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It’s that time of year again. People are wrestling with the symptoms of S.A.D.—Seasonal Affective Disorder—sometimes known as winter depression or winter blues.
The symptoms include lack of energy, difficulty in concentration, pessimism, unusual tiredness, and mood changes. This is normally associated with too many dull days and the resulting lack of sunlight, cold weather which keeps people inside, and winter being too dad blamed long.
The simple answer—if it can be realized—is an increased amount of light—preferably sunlight. Life needs to experience brightening up.
Well, we can’t do much about getting the sun to shine longer and more often. But perhaps some excerpts from the lighter side of Canada’s National Sport will be an acceptable substitute.
Finding yuks and guffaws connected with shinny personalities is no problem. It’s deciding which ones to ignore that is the real dilemma. This is especially true of the “good old days”, when kibitzing made up for the size of paychecks and the overall affluence so connected with the modern pay-for-play scene.
In fact that’s a good place to start—the size (or lack of size) of the stipends divvied out to skaters in the pre-WHA/NHL salary wars. “Babe” Pratt , who had to take a summer job as a switchman with the CPR, once illustrated how poorly major league professionals were paid: “One day, after getting my wages, I stepped out of the hotel where the team was staying, and accidently dropped it. An ant with a hernia scurried out from under a garbage pail, snapped it up, and hurried off with it before I could reach it!”
When the NHA embraced teams from Cobalt and Haileybury for that one season in 1909-10 there was never any concern about not having ice for games. It was just plain cold in them thar parts of Ontario. One night when those two clubs squared off it was 25 below zero F (minus 33 C). A bitter wind only added to the frigid touch in the air. Art Ross, who was the Haileybury captain, wore a pair of fur mittens, and had a woolen toque rolled over his face with only peep holes for his eyes. Typical of those fledgling years of pay-for-play competition, “Uncle Arthur” challenged Lester Patrick with his stick clubbing him in the jaw. Ready for the expected retaliation, he flung his mitts off and posed with his fists in a prize-fighting stance. But suddenly he scrambled to retrieve his gloves and put them back on. Lester burst out laughing, realizing the scrap had been “called on account of cold”.
“Patsy” Callighen played but one campaign in the NHL back in 1927-28. One evening one of his teammates was penalized and led to the sin bin by referee Mickey Ion. Having skated back to the faceoff circle, he was getting ready to drop the puck. But in a “better late than never” act of protest, Callighen banged his stick on the ice so loudly that it sounded like a gunshot.
Up went the official’s hands signaling a penalty. “What does that mean?”, Patsy asked.
“It means a 10-minute misconduct!”, shouted Pick Hines the other whistle tooter. “And you’d better be on your way before he makes it a life sentence!”
“Well, I’ll be! This is the first league I ever played in where you get a misconduct penalty for golfing a peanut off the ice!”
Myles Lane skated for the New York Rangers briefly, and it was while there that Lester Patrick proposed a trade which would bring Eddie Shore to the Big Apple in exchange for the studious rearguard. Art Ross’ answer was blunt and to the point: “Lester, you’re so far from Shore you need a life preserver!” But eventually he was sold outright to the Bruins in 1929. While he plied his trade on the ice he was studying law. The Beantown management saw leadership potential in Lane, and made him playing coach of the Can-Am Boston Cubs.
While he was there he had trouble controlling a little firecracker named Joe Geroux. Prone to lose his cool, he was continually losing money due to fines for misbehaving. He asked his mentor for advice, and was told to count to ten rather than retaliating.
It wasn’t long until he almost caused a riot by clubbing “Duke” Dutkowski over the head with his stick. On the way back home on the train Lane had a heart-to-heart chat with his delinquent skater. “What did I tell you to do instead of lashing out?”, the future Supreme Court Judge asked.
“You told me to count to ten—and THEN I could swing!”
“But I saw the incident and I only got as far a five when you let your stick go!”
“Myles. I forgot to tell you. I was born in Poland, and whenever I get mad I forget to count in English and do it in Polish—and I do it twice as fast. I did that with Dutkowski. I counted—then let my stick go!”
No account about humour would be complete without a paragraph about the incomparable “King” Clancy. Just before he was transferred to Toronto, the little Irishman, who started many bouts, but never finished one, picked on the Maroons’ burly Harold Starr—who, by the way, moonlighted as a professional wrestler. Not surprisingly his fellow Ottawa native easily mopped up the ice with him, concluding the bout heaving him halfway across the ice, then sitting on him!
“Let me up! Let me up!” Clancy demanded.
Finally granting the request, Starr chuckled, “Well I licked you, eh Clancy?”
Members of both teams almost fell over when the never-say-die half-pint stuck out his chin and proclaimed: “Starr! You never saw the day you could lay a hand on me!”
Nick Metz joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fall of 1934. By the time 1941 rolled around he had established himself as one of the premier penalty killers in the NHL. Although he generally conducted himself in a gentlemanly manner, and received fewer than the average number of penalties, he was guilty one night of abusing the privilege of wearing the big “A” on his sweater.
He was hassling referee Bill Chadwick about the calls he was making during the course of the match. Finally, the big official had had enough. “Look Nick!” he exploded. “I’ll referee the game. Your job is to put the puck in the net!”
In no time at all the red-headed prairie farm boy did just that. As he skated by Chadwick he cracked: “You know Bill, you’re just supposed to referee. You’re not supposed to coach the players!”
Another “Original 6” stalwart, Fern Flaman, had a different approach to haggling with referees; and one night “Red” Story bore the brunt of his frustration. After a fellow Bruin was whistled to the fence, Fernie skated straight over the lanky whistle-tooter and went nose to nose with him. After what seemed like a long time, the veteran official griped:
“What’s the matter Flaman? Can’t you talk? And why are you breathing all over me?” His answer deserves to be in the archives of witticism: “Red”, he growled. “I’ve got the lousiest cold in Boston, and I’m standing here until you catch it!”
In 1944 the Canadiens had just won their third straight over the Blackhawks, leaving them one victory short of the coveted Stanley Cup. However, they just squeaked out a 3-2 win, and Coach Dick Irvin was not pleased with their performance. He proceeded to tear strips off the team collectively for “dangerous complacency”, in what he felt was a “bad game”.
Just as he reached a crescendo, Manager Tommy Gorman burst through the locker room door, and shouted: “Wonderful game fellows! A grand win! Terrific! Keep that up and we’ll win the Cup!”
Irvin stood speechless! “Rocket” Richard and Elmer Lach, seated side by side, started making choking sounds, while their line mate, “Toe” Blake hurriedly bent over his skate laces. Then, abruptly, the entire room convulsed. Their startled bench boss took a kick at a bucket, missed, and joined the laughter. Only Gorman was silent—puzzled as to what he had said that was so funny.
From the Hab’s dressing room we move to Toronto’s locker where the silver-tongued Conn Smythe was giving one of his flowery pep talks. As a horse breeder and stable owner, he launched into an analogy between thoroughbreds and hockey players.
“Some horses are strictly front-runners. They go to the front, hold out most of the way, but when it comes to the wire they just fold up. Other horses lay back, rate the race, then come in to win in the last eighth!”
“Babe” Pratt was so impressed by the address that he turned to rookie “Teeder” Kennedy and asked: “Which end of the horse do you want to be?”
Few players could send both teammates and opponents into fits of laughter like the poker-faced Ron Stewart. Playing at his best in 1960’s, his versatility made him a favourite with Coach “Punch” Imlach. One afternoon, at an optional practice, Bert Olmstead was assigned to be “coach for the day”. He announced there would be an inter-squad game with Stewart serving as referee. In his typical quasi-serious fashion, the latter had the players line up, face the picture of the Queen which hung at one end of the gardens, then dropped the puck.
It wasn’t long until he began to assist on some of the action by kicking the puck in certain directions. Eventually this led to a breakaway by Brian Cullen. Suddenly Stewart blew the play dead. “What was that for?”, Cullen demanded. “Oh I just wanted to tell you what a nice play that was!”, came the explanation.
Still with the Queen City sextet, Billy Harris, who was anything but a rugged player, got tangled up with the grizzled old Bill Gadsby while he was still patrolling the blue line for the Rangers. The latter became very angry at the slim pivot, and his language, apparent even to lip readers, was enough to make a sailor blush. When Harris was asked what it was all about, he said Gadsby accused him of kicking him. “Hinky”, as he was nicknamed, protested that he wasn’t kicking him; he was just trying to get his leg loose.
To that William responded that if he was kicked again he would break his stick over his head.
“What did you do then?”, he was asked.
“Well. For one thing, I stopped kicking him!”
Leap-frogging ahead to the 1970’s, we hear from former Leaf director, Terry Kelly. He recalls a slug-fest between tough guy “Kurt the Hurt” Walker and Dave Schultz, Philly’s resident enforcer. “Tiger” Williams was, on this occasion, just a bystander as the bout continued. He suggested to referee Bruce Hood that he “let them fight! Their IQ’s don’t add up to 11!”
Replied Hood to Williams: “Do you want to get in it and make it an even dozen?”
All of the above anecdotes are gospel. But this concluding one cannot be verified as such. It comes from the archives of the late “Babe” Pratt, who was as skilled at spinning yarns as he was at hockey.
He used to love to tease John Ferguson, who, although he played for the Canadiens, was not bilingual. He enjoyed playing the horses, and one night he dreamed that the winner of the eighth heat at the local track was a filly with a name with “hat” in it. He rushed out to get a racing form, and, sure enough—there was a “Hat-Check Girl” listed. He laid down his pesos at the window, and waited. Later, when he came home, his wife asked how his dream pick had fared.
“She came in eighth!”, he grumbled.
“Well, who won?”, she enquired.
“Oh, some nag called ‘Chapeau’.”, came the disgusted reply.
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