Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Special Birthday

When one thinks of the Conacher family, five names immediately register in the thought process. Each of these individuals reached the National Hockey League, with three siblings gaining admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lionel Conacher was a defenceman who began his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925-26. He would win consecutive Stanley Cups in 1933-34 (Chicago) and 1934-35 (Montreal Maroons). He would play 12 seasons in the NHL and entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994. Another honour bestowed upon Lionel Conacher came in 1950, when he was named Canada's Athlete for the first-half of the Century.

 His son, left winger Brian Conacher, played his first National Hockey League game on December 31, 1961, with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1966-67, Brian skated for the last Leaf team to win Lord Stanley. In 12 playoff dates, he scored 3 goals and accumulated 5 points. Brian Conacher played in parts of 5 NHL seasons.

Lionel Conacher

Brian Conacher

For fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, right winger Charlie Conacher, was one of the first superstars produced by the organization. He joined the Leafs in 1929-30 and made a contribution to their offensive production. In his rookie year, Charlie notched 20 goals in 38 games and added 9 assists. The following season, he would lead the league in goal scoring with 31 tallies in 37 matches. Of his 12 years participating in NHL action, he would lead in goal scoring 5 times. Known as the "Big Bomber", due to his wicked shot, Charlie Conacher would be crowned a Stanley Cup champion in 1931-32 with Toronto. In addition to the Cup victory, he scored the very first goal for Toronto in the new Maple Leaf Gardens on opening night, November 12, 1931. Charlie Conacher became an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

His son, left winger Pete Conacher, joined the Chicago Black Hawks in 1951-52. He would go on to play a total of 229 NHL games. Pete would score 47 goals and 39 assists for 86 points.

Charlie Conacher

Pete Conacher

Roy Conacher was a 6'-2" left winger who broke into the NHL in 1938-39 with Boston. Like brother Charlie, he made an immediate impact on the goal scoring front. His 26 goals were tops in the goal scoring category which was quite an accomplishment for a rookie. In 1949, he would capture the Art Ross Trophy as the leagues top point-getter. In 60 games, he scored 26 goals and 42 assists for 68 points. He would win 2 Stanley Cup championships with Boston (1939 & 1941) over his 11 year run in the NHL. Roy Conacher was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998.

Roy Conacher

Thus, we have the five names which come to mind when considering Team Conacher. However, there is another Conacher name which seldom receives public recognition. As a young man, Bert Conacher lost his vision in one eye as a result of a road hockey accident. If not for this, many hockey people believe Bert would have joined brothers Lionel, Charlie and Roy in the National Hockey League.

In 1935-36, Bert Conacher was a member of the West Toronto Nationals, who won the Memorial Cup championship. Their victory came against the Saskatoon Wesleys. Like Lionel Conacher, Bert played defence. The Toronto squad was coached by Toronto Maple Leaf legend Hap Day. The manager was future Maple Leaf owner Harold Ballard. Upon reviewing game summaries of the 1936 Memorial Cup, it is interesting to note that Clarence Campbell was a referee. He would go on to greater heights to serve as National Hockey League President from 1946 to 1977.

The balance of Bert Conacher's hockey career was spent in the Toronto Hockey League (Major Commercial Division). As the name would indicate, the league was composed of industry sponsored clubs like the Toronto United Auto Workers and Toronto Stafford Industries.

On May 2, 2011, there was a packed house at the monthly NHL Oldtimers lunch in Markham, Ontario. It was a special lunch, as those in attendance were celebrating Bert Conacher's 95th birthday! A large contingent of the Conacher family was on hand to take part in the festivities. Seated at the main table was family member Murray Henderson, who played for the Boston Bruins from 1944-45 to 1951-52.

Making a return visit to the lunch were former Maple Leafs Dick Duff and Bobby Baun. They were joined by author and broadcasting legend Brian McFarlane. Also on hand, was former Philadelphia Flyer Brian Propp who addressed the large gathering.

Frank Selke Jr. giving his speech at Bert Conacher's birthday bash
As usual, host and organizer Al Shaw, lined-up special guest speakers for the birthday celebration. Both Frank Selke Jr. and George Storey (Red's brother) gave glowing testimonials. They discussed their connection to the Conacher family and shared delightful stories. They reminisced about their time spent in the company of the Conacher family.  For George Storey their was a hockey and football relationship with Lionel Conacher. In the late 1920s and 1930s, Frank Selke Sr. worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs while Charlie Conacher was patrolling the right wing for the Blue & White.

Bert Conacher being presented with a plaque honouring the special occasion.

Happy 95th birthday, Bert Conacher, and many more!!!

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