Longtime New York Rangers announcer Jack Filman was once asked the origins of the word "hockey." He replied that it was from an aboriginal word, hoghee, that meant, "it hurts!" Hockey history is full of such myths, and the purpose of this blog is to take a closer look at them and discuss the surrounding historical issues. (BTW hockey probably originates with the French word, hoquet, which referred to the hooked shape of the sticks used to play similar stick-and-ball games.)

The Mystery of the Paul Whiteman Trophy

While doing research for my new book, Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945 (pre-order now at Amazon.ca or .com!), I ran into several trophies that were inaugurated in the early years of the NHL to reward both clubs and players for their performances. Most of these are familiar, like Lady Byng, Hart, Vézina, and even the Prince of Wales, but I was also intrigued by those that had apparently fallen by the wayside. (Click here for a link to the Hockey Hall of Fame trophy collection.)

The disappeared on the club competition side include two trophies for intra-city "derbies": the Kendall Memorial Cup (named after Canadiens owner George Kendall nom de sport Kennedy), which was fought over by the Canadiens and Maroons of Montreal, and the West Side Merchants Association Trophy, competed for by the New York Rangers and Americans. Both of these disappeared with the respective demises of the Maroons and the Americans (and two-club cities in general).

The player awards persisted better, although even a few of these did not. The Greyhound Cup was given by the bus company for the league MVP (seemingly in competition with the already existing Hart Trophy), but I haven't found much on that. The other that intrigued me was the one given by bandleader Paul Whiteman to the "the leading scorer in the National Hockey League."

Like most, I assumed the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy was the first to reward goal-scoring (as distinct from the Art Ross Trophy, which is for goals and assists). My first clue was this image accompanying an article in Maclean's Magazine:

Paul Whiteman and his trophy presentation to Ace Bailey
(Frederick Edwards, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Hockey Star," Maclean's, 1 December, 1929)
Here, then-famous bandleader Paul Whiteman is seen presenting the trophy to Ace Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs for his output of 22 goals in 1928-29. "Scoring" could refer to both goals and assists, but the caption specifies that it is for "the most goals." (Ace is more famous for getting creamed by Eddie Shore in 1933.)

I have looked into connections between Whiteman and hockey and found none so far, but Whiteman's own history is fascinating. He was the man who commissioned George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue as part of a campaign to bring jazz music into the mainstream. Some felt his influence sucked the improvisational element out of the style, but a figure no less than Duke Ellington said of him, “Paul Whiteman was known as the King of Jazz, and no one as yet has come near carrying that title with more certainty and dignity.” This article by João Azinhais has a good overview of his forgotten legacy.

As to how Whiteman got interested in hockey... well, it probably speaks to the nature of the entertainment industry in New York in the 1920s. It was a roaring time, as they say, full of novelties like jazz and hockey, with many new stars and celebrities of film, sport, and society emerging (all lubricated by illicit booze, no doubt). I expect Whiteman got turned onto hockey by American and Rangers games at Madison Square Garden, courtesy promoter extraordinaire, Tex Rickard. (And remember that Americans owner Bill Dwyer had been the biggest bootlegger of the age.)

In any case, the mystery of the trophy's present location was resolved by Google. Apparently Bailey kept the trophy (it never seems to have been awarded again) and it wound up in the Bracebridge Sports Hall of Fame in Bailey's hometown, where it is part of a display on Ace. It's great to see it well-preserved and acknowledged.
Paul Whiteman Trophy on display at the Bracebridge Sports Hall of Fame
(image courtesy Don Campbell)
Now onto that Greyhound Cup...

***Check out my new website at jandrewross.ca***

Rest in Peace, Jean Beliveau! (At least you knew that Frank Selke did not buy the Quebec Senior Hockey League!)

The story of how Montreal Canadiens general manager Frank J. Selke had to buy an entire men's senior amateur league in order to get access to one of the enduring stars of the game, Jean Béliveau, is often repeated and has become, as my friend Lloyd Davis called it, “a hoary old chestnut.” The latest references are from Béliveau obituaries (here and here), and has been cited recently in Grantland. (Dave Stubbs got it right in the Gazette).

Time to take the rime off the nut.

The senior amateur QSHL comprised teams from Quebec and Ontario and was the best hockey outside the NHL in that region. Teams were owned and were profit-seeking, but players were amateur (in name at least). This being the case, the QSHL (unlike minor professional leagues) was not obligated to transfer players to the NHL. The players themselves had to decide to become pro, and were under no obligation to do so. Indeed, given the prevailing high QSHL salaries and off-season office jobs for stars, some players were understandably reluctant. This frustrated NHL clubs, who had often paid to develop the players through sponsorship of amateur teams. (In addition, stars remaining in the senior amateur ranks also threatened the supremacy of NHL hockey.)

Jean Béliveau was one of the coveted stars, but the Quebec Aces player repeatedly refused to sign with the Montreal Canadiens, holders of his professional rights. At $20,000 per year, Béliveau's 1952–53 Aces salary was already over double the NHL average, and he seemed in no hurry to play professional. Frank Selke of the Canadiens dangled cash and manoeuvred behind the scenes to oblige Béliveau to sign, and he was helped by the fact that the QSHL was already moving in the direction of professionalization.

After the QSHL's parent, the Quebec Amateur Hockey Association (QAHA), was suspended by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), the QSHL promptly dropped out of the QAHA to protect its player rights. (If the league had not left, the professional leagues would have been forced to recognize the CAHA suspension and would not have been able to deal with the QSHL teams.) Money was also an issue. The QSHL was not happy with the cut of playoff revenues taken by the CAHA. And at least one money-losing owner, Tommy Gorman of the Ottawa Senators, wanted to realize the value of his player assets by signing players to transferable commercial contracts, thus making them more valuable.

In order to better control revenues and player rights, at a meeting in May 1953 the QSHL owners opted to professionalize as the Quebec Hockey League (QHL). This protected their rights to their players, who would now be put under commercial contract. Their rights could now be traded to NHL teams for $10,000 each. The QSHL clubs were also allowed to "reserve" the rights to negotiate the professional rights to a certain number of amateur players, just like other pro leagues did.

In October 1953, Béliveau signed with the Canadiens, but was there a connection to the professionalization? And where did the story of Selke’s purchase of the league come in? According to the Aces coach, Punch Imlach, Selke had convinced the other owners to professionalize, at least partially with the offer of Canadiens exhibition games in their rinks. Even if true, a few exhibition games seems like a modest price to offer for such a major transition, especially given the greater revenues to be expected from keeping their own playoff money, not to mention the prospect of player sales to the other pro leagues. And the Canadiens did not “own” the QSHL/QHL at any point, not matter how you stretch the definition.

In any case, Béliveau later recalled that he had already decided to sign with the Canadiens for the 1953–54 season before the QSHL professionalized. But since he kept this decision from both Imlach and Selke, it is possible that Selke’s actions to support professionalization in the spring may have been motivated by the idea of forcing Béliveau to sign. For to stay in Quebec, Béliveau would have had to sign a professional contract, and it was the Canadiens who held his professional rights, not Quebec.

R.I.P. Le Gros Bill.(I met him once at a hockey conference. He was regal.)

Sources: Jean Béliveau, Jean Béliveau, pp. 73, 75, 89–90; Punch Imlach, Hockey is a Battle, pp. 35–36, Al Nickleson, “Shouldn't Be Obligated to Go Pro, Says Dudley," Globe & Mail, 15 May 1953, p. 25; “Quebec Seniors Turn Professional,” Globe & Mail, 12 May 1953, p. 24; “Senior Loop Bolts From QAHA Ranks; Goes Independent,” Globe & Mail, 9 March 1953, p. 20.


Related to The Globe and Mail has a nice compilation of prevailing views on future NHL expansion, and whether Winnipeg would make the cut. (I'm with Shoalts.)

The Emergence of "Traditional" Hockey Markets?

One aspect of hockey's appeal, for some (Montreal Daily Star, Mar 8, 1923) 
A common criticism of the NHL's southern strategy - the post-1993 push to expand the league into the Sun Belt associated with league commissioner Gary Bettman - is that it is folly to extend a winter sport with only regional support in the United States into areas where winter means a few days of the year when you have to put on a sweater if you go outside. Most recently, the focal point has been Phoenix, a desert oasis where even Wayne Gretzky could not make hockey popular, or at least profitable.

The history of the league shows that all you really need is artificial ice technology and a developed consumer market - how else can you really explain the early success of NHL hockey in places like New York City, where there were probably no more than a few dozen amateur hockey teams when the NHL moved to town in 1925? Or Toronto, where artificial ice was a requirement before the NHL's predecessor would make a commitment? Or Los Angeles? These cities show the real reason for the NHL's success (or lack of it), was primarily customers willing to pay for the on-ice product, which was novel, fast, and yes, just a wee bit violent (but, unlike boxing, the violence was in pursuit of a more noble goal (scoring goals) than beating another man senseless).

Hobey Baker would be proud
Nonetheless, throughout its history the NHL has recognized the importance of developing the sport outside its own clubs. Initially, this took the form of supporting the creation and development of minor professional and senior amateur leagues (and keeping them at bay, in some cases). The league also directly subsidized the American Hockey Association of the United States (AHA of US, now USA Hockey) as it did the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada), but at relatively low financial levels. But while amateur hockey in Canada has continued strong through the decades, providing the core of NHL playing rosters, the United States has never quite lived up to its potential. Part of the problem was the NHL's refusal to entertain the idea that college could be good for professional player development, but that has changed in recent decades.

What prompts me to post on the subject is a recent set of New York Times articles (herehere and here) by Jeff Z. Klein that show that hockey participation is "skyrocketing" and experiencing "explosive growth", especially in non-traditional markets in the American South and West. Klein suggests the proximity to NHL clubs has contributed to this growth, which has made hockey into "a national game" (according to the executive director of USA Hockey, anyway). (For a cool cartographic representation go here.)

This gives credence to the NHL's policy of "growing the game" which, while a longstanding historical wish for the league, has certainly become more intense and committed under Gary Bettman's tenure. And while previous US expansion was geared almost exclusively to obtaining national American TV contracts, the NHL is getting some support for the risks they have taken by putting clubs into markets to develop interest (and create hockey players) and not waiting for those markets to develop a taste for ice on their own. In short, they are actively helping create hockey markets. One day we may even start calling them "traditional".


Apparently the blog was hacked in the last few days. I hope I have solved the problem. Sorry for any inconvenience.