Friday, September 30, 2011

An Honour for Toe Blake

Recently, Montreal Canadiens icon, Toe Blake, was saluted by the people of Coinston, Ontario. This community in northern Ontario is next to Victoria Mines where Blake was born. Civic leaders paid tribute to Blake by naming their arena after the Hockey Hall of Fame member. Full Story.

Many in the hockey world were first exposed to Blake's hockey skills in the spring of 1931. At the time, the 18 year-old left winger skated for the Sudbury Wolves in the NOJHA.

On March 12, 1931, Blake and his teammates took to the ice at Arena Gardens on Mutual Street in Toronto, Ontario to face the Kingston R.M.C. The winner of the sudden-death game would advance to play the Hamilton Tigers in Allan Cup competition. For Blake, it was an opportunity to perform on the same ice as players who played in the National Hockey League, as Arena Gardens was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. And Blake certainly took advantage of the chance to shine before a large audience. A newspaper report heaped praise on the rising star:

 In the first period it was an 18 year-old kid "Toe" Blake, who attracted attention for the Wolves. This is his first season in organized hockey and last night was his first on big ice. He tallied two goals. Sticking to the puck like glue, he was the first Woofer to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the military defence wasn't throwing its weight forward and sore shoulders sideways. Blake played a great game, especially in the first frame, and those two points of his put his teammates on their toes.

Behind Blake's effort, Sudbury defeated the military team from Kingston by a score of 8 to 3.

Next in line for the Wolves, was a meeting with the Senior OHA Champions, the Hamilton Tigers.

The two game series against Hamilton would be the end-of-the-line for Sudbury's hope of advancing in Allan Cup play. In game one, the Wolves were unable to muster-up any offence and they were shutout 5-0 by Hamilton. In game two, the score was much closer as the Tigers squeaked out a 2-1 victory. Hamilton took the two-game series seven-goals to one. Sudbury's lone goal came off the stick of Toe Blake. The goal came as a result of an individual rush by Blake.

Thus, was the start to a brilliant career in the game of hockey.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Murray Henderson Turns 90

It was one of those events, as a hockey fan, you really look forward to. No, it wasn't having a pair of tickets tucked away for opening night or a trip to a local arena to watch some NHL player's workout prior to training camp.These pale in comparison to the wonderful event which took place on Monday September 12, 2011.

On this date, many in the hockey community gathered to celebrate Murray Henderson's 90th birthday! In addition to family and friends, a number of former NHL players who skated in the Original Six era were in attendance for the birthday bash. Included in this group were Enio Sclisizzi, Phil Samis, Danny Lewicki, Jim Morrison, Bob Beckett, Dick Duff and Bob Nevin.

A special guest was Jim McGovern who served in the Second World War with Murray Henderson. Both were assigned to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Murray John Henderson was born on September 5, 1921 in Toronto, Ontario. He made his first NHL appearance in 1944-45 with the Boston Bruins. Over the next seven seasons ('45-46 to '51-52), Henderson became a mainstay in the Bruins line-up. The six-foot, 180 pound defenceman played a total of 405 big league games, all with Boston. In this period, he scored 24 goals and 62 assists for 86 points. Henderson skated in 41 playoff contests, registering 5 points (2 goals & 3 assists).

His playing/coaching career came to an end after a four year stint ('52-53 to '55-56) with Hershey in the American Hockey League.

The birthday party was part of the monthly NHL Oldtimers Lunch in Markham, Ontario.

As Murray Henderson accepted best wishes from guests, I sat down for a talk with Pete Conacher. Although they have different last names, Murray and Pete are cousins. To get an up-close perspective of Murray Henderson, the man and professional athlete, who better to chat with than a family member who just happened to have also played in the National Hockey League. Pete, suited-up for three NHL clubs (Chicago, New York & Toronto) from 1951-52 to 1957-58.

Our discussion opened with the family connection. "Murray is a Conacher," stated Pete. "Murray's mom was my dad's sister." Pete's dad being the legendary Toronto Maple Leaf forward Charlie Conacher, who scored the first Leaf goal in Maple Leaf Gardens on opening night, November 12, 1931.

"Murray is certainly part of the Conacher family. Because of that, hockey came naturally."

Considered the Royal Family of hockey, the Conacher's are represented in the Hockey Hall of Fame by Charlie and his two brothers, Lionel and Roy. Another sibling, Bert Conacher, was a prospect until an eye injury crushed his hopes of reaching the NHL. Lionel's son, Brian Conacher, also played in the NHL and was a member of the 1967 Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs.

I asked Pete if a Conacher family dinner was full of hockey talk. "No, I can't say it was. Although, it was probably dominated by sports." Pete did relay one hockey story that was a favourite. It involved his dad and Uncle Roy. "My dad, in his career, scored 225 goals in the National Hockey League," said the proud son of his famous dad. Like in most families, there was a friendly competition when it came to sports. A smile came across Pete's face when he told the rest of the story. "Roy, his younger brother, scored 226 goals in the NHL, then retired."

When Murray Henderson joined the Bruins for his first full-season in 1945-46, Pete was 13 years-old. Imagine being that age and having not one, but several relatives in the game. "Roy was still playing then, so between Murray and Roy there was a lot to follow. My dad was coaching in Oshawa, so I guess whatever game was being played I was following."

Pete does have one memory of watching Murray participate in a game. "I saw Murray play when he was with the Air Force." During World War 11, Murray and many others in the game enlisted for military service. "If I can remember correctly, they were playing the Navy at Maple Leaf Gardens and Murray was playing for the Air Force and Bob Goldham was playing for the Navy."

This shifted the topic to Murray's style of play. "He can best be described as a typical stay-at-home defenceman," said Pete. "A dependable quiet defenceman, not prone to a lot of unnecessary penalties, but could handle himself when he had to."

Pete and Murray crossed paths when Pete played in the American Hockey League and Murray was the playing coach in Hershey. "We had a game in Hershey and Murray was there and I can remember the night before the game, I went over to his house for dinner with Kitty and the children," a wonderful memory Pete enjoyed telling. "The next night was another matter. It was back to hockey."

As usual, Al Shaw of the NHL Oldtimers was at the top-of-his-game when it came to organizing the event. Acting as master of ceremonies was former Boston Bruins scout Bob Tindall. And what would a party be like without presents for the guest of honour? A number of individuals were called upon to acknowledge the special occasion.

Paul Patskou, an audio & visual archivist, gifted Murray with a marvellous DVD. The disc featured a playoff game Henderson played in on April 7, 1951. Don Cherry, showered Murray with gift items supplied by Hockey Night in Canada. Craig Campbell from the Hockey Hall of Fame, provided a terrific package of photos taken during Murray's playing career and time in the Air Force. Author Susan Foster wished Murray a Happy Birthday and passed along a message from past NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly who is a lifelong Bruins fan. The Boston organization sent Murray a vintage Bruins jersey and greetings from Cam Neely. Also, Murray received an autographed photo of Bobby Orr's Stanley Cup winning goal from 1970. There were a number of best wishes from Boston alumni, including Milt Schmidt and Johnny Peirson.

I had the pleasure of presenting Murray Henderson with a framed document containing news reports of his first National Hockey League goal. It was scored on December 15, 1945 against the Montreal Canadiens in the Forum. The December 17th edition of The Gazette described the tally in the following manner: "Murray Henderson opened the scoring for the Bruins when he took Milt Schmidt's pass at the Habs' blueline and rifled the puck into the rigging behind Bill Durnan."

As I pointed out to Murray, this is reminiscent of a goal that could have been scored by Ray Bourque or Bobby Orr!

Paul Patskou & Murray

Craig Campbell & Murray

Bob Tindall, Murray & Don Cherry

The Coaches Corner. Jim McGovern looks on as Don Cherry greets his former coach with the Hershey Bears ('54-55)

Never at a lost for words, Don Cherry addresses the crowd

The Birthday Kid cuts his cake

As the above photos show, a good time was had by all those in attendance.

The final word goes to Pete Conacher.

"Murray is the greatest guy. And most people have nothing but the best things to say about Murray. He's quiet and unassuming like Roy. Murray, Wally Stanowski, Hughie Bolton and myself, we travelled together with the NHL Oldtimers and we had a lot of fun times in the car on the way to games. Murray is the salt-of-the-earth as far as I'm concerned."

At the luncheon, there wasn't a soul who would disagree with Pete's assessment.

Happy Birthday, Murray Henderson, and we all look forward to many more celebrations!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

GTA All-Star Team of the Century

Last weekend, the Greater Toronto Hockey League held a dinner to celebrate their All-Star Team of the Century. The naming of the team was part of the GTA's 100th anniversary - Details.

Up front for the GTA All-Star Team are Brendan Shanahan, Mike Gartner and Eric Lindros.

The Original Six era is represented by Brad Park on the blue line. Park, was the New York Rangers first choice in the 1966 amateur draft. His rookie campaign with New York came in 1968-69. Joining Park on the back-end is Paul Coffey.

The starting netminder is Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden. Although Dryden became a star with Montreal, he was Boston's third choice in the 1964 amateur draft. His first NHL action came in 1970-71 with the Habs.

It was a big weekend for Dryden, as he also was inducted into the Ontario Sports Legends Hall of Fame.  Besides the Hockey Hall of Fame goalie, former Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, Curler Russ Howard and former Maple Leaf stars Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark made-up the class of 2011.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

365 and Counting

My, my how time goes by when one is having fun!

While poking around the archive of this blog, I noticed that one year has passed since the first article was published.

I look forward to year two and digging up more facts and stories from the Original Six era!

Friday, September 16, 2011

On A Wing and a Prayer

As the sun begins to set on the summer of 2011, one thought comes to mind - Good Riddance!

During the months of June, July and August, a large degree of planet earth fell victim to a rash of brutal attacks from Mother Nature. In Oslo, a deranged individual went on a killing spree, resulting in massive deaths. The world economy is in a major slump, with both the job market and stock market taking hit after hit.

In difficult times, one tends to seek relief and an escape from their troubles. For a ton of people, the escape route leads them to the nearest film house or a night of television viewing. Then, there are those who find refuge by turning to sports. They seek out an event which provides a distraction from the mundane chores and problems of everyday living. The ability to get lost in a close game and solely concentrate on what is unfolding before them.

On the hockey front this off-season, it has been a difficult task to find a door on which to hang our troubles. For the most part, the news has been all bad. It has come to the point where fans must first brace themselves prior to exploring for information. In the past, there was very little news, with the hockey community enjoying a well earned rest. On occasion, a club would make a trade or sign a new player to their roster.

This summer, however, the mold has been broken. No, make that shattered to smithereens. The papers and airways have been filled with one disaster after another. The unfortunate aspect being that the game itself hasn't been front and centre, but the people in the sport have dominated page one and the lead story. It has become a case where no news, is good news. Lives have been lost under very difficult circumstances. For loved ones, hearts have been broken. Souls have been emptied of all spirit. The impact replacing contentment with devastation.

One body blow followed by several more, but with greater velocity. Similar to a boxer trapped in the middle of a round, eyes swollen, with no strength left in his punch and legs which have turned to mush. Holding on for dear life. Hoping he will survive long enough to hear the bell. The rest in his corner, supplying time to recover and hope for better results in the round ahead.

It has been that type of summer for those who follow the great game of hockey.

The ultimate price has been paid. In the first round of tragic events, three National Hockey League tough-guys lost their fight to continue living. Derek Boogaard, who struggled with addiction, passed away in May. He was 28. In August, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, both dealing with depression issues, couldn't counter-punch this ugly disease. Rypien was 27 and Belak 35.

Hockey fans, with little time to take in these horrendous endings, were about to enter the ring and contend with the further stench of death. On September 7, the news from Russia had the ability to drop even the most rugged and battle scarred warrior to the canvass. It was the kind of news that takes several mentions before it really sinks in. An airplane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club crashed with no survivors. As the day went on, reports indicated two people were recovered alive. In total, 43 people perished. At this stage, the details rapidly took over, with each morsel coming like a hard swift kick to the gut.

Newspaper headlines possessed the ability to stop reader's dead in their tracks. The Toronto Sun captured the overall mood with this: HOCKEY WORLD MOURNS AGAIN. The Toronto Star published a headline that hit this writer right between the eyes. I immediately dropped the sports section on my lap and soaked-up the four words: THE TEAM IS GONE.

On Monday September 12, Alexander Galimov, the lone surviving player on Lokomotive, passed away from his injuries. This brought the death toll to 44.

Imagine, being a fan of a team and having the entire squad die in one single crash.

In August 1951, Toronto Maple Leaf supporters read the upsetting details relating to Bill Barilko's airplane crash in northern Ontario. Adding to the misery was the fact the search crews were unable to locate his remains. Newspaper headlines, early in the process, kept the public abreast of developments.

In the Original Six era, the main means of transportation was by train. With the majority of teams based in the east, the longest trip was to Chicago. As the National Hockey League schedule increased, the wear and tear of travel became evident. As an example, in 1949-50, the NHL added ten dates. Instead of 60 games, each franchise would participate in 70. To deal with the additional content, the Detroit Red Wings engaged in air travel during the first ten contests of the new campaign. On two road trips to Chicago, Montreal and Toronto, the Red Wings abandon the rails and took to the sky. Coach Tommy Ivan was more than pleased with the results, as his club won all three games.

Other factors came into play for giving consideration to airplane travel. When a club encountered nasty weather conditions and time became a concern, the ability to take flight was an option.

On February 3, 1951, the Toronto Maple Leafs played at home against the Chicago Black Hawks. After defeating Chicago 6-3, they headed out to Union Station in downtown Toronto for a train ride to Boston. On Sunday evening they skated to a 3-3 draw against the Bruins in Boston Garden. While there were no problems reaching Boston, Leaf management were aware there could be a problem departing. With a wildcat strike taking place in the Chicago railroad system, Conn Smythe and company required a back-up plan should train schedules across North America become altered. The idea was to arrange travel on two planes - one for the team and one for the media.

After the game, the Leafs were informed that no trains would be heading to Toronto. Instead, the hockey club would bunker down in Beantown for the evening. The next morning, they would depart by train to Montreal. Following a brief lay over in Quebec, the Leafs would continue their journey, arriving in Toronto early Tuesday. So much for intentions to travel by plane.

Speaking with former NHLer Bob Nevin on the topic of train travel, he was able to shed some light on the subject. Nevin played in the National Hockey League on a full time basis from 1960 to 1976.

"I can remember playing in Toronto and then getting on a train right after the game for Chicago," Nevin told me this week. "We would not get into Chicago until three o'clock the next afternoon."

Nevin pointed out there were many stories relating to train travel. He recalled one in particular, which included himself and Dave Keon. In their rookie season, neither player was looking to the initiation process. The veterans usually went looking for their prey on the train, as the new guys had no place to hide.

While Keon didn't escape, Nevin made a run for it.  He picks-up the story. "I walked down the train and there was another car next to ours and it was basically empty. So, I went to sleep in an upper berth."

On this trip, the Leafs were returning to Toronto from a game in Chicago. By the time morning arrived and sensing it was safe to do so, Nevin headed back to his quarters. "No sooner did I get off the train and got to my berth, than the car I was sleeping in was pulled to the side and left there. I would have been sitting in Detroit in my pyjamas," said Nevin with a chuckle.

With the dawn of expansion to 12 teams in 1967-68, it spelled the end for players boarding trains and setting off for their next destination.

I asked Bob Nevin if he had any fears switching from ground to air travel? "There are some moments which were a little scary, but all in all, I didn't have any problems."

As training camps open around the NHL,we can all look forward to talk about our wonderful game. We can escape from the horror and pain of recent tragedies and become absorbed in our favourite teams and players.

Although down for the count, we are slowly rising, with only one knee on the mat. Soon, we will be on both feet and looking forward to better times. As hockey fans, we will not be counted out.

We hope and pray.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Chat with Enio Sclisizzi

Enio Sclisizzi started his career in professional hockey in 1946-47 with the Indianapolis Capitals. Based in the American Hockey League, they called the Indianapolis Coliseum - located on the Indiana State Fairgrounds - home. In his rookie campaign, wearing sweater number 17, Sclisizzi  scored twenty goals while playing left wing. In 60 contests, he accumulated 34 points and he was assessed forty-five-minutes in penalties.

The AHL West Division was composed of clubs from Indianapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Capitals posted an impressive 33-18-13 record in '46-'47, but fell short of nailing down the final playoff spot. They finished in fourth-place, one-point behind Pittsburgh.

Although the Capitals aspirations of advancing may have been stymied,  it didn't mean Sclisizzi's hockey season was over.

Like any young hockey player, Sclisizzi's dream was to reach the National Hockey League. In the 1947 playoffs, the Capitals parent club, Detroit, would put the call out for their prospect. After four games in a semi-final showdown against Toronto, the Red Wings trailed Toronto by three games to one. On the medical front, Detroit was dealt a blow when Sid Abel came down with pleurisy. Abel, the Wings number one centreman, performed in only three games during the series. On the morning of game five, another centre, Billy Taylor, was suffering from the flu. In the first four games, Taylor registered six points. The gutsy forward started the game for Detroit, but left half-way through period three. Cliff Simpson, a call-up from Indianapolis, dislocated his shoulder in the post-season.

As the Red Wings roster became decimated by illness and injury, circumstances were ripe for twenty-one year-old Enio Sclisizzi to make his first appearance on the NHL stage. He joined Detroit following the conclusion of the Capitals AHL schedule. On Saturday April 5, 1947, in Maple Leaf Gardens, Sclisizzi took to the ice, proudly wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey. Unfortunately for Enio and his teammates, Detroit fell to the Maple Leafs by a score of six to one.

With one game under his belt, Sclisizzi experienced his first exposure to life in the NHL and everything that came with it. In his case, there was a unique situation unfolding. As fate would have it, the play-by-play of game five was broadcast across Canada by Foster Hewitt. By all accounts, Hewitt never conquered the correct pronunciation of Enio's last name. Problems of this nature were not restricted to his surname or the electronic media. Writing in the April 5, 1947 edition of The Globe and Mail, Jim Vipond made reference to Eddie Sclisizzi. As time passed, Enio Sclisizzi became known as Jim Enio. The individual responsible for the name change was none other than Foster Hewitt.

Word of the name shift came down during training camp in 1948. A short news dispatch informed the hockey community and fans of the transformation.

 There will be one less tongue twister this season for radio announcers who broadcast games involving the Indianapolis Capitals.
 Like a few other outstanding professional athletes in other sports, who had names which were difficult to spell or pronounce, Enio Sclisizzi finally has eased the situation by changing his name.
 From now on he wants to be known as Jim Enio and he hopes the fans will accept the change with the same cooperation displayed by his teammates at the training camp this fall.

In December of 1948, Toronto Daily Star scribe Joe Perlove, penned a piece on Sclisizzi. It shed light on the media's struggle to grasp the Sclisizzi name and the measures taken to rectify the situation.
That's right, Jim Enio came into the National Hockey League as Enio Sclisizzi, but after three radio announcers had fogged their "mikes" and broken most of their chinaware trying to pronounce it correctly, Enio changed his name to Jim Enia. Also, the name was misspelled so often by writers and printers that Enio figured he'd better make it easier on them lest they take the easier path and leave him out of the story.

Perlove added a human element by interviewing Enio's father. In a great example of irony, either an errant stroke of a typewriter key or some other production mishap, lead to "Enio" being misspelled in one sentence. The name change was incorrectly printed as Jim "Enia"! The elder Sclisizzi supplied a short, but sweet analysis concerning the change in identity for his lad when he stated, "It's better for him."

Another quote from Mr. Sclisizzi shows how seriously his son prepared for the physical rigors of competition. He told Perlove, "And he looked after himself, too. Doesn't smoke or drink -  lots of exercise. He wants to be a great hockey player. He's a powerful boy."

In the summer of 1947, Sclisizzi had ample time to prepare for Detroit's training camp come fall. The Red Wings commenced the '47-'48 hockey year at home with the Chicago Black Hawks providing the opposition. Sclisizzi, cracked the opening night line-up and Detroit went on to defeat Chicago 4-2. Once again, Sclisizzi took advantage of personnel problems coming into play with the NHL club. At training camp, Roy Conacher became a holdout, thus creating a roster spot. With the future Hall of Fame left winger taking refuge in his Toronto home, coach Tommy Ivan gave Sclisizzi the nod as one of his left wingers. Another forward playing the left side made his debut in a Detroit uniform - Bep Guidolin. Obtained in a trade from Boston, Guidolin scored a goal in the victory over Chicago. In a Canadian Press story the following day, Ivan heaped praise on both Sclisizzi and Guidolin.

Sclisizzi's hope of an extended stay in the National Hockey League was quickly dashed. When Detroit played game two of their schedule in Toronto on October 18, 1947, he was no longer with the big league team. Sclisizzi spent the next sixty-one games back in the American Hockey League with Indianapolis. Determined to show Jack Adams and company he deserved a trip back to the big show, Sclisizzi had a banner year with the Capitals. He produced sixty-seven points on twenty-nine goals and thirty-eight assists.

As the sun set on Detroit's season in mid-March of 1948, Wings management rewarded Sclisizzi for his outstanding success on the farm. With three dates remaining on the calendar, he was summoned for an encounter at Boston Garden on St. Patrick's Day 1948. He was accompanied by defenceman Eddie Nicholson. After a scoreless battle against the Bruins, Detroit travelled to Toronto. On the day before they tangled with their Canadian rival, Detriot held a practice at Varsity Arena.  For Sclisizzi, it was his second trip to southern Ontario to face the Maple Leafs. This late season affair would suddenly turn magical for the Motor City rookie.

On March 20, 1948, Sclisizzi played his first regular season game in Maple Leaf Gardens. As second period action got underway, the score was knotted at two apiece. Scoring for the Blue & White were Harry Watson and Ted Kennedy. Detroit got tallies from Ted Lindsay and Marty Pavelich. Shortly after referee Bill Chadwick dropped the puck to start the middle frame, Enio Sclisizzi took his spot at centre stage. On a rush towards the Toronto zone, he took a pass from Jimmy McFadden. Approximately 15-feet from the Leafs net, Sclisizzi directed his shot on goal. In an attempt to make the save, goalie Turk Broda "fanned" on the shot. At 3:35, Enio Sclisizzi scored his first National Hockey League goal. His team lost 5-3 to Hap Day and the Toronto Maple Leafs, but for the youngster from Milton, Ontario it was a very special night.

From 1947-48 to 1951-52, Sclisizzi would participate in 67 NHL regular season contests with Detroit. His most sustained action came in '48-'49, when he suited up for 50 matches. In this stretch, he collected nine goals and seventeen points. The bulk of his ice time came with the Capitals in Indianapolis. A trade in August 1952 sent Sclisizzi to the Chicago Black Hawks. After playing 14 games for Chicago in 1952-53, his stay in the National Hockey League came to a close. In 81 NHL confrontations, he scored 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points. He served twenty-six-minutes in the penalty box for infractions committed in the heat of battle. In 13 playoff tilts, he went pointless and was confined to the sin-bin for six-minutes.

His crowning moment with Indianapolis occurred in the spring of 1950. The Capitals became the first AHL squad to go undefeated in playoff action. They captured the Calder Cup with eight straight victories. This group of champions included Terry Sawchuk in goal, with Al Dewsbury, Max Quackenbush, Joe Lund, Clare Raglan and Benny Woit forming a solid defensive core. The offensive punch came from Sclisizzi, Pat Lundy, the brother act of Rod and Don Morrison, Jerry Reid and Fred Glover.

Sclisizzi's remaining years in pro hockey included engagements in the American Hockey League (St. Louis & Buffalo) and Western Hockey League (Calgary, Edmonton & Victoria). He would sharpen his blades for a final time with the WHL Victoria Cougars in 1958-59. He reached All-Star status (AHL) in 1951-52, earning placement on the First-Team. In the WHL, Sclisizzi was selected to the First All-Star Team for his brilliant performance with the Edmonton Flyers (28 goals, 64 points in 70 games).

On August 1, 2011, Enio Sclisizzi celebrated his 86th birthday. A week later, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with him for a chat. Surrounded by those attending Al Shaw's monthly NHL Oldtimers gathering, Sclisizzi and I found a quiet spot to talk. In a split-second, the clanging of cups and glasses, along with other forms of sound seemed to fall silent. My entire focus was on this amazing fellow and his stories from a by-gone age. In his day, the Original Six era was in its infancy and only the best players were given consideration. Like most players from his generation, Sclisizzi was more than willing to discuss his time in hockey.

Your Father came to Canada in 1920 and settled in Milton, Ontario. What was it like growing up in Milton?

Well, there were three brickyards up there and the immigrants all worked in the brickyards. There were about 15 Italian families and they called it Red Hill. We all had our own little garden. The houses belonged to the brickyard. It was as rural as you could get. Everybody had a cow and a pig. They replicated what they had in Italy.

A 1948 newspaper article revealed you played several sports.

 I wasn't much of a ballplayer. I played junior ball in Milton, but all I can remember was one big hit that I had. I couldn't hit that ball (laughing). I played a bit of lacrosse. I was in the Navy for two years and they assigned me to become a physical instructor. I looked after a base in Shelburne, which was about 200 miles south of Halifax. Our job was to take the crew off a ship that came in needing repairs after it was hit. I would look after them until they shipped out again.
 One day, a ship came in with a lot of Salmonbellies lacrosse players from B.C. They said to me, "We're lacrosse players, can you build us a lacrosse thing here?"
 We went to the end of the runway where the planes come in and built a lacrosse box. They taught me how to play lacrosse. It was the first time I held a lacrosse stick in my hand. They did such a good job that when the war was over, I played senior "B" lacrosse in Norval, just outside of Brampton. Detroit told me not to play lacrosse. They didn't want me to get hurt during the summer. So, I had to stop. I enjoyed lacrosse.
 I was in Victoria, B.C. my last year of playing hockey. Just around the corner from where we played, there was a donut shop. We see these guys coming in with lacrosse sticks and hockey skates. They were heading to the arena.
 I asked, "What's going on here?"
 One guy said, "Well, our two ships hate each other and we're going to have a game of lacrosse on the ice."
 I said to George, a friend of mine, "Let's go watch this."
 I never saw such a spectacle in my life. I always thought if someone took this sport, it would take ice hockey right off the rink. In lacrosse, cross-checking is legal. These guys were flying all over the ice, falling down and getting hit. The ball is a hard Indian rubber ball that would bounce and skid in front of the net. It was something I will never forget.

Your Dad once made mention of having to go look for you when it came time to milk the cows. Usually, he would find you skating on the creek. You seemed destined to play hockey over other sports.

 I just loved it. I loved playing hockey. When I started high school, I got to go out and skate on Milton Pond. My Dad would only let me go on Sunday's. He said you have to milk your 13 cows and go to Church, and then you can have three hours in the afternoon for hockey, So, I went down there and I see how these guys played hockey. There would be about three games going on. There was one player by the name of Allan Morley. This guy was such an effortless skater. The ice on the pond would be rough. The puck never seemed to leave his stick. I always wanted to be in the game he was involved in, just to watch him. The best player I think I've ever seen.

When you were young, did the family gather around the radio and listen to Foster Hewitt's play-by-play of Toronto Maple Leaf games?

 We only had one radio between the 15 families and on Saturday night we would tune in. That's all there was to do. We not only listened to Foster Hewitt, but also championship boxing matches. I'm talking about Primo Carnera who was an Italian, so we had to listen to him. When it came to wrestling, there was another Italian guy by the name of Joe Savoldi. My Dad would get a load of kids in his car and we would head down to Maple Leaf Gardens to watch him.

June 1929

July 1933

Mom & Dad were your biggest supporters. Your Dad once commented that you were on skates, with hockey stick in hand, at every possible chance. However, your Mom did have hesitations.

 She wouldn't go to the games. She didn't want me to play hockey. She thought it was too rough and was afraid I wouldn't be able to help her on the farm if I got hurt. But, my Dad just loved it.

Did you have a favourite NHL player?

Syl Apps of Toronto, he was the best. I just admired that guy. I met him and talked to him. I played against him. He was a gentleman on the ice.

In 1943, you were a member of the OHA Jr. "B" Milton Bombers. In a playoff series against Penetang, you scored 4 goals and 3 assists in the deciding game. Were your skills on offence the best part of your game?

 I could out skate anybody. I learned how to skate on speed skates. So, I had a long stride. Even when I got to the NHL, I could out skate most of them. Skating was my forte. I wasn't very big, but  I was big compared to some of the other players. I weighed 168 pounds and was 5'10". I've shrunk a lot since then, but I made it with my skating.

In 1946-47, you joined the Detroit Red Wings organization and played with the Indianapolis Capitals in the American Hockey League.

 Detroit was their parent team. They were owned by a fellow named Norris - the big family that had boxing on TV. They owned Detroit, Chicago and Madison Square Garden in New York. So, they were big in hockey. I got a letter from Jack Adams to come to training camp. The funny part about this was the letter came to me and was addressed to "Enid", instead of "Enio". When I presented myself at the Olympia, the secretary says, "Oh my God, I'm glad you're a man. We didn't know what to expect." (Laughing)

You had an outstanding rookie campaign in Indianapolis, reaching the 20 goal mark. What was it like playing in your first professional season?

 I just loved it. The people in Indiana were great. They loved going to hockey games. We use to fill the arena. I think it held about 10,000. The hockey was good. I thought the difference between the NHL and American League in those days was one or two players. If you put Ted Lindsay or Gordie Howe on Indianapolis, we would be the NHL team. That is how close it was.

In the 1947 playoffs, you were called-up by Detroit to play in what turned out to be the last game in a semi-final series against Toronto. On April 5th, you performed in your first National Hockey League game in Maple Leaf Gardens.

 I remember it was a thrill. Just to be in Maple Leaf Gardens, because we listened to games on the radio from there. Names like Syl Apps, Gordie Drillon, Bill Ezinicki, Turk Broda and Wally Stanowski - these were your heroes. You are nervous until you get on the ice. Once you're on the ice, it's just another hockey game.

It has become one of the great stories in hockey history. Tell us about Foster Hewitt and his inability to pronounce your name.

 I go to training camp one year and Fred Huber, who was the publicity man for the Detroit team, comes into the dressing room after practice. He says, "Come on into office, I want to talk to you."
 So, I go up there and he says he got a call from Foster Hewitt. "He's having a hard time pronouncing your name and we would like to change it. We thought we would change it to Jim Enio."
 I said "It doesn't matter to me."
 I know my Dad was a little upset at the start. Even a lot of kids when I went home in the spring, they would ask, "Where were you all winter?" Playing under Jim Enio, they didn't associate who I was. It didn't really bother me that much.

You played in 4 regular season and 6 playoff games with Detroit in 1947-48. You must have been thrilled to score your first NHL goal and play against the top defencemen in hockey.

 I was. Anytime you score a goal in the NHL it is a thrill. Twenty goals at that time was a lot compared to what they get now. In '48-'49, we finished in first-place. We owned Toronto all year. We beat Montreal out in seven games, and then played Toronto for the championship. They beat us four straight. They literally beat the hell out of us. I didn't find out until later they were cutting the palms out of their gloves. When you went around a defenceman, he was able to grab your sweater and give you a half-spin.

You had a strange thing happen to you when Indianapolis was spending time in Detroit early in the 1951-52 season. As the team practiced in the Olympia, you went to the bench to take a break. Tell us what occurred once you sat down.

 Well, we went up to Detroit and Jack Adams and everybody else was there. They were going to take some players from Indianapolis, because Detroit was going through a rough patch. I come off the ice and I'm sitting on the bench sweating. A player by the name of Bill McComb, who came up with us, skates by and swings his stick around. It caught me right in the mouth. The impact knocked out five teeth, broke my jaw and cheekbone. For the rest of the year, I had to live on milkshakes with raw eggs. Surprisingly, I played pretty well.

In 1952, you skated in 9 regular season games with Detroit. The Wings thought so highly of your contributions, they added your name to the Stanley Cup. However, in 1957, when the Cup was redesigned, your name was left-off. Were you ever provided with an explanation?

 I was called-up for the playoffs in case someone got injured, but I never got into a game. I would work out, however, no one got hurt. No, it didn't bother me. What makes me laugh about all this is there are people associated with the team getting their name on the Cup. Here I am, part of the team, but they took it off.

In the summer of 1952, you were traded to Chicago and played in 14 games with the Hawks. What was that experience like?

 Sid Abel was the coach, who I played with in Detroit. Tommy Ivan was the Vice-President. I had a pretty big opportunity there. At training camp, we had eight exhibition games. I'm going down the ice in one exhibition game, and as I said, I'm a real good skater. I got pushed from behind and I went into the boards with my face. I couldn't get my arm up. I crushed my cheekbone; broke my jaw and my eyeball wouldn't move. They put me on a plane and flew me right to St. Joseph's in Toronto. I would lay flat on my back. I couldn't do anything.
 The Leaf doctor, I remember, every night he would stop in and give me the scores and everything else. My sister worked at Tip Top Tailors and would stop by. It was a very scary thing for me. After six weeks, they finally had to operate. They pulled out a lot of chips, and then my eyeball slowly started to move back and forth where it should have been.
 I'm sitting at home doing my eye exercises when I get a call from Jack Adams in Detroit. He asked, "Jim, how are you?" I told him I was out of the hospital and getting along.
 He continued, "Why don't you come to Detroit and work out with us. We're home for a week and you can get yourself into shape. St. Louis needs some help." St. Louis was a farm team of Chicago.
 I asked, "Jack, who owns me?"
 His reply was, "Har...Har...Har...we're all in the same family."
 I went to Detroit and worked out for a whole week. I went to St. Louis and played pretty good. I was called-up to Chicago, but I was too far behind everyone else. I missed half-a-year and I couldn't seem to get going that was it for me in the NHL.

What was the highlight of your career as a professional hockey player?

 I played with some great players. I think of "Dutch" Reibel who was my centreman. Alex Delvecchio was my centreman - playing with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Even though these guys were stars, we were all in it together. I enjoyed playing hockey. I think it is the greatest game in the world. You have sixty-minutes of action. The game is so different from when we played it. Very seldom do you see three guys go up ice and make plays. They shoot it in and shoot it out. It's a different game.

At the end of our chat, I asked Enio if he would pose for a photograph. Looking through the camera lens, his answer to one of my questions flooded my thought process. It was the inquiry relating to his favourite NHL player. I was applying his response concerning Syl Apps to the current situation at hand.

Enio Sclisizzi of Milton, he is the best. I just admire that guy. I met him and talked to him. He is a gentleman on and off the ice.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Fight Game : A Psychological Perspective

With the recent passing of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, the role fighting plays in the game has once again become the focus of attention. Much of the talk and debate has centered on the enforcers who slug it out on a consistent basis. This is only natural, taking into account each of the above noted individuals filled this position for their respective clubs.

Since the beginning of time, fighting has been considered an important part of the NHL game. Each team, filling a roster spot with a known "tough guy". Then, there is the unwritten code - applicable to everyone who steps onto the ice surface - when challenged, you drop the gloves. The only players who appear to have a pass are the superstars. The argument being they are worth more in action, rather than sitting in the penalty box.

The stigma and ramifications of not accepting an invitation to duke-it-out are enormous. In the case of teammates, they begin to question aspects like dedication to the overall pursuit of winning and having a fellow soldier who doesn't protect their back. With an opponent, one might as well sew a giant target on their jersey. A player who refuses to fight back, often is faced with a deluge of nasty stick-work and other tactics of intimidation. These are not only physical assaults, but verbal lashings. Taunts like coward and chicken become common when addressed by the opposition.

If a player takes a beating, he sucks up any pain and hides lingering after affects. He is expected to lick his wounds and prepare for the next battle. To voice any objections would be a death sentence. It would result in a demotion to the farm, with little hope of making a return to the big league. The general manager, making an example of how timid play and refusal to engage in fisticuffs is dealt with.

This certainly was the state of the game during the Original Six era. With a limited amount of jobs at the National Hockey League level, there was fierce competition for employment. Any sign of weakness, either physical or mental, wouldn't be tolerated by management. Thus,  players kept their mouths shut and bottled up any emotional impact.

For the past few days, both the front page and the sports section, along with television and radio, have covered the issue of fighting in hockey. As I followed the debate in the media, one contest played in the Original Six era wandered into my thought process. It was a battle, literally, between the Chicago Black Hawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. The game, played on December 7, 1963, was broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada. Some 38 years later, on September 30, 2001, it was re-broadcast as the inaugural Leafs Classic Game on Leafs TV. The alumni guest for the replay was Carl Brewer. His insight and comments were amazing to watch. Further information relating to the December '63 match-up can be found in the book, The Power of Two - Carl Brewer's Battle With Hockey's Power Brokers, written by Sue Foster with Carl Brewer.

First, some background on the game in question. I propelled my VHS player into fast-forward mode to reach one particular segment. Late in the final period, with Toronto gaining a 3-0 advantage over Chicago, an ugly incident took place. With Stan Mikita leading a rush into the Leafs zone, he and Reggie Fleming crossed the blueline. At this point, Fleming speared Leaf forward Eddie Shack in his gut. Shack immediately went down and was unable to get back on his skates. The first player to come to his aid was Carl Brewer.

With Mikita and Fleming planted in the penalty box, Bobby Baun of Toronto approached Chicago's side of the sin-bin. He reached over and started to attack Fleming. Baun was unable to fully reach his target and the linesmen were able to steer him away from the area. Referee Frank Udvari hit Fleming with a game misconduct and sent him to the Hawks dressing room. As Fleming departed the box, he was confronted by another Leaf defenceman, Larry Hillman. Next on the card for the Chicago enforcer was a return tilt with Baun. As things got out of control, both benches emptied, resulting in a full-pledged brawl.

As the players paired off, Carl Brewer and Murray Balfour became dance partners. As they tangled with each other, their confrontation resembled a wrestling match, as opposed to a boxing fight. As the dust-up progressed, they were intent on holding onto their partner with both hands. Balfour, managed to pull Brewer's sweater over his head. For a brief moment, they were separated, but met up again inside the Leafs blueline, near the Toronto bench. Once again, they grabbed each other and a pushing contest developed, with neither player letting go. As Balfour was pushing Brewer backwards, he was attempting to land some punches. Being a short distance from the Leafs bench, Balfour appeared to be guiding Brewer to the open door. Once they reached the door, Balfour gave one final push, sending Brewer tumbling backwards and landing on his back. Balfour fell on top of Brewer, thus pinning him down. Getting the upper hand, with Brewer in a prone position, Balfour unleashed a flurry of punches. Watching the tape, I counted at least six unrestricted blows striking Brewer.

After a long delay, the penalties were announced to the gathering in Maple Leaf Gardens and the television audience. With play underway, Bill Hewitt refrained from making his call, so everyone at home could hear the punishment for the combatants. Balfour was assessed five-minutes for fighting and a game misconduct. Brewer went unscathed and returned to the ice shortly after play resumed.

Just another tussle between two hockey players - right?

The full impact this physical encounter had on Brewer would be discussed by him as he chatted with Leafs TV host Brian McFarlane. Quotes from the interview appear in Sue Foster's touching book on her partner, Carl Brewer.

This fight left an indelible imprint on my mind, although nothing really happened. I was coming back from a broken arm and couldn't use my left arm.
 I never recovered; I was never the same player after that. Psychologically, it destroyed me. I really wanted to get past it, but I was unable to do so, to make the quantum leap.

Thanks to Sue Foster, the reader gets additional insight from notes made by Carl Brewer relating to the incident on December 7, 1963.

 Murray Balfour - he ruined my life because our fight shamed me. I forgive myself for being afraid. I was afraid because Murray caused it. Yet I was brave, I played the games, but lived with the destructive fear. I could have confronted my fear; I did not. My fear was unnecessary.

Can you imagine if Brewer voiced these comments back in 1963? He would be on a bus headed to Rochester faster than a Bobby Hull bullet zooming past a goalie.

As we enter into a new phase of discussion/debate on the fighting issue, Carl Brewer's story should become part of the official record. The talented defenders words voiced over the footage of his nightmare confrontation with Balfour. It would make a powerful image. In particular, the moment when he is being backed-up towards the Leaf bench. Brewer, hanging on for dear life, trying to keep his head low to avoid punches. The violent spill backwards. A skilled player who just wanted to play the game.

In the case of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak, the common denominator for their demise appears to be depression. And these guys were designated policemen, similar to Reggie Fleming and John Ferguson in the Original Six era. Tests on Fleming's brain, revealed he suffered from degenerative brain disease, much like enforcer Bob Probert. This disease is known to cause depression. Another form of mental stress can fester out of fear and a desire not to participate in an activity. How many of us would enjoy resolving a dispute with our fists - on or off the ice? Or, being constantly challenged to put 'em up. The torment and anticipation could send one off the deep end.

It would be interesting to view the results if the NHLPA polled their members on this one simple question - Should the National Hockey League ban fighting? You have to wonder how many of them share the same psychological perspective as Carl Brewer.

Isn't it about time the National Hockey League learn something from it's past in regards to this subject?