Friday, January 9, 2015

The First Step

It all has to start somewhere, that first step which hopefully, leads to a career in the National Hockey League. For some the dream comes true, but for many like myself we never got to skate in a pro game.

In the case of Sid Smith, his journey to the National Hockey League began in early 1943. Born and raised in the city of Toronto, Sid signed-up to play another season in the Toronto Hockey League. The 1943 hockey year was of particular importance, as it marked Sid's last season before being considered for junior.

Courtesy of Blaine Smith

As the above T.H.L. certificate documents, Sid registered on January 6, 1943, to participate in the Juvenile Series. He was returning for another campaign with Carmen Bush's Columbus Boys' Club.

Carmen Bush was born in 1912 and started organizing sports leagues when he was only 10 years old. His first venture involved street leagues. As the name indicates, Bush would take community street teams and incorporate them into a league.

Eventually, Bush became associated with the Columbus Boys' Club in the 1930s. Starting as a volunteer, Bush made his way through the ranks and was appointed club director. The Columbus Boys' Club offered a variety of sports for youngsters residing near Christie Pits in Toronto.

Sid Smith, front row-left, wearing his Columbus Boys' sweater in the early 1940s. Courtesy of Blaine Smith

Carmen Bush's influence on young Sid Smith remained with the future Toronto Maple Leaf for his entire life.

"Carmen Bush started me in hockey," Sid Smith told author Jack Batten. "He ran the Columbus Boy's Club in a barnstorming old clubhouse over Bellwoods Avenue, and he taught us baseball, hockey, football, everything. He taught the fundamentals. After I'd started in Christie Pits, I went with Carmen's teams in the Toronto Hockey League from the time I was thirteen until I was seventeen, and I never forgot his lessons."

In 1943-44, after sharpening his hockey skills with the Columbus Boys' Club, Sid made the jump to Junior "B" with a local high school, Toronto De La Salle Oaklands. Over the next two seasons, Sid played Junior "A" in Oshawa and Senior "A" with the Toronto Staffords.

Courtesy of Blaine Smith

Then, in 1946-47, Sid Smith took one final step to reach his goal of playing in the National Hockey League. In February of 1947, Sid was called-up from the Pittsburgh Hornets by Conn Smythe's Toronto Maple Leafs. He would go on to wear the Blue and White for his entire career - 601 regular season encounters -  in the NHL. In addition to capturing several Stanley Cups and being a First Team All-Star left-winger, Sid was a two-time Lady Byng winner and served as team captain.

Decades later, my first significant step came in 1966. After being registered in a House League, I donned the  goalie pads to play between the pipes.

 Like Sid Smith, I progressed to the Juvenile level, but didn't advance any further. Still, I enjoyed playing the game and it showed me how difficult it was for guys like Sid Smith to take that next step and how truly gifted one has to be to make a living playing hockey.

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