Hockey's Historic Highlights

The Smith Brothers and their Kin

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


The Smith Brothers and their Kin

Posted November 25, 2019

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Tommy Smith
Tommy Smith

    In 1831 James Smith emigrated from Scotland, first to Canada, then to Poughkeepsie. New York.

There he opened a “sweet shop”, selling candy and ice cream. In 1852, a peddler stopped by his establishment and sold him a recipe which was used to manufacture the first “Smith Brothers Cough Drops”.

  It sold well, becoming the most popular remedy for tickles in the throat in America. When James passed away in 1866, his sons, William and Andrew, took over the business. Originally these lozenges were, like most candies of that era, displayed in glass jars. But, to prevent generic versions, the brothers began packaging in their product in small, specially-designed boxes. Both their photos and the name of their product were stamped on each container. When they were trademarked, the words “trade” and “mark” were displayed under the photos, giving customers the impression that these represented the men’s first names.

   Originally the drops had a distinct liquorice taste; but as time passed they added menthol and wild cherry flavours.

   While goalie Glenn Hall once jokingly applied the “Smith Brothers” couplet to Dallas (born Hamiota, Man.) and Rick (born Hamilton, On), there really have been a number of Smith brothers in the NHL--five pairs to be exact, if you count Ryan and Kevin Smyth.

(And, according to one etymologist, Smyth, Schmidt, or Smith—it’s all the same.)

   With the exception of Brendan and Reilly, currently with the Rangers and Golden Knights respectively, all the rest are retired from the world’s premier circuit.

  While it is difficult to assess comparisons in the talent department—partly because they have often played different positions—it seems that, in almost every case, one would be listed higher on the list of “top 200” than his sibling.

   The Smith moniker is actually a shortened version of “Blacksmith” (or “Smithy”). In bygone times a man’s profession often was betrayed by his surname. It is said that was especially true in vintage times when he might be registering to board a ship to migrate to another land.

  And the jury is still out on the two Smiths still active plying their trade on the anvils of big league ice surfaces. Brendan is a blueliner, who, according to reports, struggles to maintain status in the Big Time. His plus/minus stats are wanting, and he has a penchant for spending too much time in the sin bin. He is known to let his desire to take the body leave him out of position, creating defensive lapses. One word keeps cropping up in his profile: “inconsistent”. 

   Reilly, who spent time with Dallas, Boston, and Florida, now wears an “A” on his Vegas sweater. Three times he topped the 20-goal mark in his eight campaigns in the NHL. Able to play either the starboard or port positions on the forward line, he is described as “quality two-way winger”.

   There is no doubt about it. When it comes to the more prominent place in the game’s archives, Gary Smith will outrank brother Brian by good measure. And this doesn’t expressly indicate a difference in their comparative abilities. 

   The latter was a career minor-leaguer, who skated for Los Angeles and the North Stars for only 67 regular-season games (and seven playoff games). He is better remembered for the tragedy which befell him off the ice. Following his retirement he became a sportscaster in his hometown of Ottawa. On August 1, 1995, leaving the CJOH studios, he was fatally shot. Jeffrey Arenburg, who was known to have “heard voices”, listened to one of them and fired a 22-calibre bullet into the head of the highly respected radio personality. He was acquitted of murder charges because he was found to be mentally incompetent. 

   For most die-in-the-wool fans, one only need say his brother’s name, because it conjures up so many evidences of his eccentricity. He was tagged with the nickname “Suitcase”, because in his early career he moved around a lot. He may be the only NHL’er to have an official rule named after him. During his initial game in the Big Time, he envisioned being the first league netminder to score a goal. In a match against the Habs, he left his crease with that object in mind. He recalls that J.C. Tremblay had other ideas—and he “nailed me!”.

  But it didn’t cure him of this tendency to leave his post and head toward the competition’s net. In fact, he did it so often that the league also nailed him. They introduced a rule forbidding a twine-tender from skating over the red line. Voilà! The “Gary Smith rule!”

  He was also remembered for removing all his equipment between periods, showering, and donning all that gear again. For a while he insisted that his skate boots stretched, so he ended up wearing 13 pair of socks to fill the gap.

  Perhaps his most bizarre antic took place on February 8, 1976, while he was employed by the Vancouver Canucks. When Coach Phil Maloney hooked him half way through the match, he left the ice and kept right on going—out of the arena in full garb—and drove home. “It’s rough driving with skates on!”, he quipped.

    Unless a person was a major league hockey enthusiast during the “Original 6” era, he is unlikely to recall many headlines about our next shinny siblings who share the same parents. Don and Kenny Smith were hardly household words even during the years in which they were active in the NHL. In fact, Don played only 11 games, plus one playoff match, in 1949-50 with the New York Rangers. His “line score” was 1-1-2, with 0 P.I.M.

   Older brother Kenny, although he twice bulged the twine 20 times during the regular season—a respectable number for the 1940’s and 1950’s — drew little attention to himself. Stocky, at 5’7” even for that era, he quietly and efficiently patrolled his left-wing corridor—a steady and clean-playing puckster. His goal total was an unspectacular 78.

   As the for the fourth sibling combination—Gord and Billy Smith—neither one of them hesitated to mix it up with opposition skaters. But it was not a “good cop, bad co” scenario. It’s just that the better known of the pair constantly drew attention to his aggressiveness. 

   Gord, the older frère, was a defenseman. He was one of those rare competitors who shone in the minors, but failed to settle into a permanent slot with any troop in the Big Time. He was awarded the Eddie Shore Trophy, emblematic of the AHL Best Defenseman award, following the 1973-74 season. He was an All Star in both the EHL and the AHL. He also set records for penalty minutes while riding the buses—perhaps hoping to catch the attention of some team at the next level. He managed only two full campaigns in the NHL, both with Washington—there he clocked 284 P.I.M. in 295 games.

  Of course, “Battlin’ Billy” (or the “Hatchet Man”) constantly made headlines for his crease-clearing antics while with the Islanders. Without a doubt he was a highly-skilled backstop. He was a key member of the New York sextet which copped the Cup four years running. He won the Vezina Trophy and was voted First All Star goaltender in 1982. He is credited with being the first NHL goalie to score; and is a member of the Hall of Fame.

   But his mean streak often outweighed his skill levels. No one felt safe within a country mile of the blue paint in which he plied his trade. The blade of his big shillelagh was wielded like a scythe down low; and it is said that at times the handle of his stick was purposefully sans the normal knob of tape on the end, prompting comments describing it as being like a weapon—as several sported the bruises to prove. 

   A quick review of YouTube highlights brings to light the occasion when he high-sticked Lindy Ruff in the eye; or the game against Edmonton when he chopped both Glenn Anderson and Wayne Gretzky like a lumberjack preparing fuel for his wood stove. One sportscaster dared to opine that he was the dirtiest player in the game.

   Space does not permit to profile several other NHL’ers with the same surname. But there are a handful whose resumes cannot be overlooked.

   The very first with this common denominator to make an appearance in the world’s premier shinny circuit was one Thomas James. The youngest of seven hockey-playing brothers from Ottawa, he was referred to as a “tourist” in the vintage days of the professional (or equivalent) game. 16 times he went where the pay was good—from Pittsburgh in 1905, to Brantford, to Galt, Moncton, to Quebec. It was in La Belle Province that he played his 10 NHL games in 1919. Unlike his mercenary brothers, Alf and Harry, he played a comparatively clean game. He was a goal-scoring whiz, potting 143 goals in just 94 contests in the NHA. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

   His given name was Reginald. But he is always referred to in the game’s circles as “Hooley”. He was tagged with this moniker with reference to the old comic strip character, “Happy Hooligan”. Whether the byname was given while he was young and mischievous, or after his approach to hockey was noted, is not clear. But he was a hooligan.

  He is best remembered as a member of the famous Montreal Maroon’s “Big S Line”, complemented by Nels Stewart and “Babe” Siebert. This highly-productive trio put fear into opposition netminders from 1929 through 1931. A valued forward for Canada in the 1924 Olympics—scoring a goal in the decisive game, in fact — he was sought by several franchises. But Ottawa won the bidding war and he joined the Senators, where he skated in Ottawa for three seasons, before moving to the Maroons.

   His biography is filled with a multitude of confrontations and adventures. He was arrogant. When he showed up for a try-out with Frank Selke’s Junior squad at age 18, he barged into the dressing room demanding a pair of gloves and a stick. When he was offered a certificate to sign, he told the shocked shinny icon he could “stick them then — since you don’t trust me!”

   He got off to a poor start previous to his initial workout with the Capital City gang. Known as a skilled  poke-checker he took the master hook-checker to task in the locker room. “The trouble with you, (Frank) Nighbor is that you don’t check right!” Only captain “Buck” Boucher’s intervention prevented a rumble.

When Leo Dandurand invited Hooley Smith to join the Habs, the brash forward responded with: "Who do you have? Vezina? Morenz? Joliat? Do you call those guys hockey players?

  He was hot-tempered and aggravating on the ice, constantly squaring off with opposition skaters—and sometimes even with his own teammates. He once shattered Harry Oliver’s nose, resulting in a 10-game suspension. In fact, even though he was a key performer in Ottawa’s 1927 Stanley Cup championship, team owner Ahern still announced that “Smith is history!”. He was tired of his brawling.

   He was among the top 10 scorers in 1933, 1934, and 1935—and is a member of the Hall of Fame.   

   While Reginald and Clint share the same last name, the latter is unmistakeably the antithesis of the former. “Hooley” skated with a chip on his shoulder, and his stick held high. “Snuffy” would rather switch than fight. He was the epitome of a gentleman on ice.

   There were four seasons when he avoided incurring any penalty minutes at all. The most time spent in the sin bin was six minutes over the course of an entire campaign. In fact, he served a total only 24 minutes for breaking the rules in 483 games. If it had not been for clean-playing opponents like Bobby Bauer, Max Bentley, and Syl Apps, he no doubt would have had his name engraved on the Lady Byng Trophy more than just 1939 and 1944.

  The bulk of his career was spent with the Rangers. But as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks he set a record that has never been broken—tallying four goals in one period—the final frame on March 4, 1945. Four times he topped the 20-goal mark, which was a benchmark accomplishment in the era in which he skated.

   Like “Hooley”, his nickname was borrowed from a comic strip character. Teammate Cecil Dillon read only the “funnies” in newspapers. His favourite cartoon was “Barney Google”, whose sidekick was “Snuffy” Smith. One night, after Clint had scored a significant marker, Dillon skated to the P.A. announcer and told him to announce that “Snuffy Smith” had put the puck in the net. The mischievous fellow went along with the gag. Sports writers picked up the idea and it stuck.

   At least four others from that clan deserve a compact close-up:

  Sid comes to mind because he recently had the outdoor artificial ice rink, formerly Christie Pits Rink, named after him. He grew up in that community and learned to skate and play the game on the natural ice in the 1940’s and 50’s. Working his way up the shinny ladder, he was called up from Pittsburgh for the 1949 playoffs with the Leafs. In the second tilt with the Red Wings, he scored all the goals in a 3-1 triumph. A “tip-in” specialist he twice topped the 30-goal mark. He won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1952 and 1955, and three times was chosen to All Star teams. He was playing coach of the Whitby Dunlops when they won the World Championship in 1958.

    Al Smith had started only two games in the 1976-77 season with Buffalo. Anxious to stop collecting splinters from riding the bench, he was delighted when Coach Floyd Smith (no relation) gave him the nod for the February 13 match, as the replacement for Gerry Desjardins who was on the injury list. But at the last minute, Manager Punch Imlach pulled the plug on him, insisting rookie Don Edwards be given a chance to show his stuff. The frustrated netminder left the bench, skated to centre ice, did a fancy twirl, then, looking straight at Seymour Knox, he waved goodbye—and retired on the spot. After two seasons in the WHA, he played half a season with Hartford, then with Colorado.

   Bobby is the highest-scoring Smith of all. Winner of the Calder Trophy in 1979, and selected to play in All-Star games four times; he bulged the twine 357 times. He proved that the North Stars made no mistake in drafting him first overall in 1978. He played seven seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, before returning to Minnesota to complete his tenure in the Big Time.

    Several years ago an unknown poet used rhyme to accent the commonality of the Smith surname.

The initial stanza included this exaggeration: 

                              The stranger you’re gaily chatting with,

                              It’s seven to five he’s a Smith;

                             That his first name’s John, it’s six to two.

                             And it’s even money that so are you!

                             For Smith is simple and Smith is neat.

                             It can’t be fumbled, it’s too complete.

                            In the Hall of Fame or the telephone book,

                            It’s Smith as far as the eye can look.

    It’s readily understood that he was playfully aiming to prove a point. But it was a case of “not what he said, but what he meant” — since there have “only” been 64 boasting that oft-used name, while 7,623 have worn the colours of NHL teams in the century of its existence.

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