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One definition of a New Year’s resolution is that it is “something that goes in one year and out the other”. That’s a sophisticated way of saying that that good intentions do not last very long. That is the main problem with most of us.
But in the world of hockey history we can ferret out some which might have been—and perhaps should have been. Reviewing some major decisions made by those in shinny’s spotlight, some of them should have been given serious second thoughts.
**RESOLVED: “I will make more careful assessments of my players in future, before determining what to do with them”. It was 1918, and the NHL season was about to get underway. The Montreal Wanderer’s misguided missile, Sprague Cleghorn, was recovering from a badly broken leg. The Red Band’s owner, Sam Lichtenhein, was certain the Montreal native would never be able to play pro hockey again. In his estimate he was through. But Tommy Gorman of the Ottawa Senators was willing to take a chance on him; and, for the price of a railway ticket ($8.50) he took Sprague off his hands. He went on to star in the NHL for ten more years, eventually being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
**RESOLVED: I will be more patient if I ever get opportunity to begin a major-league hockey career again.” One will look in vain to find the name of Alex “Shrimp” McPherson in the records of NHL. However, he did get on the ice in the mid-1930’s at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs were in the playoffs and the line-up was badly depleted. The Scottish AHA skater had been doing well in the minors, making him a favourite choice to shore up the leaks in the Queen City line-up. For a good part of the match he was warming the bench. But suddenly a Toronto skater limped to the bench and he was given the nod to take his place. However, he was so anxious to make his debut, he hopped on the playing surface before the injured man reached the bench. The referee immediately signaled “too many men on the ice”, and “Shrimp” never got on NHL ice again.
**RESOLVED: ”In future I will be more careful to keep my own doorstep clean”. About 1929, Col. Hammond, Ranger’s President, tipped off Tommy Gorman, New York Americans manager, that his team was having a big party (something they were notorious for). He even gave them the address. More than a little peeved, the frustrated executive tracked the house down. But, to his surprise, it was the Rangers who were celebrating—Ching Johnson’s birthday!
**RESOLVED: “As of here and now I vow to act my age from here on in!” “Red” Dutton retired as a player in 1936, but remained with the New York Americans as general manager. In 1938 he became disgusted with what he felt was a “laid back approach” by his troops, and called them “a bunch of softies…..like drug store cowboys!” Somebody had to put some fight into them, he felt, so he dug out his equipment and took to the ice. A few hours later he was in bed with hot water bottles and ice pack gracing his aching body.
Merv "Red" Dutton as illustrated by Tom Bachtell for The New Yorker
Trying to cover for his impulsive move, he claimed it was his lumbago—he must have caught a chill on the train home from that practice. In reality, as he skated down the ice he was shouting “Defense! Defense!”. Little Al Murray practiced what “Red” was preaching, checking him into a heap. Later it was learned he had torn the muscles from his hip bone. He finally admitted it was “silly on his part—that he was 10 years too old for that sort of thing!”
**RESOLVED: “I will never again during important post-season games pack more than my toothbrush and clean socks when travelling to an opponent’s city”. In 1941 “Dutch” Hiller was an established member of the New York Rangers. When the series against Detroit moved to the Motor City he took all his belongings with him. When the team trainer found out about it he reported it to Lester Patrick. The Blueshirt’s boss interpreted that to mean Hiller thought the series would be lost there, and he could go directly home to Kitchener. This alleged “defeatism” prompted him to be traded the next season.
Hiller insisted that he took a full suitcase because, in those days the Rangers played their “home” games on the road, and he was ready for a long siege, wherever that took them—not a short one, ending in a quick exit from the playoffs.
**RESOLVED: “I will do better in controlling my temper in the future, especially in crucial games with the Stanley Cup on the line!” “Jolly” Jack Adams blew it big time during that famous 1942 Stanley Cup final against the Leafs, when, at one point, his Red Wings led the series 3 games to 0. In the “do-or-die” fourth game Toronto pulled off an amazing 4-3 win, with the revamped lineup. But the partisan crowd, and Manager Jack Adams, were riled at the refereeing of Mel Harwood. The Motor City boss was so steamed that he jumped on the ice and started a fight with the beleaguered official. League president, Frank Calder, was present and suspended Adams indefinitely.
Most in-the-know hockeyists believe that was the turning point. With an inexperienced Ebbie Goodfellow taking over the coaching reigns, and the general upset over their CEO’s absence, the revitalized Queen City sextet won four contests in a row and captured the championship!
**RESOLVED: “I will never again volunteer for a delicate assignment which will be in the spotlight.” In 1944, Gloria Nord, who was soon to appear in a roller-skating extravaganza in Toronto, was asked to drop the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff on February 8th. As referee for that evening, “King” Clancy had agreed to escort her to centre ice. The problem was she was wearing high heels, which are not compatible with frozen surfaces. On the route back to the seats, down she went. As the little Irishman tenderly lifted her to her feet and deposited her on the sidelines, his face glowed as brightly as the crimson goal lamps.
**RESOLVED: “I will never again make snap judgments about the abilities of prospective players, but wait until they prove their true worth”. Harold “Baldy” Cotton boldly expressed the sentiments of a number of Toronto executives about “Red” Kelly as a future NHL’er. In their opinion the St. Mike’s star was “was too slow to be a legitimate candid for the Big Time”. Cotton spouted: “He won’t last 20 games in the NHL!” (He played 1,480)
**RESOLVED: “I will never again attend an NHL game after I have just suspended the home team’s favourite player” Clarence Campbell insisted he would not be threatened after he had suspended “Rocket” Richard for splintering his stick over Hal Laycoe’s noggin, and belting the intervening linesman in the face. His sentence was for the rest of the season and the playoffs. Taking his usual seat in the Forum, with feelings at a fever pitch, debris was hurled at him, a fan slapped him, and a tear gas bomb was hurled nearby.
**RESOLVED: “Starting now, I will determine a less expensive way to vent my anger!” Rudy Pilous coached the Blackhawks from 1957 through 1963. He was, to say the least, a very demonstrative bench boss. He cracked the whip if his players were not putting out, and he used the “choke sign” when he disagreed with an official’s call. But his most common expression of protest was destroying his hat. In his first month in Chicago he had already made four trips to the men’s store for new ones.
**RESOLVED: “I will give more careful thought to choosing my opponents in fisticuffs”.
Lou Fontinato’s ego was crushed on February 1, 1959 after Gordie Howe gave him a lasting lesson in pugilism. Big for that era, at 6’ 1” and 195 pounds, “Leapin’ Louie” had a reputation around the loop for indulging in mayhem. Whenever Detroit was the Rangers’ opposition he insisted on aggravating the team’s super star, “Mr. Hockey” himself. This lasting feud came to a screeching halt that night. During the previous match-up, Fontinato had butt-ended the pride of Floral, Saskatchewan in the mouth—duly noted by the big right winger.
So on that night, Lou had already crossed swords with Red Kelly. Finished with him he made a B-line for Howe. He swung and missed. It was all over in 30 seconds. Gordie grabbed his sweater and delivered multiple blow to his attacker’s head. A crunched nose, a dislocated jaw, and a face which looked like he had tangled with a meat grinder was the lingering evidence of his folly.
**RESOLVED: “It seemed like too much money at the time, but I should have bitten the bullet and made the investment”. Michael Gobuty, one of the owners of the 1979 WHA Winnipeg Jets, had the opportunity to land the phenomenal Wayne Gretzky. But, between the high asking price on the part of the Indy Racers, and skepticism by other Jets’ personnel, the deal was by-passed. It is believed that the final nail in the coffin was driven by Rudy Pilous, who concluded that the kid was “too scrawny!”.
**RESOLVED: “In future I will insist my scouting staff is more diligent in determining which goalie are keeps and which ones are not.” The bottom line is that John Ferguson Jr. swapped Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft. The latter has been gone from the NHL for four years. The former is a “franchise” player with the Boston Bruins.
(In all fairness, Justin Pogge looked like a shoo-in as big league material, and this made the Finnish backstop seem expendable. As acknowledged in our column about Auston Matthews, it is sometimes impossible to pre-judge prospects. Here we are simply seeking to imagine Ferguson’s frustration when the dust had cleared following the 2006 transaction)
**RESOLVED: “I will never again be casual about a ‘sure thing’—especially when so much is a stake”. Patrik Stefan pulled off one of the most memorable faux pas in hockey history. On January 5, 2007, his Dallas Stars were leading the Oilers 5-4 with only seconds remaining in the contest. An Edmonton player coughed up the puck coming out of his own end, leaving Stefan alone to skate in on the empty cage and tuck it in for an insurance marker. But just as he got within two feet of the net the disc “jumped” over his stick and slipped by the yawning opening. Edmonton grabbed the loose puck, and dashed to the Stars’ end, scoring with two second left to tie the match.
There’s nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions as long as they have been thought through. The above hypothetical examples are the kind which were not.
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