THE GREAT McGEE

How I would have loved to have met the great Frank McGee, the Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby of his era.

The only player to score 14 goals in a Stanley Cup game was Ottawa’s blond McGee, one of the greatest scorers to ever grip a hockey stick or lace on a pair of skates. He weighed all of 140 pounds—if that—but he was a whippet on the ice, a wonder.

More than a century has passed since he played for the Ottawa Silver Seven. They said he was the stuff of legends, and they were right. We still write of McGee’s exploits today. Aware that sportswriters of the day wrote reams of copy about McGee, I culled old newspaper accounts of his Gretzky-like performances and the following, written by some long forgotten sportswriter, is a testament to his greatness:

I followed McGee’s playing career and every match was the same. Away from home, for example, in a furious Stanley Cup series with the Montreal Wanderers, with about 6,000 people all howling “Get McGee!” I saw Frank knocked cold half a dozen times in the one match and honest, he survived to score the last two goals that won the game. No one could slow him up. My, but he was game! Taking the puck and beginning a series of slashing attacks, he finally sailed right into the mouth of the net with two defenders doing their best to eat him alive. He took a dozen nasty cracks and still scored one minute before time. Seconds later, he repeated the feat and was able to skate off smiling.

In the dressing room, when he doffed his clothes, he was simply cut all up but he was game. That’s why the Ottawa fans loved him, idolized him.

There was another write-up:

How McGee came to the rescue of the Ottawa Hockey Club in 1905, how he played despite the loss of sight in one eye caused by a lifted puck in Hawkesbury one night, how he paced the Stanley Cup in the never to be forgotten series against Kenora, how he brought defeat to the Winnipeg Rowing Club, how he scored 14 goals or more in a single game against Dawson City, how he became the sensation of hockey, his feats at fullback with the old Rough Rider football club—of these facts Frank’s friends and admirers could talk on forever. No player of the present day can approach his brilliance. He will never be surpassed.

Billy Grant, sporting editor of the Calgary News-Telegram, once graphically described his first impressions of McGee.

They escorted me into an ice-cold rink and I wondered how people could stand the chill. Then someone cleared an aisle near me and I heard a strange clatter of steel as the Ottawa players clambered down the steps from their dressing room. The voices began to hum. Then a wild roar of applause and thousands of excited voices wildly shouting “McGee! McGee! McGee!” I looked around for a big, rugged, broad-shouldered athlete, one who would gaze around theatrically and acknowledge the spontaneous roar of applause that greeted him. I asked a man, “Which one is McGee?” and drew in my breath when he pointed to a fair-haired, blue-eyed stripling who came down last. His hair was perfectly parted, as though he had just stepped out of a tonsorial parlour. His spotless white pants were creased to a knife-like edge, his boots had been polished. For a minute or so I stood spellbound. Then someone formally introduced us and McGee quickly pulled off his gauntlet and held out a soft but muscular hand. Then he jumped over the rail amidst another wild whoop of delight.

He seized the puck at center ice, skated in with the speed of a prairie cyclone and shot. I saw him backcheck furiously, dodge here and there, flash from side to side, stickhandle his way through a knot of struggling players, slap the puck into the open net and go down in a heap as he did so. Then I ceased to wonder why this boyish, doll-like hockey star was the idol of the crowd. I too joined in the hysterical shouting for Frank McGee, the world’s greatest hockey player.

During his brief career, McGee played in only 23 regular- season games, but he averaged three goals per game. In the same time frame, he played in 11 Stanley Cup series, in which he scored an incredible 63 goals in 22 games. Again, just shy of three goals per game.

Despite the handicap of being blind in one eye, McGee served overseas in the First World War. He was killed on September. 16, 1916 during the great offensive on the Somme.

From one Ottawa newspaper:

None of Ottawa’s losses in the war will be more deeply regretted than that entailed in the death of Frank McGee who endeared himself to the sporting public as a member of the famous old Ottawa hockey team, the Silver Seven. McGee played center for the Stanley Cup holders at the height of their fame and was conceded to be one of the most brilliant and effective players who ever filled that position.

And from another:

Canadians who knew the sterling stuff of which Frank McGee was made were not surprised when he donned another and new kind of uniform and jumped into the greater and grimmer game of war. Just as in his sporting career he was always to be found in the thickest of the fray. There is no doubt that on the field of battle, Lieut. McGee knew no fear nor shunned any danger. The sympathy of his thousands of admirers will be extended to his family, which has suffered the loss of two (his brother Charles was killed a year earlier) noble members in the great struggle in France.

McGee was 35.

With the death of McGee, there passed one whose athletic fame will always be talked of, and one whose memory will never fade.

2 Responses to “Frank McGee”

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