The Curse of the Maple Leafs

Think 2015 will be the year the Leafs win it all? Think again. In fact, if history repeats itself, it will be yet another April lacing up the cleats and hitting the links. Of course, you're probably thinking, "Well, that was insightful, Steve... Don't the Leafs always miss the playoffs?" Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure that out; you just have to refer to or the SIHR website and the statistics are all there. Glancing at the Leafs' output the past decade, however, it makes one wonder if there are supernatural forces at work. Some sort of curse perhaps...

Indeed, it is not the end result, but rather the course of events in Leafs Nation that is rather distressing. Since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, each Leaf season has followed one of two patterns: 1) Toronto starts the season strong and fades badly down the stretch, or 2) Toronto starts the season sluggish and makes a desperate last-ditch attempt to qualify for the playoffs. Despite the different paths to the finish line, the end result is always the same: failure. Don't believe me? Let's take a gander at every Leafs season since the lockout.

In the first year after the lockout, Pat Quinn's Leafs gave every indication it was going to be an exciting season as they roared out to a 24-15-3 record. Mats Sundin was having another stellar season, and Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle looked like the second coming of Ian Turnbull and Borje Salming. Then it all fell apart. From January 10 to March 4, Toronto went 3-13-2, which included both eight and five-game winless streaks. The Leafs then went on a desperate 14-5-3 run to save their season, but it was too little, too late as the team missed the dance by two points. As the years went on, the mid-season swoons would only become more catastrophic.

Paul Maurice took over the coaching reigns from Quinn in 2006, but his tenure started off sluggish as the Leafs coasted to a 17-17-6 mark the first 40 games of the schedule before going gangbusters in the second half (23-14-5). End result? Missed the playoffs by one point.

In 2007-08, the Leafs stumbled out of the gate with a terrible 16-21-8 mark. While that would have been good enough to challenge for a playoff spot in the old 21-team NHL when almost everyone played meaningful hockey in April, this edition of the Leafs would have no such luck. Despite a 20-10-2 record between January 15 and March 22, the Leafs still missed the cut by 11 points.

By 2008-09, Paul Maurice had been replaced by Ron Wilson, but the Leafs' pattern of starting slow and finishing strong held true. The Leafs again struggled in the first two-thirds of the season, compiling a record of 17-23-8, before waking up with a slightly better 17-12-5 mark from January 29 to April 11. This time the Leafs missed the playoffs by 12 points. The following year, it seemed as though the Leafs' skates were encased in cement as they stumbled to a 3-11-6 start. By late January, the Leafs stood at 19-32-12, and were almost assured of missing the playoffs a fifth straight year, but they closed out the year 11-6-2, missing the playoffs by 14 points. In 2010-11, Ron Wilson's boys got off to an unimpressive 19-25-5 start, but when all hope seemed lost they racked up a 18-9-6 record to finish the season. Same result though: no playoffs, this time 8 points out.

By 2011-12, the Ron Wilson-Brian Burke regime was teetering on the edge of collapse. Both coach and general manager seemed assured of keeping their jobs, however, when the Leafs stormed out to a 9-3-1 start. The good times kept on coming too. On February 6, Leafs fans could not have felt more confident their team's long playoff drought was going to end. The Leafs – sitting at 28-19-6 after 53 games – had just beaten the woeful Edmonton Oilers 6-3 in Toronto, and James Reimer had shutout both Pittsburgh and Ottawa the two previous games. In fact, thanks to Reimer and partner Jonas Gustavsson, the Leafs had picked up four shutouts in their last eleven games, putting to rest, for a time, the talk of Toronto's porous defense. Then the Leafs flew into Winnipeg and lost 2-1 on February 7. No big deal; it had been three games in four nights for the Leafs, so they were probably a little tired. Then it was off to Philly two days later where the Leafs fell 4-3. Again, no big deal, but when the struggling Montreal Canadiens came to Toronto on February 11 and shut out the Leafs 5-0, alarm bells were sounded, and they continued to ring loudly for the next month. In what could best be described as a bloody catastrophe, the Leafs went into a 7-18-4 tailspin and missed the playoffs by 12 points, despite having sat nine games over .500 in early February. The incredible collapse would cost both Wilson and Burke their jobs.

In 2012-13, the latest NHL lockout drastically reduced the schedule, and wouldn't ya know, the Randy Carlyle-led Leafs looked pretty good for 48 regular-season games and another six playoff games. Then it happened. Every Leaf fan knows what it is: game seven, TD Garden, Boston, Mass. With less than 11 minutes remaining in the game, the Leafs had an insurmountable 4-1 lead, but the Bruins' Nathan Horton scored at 9:18 to make it 4-2. Then, with just 1:22 left, the Bruins wiped out the two-goal deficit on goals by Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron to take the game to overtime where Bergeron earned the admiration of Leaf-haters everywhere by scoring the winner at 6:05. It is interesting to note that game seven was the Leafs' 55th game that season, right around the point the Leafs usually collapse after a solid start.

Undaunted, the Leafs licked their wounds and burst out of the gate winning ten of their first 14 games to start the 2013-14 season. There was a bad mid-season swoon that seemed to indicate the Leafs would follow the usual script once again, but no, this time they rebounded nicely. In fact, after 68 games (36-24-8 record) it was just a question of who they would be facing in the first round. Of course, the inevitable collapse just got underway a little later than usual, game #69 to be exact, a 4-2 loss to Washington, followed by seven more regulation losses, two wins in a row, and then four straight losses to cap the season. Looking back, it is mind-boggling how a team twelve games over .500 in March could still miss the playoffs by nine points!

One could point to the Leafs' porous defense the past decade as the main reason for their late-season collapses. After all, playoff contenders tend to tighten up on the back end in the second half of the schedule, and teams that get away with letting their goaltenders stop 35 or 40 shots a night in the first half are dead in the water come March. The Leafs regularly rank near the top (or is that bottom?) of the league in shots against. From 2005-06 to 2013-14, the Leafs' defense has ranked 21st, 25th, 27th, 30th, 29th, 25th, 29th, 18th, and 26th. The only year the Leafs didn't finish in the bottom ten was the one year they made the playoffs. The Leafs' 24th-place ranking 34 games into the 2014-15 season does not bode well for hockey in Toronto come May. Offense sure isn't the Leafs' problem. During the same period, the Leafs' offense has ranked 11th, 6th, 12th, 10th, 26th, 23rd, 10th, 6th, and 13th. This season, they are again near the top of the NHL in offense.

While a shoddy defense would be the rational explanation for the Leafs' inability to qualify for the playoffs, a more whimsical explanation could be some sort of curse that has haunted the franchise the last ten years. The Montreal Forum had helpful ghosts that surely had some small role in helping the Canadiens win all those Stanley Cups. The mind-boggling collapses that befall the Leafs' each and every season suggest the Air Canada Centre is perhaps haunted by its own, albeit evil poltergeist – perhaps the spirit of Harold Ballard sporting the paper bag Roger Neilson once refused to wear – unwilling to release the Leafs from their curse. Since I started writing this short article, the Leafs have lost three in a row, and concerns have been raised about yet another collapse. If you happen to visit the ACC anytime this season, and you notice a portly old gent floating around with a bag on his head, inform him his ghost costume needs some work, and that he should give the Leafs and their fans a break just this once.

Thoughts on J. P. Parise

There will be many others eulogizing J.P. Parise, who died January 7th of lung cancer, and rightfully so. He was a heck of a hockey player, helped develop hockey players at his post-hockey life as a coach in the NHL and the minors, and then as hockey director at Shattuck-Saint Mary's, and, well, he sired a heck of a hockey player in Zach Parise.

I watched him play a bit in the 1970s, in my formative years as a fan, and have a bunch of his hockey cards. He's associated mostly with the Boston Bruins, in whose system he came up, and the Minnesota North Stars, where he played a ton, coached and settled down. But he played with the New York Islanders and the Cleveland Barons too.

While working on Written in Blue & White: The Toronto Maple Leafs Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt, I got the chance to give him a call and talk with him about something very few people do -- his one single game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Long story short, J.P. was at the training camp of the Oakland Seals for their initial NHL campaign in the fall of 1967; he'd been claimed by the expansion team from the Bruins' organization. The camp was in London, Ontario.

By his own recollection, Parise played a bunch of exhibition games and was second on the team in scoring, after defenceman Kent Douglas. He expected to make the NHL for good after 21 games over two seasons with the Bruins, most of his ice time coming in the Central league with the Oklahoma City Blazers.

But he didn't count on his battles with Seals coach Bert Olmstead.

Here is Parise's take:

He was big on basic fundamentals of the game, back in those days -- stay on your wing, no rink-wide passes, and all those things. So we're in the third period, I'm on the ice, and we're leading 3-2. I've got the puck on our blueline, along the wall, and I see my right winger just exploding on the right side. So I make a rink-wide pass and sure enough it was intercepted in the middle of the ice. They guy kept coming towards me, and I nailed him and I got a penalty. I'm in the box and they score. Instead of being 4-2, it's 3-3. And Mr. Olmstead was not very pleased, he was very angry. I go back to the bench and he's pacing, "Little frickin' frog...

I said, "Fuck you. I screwed up. I'm sorry about that, but that gives you no fuckin' right to start attacking my heritage." And he never responded. The next day at 8 o'clock, I got a knock on my door -- we're staying in London at the hotel, the Holiday Inn I think -- these are things I don't forget! Details that I don't forget! Lessons in life! He was informing me I had been traded to Rochester of the American League. So, for about four, five seconds of getting things off my chest and unloading, I just screwed up my life, my career, and my NHL salary and the whole thing.

Of course J.P. hadn't screwed up his NHL career, just delayed it.

In Rochester, coach Joe Crozier was a believer.

I go to Rochester, and now I'm totally depressed. My career is over, I'm 25 years old, and it's over. He called me into his office one day. He used to call me Johnny. He says, "Johnny, if you can only get out of this frickin' funk, you're in." I had a shitty attitude. He says, "If you get out of the frickin' funk that you're in, I'll have you back in the National Hockey League by Christmas." He put me on a line with old Bronco Horvath. Bronco and I clicked, and sure enough, just after Christmas I got a call from Joe. He says, "You know what I promised you last September has happened." I said, "What?" He said, "I've traded you to Minnesota North Stars. You're to meet the team in New York today." So I went to New York and played my first game with the North Stars and I remained in the National Hockey League for 12 years. And if someone called me a "little frickin' frog" I would say "Thank you very much." ... I got that message.

In between there, though, was a single game in Toronto for the Leafs -- who were associated with the Rochester Americans at the time and were shorthanded -- on November 15, 1967.

It was so wonderful. George Armstrong was the captain at the time. I went into the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room. Those guys made me feel like I belonged and had been there for 10 years. It was unbelievable.

I felt so comfortable, and they made me feel welcomed. I think I played with Dave Keon and Jim Pappin. These pretty good wingers for a young rookie.

After interviewing him in December 2013, I sent him copies of his file that Allan Stitt had gotten at some point; most of it was from the Minnesota North Stars files. It was quite the package, and I hope it brought back a few memories for him.

Thank you for sharing a few of your lesser-known tales, J.P. Rest in peace.

Watching the 1964 Olympic Hockey Final

I recently had the opportunity to watch the final game of the 1964 Olympic Hockey tournament between Canada and the Soviet Union. Canada needed a win for the gold medal, a tie was enough to clinch for the Soviets. The broadcast was in Russian and the commentary seemed more conversational than play-by-play in nature so it took a while to determine who all the players were. Here is a list of the players from the game:

# Canada # USSR
1 Broderick, Ken 1 Konovalenko, Viktor
1 Martin, Seth
2 O'Malley, Terry 2 Davydov, Vitali
3 Seiling, Rod 3 Ivanov, Eduard
4 MacKenzie, Barry 4 Ragulin, Alexander
6 Akervall, Henry 5 Kuzkin, Viktor
8 Bourbonnais, Roger 6 Zaitsev, Oleg
9 Dineen, Gary 7 Loktev, Konstantin
10 Johnston, Marshall 8 Alexandrov, Veniamin
11 Conlin, Paul 9 Almetov, Alexander
12 Swarbrick, George 10 Yakushev, Viktor
13 Conacher, Brian 11 Starshinov, Vyacheslav
14 Forhan, Bob 12 Mayorov, Boris
15 Begg, Gary 13 Firsov, Anatoli
16 Clancy, Terry 14 Mayorov, Evgeny
18 Cadieux, Ray 15 Volkov, Leonid

As usual, the Soviets used sets lines, in this case Loktev-Almetov-Alexandrov, Mayorov-Starshinov-Mayorov, and Firsov-Yakushev-Volkov. Zaitsev was the spare defenseman and did not see much ice time after receiving a second period penalty.

The Canadian lineup was harder to discern. It seems that both Rod Seiling and Marshall Johnston, two Canadians to have long NHL careers on the team as defensemen were both used as forwards for much of the game. In addition, defensive zone face-offs were taken mainly by defensemen Terry O'Malley and Barry MacKenzie, mimicking a strategy used by the Maple Leafs of the 60's. Common lines for Canada were Seiling-Dineen-Forhan, Swarbrick-Johnston-Clancy, and Conacher-Bourbonnais-Cadieux.

In keeping with another stereotype, the Canadians were more likely to use the dump and chase, whereas the Soviets carried or passed the puck into the zone almost exclusively. However, it should be noted that both Canadian goals came off the rush, from Swarbrick on a brilliant setup from Johnston in the first and then Bob Forhan doing a Rick Vaive impression down the wing in the second. The first two Soviet goals were the result of the Mayorov-Starshinov line hemming the Canadians in their own zone and setting up a play in close to the net. Indeed, a primary weakness for Canada in the game is that their defensemen were not "puck movers" in today's language and attempts to clear the zone were held in by the Soviet defense.

Ken Broderick and Viktor Konovalenko were the starting goaltenders and played reasonably well through two periods. Broderick was the backup to the late Seth Martin through most of the Olympics, but an injury against Czechoslovakia made Martin unavailable for the final game. Or so it was thought. Canada put Martin into the game at the start of the third period with the score 2-2.

In Road to Olympus, Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov indicated that his instruction to the team was to hold back on shooting at Martin until they had a perfect chance as they wanted to strike before Martin was into the game1. Therefore I was quite surprise to see Martin play the puck twice in the first 15 seconds of the third period, including one point blank save on Anatoli Firsov. Indeed it appeared the actual instruction to the team was to attack as aggressively as possible before Martin got settled into the game. After Seiling had a good chance for Canada the Soviets rushed in with Veniamin Alexandrov finishing a beautiful passing play by Loktev and Almetov.

With the lead, the Soviets spent the rest of the first half of the 3rd period pressing to finish off the Canadians with Martin holding them off. After the teams changed ends halfway through the period the Soviets played more defensively to hold the lead. The Canadians appeared fatigued down the stretch and spent little time in the offensive zone let alone getting good chances to score. Nonetheless I found myself pulling for Canada to equalize down the stretch. This was strange, because of course the game occurred 50 years ago and there was little hope of the Canadians tying things up at this point. Moreover, even if they had tied the score, Canada needed a win for gold and therefore needed two goals against the highly effective Soviet defense.

One unusual postscript is that the Best Forward of the tournament was awarded to Soviet defenseman Eduard Ivanov. The story goes that the directorate went to the dressing room to present the award to Boris Mayorov and the coaches took it and gave it to Ivanov instead. I have read reports that Ivanov was used as a forward during the tournament and was given the award for his versatility. I cannot comment on the other games, but in this game he played fully on defense and did not stand out beyond his peers. My choice for star of the game would go to Boris Mayorov, as he often led the rush Team Canada had a very hard time checking him off the puck. It would seem that the directorate was reasonable in their choice for best forward. Other than the netminders, Terry O'Malley was among the strongest Canadians in the game.

This would be as close as Canada would come to a gold medal in Olympic play until the 1990's as most Olympic matchups from 1968 through 1988 had a men against boys feeling when the Soviets would meet the amateur Canadian National Team. 1964 would mark the 2nd Olympic championship for the Soviet Union and they would win 6 of the next 7 including the Unified Team win in 1992.

1 Anatoli Tarasov, Road to Olympus (Richmond Hill: Simon & Schuster, 1973, 98.

Two Great Events in Bracebridge Hockey History.

In the September 1906 issue of The Muskoka Herald, a Bracebridge weekly newspaper that came into being in 1878, a special insert was included entitled "Bracebridge as a Sporting Town". That insert was one of four produced in that year; each focusing on a subject of interest that the editor/publisher of that valuable historical record of early Bracebridge felt was of significance to the community, including one on the "new bridge" (over the Muskoka River north Branch -in 2014 part of Taylor Road) and the wonderful new steamer the Sagamo, and another on "Agriculture in Muskoka". Worthy subjects for sure and significant in a rapidly growing area that had been a wilderness just a few short years before.

The important link for travelling over the river connecting the community and distant areas to the north (the bridge), the impressive addition to the Muskoka Navigation steamship service (the Sagamo), and the rapidly growing agricultural economy, were all great assets to Bracebridge. A report detailing the numerous sports activities among that highly regarded group of assets surely is an indication of their significance to the pioneer community.

A Good Town Grew Here notes that included in that review were lacrosse, football, tennis, cricket, baseball, hockey and curling. Little, if any, mention is made of football and tennis in those early days in the numerous books on the history of the area, but it is stated that skating and hockey took place on the frozen Muskoka River although no reference is made to team competition in hockey until the construction of the first skating "rink" building built by John Dunn in 1898. The first reference to competitive sporting activities involved cricket and baseball; a meeting to discuss the formation of a cricket club was held in 1878 and the first baseball game is said to have taken place in 1872. Both of these sports gave way for quite some time to lacrosse and a number of significant championships were brought home to Bracebridge.

It didn't take long however, for hockey to become the dominant sport in the community and remains among the most exciting of all team activities.

The "rinks" of John Dunn on the ice of the Muskoka River knew many dramatic and exciting, events. Professional hockey greats, Irwin "Ace" Bailey, Frank and Bill Carson, Clarence "Moose" Jamieson, Herbert Trimble, Roy Cooper and Earl "Squirrely" Walker learned their hockey "tricks of the trade" there. More recent years produced the same in Yearley's and the Bracebridge Memorial Arena. Who could forget the great years of the Bracebridge Bears, a team put together after the end of the World War 2 conflict when so many young men, after enduring the terror of war, returned home and put their heart and soul into assimilating with the culture they had left behind. Veteran Ken Hammell recalled a meeting at the home of "Biff" Shier when the players that had come together to form a competitive team chose the name "Bracebridge Bears". Their heroics and championships are well remembered in spite of the passing of time.

One of the most dramatic events in the life of the Bears, aside from their Ontario Championships which will surely be the subject of future literary work, was a game played on April 25th, 1952 against the Elmira Polar Kings. Elmira was leading the Bears by a score of 4 to 0 when, with just 5:51 minutes left in the game, Fred Nicholls scored assisted by Dint Rowe and Ron Rowe, at 4:34 Vern Vanclief scored assisted by Stu Reid, at 2:29 Johnny Thompson scored assisted by Stu Reid, at 2:11 Stu Reid scored unassisted, at 30 seconds remaining Chub Downey scored assisted by Merv Robinson and with 1 second left on the clock Chub Downey scored again assisted by Stu Reid; final score Bracebridge 6 Elmira 4.

In spite of those heroics, Elmira went on to win the series but nothing will ever erase the memory of that dramatic event from the record of the Bears. The following year the Bracebridge Bears won the Ontario Intermediate "B" Championship and the Bracebridge Midgets won the Provincial Midget "C" Championship. Of special interest, the coach of the Midget team was Russell "Chub" Downey who just a month later played left wing for the Bracebridge Bears Ontario Intermediate championship team; a rather rare occurrence that is an example of the determination and skill of Downey as a coach and a player.

However, one of the most extraordinary events in our hockey history involved the Bracebridge Minor Hockey Association's 1993/94 Bracebridge Bantam team.

Their season started pretty much the same as any other. Registration of players, try-outs, planning schedules, checking out tournament opportunities; pretty much the same routine every time.

Head Coach Bill Earley already had his team executive in place, he tended to not change it much from year to year, but he had no idea that this was going to be a year of success unlike any he had seen. It was not until long after the season ended that an analysis of it showed just how unusual it was.

Earley had chosen Carey Uyeda as Assistant Coach, Norm Webb as Trainer, Dave McLaughlin, as Assistant Trainer, Bill Morrow and Jim Smith as Co-Managers.

There were 30 players registered in the Bantam division that year and after a number of the usual "try-outs" the following were selected to form the Bantam Hockey Team registered to represent the Bracebridge Minor Hockey Association with the Ontario Minor Hockey Association:

Ryan Archibald, Stephen Davies, Mark Downey, Josh Faulkner, Sean Hammond, James Heintzman, Kevin Hyde, Chris Jackson, John Jennings, Cody Jones, Peter Kolyn, Tom Morrow, Mark Robinson, Matthew Thomas, Robert Todd, Ryan Venturelli, Ross Willard, Mike Bridle, Paul Watton, Kirk Poirier and Jason Cox.

The team had a very successful season of exhibition, league and tournaments games, finishing with a 49, 15 and 7 record, including 5 tournaments championships. It was obvious that the players had talent, good coaching and an ability to work together as a team, but it was not here that this team achieved what has to be a rare accomplishment; it was in the playoffs.

After finishing in first place in the Muskoka Parry Sound league regular season, the Bracebridge Bantams started the playoffs against a strong team from Parry Sound. They had already lost to Parry Sound twice during the year and they started out the same way, losing the first two games in a three out of five playoff. Facing elimination in the third game, Bracebridge was victorious. In the fourth game, again facing elimination, the two teams tied, including an overtime period where a single goal by Parry Sound would have ended the series. The fifth game, again facing elimination, Bracebridge won handily and in the sixth game, necessary because of the one tied game and again facing elimination, Bracebridge won with ease. In four of the six games a loss would have ended the Bracebridge Bantam season.

The win over Parry Sound entitled the team to advance to the next series against Port Hope, the winning team from the south-east area of the OMHA jurisdiction. This was the only series where the Bracebridge team were clearly superior and in the three out of five series Port Hope was eliminated from further playoffs in three straight games. With this decision Bracebridge now advanced to the next level of competition, being the semi-final playoffs for Ontario, against Penetang. It was clear from the start that this was going to be different than the series with Port Hope.

Once more, Bracebridge started slowly in the three out of five series by losing the first game by a score of six to five and the second four to two. In the third game, and facing elimination, Bracebridge won five to three. In the fourth game, facing elimination for the sixth time, Bracebridge won four to two. That brought on the fifth game and Bracebridge, facing elimination for the seventh time, won by a score of three to two.

The All-Ontario finals were now in store for the Bracebridge Bantams. It was against a talented team from St. Marys, the winner of the western Ontario region. Just like the previous series, Bracebridge started badly losing seven to four. However, this time they rebounded to win the second game five to four. Then again the pressure mounted. In the third game St. Marys dominated by a score of four to two and in the fourth game, Bracebridge facing elimination again, won by a score of five to three. That brought the all-Ontario championship to a fifth and final game. For the ninth time, Bracebridge faced elimination and won by a score of four to two.

The Bracebridge Bantams were the 1993/94 All-Ontario Champions.

The important and extraordinary achievement is not that they won a valued and elusive Ontario Championship, it is that the team faced so many situations where a hesitant step, a missed play, a defensive lapse, or a goal tender error, would have sent the players home for the summer. If one were to eliminate the one lopsided series against Port Hope, a calculation shows that the Bracebridge Bantam team faced being eliminated from advancement on the road to the championship in 56.3 percent of the games they played!

By any analysis, that is an incredible achievement.

Was it team chemistry? Team spirit? Working together as a team? Helping each other? Certainly the team had talented goal scorers and solid defence, but without a doubt none of that mattered without good leadership. That came from the coach, Bill Earley. There is little possibility that a team would rebound in the situations they faced without the studious guidance and direction of someone putting the right player on the ice at the right time. Of course, a little luck played a role, no one would deny that but luck often occurs because someone was making the right decisions in the first place.

As an aside, a Toronto daily newspaper a few years ago ran an extensive article about a Midget hockey team from Saskatchewan that played the entire 2007/2008 hockey season without receiving a fighting major penalty. The temptation was too much to bear. The writer responded to the newspaper with the following:

It was great to see your focus on the Saskatchewan minor hockey team that went for the whole season without a fighting penalty. Very credible indeed. This also happened last year in the 2007-2008 season when the Bracebridge, Ontario Midget team played the entire season and progressed to the quarter-finals in the playdowns to the Ontario championship without getting a major penalty of any kind, including fighting of course. The team and the coach won "Team of the Year" and "Coach of the Year" for their performance in recognition of a rewarding achievement, proving that success in our great sport can be achieved without fighting at all.

Of course, the newspaper did not acknowledge that they had received the note; no matter, the fact still remains that the coach of that team, the same Bill Earley, brought a team of excitable 16 and 17 year old boys through a entire season of intense competition and was able to convince them to control their emotions in a game where that is not easy.

The French Canadian Rule

In the early days of the NHL, in fact through the first several decades of the leagues existence, many things were done to try and help franchises that were in trouble. Loaning players was one of the more popular methods. Financial aid was another, facilitating moves to other cities, etc. Bottom line, when a team was in trouble the league would do it's best to try and figure out a way to help. In 1936 the Montreal Canadiens nearly folded. The Depression had already claimed several franchises including the Ottawa Senators. What the NHL's brain trust decided to do was they would attempt to help Montreal's attendance and thereby hopefully their bottom line financially. So they decided that the Montreal Canadiens could take any two players from the province of Quebec in a special draft. There was one rider however. None of these players could have already been previously signed which in those days meant to an A, B or C form. The letters meant different levels of commitment to a team but either way, those players already signed to those forms were not eligible.

If you want to talk about unfair advantages talk about how the Bruins signed Bobby Orr. I put this fact in for hockey fans so they had an idea of how you could lock a player up in those days, in some cases in an extreme scenario in terms of age as it was with Orr. Orr signed a C form three weeks before his 14th birthday with the Boston Bruins. He was so young his parent's signature was required. When he turned 14 he began playing for Boston's junior sponsored team, the Oshawa Generals. That's how Orr became a Bruin. The deciding factor in the Orr's signing with Boston you ask? Well, the late Wren Blair had bird dogged the family for nearly two hockey seasons and as Orr approached 14 years of age, Mr. Blair knew other teams were sniffing around so they made Bobby's Dad an offer he couldn't refuse. Yes, some of it included cash but the turning point in the negotiation was an agreement to stucco their roof and buy the Orr's a car but not anything beyond a 1957, in other words nearly five years old. That's what it took to sign Bobby Orr in March of 1962. And with that signing he became a Boston Bruin, for as long as they wanted. This whole story is in Bobby Orr's book.

Back to the French Canadian help offered the Habs. As mentioned I'm of the belief Montreal drafted and/or signed players thanks to the league's benevolence From 1936-1942 or 43. Unfortunately for Montreal none of the players who I definitively could find that were signed due to this rule ever played a minute in the NHL. Reason being, anybody who could tie their skates and chew gum at the same time were already long signed by other NHL teams including the Canadiens who certainly weren't going to survive solely with this rule. The hope was that there would be a spark from signing a French Canadian kid, even better if he could play a bit. The thought was that this could help attendance and thereby help Montreal. It never did. What really helped Montreal at that time were two shrewd moves. One, a trade with the Montreal Maroons which brought them Toe Blake and two, the signing of Elmer Lach to a C form, who was from Saskatchewan by the way. He was signed after the Rangers passed on him. Lach attended their camp first. There were other moves which turned their fortune around. The key one being the rest of the league passed on Montreal GM Tommy Gorman's offer of a trade for what seemed to be a very brittle but explosive goal scorer name Maurice Richard. Richard suffered injury after injury in his first three years of pro. Gorman tried to unload him in the early 1940's but nobody wanted him. Needless to say Richard's coming out party in 1943-44 and the subsequent effect he had on the game in the next 17 years has been well documented but suffice to say, these were the three major reasons for the success of the Habs over a nearly two decade span - not some bullcrap rule that although was well intention-ed but did nothing to extend Montreal's stay in the NHL at that time. In fact they were even worse in 1940 than they were in 1936.

The last two pieces of the puzzle for the Habs success in the modern era as we know it happened in 1946 and 1947 respectively. The Toronto Maple Leafs played a role here. Toronto owner Conn Smythe fired Frank Selke Sr in 1946 and Montreal quickly hired him. Selke had a vision about a series of teams in the minor leagues that would be stocked with players that Montreal would sign to C forms. These minor league teams and the players on them were soon to be known as 'a farm system.' This was the origin of the farm system as we know it today. It took the rest of the NHL 2-3 years to catch on to this idea but they did and they've all benefited from it but Montreal had a tremendous head start and in some instances they purchased the rights to an entire league to get a certain player. They did this for Jean Beliveau and Bobby Rousseau. In Beliveau's case they not only purchased the league but turned it professional from amateur. Beliveau had signed a C form with Montreal in 1947 but while an amateur he was not required to play for the Habs. He rebuffed their efforts to bring him to Montreal repeatedly. He was happy in Quebec and there were only two players in the NHL making more money, Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe. Finally Selke was able to sign Beliveau in 1953 when as he put it, "I opened up the vault and said help yourself Jean!" Great quote.

The move in 1947 was the hiring of Sam Pollock. Pollock came under the tutelage of Selke and finally in 1964 became his successor as GM of the Canadiens. The year previous in 1963 the NHL finally realized there was glut of players, post Second World War 2, that were coming of age to play in the NHL and even with the A, B and C form system stones were being left unturned. For the first time a draft was implemented. There was never any thought that this would one day become the life blood of the NHL. At the time the six NHL teams would draft in a rotating order any player who had not signed to commit to a team. Ken Dryden was a draft pick of the Boston Bruins. Boston traded Dryden to Montreal. In 1963, the French Canadian rule was brought back for the Montreal Canadiens. It was not necessary, no question about it but Selke and Pollock worked a sweet deal and got it back on the books however the same rules applied. The player could not have signed a C form with any other team. From 1963-1967 the Montreal Canadiens did not select anybody with the opportunity. Finally in 1968 they did. A goalie named Michel Plasse. In 1969, it was determined that this would be the final year of the draft in this manner and the sponsorship of Junior A teams would cease to be. All players were to be 20 years of age or older and they would be eligible for a Universal Amateur Draft. Montreal was given one final kick at the French Canadian can and they made the most of it by selecting Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif. That was it for the French rule. By then Sam Pollock or Trader Sam as he was known, was working magic year in and year out on draft day and by flipping players in Montreal's farm system that had been so expertly set up years before by Selke and ran by Pollock, for draft picks. Players like Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Mario Tremblay, several others, were selected with picks that Pollock acquired through trades.

I challenge people to tell me any player Montreal signed due to a French Canadian rule that played in the NHL prior to Michel Plasse in 1968. Tell me one Hall of Fame player they signed with this rule that helped them win a Stanley Cup. What you have here is an urban legend passed down by disgruntled anti-Hab fans, trying to gleam onto any shred, any thought that perhaps Montreal had an unfair advantage. Marcel Pronovost is a Hall of Fame defenseman born in Quebec, turned pro with Detroit in the 1950's. I interviewed Mr. Pronovost in Florida at the NHL draft several years ago. He told me when Detroit came calling, they made a great offer, his dad loved it, he loved it and he signed. A week later Montreal knocked on the door and tried to pry him away from Detroit but he was signed so no go. Same with Bernie Parent who signed with Boston; Dave Keon who signed with Toronto, Camille Henry who signed with the Rangers along with Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert.

What saved the Canadiens was nobody picking up Rocket Richard in that trade offer. If he is not in Montreal all bets are off how they roll through the 1940's and beyond. Tommy Gorman may be the top GM in NHL history that nobody knows anything about. He was a winner everywhere he went. Assuming people aren't skeptical about Montreal's win in 1916 and that they know Howie Morenz was born in Stratford, Ontario and their Vezina trophy winning goalie George Hainsworth was born in Toronto, Ontario, if your question marks really begin with Montreal's Cup win in 1944, remember, two-thirds of the Punch Line was not born in Quebec. Shrewd management, smart trades, good fortune, not some urban legend rule are what drove the Montreal Canadiens for decades. I welcome any comments.

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:

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 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.


(1) Ken Schott, "Parting Schotts, 'Slap Shots' podcast, with Reale and Unger," The Daily Gazette, 30 Oct 2014, (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,

(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, (See also, http:/ / (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, For Appert, see: Ryan Fay, "Seth Appert postgame 10/31/14," in "Engineers throttle Dutchmen, 6-1," Union Hockey Blog: Audio/Video,

(9) "Rick Bennett post game 10/31/14," Union Hockey Blog: Audio/Video,

(10) Ken Schott, "Appert's interview," Union-RPI postgame report: Saturday edition (with 4 videos), The Daily Gazette,

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."


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:
(2) Rosen, Dan. "Ovi suspended 2 games; Day-to-day with sore knee,", December 1, 2009. Online:
(3) "Blackhawks say Campbell out 7-8 weeks," March 17, 2010. Online:
(4) Chris Simon. Wikipedia. Online:
(5) "Simon stompin' mad on Pronger call," Toronto Star. March 15, 2008. Online:

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.

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