Thursday, March 30, 2017


When it comes to the success of the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, most of the credit goes to goalie Frederik Andersen and their crop of talented rookies. In particular, the scoring punch provided by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. This trio of sharp-shooters, along with other members of the 2016-17 freshmen class, are establishing new marks when it comes to rookie production on offence.

Tuesday night (March 28), Auston Matthews set a new goal record of 35. This pulled him ahead of Wendel Clark. Tonight, against Nashville, Mitch Marner notched his 41st assist to break Gus Bodnar's 73 year-old record of 40 assists by a Leaf rookie.

 On March 18, 1944, at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Leafs played their final regular season game of the 1943-44 schedule. In a primer for the playoffs, Toronto turned up their game and crushed the Boston Bruins 10-2.

For rookie Gus Bodnar (above), it was a night to add to his already impressive numbers. When the final bell rang, Bodnar left the ice with two goals and three assists to his credit. His record-setting 40th helper came at the 9:10 mark of the third period. He earned the assist on a goal scored by Lorne Carr.

Bodnar, a native of Fort William, Ontario, played between Bob Davidson and Carr. Named the winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) before the Boston contest, Bodnar's performance in game 50 was the icing-on-the-cake. He closed out the year with 22 goals and 40 assists.

In a strange twist, the Bruins had Leaf practice goalie, Benny Grant, between the pipes. As one reporter put it the "Leafs parked the puck back of Grant three times in the first four minutes of the first period and it was just a practice outing for the locals the rest of the distance." Bodnar and his linemates made the most of this situation.

And on another front, a belated Happy Birthday (March 27, 1945) to Brit Selby (above). A talented winger with the OHA Jr. "A" Toronto Marlboros, Selby made the most of his rookie campaign with the Maple Leafs in 1966. He was the last Leaf to win the Calder.

After the current NHL season, another Leaf - Matthews, Marner or Nylander - could join Syl Apps ('37), Gaye Stewart ('43), Gus Bodnar ('44), Frank McCool ('45), Howie Meeker ('47), Frank Mahovlich ('58), Dave Keon ('61), Kent Douglas ('63) and Selby as a Calder Memorial Trophy winner.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


When reading about professional hockey players many facts and figures tell their stories. In the case of Chick (John) Robert Webster, his birth on November 3, 1920, has recently propelled him into the headlines. When Boston Bruins legend, Milt Schmidt, passed away in early January, Webster became the oldest living former National Hockey League player.

Of course, there is so much more to Webster than his new place in NHL history. In a June 2013 telephone interview, I had the pleasure of getting to know this very humble and wonderful gentleman. At the end of our conversation, it was very evident that Webster enjoyed talking about the game and his love for the sport was unmistakable.

His career began in earnest during the 1937-38 OHA junior "A" season with the Toronto Native Sons. He was coached in '38-'39 by former Toronto Maple Leaf forward, Harold "Baldy" Cotton. "He was a great coach," Webster began. "Back then, coaches didn't do much except change the lines. They didn't give you too many pep-talks. They didn't run around behind the bench yelling or anything like that. "Baldy" was a hell of a nice guy and he was a very good coach. The players all liked him and didn't mind playing for him."

Perhaps, the best advice Cotton told his youngsters was what it took to become a pro. "He said if you guys were really interested in going anywhere in hockey, you got to give all you can out there. He mentioned there were scouts out there in the rink watching you." As for his style of game, Webster, a solid centre, stated, "When  I got out there I liked to carry the puck and I could skate fast."

I asked Webster what it was like playing junior in his hometown. "It was big time sort of. What we liked about it was that after we played in the afternoon, we stayed in our dressing room for a while and hung around and then, we got to watch the Maple Leafs at night."

When Webster skated for the Native Sons, hockey and financial concerns trumped the need for further education."It was during the depression in the 1930s. When I was 15, they took me out of school. My dad got me a job down at City Hall. So I worked from the time I was 15,  through the time I played junior, at City Hall in Toronto. I worked as an office boy."

Webster commented on the physical aspect of the junior game when he played. "There was some fighting. I used to get in a few, but nothing like the stuff of today. We didn't have the armour they have on today. Back then, we had respect, you knew a guy didn't have on a helmet and you weren't going to bang him into the boards. The elbow pads are hard today, ours were soft. To give a guy a elbow you're not going to knock him out."

Like many from his generation, Webster's career ambitions were cut short due to World War Two. "I was in the military for 4 years and overseas for 2. I was in the artillery. We went over to France and about 10 days after D-Day went right through to Germany. I only played once overseas in England."

Under these circumstances, players had to wonder if their hockey jobs were still available once they returned home. Certainly, they must have felt a lack of ice time dulled their skills and how difficult a challenge it would be to regain their hockey legs and touch. "I figured my hockey career was over," Webster said of his return. "I don't know how they found out where I lived, but I got a letter from the New York Rangers wanting me to come to training camp in Winnipeg. This was in 1946 when I was discharged. I signed with the Rangers organization and I went to New Haven, which was their farm club."

The experience of attending the New York Rangers training camp in 1946 opened up a new world for Webster. "There were a lot of young guys there," Webster recalled. "Like Andy Bathgate and a few guys from the Guelph juniors."

One player at training camp the following year was an opponent of Webster's in the OHA."Herbie Carnegie was a very good friend of mine. He was a hell of a nice guy and well spoken. He was at the training camp the following year and he was the best guy at camp. They (the NYR) offered him $4,500 or something, but he said, 'Oh no, I can make that back in Quebec,' so he didn't sign."

At the time, Carnegie was making a huge impact playing with Sherbrooke and would go on to have a successful run with the Quebec Aces of the QSHL and QMHL. Many are of the opinion that Carnegie's lack of advancement to the pro ranks was due to the colour of his skin. As a black man in the late 1940s and 1950s, doors weren't always being opened for him. "He should have been signed by somebody," Webster stated. "He could have played up there (in the NHL) easily."

Turning pro exposed Webster to the business end of the game. "Frank Boucher was the general manager of the New York Rangers. He was a hard guy to deal with and he offered you peanuts at contract time. One year I went in and asked for a raise. He was only paying me $4,500 or something. He said, 'We can't give you a raise, if you want to go home and pick-up a lunch pail Chick go ahead.' And that was it."

Webster's crack at the big show came during the 1949-50 season. He began the year in the American Hockey League with the New Haven Ramblers. "The reason they called me up was because they sold a player to Boston. I was down in St. Louis with New Haven and after the game I was told to get on the train and go to Boston. So I went up and played at Boston Garden for the Rangers."

He settled in with the Blue Shirts, but an injury forced him out of the line-up. "I played a couple of games and I stayed up until I broke my hand." A check of Webster's stats reveals he performed in 14 contests with the New York Rangers and went pointless. Although he didn't make the scoring summary, Webster cherishes the time he shared the ice with the biggest stars in hockey. "I played against "Rocket" Richard a couple of times and didn't know he was even on the ice. But when I looked at the scoring sheet, he'd scored a couple of goals."

A particular memory remains entrenched in Webster's mind. "It was quite a thrill for me, especially playing against Gordie Howe. Hockey was all I wanted to do and to know Gordie Howe was pretty good." Without hesitation, he named Howe as the best player he competed against. "As far as all-round goes, Gordie Howe was tough, he could score and check."

After he hung-up his skates, Webster remained in touch Howe. "I used to go down to the games after I quit playing and if Detroit was in town, another guy and I would go out with Howe after the game. He was a real gentleman and a hell of a nice guy."

In 1950-51, Webster joined the Tacoma Rockets of the PCHL and spent the next four seasons in the minors with various teams. These clubs included the Cincinnati Mohawks and Syracuse Warriors of the American Hockey League. He left the game in 1953-54 after one term wth the OHA Stouffville Clippers.

Of note, Chick wasn't the only member of the Webster household to reach the NHL. His younger brother, Don, got into 27 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1943-44. His opportunity came about when the Leafs roster was depleted due to regulars joining the war effort. "That's exactly what happened," Chick said of his siblings jump from the AHL Providence Reds. "He wasn't a big guy, he was short and stocky, but he was good, there is no doubt about it." When players started to make their way home from serving in World War Two, Don Webster returned to the American Hockey League.

Chick Webster's current status in the game is best summed up by his son Rob. He told the New York Times, "His real story is about longevity, not hockey. Hockey was just something he was lucky enough to be a part of."

And thanks to Rob Webster for sending these wonderful photos of his dad.

A picture of Chick isolated from a team photo dating back to 1934 (see below)
Chick is situated in the front row, second from the right. Also in this photo is Jack Riley, front row, fourth from right. Jack went on to become the first GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Chick and Jack were teammates on the Baltimore Clippers (EHL) in 1945-46

Chick with the New Haven Ramblers
Chick with the New York Rangers
That's Chick in the back row, second from the left
Chick with the  Cincinnati Mohawks
Chick at his home Mattawa, Ontario
Chick and Rob
This photo of Chick was taken on March 21, 2017

At 96 years old, one can't help but admire the ageless Chick Webster, the oldest living former NHL player.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs pay tribute to the Toronto St. Pats when they play host to the Chicago Blackhawks. The last time the St. Pats skated in the month of March, was on March 17, 1926. It was the last regular season game of the 1925-26 campaign and the St. Pats fell to the Senators 4-0 in Ottawa. The Toronto Daily Star observed "Roach, in the nets and Bert Corbeau for the defence stood out for the Irish."

Thursday, March 16, 2017


On March 10, 2017, Johnny Bower's old banner from the Air Canada Centre found its new home at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. The "China Wall" was born in Prince Albert on November 8, 1924. The above photo shows the banner prior to the contest between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Unable to attend the ceremony, Bower's presence came to life via a video recording. "It was such a great honour for them to do that, to say yes," Bower said in the video. "I had tears in my eyes. But this is something I'll never forget. I wish I could be here tonight with you people. I'm sorry, but I can't be there with you tonight, but I'll always have you in my heart. Thank you so much."

Johnny Bower's Cleveland Barons banner at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland

Johnny Bower's original banner from 1995
Bower's banner (second from the left at the ACC) prior to its removal

This all came about at the beginning of the current NHL season when the Toronto Maple Leafs made an abrupt change in philosophy, and decided to retire their Honoured Numbers. Part of this process included the raising of new banners.

Johnny Bower at the ACC when his Retired Number was raised on October 15, 2016
Back in November Frank Mahovlich and Bill Barilko had their banners raised at the McIntyre Arena in Schumacher, Ontario

The ageless Johnny Bower shares the Retired Number One with another great Leaf goalie, Turk Broda.

Monday, March 13, 2017


This is one of the most icon action photos in the history of the game and features "Rocket" Richard, "Gump" Worsley and Ivan Irwin. Never the type of player to backdown when confronted, Irwin stood his ground when the "Rocket" selected his weapon of choice. If Richard wanted a duel, Irwin was up to the task. Fortunately, the battle didn't escalate, but one thing is certain, the "Gumper" wanted no part of it.

And today, Ivan Duane Irwin celebrates his 90th birthday!

On November 5, 1953, Ivan skated in his first NHL contest for the New York Rangers. Early reviews of his Broadway performance were positive. "He's all I thought he was - and more," said Ivan's most important critic, his coach, Frank Boucher. The Rangers boss further stated, "I wondered if he was a sound thinking fellow, whether he might be wild and wooly and get foolish penalties." In the same breathe, Boucher laid to rest any fears in this regard. "Why, he's cool and smart. He doesn't get excited. You'd think he'd been in the league for five years."

Last Monday at the Original Six Alumni lunch, family and friends gathered to wish Ivan a Happy Birthday and to give him one special gift. As is the custom when a member of the alumni turns 90, he is presented with a plated chair to recognize the milestone birthday.

Here are some photos from the event.

Ron Hurst (C) and Pete Conacher (R) making the presentation.

Lorraine Shaw with Ivan's birthday cupcake.
Ivan is flanked by his wife, Peg (L), and daughter, Kim.

Thanks to the wizard behind the lens, ace photographer, John Cavers, for the pictures from the alumni luncheon.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


In January of this year, the hockey world mourned the passing of Boston Bruins icon Milt Schmidt.

Today, the Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame would have celebrated his 99th birthday.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Schmidt for a project I was working on. During our conversation, I asked him to the name the player he looked up to when he was a youngster. "My favourite hockey player was in Kitchener," Schmidt began. "His name was Vic Ripley a centre ice man. I use to sell peanuts in the old Kitchener Auditorium. He was fantastic, a great stickhandler and a great playmaker. He played centre ice and I sort of tried to copy him. But I din't think I came close," Schmidt said while chuckling. "He played for the Kitchener Millionaires."

Upon reviewing Ripley's stats for the one season (1927-28) he skated with Millionaires in Kitchener, it isn't difficult to see why Milt Schmidt was impressed. In 39 games, Ripley scored 26 goals and added 14 assists for 40 points. Ripley went on to skate in 283 NHL contests and recorded 51 goals and 47 helpers.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


On the heels of his last project, "Hockey's Lost Boy: The Rise And Fall Of George Patterson," documentary filmmaker, Dale Morrisey, has completed his new offering. Soon to hit the festival circuit, "Only The Dead Know The Brooklyn Americans," tells the fascinating story of the New York turned Brooklyn Americans of the National Hockey League.

And the story is told by one of the most recognized voices in the radio/television industry-Larry King. Primarily known for his work on CNN ("Larry King Live"), King, a native of Brooklyn, New York, was a perfect choice for the job. King was a youngster when talk of Brooklyn obtaining an NHL franchice surfaced in the early 1940s. In his role as the narrator, it quickly becomes obvious that his memories from that time never left him. King's emotional attachment to the Brooklyn Americans shines through with every word spoken into the microphone.

Early in the documentary, King sets the scene for what we are about to watch. Morrisey's dialogue comes to life when King explains:

Then, as if by Devine right, we became the Brooklyn Americans and they became us. These star-spangled Amerks were ours to cheer for. They were equal parts fantasy, heart, desperation, grit and guts...Like all great fairy tales, there was a hero. Our hero was "Red" Dutton. Dutton, an immigrant to our Borough, but we were all immigrants. He understood us and he understood the Amerks belonged in Brooklyn. And so he moved them, moved them in name and moved them in spirit, but couldn't quite move them in the flesh. Then, the fantasy met the facts and the facts were joyless and bitter. Just like that the Amerks were gone...And with their death, so began the skid. The Dodgers were next, off to LA. Businesses moved and so did families...But miracles of miracles, Brooklyn is back. The NHL is back where Dutton wanted them all along. A time to celebrate and a time to remember. To remember the team that was here first and remember "Red" the man who brought the Amerks through the desert, but was not allowed to bring them to the promised land.

Another wise casting decision by Morrisey was his selection of historians to  appear on camera. These individuals include Stan Fischler, J.A. Ross, Sam Wesley, Steven M. Cohen and Eric Zweig. Like Larry King, longtime hockey writer, author and broadcaster, Stan Fischler, is another big name talent associated with this presentation. When Fischler talks about hockey in New York City people take note and listen. His vast knowledge of events and stories is unmatched. He makes a major contribution when commenting on the two main characters in Brooklyn Americans history-Bill Dwyer and "Red" Dutton.

Bill Dwyer was a New York City mobster who dealt in bootlegging. In 1925 he purchased the NHL Hamilton Tigers and moved them to the Big Apple. The Tigers became the New York Americans and played their home games at Madison Square Garden. Ultimately, they would share the Garden with the New York Rangers once they appeared on the scene. Off the ice, Dwyer's players often fell prey to the NYC nightlife and it showed in their on-ice performance. Dwyer's downfall came in 1936 when the authorities successfully won a lawsuit they brought against him relating. Unable to meet his financial obligations, Dwyer lost his team as the National Hockey League took control of the Americans.

Traded to the New York Americans by the Montreal Maroons on May 14, 1930, "Red" Dutton is the pivotal figure in the Brooklyn aspect of the story. Dutton hung-up his skates after the 1935-36 season and went from playing-coach to taking full control of the organization once Dwyer departed the following year.

By the time the 1941-42 campaign rolled around, Dutton realized his team needed a new identity and a change of venue from Madison Square Garden. The new identity came when he renamed them the Brooklyn Americans. When asked why Brooklyn, Dutton replied, "I've always regarded Brooklyn as one of the finest sports centres in the world. The way the fans support baseball and football Dodgers convinced me they would be just as rabid for hockey."

Dutton's dream was to build a new arena in Brooklyn (Kings County) for the Americans to call home. In the meantime, they practiced at the Brooklyn Ice Palace and most of the players resided in the Borough.

A native of Russell, Manitoba, Dutton's Brooklyn dream turned into a nightmare just one year after making the name change. In a move to control the New York hockey market, Madison Square Garden informed Dutton no dates were available for his team in the 1942-43 schedule. "We're out of the league because Madison Square Garden forced us out and for no other reason. We're out because Madison Square Garden didn't have any dates available for us this coming season. And you can't keep an NHL franchise with no ice to play on," Dutton told reporters at the time.

The final curtain call for the Brooklyn Americans at MSG came on March 15, 1942. A three goal night by Murph Chamberlain enabled the Amerks to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3.

Not wanting to divulge too much, I will leave the colourful stories and the twist and turns in the narrative for Dale Morrisey to reveal in his documentary.

After watching the final product, several important observations were made. First, it was apparent that Morrisey paid special attention to the most vital components of filmmaking-research/writing, casting, principal photography and editing. All these come together to tell a concise and complete story. Also, the musical score by Greg Pliska adds an underlying mood that enhances the visuals.

Above all, it is not "Only The Dead Know The Brooklyn Americans," but thanks to Dale Morrisey, anyone viewing his documentary will know the story of the Amerks.

This documentary rates 10-out-of-10 hockey pucks!

To read my review of "Hockey's Lost Boy" please click HERE