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The February 6 episode of Hockey’s Historic Highlights took a moment to reminisce about a vintage comedy duo as the launching pad for the current theme. Once listed as the number one comedy act of the day, Bud Abbott and Lou Costellowere best known for their signature routine, “Who’s On First?”
Hockey also had its Abbott and Costello back in the 1950’s.
George Abbott, a Baptist pastor, played a single contest in goal for the Boston Bruins; Les Costello, while doing well in a Toronto Maple Leaf sweater, left pro hockey to enter the priesthood. Both were profiled in that issue.
In a parallel move, HHH once more rewinds to the golden age of radio and movies, to turn the spotlight on Larry, Curly, and Moe, the Three Stooges. If the former two featured the sublime and ridiculous in their interaction, the slapstick routines of this trio could rightfully be called just plain silly. They spent the bulk of their performances bumping into doors, bopping one another on the head over each other’s ineptness, and personifying the definition of dumbbells.
Canada’s National Sport featured countless “characters” — pucksters recognized almost as much for their hamming it up as for their on-ice abilities. From time to time sidebars by highly regarded shinny scribes, focusing on their zany antics, prompted many readers to chuckle at the funny side of skaters’ personalities. Occasionally featured columnists would go as far as the Globe and Mail’s Jim Coleman did in February 1943 with his “Hockey’s All Screwball Six”. (although he could easily have doubled that).
The final Hockey’s Historic Highlights for this season, in a two-part form, will focus on the game’s three stooges—times two. Because this column is founded on the historical, this collection of colloquial clowns will unfold in the order in which they appeared on the pay-for-play shinny scene.
**AMBY MORAN: Although born in Winnipeg, he began his pro career 385 miles (570 km) from home, making his pro debut with the Regina Capitals of the Western Canada League in 1921. It was 1926 before he reached the NHL level with the Montreal Canadiens.
Even as he comes first in the chronological order of things, it would be hard as well not to list him as number one on the parade of hockey characters—the Earle of eccentricity. It would be difficult to profile any skater, of any era, who was more of a loose cannon that he.
It would be iffy to prove by his antics whether or not he “lacked a pickle of being a full jar”, or it was just a part that he inherently played. In perusing his profile it is one where we are left in the dark about whether he was a pinhead or a performer, a dolt or a dramatist. The reader will need to judge for himself.
In those fledgling years, team travel was, of course, by train. One of the most common methods of passing the time was playing cards. Ambrose enjoyed this distraction as much as any player. On one occasion he was playing Bridge with his pals. Meanwhile Fern Headley was working diligently at a crossword puzzle. As is often the case, when stuck for a word, appeals will be made to anyone within earshot for help.
“It’s a bird—four letters—beginning with the word “g”. Amby overheard the dilemma and offered: ”That’s simple! It’s GOOSE — G-O-S-E!”
Moran’s deportment was just as undisciplined on the ice as it was off it. Dick Irvin Sr. recalls being his teammate on the 1923 Regina Capitals. Although he was slotted in as a defenseman, Amby loved nothing better than to score goals. If he didn’t budge the twine, even if the team won it was a bad night for him. Conversely, if the team lost and he tallied, it was a fine night after all.
And when he did get his name in the “G’ column on the game sheet, he turned it into a star performance. He would skate back to his rearguard position, make little bows and acknowledge the non-existent applause for his heroics, then stand, leaning on his stick, absorbing the glory of the moment. On one occasion, he was still basking in his success, when Harry Oliver of Calgary just waltzed around him, as though the blueliner was unconscious, and moved in unopposed to poke the puck past Regina’s befuddled goalie.
But that same passion which made him hunger for accolades also transformed him into what one writer called a “pile-driving defenseman”. He was remembered as rampaging and rambunctious, “crashing up the ice, hitting everything but the family pet”. Teamed with another roughian, Puss Traub, it was said that if they scored against them they knew they had to pass something!
He was a “terror” to opposition players. He could barge his way through them like they were bowling pins. He was a big man in his day, at 6’ weighing over 200 pounds. Just how forceful his body checks were, is illustrated in a strange mishap spelled out in a Blackhawk programme. Apparently his intent to crush a visiting skater turned out to be off target. He crashed into the boards so hard, that the game had to be held up while a rink attendant sawed away the broken boards to free him. Despite his swashbuckling approach to the game, it is surprising how few penalties he got.
Be that as it may, his ballistic bulldozing approach to the game took a backseat to his other identity. As one historian put it: “Amby’s real calling was cop fighting!” It started in his hometown of Brandon, Manitoba, and was evident wherever his skates and stick took him. The catalyst (besides his inherent wild spirit) was firewater — and the bottle was his constant companion.
It is said that “Amby never deigned to fight unless the enemy was plural”. In other words, a scuffle with the gendarmes wasn’t worth his while unless he had more than one policeman to tackle. The story goes that the fight was never officially underway until he had a large cop under each arm, and enough room for a full sweep at the approaching reinforcements.
Rumour has it that on one occasion they sent two cops to get him. He grasped each by one foot and dragged the pair down the icy sidewalk into headquarters, greeting the officer on duty with “Do you wish to see me sarge?” He was in so many different hoosegows that he used to casually compare them as a vacationer might in a motel. He rated the clink in Vernon, B.C. as his blue-ribbon resting place. “The food and the comfort were first class!” he said.
As is always the case with some vintage tales, it is difficult to be certain where fact and fiction part company. But there is little need to embellish the account of one of his first experiences along this line. In his younger years, his tomfoolery landed him in the local clink for a month. It was just before the start of the hockey season. The manager of the team for which he toiled, appealed to the prison warden. “Keep him busy! Don’t let him just laze in a cell.”
The request was granted in spades. He gave him a big coal shovel, and he kept the institution’s furnace supplied with fuel for the full 30 days. When the time was up he was the best conditioned competitor on the club.
But one day, Ambrose Jason Moran decided “enough!” He joined A.A. and quit drinking totally. And he confessed, “For the first time I am really living!”
**JEAN PUSIE: It has often been said, “When the Lord made so & so he threw away the mould!” While it would be inaccurate to suggest that Pusie was a Moran clone, he did share some of his oddities.
Another big man, identical in height and weight, he was just as rough as Amby, but had a hot temper and was often involved in dust-ups — even being the catalyst in brawls. While Moran was intent on thumping, Jean Baptiste was busy in theatrics. He mixed his shenanigans with his competition to such an extent that even his own father called him “crazy”! His nickname was “The Gallant Gaul” — with “gallant” referring to nobility (tongue-in-cheek), not bravery.
Born in Montreal, the Canadiens were also his first NHL contingent after climbing the amateur ladder with several clubs. French was his natural vocabulary — but he had no inkling of what the word “humble” meant in any language. (While this missive is about his hockey biography, an incident in one of his other attempts at fame — namely boxing — affirms his cockiness. In a bout with Tiger Warrington he was on the mat after only 28 seconds. His jaunty comment was: “So what if thees Tigair knock me out in 28 seconds? Up to then, by gar, I have all thees best of it!”)
When he was 20 years old he was invited to the Habs’ training camp. He immediately took steps of self-promotion. He walked into Manager Cecil Hart’s office without invitation, introduced himself to the team’s CEO, shook his hand vigourously and announced: “Meestair Art. Pewsee will be ze great-es! ‘Ockey playairs like me weel make dis game pop-u-lair!”
Well, Meestair ‘Art soon examined those claims. He was a stronger skater and had a wicked shot (though often wild). His habit of skating with his head down to focus on the puck, made him a prime target for body checks. But the fact that he managed only one NHL goal helps to reveal why his stay in the Big Time was rather limited. There were times in the minors when he did well. But his penchant for showmanship often meant his genuine talents paled in comparison, robbing him of opportunities he otherwise may have had.
One sports columnist summarized his philosophy of life: “… he insisted upon taking hockey, himself, and the whole world as a joke!”
There are unlimited tales about his persistent happy-go-lucky approach even in the most serious moments of competition. Penalty shots and breakaways were his specialty because he was directly in the spotlight.
One night, after a drought of tripping the goal lamps switch, he bore in on the opposition netminder at full speed and let loose his best effort. The shot tore the glove off the backstop’s hand, and puck, gauntlet, and all went into the rigging.
Before the goalie could catch his breath, Pusie braked to a halt, and fished the glove and old boot heel out of the twine. He held the victim’s bare hand up for all the see, counted the digits to assure the fans his blast had not torn any off. He replaced the mitt, patted the speechless puckster on the back, and strutted back to centre ice.
A few nights later, he put a different spin on the act. A penalty shot was called; and knowing they would be treated to a show, the crowd called for “the Great Pusie” to do the honours. As usual, he picked up the disc, let out a yell, and skated a few circles before driving pell-mell to the target. Suddenly, just short of the penalty shot line, and skidded to a stop in a cloud of ice chips. He dropped his stick and gloves and skated toward the puzzled cage cop, shook hands with him, and patted him on the back.
He then retraced his steps, picked up speed, swung his stick like a golf club — and dubbed his shot. The puck dribbled slowly toward its target — and the goalie, seemingly hypnotized by this rigmarole, stood motionless as the rubber skidded over the line.
He spent varying numbers of seasons in a plethora of leagues — only 61 in the Big Time. He wore the Blue uniform of the New York Rangers for a short time, where his devil-may-care attitude grated on Lester Patrick. The “Silver Fox” was constantly on his care for being a puck hog, instead of being part of the effective teamwork. His overreaction to this repeated blistering was one reason he was soon a victim of lost patience.
During an opening for New York, big Jean grabbed the puck, rushed down the ice, split the defense and passed to an open wing — where there was no one to receive it. When he returned to the bench Patrick asked him why he passed when there was no one to take it. “Well”. He explained, looking humble. “How should I know we have a man in the penaltee box?”
We would be remiss not mention Milt Dunnell’s favourite yarn about him. It seems that while he was with the Boston Cubs, he began to worry that his hair was falling out. He was given the advice to totally shave his head; when it grew back it would be thicker. He promptly followed instructions, only to be taunted by players and fans in rival cities, by being called “the chimpanzee”.
His retort was not verbal, but in action. Chosen to take a penalty shot in Providence, he demonstrated his fastest speed and his hardest shot, zooming the disc past goalie Paddy Byrne. He never stopped skating until he hit the end boards; then climbed half way up the end screen, clinging to the netting while he made faces at his victim, like a chimp up a tree.
All in all, he wore the uniforms of 26 different clubs — the bulk of them in the minors. And it seems that as time passed, the mean side of his nature outshone his clowning. In the late 1930’s he was a member of the St. Louis Flyers. There he was involved in several brawls, and served a 30-day suspension for slugging” a referee. His explanation was that he “didn’t knock him down. He just pushed him and he fell!”
In one melee, he was clubbed on the head three times with steel chairs. But at the same time he wrecked 15 arena box seats. This side of his personality prompted lots of catcalls — as well as a ton of debris that rained on him. Yet, on one occasion this assault from the stands included an orange — which he simply stood and peeled as he ate it.
He concluded one of his shinny seasons with the Vancouver Lions of the Pacific Coast League. Once more he blew his cool and conked a whistle tooter. His own manager, Guy Patrick, banished him to the dressing room. Shedding crocodile tears because his boss failed to support him, he failed to wait to see if he was suspended. He went straight to the train. At a stopover in Winnipeg, he received a telegram from his father, which read, “Jean. Sometimes you are crazy. This time you are right. Come home!”
**EDDIE DOROHOY: During hockey fledgling years, right through most of the “Original 6” era, nicknames were as common as offsides. Nobody talked about Elmer Vasko, but about “Moose”. Only Aubrey Clapper knew his Christian name — to everyone else he was “Dit”. Reginald Smith appeared on his driver’s license — but in hockey circles he was “Hooley”.
But it wasn’t often that a skater had three agnomens, as our third member of the three stooges did. His birth certificate has “Edward”; but, typically it was shortened to ‘Eddie”, the same way “John” is expanded to “Johnny”.
But Eddie Dorohoy was called “The Pistol”. Essentially it was because he could shoot and score — although the venue in which that was used was the minor leagues — because his total tallies in the NHL was zero.
He was also known as “The Brat”. In the same way a rascally little boy can be bound and bent on doing what he wants, when he wants to, Dorohoy was constantly in the doghouse because he had a blueprint of his own when he took his turn on the ice.
But the moniker which stood out most emphatically was “The Great Gabbo” — simply because he never stopped talking — more often putting his mouth in motion before he put his mind in gear! To attempt to curb his motor mouth was like attempting to turn a Kentucky Derby winner into a plough horse.
Born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, it was fitting that he spent his Junior career with the Lethbridge Native Sons. His second season there was impressive enough that he was invited to the Habs’ training camp in the fall of 1948. He clocked 81 points in with that prairie club. He was a deceptive skater — almost running on his blades — zigzagging as he sped up the ice, making him a tough target for defending blueliners to hit.
He betrayed his weakness even at that level. One night after he had starred against Wetaskiwin, former NHL’er Earl Robertson congratulated him on his performance. Instead of a simple thank you, he smugly answered: “Heck. You think that was a good game? You should see me when I put my skates on!”
He wore the Bleu, Blanc, et Rougue sweater for only 16 games — his NHL total. It is difficult to say if he would have proved to be a major leaguer or not, because he essentially talked himself onto the farm from the glory of the Montreal Canadiens.
It got off on the wrong foot pronto at his first practice. During a stop in the action, Coach Dick Irvin noticed him huddling with Elmer Lach and “Rocket” Richard, with whom he had placed to form a forward line. There he stood, informing the two All Stars with instructions about their proper positions and what opposition players they should be covering. And he continued by promising he would look after the “rest of the punks himself!”
When the wily bench boss made a comment about his choice of players to instruct, he glibly snapped: “What’s wrong? Lach and Richard can make mistakes too! I was just trying to help them!”
He tangled with tough guy Murph Chamberlain, one day. The veteran rearguard took him aside and in a fatherly tone told him he was “gabbing too much!” He added that when he came into the league he barely said ‘boo’ to anybody! “Well”, came the retort. “Maybe you weren’t such a hot player, huh?”
The last straw when it came to his chance to become a permanent member of the Mount Royal sextet involved Dick Irvin again. The Canadiens’ mentor told him he was too light; so he increased his usual weight from 150 to 162 pounds. He was then accused of being too fat. The “Brat’s” response to that was that it was only his coach’s head that was fat. That earned him a spot on the end of the team bench.
One night when the Habs were having a lean time in the scoring department, Eddie was asked why he couldn’t put the puck in the net. His response was typically quick: “From this angle on the bench I’m lucky even to touch the puck!” The next day he got a one-way ticket to Dallas.
The closest he got to another shot at the NHL was when his play with Victoria of the WHL prompted Lester Patrick to invite him to New York’s training camp. The first day he put on a dazzling display of stickhandling. When the workout was over, he peeled off the practice sweater and tossed it to trainer Frank Paice. “You can keep that for the Hall of Fame!”, he cracked.
His biggest fragility was represented by his countless misconduct penalties. It stands to reason, when flapping one’s gums is the habitual response to anything negative, that Edson Dorohoy would react in a knee-jerk fashion to any time the whistle was blown to give him a change in location in the arena. Once asked how many misconducts he would get in a season, he simply said: “The first three I count. The next three my wife’s counts. After that it’s up the league secretary. He gets paid.”
His treatment of referees added to that numberless total. One night, the press noted that he “autographed official Lloyd Gilmour with his knuckles” — twice in fact! On another evening, he spat on the whistle tooter in charge by the name of Joey Johns. This earned him another visit to league President Al Leader’s office. He admits to becoming an expert in carpets — he was hauled up on them so often.
Of course the “Great Gabbo couldn’t leave well enough alone. After his dressing down for his contribution of slobber, he was heard from the shower to remark: “I dunno how the referee can see somebody spit when he misses a play by 50 feet!”
Shinny scribe Al Hooper summed up the continuing scenario this way: “To Eddie, no problem is so great it cannot be talked out; if actually not thought out!”
For all his unrestrained shenanigans, it was not a game related event which wrote the final chapter of his undisciplined tenure. He fell down a flight of stairs at home. He was recuperating from a broken leg. The limb was busted again and he never recovered from his double fracture.
MAY 10—PART 2
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