Hockey's Historic Highlights

Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise

Posted December 20, 2014

Viewed 3157 times

Leafs Christmas

One of the feature articles in the December 17, 2009 Toronto Sun sports pages, was Mike Zeisberger’s “Leaf’s Christmas Wish List”. A sampling of these solicitations included: for Mike Komisarek (ear plugs for his next visit to Montreal); Ian White (a bit of respect for being the team’s most consistent defenseman during the worst start in franchise history);  Tomas Kaberle (a stick that makes him shoot when the opportunity is there); Phil Kessel (more talent around him); Jamal Mayers (more highlight reel goals like the one he scored on Wednesday night); and, for Rickard Wallin (a t-shirt which says “my name is not Niclas—he plays for Carolina”).

 This concept by the Sun’s popular columnist was hardly a new one. Several journalists have submitted similar columns over the years. For instance the Post Wire Service reviewed the needs of several NHL franchises in 1983.

  Regarding Boston, the scribe suggested they would likely wish for “A healthy, rested Pete Peeters, who doesn’t fall apart when the weather gets warmer and the playoff pressure starts to boil”.

  For Montreal, only “Jean Beliveau. Ken Dryden, the Richards, Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard, Boom Boom Geoffrion, and Doug Harvey at their peak, would guarantee a Merry Christmas!”

  Tongue-in-cheek he added concerning Vancouver: “New uniforms. The Darth Vader look is out!”

  During the “Original Six” era, gifts were numerous when “nights” were staged for star players, presented at intermission time, as their contributions to their clubs were honoured.

   For instance, when the National Hockey League was formed in 1917, Frank Calder was appointed president. After two decades in office, just prior to Christmas, a special dinner was given in his honour in New York. A SILVER TEA SERVICE was formally presented, and he was lauded with copious speeches of appreciation for his contributions to the loop. When he passed away six years later many shinny moguls insisted that it was he who kept the fledgling league afloat during a number of uncertain eras. It was appropriate for him, as it has also been for franchise players who have had one of those aforementioned “nights”.

    The above represents conventional acts of charity. But over the years, presents both intentional and unintentional of a STRANGE sort have changed hands.  

   At the turn of the 20th century, referees vacillated between using bells and whistles for calling signals during games. Lou Marsh, one of the most respected of all on-ice officials in those early years, for a time, at least, chose to utilize the bell. It is said that not only did whistles freeze to lips in the old unheated rinks, but bells served as defense weapons when spectators physically expressed their objections to their calls.

   It was within this context that during one particular game Mr. Marsh found himself victimized by an unusual amount of verbal abuse at the hands of an over-enthusiastic (and partisan) fan. Finally the abused official lost his cool and hurled his bell at the leather-lung! The next time Marsh was scheduled to call the plays at that same arena, an unscheduled ceremony held up the start of the match. As he readied for the face-off, a delegation of local fans met him at centre ice—and presented him with a PADDED BELL!

   For five seasons, starting in 1930, a character named Jean Pusie played varying numbers of games in the Big Time, with Montreal, New York, and Boston. Blessed with some natural abilities, he tragically wasted them because of his tendency to “hot dog” instead of sticking to business. In 1934, after he had driven the Ranger’s Lester Patrick to distraction, he was farmed out to the London Tecumsehs of the International League. He delighted spectators with his constant clowning. 

   In his first “home” game he fired a blistering shot which tore the opposing goalie’s glove off, projecting it into the cage. Before the netminder could move, the “Gallant Gaul” dove into the net, retrieved the CATCHING MITT, and with a low bow offered it as a gift to the startled backstop. He then held up his victim’s bare hand, counted the fingers, and announced, “Dey are all dere! You are luck-y!” Patting the cage cop on the back he skated away!    

  The last hurrah of the Montreal Canadien’s cross-town rivals, the Maroons, came in 1935. They took the Stanley Cup final series against the Leafs, three games to none. One enthusiastic (and wealthy) local fan was so impressed by the play of “Hooley” Smith that he presented him with the DEED TO A FARM near Trois-Rivières. According to William Brown in his history of the team, his teammates found it comical that a street kid from Balmy Beach was now a gentleman farmer, and Smith joked about it himself, calling the land his “agricultural kingdom”.

    In 1936, the on-going feud between opposition General Managers, Conn Smythe of the Leafs, and Art Ross of the Bruins, fostered a unique “act of charity”. The two had frequently argued at League Governor’s meetings, even coming to blows on occasion. But they also constantly waged war in the pages of the press. The Toronto big wig once placed an ad in a Boston pager urging fans to come to see a real hockey team (his) when they were in Beantown.

   From time to time, however, there was a humourous twist to the battle of words and wills. One evening, Smythe and the mischievous “King” Clancy conspired to get Ross’ goat. Stashed behind the Maple Leaf bench was a beautiful BOUQUET. Just before the opening face-off, the “Little Major” sent Clancy to the Boston bench with the flowers. But it wasn’t until the accompanying card was read that the desired effect hit home. Some unprintable sentiments were candidly expressed.

  During that same year Montreal Maroons manager, Tommy Gorman ordered forward   

Bob Gracie not to change his “lucky suit” until the playoffs were over. The Hab’s cross-town rivals did just that—and Gracie got his NEW TOGS. 

 Two years later, Charlie Queerie, who was Toronto’s Publicist at the time, kept the feud alive by presenting Ross with a POLISHED MONKEY WRENCH. He had it attached to an 8-day clock. Reportedly, the significance was that the Bruin CEO had thrown the tool in a moment of anger when the Toronto team was still called the St. Pats.

   But even that didn’t quench the fire. Harold Ballard, who was at that time just a small cog in the Maple Leaf Garden’s empire, gave his boss a PEN SET with a RED BRICK as the base. The inscription read: “Confiscated by Boston Police from Bruin supporters!” (a reference to Boston’s fans dislike of the Queen City team owner)  

   Stories about Eddie Shore’s stinginess could fill a book. Always frugal, he became even more miserly when he purchased the Springfield Indians of the AHL in 1939. He was notorious for offering bonuses for excellent play, then cancelling them because of faux pas. Those who were in his doghouse were relegated to selling popcorn, programmes, and soft drinks in the stands. Others were forced to change light bulbs high above the ice surface.

   The epitome of his Scrooge-like demeanor was demonstrated by his treatment of the visiting Cincinnati Mohawks. They asked for practice time the morning before the scheduled game. He refused to turn on the arena lights, maintaining that the sun shining through the rink windows would provide sufficient illumination. But the Ohio sextet had the last laugh. Just before the opening face-off on game night, Mohawk’s coach, “King” Clancy slipped over the boards, strode to the owner/coach/player, and presented the “Edmonton Express” with A LANTERN!

    In 1944 Hap Day’s charitable token of the season took the form of a package of two BURNED-OUT LIGHT BULBS, which he sent to Tommy Gorman. The accompanying suggestion was that he keep them on hand should the lights in the Montreal Forum grow too bright when (Frank) McCool was in the nets again for Toronto.  

 Unwanted gifts, like the ones mentioned above, are one thing—but unintentional ones are quite another. In the 1948/49 season, the Hab’s defenseman, Glen Harmon, brought an EXPENSIVE HAT from the shop, which he jointly owned with his wife, to the team dressing room. Mrs. “Butch” Bouchard had recently purchased it, and her husband was to bring it home with him following the match. Jokingly, Harmon told his defense partner that if he scored two goals that night, he could have it for free. Even though he had managed only four markers in the entire previous campaign, he potted the only two scores that night in a 2-0 whitewash of the Red Wings.

    That same season, Max Bentley, received a gift of a totally different kind. Only in his second campaign with the Leafs, one evening his team was deadlocked with the rival Red Wings, 1-1. Just about the time the Dipsy-Doodle-Dandy from Delisle, Saskatchewan, was ready to jump on the ice for his next shift, super fan Charlie Hemstead shouted: “Score a goal, Max and I’ll give you a HORSE!” Twenty seconds later the slick centre blasted a shot by Harry Lumley. He got the colt!

   A decade later, former shot-blocking rearguard, Bob Goldham, was appointed coach of the St. Michael’s Majors Junior squad. His old acquaintance, and now opposition mentor, Rudy Pilous of St. Catherines, sent him a SILVER PLATED OIL CAN. The thinly-disguised implication, of course, was that his job amounted to little more than opening and closing the gate on the player’s bench!

   In November of 1992, Brett Hull chose a novel way of suggesting to former player turned referee, Paul Stewart, what pucksters, coaches, managers, and fans have maintained for years; he sent him a copy of the NHL RULEBOOK IN BRAILLE.

  The same sort of subtle innuendo may be suspected in Bill Wirtz’s parcel sent to NHL disciplinarian, Brian Burke in 1996. Angry at the latter’s failure to suspend Igor Larionov for slashing and breaking Steve Smith’s leg, the Chicago Blackhawks owner sent a pair of PRESCRIPTION GLASSES to the league’s Vice President.

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