Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy 95th - Wally Stanowski!

Although each NHL Oldtimers Lunch is special, certain months are cause for heightened expectations and activity. That was the case on April 7, 2014, when Wally Stanowski's 95th birthday celebration brought out a huge crowd.

Officially Wally's birthday is today, April 28th, but an early start to acknowledge this special event was welcomed by everyone.

"As many of your family members and friends gather to celebrate the approach of your 95th birthday please accept the congratulations of the entire National Hockey League in anticipation of that remarkable milestone," stated Senior Vice-president of hockey operations Jim Gregory as he read into the record a letter from Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The bulk of Bettman's correspondence dealt with Wally's participation in the historic 1942 Stanley Cup Final. Down 3 games-to-zip against Detroit, Wally and his Maple Leaf teammates stormed back to win the next 4 contests and captured hockey's grand prize. This accomplishment has not been repeated in Cup Final competition.

Commissioner Bettman concluded his birthday greeting with this message for the guest of honour, "Wally, we marvel at your longevity and your spirit, we cherish your contributions to hockey and we wish you only the best going forward."

No birthday is complete without cake!

Wally with family
Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford, gives Wally a City of Toronto proclamation
Mike Ferriman, manager - game presentations for the Toronto Maple Leafs, brought Wally a team jersey
The Storey family (R) presents the Stanowski family a wonderful gift for Wally

A big thank you to John Cavers for the above photos.

As part of the festivities, I gave a talk, briefly outlining Wally's career. Below is a transcript of the speech.

Monday April 7, 2014
Markham, Ontario

Wally "The Whirling Dervish" Stanowski was born on Monday April 28, 1919, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. A review of the Winnipeg Tribune newspaper from that date provides insight into Wally's first day on this earth.

"Ex-Kaiser to be tried for crimes," declared a page one headline referring to news about World War One.

Locally, a headline addressed a rash of automobile accidents involving children. It read - "City council to make streets safe for children."

On the financial page, Winnipeg's Board of Trade was trying to convince The Canadian National Railroad to move their headquarters to Winnipeg.

Robinson's Clothes Shops on Portage Avenue reduced the price of their suits and topcoats from $35. to $25.

Eaton's celebrated their Jubilee Anniversary in 1919 and a chap could purchase a new felt fedora for $4.

After shopping, one could go to Eaton's Grill Room, located on the 5th floor, and order a chicken pie with a baked potato, bread and butter, for only .65 cents - Is anyone from the restaurant listening?

At Griffith and Wright Garage on William Avenue, a 1918 Chevrolet would set you back $900. Ditto for a 1918 Ford Roadster.

Simpson, Mitchell & Ewing, located in the Union Trust Building, listed a house for sale on Chestnut Street. Their ad provided details - "7 rooms, hardwood floors and finish downstairs, large well arranged rooms, well built and very warm, large garage." Back in 1919, this could be your castle for $5,700.

As Wally was born in hockey's off-season, baseball was front and centre on the sports page. The Cincinnati Reds extended their winning streak to 5 games after weekend victories over St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

Young Wally wouldn't be exposed to hockey until the seasons changed and the two senior leagues - Winnipeg and Manitoba - began play. They were the big local attraction when it came to hockey in 1919-20.

Wally played junior with the St. Boniface Seals and participated in the 1938 Memorial Cup at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Prior to a key contest in the Memorial Cup, Wally found a letter which had been slipped under his hotel door. In it was a financial offer to throw the game. Quoting Wally, "I was suppose to skate behind the net and pretend I was lacing my skate, which meant I'm going along with it. I was going to do it as a gag, but I didn't, just in case we lost. They offered me $100."

Obviously, Wally believed that crime doesn't pay.

And he was rewarded as St. Boniface went on to capture the Memorial Cup winning the fifth and deciding game 7-1. That contest set a Canadian attendance record for a hockey game to that time with 15,617 bodies going through the turnstiles at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Wally joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1939-40. The following season he was named to the First All-Star Team along with Boston defenceman Dit Clapper. This achievement is one of Wally's fondest memories from his big-league career.

As a result of winning the 1942 Stanley Cup, Wally remains a part of NHL history. Down 3 games-to-none in the Final versus Detroit, the Maple Leafs took the next 4 encounters and is still the only club to accomplish this feat in the Final.

Like many players from that era, Wally's NHL time was interrupted due to World War Two. He returned to Winnipeg along with his friend and fellow Leaf teammate, Pete Langelle, and served as a physical fitness instructor with the RCAF. Also, he played hockey for the Winnipeg RCAF Bombers.

After the War, Wally returned to the Leafs and won three more Stanley Cups in 1945, 1947 and 1948.

Last summer in an interview with Bruins legend Milt Schmidt, I asked him to assess the Leaf defence of the 1940s. He replied, "I would say as far as skating is concerned, in my opinion, Stanowski was the fastest skater."

No one would argue with Milt's appraisal.

And that included Conn Smythe. On October 18, 1939, he described Wally's style of play to the Toronto Daily Star, "He plays defence as though he was swivelled at the hips. He skates swoopingly with legs spread out. You can rock him but he is harder to knock down than Joe Lewis."

Wally's ability to effortlessly skate up ice and participate on offence, then whiz back to attend to his defensive responsibilities  was his greatest asset.

A trade in June 1948 saw Wally go to the New York Rangers where he played for 3 more campaigns.

His career ended in 1951-52, when he suffered a serious leg injury while skating for the AHL Cincinnati Mohawks.

The box score on Wally's regular season play in the NHL reads as follows:

Games Played- 428
Goals- 23
Assists- 88
Points- 111
PIM- 160

In the playoffs:

Games Played- 60
Goals- 3
Assists- 14
Points- 17
PIM- 13
Stanley Cups- 4

Emile Francis told me a wonderful story which involved Wally and Ivan Irwin when they all played for Cincinnati. This trio along with Jean-Paul Denis roomed together. Wally was out of action due to an injury and the night before a scheduled game he rubbed it in that he was going to a pub while the others had to get their rest. Unknown to Wally, Ivan had planted an exploding devise in his vehicle. Emile Francis heard the bang as he slept in their apartment and he told me, "Wally came out of that car and he looked 100-years-old."

The moral of this story is twofold. First, only good teammates could pull off pranks like that and it obvious Wally fitted in no matter where he played. Secondly, we should all be careful when we depart these lunches and head for the parking lot. "Ivan the Terrible" could strike again!

As many of you know, Wally holds the title of being the oldest living former Toronto Maple Leaf.

Wally, in anticipation of your 95th we take this opportunity to celebrate your life and we all wish you good health and many, many more years as the elder statesman of Leaf Nation.

Also, I want to send Emile Francis a photograph when you really do turn 100 - HAPPY BIRTHDAY WALLY!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's That Time of Year, Again!

The tradition continues with the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

For details on all the Stanley Cup champions during the Original Six era, go to the left panel and scroll down to Original Six Champions 1943 to 1949/1950 to 1955/1956 to 1967.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Jack Stoddard: 1926-2014

"At an early age, hockey became an important part of his life and extended over a thirty year period from the minor leagues through the NHL."
~Passage from Jack Stoddard's obituary~
Jack Stoddard, who passed away on January 29, 2014, began his hockey journey in the early 1940s playing junior at Stratford and Hamilton.
 During his second OHA season, Stoddard signed a tryout form with Providence on March 14, 1944. The big right-winger was scouted by Johnny Mitchell and the tryout form is the first registered document filed with the National Hockey League containing Stoddard's name.
 Before making his way to Providence, Stoddard remained in Hamilton, spending one year in senior hockey and another in junior.
 In 1946-47, he joined the EAHL Baltimore Clippers and demonstrated his ability to deposit the puck into the net. In 53 contests, Stoddard connected for 22 goals and 19 assists.
 The following campaign, Stoddard moved up to the American Hockey League and earned a spot on the Providence Reds roster.
 As a rookie in Providence, his offensive numbers dropped, but his enthusiasm didn't wane. And there is no better example of this than when his team found themselves in a jam late in the '47-'48 season.
 In March 1948, Providence goalie, Harvey Bennett, suffered an injury which prevented him from carrying out his duties. To make matters worse, the Reds didn't have another goalie to take Bennett's place. Recognising his team was in a bind, Stoddard volunteered to go between the pipes.
According to statistics published by the Society for International Hockey Research, Stoddard's new assignment lasted for 3 games. His goals-against-average was 8.67. A summary in The Hockey News from one game where he donned the pads observed, "Stoddard, a winger and centre by trade, did all that was expected of him."
In one clash while occupying the crease, he went head-to-head against a future Hall of Fame goalie by the name of Johnny Bower. As anticipated, Bower held a huge advantage over his opponent. Bower's Cleveland Barons pumped 8 pucks behind Stoddard. At the other end, Providence managed to put 3 past Bower.

In his sophomore year, Stoddard regained his scoring touch, potting 25 goals and 28 assists. He added 4 more tallies in the playoffs and helped Providence capture the 1949 Calder Cup.

Over the next two terms, Stoddard increased his goal production, hitting the twine for 32 in 1949-50 and 37 in '50-'51.

Stoddard's size - six-three / 185 - and reputation as a sniper didn't go unnoticed.

On New Year's Eve 1951, the New York Rangers made a deal with Providence to obtain Stoddard's services. "Rangers get wingman in trade with the Providence Reds" announced a headline in the January 1, 1952, edition of The New York Times. Going the other way in the transaction were forwards Zellio Toppazzini and Jean Paul Denis, along with defenceman Pat Eagan

Stoddard departed Providence as the AHL leading scorer with 20 goals and 28 assists in 34 encounters.

"What I like most about him is his all-round ability," said Rangers GM Frank Boucher of his new acquisition. "Although he's awfully tall, he isn't ungainly. He's strong and he's coordinated, he's a strong skater, a fine combination player and a real good goal scorer."

On the New York Rangers website, Stoddard's bio states he made his Rangers debut on January 2, 1952. However, there is evidence he played the previous night on the road before making his first appearance on Broadway.

"New York showed a new forward, Jack Stoddard," wrote Joesph C. Nichols in The New York Times after Stoddard's first game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday January 2, 1952. "He played on a line with Laprade (Edgar) and Reg Sinclair, and gave a good performance despite a foot injury suffered in the Rangers' game against Boston on Tuesday night." The latter giving credence to the possibility Stoddard first wore a Rangers uniform on January 1st at Boston Garden.

With several NHL games under his belt, Stoddard took centre stage in a Sunday night tilt against Chicago on January 6, 1952. Trailing the Black Hawks 2-1, Ed Slowinski evened the score at two goals apiece early in the final frame when his shot found the back of the net behind Harry Lumley.

Stoddard sent 11,654 fans home happy when he scored his first National Hockey League goal, the game-winner, in a 3-2 victory. " Laprade passed the rubber to Stoddard who scored from the right alley in 9:37," is how The New York Times described Stoddard's first marker in the big-show.

In his first 20 games with New York, Stoddard registered 4 goals, 2 assists and was assessed one minor penalty. His season came to an end after he suffered a fractured right wrist in practice on February 26, 1952. "Stoddard suffered the injury when he jammed into defenceman Jim Ross after getting rid of a pass," wrote Dana Mozley in The Hockey News.

A new season brought a clean slate. "As for Stoddard, I never doubted his ability," stated Frank Boucher. "He just had to learn there's a difference between playing in the minors and the National Hockey League. He wasn't throwing his weight around. Now he is. With his size and his fine shot, he should be a big scorer for us."

Jack Stoddard dressed for all 60 games in New York's 1952-53 schedule. Mostly skating on a defensive unit with Nick Mickoski and Eddie Kullman, Stoddard netted 12 goals and 13 assists for 35 points.

There weren't too many highlights for the '52-'53 Rangers, but one game does stand out. At home versus the Montreal Canadiens on January 11, 1953, New York blanked Montreal 7-0. The victory gave goalie Lorne "Gump" Worsley his first NHL shutout and Jack Stoddard chipped in with 2 goals.

As expected when a team settles at the bottom of the league standings, changes are made. And that is exactly what happened in Manhattan after the '52-'53 season.

When the next hockey year got underway, Stoddard found himself back in the AHL. The Rangers brass decided to tweak their right side and purchased winger Ike Hildebrand from Cleveland. In return, Stoddard was loaned to the Barons.

Stoddard's participated in his final National Hockey League game on March 22, 1953. He earned an assist on a goal by defenceman Allan Stanley. "Stoddard set up the play with a slick bit of stickhandling just inside the Chicago blue line," wrote William J. Briordy in The Times.

In his new surroundings, Stoddard scored 23 goals for Cleveland. The Barons went on to win the 1954 Calder Cup by upsetting Buffalo in the first round, then disposing of Hershey in the final. With several ex- New York castoffs leading the way for Jim Hendy's championship team, the following quote from an unidentified individual appeared in The Hockey News, "The Cleveland Barons are the only team with a farm club in the NHL."

A trade in the off-season sent Stoddard back home to Providence to close out his AHL run in 1954-55. The Reds purchased Stoddard and Ray Ceresino from Cleveland. "The return of Stoddard comes as good news to hockey fans," noted one scribe in reference to Stoddard's previous success in Providence.

From 1955-56 to 1961-62, Stoddard mostly played senior level hockey. His crowning achievement came when the Chatham Maroons won the Allan Cup in 1960.

Besides his adventure guarding the Providence net, two other quirky facts need to be addressed when writing a piece about Jack Stoddard.

First, there is his nickname - Jack "The Octopus" Stoddard. He was tagged with this because of his long reach. "No matter where you hit Stoddard, you always wind up getting his elbow in the eye," one of Stoddard's rivals told The Hockey News in 1952.

Then, there is the number he wore on the back of his sweater - 13. Usually considered unlucky and seldom used, there was no hesitation in letting Stoddard wear the number when he arrived in the Big Apple. "If Jack wants 13, we'll give it to him," declared Frank Boucher.

John Edward Stoddard was born on September 26, 1926, in Stoney Creek, Ontario. He passed away in his 88th year in Owen Sound, Ontario.

*Revised, April 4, 2014