on his way to history.

Schriner would spend the Christmas holidays at home in Calgary, resting his injured knee. He planned on returning to Toronto in the New Year but at that point coach Hap Day did not know when Schriner would be ready to put the skates on again. It took until January 6, for Schriner to begin a conditioning program, but he returned quickly to game shape and played on January 9. He notched one assist in that game versus the Rangers, then scored 2 goals in his second game back against Montreal.

As of early March, Schriner had played 12 games since returning to action, scoring 7 goals and 5 assists in the process. Certainly his pace had slowed down, but on the strength of his hot start he managed to reappear on the NHL's scoring leader table. On March 6, his 18 goals, 11 assists and 29 points placed him 29th in league scoring. Schriner finished strong with 4 goals and 8 points in his last 5 matches and ended up 22nd in points despite missing 24 of the 50 games. In fact, Schriner's 22 goals ranked him 13th in the NHL in 1944/45.It would have been difficult for him to continue his early season scoring rate through an entire season, but if not for his injury, he almost certainly would have bested second place goal man Herb Cain's 32, and might have even given the Rocket a run for first to 50.

AS IT HAPPENS - 50 YEARS AGO TODAY IN HOCKEY!!

Welcome to the "As it Happens - 50 Years Ago Today in Hockey" Blog. My aim here is to provide news as it would have been reported as it happened 50 years ago. The difference is, there was no blogging, instant access via internet, and no Twitter back in those days. So, we will report on things at the time they would have been taking place via today's technology, but restricting ourselves to the access to information that reporters and others had at that time. Since we will be reporting on the news as it was known on that date, some historical inaccuracies will, out of necessity, be encountered.

The main focus of the blog will be the Canadian NHL teams, and most news from the league will be reported from that perspective. Minor professional and junior leagues will also be featured, but only to the extent of the information that the major news outlets would receive.

In keeping with today's technology, there will be a Twitter account also reporting on events in 1964. Keep in mind that, since for these purposes we are in 1964, much of the news may be a day, or at least several hours late. My Twitter account is @1964NHLtweets.

So, as we begin, it is now early September, 1964. It has been a busy summer in the NHL, with several interesting events taking place. The Toronto Maple Leafs are still basking in the glow of their third consecutive Stanley Cup victory, thanks to the goaltending of the venerable Johnny Bower, who was named the playoff Most Valuable Player. The Leafs' Junior A club, the Toronto Marlboros, was the runaway winner of the Memorial Cup, which goes to the top Junior team in Canada. The American Hockey League Champs were the Cleveland Barons, farm club of the Montreal Canadiens, while the Western Hockey League championship was captured by the San Francisco Seals, who had a working agreement with the Boston Bruins. The fledgling Central Professional Hockey League named the Omaha Knights as their champions. The Knights were a development team for the Montreal Canadiens and featured several future NHL'ers.

Following the playoffs, the NHL All-star team was named, and it was dominated by the Chicago Black Hawks. The forwards were all from Chicago, with Stan Mikita at centre, Bobby Hull on the left wing, and, in a slight surprise, Kenny Wharram on the right side. Hawks' captain Pierre Pilote was named to one of the two defence spots, and Glenn Hall was the goaltender. Only defenseman Tim Horton of Toronto foiled a complete Chicago sweep.

Second team members were goaltender Charlie Hodge of Montreal, defensemen Elmer Vasko of Chicago and Jacques Laperriere of Montreal, and forwards Jean Beliveau of Montreal (centre), Toronto's Frank Mahovlich on left wing, and the Red Wings' Gord Howe on the right side.

The American Hockey League All-star team featured Goaltender Lorne (Gump) Worsely of Quebec, Ted Harris from Cleveland and Rochester's Al Arbour on defence, with forwards Art Stratton and Yves Locas from Pittsburgh, and Gerry Ehman from Rochester.

In early May, the Black Hawks received a scare when superstar Bobby Hull was injured in an auto accident. Hull's injuries were not serious, but it did cause quite a stir when he showed up to an off season function with his hands bandaged.

Jacques Laperriere, the fine young defender of the Montreal Canadiens was named the NHL rookie-of-the-year, while team mates John Ferguson and Terry Harper finished second and third respectively in the voting. The AHL's top rookie was 21-year-old goaltender Roger Crozier of the Pittsburgh Hornets, the Red Wings' top farm club. As the off-season wore on, Crozier would find himself anointed the starting goaltender in Detroit for the upcoming 1964-65 season.

The Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the most sportsmanlike player, was won by Ken Wharram, with Toronto's Dave Keon second in the voting. Wharram was the first Chicago player to win the trophy since Bill Mosienko in 1944-45.

In addition to his first all-star berth, Hawk captain Pierre Pilote, was named the league's top defenseman and was awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Tim Horton of Toronto was the runner up in the voting.

The Hart Trophy, given to the NHL's most valuable player, went to Jean Beliveau. Big Jean finished well ahead of Bobby Hull in the voting in what many feel is the league's premier individual award.

As with every NHL off-season, management changes were inevitable. Montreal was the first team to make a splash, with vice-president Ken Reardon resigning his position. Most observers felt Reardon quit in protest over being by-passed for a more significant role as the Habs realigned their front office. Reardon had been with the Canadiens organization as both a player and executive for 25 years. He gave his official reason for leaving as wanting to spend more time with his family and to explore opportunities outside of hockey.

Shortly after Reardon's departure, the Canadiens named Sam Pollock as general manager. Pollock took over the duties performed by 71-year-old Frank Selke, Sr., who retired. In yet another surprising move, Senator Hartland Molson announced that star centre Jean Beliveau had been appointed to the position of vice-president of his brewery's Quebec operations. Another Canadiens legend, Maurice Richard, was named a vice president and special assistance to new club president David Molson. Other additions included Frank Selke Jr., vice president in charge of publicity, the Forum, and other matters not relating to hockey, and Howard Hamilton, vice president in charge of finance and administration.

One thing that would not change for the Habs was the personality behind the bench. This was confirmed with the announcement that Hector (Toe) Blake would return for a tenth season as Montreal coach.

Finally, as May drew to a close, veteran Montreal star Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion announced his retirement to become coach of the Quebec Aces of the American Hockey League.

While the Canadiens were cleaning house and setting up a new management model, the American and Western Hockey Leagues began to talk merger. There were unconfirmed reports that the Los Angeles Blades were considering leaving the league, although just where theywould go wasn't clear. The Denver Invaders, a financial disaster in 1963-64, were staging a Season ticket drive, but it was strongly rumoured that the parent Toronto Maple Leafs would move the franchise to Victoria, B.C.

The WHL quickly discounted the merger rumours and announced it would once again be a Six team loop in 1964-65. The league also adopted an indemnity rule, which would make it financially prohibitive for any member club to leave the league to join the NHL.

The American Hockey League was busy as well, as it named Rochester Americans general manager Jack Riley as the league's new president. He succeeds James C. Balmer of Pittsburgh, who resigned. The new general manager in Rochester will be the team's coach, Joe Crozier, one of Punch Imlach's long-time cronies.

While all this was going on, an intriguing story began to unfold in Vancouver. Toronto Maple Leaf president Stafford Smythe announced plans to build a 20,000 seat major league arena in the city's down town core. Smythe said that the arena plan was contingent on the City donating the land in question, and that the structure, which would be more than suitable for hosting a National Hockey League franchise, would be ready for operation by the1966-67 season.

The intriguing part of this idea is the widely differing viewpoints on the addition of franchises to the existing six now in operation. Smythe said that adding Vancouver would be part of the creation of a completely new six-team division, in which Vancouver and five other new franchises would operate. Toronto vice-president Harold Ballard, however, said that the league would bring in only 4 new clubs, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and possibly St. Louis. NHL president Clarence Campbell claimed to have no knowledge of any plans for expansion of the highly successful league, and that Smythe was operating completely on his own. Campbell said that no committee had been struck by the league to explore the possibility of expansion. He called this expansion discussion "kite-flying". Bill Rathie, the mayor of Vancouver, seemed unsure of exactly what Smythe was peddling, and asked the Leaf president to come to Vancouver and explain his plan.

Several days after the initial Vancouver story broke, Smythe backed off on his original expansion talk and said that he was talking strictly for himself, not the League. It was fairly obvious that Campbell had admonished the Toronto president for speaking out of turn. Smythe, however, did say he planned to travel to the west coast to meet with Vancouver's mayor.

That much anticipated meeting took place near the end of May, with stories emerging that Vancouver's city council had given Stafford Smyth the "green light" to proceed with his proposed arena plan and that it would donate the land in the downtown area upon which the rink would be built. There had been a last minute bid from the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby to house the arena, with that municipality offering to donate land for the rink. Smythe said that Burnaby was unsuitable because of a local by-law prohibiting professional sports on Sundays, something that is not a problem in Vancouver.

So ended the month of May in an already hectic NHL off season. Up next, we'll summarize the rest of the summer's events, including the NHL summer meetings, where most of the off season player movement and other league business takes place.

as mentioned you can follow Rick on twitter here.

The Strangest Game

One of the strangest games of hockey ever played took place on February 26, 1901 in an Ontario Hockey Association match between the Stratford Hockey Club and the St. George's of Toronto. The game, played at Stratford, was the second leg of the two games, total goals OHA Intermediate semi-final series.

To provide a bit of background, in 1901 the OHA Intermediate Series was comprised of eight groups, the eight group winners progressed to the playoff round where they would play down until a champion was determined. The St. George's were the champions of group six, by virtue of beating the South Parkdale and Osgoode Hall, both in two games, total goals series. Then in the quarter final round the St. George's edged Collingwood 8-7 in another total goals series to set up the semi final round against Stratford.

Stratford on the other hand reached the semi-final by winning group eight over Sarnia, London and Tillbury, the latter two clubs being expelled from the OHA, over the course of the round. In the quarter final round Stratford played a close series with Paris, a club in its first OHA season and only two years away from the OHA championship, winning 9-8.

The first game of the semi-final series between St. George's and Stratford was played at the Mutual Street rink in Toronto on February 23. The game was rough, but closely contested and at the end of the first half the score was tied 3-3. For the first twenty minutes of the second half the "Saints" dominated scoring five consecutive goals, including four from Allie Gillies, before Stratford netted two goals to close out the game. The final score was 8-5 and the St. George's carried a three goal lead into the second leg of the series.

The second leg was played on the following Tuesday night, February 26, at Stratford. The Torontonians looked bound and determined to win as they scored the first three goals of the game, to extend their lead in the series to 11-5. The prospects of the Stratford club looked rather dim, but they finally managed to score once before time ran out in the opening half and at the break the score in the game stood 3-1 in favour of the "Saints". In the second half of the game, according to the Toronto Star, Stratford "warmed up" and "played with a vim which was too much for the visitors." But alas, the strong defence of the St. George's, combined with the weak shooting of the Stratford forwards held Stratford to only two goals in the half and at the end of sixty minutes of play the score in the game stood tied 3-3, which gave the St. George's an 11-8 lead in the two game total goals series.

One would think that this is where the story would end, with the St. George's winning the round and moving on the OHA Intermediate finals, but the OHA had a rule in place at the time that no game could end in a tie and a ten minute overtime period, played in two five minute halves, was ordered. To complicate matters even further, the ten minute overtime period was not sudden death, which meant that Stratford could still win the series if they could score four times in the ten minutes.

The first five minutes of the overtime period resulted in no goals being scored. As time wore on in the second five minutes of the overtime period it occurred to St. George's cover point Bert Bisch that with his club holding a three goal lead in the series they could still win the round even if they lost the game, and with that he fired the puck past his own goalkeeper giving Stratford a 4-3 lead. The Stratford players realized that they did not have enough time to score an additional two goals to tie up the series, so when the puck was put back into play they quickly scored on their own goal to make the score 4-4 and hopefully buy some more time as an additional ten minute overtime period would be needed if the score remained tied at the end of the first ten minutes. With still a bit of time remaining after Stratford's own goal, the St. George's tried to pull the same trick again a started to take the puck toward their goal, at which point Rankin of Stratford started to furiously defend the St. George's goal and prevent them from scoring on themselves once again to the amusement of the fans who had figured out what was going on, and to the confusion of the rest. Eventually time ran out and the first overtime period with the score tied 4-4 and an additional ten minutes was ordered. This time around Stratford scored three times in the ten minutes to win the game 7-4, bringing to an end one of the strangest games ever played. The series however, was not yet over as the teams were now tied 12-12, and a third and deciding game would need to be played.

The final game of the series was played on neutral ice in Guelph on March 1, and the St. Georges, after almost blowing the series in the second game, edged Stratford 2-1 and advanced to the OHA Intermediate final where they beat Port Hope 10-8 over two games to win the OHA Intermediate championship for 1901.

Who's To Blame for the Free Angent Frenzy

Every year we hear hockey fans ask themselves: Why oh why did my team sign this chump for X million bucks? No matter how many middle-tier players have fallen flat on their face trying to live up to the expectations their rich new contract set out for them, there will always be a general manager willing to sign a player for far more than he is worth. Overzealous general managers are part of the problem, but the media should also shoulder some of the blame for the madness of unrestricted free agency.

I admit I am a sucker for what I call "Free Agent Sweepstakes Day". I love the analysis on television and on websites. I love thinking about how a big free agent could help my team win the Cup. Yes, July 1st has become a part of our hockey culture, but we should tell ourselves that what we hear in the media is complete hogwash. If we pay too much attention to the hype, we actually start to believe that Wade Redden, Scott Gomez or David Clarkson is going to lead our team to the Promised Land.

Why do we bother listening to all the hype? It doesn't even make any sense. For one thing, it is impossible to judge who is the best UFA available. It is just as impossible, after the contracts have been signed, to judge who is going to truly earn their money. There are too many X factors that have to be considered. How is the new guy going to mesh with his teammates? How is he going to respond to the coach? How is he going to adapt to the climate? How is he going to react when he falls under the microscope of Canadian fans? Yet that doesn't stop anyone from making bold predictions which, in retrospect, are highly laughable. It's like predicting the Stanley Cup winner before the season has even begun. How many experts are kicking themselves for picking the San Jose Sharks for the eighth year in a row? Then again, how could anyone have predicted the Sharks would end up playing Los Angeles in round one and then defy the odds by blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Kings?

Curiously, players who sign large contracts and remain with their teams seem to do quite alright. Shea Weber, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf all signed lengthy contracts and had excellent seasons with their respective clubs. Brad Richards, on the other hand, signed a nine-year, $60 million deal and saw his points per game average drop from .93 (in 772 games with Tampa Bay and Dallas) to .72 with New York, and is now a candidate to be bought out during the summer. You would think the Rangers had learned their lesson after signing Wade Redden to a ridiculous six-year, $39 million deal, and then shipped him to the minors after just two years. If players want their careers to progress, they should strongly consider sticking with their current clubs.

Over the last few years, the media has grossly distorted the value of more than a few players in the NHL. Richards was the highest profile free agent back in 2011, but he wasn't the first to be grossly overhyped. For example, in 2009, a website called The Bleacher Report rated Martin Havlat the fourth-best player available of all the UFA forwards and defensemen (1). Since then, he has scored 183 points in 278 games, definitely not earning the six-year, $30 million contract he signed with Minnesota (2). The Bleacher Report ranked Jay Bouwmeester sixth and Nik Antropov eighth, neither of whom made much of an impact in their new cities unless you consider eating up cap space a skill (3). Bouwmeester went from .43 PPG in Florida to .35 in Calgary, while Antropov scored a career-high 67 points with Atlanta in 2009, then saw his production drop to 41 points, and then to 35 before bottoming out at 18 in 2013.

Remember when Sergei Gonchar and Anton Volchenkov were hyped as highly sought-after UFAs back in 2010? Seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it? Gonchar played three unspectacular seasons in Ottawa, and produced only .49 points per game there, compared to .69 in his previous 976 games. Volchenkov has spent the last four years in and out of the Devils' infirmary.

Of course, it is one thing to predict a player's desirability, but what about the media's predictions after the contract signing? In 2011, The Hockey News rated each team's off-season performance, including trades, personnel changes, and free agent signings. THN awarded Buffalo an A-, mostly based on their signings of Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Ville Leino. The Sabres haven't seen the playoffs since, and in 2013/14, they finished dead last. Regehr has long since left town, Leino has scored 10 goals in 137 games with the Sabres, and Ehrhoff finished -27 this past season.

In 2011, the New York Rangers earned a B+ for signing Richards, whose career has been on the decline ever since. The Toronto Maple Leafs got a B for signing John-Michael Liles and Tim Connolly, who are both in the "Where are they now" file. On the other hand, the publication rated Phoenix a C- because all they did was sign Mike Smith as their new number one goaltender (4). Those poor Coyotes are probably still ruing the day they stepped on that landmine considering all Smith has accomplished is leading the undertalented team to the Conference Finals in 2012 and keeping them in playoff contention every year despite a lack of offense and persistent relocation rumours. He was also named to the most recent Canadian Olympic hockey team, and has recorded nineteen shutouts the last three years, including three in the playoffs. Hindsight says The Hockey News rankings would be a lot different today

The media not only misfires on NHL free agents, but also those coming out of Europe. For every underhyped Antti Niemi there is a grossly overrated Jonas Gustavsson. I clearly remember how the experts couldn't talk more than 30 seconds without mentioning how "The Monster" was going to lead the Leafs to the Promised Land. With his 2.98 goals-against average, .900 save percentage, and 39-45-15 career record with the Leafs, that was never going to happen. And do you remember how Fabian Brunnstrom was going to teach us all a thing or two about scoring goals? He last played in 2012-13, for Frolunda HC of the Swedish League, where he scored a grand total of 18 points in 51 games.

In short, there is no way of predicting how a player will adapt to his new surroundings, so why does anyone care about the media's opinion of free agents? Dipping into the NHL free agent pool is, at the very least, a crap shoot for general managers. Sometimes teams luck out, and sometimes they pay dearly. Some free agents, no matter their skill, mesh better with their new coach or teammates, while others flounder. More often than not, the high risk brings few, if any rewards.

In many ways, it is best to go the safe route and offer short-term deals to average players who have an upside, and who may surprise you with a better-than-expected performance in the end. Tagging someone as "best available" does not guarantee future success, and if that player falters under the weight of an expensive long-term deal, it can cripple his career and his franchise. A player of lesser skill signed to a reasonable contract can be even more valuable. Just look at Clarke Macarthur, whose 24 goals and 31 assists cost the Ottawa Senators just $6.5 million over two years, or Mason Raymond who scored 45 points for the Leafs and earned just $2.275 million (5). Jarome Iginla signed a one-year deal with Boston and scored 30 goals. When low-risk players succeed, the general manager looks like a genius, and when these players fail, no one seems to notice.

Of course, playing it cool during the free agent frenzy is easier said than done. Fans want their general manager to land an expensive star player, logic be damned, so general managers are under pressure to deliver. Fans should not listen to the media hype, however. There is no guarantee the free agent their team signed will live up to expectations, but we still can't resist all the hype. Making matters worse for general managers is the fact it is difficult to sign a player for what he is actually worth, because there is always another team ready to offer more money and a longer term. Don't forget the rule of supply and demand as well. Sometimes a general manager has to pay a little more to get a free agent just because the talent pool is shallow. For general managers, free agency is like going to prom. Everyone wants to go to the dance with the star quarterback or the head cheerleader, but in the long run, looks aren't everything. Sometimes it's better to go with the person you're most comfortable with and who fits your personality best.

(1) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/194648-2009s-top-20-nhl-free-agents
(2) All salary information found at www.capgeek.com.
(3) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/194648-2009s-top-20-nhl-free-agents
(4) "NHL Team Reports," The Hockey News (August 2011), p. 36-47.
(5) All salary information found at www.capgeek.com.

Dogs, Cats, Cups & Cars

In 1993, the NHL honored the centennial of the Stanley Cup by giving every member of the champion Montreal Canadiens a chance to spend a day with the ultimate prize. During the summer of 1994, members of the New York Rangers gave the trophy such a beating that, starting in 1995, a "Keeper of the Cup" from the Hockey Hall of Fame has always been assigned to chaperone the big mug during its summer vacation. Since then, stories of the Stanley Cup's journeys have tended to focus on the new places it's visited, and the heartwarming ways in which players have chosen to share their moments. On occasion, there have still been reports on unusual incidents, such as during the summer of 2011 when the trophy fell off a table and was dented during Michael Ryder's visit to St. John's, Newfoundland. Still, the stories of the Stanley Cup's adventures these days are pretty tame compared to the legendary moments most hockey history fans can rattle off without much effort.

But how many of those legendary stories are true?

One of the most famous stories of Stanley Cup hijinks is the tale of the Montreal Canadiens leaving the trophy by the side of the road after winning it in 1924. No doubt the story was already well known by 1953, but that's the year that Leo Dandurand's telling of the tale appeared in "The Hockey Book" by longtime hockey writer Bill Roche:

When Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1924 by defeating Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary in the playoffs, we were honoured by the University of Montreal in a public reception at the National Monument in Montreal.

During the ceremonies, the Cup was officially presented to the team, and all the players received mementos from the University. It is the only time in history that a professional hockey club has been so honored by a major seat of learning.

After the reception, the Canadiens went to my home for an informal get-together. Georges Vezina, Sprague Cleghorn, Sylvio Mantha and I, got into a model T Ford to make the trip. The tin lizzy stalled going up Cote St. Antoine Road in Westmount, and we all got out to push.

Cleghorn, who had been jealously carrying the hard-won Stanley Cup in his lap, deposited it on the curb at the roadside before he joined us in shoving the car up the hill. When we reached the top, we hopped back into the car and resumed our hockey chatter as we got going again.

Upon reaching my house, we all started in on a big bowl of punch which my wife had prepared. It wasn't until she asked, "Well... where is this Stanley Cup you've been talking about?" that we realized that Cleghorn had left it on the side of the road. Sprague and I drove hurriedly back to the spot almost an hour after we had pushed the car up the hill. There was the Cup, in all its shining majesty, still sitting on the curb of the busy street!"

Leo Dandurand was certainly not above stretching the truth. He is responsible for the stories (which are NOT true) that Georges Vezina fathered twenty-something children. But this story mostly matches with the historical record. The Canadiens were actually presented with the Stanley Cup at a banquet attended by 450 people at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal on April 1, 1924. However, there was another banquet two nights later hosted by the University of Montreal in which Dandurand, the players, and the Stanley Cup were again in attendance. The Gazette makes no mention of the roadside mishap in the days following its coverage of the either banquet, but perhaps other Montreal newspapers do. If anyone ever finds a report, please pass it on!

Frank Calder, president of the NHL from its inception in 1917 until his death on February 4, 1943, certainly believed this story was true. A Canadian Press report that appeared in newspapers across the country the day after Calder's death said that while many people found him gruff and even curt, once Calder got talking, he "would spin hockey tales by the hour." One of his favourites was the story of the Stanley Cup being left by the side of the road.

Interestingly, the Calder write-up touches on the other most famous tale of misadventure from the early days ... that of an Ottawa player dropping (not drop-kicking) the Stanley Cup into the Rideau Canal. Paul Kitchen, who literally wrote the book on early Ottawa hockey history, states that he has NEVER been able to find a record of this story from that time (usually said to be 1905) in any Ottawa newspaper. "Calder," says the 1943 CP report, "always maintained the story was a fable."

Another early Stanley Cup story has it that a member of the Montreal Wanderers once kept the Cup at his bowling alley, were he loaded it up with gumballs for his patrons. It's usually said that this occurred in 1910 ... but the Wanderers never actually received the trophy that year! Though they did win it, when Sam Lichtenheim took over ownership of the team he was unaware of the requirement of putting up a $1,000 bond for the Cup's safe keeping. He never did, and the team never got the trophy. Still, there might be some truth to this tale ... though it was likely several years later, and definitely a different trophy.

"At one time," says the 1943 CP report of another favourite Calder story, "one of the trophies disappeared for several years. No one seemed to have the slightest idea what happened to it.

"'I found it by luck, in a Montreal bowling alley,' recalled Calder. 'I just happened to drop in and imagine my surprise when I saw this lost NHL trophy being used by the alley owner as a water trough for his dogs.'"

So, which trophy was it?

A story in the Boston Globe, from April 13, 1927, when the Bruins were playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time against the Ottawa Senators, sheds some light. This was the first year that competition for the Stanley Cup was restricted to NHL teams. The Bruins and Senators were actually competing for three trophies, the Stanley Cup, the Prince of Wales Trophy, and the old O'Brien Trophy, first donated as the championship emblem of the National Hockey Association, by M.J. O'Brien of Renfrew in 1910.

According to the official record, the O'Brien Trophy (which actually has the name "O'Brien Cup" engraved on it) had remained with the Montreal Canadiens after their NHA championship of 1916–17 until Calder found it among the effects of team owner George Kennedy when he passed away in 1921. It was then re-donated to NHL. But according to Bruins owner Charles Adams in the 1927 Globe story, the O'Brien Cup "had been lost in bowling alleys in Montreal during the war [until it was] found by Pres. Calder." In Adams' telling of the tale, it was cats, not dogs that were drinking water from it, but this MUST be the same story. It seems pretty unlike to have happened twice!

In more recent times, Clark Gillies of the New York Islanders (1980) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim (2007) are known to have fed their dogs from the Stanley Cup ... but at least they'd both won the right to do so.

Entering Wally's World

On June 19th, I got to spend a couple of hours with the 95-year-old Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf. He is the last surviving member of the 1942 Stanley Cup winning Leafs team. Though I don't know 100%, he is probably the oldest living New York Ranger too.

I'd interviewed Stanowski a few times in the past and was always thrilled with his memory and ability to recall specific events. There have been a few times that I'd met him in person too, at NHL oldtimers luncheons, and he was always pleasant, and so many of the other oldtimers would stop by his seat just to say hello, Godfather-like.

The idea behind the visit to his apartment in a retirement home in Toronto's west end was to video tape him, to capture his memories for a "living library" to benefit future generations, guaranteeing that his story is not lost.

It was all put together through SIHR -- the Society for International Hockey Research -- of which I am a proud member.

Along for the ride were Paul Bruno, the current president of SIHR, and Jim Amodeo, who does the great Hockey Then & Now blog.

Complicating things were the fact that I wrecked my right knee on Saturday, tearing my ACL, MCL and a meniscus while playing goal in a local men's soccer game. Needing to be chauffeured around is new to me, but Paul got me there and, seeing my massive leg brace, Wally immediately started telling stories about his own leg woes through the years -- including the broken leg that ended his playing career.

Interestingly, he is pretty adamant that had he not broken his leg, that he would have continued his career and been eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. We have that comment on tape, including some other gems, like what a dirty player Elmer Lach was, and a hilarious story about the very early days of his marriage to his wife, who only passed a while back.

Chances like this to hang out with hockey greats don't come around a lot. The big, big stars get their stories told again and again, but lesser names like Stanowski don't always get the chance.

As fun as it was to sit down with him and tape it all, the real work is still to come in piecing it all together into a coherent video interview.

At least it's something I can do with a wrecked knee.

The video of the interview can be found here:

Wally Stanowski interview part 1

Wally Stanowski interview part 2

(clockwise from top left Paul Bruno, Jim Amodeo, Wally Stanowski and Greg Oliver)

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