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Mervyn "Red" Dutton, left, signs a contract to be the manager of the Americans on April 25, 1935 in New York William A. Dwyer, the son of the owner, looks on.
(Photo Stephen Smith / puckstruck.com)
On October 11, 1962 the Boston Bruins shut out the Montreal Canadiens 5-0. For the Boston Globe, reporter Tom Fitzgerald invoked Jack Crawford, the Hubs’ helmet-wearing defenseman of an earlier era, who could sometimes be heard complaining that the other team “plays a funny style of hockey! They don’t let you have the puck!”
Three decades later, the fleet-footed Paul Coffey was more candid: “Hockey is a funny game. You have to prove yourself every shift, every game. It’s not up to anyone else!”
More recently, Zach Smith added his philosophical insight: (On close games) “……it’s a fine line, and that’s why hockey is a funny game—those games can go either way!”
Commencing in 1993, Merv Magus published the first of a four-volume set of books, cartoons about pseudo shinny scenarios—entitled “Hockey is a Funny Game”
The tragic sight of Bill Masterton lying on the ice, unconscious, with blood oozing from his mouth, nose, and eyes—and his subsequent demise---is not amusing. Nor was Clint Malarchuk’s throat accidentally slashed by an opponent’s skate, his lifeblood pouring onto the playing surface, even a bit jocular.
But there are countless incidents emanating from Canada’s National Sport that prompt everything from quiet chuckles to raucous laughter. It is the intent of this column to share some of those.
I had other plans for this season’s Hockey’s Historic Highlight’s swan song. But with the overbearing presence of the Covid-19 virus, the adversities it has already spawned, as well as the threat of more, perhaps a little light-heartedness would be an appropriate counterpart for more serious topics.
Back in 1918 in a match between the Canadiens and the Senators, “Bad Joe” Hall acted automatically when the whistle blew to halt the action. He made a bee-line for the penalty box and casually sat down. Immediately, the Habs’ captain, Newsy Lalonde, accosted referee Lou Marsh, demanding to know what the penalty was for. But the veteran official assured him that he had not called an infraction. He then approached the judge of play with the same query. The response was the same — and the tough egg from the Mount Royal city was ushered out of the sin bin.
“Sorry, Newsy!”, the embarrassed roughneck said. “Just force of habit, I guess!”
In the fledging years of pay-for-play hockey, the sport boasted more than its share of characters. One of them was Alec Connell (“The Ottawa Fireman”). Amusing incidents involving the easy-going goalie frequently crop up between 1925 and 1937, his tenure in the NHL. Like when, during 1933, Ottawa carried two netminders, Bill Beveridge and Connell.
One night against the Rangers, the latter was having a bad game, so Bill was summed to get dressed and replace him. It is familiar, when such switches take place, for these on-ice gladiators to tap one another on the pads. But for the rascally Connell, that was too docile a move. As he met his counterpart at mid-ice, he promptly removed his little black-peaked cap, bowed graciously to William, and extended an ungloved paw to graciously shake the hand of his pal.
In 1938, “Red” Dutton wrote a book entitled, “Hockey — The Fastest Game on Earth”. Included were chapters on “The Basic Fundamentals of Hockey”, and “How To Play the Positions”. As has often been the case, the author was active in a book-signing session in a department store where it was for sale. One prospective buyer was a lady who asked the New York Americans big wig, “Will this encourage my husband in his technical knowledge of the game?”
Enthusiastically Dutton gave his very best sales pitch: “After the first dozen paragraphs he will be ready to join a team. By the time he has digested the whole book he will be ready for regular duty with an NHL team!”
“That sounds very convincing, Mr. Dutton. Would you autograph it for him?”
“Certainly. What’s his name?”
“Arthur Howie Ross”, she said. “But most people just call him Art!”
The Turofsky brothers were for years Toronto’s best-known sports photographers. While the scope of their shutter bugging varied from local news boys distributing their papers, to gala visits of dignitaries, to extreme weather scenes, to the local Maple Leaf pro baseball club games, there were best known for both candid action shots, and posed photos of NHL players. Anyone who ever collected Bee Hive photos offered by the St. Lawrence Starch Company would have countless examples of their work.
Their biggest problem was the lack of a proper filing system. They possessed literally millions of negatives, stored in boxes in their Alexandra Studios basement. Their one employee was a young lady named Thurza Hesk. She was a combination receptionist, archivist, and business manager.
During the time she was adjusting to their system (or lack of it), the Toronto Star sent an office boy to their studio for some pictures of cute children. She looked under seemingly every possible file theme: “children”, “babies”, and “infants”. Finally she gave up and was forced to approach the older of her employers, Lou Turofsky, with her plight. “Thurza! When will you ever learn? It’s filed under ‘kids’”.
In 1945, the Chicago Blackhawks decided to hold their training camp session in Regina, Saskatchewan. Manager Bill Tobin arranged for pre-season exhibition games in prairie centres to popularize his team in the West. One of those matches was to be staged in Saskatoon against Eddie Shore’s AHL Providence Reds.
Previous to the contest, Max Bentley approached his boss and asked if he could have some passes for some of his friends and relatives.
“Sure”, answered Tobin. “How many do you need?”
The Dipsy Doodle Dandy started to rhyme off the names of his family, and then moved to a list of his friends. By the time he had tallied it up the total was 78. The Windy City executive nearly swooned on the spot. But, rather than just complain about the numbers, he conceived of a way to stump him. So, he said it would be fine if he would shoot him a duck for every pair of passes.
The slick centre never batted an eyelash as he took up the challenge. The next day he showed up with so many of the feathered critters the whole team could have lived on fowl for the rest of the tour. He outsmarted the sextet’s big wig, by getting every member of the team who ever hunted to join him. They partnered with him in the lake areas and soon had their quota.
Tobin hadn’t remembered that Delisle was only 25 miles from Saskatoon, and was populated with Bentleys by the score. He had to go through with the bargain, all he while being amazed at seeing so many members of one family at a hockey game.
Four years later, the American Baseball League pennant race between the Yankees and the Red Sox coincided with a Montreal Canadien’s preseason exhibition match in Providence. Coach Dick Irvin thinking some relaxation would be good for the crew, proposed the team make the trip to the Big Apple to take in a game. Ken Reardon immediately protested saying they wouldn’t be able to get hotel rooms or tickets for the game.
But the kindly bench boss rather easily found accommodation for the boys. And, since they were there, Reardon and Billy Reay threw caution to the winds and paid $25.00 each for their admission to the Stadium. The rest of the team, especially the rookies, who were not exactly rolling in dough, were floored and felt it was just too much to pay to see a game. But, Irvin stepped in again, announcing that he had heard there were 4,000 rush seats available at a buck apiece. Three rookies — Plamondon, Dube, and Gravelle took his advice and headed for Yankee Stadium. They lined up for seats and got them. As they made their way to their place in the stands, they looked—and lo, and behold, just two rows away sat Reardon and Reay in their $25.00 seats.
The marital status of shinny mercenaries has come to the fore a number of times over the years. Old timers recall Eddie Shore’s weird policy about wedding bliss when he was C.E.O. of the Providence Reds. During crucial competition he forbad his players to be intimate with their wives. Conn Smythe was a sticker when it came to the timing of matrimony, and once demoted John McCormack because he tied the knot during the season. Then there was the skater who forgot to inform his team of his taking the big step during the offseason, so he was registered as “single” in the annual Fact Book. But it’s hard to beat Ken McKenzie’s candid tidbit in his November 10. 1956 Passing the Puck feature in the Hockey News.
He made reference to an NHL Manager chatting with one of his freshman team members. In answer to his query about whether or not he was married, he was given this response. “Well. I’m two thirds married. My girlfriend is willing; and so is her mother………”
No treatise about the funny side of hockey could be complete without at least one reference to Francis Michael “King” Clancy, the NHL’s resident leprechaun. Following his retirement as a player, as everyone knows, he eventually became a referee. He took a lot of abuse — some in the spirit of fun — some as downright scathing criticism. During the 1950s, there was a doctor who had a pair of seats right behind the Leafs’ penalty bench. Every call against the hometown sextet was met with verbal abuse by the verbose sawbones. One night, after listening to his persistent railing, the King leaned over the boards and yelled at him: “I may not see everything out there, Doc; but at least I don’t bury my mistakes like you do!”
Marcel Pelletier was “born 30 years too soon”, as the old “Out Our Way” comic strip used to put it. With only six openings for goalies in the “Original 6” era, he was a career minor leaguer, totalling only eight games in the Big Time. With no disrespect intended, repeating this story by the L.A. Times Bill Libby, would lose some of its punch without the literal verbalizing of this Drummondville native.
While playing for Victoria in 1960 WHL, he found himself ready to face a rare penalty shot scenario. As usual, the shooter lined up the puck, then did his customary cycle to gain speed for his challenge. Suddenly, Pelletier left his crease, skated to where the old boot heel was sitting on the blue line, and stopped to lean over it. Caught off guard the shooter slid to a halt, so they were standing there gaping at the puck. The daring backstop realized the shooter must touch the puck first before he could.
“….he no touch it. What can I do? I cannot skate back! So I bat the puck away and skate quickly to the referee: ‘The penalty shot, she is over. No?’
And the referee say, ‘Yes. She is over!’ And he wave his hands!
The other player he go crazy mad! But Marcel. He is very happy!”
Leave it to Gump Worsley to see the funny side of almost anything — even the most disappointing situation. The 1958-59 season had not been a good one for the Rangers, and the next year was not shaping up too well either. In the early going they had won only two of their first 14 matches. In the process of rebuilding they had a lot of new additions in the line-up –eight to be exact.
One of that gang was big red-headed Jack Bownass who had weak eyesight. One night when they were playing Chicago, the puck got loose in front of the Gumper, and he yelled at Bowness to clear it. “Well sure, Gumpy. But where is it?” It was bouncing at his feet, but he couldn’t see it. Just then Bobby Hull swept in and batted it into the net!
“I reached back, dug it out, and batted it back to the befuddled rearguard. “See it now, Jack?” Worsley growled.
Charlie Finley, owner of the California Seals went first class all the way — flying first class, eating in the best restaurants, and sporting classy threads. But on the ice it was different story. They spent so much time on the league (Division) basement they must have felt like immigrant field mice. One night in 1972, they got off to a great start, potting a goal within the first half minute of the game.
There were a lot more goals scored after that — nearly all of them by the opposing team. When the final buzzer sounded, captain Joey Johnston asked the coach not to go into the dressing room right away — he wanted some time to talk to the troops alone.
As expected, he dressed them down for the disgraceful performance, grumbling they should be ashamed to call themselves professionals. But suddenly, as the team cowered over the tongue lashing, he blurted out: “I called this meeting because I’m confused. Who was the lunkhead who scored that first goal to make them so mad at us?”
Harry Neale spent the first eight years as a big league coach in the WHA, with the last three of those years as head of the New England Whalers. Needless to say, he felt a little uneasy directing the team’s traffic with Gordie Howe as one of his hirelings. Late in the 1978-79 campaign, they were battling to catch the Winnipeg Jets in the standings.
While he didn’t officially have room checks, the night before that crucial match, he urged his troop to get a good night’s sleep; and that he would drop in at 10:30 to make sure the guys were settled in. When he arrived at “Mr. Hockey’s” door, he just couldn’t bring himself to treat to game’s icon as a he would a fuzzy-faced rookie. So, he gave up and went to bed.
The next morning at breakfast, Gordie asked Harry, “Where on earth where you last night. I thought there was a bed check so I stayed up to answer the door... If I’d known you weren’t coming I’d have been in bed at nine!”
It’s hard to forget Harold Ballard’s personal vendetta which prompted Lanny McDonald’s trade to the Colorado Rockies half way through the 1979-80 season. To make up for the gloom of those days, the man with the moustache and Bobby Schmautz used to horse around in public places to relieve the tension. One their favourite gags was to have Bobby kick the overnight bag he was carrying, and Lanny would mimic a dog yelping.
On one occasion, this routine was especially tickling Coach Don Cherry, and he was busting himself laughing. But a woman standing nearby thought it was anything but funny. She began to wallop Schmautz with her hand bag. She was furious and had lost any semblance of self-control. The commotion was such that the customs officers came to investigate. She had been calling them every name in the book, and her mood changed very little when she learned there was no dog in the bag — except she was embarrassed as well as angry.
Lou Corletto, Washington Capital’s publications director, who was on a European pre-season tour with the team, was dining in a restaurant in Oslo, Norway. He and his companions were commenting on the arresting beauty of Scandinavian women, singling out their waitress as a prime example. Thinking he would like to become acquainted with her, when she returned to their table, he tried to open the conversation by asking the name of her hometown. In perfect English, she replied, “Akron, Ohio!”
Pranks are not my favourite expression of humour. But I couldn’t overlook a particularly funny practical joke which backfired. Tie Domi started the ball rolling by suggesting that they use a magic marker to write all over the body of a teammate who was “sleeping one off”. They took off his shirt and used him for an easel.
When he awakened the next morning, his knee-jerk reaction was to blame it on the Leafs’ tough guy, and vowed to get revenge. But Tie beat him to the punch. The prank victim went into Domi’s stall in the team dressing room, grabbed all his gear, and threw it all into the whirlpool. His hysterical laughter turned, to moaning, however, when he realized a switch had been made, and was his own gear he had to fish out of the water.
It has been said that “Story telling is our obligation to the next generation.” Hopefully the above will have fulfilled that obligation — and, at the same time, is a breath of fresh air to the current one.
Hockey’s Historic Highlights will return in October
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