Wednesday, May 31, 2017

THE KID LINE, CLANCY & LEVINSKY


As the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate their Centennial Anniversary, one edition of the club holds a special place in their history. In 1931-32, the Leafs experienced success both on the ice and off. During the spring, summer and fall of 1931, construction crews feverishly worked day and night to have Maple Leaf Gardens ready for the Leafs home opener on November 12, 1931. Although they lost their first outing at the Gardens by a 2-1 score to the Chicago Black Hawks, Conn Smythe's warriors went on to capture the Stanley Cup on April 9, 1932, on home ice.


The Leafs offence was powered by the famed Kid Line - Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau and Harvey Jackson (pictured above left to right). At the end of the season, Conacher shared the scoring championship with the Rangers Bill Cook. Living up to his nickname -"The Big Bomber"- Conacher scored 34 goals in 44 games. Primeau played between Conacher (right wing) and Jackson (left wing) and led the NHL in assists with 37. "Gentleman Joe" Primeau was named the winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly conduct.  Not to be outdone, Harvey "Busher" Jackson led all Maple Leaf point-getters in the regular season with 53 in 48 contests. In the playoffs, Conacher tied New York's Bun Cook for most goals scored (6) and Primeau tied Cook's teammate, Frank Boucher, for most assists (6).

On defence, "King" Clancy and Alex Levinsky protected the Leafs zone and cleared traffic in front of goalie Lorne Chabot. Noted for his Irish charm, Clancy could talk his way out of any situation and didn't hesitate to move the puck up ice. He contributed seven goals and fourteen assists in '31-'32. Toronto obtained Clancy from the Ottawa Senators on October 11, 1930.  Conn Smythe's determination to add Clancy to his blueline is evident in what he sent to the Senators to obtain the Ottawa native. In a massive deal for the time, Ottawa received two bodies (Art Smith & Eric Pettinger) and a cheque for $35,000. This was an enormous amount of cash taking into account North America was in the grips of a financial depression. Smythe's move paid off nicely for the Leafs as Clancy became one of the most popular Maple Leafs of all-time.

Levinsky, an all-round athlete, grew-up in the Leafs system. He won a Memorial Cup in 1929 with the Toronto Marlboros and the Allan Cup in 1930 with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. He turned pro with Leafs on March 2, 1931. Toronto fans got their first look at Levinsky in Leaf colours on March 5, 1931, at Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. Lou Marsh of the Toronto Daily Star provided this comment on Levinsky's home debut. "Levinsky of course did not set anything on fire with his performance last night, but when King Clancy and Hap Day get through teaching him how to hurl the hip he will make some of them go into second gear after they meet him." In 1931-32, Levinsky proved his worth and missed only one game and contributed five goals and five assists. Also, as predicted by Marsh, he excelled as a physical presence on the ice.

At an event hosted by Mike Wilson, descendants of Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher,  Harvey Jackson, "King" Clancy and Alex Levinsky gathered to share memories passed down by their famous family  members.

Left to Right: Mike Wilson, Howie Jackson, Bob Primeau, Richard Levinsky, Brad Conacher, Suzanne Primeau, Pete Conacher & Terry Clancy.

"We would always get together at Christmas," said Suzanne Primeau. "There are 12 grandchildren and I'm the eldest granddaughter of Joe Primeau. My dad, Joe Primeau Jr., is the eldest son of Joe Primeau."

Suzanne Primeau is proud that the family tradition of attending Leaf home games dates back to 1931-32. "At the time Conn Smythe was building the Gardens, he took Papa (Joe Primeau) around and told him to choose the seats he wanted. Papa ended up selecting eight seats and Conn allowed him not to pay for them. But that all changed in the Ballard era." Six of those seats remain in the Primeau family. "I remember Nana (her grandmother) telling me she went to the first game at Maple Leaf Gardens and the puck was dropped barely before the roof was put on."

Joe Primeau revealed to his granddaughter what he considered to be an important ingredient to winning games. "He told me that 75% of your success in the game was your goaltender." With two lethal scoring weapons as linemates, Primeau's job of distributing the puck between Conacher and Jackson often became a thorn in his side. Suzanne discovered how Primeau responded to this dilemma. "He'd say, 'I don't know how to keep those two happy. I'm going to have to cut the puck in half.'"

"I was born in 1931 and my first recollection of hockey was more in 1937," said Bob Primeau, who is Joe Primeau's son. "I don't remember anything about when Dad was playing. A big moment in my life was watching the Leafs win in 1942 when they came back from losing three games and winning the next four to win the Stanley Cup. I can remember him coaching." Joe Primeau is the only coach to capture a Memorial Cup, Allan Cup and Stanley Cup. Coach Primeau's Stanley Cup championship came in 1951. "I was at the game with my Uncle Jim when Barilko scored that overtime goal. I remember Sloan (Tod) tied the game with about a minute to go. Every game went into overtime."

Bob Primeau recalled a story his dad told him about the era when the train travel was the main means of transportation for NHL teams. "They spent a lot of time on the trains. Dad was talking about the kibitzing that use to happen on the train. It seems to me that Charlie Conacher was at the head of all the trouble. If anyone had a necktie on, Charlie had a pair of scissors and he would cut it off about halfway up."

One story both Primeau's shared concerned an injury Joe Primeau suffered on the road. "I remember him telling me about how he had part of his ear sliced," stated Suzanne. "The next game he took some old football helmet and put it on." Bob Primeau filled in the details. "He hit his head against the goalpost down in New York. He nearly knocked his ear off. They had trouble sewing it back on. He got an old football helmet and cut the top off it and wore it."

Above all, Joe Primeau was a family man and was called "Gentleman Joe" for a reason. "He was a good person and didn't bring the game home with him," explained Suzanne. "He never put anyone down and was always positive. There wasn't always nice talk about Harold Ballard, but Papa never said anything bad about him. In fact, Ballard sent 60 roses for their 60th wedding anniversary."

"When the Leafs won the Stanley Cup in '31-'32, I wasn't born yet," said Pete Conacher in his opening remarks concerning his dad Charlie Conacher. A standout in junior with the Galt Black Hawks, Pete Conacher graduated to the NHL and played for Chicago, New York and Toronto. "I always heard so many stories about the Kid Line. I'm sure that line played a big part in the 1932 Cup win. But I knew right from the start that my dad was a famous hockey player. I got to see more of him in action when he was coaching at Oshawa against St. Mike's and Joe Primeau. I would go to the practices in Oshawa."

Conacher delved into how his hockey playing family were humble when it came to discussing their amazing achievements in the game. "Dad and my Uncle Lionel and Uncle Roy, they all won Stanley Cups, Memorial Cups and are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but never once did I hear them talk about a special game or a special goal."

Charlie Conacher's other son, Brad, agreed with Pete's assessment of their father. "He never boasted about his hockey career," echoed Brad Conacher. "People recognized the name and it was always gratifying. In the 1930s there was no television or internet, but the one thing everyone seemed to do was sit around the radio and listen to hockey. They listened to Foster Hewitt call Toronto Maple Leaf games. The names Primeau, Jackson and Conacher were household names."

When Charlie Conacher and Francis Michael Clancy hit the ice together, adventure, excitement and mischief was bound to happen. Brad spoke of one such occasion and it involved New York Americans forward Eddie Convey. A native of Toronto, Convey was a member of the 1929 Memorial Cup champion Toronto Marlboros. His teammates on that team included Charlie Conacher, Harvey Jackson and Alex Levinsky.

"Convey was going to be sent down by the New York Americans so my dad and "King" Clancy decided to try and make him look good," Brad said in setting the scene. "They gave him the puck so my dad fell and "King" took a run at him and missed. Convey goes in on Lorne Chabot (the leaf goalie) and misses the net. The next time Convey came down, they both took a run at him and missed. Convey goes in and shoots the puck right into Chabot's pads. Dad and "King" decided to try one more time. This time, Chabot basically dives out of the way and gets hit in the throat. Then, they decided the next time Convey came down, they would break his legs!"

In the case of Howie Jackson, both his uncle and dad made it to the National Hockey League. His father, Art Jackson, won the Stanley Cup with Boston (1941) and Toronto (1945). His uncle was Harvey Jackson. "I don't remember a whole lot about Uncle Harvey," stated Howie. "Dad always talked about him and said there was no one in the NHL that had a harder backhand shot than Harvey. Also, Dad said Uncle Harvey was as tough as nails. You just didn't mess around with him. He had huge hands."

One bone of contention in the Jackson family is the fact Harvey Jackson was ignored during his lifetime when it came to his possible induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. And the individual responsible for setting up the roadblock to keep Jackson out of the Hall was Conn Smythe. "I fought for years to keep Busher Jackson out of the Hall of Fame," Smythe wrote in his 1981 memoir. Interestingly, Smythe's objections had nothing to do with Jackson's on-ice performance, but everything to do with his life away from the rink.

"Dad always thought Uncle Harvey should have included into the Hockey Hall of Fame around the same time as his linemates on the Kid Line. Everyone knows the problems Harvey had (with alcohol), but that has nothing to do with hockey." Conacher was the first of the three to enter the Hall in 1961, followed by Primeau's induction in 1963. Five years after his passing on June 25, 1966, Harvey Jackson took his well deserved place in the Hockey Hall of Fame as an Honoured Member in the class of 1971.

As one of the most beloved figures in all of hockey, no one knew "King" Clancy better than his son Terry Clancy. "He never talked about hockey, but he'd talk about Charlie (Conacher) and all the other guys," stated Terry. "He called the 1931-32 Leafs the best team ever. That's all he talked about. My father was the best and he loved his teammates. He talked about how tough they were and how good they were."

Terry Clancy was no stranger to the ice himself as he played in 93 NHL contests with Oakland and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, he played in the 1964 Olympics for the Canadian National Team under Father David Bauer. When asked if there was added pressure or expectations being the son of one of the greats, Clancy responded, "Not really, I played since I was a kid on Ottawa's open-air rinks. I just liked playing. I didn't care if the name was Clancy or Wilson."

On advice he received from his dad, Clancy said, "He never told me much." Surprisingly, this is a common reply by those with dad's that played in professional hockey. "He'd see me play in the Western and American Leagues and the NHL. One time, he told me, 'You know something Terry, I don't know what you're doing, but you are a better hockey player than I ever was. I think he was trying to build me up.'"

Clancy recalled an encounter he had with Charlie Conacher. "I remember Charlie one day was down in Ottawa. I was with my dad, he had a construction business in Ottawa. Charlie had just gotten his liquor licence for the Conway Hotel renewed. My dad said, 'Terry take Mr. Conacher to the airport.' I drove him out to the airport and he got out of the car and said, 'here kid.' He gave me a one-hundred dollar bill. I almost had a heart attack."

Richard Levinsky, like those that spoke before him, never had the chance to see his father perform in the National Hockey League. "I wasn't born until after my dad retired. He never really told me much about what he did."

Alex Levinsky's son filled in the blanks on his dad's career and accomplishments. "He won the Memorial Cup in 1929 and the Allan Cup in 1930. What was interesting with my dad was that in '29 he won the Canadian Amateur baseball and basketball championships. He wasn't ready to play for the Leafs, but they were paying for his university (law classes) and he was captain of the football team. When Dad signed with the Maple Leafs, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles (baseball). I have his original contract signed by Conn Smythe allowing him to play baseball in the summer. He signed for $3,500 and $500 in Maple Leaf Gardens shares. He didn't keep the shares very long."

After a brief stint with the Leafs in 1930-31, Alex Levinsky won hockey's greatest prize. "In 1932, he won his first Stanley with the Leafs." Levinsky also won a Cup in 1938 with the Chicago Black Hawks. "His defence partner on the Leafs was Hap Day. My dad and "Red" Horner were the enforcers on the Maple Leafs. He was tough and fought Eddie Shore (Boston) every game they played. In one fight with Shore my dad was near the goalpost. He ducked and Shore hit the post and broke his hand."

In his tough-guy role Levinsky was subject to countless physical hardships. However, one part of his body escaped punishment. "My dad never lost a tooth," Richard proudly proclaimed. "He had hundreds of stitches in his face, but never lost a tooth. When you got hurt, you played hurt, or you were sent down and never played again. There was always someone to replace you."

Levinsky told his son of the two players that impressed him most. "He felt Charlie Conacher was the best player he played with on the Maple Leafs. Howie Morenz was the best he played against. He told me that if Hap (Day) and him weren't halfway back to the blueline when Morenz took off, they had no chance of catching him."

On May 11, 1934, Levinsky's contract was sold to the New York Rangers for $12,000. "The reason  Conn Smythe sold him was that in his mortgage he had to have a certain amount in the bank at all-times," Richard said of Smythe's financial commitment. "He didn't have $12,000 in the bank at the time so he sold him to New York."

Born in Toronto, Levinsky's next NHL stop was in Chicago. In the Windy City, he encountered two very notorious characters. Richard explained a unique situation his dad, the first Jewish player in the National Hockey League, found himself in. "When he was playing in Chicago, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegle (both were underworld figures) were around. Dad was traded by Chicago and he told the story of how the guys in the Jewish Mafia wanted to take the coach for a ride. But, my dad wouldn't allow it!"

In a hushed tone, Richard Levinsky began his final comment. "It's really exciting to be here with these guys, it's really..." Overcome with emotion, Levinsky slowly began to rise from his chair, unable to finish his statement. It was obvious to all that the friendship and admiration had been passed down to future generations of the Kid Line, Clancy and Levinsky.

NOTES: A VERY SPECIAL SHOW & TELL


The above pictures show several historical pieces relating to the 1931-32 Toronto Maple Leafs.

 The first item comes courtesy of Suzanne Primeau. It is the miniature Lady Byng Trophy that was presented to Joe Primeau.

Below the first two photos is a plaque brought by Brad Conacher noting Charlie Conacher as the first Toronto Maple Leaf to score a goal in the newly built Maple Leaf Gardens. Conacher beat Chicago goalie, Charlie Gardiner, at the 18:42 mark of the second period. Fittingly, Joe Primeau was credited with the lone assist.

The final three photos reveal very rare items that Richard Levinsky displayed. The first shows Alex Levinsky's hockey jacket from the 1930s. The black & white photo of the Kid Line shows them wearing their jackets. The last two pictures show the front and back of a coin each member of the 1932 Stanley Cup champions received from Maple Leaf Gardens Limited. The "Pass" allowed the Leaf players "as world's champion to Maple Leaf Gardens any time."

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