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For years the Readers Digest included a feature in their monthly magazine, entitled “Laughter—The Best Medicine”. That theme was founded on Solomon’s Proverb: “A cheerful heart is good medicine!”
That philosophy was and is more than just a catchy saying. Medical science has confirmed that there are anywhere from five to thirteen benefits from a “cheerful heart”. There is actually something called “laughter therapy”, which “enhances health and wellness…..which reduces social and emotional stress and pain”.
It has been said that “laughter is the best emotional band aid in the world”.
Hence, this “Hockey’s Historic Highlights” takes the form of a prescription submitted "free of charge”, as an emotional band aid, with at least short-term benefits.
**When Eddie Shore came upon the NHL scene in 1926, the Bruins’ Art Ross did his best to make him a headline performer—even before he had proved himself on the ice. Public relations of the day was nothing like the modern version. But “Uncle Art’” highlighted the future hall of famer, promoting him as the strong and silent type off the ice, but ferocious on the ice.
One method of spotlighting the bruising defenseman was to showcase him in a pre-game performance each time Boston played at home. Before the puck was dropped the “Edmonton Express” would skate onto playing surface in a long, flowing robe, while a band blared out a fanfare. The music would stop, and he would then make several circuits of the rink before the action could begin.
To say that, while the fans ate it up, it was an irritation to opposition teams, is an understatement. A New York Americans’ coup de grace finally put a stop to it. One night, immediately after Shore’s performance, from the visitor’s side of the arena, there was another burst of music, and from the sidelines two men rushed out and rolled out a red carpet. Suddenly a smallish figures, decked out in the visitor’s stars and stripes, ran out and tripped lightly along the carpet, blowing kisses as the moved. It was none other than Charles “Rabbit” McVeigh. From then on Eddie skated out with the rest of the troops.
**Still with McVeigh, who was somewhat of a character, a decade later, he was a referee in the American Hockey League. One night he gave a player a minor penalty for some infraction or other, and was typically met with a protest. On this occasion, however, the guilty party emphasized his disagreement by throwing his stick high in the air. The diminutive whistle-tooter pointed an accusing finger and shouted: “If that stick comes back down you’ll face a $25. Fine!”
It did—and he did!
**Emil Iverson was born in Denmark, but was known on this side of the seas for his success as a University Coach in the USA. His training methods were so much ahead of the times that some of them are still used today. When he was signed as coach of the Chicago Blackhawks in the fall of 1932, the Windy City management felt he might be able to utilize those training skills. When Glenn Brydson reported to camp he was deemed to have added excess weight. So he was turned over to Iverson, who was to arrange for him to lose 15 pounds. At the end of one week, he had gained four pounds!
** After eight seasons with the Ottawa Senators and one with the Detroit Falcons, Alex “The Ottawa Fireman” Connell retired from hockey. He returned for a single game during the 1933-34 campaign to fill in for “Shrimp” Worters in the New York Americans’ cage. The Maroons made a play for his services the following campaign, and sent him a blank contract to sign. He agreed with one stipulation: “It is agreed that Alex Connell is to be relieved of action without notice the minute a fire alarm sounds” (the impish backstop implied that the fire department could not manage without him). Retaining the mocking spirit, the Montreal management consented, with their own proviso: “providing the time it sounds the play is in the enemy’s territory!”
**Back in 1937 the Montreal Maroons were part of the eight-team NHL, playing in their home arena, the Montreal Forum. One night Bill Stewart was the on-ice official, and a call he made irritated a front row spectator. The ill-tempered fan reached out as he skated by and belted him in the chops. The former baseball umpired screamed for Tommy Gorman, the locals’ manager, to have the aggressive customer ejected from the premises. “The heck with you!”, he answered. “It’s hard enough to get him into the joint! I’m not throwing him out!”
**Around 1940 “King” Clancy and NHL referee-in-chief “Mickey” Ion were walking away from Madison Square Garden after a particularly difficult task of refereeing. The crowd was on his case continually and after his hide for the calls he made with which they vehemently disagreed. Of course the usual abusive accusation was directed his way: “You’re blind, Clancy!” With the stinging comments about how lousy a job he had done still ringing in his ears, he suddenly stopped and pick up a $10. bill lying on the sidewalk. When he noticed what had taken place, Ion, the experienced official commented: Those guys had nerve calling you blind!”
**The stories behind how players have been tagged with their nicknames are many and varied. Alex Kaleta was a mild-mannered forward with the New York Rangers in the late 1940’s, and in mockery someone came up with the moniker “Killer”. But before that he was called “Sea Biscuit”. That bestowal took place after he and a teammate were sitting in a railway station waiting for train time. His buddy was reading the sports section of a newspaper—more specifically the race results for the day. “That Sea Biscuit sure is a good!”, he remarked.
“Is that so?”, questioned Kaleta. “Then I think I’ll have two of them!”
** On December 19, 1950, Leo Gravelle was traded from the Canadiens, where he had played for four seasons, in the early part of the 1950-51 campaign. Now it so happened there was George Gravelle who was an NHL referee at that same time. He was easily distinguished from other officials because he didn’t have a single hair on his head. In fact the mischievous organist at the Chicago Stadium used to strike up “Silver threads among the gold” whenever he skated out for the opening faceoff. When it was announced in the Motor City dressing room that a new player was arriving, an unthinking skater, who had names mixed up, grumbled: “What in the world do we want with a bald-headed referee?”
**Back in the days when matters relating to church mattered more, the small town of Manitou, Manitoba, hosted a Pee Wee hockey tournament. Because the games lasted the entire weekend, the local hockey association arranged for the boys to attend Sunday School on the Lord’s Day morning.
Being careful to ensure each fellow would end up in the right church when he was registered, he was asked his denomination. One young gaffer, who must not have been a regular attendee, said: “Left wing!”
*The studious Ken Dryden was already well on his way to earning a law degree when he joined the Canadiens in 1970. At that time Jacques Courtois, a prominent attorney, was president of the Bleu-Blanc-et Rouge. During that season, he visited the Habs’ dressing room and sought out the brilliant rookie netminder. “Ken.”, he said, “We’ll soon be in the same business.”
The resident quipster, Pete Mahovlich, who had been listening in, snapped: “You mean you’re going to take up goaltending, Mr. Courtois?”
** When the NHL doubled in size in the 1967 expansion, fiery Wren Blair was signed as the first coach of the Minnesota North Stars. The pace that he would set as their mentor was established after their initial contest, which ended in a 1-1 deadlock. He turned the air blue with his expressive opinions about the failures he saw in the match. That same campaign a player who had been given a specific assignment had blown it. Blair could hardly contain himself until the period ended. When it did, he stomped into the dressing room and started to bawl him out. In his exuberance he tore off is jacket and threw it at the offending skater. However, as he did so, he lost his balance because the floor was wet and slippery. Like a slapstick comic slipping on a banana peel his feet went up and he landed square on his back. The reporter who penned the story continued: “As he landed he was still spewing at the player. For a moment he lay on his back staring at the ceiling, still ranting and raving. Finally, he jerked himself erect and carried on!”
**In the fall of 1989 the Washington Capitals were touring Europe playing pre-season games. The team’s publicist, Lou Coretto, had accompanied two journalists who had accompanied the team on their tour. There were some comments made about the attractiveness of the Scandinavian waitresses, and, as men on the loose will sometimes do, they sought to strike up a conversation with the one who waited on them. “And what is the name of your hometown”, one of them asked.
“Akron, Ohio.”, she answered in impeccable English.
**Freddie Shero was a man of many moods and personality traits. He surprised his Flyer pawns one time when he was getting on Bob “Hound Dog” Kelly’s case to lack effort. The latter argued that he was contributing. The Broad Street Bullies bench boss shot back that he wanted more than that—he wanted commitment! Kelly then asked what the difference was. “I’ll tell you!” Shero philosophized. “It’s all in ham and eggs. The chicken makes contribution—but the pig makes the commitment!”
**As the 1991 season ended for the Detroit Red Wings, and the players were cleaning out their lockers, a team official handed each player a video tape of their personal highlights of the season. Defenseman Randy McKay slid his tape out of the sleeve, stared at it, and screamed: “It’s only 25 seconds long!”
When it comes to hockey humour, it reminds one of the old 1940’s radio programme, The Naked City. These adventures always ended with: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City—this has been one of them”. Well, the hockey world cannot quite match that number—but they seem to be a dime a dozen. Sadly some of the best of them are gleaned from the care-free days of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Perhaps a bit of bias peeks through in that statement, betraying the age of this writer—although, in all fairness, the media in those days gave more space to anecdotal features than their modern counterparts do.
So, with that confession out of the way, we cap this off with a prize tale from the “Original 6” era. After his playing days Clarence “Happy” Day combined both coaching and scouting for his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. During one of those searches for talent he was touring Saskatchewan and stopped in Saskatoon to watch a Senior “A” contest. Reg Bentley, who had briefly skated for the Blackhawks with his brothers, Max & Doug, was re-instated as an amateur and was included in the local line-up. Wishing to renew acquaintance, “Hap” yelled at Doug as he skated by during the warm-up. The latter looked blankly back at him, as if to say, “Who are you?” “Happy Day!”, Clarence called in explanation.
“Happy day to you too!”, he responded and skated away!
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