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Part one of this essay focused mainly on the misadventures of NHL’ers who either violated the laws of the land, or who were victims of foul play, over the past 40 years. But entanglement with the law or the lawless involving members of the world’s premier shinny loop is not exclusively a modern phenomenon.
In fact, whether deserved or undeserved, pucksters in the early years, who were part of the pay-for-play hockey scene, were considered somewhat less than upstanding citizens. This was partly due to the excessive violence on the ice during games—a diametric contrast to the philosophy of amateurs—but also because the conduct of several of these competitors off the ice raised the eyebrows of the conventional community standards.
One such swashbuckler was Ambrose Jason Moran—“Amby” for short. He entered the pro scene with the Regina Capitals of the Western Canada Hockey League in 1921. His deportment on the ice was described as “crashing up the ice”—“bashing demeanor”—and “pile-driving”! In other words, like Eddie Shack of a half century later, “the shortest distance to the goal was over anyone who got in the way!” This deportment was evident away from the arena as well. He was notorious for dust-ups with policemen. Unable to control his love of the bottle, he would often take on half the force, several at a time. One night he entered a local precinct dragging an officer under each arm, casual inquiring, “Did you wish to see me Sergeant?” He often ended up behind bars, “sleeping it off”. But on one occasion, he was sentenced to 30 days. The team’s manager, Wes Champ, urged the warden not to allow him to put on weight. He agreed—putting him in the prison furnace room shoveling coal!
Aurèle Joliat, during his tenure with the Canadiens, was known as “the Mighty Mite”. But his size in no way curtailed his abilities as a puck-handling wizard and perennial goal scorer. He first made the headlines with his hometown Ottawa Edinburghs, then moved to the Iroquois Falls team of the NOHA. In 1921, the Intermediate club was poised for a championship series, and the Ottawa native was recognized as a key element in that series. On the afternoon of the initial contest a couple of smooth dudes with beady eyes approached him asking if he would like to earn an easy $500.
Insisting on an explanation, they told him that he could tuck it in his pocket if he saw to it that he did his best to throw the match. They shoved the dough in his face. Saying nothing, he took the greenbacks and parted company with the strangers. That night the Falls sextet won easily with Aurèle potting six of the tallies. Immediately after the game he grabbed a train and never stopped until it got to Regina. He never returned to Iroquois Falls—and the beady-eyed gents are still looking for him.
It may surprise readers to know that the great Howie Morenz, the “Mitchell Meteor’, had a mischievous side to his nature as well—and it got him in trouble with the gendarmes as well.
His first misdemeanour took place while he was still skating for Stratford in the amateur ranks. One night in Preston, where he was strutting his best stuff, driving the opposition mad with his shifts and shots, a policeman appeared in the dressing room charging Howard with “malicious damage to property”. It seems that when rounding his own net to wind up for another rush down the ice, he had cut the corner too close. Goal judges in those days stood behind the net on ice, waving a flag when a goal was scored. And on one of those circuits he had slashed the rubbers of that official. The complaint was quickly withdrawn when his team’s backers provided full financial restitution for the damaged footwear!
But he got into more serious trouble in 1923, during his rookie year with the Canadiens. It seems that he was trying to impress the fun-loving Sprague Cleghorn that he was no “stick-in-the-mud” kid. Following the Habs’ veteran’s bad example, he joined him in an annoying bit of skullduggery. They amused themselves by driving around the city during heavy traffic hours. When there was a back-up, they used to drop cannon firecrackers under police cars, and howl with glee when they exploded, prompting the officers to pile out of their cruisers to give chase—sometimes with drawn revolvers.
“King” Clancy was still skating for Ottawa in the mid-1920’s. One night, previous to a game against the Bruins in Boston, he contracted a toothache. Since he couldn’t sleep he decided to go for a walk. Alex Connell, the Senators’ goalie, went with him. He put on his big fur coat he always wore and off they went. They had no sooner reached the street that two husky guys nabbed them. Thinking it was a holdup Connell managed to get away; but “King” was held tight.
It turned out the men were plainclothesmen. Clancy produced his identification card, and convinced the policemen that he and Connell were hockey players. The detectives apologized explaining that a fur store had just been robbed, and they thought the Capital City netminder might be their man.
A year or so later, this time in New York, the same two were almost in hot water again. Apparently, during the game earlier that evening, “the Ottawa Fireman” became angry when a fan behind his cage continued to hurl insults as him. Connell blew his cool and swung his stick at him, cutting the guys nose. Later, they were having a midnight snack in a café, when a tough-looking character sidled up to their table and stared at Alex. “Are you Alex Connell who plays goal for Ottawa?”
Alex smelled a rat, and denied that he was.
“Lucky for you!”, the thug threatened. “My boss told me to bump off that guy Connell for cutting his face!”
When Papa Marker finally heard the announcement from the maternity ward in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, in 1907, it was just after midnight, August 1st. “It’s a boy” came the glad news. Noting the date it took he and his wife no time at all to call the bouncing baby boy “August”—or “Gus” for short. Twenty seven years later he was a valued right-winger for the Montreal Maroons. His journey to the Big Time had taken him from Camrose, to Edmonton, and finally to Tulsa of the AHA, where he apprenticed for four seasons.
While there, the Tulsa police chief gave Gus a Deputy Sheriff’s card, and he spent much of his spare time riding around in squad cars. One day, during routine rounds the police car radio excitedly directed their cruiser to rush at top speed to a certain highway outside the city, with the purpose of intercepting the notorious bandit, “Pretty Boy” Floyd. Up and down roads, around corners, up hills and down, sometimes through traffic, with the siren screaming, hitting the pavement at up to 85 MPH (137 kph). Submachine guns were ready, as they prepared for the worst. But they never tracked him down. It seems while they went east, he went west. But Floyd did meet his death at the hands of the same State Police in that “other” direction.
The 1930’s were rife with such endangerments. Marker had lots of company in that venue. One night in 1930, “Taffy” Abel, the happy-go-lucky rearguard of the New York Rangers, was enjoying a snack in his adopted metropolis. Out of the blue a fan put the touch on him for a loan of $2.00. Realizing the hazards of living in the Great Depression, the generous-minded pro reached in his pocket for his money. Out came his $100.00 bankroll. The moocher didn’t blink twice—but grabbed it and ran.
Clarence Abel may have been big; but the sight of his hard-earned stipend disappearing inspired him to act quickly. In a rage he went to his room, grabbed a gun, and tracked the thief down in another night spot. The perpetrator had already spent some of the loot. But “Taffy” forced him to borrow enough from his friends to replace the missing amount before he let him off the hook.
A little-known incident involving Howie Morenz, who was profiled in a bad light above, took place on May 24, 1932. His mother-in-law, Mrs. Stewart, had been staying with him and his wife. For some reason, in the wee small hours of the morning, she decided she wished to go home. The dutiful son-in-law escorted her on her return. When they arrived at the house they found the door unlocked, and, turning on the light, came face to face with a tall stranger. The “Stratford Streak” was ordered to put his hands up—a good move since he was staring down the barrel of a pistol.
It seemed like a standoff until Howie suddenly jumped the intruder, and commenced to wrestle him to floor. He was rewarded with a crack on the head courtesy the robber’s gun. The struggle continued for several minutes, but, suddenly the bandit got his hand loose and clobbered Morenz once more. He then escaped the scene. The Habs’ hero was cut and bruised for his efforts—but was able to give a good description to the authorities.
Two years later, while he was Assistant Manager of the Maple Leafs, Frank Selke Sr. accompanied the team to the Hub for a match against the Bruins. Boston management had arranged for a box seat for the visiting shinny icon. When he cheered for the visitors when they tallied first, a fan sitting close by hit him in the face with his program. Urged by a companion to overlook it, he had no sooner cooled off then the same sequence was repeated. That was too much for the wiry little executive and he leaped on his assailant. The Garden’s police intervened and separated the two. When the dust had cleared the officers asked Selke if he knew with whom he had tangled. Upon his plea of ignorance it was revealed that the unsavoury customer was “Beano” Breen, the toughest gangster in New England.
“If you had accepted his invitation to ‘step outside’, he would have put a bullet in you!”, the gendarmes explained.
When he was guarding the twine for the Blackhawks in 1935, Mike Karakas likewise had a run-in with underworld characters. Getting out of a cab and stepping toward the hotel where he was staying, a rough-looking character stopped him and asked him for a match. The Aurora, Minnesota native reached in his pocket to accommodate the request, when he felt something hard digging into his ribs.
“This is a stick-up!”, the thug hissed. “Don’t make any noise and get into that cab over there!”
Inside the taxi were three other hoodlums. As soon as he was thrust in among them, the vehicle spun away, heading for a Chicago suburb. When they reached the city limits, they turned onto a side road and stopped. By now Karakas was fearing for his very life. They then insisted he produce all the cash he was carrying—which turned out to be $70.00. When he convinced them that was all he was carrying, they demanded he turn over his watch.
“I wish you’d let me keep my watch. It means a lot to me. I won it playing hockey!”
“Yeah? And who do you play for?”
“The Hawks!” he stammered.
“Karakas. The goalie!”, he explained.
‘The goalie, eh? Lucky ‘ting you told us. We’re nuts about hockey! That saved you from a grim death!”
They let him keep his watch, but took his money—and let him find his own way back to his hotel.
Even referees were not immune from this kind of threat. Spectators gambling large amounts of money on the outcome of games, which was common as early as 1910, continued even up and during the century’s fourth decade. Odie Cleghorn, a stalwart Canadien’s forward until 1925, then playing manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates until 1928, traded his stick for a whistle and white sweater in the 1930’s.
One night he has officiating a contest between the Rangers and the Americans, the latter team being owned by the notorious bootlegger, “Big Bill” Dwyer. That night some of his friends had wagered big bucks on the Star-Spangled aggregation.
The game remained in a scoreless tie right up until the waning minutes of the game. But when a Ranger got a breakaway, and Joe Simpson threw his stick at the puck, it meant an automatic marker for the Blueshirts. The irritated gamblers, who had lost a bundle because of their team’s loss, threatened Odie after to game. In fact he needed a police escort back to his hotel room. He was told not to open the door to anyone. The situation was further complicated when the NHL schedule had him booked to referee again at Madison Square Garden two nights later. Another whistle-tooter was given the assignment, but poor Odie was cooped up in his room until train time the next evening.
A decade later, “Tubby” McAuley, netminder for the hapless Rangers, found himself in somewhat the same situation. With the wartime having depleted their line-up, with so many in the armed services, McAuley often felt like he was in a shooting gallery. So, when he was approached by some gangsters about throwing the game, it would not have been hard to accommodate them without raising suspicion.
But, he flatly refused! He reported the incident to Manager Lester Patrick, assuming that the “Silver Fox” would let him off the hook by replacing him in goal. But it didn’t happen. In fact, he played his best game of the season, leading his team to a shutout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Howie Young was sometimes called the enfant terrible of pro hockey. He was wild on and off the ice. In 1962 he was a part of the WHL Edmonton Flyers team. When the season was over he returned to his Hamilton home in time to support the Oil Kings in the quest for the Memorial Cup against Hamilton Red Wings. His enthusiasm prevailed and he would climb on the boards and act as a cheerleader for the visiting contingent. This irritated the Steel City’s coach to no end; and when Howie strolled by their bench they began swinging.
A plainclothes policemen came out of the crowd to break up the fisticuffs and escort the perennial bad boy from the premises. But Young continued swinging, inflicting what the court called. “bodily harm” on the lawman—who had a black eye, facial cuts, a sore back and an injured elbow! Howie claimed he didn’t know he was a cop. But his error cost him $100. in fines, in lieu of a 10-day jail sentence.
One of the most bizarre examples of a boneheaded law breaking took place in September of 1963. The Maple Leafs were in Quebec City for a pre-season tilt with the local Aces. Toronto won the match handily by a 7-4 count. But Bob” Pulford and Tim Horton chose a rather bizarre way to celebrate the victory. They were arrested for “disturbing the peace”. They were caught kicking over garbage cans on Grande Allée, and hustled off to the clink. The Judge must have been a hockey fan. He let them off with losing the $50.00 bail money they paid to spend the night in more comfortable digs.
Lest we should overlap the time frame of part one, one concluding example of negligent naughtiness bears inclusion.
In the June 1982 issue of the Hockey News reported that Pete Stemkowski, now living in retirement as a broadcaster, was “facing a one-year jail sentence”. He was charged with offering a bribe of $20,000 to an undercover detective to break the wrist and leg of a former business associate, with whom “Stemmer” had lost $35,000 (one report said $70,000) in a bad business deal. The white-haired judge, who had been attending games at Madison Square Garden since he was a boy, allowed the former forward to get off with probation.
Aristotle wrote: “At the best, man is the noblest of animals. Separated from law and justice he is the worst.”
The aforementioned pucksters were indeed at their worst, when, momentarily at least, they separated themselves from the law and justice.
(This scribe’s concession: the October 13 “Highlights” dealt with the possible success or failure of the expansion Los Vegas Knights—“Knights or Knaves (those of lower position)?” Please notice that I am freed from having to eat a generous portion of “crow”, because the column posed a question, not a prediction! Had it been the latter, eating my own words would have caused copious gagging. We all know they have worn the “Knights” title with distinction!)
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