Hockey's Historic Highlights

Captain Cage Cop

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


Captain Cage Cop

Posted March 26, 2015

Viewed 2362 times

Bill Durnan with Turk Broda - City of Toronto Archives
Bill Durnan with Turk Broda - City of Toronto Archives

It was called an “unconventional” move made by the Vancouver Canucks on September 30, 2008. Manager Mike Gillis and Coach Alain Vigneault conspired to name goaltender Roberto Luongo the new captain of the west coast club. They circumvented the official rules of the NHL, which state: “No playing manager or playing coach or goalkeeper shall be permitted to act as captain or alternate captain”, by technically following that decree. The acrobatic twine tender did not have the letter “C” stitched on his sweater—though he was pictured in publicity shots with that letter prominently adorning his jersey. His own personal solution was to have it painted on his mask. He became the seventh NHL puckster playing that position to be granted that honour.

  Luongo had been deemed captain material two years before the actual appointment because of his leadership abilities. However, after only one campaign he voluntarily stepped down from the role “to place his entire focus on goal tending”. He stopped short of saying the captaincy was a “distraction”, but admitted “it was something less on my plate”. Willie Mitchell, one of the three alternates, was designated to “argue with referees”.

   In the 2012 All Star match, another “unconventional” stance was taken. It went without saying, that when the league ruled there be no backstops filling these roles, no “C” or “A” could be worn by any member of the netminder’s union. And, although officialdom may be treated lightly in such an exhibition contest, that particular legislation was also overlooked. Henrik Lundqvist sported a big “A” on his Team Alfredsson sweater.

  Both of these issues stem from circumstances present during the 1947-48 schedule. That was the first season for captains and alternates to be singled out to display a “C” or an “A” on their chest. Because of their leadership capabilities both Chuck Rayner of the Rangers and Bill Durnan of the Canadiens had the latter character sewn on their shirts. Interestingly enough, that was the year New York wore an alternate uniform, with “RANGERS” forming a half circle on the chest above a large number, meaning there was no room for either letter there. So the Blueshirts pinned theirs on their left sleeves.

  With Durnan, “Toe” Blake’s broken leg prompted the Habs’ management to replace his “A” with the “C”, from January through the rest of the campaign. Already boisterous in shouting encouragements and directions to his mates, the big ambidextrous keeper of the cage began to take advantage of his new authority. He constantly verbally accosted officials with his protests, not only making their task more difficult, but repeatedly giving Montreal breathers from the action.

So what is called the “Durnan rule” was in place by the time the next season began. While it is common to see a “C” on college goalies’ chests, the six-time Vezina trophy winner is the only NHL cage cop to ever wear that letter over his heart.

   But neither he nor Luongo was the first to be placed in that leadership position in the world’s premier circuit.

   It is worthwhile mentioning there were at least two puck stoppers in pre-NHL fraternities, who were appointed to that role. Quebec-born “Peerless Percy” LeSueur was the first. A right-winger for his home-town junior and senior clubs, he moved to Smiths Falls in 1905 where he became an emergency replacement in net. He was outstanding between the uprights, and continued to star as a backstop in the Federal League. It was still the era when the Stanley Cup was a challenge trophy, and the Falls squad put in their bid, taking on the much stronger Ottawa Silver Seven. He was so impressive in that two-game, total-goal series, that the Capital City club signed him to play for them in the second game of the finals against the Wanderers. He remained with Barber Poles for eight years, during three of which he carried the triple portfolio of player, captain, and manager. 

   He was traded to the Toronto Ontarios in 1914, where he played for one season, before the sextet was disbanded. He eased into the city’s Blueshirts’ lineup, where he remained until his wartime service began in 1916. Following his on-ice career, he coached and managed arenas in Windsor, Detroit, Fort Erie and Syracuse. He was also involved in the founding of the Can Pro League in 1926, and later became a sports journalist. He is credited with experimenting with a baseball-type catching mitt for those playing his position, and inventing the gauntlet glove which protected the netminder’s wrists and arms.   

  Although Harry “Happy” Holmes began his pay-for-play tenure in his native Ontario, it was with the PCHA Seattle Metropolitans that he really made his mark. Signing with first American team to capture Lord Stanley’s coveted mug, he moved “west” for the 1915-16 season. For seven campaigns he sported the big “S” on his green and red jersey and his matching baseball cap, championing the effort which took the World Championship to Seattle in 1917. 

  His defining moment as a guardian of the twine came on March 26, 1919. For 60 minutes of regulation time, and 20 minutes of overtime, he and the Hab’s legendary George Vezina waged a memorable battle of flawless backstopping. Referee Mickey Ion mercifully called the match and it went into the books as a scoreless draw.

  It was following that valiant display that the team’s executives selected “Hap” as captain of the club. He remained in that venue until 1924. It was written of him” “If there had been a trophy for leading goalies during the period in which he played, he would have won it eight times!” No wonder Seattle honoured him in that fashion. 

  John Ross Roach is the only NHL’er to be born in the town of Port Perry, now a bedroom community of the GTA, nestled on the shores of Lake Scugog. After only one year in Junior and another at the Senior, he joined the Toronto St. Pats (later the Maple Leafs) for the 1921-22 season. After a slow start he came on so strongly he was considered to be the catalyst when the Green and White disposed of the Ottawa Senators in the east, then outlasted the Vancouver Canucks 3 games to 2, to lay claim to shinny’s silver chalice. One journalist of the day opined that he was a close second to “King” Clancy as the best first-year player in the business.

  The Queen City powers-that-be wished to recognize his value to the sextet, and just previous to the 1925-26 campaign Toronto newspapers headlined the announcement that the acrobatic backstop would be the new captain of the Irish. At 5’5”, and weighing only 130 pounds, he was one of the smallest, yet most exciting netminders in the league.

  He happened to be a teammate of Babe Dye, who was reputed to have the hardest shot in the loop during that era. One day at practice the diminutive Roach bet his contemporary a cigar he could stop any shot he could fire at him. He was successful—sort of. He deflected the last drive with his foot—and it broke his ankle. He had lots of leisure time to smoke his stogie. 

  Roach was small, but they didn’t nickname Roy Worters “Shrimp” for nothing. He stood a mere 5’3” and tipped the scales at 135 pounds soaking wet. But his outstanding goalkeeping prompted his accomplishments to be referred to as “sorcery between the pipes”. He was a member of the USAHA Pittsburgh Yellowjackets who turned professional with the NHL in the fall of 1925. After a single campaign of stellar play he was named team captain, remaining in that role until he was traded to the Americans in 1928. If Manager Odie Cleghorn needed a reason to bestow this mantel on him, it was demonstrated during the club’s inaugural season. When a place in the playoffs was on the line, he admonished his mates to “get one goal and Detroit won’t beat us!” And, even though the puck was in the Pirate’s end for virtually all of the third frame, the little whiz staved off every attempt to get the disc by him.

  Never one to let pain slow him down, his habit of deflecting shots with his stick hand earned him more than his share of broken bones. On one occasion he played several contests sporting a cast, his stick taped to his big glove.

  Previous to the 1932-33 season the NHL introduced a strange rule, which stated that “captains had to be on the ice at all times” (even though there was an option of informing officials an alternate was taking his place). The simplest route was followed by three of the circuit’s teams—Canadiens, Ottawa, and Chicago—appointing twine tenders to be captains.

  George Hainsworth was the happy choice of the Habitants. His cool and unflappable demeanor was perfect to stabilize the “Flying Frenchmen”. A late starter, who starred with the Senior Kitchener Greenshirts for six years, at age 30 he commenced his career as a shinny mercenary with the Saskatoon Crescents of the WCHL. It was remarked that he weighed only 135 pounds at the time, and that his pads seemed almost as tall as he. But as an NHL rookie he quickly displayed outstanding prowess by becoming a shutout icon, climaxing his superior efforts with 22 whitewashes in just 44 games in 1928-29—a record impossible to match or beat. His goals-against-average was a stingy 0.92; and his eight-year overall average was 1.78. That was one of the three years running that he “owned” the Vezina Trophy, donated in honour of the man he replaced. He was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

 Ottawa designated Alec Connell as their captain that same fall, a position he held for but one season, because he temporarily retired following the completion of that schedule. He became a netminder by accident. While stationed in Kingston during WWI, he was asked to help a team who had no one to play net. Although his debut saw him play without the advantage of skates, he caught on quickly. After seasoning at the Junior and Senior level, he turned pro with the Senators in 1924-25. During his tenure in Canada’s Capital, he set a record for six consecutive shutouts, totaling 443 minutes without allowing a goal. By the time he had hung up his blades he had amassed an amazing 81 shutouts in 471 contests.

   Always a prankster, he once gave an interview during which time he claimed that the Montreal Maroons would welcome a hotshot rookie named McGoogan to camp that fall. He was reported to be able to play all positions from goal out. Newspapers heralded his arrival—but he never showed up. A figment of Alec’s mischievous imagination, he never would.

  Nicknamed the “Ottawa Fireman” because he was a fireman, he drove a pseudo “hard bargain” with the Maroons when they offered him a contract. He said he would don their colours “on condition that, because he was a fireman, if an alarm sounded, he would have to leave without warning to answer the call.”. The executives of the Canadien’s Montreal counterparts went along with the ruse and answered: “Agreed! But you are only allowed to leave if the puck is in the opposition’s end!”

     Tommy Gorman, manager of the Maroons, said after a sterling playoff effort in 1935:  “That was the greatest performance in the history of hockey!”   

   Chuck Gardiner is one of two captain cage cops to lead his troops to a Stanley Cup championship. During his seven-year stint with the Blackhawks, the Windy City sextet spent most of those seasons as bottom feeders in the pre-“Original Six” era. Despite that handicap, the “Wee Scot” managed to blank the opposition 42 times in only 315 games. Always a fierce competitor, one of the most remembered tales about his courage under fire took place in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. He was being bombarded with shots from every angle, and, despite his valiant efforts the fired-up Blue and White potted one marker after another. 

  One of those drives hit Charlie in the forehead, causing blood to flow freely. He was replaced by Wild Cude, but he fared no better. He also needed to be helped off the ice after being smacked in the face. So the brave warrior returned to play, his head all bandaged like a turban. In the final period a mischievous fan skimmed his derby hat across the ice in the goalie’s direction. Charlie snatched it up and put in on his noggin, playing the rest of the game decked out in fine fashion.

  But that championship match ended in a far more serious atmosphere. Like Worters he promised if they would get a single tally, he would take care of the rest. He made good his claim, and the victory was theirs. But he had little time to enjoy the triumph. He had played as a very sick man, and was taken to the hospital right from the dressing room. Brain surgery was performed, but he never recovered. Two months later he was dead. 

  In 1960 John Sturges’ epic western movie, “The Magnificent Seven” was released, and remains a favourite until this day. But the NHL has its own version—seven shinny icons, long remembered for their accomplishments as cage cops—who also were honoured by acting as captains of their hockey clubs. 

Viewed 2362 times

Go to top
Archives

Minor League 'Davids' Defeating Major League 'Goliaths'
Posted December 07, 2018

The Shadow Knows
Posted November 25, 2018

Lying Down on the Job
Posted November 04, 2018

The Perils and Pleasures of Water
Posted October 19, 2018

Hockey's Cinderella Teams
Posted October 07, 2018

"Stop Thief!"
Posted May 19, 2018

Hockey's Classic Embarrassing Moments
Posted May 10, 2018

Playing in a Fog
Posted April 21, 2018

Media Goofs
Posted April 08, 2018

First Game, First Shift, First Goal!
Posted March 26, 2018

Always a Bridgroom
Posted March 12, 2018

The Year the Canadiens Almost Died
Posted February 24, 2018

Tangled With the Law and the Lawless - Part 2
Posted February 17, 2018

Tangled With the Law and the Lawless
Posted January 28, 2018

Lucky Black Cats and Number 13
Posted January 17, 2018

Concussions in Hockey Nothing New
Posted December 30, 2017

The Best Christmas I Remember
Posted December 18, 2017

Filling the Gap
Posted December 01, 2017

Off Duty Injuries; mishaps away from the rink
Posted November 13, 2017

The Most Cruel Bird of All
Posted October 26, 2017

Las Vegas — NHL's 31st Team — Knights or Knaves?
Posted October 13, 2017

Playing Under the Influence - of Pain
Posted May 29, 2017

In Tune Pucksters
Posted May 14, 2017

Laughter - The Best Medicine
Posted April 29, 2017

The Last Straw
Posted April 15, 2017

Whose Side Are You On Anyway?
Posted March 30, 2017

Ferreting Out Phantom Hockey Stars
Posted March 17, 2017

A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 2)
Posted March 08, 2017

A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 1)
Posted February 19, 2017

Tales From the Sin Bin!
Posted February 04, 2017

Happy 100th Birthday N.H.L
Posted January 25, 2017

New Year's Resolutions that Might Have Been
Posted January 06, 2017

It Happened on December 25th
Posted December 21, 2016

The Best of Hockey's One-Liners
Posted December 10, 2016

The Price of Stardom
Posted November 18, 2016

Is There a Doctor in the House?
Posted November 03, 2016

Auston Matthews: Liberator or Lemon?
Posted October 14, 2016

Hockey's Multi-Generation Families
Posted June 16, 2016

Picture Perfect - A Dozen Classic Hockey Photos
Posted June 08, 2016

Anatomy of the Penalty Shot
Posted May 17, 2016

Hockey's Honourary Indian Chiefs
Posted May 04, 2016

Goaltender's Idiosyncrasies
Posted April 17, 2016

Records That Will Never Be Broken
Posted March 31, 2016

Right Church — Wrong Pew
Posted March 23, 2016

Does "Captain" Mean Much Anymore?
Posted March 02, 2016

I Quit!
Posted February 21, 2016

Now That's Not Pun-ny!
Posted February 07, 2016

A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 2
Posted January 26, 2016

A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 1
Posted January 06, 2016

Christmas Babies
Posted December 29, 2015

Practice Can Be Precarious
Posted December 11, 2015

How Much is a Body Worth?
Posted November 25, 2015

Brooklyn Bridge is Falling Down...
Posted November 15, 2015

Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part Two)
Posted November 01, 2015

Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part One)
Posted October 16, 2015

From Champs to Chumps
Posted June 07, 2015

CLEAN PLAY……CLEAN PLAYERS….TRUE SPORTS
Posted May 11, 2015

Putting the Bite on the Opposition
Posted April 24, 2015

One Eyed Wonders
Posted April 12, 2015

Captain Cage Cop
Posted March 26, 2015

Trade Deadline Deals — Blockbuster or Bluster?
Posted March 17, 2015

Fun In the Snow
Posted February 27, 2015

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated
Posted February 16, 2015

It's not what they said - it's what they meant!
Posted January 31, 2015

Funny Fights
Posted January 18, 2015

Hockey's New Years Babies
Posted January 03, 2015

Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise
Posted December 20, 2014

Two Dozen + 1 Wacky Wonders
Posted December 06, 2014

The Last of a Long Line of...
Posted November 24, 2014

A Compendium of Referee Non-Calls
Posted November 09, 2014

40th Anniversary of the 1974 Summit Series
Posted October 25, 2014

The Many Faces of Training Camp
Posted October 13, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Playoff Heroes
Posted May 30, 2014

Boston Bruins Celebrate 90 Years
Posted May 17, 2014

A Curse Upon Ye!
Posted May 01, 2014

For the Birds
Posted April 20, 2014

They Were Not Fooled By Their Birthdates
Posted April 08, 2014

Bitten By The Hand That Feeds
Posted March 22, 2014

Tongue in Check
Posted March 08, 2014

A Few L.A.F.F.S. to Relieve your S.A.D.
Posted February 21, 2014

The Ultimate Valentine - A Kiss
Posted February 08, 2014

Hats Off to Hockey
Posted January 25, 2014

Horsing Around
Posted January 11, 2014

New Year's Revelations
Posted December 30, 2013

Christmas Specials
Posted December 23, 2013

Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith
Posted November 30, 2013

Just Dying to Play Hockey
Posted November 17, 2013

What's In 50 Years
Posted November 02, 2013

The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!
Posted October 20, 2013