Hockey's Historic Highlights

In Tune Pucksters

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand

In Tune Pucksters

Posted May 14, 2017

Viewed 2236 times

 “Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes”, so went the old nursery rhyme.

   Our present day is saturated with music. It has been said: “Nothing is more singular to this generation than its addiction to music”.  With iPod, satellite radio, and even with antiquated CD’s, everyone from pre-teens to “Millenials” must have melody (pseudo or genuine), on the work site, in the car or public transit, on the beach, at the game, and certainly during homework assignments. 

   In researching the subject of hockey players and music, one publicist from an NHL team opined: “I doubt that any (team name withheld) from the 1950’s had the slightest bent to be musically inclined!”

  As this missive unfolds it will be revealed not only that that impression was unfounded, but that pucksters from most decades not only enjoyed music, but played it.

   It is no surprise that current NHL’ers who have reached their peak in the New Millennium are keen about a common musical genre. Call it “rock” or “hip hop”, but it does not include the Blue Danube Waltz, Spring In the Rockies, or Flight of the Bumblebee.

  Information about Henrik Lundqvist’s involvement in a Swedish rock and, playing his acoustic guitar, and being the featured artist at the opening of Sean Avery’s sports bar, is readily available of the net. It is said that he has been known to ride around in taxis in the Big Apple pounding out tunes on his guitar.

   Drew Stafford is a talented guitarist as well, and has performed at concerts in Buffalo. His taste in melody must be broad since has also made music in the city’s Philharmonic Orchestra.  

   Joffrey Lupul, Kris Versteeg, Zdeno Chara, and Ryan Miller have also been active in making melody of various sorts in recent years. It is said that Ray Bourque is a karaoke fan, and enjoys getting in front of one of those machines and belting out tunes.

   Ken Baumgartner once made a CD, and a cassette with the same pieces of heavy-metal songs, the proceeds of the sales of which went to the City of Hope Leukemia Fund.

    Darren McCarty’s approach to hockey seemed to jive with his choice of music as well. It was described as a combination of punk and heavy metal. He was the lead singer of his band called “Grinder”, named after the forward line of which he was a part with the Red Wings.  In the off season the group played shows in and around the Motor City. In 2002 they wrote and recorded their debut CD, entitled “Gotta Keep Movin”.

  But this column is traditionally top heavy with the more vintage kind of hockey history so again, the majority of space will be given over to reminiscing about the game’s players personal involvement in melody in the days gone by.

 Frank Fredrickson, of Icelandic stock, first came to the attention of the hockey world when he was the leading light in the Winnipeg Falcon’s gold medal victory in the 1920 Olympics. He attracted the attention of Lester Patrick of the PCHA Aristocrats. More than once he journeyed to Winnipeg to woo him into pay-for-play shinny. The slick centre was not only committed to the Royal Air Force, but was the violinist in the Fort Garry Hotel orchestra. He had played in a dance band during his university days as well. He loved music. He especially loved his violin. When rescued after the ship in which he was sailing was torpedoed, he was still clutching his precious fiddle. He could actually play six stringed instruments, but that was his favourite. It took some fancy talking to get him to change his plans.

   After the 1921-22 season in Victoria concluded, he returned home to open a music store with his equally-talented wife. He relented, however, and played nine more seasons in the Coast loop and the NHL.

   If his mother had had her way, the great Howie Morenz would have played the piano as well as he played hockey. She herself was an accomplished pianist, and his father was pretty talented on the violin. So she arranged for piano lessons for the budding puckster. However, instead of reporting to his teacher, Ida Hothman, he would race down to the pond and skate and play “keep away” until dark. When Mrs. Morenz inquired about the struggling maestro’s progress, she was told he was doing fine, but she hadn’t seen him for weeks. Dean Robinson, in the “Stratford Streak’s” biography claims that Howie never did learn to play the 88 keys, but mastered the ukulele later in life.

   Charlie Gardiner, the whiz netminder of the early 1920’s and 1930’s was a talented soloist.  He often performed on local radio in his adopted city of Chicago.  David Bidini writes that he used to break into song while facing incoming forwards. Eddie Shore especially was irritated by this tactic and used to argue that he deserved to be penalized. Doubtless he burned when referees used to call for their favourite tunes instead.

 On October 1, 1921, the Ottawa Citizen included this lighthearted insert on its pages:

“The Ottawa Hockey Club is in danger of losing Frank Nighbor, its brilliant centre man. He has not accepted an offer from Eddie Livingstone (the Toronto hockey icon), nor has he jumped to the Western Outlaws (the PCHA, the NHL’s major competitors for talent). Frank has gone on stage. He and other Pembroke residents launched an amateur performance and “Dutch” is said to have gone so big that Klaw and Erlanger have flashed him an offer. Nighbor’s hit, in fact, is said to be almost as sensational as he scored the night he sang ‘Sweet Adeline’ in the Barron Hotel, Vancouver. The Ottawas intend to send a deputation up to Pembroke shortly to attend Nighbor’s debut.” 

    A year and a half later, in 1922-23, the Ottawa Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens in a two-game, total goal series, 3-2, to take the Eastern Championship. They were then required to meet the champions of the PCHA and the winners of the WCHL post-season in challenge for the Stanley Cup.  In preparation to meet Vancouver on March 16th, the capital city sextet headed west by train. Somehow they managed to smuggle a piano aboard their Pullman. Eddie Gerard, who not only wrote music, and played by ear, was plopped on the bench and asked to serenade the boys on their way. They enjoyed his renditions so much that they would hardly allow him to stop playing. By the time they arrived in Sudbury his fingers were so blistered that the concert was called off for medical reasons.

   In 1935 Tony Savage rejoined the ranks of the Montreal Canadiens after a brief stint with the Bruins. His real name is Gordon Donald, but when his teammates discovered that he had studied Italian opera for several years, the decided he needed a more ethnic nickname, so he became “Tony”. He was an accomplished tenor soloist, and gave recitals in both Canada and the USA. He was able to produce newspaper clippings of favourable accolades about his accomplishments on the stage.

Tony Savage
Tony Savage

   In January 1942 Detroit Red Wings set aside an evening for “Syd Howe Night”. It was a tribute to the perseverance of the team’s veteran, about whom it was said: “As (Syd) Howe goes, the Wings go!” For 29 years his record of the fastest goal in a playoff overtime stood. He also scored six goals in a single match on Feb. 3, 1944.

  So he was worthy of this honour. A man of few words, he “let his fingers do the talking” sitting down to a spinet piano presented to him on behalf of fans. The press reported that “he tickled the ivories to the delight of the fans” It was a storybook occasion, since he scored both goals in a 2-0 victory over the visiting Blackhawks.

     Tom O’Neill has the distinction of being the only Maple Leaf Gardens usher who also played for the NHL sextet. For three seasons he skated at right wing for the St. Mike’s Junior squad, where he was tagged with the moniker “Windy” because he loved to debate.  He was accomplished on the 88 keys, and was tagged the “best pianist in the NHL”. An added nickname, “the Bach and Boogie Woogie Boy” followed him wherever he went—first with Leafs from 1943 through 1945, , and then while he was a Quebec Ace and part of the Halifax Crescents team. In fact, while in La Belle Province he boarded with a lady who continually got peeved with him for the kind of music he chose—much more Boogie Woogie than Bach.

   Don Raleigh, whose slight build gained him the agnomen of “Bones”, was a music enthusiast. Like O’Neill, his tastes varied from boogie-woogie to classical. He had a large phonograph collection, and, while he had some Dixie Land discs, he favoured Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn. He also played the banjo ukulele.

  Until Glenn Healy came along, Dunc Fisher, who patrolled the wing for the Rangers and Bruins in the 1950’s, was the only NHL bagpipes player. He played for the pipe band in his hometown of Regina.

   During that same era, Brian McFarlane of Hockey Night in Canada discovered that the talented Ron Ellis, the sturdy right winger of the Maple Leafs, was also quite an accomplished singer and guitar player. Many of his close associates were surprised that he, normally quiet and self-effacing, consented to tape a performance for an in-between-periods special on a Wednesday night telecast. The familiar folk songs of the era, “King of the Road”, and “The Green Green Grass of Home”, were recorded when Ron and some friends entertained at a retirement home.

   The Redmond brothers, Mickey and Dick, enjoyed jam sessions with their guitars. Often on a summer evening if one drove by the family home, he could hear a piano and the guitars blasting out folk or country styling. Dick, who was better on the strings, once gave an impromptu performance at Ontario Place.

  There are always surprises when one seeks out musical talent among those who are known for robust performances on the ice. This certainly applies to one Don “Grapes” Cherry, who has kept TV audiences on their toes for years on “Coach’s Corner”. But while some have suggested his finger movements on that programme imitate the stance of a piano player, his actual choice was a pipe and drum band. During the 1967 off season he was part of the Rochester band, marching in parades there and in other centres. 

  That same year, the ageless Johnny Bower got into the act. He and his son, John Jr., recorded a disc that had children and Christmas in mind. The feature ditty was “Honky the Christmas Goose”, with “Banjo Mule” on the flip side. They were accompanied by a local group called the Rinky Dinks. The song was written by a local story teller, Chip Young. Bower, whose vocals had previously been confined to the shower stall, was said to have a “warm, homey-type voice”.

   In the summer of 1961 “Boom Boom” Geoffrion created a resounding sound different than that of the puck banging on the arena boards. He appeared alongside Joan Fairfax on the “Parade” programme on CBC television. His style was that of a “crooner”, a common musical genre in those days. He followed that performance up with a guest appearance on Shirley Harmer’s “A Summer Night” show. He also made a hit on the French-language  “Tonight of Never” show, and even made a recording called “En Français”. His talent was impressive enough to catch the attention of Ed Sullivan, variety show guru of that era. His aspirations to make singing a post-retirement career were dashed when he stopped a puck in the throat, damaging his vocal chords.

  Another shinny personality who does not seem to fit the harmony habitat is none other than “Iron Mike” Keenan. While playing hockey at St. Lawrence University he also was the lead vocalist for a college rock group called “Nicky and the Nice Guys” (did he go into a phone booth to assume his new guise a detested bench boss?). Sports Illustrated did a feature on this avocation noting that “he could not play an instrument, and sang with an incredibly flat voice”. His signature song was “Peanut Butter”. Even on stage he had an aptitude to control those in the audience, with a strange ability to make them follow his directions—including bringing a guy up on the platform and spreading beurre d’arachide on him.

   Bryan Trottier loved country music and, at the age of 15, his parents used to sneak him into honky tonks and bars on both sides of the border to promote the talent they perceived in their son. But he never caught on as a professional with the chords on his guitar—so he turned to his other love—hockey. The NHL and the New York Islanders were winners on that exchange.

   In 1976 goalie Phil Myre’s other gift was made public. His wife was a classical music pianist, and was in the process of teaching him that instrument as well. In the meantime, as a self-taught guitarist, his passion was strumming to his favourite country music ditties.

    Stan Fischler preferred to call hockey players who were a bit looney, “The Flakes of Winter”. One character, who played a star role in his volume was Gilles Gratton, who once tended goal for the Rangers. Despite the fact that he claimed he was a Spanish Count in a former life and that he refused to play if the moon was not in the right place in its “orbit”, he was a very talented musician. He never took a lesson in his life, yet, on impulse he would just doff his jacket, plop down on the piano bench, and classical music wafted from those 88 keys as if by magic. 

   Had not the book been penned previous to Claude Lemieux’s tenure in the Big Time, Stanley would surely have included him in one of the chapters. A spaced out, accident-going-somewhere-to-happen agitator on the ice, he was once called a “cancer” by his coach—referring to his disruptive effects on his team. But there was occasion when he was a featured soloist on a New Jersey Devils Sports-Channel special. Accompanied by his wife Carole on the piano, he belted out “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me!” He admitted that she was better as a pianist than he was a vocalist.

   In 1979 Platinum Records, in cooperation with Alan Thicke, released a 45 rpm record entitled “Hockey Sock Rock”. The Ranger Rockets, led by Phil Esposito, along with Ron Duguay, Dave Maloney, Pat Hickey, and John Davidson—accompanied by Thicke’s band, in his studio, produced this disc to fund The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Scribbled on Pat Hickey’s personal copy of the platter, in Thicke’s by his own hand, was this tongue-in-cheek suggestion: “Don’t Give Up Your Day Job!”

  A couple of years later, the L.A. Kings Triple Crown Line of Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, and Charlie Simmer, got into the act. Calling themselves the “Puck Tones”, they recorded a video featuring a song called “Please Forgive My Misconduct Last Night”. The obvious reference to being caught in naughtiness on the ice is a clever pun. Because both numbers are available on the net, there is no need to print them here.

  Space does not permit a sampling of other NHL’ers who have dabbled in do re mi fa so la ti do. The list includes Gilbert Dionne, Joey Juneau, Guy LaFleur, Jamie Allison, Ian Turnbull, Dave Schultz, Chris Chelios, Brad Dalgarno, and Kelly Hrudey. 

  But no expose would be complete without at least a cameo appearance by Francis Michael “King” Clancy. When he came to Chicago to referee, the Stadium’s rascally organist, Al Melgard, would strike up the tune “Three Blind Mice”, as soon as the officials skated onto the ice. He sent word for him to cease and desist, since it stirred up the fans against them. Never caught flat-footed, the Windy City mystro switched gears. He played “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” instead.

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