Friday, October 29, 2010

A Frightful Sight!!!


NHL Leaders : 1954-55

A common occurrence at the start of each NHL season is the individual who comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders. A quick start will often place a player higher up on the statistical ladder concerning goals, assists and points, compared to his standing at the end of the season.

As the first month of the current schedule is closing out, there are several examples of this. Who anticipated players like Nathan Horton, J-M Liles, Chris Stewart and Patrick Sharp cracking the top 12 in scoring (GP to October 24, 2010). In April, do we expect these players to have maintained their same ranking? Will Alex Ovechin (22nd) and Evgeni Malkin (27th) remain on the outside looking in?

Back in the 1954-55 season, the main source for statistical data pertaining to the NHL, was a local newspaper. The Hockey News publication (The Bible of Hockey!) provided expanded details for fans who devoured such information.

The NHL Top 12 as detailed in the sports section - 1954/55
The leading scorers of 56 years ago, reads like a who's who of hockey. Of the 12 players on the list, 5 would be eliminated come the end of the regular season - Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Don "Bones" Raleigh, Don McKenney and Doug Harvey. Their replacements would be Red Sullivan, Bert Olmstead, Sid Smith, Ted Kennedy and Ed Litzenberger. The aspect of the number of games played was only a factor for Ted Lindsay. He skated in less than 50 contests. In late January of 1955, Lindsay served a 10-day suspension for striking a fan with his stick.

The biggest battle was for the number one position on the points board. Approaching the finish line, Rocket Richard had a slim lead over teammate Bernie Geoffrion. In a late season game against Boston, Richard punched linesman Cliff Thompson. The Montreal forward was suspended for the final 3 games and the playoffs (resulting in the Richard Riots on March 17, 1955). While Richard was sidelined, Geoffrion passed him to win the scoring title - 75 points to 74. Of interest, Maurice Richard never won the Art Ross Trophy in his career.

Hopefully, the 2010-11 points race will be as close and exciting as 54-55. I doubt, however, if the pure drama and social ramifications of March 1955 will ever be duplicated.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Feel Good Story

The game of hockey is a wonderful bond often shared between a father and son. One generation  passing their knowledge down the family tree to the next in line.

Ron Wilson
In the case of Leaf coach Ron Wilson, his sense of hockey came from his dad, Larry. The elder Wilson played in the NHL (156 games) with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blawkhawks between the 1949-50 and 1955-56 seasons. Larry Wilson scored 21 NHL goals. He concluded his playing career in the AHL (Buffalo Bisons/12 seasons) and IHL (Dayton Gems/2 seasons).

Although Larry Wilson passed away in 1979, his son recently had the opportunity to experience one more hockey moment involving his dad -  Full Story.

Wilson scores! Nov.6, 1954

Box Score, Nov.6, 1954
 Hockey was truly a family affair in the Wilson clan. Larry's brother, Johnny, played 668 regular season and 66 playoff games in the NHL. Of interest, they were both called up by the Wings from the Omaha Knights to play in the 1950 playoffs. As fate would have it, the two brothers shared in a Stanley Cup victory that spring.
Another feel good story.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Canucks Turn 40

There was an interesting feature on TSN's pre-game show last week prior to the Vancouver Canucks playing in Chicago. Jim Robson, the former play by play voice of the Canucks for 30 years, presented his all-time Canucks team. Players from way back were combined with more recent Canucks to form the nucleus of the all-Robson team.

All the talk relating to the vast history of the team made me want more and more. I was overcome with "Canucks fever". The only remedy for this condition was to load a tape into the VCR, and watch a vintage Canucks game. The date was November 7, 1970 with Vancouver hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the Leafs first visit to the Pacific Coliseum for a regular season game. The Canucks were playing their first game at 5:00pm local time. Also, it was "Yukon Night" at the Coliseum. Captain Orland Kurtenbach was presented with a husky dog, and the musical accompaniment provided by the organist was "How much is that dogie in the window".

The Hockey Night In Canada crew was a blend of east and west. The game call was handled by Mr. Robson and he was joined by Jack Dennett. The intermission participants were Ted Reynolds, Babe Pratt and Bill Good. The second intermission highlight was a filmed story on the history of hockey in British Columbia. It was narrated by Dennett and paid tribute to the Patrick brothers - Frank and Lester. Contained within the piece was a fascinating interview with Fred "Cyclone" Taylor.

There was an intriguing match-up in goal with Charlie Hodge of the Canucks facing his former teammate in Montreal, Jacques Plante. This only lasted until the second period when Plante left due to a knee injury.

Coach Hal Laycoe's line-up had a nice mix of rookies and veterans - Andre Boudrias between Rosaire Paiement and Paul Popiel; Orland Kurtenbach between Murrary Hall and Wayne Maki; Mike Corrigan between Danny Johnson and Jim Wiste. Laycoe had forward Ray Cullen playing the point when Vancouver had the man-advantage. Len Lunde helped on the penalty killing unit. Not playing because of injury was Ed Hatoum. The defensive pairings were Dale Tallon and Barry Wilkins; Pat Quinn and Gary Doak; Darryl Sly and Marc Reaume.

All 15,569 in attendance eagerly awaited referee Lloyd Gilmour's drop of the puck to start the game. In the crowd were 55 newspaper carriers from Edmonton who won a subscription contest. A sign in the crowd read "Leafs Must Fall".

The opening goal was scored by the Leafs Jimmy Harrison. Kurtenbach tied it up for Vancouver, but Gary Monahan scored in the final minute, giving Toronto the 2-1 lead going into the first intermission.

The second period was a physical battle with fisticuffs between Leaf Billy MacMillan and Gary Doak. During the same stoppage in play, Rosaire Paiement and Monahan engaged in combat. The hit of the night belonged to Marc Reaume who clocked Toronto winger Guy Trottier with a thunderous open-ice hit. Similar to the previous period, a goal was scored in the final minute of the second frame. Prized rookie, Dale Tallon, scored at 19:14 to even things up at 2-2.

This set the stage for a thrilling third period. A scramble in front of the Leafs net led to the game winning goal by Vancouver. Murray Hall scored on netminder Bruce Gamble when he banged in a rebound off a Kurtenbach shot.

Newspaper headline heralds Canucks victory over the Leafs
The first star of the game was Dale Tallon ("As selected by Hockey Night In Canada"), followed by Orland Kurtenbach and Billy MacMillan. The Canucks performed much better than their expansion counterparts that Saturday evening. In Montreal, the Buffalo Sabres were bombed 11-2 by the Canadiens.

After a good dose of retro Vancouver hockey, my "Canucks Fever" subsided. Hearing those wonderful names from the past being called by Jim Robson could cure any ailment.

Happy 40th, Vancouver Canucks!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sports Section : October 18-24, 2010

  •  Patrice Cormier of the Atlanta Thrashers pleaded guilty to a charge of assault causing injury in a Quebec court. The charge came about as a result of a QMJHL game on January 17, 2010. The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies centre delivered a wicked elbow on Mikall Tam of the Quebec Remparts. Initially, Cormier's plea was not guilty, but he altered the plea before judge Marc Grimard. Cormier received an absolute discharge and will not have a criminal record. This is significant as there will be no travel restrictions hindering his movement between the U.S. and Canada.
  •  Being Citizenship Week in Canada, people attended ceremonies to be sworn in as new members of this great country. For 30 participants, the occasion took place inside the Leafs dressing room at the Air Canada Centre. "Hockey is a big part of who we are...what a perfect marriage - bringing new Canadians to the home of the Maple Leafs", said a representative from MLS&E.
  • Montreal Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur signed a new contract to continue being an ambassador for the hockey club. In this capacity he is teamed with Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer and Rejean Houle.
  • A new sports movie opened up for business across Canada this week - Score : The Hockey Musical . The biggest name by far in the production is Olivia Newton-John. The Australian born singer-actress was more familiar with women's field hockey. Prior to filming the movie, she attended only one NHL game in Florida where she resides with her husband. And what did she think of our great game? "It was very fast, I couldn't keep track of the puck. It was furious and fun. I don't remember any fighting, but they thud each other against the side all the time. That seems unfair to me. I don't like violence". Imagine if she took in a game during the 1970's between the Broad Street Bullies and the Big Bad Bruins!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Backup Plan

Of all the on-ice positions in hockey, the category of most specialised belongs to the goalies. In a pinch, a forward can always drop back to play defence and vice-versa. It is another question to plunk a skater between the pipes. Can you imagine Bruce Boudreau calling out to Ovechkin "Hey Alex, your turn to play goal".

In the early years of the NHL, clubs employed one man to play goal. For the 1927-28 New York Rangers this job was held by Lorne Chabot. In the 1928 playoffs, the Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final to face the Montreal Maroons. On April 15, 1928 the series got underway with the Maroons winning 2-0. Coach Lester Patrick and Chabot were confident the Rangers would improve in game 2. In the second period of game 2 both Patrick and Chabot became the focus of attention. As a result of taking a Nels Stewart shot in the eye, Chabot was taken to the hospital, and the Rangers were without a goalie. With Ottawa netminder Alex Connell in attendance, Patrick sought approval from his counterpart (Maroons GM, Eddie Gerard) to engage his services. Patrick's request was met with a resounding NO WAY!

With no other resources, Lester Patrick strapped on the goalie pads and took his place in the New York goal. The 44 year old faced 18 shots allowing one goal, and led his club to an overtime victory. For game 3, New York signed minor league goalie Joe Miller. Lorne Chabot returned for games 4 and 5, and with their regular goalkeeper guarding the twine, the Blue Shirts won their first Stanley Cup.

At the start of the 1930's there was no initiative by the NHL to improve the lack of goaltending depth at the major league level. The potential for extended delays within a game and the awkward appearance of a skater playing in net, didn't seem to faze those in charge.

A new rule was introduced for the 1932-33 season - If the goaltender is removed from the ice to serve a penalty, the Manager of the club to appoint a substitute - which seemed to be more of the same. In a game on January 29, 1929 Leaf defenceman Red Horner was called upon to replace Lorne Chabot (now property of Toronto) after he received a penalty and was sent to the box. All Horner did was to shutout Ottawa for the duration of the power play.

Although no rules were in place calling for a backup goalie, there is evidence some clubs took measures to address the issue. On March 12, 1929 goalie Benny Grant replaced Chabot to start the second period in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. Moves such as this seemed to be at the discretion of the individual clubs.

The next movement of any substance in this regard didn't take place until the 1950-51 season with this new rule - Each team required to provide an emergency goaltender in full equipment at each game for use by either in the event of illness or injury to a regular goaltender. The era of the substitute goalie produced many wonderful stories.

During a March 13, 1958 game in Boston, Montreal's Jacques Plante couldn't continue due to injury. John Aiken sitting in the crowd with his Dad got the call to duty via the PA Announcer "John Aiken, report to the Montreal Canadiens locker room immediately". Aiken was paid $25.00 per game by Boston to sit in the wings and be ready when necessary. Also, he would be the second goalie at practice for the Bruins. To keep sharp, he played in a semi-pro league with the Arlington Arcadians. While Aiken sprinted to the Montreal dressing room, his Dad retrieved his equipment from the car. "Johnny A" couldn't hold off the Bruins who defeated Montreal 7-3.

John Aiken wearing the famed Montreal Canadiens Jersey

The substitute goalie in Montreal was Claude Pronovost, brother of Red Wing defenceman Marcel. In a game on January 14, 1956 he was thrust into action to replace Terry Sawchuk in the Boston goal. Already languishing in an 11 game losing streak, the situation looked bleak for Boston. Say no more, with Pronovost coming to the rescue. He blocked all 31 shots directed at his net and shutout Montreal 2-0. His opponent at the other end? Jacques Plante.

Newspaper report chronicling Claude Pronovost's magical night

Hockey card commemorating Pronovost's achievement

As changes to the game evolved,  the goalies were having a difficult time keeping pace. With an increase in games played during the regular season, the amount of travel took a toll. The curved blade resulted in faster and harder shots. In the mid-1960's the NHL finally took action by implementing 2 rules.

*1964-65* In playoff games, each team to have its substitute goaltender dressed in his regular uniform except for leg pads and body protector. All previous rules governing standby goaltenders terminated.

*1965-66* Teams required to dress two goaltenders for each regular-season game.

With this last rule, the emergency, substitute/standby, and utility ( a goalie called up from the minors to only play when the NHL goalie was injured) goalies all became a thing of the past. An NHL team could now develop a goaltending strategy. The second netminder could push the incumbent for the starting job.

The perfect backup plan.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Hockey Illustrator : Part Two

To say that Jack Reppen's career started early would be an understatement. While still attending high school in Toronto, he supplied the Toronto Daily Star with sports cartoons. Seeing that his talent was being recognized, Reppen changed the direction of his studies and concentrated on art courses. Eventually, he would work triple-duty for the Star (sports & entertainment cartoons), Prudential Life (advertising department), and pursue a love for painting.

His black and white cartoons in the sports section of the Daily Star blended a mix of art work and text. Reppen's cartoon would often set-the-scene for a game being played that evening.

Here are some examples of his work.

Tod Sloan, November 1957

Ed Cahadwick, January 1959

Father David Bauer, November 1962

Jack Reppen's dedicated work to his painting started to reap rewards with exhibitions and galleries buying his work. Unfortunately, Jack Reppen's life was cut short due to cancer in 1963,

The Hockey Illustrator : Part One

Having the ability to standout and make a first impression on a magazine shelve goes a long way in determining success or failure for a publication. A distinctive factor can sway the naked eye in one direction over another. In the world of hockey magazines during the 1950's, there was nothing better than a Tex Coulter cover to capture a consumers attention.

DeWitt "Tex" Coulter was born in the State of Texas in 1923. Raised on football, he played college ball at West Point, then played professionally for the New York Giants in the NFL. During a brief retirement in 1950, Coulter joined the Dallas Times Herald as a cartoonist. However, he wasn't able to shake the game of football out of his system, and returned to play an additional 5 years with the NY Giants. At the conclusion of his NFL career, Coulter signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. He remained in Canada after he hung-up his football gear for good and continued with his second passion in life - painting.

Tex Coulter's striking portraits of hockey players were truly a work of art. His attention to detail and brilliant strokes of colour put him at the top of his field in the Canadian sports media industry. The simple "Tex" signature on a canvas or magazine cover was the only identification required. His full-length and close-up portraits followed a trend unique to the era. The Saturday Evening Post had some artist known as Norman Rockwell, and hockey was fortunate enough to have Tex Coulter.

Here are some examples of his work.

Jean Beliveau, Montreal, March 1957

Lou Fontinato, New York, January 1958

Henri Richard, Montreal, October 1958

Fleming MacKell, Boston, November 1958

Dick Duff, Toronto, January 1959

Andy Bathgate, New York, February 1959
A longing to return home had Tex Coulter moving to Austin, Texas after 20 years of residing and working in Canada. He established himself in another venture - the home building business. DeWitt "Tex" Coulter passed away in 2007.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mad Men

Below are two advertisements from the early 1930's. The care to recruit the appropriate athlete(s) in each ad is really evident.

Hap Day

The simplicity of this ad is amazing. Hap Day in a classic hockey pose right next to the product. The play on words connecting the player and featured item. Remember, this was during the time of the great depression. Being able to take time out and enjoy a refreshing drink was a welcome distraction for many people. Also, sitting down to listen to Foster Hewitt on Saturday nights calling the brilliant play of Hap Day was an uplifting activity for the entire family. How many Mother's purchased this drink as a treat due to the association between player and product?

Conacher, Primeau, Jackson

One of the most famous lines in hockey history was the Kid Line. Young fans playing hockey at that time imagined themselves as being either Primeau, Conacher or Jackson. The desire to imitate their heroes went beyond the outdoor rink and slushy pavement in the winter. Decked out in their Sunday-best the trio showed their fans how to look sharp when not in uniform. Having the players dressed in "street-clothes" helps draw attention to the product, and the group concept doesn't fracture the audience. Hey, the advertiser must be doing something right if all three give their endorsement.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Crazy Game

If one were to compose a top-ten list of the strangest games ever played in the NHL, for certain this one would make the grade.

On February 27, 1926 the Toronto St. Pats played host to the Montreal Maroons at Arena Gardens. The first two periods proceeded without incident, then the fireworks exploded in the third. The initial signs of trouble occurred when Babe Seibert of the Maroons and Bert "Husky" Corbeau were assessed match penalties. Seibert's stick struck Corbeau in the face, resulting in the St. Pat's player chasing his opponent down the ice. It took players from both teams to pry these two combatants apart. All this led to a lengthy delay in the action.

Newspaper headline, March 1, 1926

Later in the final frame, the St. Pats thought they had scored when Norm Shay took a pass from Hap Day and shot the puck into the Maroons net. However, the puck quickly rebounded out of the net, and Montreal carried the puck out of their zone. The officials ruled that the puck never entered the net. At this stage, a goal judge required police protection from angry fans.

Pleading the case on behalf of the St. Pats was their centre Jack Adams (Yes, the Detroit GM from 1927 to 1962). Complicating matters was Adams refusal to leave the playing surface. With him on the ice, to confront the referee, the St. Pats had 6 players in play (including the goalie). Taking into account Corbeau's match penalty, 5 not 6 players were required.When Adams finally relented, more trouble developed.

Toronto St. Pats right winger Cecil "Babe" Dye took possession of the puck and wouldn't hand it over to referee Bobby Hewitson. If there was ever a big league example of "I'm taking my ball and going home" this was it. At his boiling point, Hewitson left the ice and refused to continue with his duties. Another extended delay took place before Hewitson (Hockey Hall of Fame, 1963) returned and play resumed. The bizarre action displayed by Dye is amazing. This alone rates a high placement on the strangest games played list.

The Maroons defeated Toronto 4-3 in that Saturday evening contest. In light of the hectic third period, much of the talk the next day most likely didn't involve the final score. The conversation was probably dominated by the Seibert/Corbeau battle, the Norm Shay non-goal, the Jack Adams shenanigans, and most of all, Dye's act of petulance.

A strange game, indeed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happy 75th!

The 2010-11 season marks the 75th anniversary of the American Hockey League (AHL). In 1936 a merger of the International Hockey League and the Canadian-American Hockey League took place. The new venture was named the International-American Hockey League. The 1936 union is considered as being the official start of the American Hockey League.

After 2 years of eyeballing each other, executives decided to bring the entire operation of the International-American Hockey League under one umbrella (in a June 28,1938 meeting). The League adapted a new name - The American Hockey League - in time for the start of the 1940-41 season.

Newspaper report of the June 28, 1938 I-AHL meeting

The importance of the AHL throughout the years can be found in the association it has formed with the NHL. Statistical data from the 2009-10 season showed that 85% of the players who saw action in the NHL were AHL graduates. It demonstrates the AHL's ability to function as a league which develops talent for the NHL. Who can deny the relevance and stature of the AHL when one considers that more than 100 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL.

Like most things in life, it wasn't always a smooth ride. With NHL expansion (6 new teams for 1967-68) plans already in motion, the AHL had a dilemma on their hands. Prior to granting the future NHL franchises, their was talk of elevating a number of AHL teams to the NHL. The American Hockey League clubs had a strong presence in the States and a core of talent that could be competitive at the NHL level. When talk of moving in this direction was rejected by the NHL, the AHL planned their next move.

When the NHL announced their intention to place two teams in California as part of their expansion, many considered this as being a move to tap the west coast market which was dominated by the Western Hockey League (WHL). The success of WHL teams in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego didn't go unnoticed by NHL owners. Fearing for their existence, the AHL and WHL held merger talks on November 29th, 1966.

Newspaper clipping on talks of an AHL-WHL merger, November 1966

The hope was (on the part of the AHL-WHL) that the merger would "..eventually lift them to major league status on par with the 12 team NHL next season". At the very least, it appeared that both wanted a share of the NHL expansion fee's, funds from the new CBS TV contract, and discussion on territorial rights.

As history shows, the purposed alliance never took place. What did emerge was a stronger AHL dedicated to showing the hockey world it was a superior minor-pro league. With no markets in direct competition with the new NHL clubs, the AHL maintained its status over the WHL. The AHL only lost the Pittsburgh (Hornets) territory to the NHL. Strong independent ownership within the local communities signalled a sign of stability. Success on the ice and at the box office made the AHL a lucrative investment. In 1969 the Montreal Canadiens became the first NHL club in history to purchase an AHL team. The Montreal Voyageurs became their number one affiliate. Today, most NHL clubs own and operate an AHL franchise.

Down the road, the American Hockey League would stare down future rounds of NHL expansion and the creation of the World Hockey Association. With each bump in the road the AHL survived, much like the path taken by their young guns in an effort to reach the NHL.

Happy 75th! And many more!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Location, Location, Location

It is a common occurrence with visitors who travel to New York City to go on a tour which features their favourite TV show locations. These include Seinfeld and The Sopranos. Often, the locations are exteriors which serve as "bumpers" to identify where a scene is taking place. In the case of Seinfeld, the coffee shop and Jerry's apartment building were seen on a regular basis.

Now, imagine applying this same concept to a favourite book. With the release of the updated version of Kevin Shea's Barilko : Without A Trace, I decided to go on a walking tour to explore some points of interest. For those unfamiliar with Barilko, here is some background information. Bill Barilko joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of the 1946-47 season. In his brief time in the NHL, Barilko won 4 Stanley Cups with Toronto. After scoring the Cup winning goal in 1951, his life was cut short due to an airplane crash in Northern Ontario.

My first destination was the Eton Hotel at 710 Danforth Avenue. This was Bill Barilko's final home in the City of Toronto. A photograph in the book shows a telegram Alex Barilko, Bill's brother, sent to him in "care of Eton Hotel Danforth & Eton Ave Toronto Ont". This was sent after Bill scored his famous goal on the evening of April 21st, 1951. To reach Maple Leaf Gardens, Barilko would travel along the Danforth, which ends at Parliament Street and becomes Bloor Street, then continue west on Bloor. A left turn at Church Street would take him to the corner of Church and Carlton, the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Eton House (present day), Previously known as the Eton Hotel (1951)
 My second destination was 167 Danforth Ave the home of Barilko Bros. (Radio, Appliances and Sporting Goods). A short distance from the Eton Hotel, the store was a joint venture between the Barilko brothers and Ed Whittaker who was an executive with Admiral Appliances.

Displaying his business sense, Barilko engaged the services of his teammates for promotional purposes

Today, 167 Danforth is occupied by a Law Office. I asked a solicitor if their was any visible evidence of the previous occupant from 1949. As expected, I got a negative response.

167 Danforth Ave (present day), Situated on the south-side of Danforth
It may not have been as glamorous as a Seinfeld or Sopranos expedition, but for a hockey person it was a marvelous experience. A chance to walk in the footsteps of a hockey legend.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Molson's Canadiens

Although technically not classified as being a hockey book, Hartland de Montarville Molson : Man of Honour, provides insight into the man who purchased the Montreal Canadiens in 1957.

Firefly Books, 2006, By Karen Molson, ISBN 13:978-1-55407-150-0

In the early years, the Molson family were mostly associated with their brewing empire. With the start of televised hockey games in the 1950's, family members were often seen in the "Molson box seats" just behind the Canadiens bench. The adjoining box belonged to Donat Raymond owner of the Canadian Arena Company. Under this corporate umbrella, Raymond had control of the Montreal Forum and the Canadiens hockey club. Herbert Molson (Hartland's father) had been a member of a financial consortium responsible for building the Forum in 1925. Both Raymond and Hartland were seated in the Canadian Senate, often seeing each other in Ottawa. The ties that bind became stronger when the beer company hired Jean Beliveau to work in their public relations department (1953).

In failing health and deeply concerned over the ownership issue after his death, Raymond looked to sell the team and Forum prior to his passing. Donat Raymond immediately thought of of Hartland Molson and contact was initially made through Canadiens GM Frank Selke and the head of Molson's PR Division, Zotique I'Esperance. The sale was completed by the end of September 1957.

During the Original Six era, team owners were closely involved with their clubs and were well known to the public. The Norris (Detroit), Adams (Boston), Wirtz (Chicago) and Smythe (Toronto) families were very visible owners. In New York, club President William Jennings was the public face for a corporate ownership group with no family ties to the franchise. Prior to Jennings, the Patrick family represented ownership in the Big Apple. In Montreal, the Molson family was front and centre when it came to ownership of the Habs. As noted in the book, during the early part of the depression in the 1930's they were the only well-to-do family not to cancel their subscription in the box seats.

As previously pointed out, this is not a hockey book in the typical sense. It may lack a consistent sports theme, but it does tell the life story of a truly great Canadian. It is along the lines of Scott Young's excellent book Conn Smythe : If You Can't Beat 'Em in the Alley. Published after Smythe's death and written in narrative form, the memoir tackles not only his hockey interests, but his very active life outside the game.

McClelland and Stewart, 1981, With Scott Young, ISBN 0-7710-9078-1

Both books delve into the lives of two individuals who had a great passion and love of family, country and commerce. Each book provides background on their life before and after the game of hockey Again, the Molson book does not contain a heavy degree of hockey content. This, however, should not restrict one from reading the story of an important man who guided Canada's most successful hockey team.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Catch the Game at Your Local Theatre

Wow - have times ever changed. The amount of NHL games available to the viewing public is enormous what with the Centre Ice package, and a flood of games produced for cable and satellite TV. What on earth did the hockey starved fans do in the 1960's, when only a mid-week game and the Saturday night Hockey Night In Canada telecast were being broadcast?

Yes, the entire family would march to the local theatre and watch a hockey game. Forget the latest Hollywood blockbuster, the Leafs were playing in Detroit!

Full details on the Eidophor system

Friday, October 8, 2010

Game Day : An Original Six Rivalry

With the NHL season getting underway yesterday, I thought it would be fun to take in the activities and soak up the atmosphere of the first game day (Montreal vs. Toronto, Thursday October 7th, 2010) for 2010-11.


One of the great traditions in hockey is the morning skate. On Thursday morning an assortment of media members, former players, league executives and club officials dropped by the ACC to watch the players prepare for their upcoming game.

HNIC play by play announcer, Bob Cole
Fresh off The Battle of the Blades, Russ Courtnall

NHL VP, Mike Murphy

Maple Leafs VP of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin

Stanley Cup champion 2006-07, Brad May

Colour commentator, Greg Millen

Colour commentator, Glenn Healy

Leaf  defenceman Carl Gunnarsson departing from the ACC

Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov signs some autographs
Assistant coaches Kirk Muller (Mtl) and Rob Zettler (Tor) have a chat

The NHL celebrated opening day with a party at Dundas Square in the heart of downtown Toronto.

The official logo for NHL Face-off 2010

Jim McKenney, Darryl Sittler and Walter Gretzky participate in Q & A session
NHL Network commentator, Larry Murphy
Tucked nicely behind the Air Canada Centre, the grand opening for Maple Leaf Square took place the previous day. The first official event was held on game day with the Leafs Nation tailgate party.

Peter Puck

Alumni ball hockey game, Jack Valiquette

Alumni ball hockey game, Mark Osborne

Alumni ball hockey game, Pat Boutette

Alumni ball hockey game, Gary Leeman
Yes, no more pre-season scrimmages. The games finally have a meaning. Hard earned points being the goal in 30 NHL cities. It all starts with game day number one and comes to a conclusion with the Stanley Cup final.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Return to Glory

While walking downtown on a sunny fall afternoon, I was mysteriously pulled to the left at the corner of Yonge and Carlton Street. As I slowly drifted along Carlton, I wondered how many times I made this trip to one of Canada's most famous structures - The cash box on Carlton, 60 Carlton Street, MLG - Maple Leaf Gardens, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs (1931-1999).

This original Six building made news last December (2009) with the announcement that a joint renovation project was being undertaken by Loblaw Co. Ltd. and Ryerson University. The interior is being completely gutted, but hockey will return. A rink is being installed on the top floor which will serve as the new home for the Ryerson Rams. Another bonus for hockey fans will be a museum dedicated to Maple Leaf Gardens and Toronto Maple Leafs memorabilia.

My stroll along Carlton Street took me past some long standing buildings on the north side. In Particular, the Toronto Hydro Building and the Odeon Theatre which has gone through several transformations as a movie house. The City Directory for 1933 reveals that Canadian Dairies was situated at 8 Carlton, with the next entry being "Toronto Hydro Under Construction".

Current address of Toronto Hydro on Carlton

Plaque honouring JJ Wright, Electrical Inventor

A review of the City Directory for 1934 provides some valuable background as to the "lay of the land" concerning Maple Leaf Gardens in the early years.

#42 Olympia Recreation Club
#44 Maple Leaf Gardens side entrance
#46 Vacant
#50 Happy Day Pharmacy Ltd. Drugs
#60 Maple Leaf Gardens main entrance
#62 Love & Bennett Sporting GDS
#66 Vacant

#438 United Cigar Store
#440-444 Maple Leaf Gardens
#446 Connor JJ Beauty Parlour Supplies
#448-456 Vacant (5) Opportunity Shop Junior League Used Clothing
#460-464 Maple Leaf Gardens side entrance
#466 Vacant

Of note, the Happy Day Pharmacy was operated by then Leaf defenceman and captain Hap Day. The Love & Bennett Sporting Goods Store provided the Leafs with hockey sticks, and their stamp can often be seen in vintage photos taken during that era. Also, United Cigar Store right at the corner of Church and Carlton, is visible in many of the early photographs.

As I approached Maple Leaf Gardens, something made me stop dead in my tracks. It hits you as hard as a Bobby Baun bodycheck. The degree of construction going on around the hockey palace that Conn Smythe and friends built has not been this immense since 1931.

Corner of Church and Carlton 1931
Corner of Church and Carlton 2010

Marquee view
Cornerstone blocked by construction material
Notice of construction signage
 A majority of the exterior on Carlton and Church is enclosed behind scaffolding. A layer of green mesh surrounds the scaffolding. The only view of substance concerning the architectural attributes long associated with MLG, comes at the main entrance. The rich blend of Art Deco (vertical windows) and Art Moderne (horizontal designs) styles is front and centre. The yellow bricks give the exterior a very distinguished look. The artificial stone trim which appears in three different locations. The marquee with silver lettering against a blue background spelling out "Maple Leaf Gardens".

It was a very strange feeling to see the building in this state. The section along Church Street could fool the naked eye. A quick glance gives the impression that you are not looking at the Gardens. All you see is scaffolding.

The second reaction had a nostalgic feel to it. Is this how things looked in 1931 during the construction period? My imagination ran rampant as visions of the photographs taken by the architectural firm throughout the summer and fall of 1931 filled my head. I recalled seeing recent images of the interior when seats were removed. The process of of taking a step backwards and revealing the concrete fittings prior to the original seats being installed in '31. For these reasons alone, I was so happy I made the detour along Carlton Street. My memories of the Gardens as home of the Blue & White tucked safely away in my memory vault. Also, though in an altered condition, pleased that the building would survive and have a future.

Here is an interesting fact relating to the north-west (Maple Leaf Gardens) and south-west (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) corner of Church and Carlton.

Bank of Commerce Building

Corner of Church and Carlton. Looking north along Church St.

The bank is first listed in the 1931 City Directory at 436 Church Street. Maple Leaf Gardens first appears in the 1932 Directory. For 79 years these two neighbours have stood tall and remained intact. How many intersections framed by commercial (not government) properties in downtown Toronto can match or beat this record of of continued coexistence?

Hopefully, with new life being put into 60 Carlton Street, the same can be said for many generations to come.