THN.com Blog: Hands off hockey's rich award history
Boston's Zdeno Chara with the James Norris Memorial Trophy, Tim Thomas with the Vezina Trophy, Manny Fernandez with the William M. Jennings Trophy, and head coach Claude Julien with the Jack Adams Award. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images for NHL)
THN.com Blog: Hands off hockey's rich award history
What is with the incessant cry for change in this game?
The latest needless cause is to re-name the trophies given out to the NHL’s best at the end of the season. After all, the names have lost all meaning to this – and even the previous – generation, so why not honor the greats of our time by dedicating trophies to names we recognize and casting off the relics we’ve lost touch with?
Why don’t we all just take a leak in Long Pond because it’s lost all relevant significance anyway?
Where’s the respect for a great history? Where’s the care and consideration for the contributions of others who blazed the trails? Just because we don’t know exactly who they are or what they did at first mention of their name, we should abandon their memorials for something we witnessed? What hockey fan doesn’t know what the Conn Smythe is for anyway?
Instead of just joking about ‘who is Art Ross anyway?’ or ‘what has James Norris done for me?’ why not pick up a book or open a website and figure it out? Because after you do, you’ll understand just why trophies were named after these guys in the first place.
Did you know Art Ross, whose trophy is awarded to the league’s top scorer, was actually a defenseman? The son of a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post manager, Ross made his name early on as a great sportsman in hockey, football, baseball, boxing, soccer and trapshooting. A rushing defenseman, Ross’ play with the Kenora Thistles in his first Stanley Cup challenge in 1907 against the Montreal Wanderers was so exciting it actually garnered ovations from the opposing fans, even though he didn’t score a goal.
Off the ice, Ross was a key piece in the 1911 player’s uprising against the owners as they demanded a fair share of revenues. Basically, National Hockey Association (precursor to the NHL) owners wanted a “salary cap” of $5,000, so Ross signed up other players such as Newsy Lalonde, Ernie Russell and Didier Pitre to create a player’s league which ultimately failed, but opened the door for later movements. Think the players of today can connect with that one?
And though some people may deride his legacy for this, Ross also introduced the first version of the neutral zone trap into the NHL while a player with the Ottawa Senators with his “kitty bar the door” formation. Ross is also credited with designing the modern round-backed goal nets, using synthetic rubber instead of natural rubber for pucks and even introducing an early form of the plus-minus stat.
Did you know James Norris, whose trophy goes to the best defenseman, is the Red Wings? After being rebuked by NHL president Frank Calder (ahem) in trying to create a second franchise in Chicago because he thought the lone Black Hawks operation was a joke, Norris bought Detroit’s Olympia Stadium and the city’s Falcons hockey team, coached by Jack Adams (yep). Changing the name to its current moniker, Norris increased the budget with a goal to improve the team, bought shutdown defenseman Ralph “Scotty” Bowman and sleek scorer Syd Howe from St. Louis and made the Wings into the first American team to repeat as Cup champions.
And before you write him off as a deep-pocketed, profit-mongering owner who never played the game and bought a trophy, note Norris’ roots come from Lachine, Que., that he manned the blueline for McGill University’s varsity squad and that the trophy bearing his name was donated by his family after his death in 1952.
Did you know Jack Adams, namesake of the trophy given to the NHL’s best coach, is enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a player? You might picture him as a bully because of his legacy of trading ‘Terrible’ Ted Lindsay from Detroit to Chicago because of Lindsay’s union-organizing efforts. You might not picture him as a ruthless competitor who did everything to win, but also maintained respect for the game’s characteristics.
The story goes, Adams would barge into the officials’ room and bark at the refs over calls he felt were unfair or wrong, but would also fight as hard as ever in the off-season for pay raises to the refs – read into that whatever you may. Obviously no slouch on the ice, the Fort William, Ont., native was better than a point-per-game player four times in the NHL and Pacific Coast Hockey Association in a professional career that spanned from 1917-1927.
But his biggest achievement would be Gordie Howe, whom he found, signed and developed in Detroit. “Picking him out of a bunch of kids at training camp and watching him develop has been my greatest thrill,” Adams was quoted in Kings of Ice, A History of World Hockey. “He’s a living memorial to my career.”
Again, not a fame-thirsted buyer from the bank, Adams’ award was first presented after his death because of his success (seven Stanley Cups) and longevity. “Maybe I was wrong, but I wanted to win, and if that’s wrong, then I made a mistake,” Adams said.
And these are the memories some want to fade because we can’t recite their significance without opening the annals? There are so many other ways to honor more recent on-ice greats (division names for instance), why insist on hitting hockey’s home?
And don’t even get me started on Stanley. That’s just complete blasphemy.
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