Friday, February 25, 2011

King George VI and Hockey

As we head into the weekend, many of us will be looking forward to the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday evening. The lead contender for Best Picture is director Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech". The film tells the story of King George VI as he attempts to overcome his stutter with assistance from his therapist Lionel Logue. The King is brilliantly portrayed by Colin Firth who captured a Golden Globe for his performance.

Now, you are wondering, what is the relationship between King George VI  and the game of hockey? When the King passed away on February 6, 1952, his death had an impact on the National Hockey League schedule. On February 6th, the New York Rangers were in Toronto for a contest against the Leafs. However, with the passing of George VI, the Board of Directors at Maple Leaf Gardens met to discuss the situation. Following the meeting, George McCullagh vice-president of Maple Leaf Gardens, announced the game would be cancelled out of respect for the late King - "It was the unanimous opinion of the Board that it would be inappropriate for the game to be played when the Nation and whole Commonwealth and Empire were in mourning for the King."

It was only the second time an NHL game was cancelled at the Gardens. The first was on January 21, 1963, when King George V died. The opponent for that game was the Montreal Canadiens. In 1952, the New York Rangers were fully supportive of the action taken by MLG. The Rangers took an earlier train to their next destination, Chicago, for a tilt against the Black Hawks.

 The night prior to the cancelled game against the Leafs, New York coach Bill Cook and general manager Frank Boucher took in a game between the Guelph Biltmores and Barrie Flyers. The Biltmores were partially sponsored by the Manhattan club and their roster contained a number of Blueshirt prospects. Boucher and Cook were especially impressed by - Ron Murphy, Andy Bathgate, Dean prentice, Aldo Guidolin and Harry Howell - all future NHLers.

George McCullagh, Vice-President Maple Leaf Gardens
 Along with George McCullagh, National Hockey League President Clarence Campbell and Madison Square Garden President John Reed Kilpatrick were involved in the decision making process concerning the situation. The game was rescheduled to February 19, 1952, and the Leafs and Rangers skated to a 3-3 draw.

Of note, there was an interesting story pertaining to another George - George Armstrong. The Maple Leafs had purposely stalled calling-up their future captain until after the game on February 6, 1952 had been played. This would have kept "The Chief" eligible for being involved in the voting for the Calder Trophy in '52-53. With the additional game now on the schedule, Armstrong participated in the remaining 20 games, thus taking him out of the running for a crack at the 1953 Calder. He went on to play 21 seasons with the Leafs incorporating 1,187 games.

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