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


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