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Virtually every year about this time, some witty hockey scribe decides to propose a list of New Year’s resolutions for all and sundry connected to teams in the world’s premier shinny fraternity. (As a matter of fact, the “World Junior Championship” issue of the Hockey News arrived as this piece was being written, and in the “Team Reports” section resolutions for each of the 30 clubs were featured)
It would take very little imagination to suggestion a handful for those presently at the helm of clubs like the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Ottawa Senators.
But, for the sake of variety we’ll go back in time to focus on some already concocted by just such a journalist as he saw it at the commencement of the year of the stock market crash.
Marc T. McNeil, writing the Montreal Gazette compiled this checklist as he saw it at that juncture in time:
Cecil Hart (Canadien’s GM): “I promise never again to denounce sports writers—unless they write something I don’t like”.
Jack Adams (Detroit’s GM): “I’m going to suggest to Mr. Norris (team owner) that he build a new home for the Red Wings.” (It only took 40 years for that to happen)
Art Ross (Bruin’s CEO): “We’ll bring down fire and Brimsek on the heads of every other club in the league.”
But this essay will not be about resolutions—but revelations. Not about what individuals planned to do—but what several have done—or been done to them.
Certainly a momentous incident took place very early in the history of the NHL at New Years. On January 2, 1918 the Montreal Arena, home to the Canadiens and the Wanderers, burned to the ground. It was estimated that each club lost about $1000. worth of equipment. The decision was quickly made to relocate to the Jubilee Rink. However, the Redbands were not happy with that choice. Apart from any other complaint, geography was a factor. The new environs were located in Montreal’s east end, while the Wanderers considered the west end their “home” territory, with the majority of their fan support there.
Manager Art Ross announced that their need for reinforcements was also crucial.He said that unless other clubs gave them help in that regard, he saw no point in the team continuing to operate. Within two days owner Sam Lichtenhein withdrew the Wanderers from the circuit.
On January 2, 1926 the Montreal Maroons hosted the New York Americans. It was a low-scoring affair, with the final result favouring the Mount Royal contingent 3-2. The penalty total was also unusually sparse, with the sin bin being visited only nine times over the course of the 60 minutes of play—plus 15 minutes of overtime—all minors...
Yet each of the markers came during a short-handed situation. Penalty-Randall (NYA); then goal-Broadbent (MM). Penalty-Stewart (MM); then goal-R. Green (NYA). Broadbent (MM) went to the fence next—followed by Burch NYA) scoring; while the second frame saw the American’s Simpson catch the official’s eye, and the Maroon’s Broadbent knotted the score. In overtime Langlois (NYA) went to the box, and Siebert (MM) broke the tie.
Toronto’s Conn Smythe realized his search for what he felt was the missing link in his quest for a Stanley Cup champion, when he purchased “King” Clancy from Ottawa on October 11, 1930. But according to breaking news on January 1, 1930, he began that quest nine months earlier. Already blessed with Charlie “The Big Bomber” Conacher on his team, he coveted brother Lionel, who was then playing manager with the Maroons. He offered four first class competitors, in the persons of Danny Cox, Art Duncan, Art Smith, and Eric Pettinger. When that proposal failed, he gave the Senators a try, maintaining that Danny Cox and Pettinger should adequately compensate for the services of Frank Nighbor.
The fast-living New York Americans were hardly the toast of the NHL. Over the 17 seasons they were part of the loop, they made the post-season only five times. One of those occasions was during the 1938-39 campaign. And they might just have been able to credit a successful back-to-back sweep of the Maple Leafs (who finished a mere three points above them in the final standings) over the New Year’s weekend that season. They took the series 3-2 and 5-1; and the unlikely hero was Johnny Sorrell, who finished with a grand total of nine goals in 48 games. He potted four out of the eight mustered by the Star Spangled outfit, including a hat trick in the 5-1 victory. His annual performance over 11 campaigns failed to gain him more than a second glance—but on New Years 1939, he long remembered it as a HAPPY one!
Out of the plethora of serious revelations from umpteen seasons of big league shinny, there is bound to be a lighter moment or two. One such scenario took place at New Years in 1943. The age-old rivals from Toronto and Detroit were engaged in their usual head-to-head conflict, when suddenly, big Bill Chadwick, who was the whistle tooter for the match, fell—for no apparent reason. As it turns out, he had tripped over a piece of dental bridgework which had spilled out onto the playing surface. Initially, the conclusion was that it came from the mouth of the Wing’s backstop, Johnny Mowers, since his was missing. However, when he tried to put it back in place it wouldn’t fit. Entering the scene, a Johnny-come-lately, an embarrassed Bob Davidson, the Leaf’s steady winger, realized that he too was missing a partial plate.
The aforementioned Charlie Conacher, who had been out of the game for two years, was introduced as the new bench boss of the Chicago Blackhawks on January 1, 1948. His debut was hardly memorable, since his sextet was shut out by the Red Wings, 4-0. His comments, made a few days earlier, came back to haunt him. Detroit had recently humbled Boston 3-0, and the former Leaf winger observed: “It’s hard to see how any team could any worse than Boston!” Well, his new squad was—at least by one goal!
But my the end of the month the WindyCity’s GM, Bill Tobin, remarked: “Boy oh boy! Are we ever pleased we got Charlie. The team’s going great right now!”
“Turk” Broda affirmed that when he said: “They (the Hawks) are the hottest thing in the league right now!” He had changed the hapless Hawks “from a beaten brigade to a fighting source of power!”
And, even Chicago if missed the playoffs again, Tobin assured his new coach the job would his again the next season if he wanted it.
It was a tradition during the 1950’s, on New Year’s Day, to announce the “top athlete” for the preceding year. In 1953 Maurice “Rocket” Richard was afforded that honour for 1952. A Canadian Press staff writer, Bruce Phillips offered: “Joseph Henri Maurice Richard, around whose name fame has burned brightly for 10 years, has been voted Canada’s top athlete and her outstanding sports personality. As well, he was judged to be ‘the outstanding personality in any capacity’”.
George Genereux, who won the nation’s only gold medal in the 1952 summer Olympic Games, was second in voting. Gordie Howe, the perennial shinny standout, came in third.
On January 2, 1956, the apparel of NHL on-ice officials, referees and linesmen, was officially unveiled, with photos appearing on the sport’s pages across the country. For many years these whistle tooters had sported plain white sweaters, with the league crest emblazoned on their left chest.
That this occasionally created identification problems was demonstrated during a game in 1939. The Canadiens were visiting Detroit and were wearing their “whites”. During the course of the game a Hab’s skater passed the puck to the referee, who, obviously was sporting a white jersey as well.
It took 14 years, but in 1953 the powers-that-be decided whistle tooters would wear orange shirts, which would not clash with any current club colours. Within three seasons, as noted above, their tops would be fashioned after that football officials—namely black and white stripes.
Two highlights hit the sports beat headlines at New Years 1961—one was triumph, the other a downer. The formal involved the first black to play in the NHL, Willie O’Ree. While he had worn the Bruin’s colours for two games in 1957-58, he didn’t stick with the big club until his second time around. On January 2nd he tallied the winning marker in Boston’s 3-2 win over Montreal. It was his first time to light the lamp in NHL, and he did it in fine style. He snagged the disc at centre and barged down the ice to beat Charlie Hodge to give the Beantowners their two points.
The latter incident involved the fiery coach and general manager of the Maple Leafs, “Punch” Imlach. When the Canadiens whipped his charges 6-3 he claimed that referee Frank Udvari, and linesmen Loring Doolittle and George Hayes should have been chosen as the three stars. President Clarence Campbell took a dim view of this “public criticism of officiating”, and fine him $200.
Canadian journalist Ted Blackman took a critical glance at the sale of the Montreal Canadiens, as announced on January 3, 1972. “Throw out the welcome mat—sharp spikes and hot coals. The purchase of the Canadian Arena Company by Pleasant Rondelle (a group headed by lawyer Jacques Courtois) was greeted with a) a 75 cent drop in the market price of a common share; b) a 5-2 loss in Toronto by chief assets; c) a largely indifferent public response. Reaction to the sale by the average hockey fan could be summed up in one word: “fllumphh!”. It would be unfair to dismiss the 14 years over Molson rule (a controlling interest was held by David, William, and Peter Molson) over the Forum as a sham. But at the same time the organization became unpopular with a considerable segment of the population. A fired coach and raised ticket prices are two examples of why public confidence in the Montreal Canadiens is shallow.”
Canadians take their hockey seriously. When it comes to international competition they take it even more seriously. So, when any representative team brings home the gold, euphoria reigns supreme. Such was the case with our World Junior squad in 1984. With the tournament concluding on December 31st, the first published papers on January 2nd were able to headline Canada’s championship triumph.
In this instance there was a story within the story. Wendel Clark, one of two coach Terry Simpson referred to as a “role player”, pulled a near loss out of the fire in the Red & White’s final match. Having played defense for two periods he was switched to left wing for the final frame—and scored the tying goal in the 2-2 draw with the Czechs. It so impressed the Maple Leafs that he was their number one pick in the June draft.
Interviewed recently, the Kelvington, Saskatchewan native revealed the switch “changed his life”. Indeed it did. He starred as a forward for 15 years in the NHL.
Resolutions and revelations are totally different in one respect—they are at the opposite end of the spectrum of time. But they are the same in another. A resolution is future, and nothing can be done about it at the time—and a revelation is past—and nothing can be done about it at the time either.
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