Mar 302012

Hockey’s Most Incredible Comeback

Old-time Leafs fans will never forget the Stanley Cup final series in 1942. It matched the Leafs, coached by Hap Day, against Jack Adams’ Detroit Red Wings. There has never been a series quite like it.

For starters, the Leafs were fortunate to be in the finals. In the first round of the playoffs against New York, the NHL’s top team, it took a goal by Nick Metz with seven seconds left in the deciding game to propel the Leafs into the final series.

Playing for the Cup against the Detroit Red Wings, the Leafs were odds-on favorites. Hadn’t they finished the regular season with eight more wins and 15 more points? But the Leafs stumbled through the first two games on home ice and lost them both. Then they dropped the third game back in Detroit. Leafs fans were frustrated and furious, sneering at Day’s name and saying he was no coach. The Toronto sportswriters were similarly merciless in their criticism of the coach and the players. Andy Lytle of the Toronto Star wrote, “Except for the gate receipts and the records, there is little apparent use in prolonging this series.”

Hap Day told the Maple Leafs directors that Detroit’s style had his team buffaloed. It marked the first time a team had consistently shot the puck into the Leafs zone and flooded in after it. In those days there was no center-ice red line. The Wings simply worked the puck over their blue line and then fired it into the Toronto zone. Day told the directors that defenseman Bucko McDonald was worn out and that Gordon Drillon’s talents weren’t suited to the Wings’ shoot-and-chase style.

“Are there any other players available?” he was asked.

“Well, yes, there’s Ernie Dickens and Don Metz,” he replied. “They’re green, but I’ll work them in and drop McDonald and Drillon. We’ll also change our style and play the same way the Red Wings are playing. Maybe we can beat them at their own game.”

Don Metz was an unlikely replacement for Drillon, the team’s leading scorer. Metz had scored only two goals all season while Drillon finished eighth in the NHL scoring race with 23 goals and 41 points. Ernie Dickens was another two-goal man; a lad who’d played only 10 NHL games in his brief career.

In game four at Detroit’s Olympia, Nick Metz, the brother of Don, got the winner in a 4–3 victory, forcing the Red Wings to put the champagne back in the cooler. Their coach and manager, Jack Adams, also required some cooling down. He was suspended for the rest of the series after he leaped onto the ice after the game and attacked referee Mel Harwood. The official was badly mauled in a free-for-all triggered by Eddie Wares and Don Grosso of the Wings.

In game five, Don Metz scored a hat trick, Syl Apps picked up a pair of goals and the Leafs romped to a 9–3 triumph. Andy Lytle wrote: “This series gets curiouser and curiouser. Only Alice in Wonderland would believe it from beginning to end.”

It was back to Detroit for game six, in which Toronto goalie Turk Broda had a hot night and blanked the Red Wings 3–0. For game seven, the fans almost broke down the doors at Maple Leaf Gardens in their frantic efforts to see the game. A record crowd of almost 17,000 witnessed the culmination of the most incredible comeback in playoff history. It ended when the Leafs’ Sweeney Schriner scored two third-period goals and Pete Langelle added a bit of insurance in a 3–1 Toronto triumph. Hap Day and his weary men, blistered for their incompetence a few days earlier, were now the toast of the nation. Day had captured his first Stanley Cup as Maple Leafs coach. Many more would follow.

Read More: The Leafs

May 272010

Let’s Try to Score at Least One Goal

Can you imagine playing with a team and no one on your team can score a goal for  eight games?  Can you imagine being their coach?  Or worse, their fans?

Well, the players, coach and fans of the pioneer edition of the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t have to imagine, they lived it.

One of the great original six teams went eight games straight without scoring a single goal.  Not even by accident. And I wish I could report that it was just a very bad streak but unfortunately for everyone (but their opposition, they were just that bad.

In fact, they no doubt have they honor of being the worst NHL team in history.  They showed us  it is truly possible to be a professional and still not know what you are doing

It was their third NHL season and the Blackhawks won a mere seven games in a 44-game schedule. And yes, during one eight game stretch they were shutout eight straight times.But that’s not all, there were plenty more shutouts to come.   Over the course of the season the Hawks were blanked 21 times or almost fifty per cent of the time. Opposing goalies couldn’t wait to face them.

During the 1928-29 season, the Blackhawks set records for futility that have lasted for over 70 years.  Their  “top scorers” certainly must have felt embarrassed becasue they managed only 33 goals for the entire season… combined.  Less than one per game.

Forward Vic Ripley was  the Hawks lead goal winner with a whopping 11 goals and 2 assists for 13 points for the entire season.   That would barely get him an invitation to a friendly game of shinny  after the bars are closed on a Tuesday night–even if he pitched in to pay for the rink fees!

The Leafs’ Darryl Sittler almost equalled Ripley’s entire yearly production in one game in 1976, when he scored a record ten points against Boston.

The Hawks second leading scorer was Johnny Gottselig who tallied five goals and three assists for eight points in a year.

Fortunately, in 1928-29, the Hawks had Charlie Gardiner in goal or their record would have been even more notorious. They might not have won a single game. Gardiner happened to be among the league’s best netminders, posting five shutouts and a 1.93 goals against average in 44 games.

Gardiner deserved a trophy for sportsmanlike conduct.  Apparently he never blamed his mates for their shortcomings and his restraint would have taken a super human dose of professionalism.

It’s easy to laugh but in the end, it’s those Blackhawk players with the last laugh.   At least they played professional NHL hockey while most of the rest of us only played it in our dreams.

I don’t know this book but a quick glance at Amazon popped up this short 52 page book about Goalie Captains and it includes Charlie Gardiner, Roberto Luongo, Roy Worters, Alec Connell, George Hainsworth, Bill Durnan: 
In Canada:NHL Goaltender Captains
In the States:Nhl Goaltender Captains

Apr 082010

Winnipeg Vics and the Toronto Wellingtons

In the Winnipeg library where I’m doing research for a book,  a front page story in a century old Winnipeg paper catches my eye. It’s a fascinating tale of a Stanley Cup series between the Winnipeg Vics and the Toronto Wellingtons played in the spring of 1902. I’m amazed to discover that hundreds of fans came from miles around to jam into the 3,000 seat. They were there  to witness the first Stanley Cup matches played in Manitoba.

To their surprise, the Winnipeg players skate onto the ice for the warmup wearing long gold dressing gowns over their uniforms. The referee, Mr. McFarlane (no relation), has a little chat with both teams prior to dropping the puck. He says he will tolerate no nonsense from the rivals

Midway through the first game, one of the “lifters”‑‑a player noted for his ability to hoist the puck down the ice‑‑cleverly lofts the puck high above the ice. But it does not come down. It is lodged in the rafters. The fans roar with laughter while the players mill about below. They begin to hurl their sticks upwards and the one who finally dislodges the puck receives a standing ovation.

There’s another long delay when a Newfoundland dog jumps on the ice and a merry chase results.

A recurring phrase in the newspaper account of the event causes me to ponder its meaning. “Gingras of the Vics was sent to the fence by Mr. McFarlane” and later “Once again Gingras was told to sit on the fence.” Finally it dawns on me. There was no penalty box for poor Gingras to sit in. They hadn’t been invented yet.  Penalized players like Gingras  simply sat on the low boards surrounding the rink until the referee told him he could play again.

Then I encountered another oddity. When the puck sailed over the boards into the crowd, the spectator catching it was expected to return it promptly to the ice. There was no whistle and play continued right along. One fan in this series broke with tradition. He pocketed the puck .Despite pleas from players, officials and fans to toss it back, he refused to give it up.

“I’m keeping it,” he stated. “For a souvenir.”

Finally, another puck was sent for and the game continued.

There was more excitement in game two. A Toronto player named Chummy Hill scored a goal with half a puck. When the puck split in two during a scramble, Hill snared one piece with his stick and shot it into the Winnipeg net. Referee McFarlane allowed the goal to stand. Winnipeg won the series and entertained the visitors at a reception following the final game. The Winnipeg paper was filled with game descriptions and quotes from the men involved. There were neat illustrations of the game highlights, including one of Gingras of the Vics sitting on the fence.

Back in Toronto, fans were anxious to hear the results of the games. And this information came from the offices of the Toronto Globe. The Globe received the  final score of each match from a  Winnipeg telegrapher. A Globe employee quickly notified someone at the Street Railway Company and he, in turn, pulled a chain on a high-pitched whistle that could be heard throughout the city. One blast was for a win, two blasts signalled a loss.

When two blasts were heard following the final match, one of the most disappointed youngsters in Toronto was a member of the Wellingtons who had not accompanied the team.  Had he been injured? Was he ill? No, his parents decided he was far too young to be travelling across the country for no other purpose than to play in a series of hockey games.

Feb 092010


Word Spreads Fast about a Little Team with Big Talent

Even though I’d told my Dad I wanted to play for the Inkerman Rockets one day, I actually had no idea  where Inkerman was.   It wasn’t surprising, few people knew of the tiny speck on the map between Ottawa and Cornwall.  The next year, at the ripe old age of 16, I tried out for the Rockets but LaPorte wasn’t interested in the 150-pound high school player from Glebe Collegiate, he passed on me but took not one, not two but three of my older team members on the Glebe team.  It was an amazing moment for Glebe hockey, which hadn’t turned out a hockey player since Bill Cowley back in the thirties.  So, with center Lev McDonald, winger Billy Lynn and goaltender Bert Feltham filling out the Inkerman Roster, there wasn’t much space for me.

Inkerman Rockets Team Photo 1948-49

Disappointed but not disheartened, I jumped to junior hockey that season with the Ottawa Montagnards and worked to prove myself.  I made the second all star team at center behind Bill Dineen of St. Pats, a future Detroit Red Wing. I guess I’d proven my mettle because after that season, I had gained enough attention to receive an offer from Bucko McDonald to join his Sundridge Beavers, a tough intermediate team located somewhere north of Toronto.  Luckily, I’d also gained someone else’s attention and Lloyd LaPorte came calling.

He knocked on our door  and told my parents he’d like to move me to Winchester where I would go to school and live. I’d be billeted in a room over the barber shop.  He’d pay me $25 a week “expense money.” It was a better offer than one I’d received  from Bucko McDonald and my parents, who valued an education, liked and trusted LaPorte who was  a school teacher himself.  They allowed me to sign with the Inkerman Rockets.

Continue reading »

Feb 082010


People must have laughed when LaPorte, the high school teacher from the small town of Inkerman, population approximately 100,  applied for a junior A  franchise.

“There’s not a single junior A calibre player in your area,” he was told.

Inkerman Rockets Team Photo 1948-49

Still, to everyone’s surprise, he was awarded a franchise.  When nay-sayers protested that “No team is going to play on your rinky-dink rink”,  he retorted that he’d find a rink and he’d have no trouble bringing in players.

And by golly, he did find a rink and he found those players.   He recruited farm boys who played on backyard ponds all winter.   Two of them, the Duncan twins, became outstanding juniors. He found a 15 year old in Prescott, Ontario—as lad named Leo Boivin—who went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NHL.

I was about 15 years old when I first saw the Rockets play. I lived in Ottawa then and my dad took me to a junior playoff game at the old egg-shaped Auditorium where I played my high school games.  “You watch these kids from Inkerman ,” my dad told me. “This fellow LaPorte has some boys who can skate like the wind. They don’t have a league to play in so they play exhibition games all season. They’ll do well against St. Pats.”

When I saw them skate out for the warm-up I felt sort of sorry for them. They were little fellows, most of them. And their hockey pants were too small. Surely they’d be no match for St. Pats, the Ottawa City league champs.

Then the game began and the Rockets went to work. They whipped the Ottawa boys easily that day with non-stop skating and an energy that was truly impressive. Twins Erwin and Edwin Duncan, supplied most of the offense and that stocky sparkplug  named Leo Boivin was awesome. I’d never seen anyone skate backwards like he did.

I was so impressed I told me dad, “That’s the team I’m going to play for some day.”

More about the Inkerman Rockets another day.

 Posted by at 11:32 pm
Feb 072010

Inkerman Rockets – THE FIRST CHAPTER

Every so often, when I was a member of  the Hockey Night in Canada telecast team, someone high in  the crowd at the Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens would shout down to me, “Hey Brian, remember the Inkerman Rockets?” I would look up and wave and shout back, “You bet. How could I ever forget them?”

I was pleased and proud  whenever anyone recalled that I played for the Inkerman Rockets, a scrappy junior A team that was the talk of the Ottawa Valley in the 40’s and 50’s.

No village so small ever produced a team so good. Inkerman was so  tiny – possibly a hundred residents – that it didn’t even have a hockey rink. And there was no league for an Inkerman team to play in.   Inkerman did have a school though and a schoolteacher named Lloyd Laporte, who loved the game and he enjoyed nothing more than giving kids an opportunity to play it.  He built a small rink in the school yard and began organizing  teams and games.

He even coached a team in the Winchester Town league. Winchester was a slightly bigger town, five miles down the road.  But he had a dream of bringing a team to Inkerman.

At the end of his first season with Winchester, Laporte found himself with a $48 surplus in the kitty. He figured this might be almost enough to purchase new jerseys for a new teamin Inkerman.  So he drove 30 miles to Ottawa one day and there he found a real bargain in a sporting goods store. On sale were more than a dozen red and white sweaters (Nobody called them jerseys back then) with a huge letter R on the front.

The clerk said, “Some team ordered these but never picked them up. They’re a great buy for $48 dollars if your team nickname begins with R.”

Laporte said, “I’ll take them. And I’ll name my team the Rockets.”

I’ll share more about the Inkerman Rocket’s story on another day.

 Posted by at 8:00 pm
Feb 022010

It wouldn’t be possible to operate the National Hockey League without retaining hundreds of players. But at one time a professional league flourished in Canada while employing a mere 24 players, or fewer men than each one of the NHL clubs employs today.

The league was the Pacific Coast Hockey League, organized in 1911. And some of the players in the league, when they weren’t performing in games, earned a little extra money by acting as referees in league matches.

Two great hockey builders, brothers Frank and Lester Patrick organized the Pacific Coast Hockey League with all franchises–there were only three—based in British Columbia: in Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster.

The Patrick brothers built new arenas in Vancouver and Victoria and had artificial ice installed, the first such ice in Canada. The Patricks raided Eastern Canada for talent and paid big money to the stars they signed. But not many stars. Only 23 players manned the rosters of the three clubs involved so each man was expected to play a full sixty minutes of every game during the 15‑game schedule.

The Patrick brothers were men of great vision. The added blue lines to the ice, introduced assists to the game and numerals to the players’ jerseys. In 1926, when hockey in the west collapsed, they sold all their players to the NHL clubs.