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In January 2003, SIHR charter member, James Duplacey, authored a paperback volume entitled “Hockey’s Book of Firsts” The promotional communique drew attention to the fact that “more than 150 defining moments in and out of the rink” were featured.
But in the on-going chronicle of Canada’s national sport there is also a long line of “lasts” which have altered the game of hockey in a significant fashion. For instance there was:
The Last Rover: When the first fully organized hockey game was played in Montreal on March 3, 1875, there were nine competitors a side. Very shortly, however, that number was reduced to seven. When the teams lined up for a face-off, there was a center, left winger, and right winger, as well as “point” and “coverpoint”, which are now called defensemen. The “cover” aspect of that player’s position related to the fact that originally these defenders did not stand side by side, but in tandem.
But there was an extra skater as well, who bore the title of rover. Essentially switched from offensive to defensive duties according to the flow of the game. Some early pucksters who excelled at this position, because of their speed and dexterity, were “Cyclone” Taylor, Eddie Gerrard, and Didier Pitre. While every other professional circuit dropped the “rover” in 1911, reducing the number of players on the ice at one time to six, positioned as we know them today, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association retained this extra man for a decade.
When the Eastern major circuit, namely the National Hockey Association (which became the NHL) finally recognized its counterpart of the Canadian West coast they began playing off for the Stanley Cup. The initial season for this arrangement was in 1914. Victoria traveled to Toronto where they took on the Blueshirts in a best-of-five series. It was agreed that would alternate the line-up formats at every match.
Finally, however, in March 1922, when the Vancouver Millionaires came to Toronto to take on the St. Pats, the rover position gasped it final breath. Games 2 and 4 of the series featured rovers, and thus this fourth game, played March 25, 1922, was the last one to see seven men on the ice for the same team.
The Last NHL Player To Wear “Double-enders”: This refers to a type of skate blades which by now are as obsolete as the horse and buggy. They resembled the type which goalkeepers have been utilizing for almost a century. Sometimes referred to as “skeleton” blades, they were uniformly constructed of flat metal. Initially these were manufactured o clamp onto ordinary work boots, tightened by means of a key. They were fine for pleasure skating, but in the heat of hockey action, especially when hit by a stray puck (or used by a goaltender to block a shot), they would come loose and scoot away.
Eventually this type of blade was fastened to a boot with rivets, greatly improving their stability. When the Winnipeg Victorias came east to meet the Montreal Shamrocks in their quest for the Stanley Cup, the westerners caused more than a few eyes to open. They
were wearing what we now know as “tube” skates. They immediately proved to be lighter, and superior, especially in soft ice. But surprisingly, the old “double-enders” remained the choice of ice footwear for many years. In September of 1927 the NHL passed a rule banning “fancy skates”, which effectively banished everything from their arenas but the tube skate. Most, if not all pro pucksters, had already made the switch anyway. But, some are slow to make the switch, and when Murray “Old Mudhooks” Murdoch came to the New York Rangers training camp in the fall of 1926, he was still swooping about on the old style blades.
The Last Goalie To Serve His Own Penalty: For decades net guardians were required to serve their own sentences when they violated the rules of the game. This necessitated a forward or defenseman standing in the gap until the banished cage cop had completed his time “on the fence”. It created no end of angst for both coaches and inexperienced gladiators—as is evidenced by a scenario on March 15, 1932. The game in Boston had barely gotten underway when Toronto netminder, Lorne Chabot, tripped a Bruin player. Coach Dick Irvin first sent out “Red” Horner to fill in. Boston scored. So he replaced him with “King” Clancy! The scenario was repeated. Finally Alex Levinsky skated into the breach, only to fan on the very next shot. Within less than 2 minutes, the score was 3-0!
The NHL had ruled in 1939 that whoever was appointed to fill in for a banished backstop would be permitted to borrow his big stick and gloves. In a sense this was a redundant move, because records indicate that December 27, 1936 was the last time a big league goaltender served his own sentence in the sin bin. On that occasion Chicago’s Mike Karakas tripped a Ranger forward and was penalized. Tommy Cook was given the nod to fill in—but he never faced a shot. Stickhandling ace Johnny Gottselig ragged the puck to kill off virtually all of the two-minute time frame.
The Last NHL To Team Adopt the Zamboni: “King” Clancy once shared his viewpoint about ice conditions which prevailed during his playing career. He told Brian McFarlane that while the man who invented artificial ice made an essential contribution to hockey, for some reason it never stood up like the natural variety. Deep ruts would be created from players’ skates, and make it difficult to control the puck as the game progresses. So, when the National Hockey League legislated the resurfacing of the ice between periods previous to the 1940-41 season they also performed a great service.
Maple Leafs had commenced this practiced previous to the rule, and the father of Paul Morris (who was the P.A. announcer for years) designed the little cart with a water tank for uniform flooding after the first and second periods. For fifteen years this was the methodology, with slight variations from one arena to another, used in each NHL building. But when the Zamboni resurfacing machine, which swept, scraped, and flooded all in one operation, proved to be a much superior alternative, one was delivered to the Boston Bruins in July 1954. The Montreal Forum followed suit in March of 1955, and other clubs followed in step afterwards at different intervals.
The New York Rangers were last to catch on to this innovation. Emile Francis, who stepped into the general manager’s role for the 1964-65 campaign, claimed that MadisonSquareGarden had the worst ice in the six-team circuit. So when the new Garden was opened in 1968 he insisted that they would match the improved building with improved.
ice. He spearheaded the purchase of a Zamboni at the cost of $58,000! But this did not immediately solve the problem. For one thing there was no doorway large enough to accommodate its entry. Hence the little ice resurfacing water barrel carts had to be pushed by attendants on skates until the structural adjustments could be made. Strangely enough, the other fly in the ointment was the inability of someone from the ice-making crew to operate the new monster. Francis was forced to import Jim Young from St. Thomas, Ontario to train the workers so the expensive machine could be utilized
The Last Player-Coach: In the ice game’s fledgling years it was very common for a senior player to be given the coaching reins while continuing as an active skater. Team members with leadership qualities, like Duke Keats and Odie Cleghorn in the 1920’s; “Red” Dutton and Paul Thompson in the 1930’s; and Ebbie Goodfellow and “Dit” Clapper in the 1940’s were handed this mantle. But Sid Abel was the only candidate for this double duty in the 1950’s. Following Detroit’s Stanley Cup triumph in 1952, “Old Boot Nose” asked for his release to become player-coach of Chicago. During his initial campaign in this role he skated in thirty-nine of the seventy games in the schedule. He was named “Coach Of The Year” for his superb effort of mentoring. But, after only three matches in 1953-54, he hung up the blades to concentrate on his task as bench boss.
Doug Harvey moved from Montreal to the Rangers for the 1961-62, where he tackled the dual role for that single season. Paid $25,000 for his efforts, he more than earned that unusually high stipend for that era. He logged more than thirty minutes per game, adding punch to the power play and killing penalties. He even did the unexpected for one in his position—he hung up his gear following practices and games—as an example of hard work for younger skaters to follow. He was given a three-year contract, with the option of backing out after his initial campaign. The second season he chose not to coach. He concluded it demanded too much of his energy; he missed his family still in Montreal; and found the unwritten rule of thumb that he stay aloof from his teammates displeasing.
But Charlie Burns, who had logged five hundred NHL games previous to January 1970, took over from Wren Blair that month, after the latter found the pressure of his job too demanding. Burns was called “assistant” and/or “interim” coach, because by then the league ruled no one could coach and play at the same time. However, using this loophole, he was in the lineup for fifty contests that season while overseeing the on-ice business of the Minnesota North Stars.
The Last Non-goalie To Guard the Net: As mentioned above, until the 1940’s goaltenders were required to serve their own penalties, forcing forwards or defensemen to fill in while they paid for their transgressions. Another scenario which cast that same responsibility on skaters prevailed due to injuries to net guardians. It wasn’t until 1965 that the NHL ruled each team must have a backup goaltender dressed and on the bench. Team trainers often stood in the gap when injuries involved lengthy time frames. Detroit’s “Lefty” Wilson was called upon on three different occasions to strap on the pads in such circumstances. He played sixteen, thirteen, and fifty-two minutes respectively in game situations. But the most common scenario, for example, required winger Chuck Conacher to face the music for three minutes when George Hainsworth was hurt on March 16, 1935; and rearguard Andy Brannigan to do the same favour for Chuck Rayner—seven minutes on the firing line on February 28, 1941.
Jerry Toppazini, Boston’s solid right-winger wrote the last chapter in this saga. On October 16. 1960, he replaced the injured Don Simmons with one minute left in a game against Chicago. The Hawks were not able to add to their 5-2 lead in those sixty seconds.
The Last of Hockey’s “Royal Family”: When Craig Patrick was replaced as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins following the 2005-2006 season, it marked the end of the eighty-year association of the National Hockey League with the Patricks,
fondly referred to as “Hockey’s Royal Family”. In the fall of 1926 the New York Ranger franchise was born. The first general manager was Lester “The Silver Fox” Patrick. He remained in that position until 1946, when he went “upstairs to become vice-president of the club. In the meantime, his two sons, Lynn and Murray, usually called “Muzz”, had joined the team as players, beginning in 1934 and 1938 respectively. Ten years after their father’s promotion, Muzz took over as manager of those same Broadway Blueshirts, where he continued for almost a decade, periodically adopting the coaching reins as well. Brother Lynn became the third member of the clan to take over behind-the-bench duties in 1948-49. Two campaigns later he moved to the Boston Bruins where he was first coach, and then manager. His last assignment was as coach and manager of the expansion St. Louis Blues in 1967.
The third generation of this inimitable family’s involvement in hockey’s premium loop overlapped Lynn’s post with the Blues. His son, Craig, caught on with the California Seals in 1971. Brother Glenn joined the NHL in 1973 for the first of his thirty-eight big league matches with St. Louis, California, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. Craig concluded his playing career in 1979, moving shortly to the Rangers as assistant GM, then GM. Commencing in 1990, he held the same office with the Penguin for sixteen years.
While the clan is still represented in the pro ice game—Glenn is coach of the AHL Wheeling Nailers, and his son is a forward on the squad—the NHL connection terminated with Craig’s retirement!
The Last NHL Game Scheduled On Christmas Day: For some unexplained reason, the NHL scheduled games on Christmas Day for decades. The first occasion for this thoughtless step was in 1919, when Quebec and the Canadiens squared off. It is doubtful that there was much consolation in victory that night for Montreal’s sextet, because, as always, players cringed at the thought of being “on the road” and away from their families at that special time, or simply leaving early to get ready for a scheduled contest. At first the practice was hit and miss. There were no contests scheduled for 1921, 1922, and 1923, but 1925 was the last year without a Christmas Day game — after that, it would be almost 50 years before, at last, shinny contests were no longer played on December 25th.
Over the years magazines and newspapers featured stories on that scenario. Players were interviewed, expressing elation over freak scheduling which enabled them to share Dec. 25th with their families.
Bob Goldham related how a trade made it possible for him to spend quality time at home from the 22nd through Christmas night right back in Toronto where his first game as a Red Wing took place.
There were 6 games that final night (1971); but, because of geographical location, the very last one pitted California against Los Angeles. In a winning effort for the Golden Seals, Stan Gilbertson had the distinction of potting the last yuletide goal, the third in a 3-1 victory.
The Last Goalie to Play Without a Mask: His name was Andy Brown.
A racecar driver in the off-season, and a happy-go-lucky character, he maintained that he was not afraid to expose his countenance to 100-mph-slapshots. He insisted if he had been, he just wouldn’t have played. Besides, he said he couldn’t adjust to the wearing of this kind of protector. He was the last NHL’er to perform in this manner. That was in ’73-’74. He continued to play for 3 seasons with Indianapolis of the WHA.
The Last Player to Eschew a Helmet: While Mr. Brown refused to cover his physog, Craig MacTavish, present bench boss of the Edmonton Oilers, was the last who chose to skate without a helmet. For the 1979-80 campaign the NHL ordered that all new players entering the league must wear this piece of equipment. However, veteran players had the option to continue bareheaded if they chose. It became known as the “Craig MacTavish rule”. He carried the freedom of this “grandfather clause”, with his noggin bare, through to the bitter end.
The Last NHL Goal of the Twentieth Century: The initial game of the newly-formed National Hockey League was played in Montreal, with the hometown Wanderers hosting the Toronto Blueshirts. It was a wide-open affair with the visitors feeling the brunt of a 10-9 defeat. Montreal’s Dave Ritchie inscribed the first goal into the league’s record books. It would require computer science to tally the number of pucks which have gone into NHL nets between that marker and the last one of the Twentieth Century. Brett Hull, slammed the old boot heel behind Anaheim’s Guy Hebert, at 8:49 of the third period, assisted by Mike Modano and Kirk Muller.
The Last Tie Game in the NHL: While technically, current NHL games may conclude with both teams having scored the same number of goals, tie game became a
thing of the past following the 2003-2004 campaign. As of October 5, 2005, when the first puck was dropped to commence the new season (the ’04-’05 campaign was lost due to the lockout), a new policy was in effect. All games must have a declared winner. Subsequently. The last knotted score took place on April 4, 2004, in a contest between Carolina and Florida. The Hurricanes rallied from a two-goal deficit, and Brad Fast scored the tying goal at 17:34 of the final frame. It was significant that this was Fast’s only game in the world’s premier loop. Roberto Luongo was the victim of this historic tally.
The Last Spinorama Marker in the NHL: When the National Hockey League’s big wigs met to revise the rules for the current campaign, there were 10 changes in legislation. Included was the expansion of the goalie’s trapezoidal area; stricter scrutiny ofdiving violations; and minor penalties for repeated faceoff delays. And another legislation which did not escape the cutting board was the controversial “spinorama” in penalty shot and shootout situations. In a word—this move has been outlawed.
The controversy revolves around a skater’s movement as he completes his one-on-one confrontation. When video replays are viewed there is certainly room for doubt on that score.
Perhaps the last straw which brought about the change involved the last such marker. It was counted by Ryan Strome of the Islanders, who put the old double-clutch move on veteran backstop, Martin Brodeur. Not only did it represent a loss to the future hall-of-famer, but it rubbed very painful salt in the wound which had been inflicted by Josh Baily, who, in a previous shootout assault, had ALSO connected with the same tactic. The holder of the record for most career wins by a goalie was upset about the first tally, and was absolutely steamed after the duplicate embarrassment. The very question of forward movement (which makes a such a goal legal) is certainly raised in at least one of these approaches.
In every avenue of life and living there is change—some of which happens as a matter of course. But from time to time alterations must be made for the benefit of all concerned. It has happened countless time in Canada’s National Sport—and it will happen again in this lifetime!
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