There are all kinds of doctors. You can start with medical doctors, shrinks and those who live in ivory towers, otherwise known as PhDs. In the NHL there have been two distinct species of docs: the ones who tend to wounds and the one who skated for the Chicago Black Hawks.
Elwyn ‘Doc’ Romnes, out of White Bear Lake, Minn., was a slick center who just hated his given name but loved being called ‘Doc’ – a moniker he got because he carried his skates in a physician’s case, of all places. Read more
No other goaltender in NHL history can lay claim to a record number of saves on the ice and then produce one of the most extraordinary saves of all-time at sea.
Sam LoPresti made his big-league saves for the Chicago Black Hawks and his even harder-to-believe save for the U.S. Navy. First, let’s start with the ice part of this saga that truly strains credulity. Read more
Everything about the New York Americans was bizarre, from the club’s oddly illegitimate birth to its remarkable involvement in the longest hockey game ever played in the Big Apple.
Let’s start with the fact that the Star-Spangled skaters arrived on Broadway in the fall of 1925 because of an illegal players strike in Canada the previous spring. Angry because they were denied a post-season bonus, the Hamilton Tigers refused to show up for the playoffs. NHL president Frank Calder suspended the strikers and then helped move the Tigers into just-completed Madison Square Garden. Just like that, the Tigers became the New York Americans. Meanwhile, the shadowy, behind-the-scenes enabler happened to be one of the most notorious gangsters of the Roarin’ 20s.
Only one team in NHL history ever had the sobriquet “Gashouse Gang” attached to it, and that was the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1930 through 1937. They earned the label by pulling off some of the most mirthful, colorful off-ice antics imaginable. “As their coach, they were my dream team type of players,” said Dick Irvin. “But they were certainly my nightmare types in hotels and on trains.”
No prank was too outlandish and no hostelry was too swank, not even Boston’s high-brow University Club, where one Maple Leaf, Charlie Conacher, once barricaded his buddy, Harold ‘Baldy’ Cotton, in their room just for the fun of it. Only Cotton’s screams brought an unsuspecting Irvin to the rescue. “It was during an era that lasted all too briefly,” said Ed Fitkin, an erstwhile Maple Leafs press agent. Read more
By 1944-45, most NHL rosters had been decimated by enlistments in the Second World War. The Maple Leafs were Exhibit A, led by GM Conn Smythe, already a First World War hero, who organized a Toronto Sportsmen’s Battalion of athletes and sports media during the Second World War. The Leafs’ 1942 Cup-winning goalie, Turk Broda, followed Smythe’s patriotic lead in 1943, joining the Canadian armed forces.
That left Toronto’s interim GM, Frank Selke, Sr., in a bit of a jam. He didn’t have a single solid goalie in his lineup – not that Selke didn’t try to find a decent replacement. During 1943-44, Selke filled the Broda gap with an assortment of stopgaps including Benny Grant, Paul Bibeault and Jean Marois. The result was a third-place finish and a speedy first-round exit at the hands of the Habs, who disintegrated Bibeault and his mates in the final game, 11-0, to clinch the round.
The frustrated acting GM was ready to try anything in the autumn of 1944 and ultimately did just that. Against Smythe’s wishes, he hired a skinny netminder afflicted with a bad case of ulcers. What was worse, Frank McCool happened to be a 26-year-old goaltender with no pro experience and no serious action since his university years at Gonzaga five years earlier. But that was better than no goalie at all.
For almost a decade in the 1940s, unobtrusive career-minor-leaguer Don Metz strived to become a full-time NHLer with the Toronto Maple Leafs alongside his starry big brother, Nick. But poor, beleaguered Don endlessly failed.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, over a nine-year span, Don, a Saskatchewan wheat farmer, became only one of three Toronto skaters to play for five Stanley Cup winners. (Hall of Famers Turk Broda and Ted Kennedy were the others.) “I was lucky that way,” Metz told me during a telephone interview I conducted with him more than 10 years ago.
Don was more than lucky. He was the right Metz at the right time with the right team. His older brother excelled for the Maple Leafs over 518 games compared with Don’s paltry 172 contests, but Nick never could top Kid Metz’s feat. Read more
The 1950 semifinal between Toronto and Detroit ranks among the most intense post-season series in NHL history. This was due to Gordie Howe’s near death after an alleged butt-end. “L’Affaire Howe” ignited one of the longest-running hates in the game: Detroit GM Jack Adams vs. Toronto captain Ted ‘Teeder’ Kennedy. The primary witness was Toronto defenseman Gus Mortson who was there when the blood feud started and there again eight years later when Adams bitterly reaffirmed it to Mortson who had by then become a Red Wing.
Adams’ hatred for the Maple Leafs was already deep rooted and understandable by the time the 1950 playoffs began. After all, Toronto had won the previous three Cups, including a sweep of Detroit in the 1949 final. But now it was a year after that debacle and, led by Howe, the Wings were stronger than ever. “We can do it this year,” Adams boasted prior to the opening game. “We’ve got the team this year.”
And so they did, primarily because Howe had blossomed into a star, patrolling right wing on Detroit’s Production Line with captain Sid Abel at center and Ted Lindsay on the left side. But when the Leafs went up 4-0 in the opener at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium few expected what Toronto author Jack Batten described as “one of the most infamous and controversial events” in NHL history. Read more
Big-time senior-level hockey was popular in the early 1940s and never more mean-spirited than in the Cape Breton League of Nova Scotia. By far the biggest rivalry was between Glace Bay and Sydney. Tough, poor and grimy, Glace Bay specialized in coal mining, while just 13 miles away sat the more sophisticated, patrician Sydney, a steel city. And in late March 1941, as the two towns girded for the playoffs, a warlike atmosphere enveloped the province. Read more