Hockey's Historic Highlights

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


Hockey's Multi-Generation Families

Posted June 16, 2016

At last count there have been 143 father/son combinations in the NHL since its organization in 1917. Every one of these pairings except four represent two generations---like Sid and Gerry Able, Syl and Syl Apps, and Pat and Mike Stapleton.

   But today we want to take a quick peek at the family trees which span THREE generations—and if we stretch it a bit, we may even include one case of four.

  Not only in chronology, but also in notoriety, Hockey’ Royal Family (as Eric Whitehead tags them), the PATRICKS warrant the first consideration.

Mac Colville, Muzz Patrick, Lester Patrick, Lynn Patrick, Neil Colville (Boston Public Library)
Mac Colville, Muzz Patrick, Lester Patrick, Lynn Patrick, Neil Colville (Photo: Boston Public Library)

   It seems almost sacrilegious not to chronicle Lester’s joint founding of the PCHA, and the many innovations fostered in conjunction with his brother Frank. But that is not the focus here.

    Though not the founder of the New York Rangers, he was the first Coach and General Manager. Any bench boss who can whip his troops into a Stanley Cup Championship in the 2nd year of competition deserves accolades galore (even though Conn Smythe did the bulk of assembling the troop). Strangely enough, when people think of the “Silver Fox”, one of the first recollections that comes to their minds is his feat of putting on the big pads on April 7, 1928, to fill in for injured netminder, Lorne Chabot.  Lots of trivia about that bravado move has eked its way into print over the years. Like the fact that apparently he spent a lot of time on his hands and knees appearing to be looking for lost coins. But he still inspired his team to win 2-1. One erroneous statement which often appears in reminiscent accounts of his achievement, is that he had never played that position before. Of course he had! While skating for his Victoria Aristocrats in 1922, goalie Hec Fowler was given a 10-minutes misconduct. Lester guarded the cage during that time, sans the heavy equipment, turning away all shots. In conjunction with that there is a famous photo of this shinny jack-of-all-trades posing in a Victoria uniform fully decked out in goalie paraphernalia.

   His two sons, Lynn and Murray (‘Muzz’), followed in his footsteps, both wearing the colours of those same Rangers for ten and five years respectively. Like their father they were standouts on the ice, behind the bench, and in the front office. Both were natural athletes and excelled in several different sports—chiefly basketball.

   Lester tried in vain to discourage both of them from making pro hockey their career. Whitehead includes a candid conversation with Lester and Lynn relating to this contention. When his elder son revealed that he wished to pursue a career in pro hockey, his illustrious father exclaimed: “That’s one heck of an ambition for a young man who has all the opportunities in life that you have!”  He had hoped Lynn would choose dentistry as his niche in life.

   Lynn, three years older than Muzz, learned to skate and play hockey while in Victoria, and was part of kids’ teams until his dad’s rink burned down. But in 1933 the family moved to Montreal where he had to make up for lost time, starting from scratch on the blades in his late teens. He persevered, and made the lineup of the Montreal Senior Royals. When he attended the Rangers’ try-out camp in 1934, Lester was ready to dismiss him. But the Cook brothers talked him out of it, and he became a part of the New York roster despite this hurdle. Accusations of nepotism abounded—both from fans and the press. But he settled into solid play, and eventually earned first and second All Star honours. In 1941-42 he was second in the NHL scoring derby.

  He went on to coach those same Rangers; moved to Boston to mentor, then into the front office. He was the first GM and bench boss of the St. Louis Blues.

  Lynn had a subtle sense of humour. On one occasion he was questioned about whether he had ever played goal. He explained that it happened only once. “25 pucks went by me! So I determined not to emulate my father’s feat!”

  While in Montreal one night, a local reporter greeted him with “Comment ça va, Monsieur Patrick?”

“Beliveau, Richard, et Geoffrion! I can speak French too!”, came his quick retort.

    Murray, whose nickname resulted from the abbreviation of his childhood moniker of “Fuzzy Wuzzy”, joined high school squads in his new home town. He then apprenticed in the minors before catching on as a hard-hitting rearguard with the Blueshirts in 1938.  He didn’t face the nepotism accusations his older brother did—partly because his approach to hockey was much more robust than the one they mockingly called “Sonja” (figure skater). 

  His claim to fame was putting the famous Eddie Shore in his place. In a 1939 knock-down, drag-em-out contest between the teams, he claimed that “The Edmonton Express” was massaging Phil Watson’s neck with his stick. He stepped in, knocked Shore out, breaking his nose in the process. The bent beak made the front page of a magazine. Eddie sent Murray a note thanking him for making him famous. The less dominant son also became coach and GM of the Rangers.

  Lynn had four sons. Two made it to the NHL. Craig skated with the California Golden Seals, St. Louis, Kansas City and Washington, for a total of 401 games. He thrived as a manager of the Penguins and was elected to the Hall of Fame as a builder. Glenn was less productive on the ice, managing 38 games in the Big Time, with the same Seals, then with the Blues, and Cleveland Barons. He chose coaching in the minors following his retirement.

   Bryan HEXTALL grew up in the metropolis of Poplar Point, Manitoba. (If you sense sarcasm you are right on. Like many hamlets its size meant that if you drive through you mustn’t blink your eyes more than once or you’ll miss it. I know, I used to deliver baked goods to the general store there from a bakery in Portage la Prairie in 1957). It is reported that he first accepted payment for services when he performed in Portage as a ringer—until he was caught. He joined the Rangers permanently for the 1937-38 campaign, where he quickly became known as the “hardest-hitting forward seen in many years”. He preceded the “Rocket” by playing Right Wing as a left hand shot. It paid off. He won the NHL scoring crown in 1941-42, and was selected to All Star teams four times. His biggest moment came on April 13, 1940, when he scored the Cup-winning goal against Toronto’s Turk Broda early in the first O.T. period.

  Sons Bryan Jr. and Dennis also made their presence known as they upset shinny applecarts wherever they played. Interesting enough, like the Patrick second generation skaters, they also played for New York like their celebrated fathers.

  Bobby Clarke once said: “The Hextalls were tough and nasty; a real pain to play against!”

Bryan could attest to that fact, since, he admitted, “there wasn’t one of the Flyers I haven’t fought with—one night three in one game!”.

   Dennis was considered the more aggressive disturber—he was called “dirty”, to be candid. Like the night he elbowed Terry Crisp and broke his jaw—which almost started a riot. When he was in the minors he tangled with Don Cherry, who was with Rochester. “He speared me!”, explained the stocky winger. The result was what Grapes himself said, “was the worst beating I ever took!”

   Dennis’ favourite memory was the night his family was all there watching when he scored the hat  trick for the North Stars against Pittsburgh.

   Then came Ron. He changed the face of goaltending in more than one way. It is said Philadelphia drafted him because they despised the tenacity of his dad, Bryan and his uncle Dennis, and hoped he would bring some of the bulldog spirit with him. He did. He topped 100 minutes in penalties a few times, unheard of for cage cops. He fought at the drop of a hat. The way he used his stick made opponents think of a runaway lawn mower. At least three times he was suspended for violence.

  He was so mobile on his blades his teammates often involved him in passing plays, especially during penalty kills. Of course he was the first goalie to actually score a goal—which he did on December 8, 1987. His second successful shot was on April 11, 1989. He has also proven competent in management, currently as the GM of those same Flyers.

   The late Dr. Jerry WILSON was once tagged the best Junior prospect in Canada. He displayed unusual abilities with his heroics in the 1953-54 Memorial Cup competition with the St. Boniface Canadiens. His next vital step was to join Montreal of the NHL for three contests in 1956-57. The only numbers on his stats line was “2 P.I.M.” It was not so much that he was a bust—but his body proved to be. While he struggled through a few games with Hull-Ottawa, injuries spelled “finis” to his on-ice career prematurely. He studied medicine and eventually became one of Winnipeg’s most respected surgeons. Still passionate about the game he specialized in sports-related injuries.

  During the 1973-74 season he took a sabbatical to visit Sweden to research that country’s approach to the game. Upon his return he was influential in persuading players like Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg to join the WHA Jets, of which he was team Doctor. They brought with them a fast-paced style of hockey, which gradually encouraged replacing the dogged, plodding current approach, hampered by dump and chase, clutch and grab.

   Son Carey came into the shinny spotlight during the 1982 World Junior Championships. Later with the 1984 Canadian Olympicteam, he scored a hat trick in the opening match against the reigning champions from the USA. That earned him a shot with the NHL Calgary Flames, where he started well in that debut as well, blasting a slapshot into the twine with his first shot in the Big Time.

   In his rookie campaign only Mario Lemieux had more points among first-year skaters.  What should have been a big moment for him, when his team reached the finals in 1986, proved to be a disaster. Courtesy Steve Smith, he sat out most of the series with a ruptured spleen. Perhaps it was poetic justice that his aggressor shot the puck into his own net to eliminate Edmonton from further competition.

  Carey had some decent years goal-scoring wise, with 29 as his best in this second full year with the Flames.

But after 1986-87 he never played a full campaign. He seemed to have inherited his father’s injury bug. In ’92-’93 he managed only 22 contests. A torn tendon finally did him in.

  His son, Colin, currently with the Nashville Predators, took the college route to the NHL. He was Hockey East’s Rookie of the Year in 2007-08, and won the scoring title the following season. Having joined the Predators in 2009, his best campaign was in 2014/15, when he tallied 20 times. He made headlines, even on You Tube, on November 15, 2015. In a match against Minnesota he was charging into the Wild’s zone after a loose puck. He just reached it when his right skate exploded, with pieces of the blade flying everywhere. He did some fancy footwork to try to pirouette and get to his team bench.

   He had a good post-season this spring, scoring 13 points in 14 games. But the jury is still out about his effectiveness when the pressure is not on him to rise to the occasion.

  The final family tree for consideration is the one about which I suggested a stretch may allow it add a notch and pronounce a FOUR-GENERATION UNIT. If we start with Grandson Blake GEOFFRION and go backwards through his father, Danny, then to Bernard……we could add Blake’s GREAT GRANDFATHER, Howie Morenz. But he is NOT Bernie’s father, and NOT a Geoffrion. I will leave it to readers to decide if there really is a quartet of family levels. For today’s purpose I am not going to.

   What is there about the head of this family that hockey historians don’t know? He gained his nickname when, during his days in Junior, a scribe heard the puck’s  concussion on the end boards and told him he was going to call him “Boom” from now on. The hotshot winger shot back, “make it two booms!”

  Most of you have read about the reaction of local fans, when, because of “Rocket” Richard’s suspension, Geoffrion was threatening to take the scoring crown that year. He even got letters threatening to kill him and his family if he outclassed the Hab’s number one hero. Others said they would burn his house down.

  Being the second NHL’er to score 50 goals in a single season is old hat stuff.

  He had a music career of sorts, singing as the life of the party, but also appearing on a variety show on Canadian TV. Although it didn’t represent his livelihood, it was somewhat of a tragedy when, in January 1964, a wayward shot in Boston damaged his throat and put him in the hospital for 22 days.

  That in 1958 he was near death, collapsing during a practice, but survived a 5-hour operation for a ruptured spleen.

But everyone may not realize that in 1961 he became his own self-appointed doctor. His badly injured leg was in a cast, scheduled to be removed on April 7. But he contended he would play the earlier 6th match in the NHL semi-finals against Chicago—despite the team physician’s insistence he would NOT!

On the way to the game in the Windy City, with the help of Doug Harvey, the pair used a kitchen knife to remove the cast. Begging to have the limb frozen, he played on the power play only. But after a collision or two he was done. His pain was so intense, tears streamed down his cheeks. Such was the intensity of Bernard Geoffrion.

   Like many other sons of the famous, Danny Geoffrion had two strikes against him before he stepped up to the plate. He was “Boom Boom’s” son. He should be an immediate star! Drafted by his father’s team in 1978, he opted to join the WHA Quebec Nordiques. A Junior standout with Cornwall, the checking at the pro level seemed to hem him in. He tallied only 12 times that season. So with much fanfare he reported to the Canadiens in 1979, where his father had just taken over as bench boss. It was a dud year for both father and son, with Danny scoring only twice. They were both gone before the season ended.

Traded to Winnipeg, he improved to 20 markers; but couldn’t make the team the next season. He finished his career in Japan.

  The third generation Geoffrion, Blake, also pulled on the Hab’s colours, after being drafted by Nashville and traded to Montreal. He had won the Hobey Baker award as top university player in 2010. But never quite clicked at the elite level. Skating for the Canadien’s farm club in Hamilton he suffered a depressed skull fracture in November 2012. It was felt it was too dangerous for him to continue in the game, so he retired in July 2013.

  Someone has said: “A family is like music—some high notes—some low notes—but they form a harmony!” Methinks that is an appropriate final word on multi-generational hockey families.

 

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