Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Bickell of an Award

True to form, Maple Leaf Phil Kessel is once again having an outstanding season. One can only imagine where Toronto would be in the standings without his offensive production.

Perhaps, the board of directors at MLSE should give consideration to getting the J.P. Bickell Memorial trophy out of storage and giving it a good polishing. There is no one more deserving than Kessel to receive the honour of being presented with the award.

John Paris Bickell's association with big league hockey in Toronto dates back to the 1920s. In the decade of the roaring twenties, he was part-owner of the NHL St. Pats prior to their becoming the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1927. Bickell, who kept his financial interest in the Leafs, became the first president of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931.

Bickell earned his wealth away from the sporting world. His first success resulted from the development of a silver mine in northern Ontario. His next venture was in McIntyre Mines in Porcupine Ontario. He held the position of chairman with McIntyre.

During World War Two, Bickell served on the British Airplane Supply board. This group was responsible for ensuring Britain was well stocked with planes to fight the enemy. He was part of this program for two-years.

J.P. Bickell died on August 22, 1951 in New York City. Following a minor stroke, Bickell travelled to the Big Apple, but suffered health problems when reaching his destination.

To honour Bickell, who was elevated to the rank of chairman with the Gardens, the Leafs created the J.P. Bickell Memorial trophy - "Awarded at the discretion of the board of directors to a Leaf for a tremendous feat, one season of spectacular play, or remarkable service over a number of years."

The trophy was in the planning stage for over a year. It was designed by the Jensen firm located in in Copenhagen. Consisting of a 14-karat gold cup affixed to a silver base, it was first presented in 1953. The initial winner selected by the board was Leaf captain Ted Kennedy.

On the evening of October 10, 1953 (opening night), a pre-game ceremony was held to honour Kennedy with the Bickell trophy. In attendance and representing the family was Bickell's sister, J.B. Paulen. The puck drop was handled by Balmer Neilly (a business associate of Bickell's).

Prior to the presentation, Maple Leaf Gardens was filled with music from the 48th Highlander pipe and brass bands. This was a first-night tradition dating back to November 12, 1931 when the Gardens front door first swung open for hockey action.

At 8:25, Kennedy was summoned to centre ice where the $10,000 Bickell trophy was on display. As a keepsake, Kennedy received a miniature 14-karat gold replica valued at $500.

To cap-off the festive mood, Toronto went on to defeat the Chicago Black Hawks 6 to 2. Although he didn't score, Kennedy earned an assist on Sid Smith's goal at the nine-minute mark of period two. The Smith tally provided Toronto with a 4 to 1 advantage over Chicago.

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