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My Homiletics professor in Seminary used to stress communication which was PUNGENT, POINTED, and PITHY when speaking from the platform. In other words, in order to be the most effective in addressing an audience, what one says should be SHARP, CONCISE, and DIRECT. The fact that he didn’t “practice what he preached” is immaterial. But following his advice meant one did not lose the attention of listeners before being half finished the point which needed to be made. Another professor put it in more colourful terms: “If you haven’t struck oil in 20 minutes, stop boring!”
One of the most effective ways of realizing that ambition is to make good use of “quick quips”, or, as they are sometimes called—one-liners”.
Such expressions are as old as the tendency to record them, and there are literally hundreds of them on record. Some of the more famous ones include:
“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits” –Alexandre Dumas
“Life is one fool thing after another, while love is two fool things after each other”-attributed to Oscar Wilde
“I never forget a face; but in your case I’d be glad to make an exception”-Groucho Marx
Pro hockey circles have been blessed with an abundance of wits, seemingly always ready with a snappy comment or a disarming response to a statement or situation.
Harry Neale behind the Vancouver bench (photo: Slapshot diaries)
From among the countless icons connected with the world’s fastest game, there is one who stands head and shoulders above most of them in this regards. I speak, of course, of Harry Neale, erstwhile bench boss at the highest level, and TV colour man extraordinaire. It seems only fitting that we’ll give him dibs at the podium to introduce the plethora of snappy saying available to us.
Some of his classics include:
“Last season we couldn’t win at home. This season we can’t win on the road. My failure as a coach is that I can’t think of anywhere else to play!”
“The score wasn’t indicative of our play. We were much worse than that!”
“I find that the less I say the more rumours I start!”
“The players say they don’t like my practices. Well, I don’t like their games!”
Some of quotable quotes find their origin in the game’s “good old days”.
Back in the late 1920’s the feud between Conn Smythe and Art Ross was at its stressful peak. Leo Dandurand of the Canadiens said that it even spilled over into the league board rooms, making it difficult for business to be carried out. On one occasion the “Little Majors” horse, “Shoeless Joe”, was found to have been drugged after a winning effort at Saratoga. While Smythe and his trainer were cleared of all accusations, Ross couldn’t resist using it to put a burr under the Leaf’s CEO’s saddle. “Mr. President”, he griped. “I insist that a saliva test of all those present be taken before proceeding with the business at hand.”
To be sure it is impossible when scanning the archives of NHL action, not to hear the inimitable “King” Clancy blurt out at least one snappy snippet from his endless years on the big league scene. From his playing days comes an insight into how he pulled the wool over his own eyes when it came to the pugilistic side of things. Typically, one night he tangled with the burly Harold Starr, who was big enough to eat the little Irish waif for breakfast. After he had mopped the ice with the feisty rearguard, he left him lying in a heap. Francis Michael jumped up from the playing surface and shouted to the Maroon muscle man: “You never saw the day you could lay a hand on me, Starr!”
“King’s” lightning lip showed no signs of slowing down when he turned to refereeing. Like every whistle tooter he was plagued by constant criticism over missed or mistaken calls. Former captain “Teeder” Kennedy recalled the night when Clancy had finally had his fill of the barbs directed his way by a doctor in Maple Leaf Gardens, who had a seat in the “reds” right behind the penalty bench. He leaned over the boards and shouted: “I may not see everything out there, Doc, but at least I don’t bury my mistakes like you do!”
In 1939 Frankie Brimsek took the NHL by storm with his sensational goaltending. He racked up so many early shutouts that he was quickly nicknamed “Mr. Zero”. When the Rangers came up against the rookie whiz kid, New York’s manager, Lester Patrick was asked what we thought of him. “I wouldn’t know!”, He snapped. “We haven’t had a shot on him yet!”
Murph Chamberlain and Ray Getliffe were defense partners with the Canadiens from 1943 through 1945. One summer the former was driving through the Laurentian Mountains when he was sideswiped by another vehicle. Angrily he jumped out of his car, ready to punch the guilty driver, only to find that his intended victim was none other than Getliffe. “For the love of Mike, Ray!”, he groaned. “Here it is in the middle of August and you’re still bumping into me!”
“Lefty” Wilson was the Red Wing’s trainer for several years, and doubled as practice goalie and emergency sub if either his or the opposition’s netminders were injured during a game. One night in 1953 he stood between the pipes in place of Harry Lumley, the Motor City’s regular backstop during an exhibition tilt against the University of Michigan. For the duration of the third period he puffed on a cigar, ignoring the “no smoking” signs in the arena. A disgusted fan yelled at him: “Can’t you read signs?”
“No!”, he snapped back. “I never went to college!”
Jimmy Thompson patrolled the blueline for Toronto and Chicago from 1945 through 1958. He rarely scored goals, but he was a dependable stay-at-home defenseman. He was also ready, on the spur of the moment to utter a quick quip that invariably broke up all who heard him. Back in the 1940’s while he was still with the Leafs, a discussion about former team fighters popped up. Jokingly someone mentioned how “King” Clancy was always starting bouts, but never finished any of them.
“That’s because Charlie Conacher always came to his rescue!”, piped up a teammate.
Nick Metz opined that it was good for any team to have a Conacher to step into any fight and take your part!”
“Okay Nick!”, commented the hitherto silent Thompson. “I’ll start my Charles Atlas course in the morning!”
For the most part the 1950’s were good years for the Red Wings. They were flying high in 1956, and the Boston Bruins were victims of their sustained attack one evening that year. They took a 7-0 drubbing, and it was a hard pill to swallow for the losers. But Johnny Crawford tried to take the edge off the gloom, when he piped up from a shower stall: “Detroit plays a funny style of hockey. They won’t let you have the puck!”
Two years later the Canadiens hardly worked up a sweat in disposing of those same Beantowners in the Stanley Cup finals. The final match saw the Habs defeat the Hub gang 5-3 right on their own pond. When asked what had been the turning point in the contest, general manager Lynn Patrick opined: “When they dropped the puck for the opening faceoff!”
Carl Brewer always marched to a different drummer, although it often showed more in his general deportment than in his conversations. But on one occasion he blurted out his disdain for air travel. “I hate flying so much”, he snapped. “That I won’t even send a letter airmail!”
Al Rollins, whose stellar performance in the crease for the lowly Chicago Blackhawks won him the league MVP in 1954, was always ready with a snappy comeback regardless of the circumstances. In fact it was during that season that his propensity for pithy pronouncements was revealed. One evening, as usual, he was being bombarded with enough rubber to supply a Goodyear Tire store. Finally, in desperation, during a particularly busy session, he yelled at the referee to “blow the whistle—because I’m being vulcanized!”
But it was his quick thinking verbal jab in April of 1960 which took the cake. He was being interviewed and asked the secret to being a Vezina Trophy winner. “Get traded to Montreal” was his witty reply.
When Doug Harvey moved from the Canadiens to the New York Rangers, he became their playing coach. Not long after this move his new crew were playing his former sextet, giving him opportunity to chat with his own former bench boss, Toe Blake. The latter commented on how the perennial All Star was now doing what he had always urged him to do—shoot the puck more. “How come?” he queried.
“Better coaching!”, was Harvey’s succinct come back.
Eddie (Jet) Joyal was with the L.A. Kings in 1968 when he was asked if he had summer employment. His reply was timely and terse: “Each morning my mother packs me a lunch and I sit on the front porch waiting for someone to come and take me to work. But nobody did!”
Goalie George Gardner could never catch on permanently in the Big Time, although he had brief stints with Detroit between 1965 and 1968. But, with the expanding NHL he got another chance in 1970 with Vancouver. Along with other members of the Canucks, while on a road trip, he was caught by General Manager Bud Poile coming in just after the sun came up. Before his boss could chew him for breaking curfew, he floored everyone with this gem: “Mornin’ Bud. You couldn’t sleep either, eh?”
That same year another cage cop, Doug Favell, was in a position to reveal how he was never stuck for words either. During a game against the Leafs he received an assist on Philly teammate Andre Lacroix’s marker. When questioned about it following the game, he remarked that he had also received a point for a helper in his first year with the team. “I’m getting closer to my objective.”, he quipped. “I only need 198 points to reach 200.”
Scotty Bowman was an expert at forming forward lines on the teams he coached, just one more way he contributed to his habitual winning ways. But one of his best verbal “lines” came a result of being questioned about whether or not he was going to Vancouver. “The trouble with Vancouver is when you wake up in the morning at nine, it’s noon everywhere else in the world!”
Ottawa-born Jim McKenny could hardly be classed as an enforcer. His highest penalty total for one season was 55 minutes. But as the 1973-74 season began the Leafs were a little short on tough guys. So, he was asked if he was going to be the team’s “policeman” for the upcoming campaign. “No”, he retorted. “I’m just the meter maid!”
Pierre Larouche was another skater who was better known for popping the puck into the twine rather than popping opponents in the beak. But in 1987, when a member of the Rangers, he got into a dust up with Dave Hannan. His comment about his non-frequent bout was: “The last time I fought it was shadow boxing—and I lost!”
Over the years there have been NHL’ers who have avoided the corners like the plague. One of them was Haliburton’s Bernie Nicholls. When asked to explain his aversion to that part of the rink, he blamed it on Wayne Gretzky. “He taught me that corners are for bus stops and stamps!”
After his playing days, Bob Plager became a successful minor league bench boss. “But”, he insisted. “I don’t want the Toronto Maple Leaf’s coaching job. “Coaching that team is like having a window seat on the Hindenburg!”
The archives of hockey’s one-liners seem to have filed away countless examples of one-liners. But this jocular jest seems fitting with which to bring this list to a conclusion. Tommy McVie took two kicks at the can coaching the New Jersey Devils—the first time in 1983-84, then again from 1990 through 1992. When asked if he had trouble sleeping after games he shot back: “Oh, I slept like baby. Every two hours I’d wake up and start crying!”
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