Friday, March 30, 2012

Bob Decourcy: 1927-2012

For most of us it is only a dream. The mere thought -  of donning an NHL uniform and participating against the best-of-the best - having escaped our grasp due to lack of ability or age.

This, however, wasn't the case for Bob Decourcy who passed away on March 25, 2012 at the age of 84. His dream came true on November 12, 1947, with 14,691 fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden to witness his big night.

New York Rovers
Decourcy started the 1947-48 hockey season with the New York Rovers in the EAHL. Being based in New York City and as part of the Rangers organization, it wasn't unusual for the Rovers to have their goalie on site, at the Garden, to serve as a substitute. This individual would be ready to dress if the goalie for either team, home or visitor, went down due to injury or illness.

This is exactly what happened on November 12, 1947, when the Bruins came calling to face the Rangers. The game started with the usual suspects in goal. At one end was Frank Brimsek for Boston and Chuck Rayner at the opposite end for New York.

After twenty-minutes of action, the Bruins pulled ahead with a 2 to 0 lead. These goals came late in the opening frame and were scored by Murray Henderson and Woody Dumart. At 6:02 of period two, the Rangers got on the board when Bryan Hextall beat Brimsek. The game progressed with neither team lighting up the goal lamp.

Half-way through the the period, Boston was pressing in the Rangers zone. Jack Crawford of the Bruins uncorked a 40-foot shot towards Rayner, who had a maze of bodies screening his view. When the puck reached the net, it hit Rayner under his right eye. As noted in the AP game report, "Rayner fell to the ice in a heap and was carried off to have three stitches taken in the wound."

One can only imagine the thoughts running through Bob Decourcy's mind when he was summoned to replace Rayner. His dream of playing in a National Hockey League contest was about to come true, but at the same time he was going in cold with the likes of Milt Schmidt and company ready to pounce on him.

The new Ranger goalie held his ground in the second period, not allowing the puck to get past him and cross the goal line. As the two clubs made their way to the dressing rooms, the Bruins were up by one goal, with a 2 to 1 advantage.

Perhaps, with too much time to think about his situation in the intermission, Decourcy returned to the Rangers cage for period three. At 2:34, Milt Schmidt beat him to make the score 3 to 1. A goal by Buddy O'Connor at 4:30 put the Rangers right back into the contest. At the 9:02 mark, things began unravelling for young Decourcy and his teammates. Following Joe Carveth's goal at 9:02, the visitors fired four more pucks into the New York net.

Reading a news report from the next day provides some insight as to the overwhelming predicament and subsequent pressure Decourcy found himself exposed to. "The rampaging Bruins began firing rubber at Decourcy from all directions," observed AP in their piece.

The final score was Boston-8 and New York-2.

In 1943-44, Bob Decourcy started a three-year run at St. Michael's in Toronto. Each season, he advanced up the hockey ladder -  '43-44 (Midget Majors) / '44-45 (Buzzers) / '45-46 (Majors) - playing in the OHA.

After a stint with the Hamilton Szabos (OHA-Jr.) in 1946-47, Decourcy turned pro with the New York Rovers. He returned to the Rovers following his appearance with the Rangers. By the end of the 1947-48 season, Decourcy was playing goal for the St. Paul Saints in the USHL.

His minor-league career came to a close in 1949-50 after playing in several USHL towns, including Kansas City, Omaha and a return visit to St. Paul.

In 1950-51, he returned to where it all began, at St. Michael's, to play senior hockey with the Monarchs. This marked the end of his time between the pipes.

Robert Phillip Decourcy was born on June 12, 1927 in Toronto, Ontario. He passed away on March 25, 2012 in Alliston, Ontario.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Update: Maple Leaf Gardens

Recently, I received a photo from Michael Forbes who works in the Ryerson Public Affairs office.

Now known as the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, the above photo shows work crews putting down the top layer of cement on the ice rink. Situated on the top floor of the redeveloped structure, the rink is 100-feet below the historic dome and 50-feet above street level.

A first impression? It is amazing, though on a smaller scale, how the Mattamy resembles the "old" Maple Leaf Gardens. It all meshes together - the seating configuration and most important the dome.

How many of us can recall attending our first event at the Gardens and looking upward in awe at the massive amount of steel before our eyes. Straining our necks until they could bend no further, with the wonderful hanging lights coming into view. Then, there was Foster Hewitt's gondola. Our eyes would dart in all directions until it came into focus.

The location of the gondola is a delightful story Foster Hewitt enjoyed telling throughout his life.

At the request of Conn Smythe, Hewitt was involved in the process from the start. He knew he had only one crack at nailing the perfect location and distance for his new broadcasting home.

In the summer of 1931, while construction was ongoing, Hewitt went on a field trip with builder Allan Thomson (Thomson Brothers). Their destination was the Eaton's building on Albert Street, located in the downtown core of Toronto. Both Thomson and Hewitt went from floor to floor, stopping at windows to observe the view.

Writing in his book about Foster Hewitt, Scott Young picks up the story.

By the end of the afternoon the decision had been made. From the fifth floor, Foster could pick out a woman with tight shoes and a man with some distinguishing mark, such as pencils in his pocket or an unbuttoned jacket, could lose them in a crowd and pick them out again without difficulty. The fifth floor of the building was fifty-six feet above the street. Foster decided that his broadcast booth would be fifty-six feet above the ice surface.

As a result of the current transformation, we will now be closer to the space that seemed so, so far away.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ron Stewart: 1932-2012

Last week, came news of the passing of another player who skated in the Original six era. Ron Stewart died at the age of 79.

In the late 1940s, Ron Stewart travelled to Toronto to join the Marlboros in the OHA. He was joined on the trip from Calgary by Norm Schriner, whose dad, Dave "Sweeney" Schriner, was a former Leaf. Due to their age, both were 16 years-old, their transfers to the east were blocked. While Stewart remained in Toronto to play one year of amateur hockey, young Schriner returned to western Canada. In 1949-50, Stewart became a member of the Toronto Marlboros.

Stewart's final year in the OHA, 1951-52, was most eventful. Starting out with the Marlboros, he concluded the hockey year with the Guelph Biltmores. During the regular season, Stewart's time was divided between the Marlboros and Barrie Flyers. In the Memorial Cup, he helped Guelph win the championship.

Following his success in junior, Stewart attended the Leaf training camp in 1952. At camp, Stewart caught the eye of perhaps the most important observer - Conn Smythe.

"There is the biggest surprise I ever had in hockey, and it is also the luckiest thing that has happened to us this year," commented Smythe in regards to Stewart in October 1952.

When the Leafs opened the 1952-53 campaign on October 11th in Maple Leaf Gardens against Chicago, Ron Stewart took his spot on a line with centre Ted Kennedy and left winger Sid Smith. In Stewart's NHL debut, the Leafs fell to Chicago 6-2.

With little time to lick their wounds, Stewart and his teammates travelled to Detroit for an encounter the following night (October 12) against the Red Wings.

After twenty-minutes of play in the Olympia, the score was knotted at one goal apiece. Early in the middle frame, Stewart recorded his first National Hockey League goal to give Toronto a 2 to 1 advantage. The Leafs and Wings battled to a 4 to 4 draw with Kennedy-Smith-Stewart making a huge contribution. Captain Ted Kennedy fired in three goals and chipped in an assist. Sid Smith kicked in with three helpers.

For his part, Stewart was happy to get his first tally under his belt. "Just another 199 and you'll be in the 200 circle with Bentley," Sid Smith told his linemate. The reference being to fellow Leaf and former Black Hawk Max Bentley.

When all was said and done, Stewart participated in 1,353 NHL games. He not only hit the 200-goal mark, but surpassed it by 76 (276 Goals-253 Assists-529 Points). Stewart won three Stanley Cups with Toronto in 1962, 1963 and 1964.

On June 8, 1965, Stewart was traded to Boston in exchange for Orland Kurtenbach, Andy Hebenton and Pat Stapleton. In addition to Toronto and Boston, Stewart laced-up his skates for St. Louis, New York Rangers, Vancouver and New York Islanders.

On the goal front, his most productive season came in 1958-59 with Toronto. Skating on a line with centre Bob Pulford and left winger Bert Olmstead, the 6-foot-1, 197 pound, Stewart hit the twine 21 times.

Toronto Maple Leaf coach and general manager Punch Imlach described Stewart as being "one of the smoothest and most competent right wings around."

At the NHL level, Stewart coached the New York Rangers for 39 games in 1975-76 (15-20-4) and the Los Angeles Kings for a full season in 1977-78 (31-34-15).

Ronald George "Stew" Stewart was born on July 11, 1932 in Calgary, Alberta.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Looking Back: March 23, 1952

While browsing through the National Hockey League Official Guide and Record Book, several records leap-out and hit you between the eyes. You know they are there, but the impact is always the same when you read it in black and white. With the passage of time, they tend to be lost and moved to the back of the memory bank. Also, the same question comes to mind after digesting the enormous achievement established by a player or coach - will anyone else come along and break this record?

I have always marveled at two such records, one set by a goalie and the other set by a coach.

Chicago goalie Glenn Hall's 502 consecutive complete games is a mark which has stood since early in the 1962-63 campaign. It began in the 1955-56 season. What makes this record amazing is the time frame in which it occurred. In an era where goalies were the least protected players on the ice, the fact Hall performed in 502 straight games is incredible. With no mask to shield his face and a chest protector thin as a wafer, Hall gritted out any nagging injuries and returned to his cage game after game.

On the coaching side, Scotty Bowman's nine Stanley Cup wins is a standard that will be very difficult for others in the profession to match, forget about beating. Today's game, thanks to the salary cap, provides a measure of equality, thus eliminating one team from becoming a dynasty. With no one coach riding a wave of success from one year to the next, turnover happens on a regular basis. Even a team with a winning record has shuffled their coach out the door, believing a change behind the bench will result in advancing further in the playoffs next time around. All this makes it rather difficult to imagine another coach surpassing Bowman's record.

Bill Mosienko

On this date back in 1952, another record was set for the ages. On March 23, Bill Mosienko of the Chicago Black Hawks scored the fastest three goals in NHL history, as detailed in the massive NHL record book - "Fastest Three Goals: 0:21 - Bill Mosienko, Chicago, Mar. 23, 1952, at New York Rangers, against goaltender Lorne Anderson. Mosienko scored at 6:09, 6:20 and 6:30 of the third period, all with both teams at full strength, Chicago 7, NY Rangers 6."

The longevity of Mosienko's record is an indicator of how hard it has been for a skater to equal or come in below 21-seconds. When one considers the number of great offensive players who have come and gone since Mosienko's masterpiece, one can truly appreciate this feat. Bobby Hull couldn't do it. Wayne and Mario failed to nudge him from the record book. There is still hope for Sid "The Kid" and a number of other scoring sensations. However, it is mind-boggling to think of the circumstances that would be necessary for a player to be put in the right situation to beat the record. All the stars would have to be aligned, not to mention a complete defensive meltdown and a goalie who lost both his contact lenses!

In an April 1952 interview, Mosienko described his three goal effort.

"The first of the three was the climax of a planned play. Gus (Bodnar...) passed to me, I beat the New York defenceman and rapped it in. On the next faceoff, Gus got the puck, I wheeled, broke for the blueline, took the pass and shot. Then on the third, the faceoff went to George Gee on left wing, he went over the blueline, I made a move and he laid a perfect pass on my stick," commented the Chicago forward.

Mosienko mentioned the "perfect pass." Today, that would translate to the "perfect storm."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ray Gariepy: 1928-2012

The hockey world has lost another member of the Original Six era with news of the passing of Ray Gariepy on March 16, 2012.

After learning to skate at the age of 13, Gariepy joined the Barrie Flyers in 1945-46. He was 16 years-old at the time.

 Following his junior career which ended  after the 1947-48 season, Gariepy played for several minor-league teams. In 1950-51 he found a home with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.

Gariepy's chance to crack the line-up of the parent club, the Boston Bruins, came in training camp prior to the 1953-54 campaign.

An opening on the Bruins blueline came when defenceman Hal Laycoe was unable to start the season due to a knee injury. Three days before the start of the regular season, Gariepy got word he would be on Boston's roster.

Bruins coach Lynn Patrick was impressed with Gariepy's effort in camp and commented that he showed "the most improvement of any player in camp." Patrick went on to say, "He can hit and he can skate. He has improved a great deal since last year."

Gariepy took an analytical approach to his promotion.

"This game of hockey is like any other business in life. Sometimes the opportunity for advancement comes earlier to one man than it does for another. Some fellows who started with me got their chances when they were 19, 20, 21 years-old. I've had to wait for mine, but I never got discouraged. I'm still young," observed the 5-foot-9, 180 pound, rearguard known as "Rockabye Ray".

Giving credit where it was due, he didn't hesitate to praise his former coaches. "I had the advantage of playing under John Crawford and Murray Henderson both fine defenceman," noted Gariepy.

During the 1953-54 season, Gariepy skated in 35 games with Boston. He recorded his first and only National Hockey League goal. Also, he helped out with seven assists. In addition to his time in Boston, Gariepy participated in 24 games with Hershey in '53-54.

Gariepy's only other NHL contest would be played with the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 29, 1956. He joined the Leafs organization as a result of a trade between Boston and Toronto on September 23, 1954. The Leafs sent John Henderson to the Bruins in exchange for Gariepy.

In 1956, Gariepy returned to his home province to close out his playing career. He skated for several clubs in the OHA-Senior League. His final stop coming with the 1968-69 Barrie Flyers.

He remained in Barrie after hanging-up skates. Away from hockey, Gariepy worked as a bricklayer and a salesman (concrete). His business ventures included ownership of Simcoe Block Company Limited and Simcoe Building Materials.

Raymond Joseph Gariepy was born on September 4, 1928 in Toronto, Ontario. Early in his life, he was adopted my Malvina and Joseph Gariepy. He passed away in Barrie, Ontario at the age of 83.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Hockey Team

On this wonderful day when we celebrate Saint Patrick, I can't help but think of two Irish institutions which have graced the Toronto hockey scene. Topping the list is former Toronto Maple Leaf icon Francis Michael "King" Clancy. Last March, I wrote a piece about the huge party celebrating King Clancy Night at Maple Leaf Gardens on St. Patrick's Day 1934 - Full Story.

Not too far behind Clancy are the Toronto St. Pats who entered the National Hockey League in time for the 1919-20 season.

This new professional franchise representing the city of Toronto came about when the NHL Toronto Arenas collapsed in February 1919. For most of the summer and fall, local hockey fans were kept in suspense as to whether or not they would be making the journey to Arena Gardens on Mutual Street to cheer on a big-league team.

On December 9, 1919 any fears of a winter without NHL hockey were removed. Newspaper reports informed the public that a group of businessmen had stepped forward to come to the rescue. The new hockey brokers were the same individuals who were associated with the St. Patrick's team (formerly of the Senior OHA League). In the mix as officers in this new venture were men with links to the defunct Toronto Arenas and the Tecumseh Hockey Club. When the Arenas fell by the waste side, Tecumseh was set-up to takeover the Toronto franchise. In fact, one of their members, Charlie Querrie, represented Toronto at an NHL meeting prior to the St. Patrick's gaining control.

The job of putting together the on-ice product for the St. Pats fell to Frank Heffernan. He also laced up his skates and served as team captain. A newspaper story from the day described him as "a high-class player." One of the first signed by Heffernan was right winger Cully Wilson. An offer was made to Cecil "Babe" Dye who starred for the St. Patrick's the previous year. Dye, would sign with Toronto and went on to become an important piece in the drive to capture the Stanley Cup in 1922.

On December 23, 1919 Heffernan's efforts were rewarded when the Toronto St. Pats took to the ice for their first National Hockey League encounter. The contest was played in Ottawa with the Senators providing the opposition.

With the Duke and Duchesses of Devonshire among the dignitaries looking on, Frank Heffernan was summoned to centre ice for a presentation. Being no stranger to the community, having gone to Ottawa College, the St. Pats forward received a floral horseshoe.

As for the game, it was played in mild conditions, thus having an impact on the state of the ice. Game reports revealed the puck "was difficult to nurse."

Ottawa got on the scoreboard in the opening period when Frank Neighbor beat St. Pats netminder Mike Mitchell. On the play, the Ottawa forward stripped defenceman Ken Randall of the puck as Randall came from behind the net. Gaining control, Neighbor slapped the puck into the St.Pats cage.

The Senators would add to their lead over the final two periods. In the middle frame, Harry "Punch" Broadbent scored on a rebound. Then, Jack Darragh put on a display with time ticking down in the closing moments of the game. He picked-up the puck at centre ice and scooted towards the St. Pats zone with no one in sight. When his shot was stopped, Darragh took the rebound and maneuvered around the net. Emerging on the other side, he tucked the puck past Mitchell.

Opening the new campaign with a 3 to 0 loss, Toronto's new entry in the NHL headed home to try their luck in the friendly confines of Arena Gardens. Travelling to Toronto for the match-up were the Quebec Bulldogs.

Hoping to impress the home supporters early, the St. Pats finally got their offence in gear. After failing to notch a single goal in their initial effort, Toronto raced out to a 4 to 1 advantage over Quebec. By games end, they coasted to a 7 to 4 victory over the visitors, with Corbett Dennenay providing the fireworks. On the night he hit the twine for three goals and assisted on another.

The crowning moment in St. Pats history came in March 1922.

Playing against the Vancouver Millionaires, the Stanley Cup Final came to a close on March 28, 1922. Toronto defeated Vancouver 5 to 1, thus winning Lord Stanley's silver mug. The St.Pats took three of the five games.

Babe Dye
Babe Dye lead the St. Pats in post-season play, scoring nine goals. In the final game, he potted four markers behind Vancouver goalie Hugh Lehman.

Dye's two goals in the first period provided his teammates with a 2 to 0 advantage. Corbett Dennenay upped the margin to three, netting the only tally in period two. At 1:30 of the final period, Dye completed his hat trick. A minute latter, at 2:30, Dye scored Toronto's fifth and final goal. John Ross Roach had his bid for a shutout come to an end when Jack Adams beat him at the ten-minute mark.

The Globe newspaper heaped a ton of praise on Dye when describing his play and contributions.

"Babe Dye was in the limelight most of the time. The baseball-hockey star was never better. It was his masterpiece in hockey, and it was Dye and his bullet shot as much as anything else which enabled the locals to carry off the highest honours professional hockey can give," summed-up the Globe the next day.

The final chapter for the St. Pats would be written on February 12, 1927. In a tight contest against the Ottawa Senators, the St. Pats were blanked by a 1 to 0 score.

Like their very first game in the National Hockey League in 1919, Toronto faced Ottawa and were unable to produce any results on offence. The lone goal was scored by Jack Adams.

On February 14, 1927 word filtered out that the Toronto franchise had been sold to a group which included Conn Smythe. Wasting no time putting his imprint on the team, Smythe changed the name of his new acquisition to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, he altered their colour scheme from green to blue.

Having not scored in their final encounter, one must examine the St. Pats previous tilt to determine who scored the final goal for the Irishmen.

Two days prior to facing Ottawa, the St. Pats and New York Rangers met at Arena Gardens on February 10, 1927. The Rangers won 3 to 2 with both St. Pats goals coming in the first period. Toronto's first tally was scored by Albert McCaffery. The honour of recording the final St. Pats goal went to Bill Brydge.

On this Saint Patrick's Day, we raise our glass high, saluting the likes of Heffernan, Dye and Brydge, and all those who donned the green and white of the Toronto St. Pats!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pat and The "Cat"

It was interesting on Saturday night to watch Luke (Leafs) and Brayden (Flyers) Schenn face one another when the two teams met at the Air Canada Centre.

Born in Saskatchewan, the two brothers hooked-up for a family meal the night prior to their contest. However, once the puck was dropped, it was all business.

Back in 1952, another brother combination from Saskatchewan (North Battlefield) had the opportunity to share a hockey experience. Although only one laced up the skates, it was still a special occasion for both to be a part of.

During the 1951-52 campaign, Emile Francis spent the bulk of his time tending goal for the Cincinnati Mohawks of the American Hockey League. Also, he donned the pads for the New York Rangers in five games posting a 1-1-2 record.

Early in the new year of 1952, Francis welcomed a guest to his Cincinnati home, his brother Pat. What made the visit so special was the fact Pat never witnessed his brother play in a professional hockey game. Emile became a pro in 1943-44 with the Philadelphia Falcons in the EAHL.

While on a three week vacation, Pat, pictured with Emile (L) in the above photo, made the trip to Ohio and soaked up the atmosphere. In attendance for a contest on January 13, 1952 against the St. Louis Flyers, Pat watched as his big brother posted his third shutout of the season.

A United Press report provided some details on the game.

"Francis delighted 3,300 Cincinnati fans with a series of fine saves last night and teammates Ian MacIntosh and Paul Masnick scored in the final period to give the Mohawks a 2 to 0 victory over the St. Louis Flyers," noted UPI.

After hanging up his pads for good following the 1959-60 hockey year with Spokane in the WHL, Emile Francis looked to stay in the game. At first, it appeared Francis was in-line to coach the junior club in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Former NHL goalie, Tiny Thompson, who worked for the Chicago Black Hawks saw a future for the retired goalie in the Hawks system. Thompson had a vision of Francis eventually becoming the head coach in the Windy City. Francis, with his rights still belonging to Chicago, waited for Hawks general manager Tommy Ivan and Moose Jaw owner Roy McBride to workout a deal for him to return to his home province.

When this didn't materialize, Francis was contacted my Muzz Patrick of the New York Rangers. In a matter of hours, Chicago and New York hammered out a deal to allow Francis to jump to the Rangers. His first assignment in the organization was to coach the junior team in Guelph, Ontario.

Like most hockey people, his ultimate goal was to be employed at the NHL level by an Original Six franchise. In 1962, Francis was summoned to the Big Apple where he would work over the next 14-years with the New York Rangers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Herb Carnegie: 1919-2012

Imagine being a young hockey player in the 1940s and 1950s with a dream of making it into the National Hockey League. During the Original Six era there were only six big-league clubs, resulting in a limited number of roster spots. The competition was stiff in both the NHL and American Hockey League. In the AHL and other minor-leagues, a combination of fresh prospects out of junior and grizzly veterans, went out game after game with one intention - work hard and hopefully be summoned to the big show.

Then, imagine being a player like Herb Carnegie who passed away at the age of 92 on March 9, 2012 in Toronto.

By all accounts, Carnegie possessed the skills-set to jump from the minor-leagues to the National Hockey League stage. Working on his craft in the Quebec Provincial League, and later in the Quebec Hockey League, Carnegie earned a reputation as a playmaking centre who could also skate on the wing. If one is to compare his style of game to an NHL counterpart from the same era, the name Max Bentley would come to mind. Known as the "Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle", Bentley would dazzle NHL crowds with his ability to control the puck and maneuver around opponents trying to steal it off his stick. In a similar fashion, Carnegie would dash up the ice and work his magic.

With all this talent and some to spare, why didn't Carnegie make the jump to the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens? Certainly not due to a lack of ability. No, there is only one reason his career didn't advance to the top level - the colour of his skin. Being a black man in an all-white sport, didn't enhance his chances of leaping ahead of his competition. In a time when segregation was in place, the opportunity for any black person to be fully accepted was non-existent.

In Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson opened the door, but in the NHL the door remained closed until the late 1950s. By this time, Carnegie's time on the ice was on a downward slope. Of note, he did catch the eye of the New York Rangers when the 1940s were coming to a close. The NHL club proposed a tryout and minor-league contract. A lateral move didn't tweak Carnegie's interest.

Writing in his biography, "My Life in Hockey", Jean Beliveau provides some insight on Herb Carnegie.

"The QSHL was also home to many players who, for various reasons, never would or could make it to the NHL. One such player was Herbie Carnegie, a smooth-skating playmaker equally adept at centre and on the wing. Herbie had one drawback: he was back, or "coloured" as the expression went back then. When I was a youngster in Victoriaville, Herbie, his brother Ozzie, and a third black, Matty McIntyre, all played with Sherbrooke in the Quebec Provincial League. Herbie made it up one rung on the hockey ladder, but could go no further," explained the legendary Habs captain.

"It is my belief that Herbie was excluded from the NHL because of his colour. He certainly had the talent, and was very popular with the fans, who would reward his great playmaking with prolonged standing ovations, both at home and on the road. Perhaps they suspected that his colour was an issue in the NHL, but it certainly wasn't with them," wrote Beliveau.

As NHL fans gather to watch their favourite stars duke-it-out, another game is being played far, far away. Just called up to participate is a newcomer, Herbie Carnegie. Coach Toe Blake, sensing a need for some help up-the-middle, has no hesitation slotting the rookie into his line-up. He knows Leaf bench boss, Hap Day, is equipped with an offensive weapon that can inflict some major damage - Max Bentley. Blake, with Carnegie on board, can now watch as Day squirms to counter the slick stick work of his new addition.

In the dressing room, Carnegie puts on his gloves and picks-up his stick. He makes his way towards the door at the players bench and stops to take a quick glance at the scene unfolding before him. Carnegie observes goalie Turk Broda standing in his crease waiting for the game to get underway. He ponders what course of action to take should he get a scoring chance against Broda - shoot or look for an open winger?

Lost in his thoughts, Carnegie suddenly hears a voice. "Hey Herbie, don't just stand there watching, come out and join us." The voice belongs to Max Bentley positioned at centre ice waiting for the drop of the puck.

Herb Carnegie's time has finally come.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sloan & Filey

It is a situation every fan can relate to - coming face to face with a childhood hero who laced up a pair of skates and took to the ice in the National Hockey League.

For Toronto historian, radio commentator and author (newspaper & books) Mike Filey, this opportunity presented itself several months ago at an NHL Oldtimers gathering.

As a regular reader of Filey's weekly work in the Toronto Sun - "The Way We Were" - I was aware of his appreciation for the rich history of sports in the city of Toronto and the people who were involved in making a contribution. Anytime Filey pens a piece on hockey, it is an added bonus when I open up my Sunday Sun.

Such was the case on January 8, 2012. In the article, Filey documented his memories of being a young hockey fan in the 1950s. Also, he shared his thoughts on meeting his favourite Leaf - Tod Sloan.

Reminiscing about Aloysius Martin Sloan, Filey made reference to the Leafs 1951 Stanley Cup victory over the Montreal Canadiens. In particular, making mention of Game five.

When the Habs took a second period lead on a goal by Rocket Richard at 8:56, it was Tod Sloan who knotted the contest at the 12-minute mark. Montreal would go ahead in the final frame when Paul Meger beat Toronto goalie Al Rollins.

The stage was set for a thrilling finish as Leaf coach Joe Primeau pulled Rollins for a sixth attacker. With each of the previous games in the series being decided in overtime, Toronto fans had their fingers crossed wishing for a similar result to unfold in Maple Leaf Gardens on April 21, 1951.

At 19:28, their wishes would come true. Once again, it was Tod Sloan coming through for the home side. His tally sent the game into overtime and led to one of the biggest goals in Toronto Maple Leaf history. It is simply known as the "Barilko Goal". At 2:53 of the first period of extra play, Bill Barilko scored to give Toronto another Stanley Cup championship.

With all this mind, Filey's one-on-one encounter with Tod Sloan occurred during the NHL Oldtimers Christmas lunch in December.

"Sitting there was my hockey hero, the one and only Tod Sloan. Mr. Sloan, I mean Tod (after all I felt I had known him, or at least of him, most of my younger life) reached up and shook my hand. We began to chat. Christmas had arrived early for me," wrote Filey on meeting Sloan at the NHL Oldtimers event.

At a recent lunch, Filey was recognized for his wonderful article by the NHL Oldtimers.

Summoned by former Leafs (top photo) Pete Conacher and Danny Lewicki (who was a teammate of Sloan's on the '51 team), Filey was presented with a framed copy of his column titled "Golden Days" of hockey.

In a way, it was a late Christmas present for Mike Filey. A gift to remember his Christmas lunch meeting with his hockey hero - Tod Sloan.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Original Six: Boston vs. Toronto

As the 2011-12 NHL regular season enters the home stretch, it is interesting to watch clubs gear-up for the playoffs.

Such was the case last night when the Boston Bruins made a visit to the Air Canada Centre. The fact Boston and Toronto are chartered members of the Original Six era only added to the experience of being in attendance for the match-up.

The two franchises first contest against each other in the Golden Age of Hockey (1942-43 to 1966-67) took place on the eleventh anniversary of the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens - November 12, 1942.

With the new season just getting underway and many line-ups depleted due to regulars being engaged in military service, it provided an opportunity for others to gain a roster spot. One such player was Toronto's Jack McLean. The 19 year-old rookie only inked a contract with the Leafs several days before the 1942-43 campaign.

"Jackie meet your new linemates, Gaye Stewart and Bud Poile. Try and get acquainted tonight," Leaf coach Hap Day told the native of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

It didn't take the trio long to form some chemistry on the ice. After a scoreless first period, McLean, Stewart and Poile went to work. Living the dream of every Canadian youngster, McLean scored his first National Hockey League goal in his initial big-league contest. The tally came at 13:13 of the middle frame with the new Leaf beating Boston goalie Frank Brimsek.

Writer Ed Fitkin described the goal in his game report. "He was Johnny-on-the-spot when Hank Goldup wound up, circled the Bruin defence, shoved the disc out from back of the cage. Jackie flicked his stick and that was goal No.1," wrote Fitkin.

Fitkin's evaluation of McLean's overall play included this wonderful comparison. "McLean flitted about like a dragon fly, darting in for passes, setting up plays with speedy precision, sweeping back like a boomerang to muck up Bruin sorties."

Shortly after his own goal, McLean assisted on a marker by Gaye Stewart. His pass to Stewart sent the 1942 Calder trophy winner into a one-on-one encounter with defenceman Johnny Crawford. After getting past Crawford, the Leaf forward deposited the puck behind Brimsek.

In the third, it was McLean and Stewart combining with rearguard Bucko McDonald to inflict some damage against Boston. Upon receiving a pass from McLean's stick, the rugged Leaf defenceman sent a blast towards the Bruins goal. In position for a deflection was Gaye Stewart. His tip found the back of the net and gave Toronto a three-to-nothing  edge over Boston.

Defending at the other end for Toronto was netminder Turk Broda. His bid for a shutout was ruined at the 8:32 mark of the final frame when Buzz Boll's second whack at the puck finally slipped past Broda.

Following sixty-minutes of action, McLean and company waltzed-off the ice with a 3 to 1 victory. The scoring hero for the home side, having been involved in all three goals, summed-up his first NHL game. "Swell, but I didn't think I was going to last the first period. It was really tough, but after that I got the hang of it," McLean told reporters.

The 5-foot 8-inch, 165 pound McLean would participate in 67 regular season games over three years ('42-43 to '44-45) with the Maple Leafs. His season in 1944-45 was cut short due to an ankle injury suffered in a contest against the Detroit Red Wings on December 14, 1944. However, he would return to skate in four playoff tilts and help Toronto nail down the 1945 Stanley Cup.

The tradition of rewarding Leaf Cup winners with championship rings began in 1948. During the Steve Stavro ownership regime, the team decided to honour pre-1948 winners in the same fashion. As a result, two former teammates, Jack McLean and Gaye Stewart, were among a group of individuals eligible for the jewelery.

Living in Ottawa, Ontario the 79 year-old McLean received his Stanley Cup ring in 2002. He passed away in October 2003.

Nearing the conclusion of the 1966-67 season, Boston and Toronto would face-off for their final Original Six era meetings. The schedule maker penciled in two dates for Boston and Toronto to bid farewell to the era, prior to expansion taking place.

On March 25, 1967 the two clubs gathered in Maple Leaf Gardens to close out the Toronto portion of their rivalry. A crowd of 15,885 took in the event. Prior to the puck drop, NHL president Clarence Campbell presented Terry Sawchuk with a clock and a plaque. Both gifts were in honour of Sawchuk's 100th NHL shutout recorded against Chicago on March 4, 1967 at the Gardens. In the same encounter as Sawchuk's feat, captain George Armstrong potted his 250th NHL goal. The quiet Leaf leader declined an invitation to be honoured in the same manner as Sawchuk. The future Hall of Fame member made reference to the fact two of his teammates, Red Kelly and Frank Mahovlich, didn't have a similar celebration when they reached the 250 goal mark.

"It wouldn't be right," commented the popular Leaf known as "The Chief".

Going into the final period of the game on March 25th, Toronto held a one-goal advantage over the visitors. Their 3 to 2 lead came as a result of goals scored by Larry Jeffrey, Mahovlich and Peter Stemkowski. Getting Boston on the scoreboard were Don Awrey (a call-up from Hershey to replace Ron Stewart) and Murray Oliver.

The Bruins evened the score thanks to Tommy Williams goal early in the final period.

Although he didn't take centre stage to obtain a gift from president Campbell and receive a well deserved standing ovation from the faithful, George Armstrong did lift the fans out of their seats late in the contest. At 18:44, Armstrong scored the game-winning goal to give Toronto a 4 to 3 win. As time was ticking down, the Leafs attacked the Boston zone and play moved behind the Boston net. With his linemates, Jeffrey and Dave Keon, in the thick of things behind goalie Eddie Johnston, Armstrong positioned himself away from the activity. When Keon moved the puck to the front of the goal, big number ten with the "C" affixed to his jersey dashed in and sent the puck past the goal line.

The 1966-67 regular season came to a close on April 2, 1967. It also marked the end of the Original Six era. All six teams were in action with the New York Rangers hosting the Chicago Black Hawks and the Montreal Canadiens travelling to the Motor City for a game against the Detroit Red Wings. In the Boston Garden, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins went to battle.

Entering the final weekend of play, the Leafs and Rangers were embroiled in a tussle to determine which club would take third-place in the standings. Toronto beat New York at home on Saturday night to give them a one-point edge. Thus, their season ending fling in Boston would be of some importance.

In Boston, it was the close to another lousy campaign for the Gold and Black. The Bruins were buried at the bottom of the standings with only 44-points (70-17-43-10). The one bright spot and hope for the future was a rookie by the name of Bobby Orr. Prior to meeting the Leafs on Sunday, Orr was presented with two awards - the Elizabeth C. Dufresne Memorial trophy (most valuable player in Boston home games) and the Eddie Shore Trophy (favourite player) - from the Bruin fans.

With little on the line, Boston fell behind the Leafs 3 to 0 after twenty-minutes. Johnny "Pie" McKenzie would score the lone goal in the second period. The Leafs would add to their 3 to 1 lead in the final period with goals coming from Bob Pulford and Dave Keon. The final Original Six era goal between these two historic franchises came courtesy of Boston right winger Wayne Rivers. Playing in his eighth NHL game of the season, it was Rivers' second goal of the year for the Bruins.

The Leafs, with their 5 to 2 win over Boston, combined with Chicago's 8 to 0 blasting of New York, held onto third spot behind Chicago (1st) and the Habs (2nd). This translated into a $750. bonus for each Leaf player.

A newspaper report the next day made note of the changing times with this headline - ERA ENDS IN THE NHL. The reference relating to the League expanding from six to twelve teams.

In the closing moments of their final contest, Bruin fans were chanting "We're number six, next season number 12." On May 2, 1967 the Maple Leafs and their supporters were celebrating a Stanley Cup win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Watching the warm-up between Boston and Toronto last night, 45 years since expansion, I could only think of how the tables have been turned. The Bruins are defending Stanley Cup champions while Leaf fans chanted at the previous home game about firing their coach (leading to Ron Wilson getting axed) and hoping for any edge to climb into a playoff spot.

Monday, March 5, 2012

George Abbott: The Preaching Goalie

When one opens the massive second edition of Total Hockey - the official encyclopedia of the National Hockey League - they can locate the Goaltender Register near the back.

The first goalie listed is George Abbott. Although Abbott only donned the pads for one NHL game, his journey to a big-league dressing room is most interesting.

George Abbott was born on August 3, 1911 in Sydenham, Ontario. His amateur hockey career came to an end while auditioning for a spot on the Hamilton Tigers. A deflected shot struck him in the eye, thus shutting down any thoughts of making a living in the game he loved.

Instead, Abbott turned all his energy and ambition in another direction - he studied and became an ordained Baptist minister. Still, like many who played the game, hockey was in Reverend Abbott's blood.

During World War Two, Rev. Abbott was assigned to Toronto to tend to the needs of military personnel. When the conflict first started, many players from the NHL enlisted to serve their country. As a result, Original Six line-ups were thinned out, leaving general managers to scramble for skaters.

While based in Toronto, Rev. Abbott came down with a wicked case of the hockey bug. The only remedy for such an infliction couldn't be found in the medicine cabinet. The good reverend sought relief from an unlikely source - Toronto Maple Leafs coach Hap Day.

Figuring he had nothing to loose, Rev. Abbott approached Day with an interesting proposal. If the Leaf coach required a practice goalie, the preacher was his man. Already faced with depleted numbers when attempting to form a practice, Day took Abbott up on his offer.

For the next couple of weeks, Abbott worked out with Toronto, occupying one net, while Benny Grant the starting Leaf goalie, worked the other cage.

Then, came a visit by the Boston Bruins on Saturday November 27, 1943. When Boston manager Art Ross arrived in Toronto, he immediately contacted Leafs assistant manager Frank Selke. Ross explained to Selke that his starting goalie, Bert Gardiner, was suffering from the flu and in no condition to perform.

With limited time to gather a number of prospects for the assignment to replace Gardiner, coach Day suggested Reverend Abbott. As the saying goes, Ross was "stuck between a rock and a hard place." His only alternative was to go with Abbott.

"I hear he's an ordained minister. All I know it was either a question of playing goal myself or getting a substitute. And I wound up with this fellow," said Ross when sizing up the situation.

After finding out about his new puck-stopper, Ross tracked down Hap Day and delivered this gem - "I ask for a goaltender. So you send me a preacher!"

Like the early Christians, Abbott was about to be tossed into the lions den. The Toronto attack was relentless. Not only did the Leafs offence blast 52 shots on goal, but at every opportunity they charged the Boston net. Leaf forwards came at Abbott with both "arms and elbows." A shot by Babe Pratt sent Abbott into la-la-land, but he eventually came to and resumed his duties.

Abbott, who stood  at 5'7 and weighed 153 pounds took his case to referee King Clancy.

"I haven't seen a thing," Clancy told the Boston goalie when approached.

"That's just the trouble," replied the battle-worn netminder.

Clancy, the former Maple Leaf legend, only called two minor penalties and both were assessed to Boston.

The scoring summary further reveals the type of night it was for Abbott. Toronto defeated Boston 7 to 4. On the positive side, three goals did go off Boston players into the net behind Abbott. Also, his new found teammates were very apologetic for their foul language.

Igniting the Leafs firepower was left winger Bob Davidson. His strong effort resulted in a hat trick and two helpers.

Abbott's appearance in a Boston uniform marked his one and only contest in the National Hockey League. He went back to being a shooting target for the Leafs. However, his contributions did go beyond the practice sessions.

Newspaper icon Milt Dunnell reflected on this aspect in  a subsequent column.

Following one workout, Gus Bodnar was stretched-out on the medical table waiting for a treatment from  Tim Daly. As the veteran trainer entered the room, he observed Abbott and Bodnar conversing. Daly backed off until the two finished talking. He noted Rev. Abbott was holding his black book containing his religious assignments.

The following night, Gus Bodnar fired home two goals,

This lead to the following sermon delivered by Daly to the rest of Bodnar's teammates. "If you bums 'll jest line up an' let Rev. Abbott read some more from that little black book, we'll have nothin' but 20-goal men on this here club."

Reverend George Abbott may never have been called upon to play in another National Hockey League contest, but as Tim Daly witnessed he did have another special calling.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Blame it on Inflation

While going through some old papers, I came across this ad dating back to the early 1960s.

Imagine being a Detroit Red Wing fan trapped in a time warp for over 40 years and finally being released in 2012. Sure, you would be pleased with the recent Stanley Cup success your club has enjoyed and be filled with emotions to join in on the celebrations.

Then, comes a visit to the local souvenir shop. Tucked in your pocket is the vintage advertisement. Your pocket is full of coins secured when you cracked open your piggy bank. There must be at least ten-dollars in your bank roll. More than enough to decorate every inch of your den.

With one step into the retail outlet, you instantly become familiar with the term "sticker shock".

You can't believe your eyes. The price tags are sending you spinning - t-shirts ($24.99), Jersey ($174.99), pennant ($14.99), championship banner ($74.99), mini portable speakers ($49.95).

It is not only the prices which stagger you, but the amount of merchandise on the market. It suddenly hits you that at bedtime you can flop down on Detroit Red Wings queen size sheets ($71.95). Before nodding off, you set the Detroit Red Wings plastic alarm clock ($16.95). Upon rising in the morning you can make toast in the Detroit Red Wings silver team logo pro toaster ($39.95). After breakfast, you make sure your Detroit Red Wings golf bag ($229.95) is in the car for a day on the links.

Glancing down at the 60s ad, you can only shake your head - t-shirt ($1.50), jersey ($3.95), Red Wing emblem (.50).

You want to crawl back into the time warp, but you will  miss your beloved Red Wings, who are once again in contention for the Stanley Cup. Blaming inflation is a better alternative!