Hockey's Historic Highlights

Blues Not the Only St. Louis Pro Hockey Champions - Part Two

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand

Blues Not the Only St. Louis Pro Hockey Champions - Part Two

Posted October 30, 2019

Viewed 1186 times

Pete Palangio
Pete Palangio

   Once again new uniforms were introduced as the 1935-36 season got underway. This time it remained permanent. It closely resembled the New York Americans star-spangled togs, and became the final cosmetic change, even during their seasons in the AHL. Roy Burmister, who had fared well in the Can Pro circuit, and “Fido” Purpur were added to the line-up. The latter, who had a brief stay with the NHL Eagles, and who would later hold his own with the Chicago Blackhawks, was so nicknamed because his coach thought he scampered about like a “bird dog in a field of pheasants”!

    The Missouri-ites couldn’t keep up their pace from the former year, this time falling short by the same dozen points, to finish second behind the St. Paul Saints. While the Twin City gang rested, the Flyers ousted Tulsa 2 games to 0, to enter the finals. The returning franchise sextet was no pushover, and it took every contest in the best-of-five saw-off to regain the league championship.

   A couple of moments of unexpected excitement were featured during the match. Negatively, the start of the contest was delayed for 35 minutes while the players thrashed out a better deal over their share of the playoff purse. Positively, champion figure skater, Sonja Henie, was feted between periods, introduced to the spectators and presented with flowers. She declined the opportunity to speak to the crowd.

   The challenge became greater when their best player, Cully Dahlstrom, was lost to service, having broken his hand in game three. While Paddy Paddon and borrowed netminder Hub Nelson were heroes, most determined that Pete Palangio was the outstanding performer during the series.

   An unusual spectacle was to see three brothers on the same team—which was true of St. Paul’s Oscar, Emil, and Emery Hansen. But it was even more bizarre that they received penalties one after another, which assisted St. Louis in rolling to triumph.

  The Mound City gang charged out of the gate for the 1936-37 campaign like gangbusters. It looked like they might set the pattern which the Toronto Leafs followed in the late 1940’s—namely, three Cups in a row. They ended the season in the lead by a country mile. But that territory held some stormy weather in store. Although they disposed of the Kansas City Greyhounds in the semi-finals, they were jolted 3 games to 0 by the Minneapolis Millers in the finals.

   Perhaps the major trades made previous to the season were optical illusions. Surprisingly, the highly-respected “Shrimp” McPherson, was the first to go.  Roy Burmister was next—and “Paddy” Paddon followed into greener pastures. Getting Oscar Hansen, former AHA scoring champ, and securing “Hub” Nelson to remain as their permanent twine-tender, wasn’t enough.

   Unrest in St. Louis was evident as the new schedule was being formed.  A battle for control of the club was waged between incumbent Fred Ruppenthal and Ed Steffan, favoured by the board of directors. After threats of lawsuits and the exchange of many “sweet nothings”, the latter was appointed as team president.

  Roster changes included the purchase of prolific sniper Oscar Hansen as well as Bill Kendall from Chicago, Frank Ingram former IHL scoring ace, and the return of Pete Palangio, who had checked out greener pastures for a spell. As the season moved into the home stretch the Flyers held first place by only four points, but finished with a flourish to boast a 10-point cushion at the top of the heap.

   It was nip and tuck in the semi-finals against Tulsa, with the aforementioned Palangio pulling the fat out of the fire with a sudden-death overtime tally.

  He was “Johnny-on-the-spot”  in the finals against Minneapolis as well. The series went three games, with the Missouri troop winning them all to gain revenge against the Millers who had defeated them a year earlier. But, the final tilt went into overtime before it was decided. Each team had a goal called back before the sudden-death drama began. And, again, it was “Pete the Pest” as he was called, who stickhandled through the opposition blueline pair to notch the victory. Winning three crowns in four years is something any fraternity can be proud of. And there was still more to come.

   Confident in their current line-up following their AHA championship in 1937-38. The Flyers did very little to change the roster for the new season. There were two main changes, however—one which affected offense—and the other which fostered offense. The former spoke of scoring offense—the latter of offense of a different sort—namely abrasiveness.

   The hero of the championship match the previous spring, Pete Palangio, signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, thus affecting the scoring output. Meanwhile, Jean Pusie was brought over from Cleveland of the AHL. Regardless of whether you pronounce his name “Gene” or “John”, this skater was a combination of egotism, irritation, and dividend. Regardless of the league in which he played; the team for which he competed; or the game in which he was active; were never the same after he had been there.

   He was invited to the Canadiens’ training camp in 1930. Before he ever hit the ice, he boldly walked into Manager Cecil Hart’s office and declared: “Meestair ‘Art ! Pewsee will be zee great-es! ‘Ockey playairs like me will make dis game pop-u-lair!”

   No doubt about it, he could put the puck in the net. But, he was a character, and he loved to put on a show—he had to make a production out of his performances. As well, he had a hot temper, and that got him into the headlines more than anything else.

   He once led the WCHL in scoring—even though he was listed as a defenseman. He loved to play the clown—sometimes more by accident than on purpose. On one occasion, while playing in London, Ontario, he was granted a penalty shot. He skated pell-mell toward the goalie; stopped just short of the penalty shot line in a cloud of ice chips. He then dropped his gloves, skated toward the netminder, shook hands with him, and patted him on the back. Suddenly, he retraced his steps, picked up the disc, swung his stick like a golf club—and duffed his shot. The backstop was so mesmerized by the performance that the old boot heel dribbled along the ice and over the line. But the “Gallant Gail” was not finished yet. He kissed the goalie on both cheeks and skated away.

   Flyer’s fans did get to see one of his performances right in the Checkerdome. Left all alone as the opposition swarmed toward him, he simply dropped to his knees; held up his hands in surrender, and watched as they skated around him, and in on the goalie.

   But his hot-headedness surpassed this nonsense. Early in his first campaign in St. Louis he got into a row with Tulsa’s goalie, “Porky” Levine. Having knocked him, down he started kicking him. He was ejected from the game; but strenuously disagreed with the call—and swung his stick at the referee. That cost him an “indefinite suspension” (which was reduced to 10 days).

   Later in the season in defending a teammate who had been abused, he tangled with the Wichita fans. When the smoke had cleared, he was arrested and carted away. He felt he had been unfairly treated and went home to Montreal.

   However, he did return in time for the playoffs; but was of help for only a short time. In the third game of the post-season he objected to a call by the officials, knocking him down, rendering him unconscious. He was again suspended “indefinitely”.

  Still, the Flyers easily disposed of the St. Paul Saints, then met the Tulsa Oilers, who had scraped through to send the Minneapolis Millers packing. In what many of the players deemed to be their hardest series ever, they bested Tulsa 3 games to 1.  That meant four championships in five years.

     With that kind of momentum it is not surprising to read that the Mound City sextet finished the schedule with the most points ever—and, coincidentally, another first place standing. But there would be no triple crown triumph in store.

  There were few changes in the line-up—probably because management felt that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” The major switch came on the blueline. Since Pusie had been more problem than he was worth, he ended up with Vancouver of the PCHL Lions. In his place, Jimmy Arnott, from that same west coast franchise where he served as team captain, was signed.

  They won 11 of their first 13 contests, and enjoyed another 12-game run early in 1940. But, as it turned out, the only hardware gleaned from a successful regular season 74 points, was the Nikro Trophy, presented to 5’5’’ “Fido” Purpur. He was the team’s top scorer and finished third in the league with 70 points

  Partly because backstop “Hub” Nelson was not up to his normal standards between the pipes, the Flyers were caught with their weaknesses showing in the semi-final, giving way to the new Omaha Knights, 3 games to 2 in the first round of the shinny drama.

    Goalie Nelson’s slip showing prompted management to forego resigning him, trading for twine-tender Alex Wood and centre Nakina Smith. They nabbed stalwart rear-guard Vernon Ayres, who spent six seasons in the NHL; but let perpetual points leader Bill Hudson go to Kansas City. With Smith in the fold the Flyers could now boast a brother pairing, with Carl “Winky” already part of the line-up. They also sported an alternate sweater—all white with thin red and blue strips in the arms. The crest featured a winged circle with crossed hockey sticks and the team’s name.

   The team was sluggish in the first half of the schedule, rebounded in time to be the host fraternity for the league’s first All Star game. Previewing what was to come in March, they defeated the best of the rest. The Flyers experienced a scare in, when goalie Wood was stabbed in the shoulder by a Kansas City fan in a restaurant, putting them In a precarious position as the season neared its end. Although he had barely ever stood between the uprights before (four games in total, one of them – in the NHL! – for only two minutes), retired rear-guard “Bouncer” Taylor gallantly filled in—looking very much out-of-place in that position. But the defense rose to the occasion, and prevailed in helping Taylor to stop all 24 shots in a 1-0 victory.

   Woods had recovered sufficiently for the post-season and stood tall as St. Louis eliminated St. Paul in the first round. But they almost blew it in the finals against Kansas City, losing the first two matches, and facing the task of winning three in a row to capture the St. Clair Trophy.

  They did just that. The St. Louis Dispatch recorded the comeback: “This is a success story…about an ice hockey team that fought its way from the brink of oblivion to a championship in the space of ninety-six hours!” 3-2, 7-3, and 2-1 were the subsequent winning numbers, as they capped off the revival before a standing-room-only crowd at home—reportedly the largest paid attendance in the city’s history—with  that closely-fought triumph!

   It is interesting that in the game report there appears the name “Mosienko”. Sure enough—“Wee Willie” was part of the KC line-up. It’s unusual that he appears in the list of penalties, not goals or assists. He was known for his scoring skills—still holds the record for fastest three goals in a game—and he won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1945

  That was to be the St. Louisan’s swan song as far as championships were concerned. They were part of the American Hockey Association for one more campaign, boasting a first-place finish in their division. But they failed to be top dogs again, losing out in round two.

  They withdrew from the pay-for-play scene for two years, then hooked up with the American Hockey LEAGUE in 1944. Through 1953 they finished last, or second-to-last, most years. But their five crowns in seven years was a proud legacy not to be forgotten.

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