Hockey's Historic Highlights

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


Ferreting Out Phantom Hockey Stars

Posted March 17, 2017

    “I am a rookie with the New York Rangers, and the first woman ever to play in the National Hockey League.”

     This testimonial is credited to one Cleo Birdwell, and was found in the flyleaf of a new book published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, released in the fall of 1980. It was promoted as “an intimate memoir by the first woman ever to play in the NHL”.

   Buyers who casually picked up this new volume to peruse it would have certainly questioned “how come this was not headline news in the hockey world?” Those reading this column will doubtless react in the same way. “No historical record exists of this blockbuster phenomenon!”

   The reason being, in both cases, of course, that this was a fiction novel called “Amazons”, penned by Don DeLillo under the pseudonym “Cleo Birdwell”. No wonder Stan Fischler opined: “To put it mildly it is the most different hockey book ever written”.

Ms. Birdwell was a phantom, fostered in the imagination of Mr. DeLillo.

     Because of the inherent joy of scooping the competition in the arena of player search and rescue, some mischievous executives, players, and even public relations personnel, have invented out-of-the-ordinary finds in order to ruffle feathers—or to gain the advantage in competitive shinny circles—phantoms—the product of over-active imaginations.

   Back in 1925-26 the NHL’s Hamilton franchise was expelled from the league, but most of its players made their way to New York, hired by the team that became the Americans. Anxious to promote the game in the Big Apple, the club’s president, Tom Duggan, concocted a scheme to attract spectators to watch the second American city to be granted a franchise in the league. He announced that an Indian brave from the Caughnawaga Reserve in Canada, named Rainy Drinkwater, would join the club. Milt Dunnell, the sports editor of the Toronto Star, wrote: “He received more ink than Sitting Bull”. However, as it turned out, his real name was René Boileau from Pointe Claire, Quebec, a French-Canadian, a slight fellow who weighed in at 150 pounds.

    The press release went something like this: “From the shores of Lake St. Louis where his forbearers have resided for centuries, to the mad swirl of New York, comes Rainy Drinkwater, full blooded Indian, to play for the New York Americans. His real name is “Rain-in-the-Face” but it has been shortened to “Rainy”. He has resided in tee pees for the greater part of his life, and he liked nothing better than to go around Lake St. Louis in his canoe, helping his tribe get enough to eat by fishing and hunting.”

Rene "Rainy Drinkwater" Boileau
René "Rainy Drinkwater" Boileau

   It was great publicity for hockey-ignorant New York, but he lasted only a couple of weeks, playing seven games, then was sent down to New Haven. There he resumed going by his own name. But, when he was sent to Niagara Falls of the Can Pro loop they immediately hung the nickname of “Chief” on him. He became a minor league journeyman who never made it back to the NHL. Someone said: “He couldn’t live up to his press clippings!”

   Tommy Gorman was one who stuttered more than once from the practical jokes played on him by his goalie, Alex “The Ottawa Fireman” Connell. In the fall of 1935, when the Montreal Maroons were training in Winnipeg, an inexperienced newspaper scribe, desperate for a scoop, asked Connell if he knew of any new deals in the offing. He replied that he did, but it was very “hush hush”, and must be kept on the Q.T.! A prospect by the name of Billy Gilmour from out west, a 220-pound, six-footer, the fastest guy on skates from the prairies, would soon be arriving in camp. According to the mischievous cage-cop, he would make Howie Morenz look like a second-rater. The price tag was $10,000, but worth every cent!

   The excited columnist spilled it to the papers, and the Canadian Press picked it up. The papers had barely hit the stands when Gorman received an agitated phone call from the Maroon’s owner back in Montreal! With the club’s finances on shaky ground, the manager had some explaining to do. Totally unaware of what was going on, he asked owner Tom Arnold what the player’s name was. When informed it was Billy Gilmour, he laughed out loud. “Boss!”, he said. “That guy played for Ottawa 30 years ago!”

  Back about 1941, just previous to the Patrick brothers, Lynn and Muzz, entering military service, they collaborated with Coach Frank Boucher to play a practical joke on one of the Rangers’ scouts. 45 candidates for the team were at Lester Patrick’s “hockey school” as he called it, and after every scrimmage lists were drawn up appraising the hopefuls. The mischievous trio inserted a mythical player—Lysol Wilson, by name—into the ratings. After the first day of camp Lynn rated him fifth overall, and Muzz thought he should be third. The scout was trying to figure out which one was Wilson, but he didn’t want to appear ignorant, so he rated the non-existent player 19th

   The next day Wilson was near the top of the Patrick’s list, but this time the scout cautiously moved him up two notches to 17th. When Coach Boucher asked for an explanation for giving him such a low estimate, the scout frowned his best, feigned thinking for a wise answer, and piped up: “He can’t come out of the corners!”

    About 1945 the Chicago Blackhawks were holding their training camp in Regina. A rookie reporter had been sent from a Windy City newspaper to dispatch any exciting developments concerning the team’s pre-season activities. An experienced journalist saw his chance to have some fun at the greenhorn’s expense, and conspired with the Hawks’ publicist, Joe Farrell.

   He introduced Farrell as “Coach Johnny Gottselig” (Gottselig was the coach at the time), and, pretending to do the cub scribe a favour, revealed that they had just secretly signed a full-fledged Eskimo named Johnny Ooglenook to a contract. The Hudson’s Bay Company had given the kid a pair of skates, and he had taken to them like a fish takes to water. He moved like greased lightening and handled the puck so well it seemed to be glued to his stick. What was so attractive about this signing was that, since there was little on which to spend money in the Arctic, Johnny wanted only part of his salary in cash—the rest was to in the form of fish, delivered to his family. The fledgling writer took off like a shot to phone the story to his editor. But the smiling pranksters called him back and told him the truth.

    A decade later, when the Boston Bruins were suffering through some hard times, finishing at the bottom of the pile for a number of seasons in a row, Roger Barry, a local sports writer, decided to do something to boost the morale of the long-suffering Hub fans.

He fabricated the “discovery” of a utopian goalie, Pierre Lafond by name, who had been discovered in the wilds of Northern Quebec. He was five feet tall and five feet wide, thus almost totally filling the four-by-six opening in a standard NHL net. “Perfect Pierre” was introduced in a Boston Garden’s programme, setting off a wave of excitement in the hearts of the New England city’s hockey fans. Not only that, but there was panic in other league centres, as they wondered how they would ever get a puck past this China Wall netminder. But the delirious joy (and relief) was quickly turned to disappointment when the bewildered Barry discovered what he had intended as a gag was being taken seriously. He had to retract the news release.

   But the classic ruse of this nature is actually the most recent. It was the brainchild of the otherwise serious-minded, George “Punch” Imlach, when he was the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. At the 1974 NHL’s Amateur Draft in June, he selected Taro Tsujimoto as the one hundred and eighty-third pick overall. Imlach and his associates had become bored with the drawn-out proceedings, which had been carried out by means of a three-day “conference call”. 

   Imlach had mischievously pulled the name out of a phone book, claiming the skater was a member of the Tokyo Katanas (Swords). The other managers were scratching their heads, wondering how “Punch” had discovered a prospect they never heard of. And, while it was all a lark, Tsujimoto’s name did appear in the Sabres’ training camp roster. In fact, the team’s Media Guides still list him among the draft picks. This trio of tricksters had the gag backfire, however, when the team’s owners, Seymour and Northrop Knox, were so excited about this mystery player from the Far East, they went to the airport to meet his plane. Only then were the beans spilled about the whole prank.

   And so, the moral of this story is: Believe only half of what you hear—and less from what you read in the newspapers.

Viewed 264 times

Go to top
Archives

Ferreting Out Phantom Hockey Stars
Posted March 17, 2017

A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 2)
Posted March 08, 2017

A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 1)
Posted February 19, 2017

Tales From the Sin Bin!
Posted February 04, 2017

Happy 100th Birthday N.H.L
Posted January 25, 2017

New Year's Resolutions that Might Have Been
Posted January 06, 2017

It Happened on December 25th
Posted December 21, 2016

The Best of Hockey's One-Liners
Posted December 10, 2016

The Price of Stardom
Posted November 18, 2016

Is There a Doctor in the House?
Posted November 03, 2016

Auston Matthews: Liberator or Lemon?
Posted October 14, 2016

Hockey's Multi-Generation Families
Posted June 16, 2016

Picture Perfect - A Dozen Classic Hockey Photos
Posted June 08, 2016

Anatomy of the Penalty Shot
Posted May 17, 2016

Hockey's Honourary Indian Chiefs
Posted May 04, 2016

Goaltender's Idiosyncrasies
Posted April 17, 2016

Records That Will Never Be Broken
Posted March 31, 2016

Right Church — Wrong Pew
Posted March 23, 2016

Does "Captain" Mean Much Anymore?
Posted March 02, 2016

I Quit!
Posted February 21, 2016

Now That's Not Pun-ny!
Posted February 07, 2016

A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 2
Posted January 26, 2016

A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 1
Posted January 06, 2016

Christmas Babies
Posted December 29, 2015

Practice Can Be Precarious
Posted December 11, 2015

How Much is a Body Worth?
Posted November 25, 2015

Brooklyn Bridge is Falling Down...
Posted November 15, 2015

Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part Two)
Posted November 01, 2015

Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part One)
Posted October 16, 2015

From Champs to Chumps
Posted June 07, 2015

CLEAN PLAY……CLEAN PLAYERS….TRUE SPORTS
Posted May 11, 2015

Putting the Bite on the Opposition
Posted April 24, 2015

One Eyed Wonders
Posted April 12, 2015

Captain Cage Cop
Posted March 26, 2015

Trade Deadline Deals — Blockbuster or Bluster?
Posted March 17, 2015

Fun In the Snow
Posted February 27, 2015

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated
Posted February 16, 2015

It's not what they said - it's what they meant!
Posted January 31, 2015

Funny Fights
Posted January 18, 2015

Hockey's New Years Babies
Posted January 03, 2015

Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise
Posted December 20, 2014

Two Dozen + 1 Wacky Wonders
Posted December 06, 2014

The Last of a Long Line of...
Posted November 24, 2014

A Compendium of Referee Non-Calls
Posted November 09, 2014

40th Anniversary of the 1974 Summit Series
Posted October 25, 2014

The Many Faces of Training Camp
Posted October 13, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Playoff Heroes
Posted May 30, 2014

Boston Bruins Celebrate 90 Years
Posted May 17, 2014

A Curse Upon Ye!
Posted May 01, 2014

For the Birds
Posted April 20, 2014

They Were Not Fooled By Their Birthdates
Posted April 08, 2014

Bitten By The Hand That Feeds
Posted March 22, 2014

Tongue in Check
Posted March 08, 2014

A Few L.A.F.F.S. to Relieve your S.A.D.
Posted February 21, 2014

The Ultimate Valentine - A Kiss
Posted February 08, 2014

Hats Off to Hockey
Posted January 25, 2014

Horsing Around
Posted January 11, 2014

New Year's Revelations
Posted December 30, 2013

Christmas Specials
Posted December 23, 2013

Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith
Posted November 30, 2013

Just Dying to Play Hockey
Posted November 17, 2013

What's In 50 Years
Posted November 02, 2013

The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!
Posted October 20, 2013