Monday, August 15, 2011

The Summer of '31

In the summer of 1931, box-lacrosse, came upon the sporting scene in two NHL cities. Box lacrosse, played indoors, consisted of seven players taking the floor instead of twelve. In a move to decrease the amount of dates their venues were dark, arena owners in Montreal and Toronto took action.

Initially, plans for the International Professional Lacrosse League called for teams in Montreal, New York, Boston and Toronto. News of the venture first came to light in April 1931. The team from New York was to be guided by Canadian Ed Barrow. Financial backing for the operation fell to the New York Yankees baseball club.

Ultimately, the new league, known as the Pro Lacrosse League, was composed of four teams - Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Maroons, Montreal Canadiens and Cornwall Colts.

The marquee franchises were Toronto and Montreal. In particular, Montreal, with the NHL Canadiens and Maroons sponsoring clubs. With the backing of Joe Cattarinich and Leo Dandurand, the Canadiens lacrosse team was managed by former NHL great Newsy Lalonde. In 1918-19, while playing centre for Montreal (NHL), Lalonde scored an amazing 22 goals in 17 games.

The Montreal Maroons were funded by Gordon Cushing and Dunc Munro. In September 1929, Munro was named playing coach of the NHL Maroons. In a dual role, he also took on the managers title. He held these same positions with the Maroons lacrosse club.

In this capacity, Lalonde signed several NHL names to lacrosse contracts. The major signing being Lionel "Big Train" Conacher. The Toronto born and raised Conacher, excelled at several sports. In addition to skating in the National Hockey League, he played professional football and entered the boxing ring (just to name a few). Conacher was named Canada's Male Athlete for the first-half of the century.

Another NHL player in the Maroons lacrosse line-up was Nels Stewart. In his rookie season, 1925-26, with the Maroons, Stewart lead the NHL in scoring with 42 points, including 34 goals in 36 games.

Of interest, sportswriter Ted Reeve of the Toronto Telegram played defence for the Maroons. Both Montreal teams played their home games in the Montreal Forum.

In Toronto, it was anticipated former St. Pats owner Charlie Querrie would be front and centre. However, he was too busy with his participation in the motion picture industry. Instead, ownership rights were granted to a gentleman named Peter Campbell. The Toronto team appointed Eddie Longfellow of field lacrosse fame as manager.

On Friday June 26, 1931, Toronto held an open practice at Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. A crowd of 300 spectators showed-up for the event. With the NHL Leafs moving to their new home, Maple Leaf Gardens, in the fall, the owners of Arena Gardens were in need of a new tenant.

Featured on the Maple Leafs roster was former NHL star Cy Denneny. The left winger played his final NHL season in 1928-29 with the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. In 328 NHL games, he scored 248 goals and amassed 333 points.

The inaugural game for the new indoor lacrosse league took place on June 23, 1931, in Montreal. The Maroons defeated the Canadiens by a score of 9-7.

The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their season on Monday June 30, 1931 at Arena Gardens. On a hot summer evening, over 3000 took in the action. The first goal was scored by the visiting Maroons. The honour went to Toronto resident and starting defenceman Ted Reeve. Joining Reeve on the Maroons defence was former NHL defenceman Jesse Spring. The native of Alba, Pennsylvania started his NHL career in 1923-24 with the Hamilton Tigers. He wrapped-up his time in the big league as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1929-30.

Toronto's defence core consisted of Bert Burry and Red Spencer. The 5'9", 180 lbs., Burry would play in 4 NHL contests with the 1932-33 Ottawa Senators.

Although Toronto came out on the wrong end of an 11-6 score to Montreal, the paying customers were more than thrilled with box lacrosse.

On Friday October 9, 1931, the championship game took place at Arena Gardens. Toronto would tangle with the Montreal Canadiens. After a scoreless first period, play opened-up in the middle frame. The Leafs scored the first goal, but Montreal responded with 4 unanswered tallies. The Canadiens built-up a 6-1 lead in period three, before Toronto concluded the scoring with 2 goals.

Montreal were crowned World Champs having downed the Maple Leafs 6-3. The final game resulted in an attendance record being set for the new league with 7200 fans witnessing the conclusion to the 1931 season.

The Pro Box Lacrosse League would cease operations following the 1932 campaign.

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