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.)

Review of CBC's "Hockey: A People's History" - Part 3 (Episodes 5 and 6)

Cognizant of the fact I haven't seen episodes 3&4, some of my general judgments may be off, but here goes....

Episode 5 ("A National Obsession") begins with the story of Gabriel Labbé, a young fan of Maurice Richard, and the frozen outdoor lake/river ice motif seems to be in full swing, but we soon move inside to the NHL arenas to witness the birth of Soirée du Hockey/Hockey Night in Canada. (Of course, there is no mention of American TV, which predated the Canadian by 12 years or so.) While mention is made of the effect of NHL television on junior and senior hockey, this is more or less the last we hear of these levels of play for episodes 5&6, except when referring to the experiences of Herb Carnegie. Carnegie was a black player who starred with the Sherbrooke Saints in the Quebec senior league, and finally got a chance to try out with the New York Rangers in 1948. Readers of Carnegie's autobiography A Fly in a Pail of Milk will be familiar with the story here, a tale of implicit racism that denied Carnegie from a place on the Rangers roster, but the story told in Cecil Harris' Breaking the Ice adds some needed nuance, showing that the Rangers upped their offer to Carnegie twice and he still refused to play in their system. (I would argue that Rangers manager Frank Boucher saw real value in having a black player, which would be a public relations boon in New York City.) As Béliveau says in the programme, some said it was racism, some not. Paul Gross' narration (and the website) imply the former, stating that by the time Willie O'Ree played for the Bruins in 1958, hockey was "the last major North American sports league to integrate." This is somewhat misleading, given the fact that there was never a policy against black players in the major-league NHL (as there was in baseball), and as far as I know, hockey's minor and senior amateur leagues were (unlike baseball) never not "integrated," as shown through Carnegie's own example.

The episode also has some good footage of the Richard riot and takes some time to discuss its symbolic status for French-Canadians of the time. It frames much of the 1950s in terms of the "Howe or Richard?" debate, but I would have like to see a lot more on the decline of senior hockey and the shift of professional teams to the United States. This is relevant to the defeat of the "Toronto" Lyndhursts by the Soviets at the 1954 World Championships, which is given due play as a wake-up moment for Canadian hockey, but it should have also been pointed out that the team was only a Senior B team from East York, and that they and subsequent international representatives were hindered by the lack of support and cooperation from the NHL, not to mention the Canadian government.) BTW There is a nice little discussion about the 1954 World championships on HFBoards here.

If not in Episode 5, then Episode 6 ("The Golden Age") should have dealt with changes in minor pro, senior and junior hockey. Senior hockey was on the decline and minor professional play was moving to the US, and junior became a feeder system for the NHL. None of these trends, especially the latter, came without critical comment. The NHL sponsorship system of sending boys far away from home to play hockey is referenced in the stories of Tim Horton and Bobby Orr, but no mention is made of criticism if the practice from educators, religious groups, amateur hockey officials and others. Instead, we get a clip of Tim talking about his doughnut shops. (Perhaps it also would have been edifying to be reminded how Horton had alcohol and barbiturates in his blood when he crashed his car at 100 miles an hour. But I digress.)
Also, the theme of this episode is the competition for the national allegiance between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, but it bears pointing out that by 1967 these were two of only four professional teams (minor or major) that Canadians could root for, the others having given up the ghost or moved to the US.

I found the story of the resuscitation of women's hockey much more enlightening, especially the story of the Satan's Angels and Montreal Cougars rivalry, and the challenges faced by women and girls to find a place to play. The programme is best on these themes, probably because they require more basic research than the NHL stories, which slip easily into the standard master narrative.

Generally speaking, it seems the closer the series gets to the present the more congruent with the standard mythology it becomes. A historian would say this betrays an approach that emphasizes progress, modernization, the perfection of the game. This is always suspect, if for no other reason that it distorts the perception of the past as an always-coherent positive story, and this in turn affects our perception of the present, and our own ability to criticize and change it. It is not a bad thing to show the Canadian people the many ways they got tangled up in this sport, but they should also show that many others often saw the darker side of obsession, and tried to change it.

Website booboos: [also evidence of Toronto-centrism!]

* “Yonge Bobby Orr” captioned at http://www.cbc.ca/hockeyhistory/episodesummary/06/post/

* “Madison Square Gardens” captioned at http://www.cbc.ca/hockeyhistory/episodesummary/03/post/

Review of CBC's "Hockey: A People's History" - Part 2 (Episodes 3 and 4)

OK, I missed taping these episodes, so I will come back and review them later...

In other news, the CBC and hockey... the continuing story.

Review of CBC's "Hockey: A People's History"

The new CBC documentary series on the history of hockey, Hockey: A People's History, is impressive. It boasts the high production values of its predecessor, Mark Starowicz’s Canada: A People's History, using historical recreations, actors reading period documents, modern day talking heads, and all tied together with narration by Paul Gross. Seeing all the old film and photographs nicely spliced together is a real treat to be sure, but there are some themes that I hope will be brought out more in future episodes.

My first impression was that Episode 1 ("A Simple Game") does a very good job downplaying the various parochial takes on the origins of the game, emphasizing evolution over innovation and the dominance of the game by the elites, not ordinary people. The historical context is set up nicely, especially references to urbanization and industrial aspects (e.g. Starr skates), with a nice integration into the mix of individuals like JGA Creighton and Joe Boyle. The various contributory sports – bandy, shinny, hurley, kolven and football – are referenced, but I do think field hockey deserved at least a mention, especially as the early ice rules owe something to the field sport. Appropriately, I think, scenes of hockey on frozen ponds appear more prominently in the second episode than the first, and this complements the emphasis on the "top-down" development of the organized sport which then influenced the pond game. Less appropriate, and inconsistent, is the initial acknowledgement of aboriginal contributions (through lacrosse and Mi'kmaq stick-making) but later speaking of how “civilization” spread the sport westwards.

Episode 2 (“The Money Game”) is also well-constructed, although I have some more serious criticism here, hopefully not applicable to the later episodes. First, amateurism is given somewhat short shrift as an ideological driver, though I did appreciate the emphasis on power and money as motivations of men like Billy Hewitt and John Ross Robertson who ran the amateur Ontario Hockey Association (a name, by the way, which I did not hear mentioned). But while the players’ perception of owners’ hypocrisy is described as a motive for professionalization, there is no mention of “shamateurism,” the practice of paying amateur players, either discreetly or indirectly through off-ice jobs. Without this context explained, the appearance of the International Hockley League (IHL) in 1904 is given too much weight as a factor that “forced” Canadian clubs to pay their players. More accurately, the IHL alternative encouraged the Canadian clubs to overtly professionalize, but pay-for-play had been going on for years (under the table and often above). The IHL is also, for some reason, the first time that American hockey is mentioned, and I fear this Canadian bias of the series is unlikely to be shaken (Hockey: A Canadian People’s History may be a more accurate title).

Hockey was played in the United States in the same period as it was in Canada, even in its pre-Montreal and unorganized form, and American clubs sprang up just like Canadian clubs in late-nineteenth-century elite social and university circles. It takes nothing away from the Canadian game to mention this, for the simple reason that Canadians had a great deal of influence on the Ivy League and north-eastern establishment clubs, well before Doc Gibson and the IHL. Artificial ice is mentioned in 1911 in the context of the Patricks’ Denman arena, but the technology was American, and was used in the 1880s in American rinks. It may be that the book and materials accompanying the series will explain this, but the television show should integrate the American experience well before 1904. As it is, with the IHL as apparent first example of hockey in the US, the money game with its attendant plebeian aspects might be taken as the predominant American model, a notion that feeds into dichotomous constructions of difference between the Canadian and the American games – communal v. commercial, technical v. violent, natural v. artificial, outdoor v. indoor, ours v. theirs. And it is not only the American story that is ignored. The Stanleys took hockey back to the UK, as did many Canadians later on, and the sport attained popularity well before Canadian clubs deigned to travel overseas to compete (the story that seems to be promised for the upcoming episode 3.)

Speaking of extra materials, I have not seen the books yet, but I did travel through the website, which has a few bells and whistles, but only a few. The “First Person” audio files (with Percy LeSueur and Cyclone Taylor so far) are a nice addition, but the feature “Stories” and “Biographies” are rather brief and selective. I’d to read about some of the people who were not featured in the show. I also hope that they follow up the series with some teaching materials as was done with Canada: A People’s History.

There are a few niggling errors on the website (mainly on the timeline) and since these can be corrected or further explained, I will point them out:

1) The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association at first refused to “hold” the Stanley Cup and only consented to do so in 1894, not 1893.

2) The web authors should decide if the Cup was donated in 1892 or 1893 (they indicate both). The Cup was announced it 1892 but physical donated in 1893;

3) The Cup was never known as the “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup,” as trustee P.D. Ross announced from the outset that it would be known as “the Stanley Cup.”

4) Challenges for the Cup did not end in 1914, and the NHL did not assume control of the cup in 1926, but the trustees controlled it and seriously considered challenges at least into the 1930s, and challenges were received for years after that (although none were accepted).

5) I would argue the Westmount Arena was not the first arena built for hockey spectators in 1898, but that it was the St Nicholas rink in New York City in 1895, and there seems to be some confusion about the “first” artificial ice rinks in Canada both 1895 and 1911 are indicated).

6) The ice was painted white at Madison Square Garden as early as 1926, not just in 1949, as the timeline indicates, and the show seem to suggest the change came with the advent of Hockey Night in Canada (1952).

Also, as an historian, I am obliged to deplore the lack of any academic historians as talking heads. (If nothing else, they need jobs! ;) ) They are not all tweedy and boring, and some of them can be quite compelling. This is not really a criticism of Michael McKinley and Eric Zweig, who take up the historians’ roles on the show, but while I realize that Wayne Gretzky and Don Cherry will help the ratings, Wayner describing the nature of nineteenth-century hockey strains credibility for me. Much more satisfying is Jean Béliveau discussing the role of the priests in teaching hockey to French-Canadian youths, something Béliveau personally experienced that has analogies to an earlier era. So far, the primary talking heads are McKinley, Zweig, and Bruce Dowbiggin, who have all written on hockey history, with briefer appearances by Alison Griffiths, Jack Falla, Ken Dryden, Ron MacLean, and Guy Lafleur, in addition to Béliveau, Gretzky and Cherry. Why not have some of the historical advisors (some academic historians and some not BTW) appear onscreen? (To give them some publicity, they are: Elizabeth Etue, Russell Field, Bill Fitsell, Ed Grenda, Gilles Janson, Paul Kitchen, George Larivière, Paul Patskou, and Michel Vigneault.)

Initially I feared that the themes proffered by Gretzky (“hockey is our game”) and Dowbiggin (“hockey is a metaphor for Canada”) might overwhelm the whole series. As much as these notions may contain some elements of truth, I was happy to see a good deal of historical detail to contextualize them. At least so far. I also appreciated a line from Paul Gross’ introduction – “we love it, we hate it, we live it” – and I hope this isn’t the last time they allude to some dissenting views. While Hockey: A People’s History is certainly allowed its own point-of view, the acknowledgment of historical conflicts and challenges to the dominant narrative off the ice will enhance, rather than detract, from popular appreciation of how this sport became so important to Canadians. I look forward to more.

(FYI The schedule for the next episodes is here.)

Should Howard McNamara be in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

On the Hockey Hall of Fame citation for George McNamara, it is noted that he and his brother Howard were known as the "Dynamite Twins" during their playing days. They weren't really twins, but if the moniker measured their playing ability, then why isn't Howard also in the Hall of Fame?

The tale of the tape:

* George, a defenceman, had 39 goals and 13 assists over 8 seasons or 138 games (excluding exhibition game totals and his 2 goals in 3 playoff games). That's 0.28 goals per game or 0.38 points per game.

* Howard, also a defenceman, had 47 goals and 17 assists over 11 seasons or 134 games (excluding exhibition game totals and he had no playoff points). That's 0.35 goals per game, or 0.48 points per game.

Since the two often played on the same team, in the same league, and with a similar style, these statistics are probably comparable. If so, the advantage goes to Howard.

Howard was also known for his size (6 feet, 240 lbs - which was HUGE in that era) and for obvious reasons, dominated opponents physically. No evidence on George's dimensions.

Both won the Stanley Cup, but with different teams.

Not much to choose from it seems, so why is only one twin the Hall?

Here's a possible explanation from Frank Selke Sr., who was on the Hall of Fame nominating committee. In a letter to Mike Rodden, sportswriter and former NHL referee, Selke wrote:

"Between ourselves Mike - when George was admitted [to the Hall] Howard's wife told a friend of mine that George could not carry Howard's skates. I asked [Art] Ross and Lester [Patrick] about this and they said, which one was Howard?"

Twins indeed.


I've always thought there was a need for the study of sportswriting, especially the 1920s and 1930s.

The New York papers are where the trade really flourished, with scribes like Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Ring Lardner, et al. There are several memoirs of this era (Paul Gallico, Stanley Woodward) which are full of tales (some taller than others), and even a oral history by Jerome Holtzman, No Cheering in the Press Box, which chronicles some of the better- and lesser-known writers.

There are some Canadian contributions by Jim Vipond, Jim Coleman, and Milt Dunnell, as well as my favourtie, Down the Stretch by W.A. Hewitt (father of Foster). For a taste, here is an online memoir by Charles Templeton, jack-of-all-trades and master of the same. He has great stories about Mike Rodden, former Globe sports editor, whose papers now reside in the Queen's University Archives. Other journalist papers I have run into include Dink Carroll of The Montreal Star (McGill University Archives), Charles Mayer of Le Petit Journal (Library and Archives Canada) and Harold Kaese of the Boston Globe (Boston Public Library Special Collections). There may be more...

The Prime Ministers and Hockey

The National Post had an article about politicians accepting complimentary tickets to hockey games, which has probably been going on for over a century by now.

The first reference I ever found to a PM attending a game was in Mackenzie King's diary. As I recall he was complaining that Viscount Byng didn't invite him into his box at the Ottawa Auditorium one night when the Ottawa Senators were playing. I'm pretty sure King didn't actually enjoy hockey, but I have no evidence of this, other than the fact that he lived in Ottawa for several decades and the word "hockey" only appears in his diary a dozen or so times. From the time of Baron Stanley, hockey was more of a vice-regal activity it seems; Minto, Byng, Tweedsmuir and others were big fans.

I'm not sure if RB Bennett ever attended any games, but he did give a few bucks to youth hockey teams during the Depression, among his many other donations (see Grayson and Bliss, The wretched of Canada : letters to R. B. Bennett, 1930-1935)

Conn Smythe liked to get the PM to open the season and Maple Leaf Gardens. From his papers, it seems Louis St Laurent couldn't make it most years (I'm sure it was because Smythe was a Tory and caused the King cabinet grief during the war). As soon as Diefenbaker got in, he was right on the ice the first chance he had after being elected in 1957. Dief the hockey fan is there is all his jowly glory in this great piece ("God is Canadian") about the eighth game of the 1972 Summit Series.

Mike Pearson played hockey at Oxford and continued to be a fan but since Smythe never forgave him for replacing the Red Ensign, I'm pretty sure he never dropped the puck at MLG , after 1965 at least (yes, I suppose I could check). I, on the other hand, haven't forgiven him for recommending that hockey be suspended during World War II. (I don't disagree that a strong case could be made to suspend, but Pearson's main argument was that the Americans might be offended if it continued. He didn't seem to realize they were enjoying their hockey just as much as Canadians were....)

Pierre Trudeau was often at hockey games in Montreal, and made sure to make political hay after the eighth game of the 1972 series. I forgot the game was played in the midst of the federal election campaign of that fall, after which the Liberals were reduced to a minority government. Brian Mulroney was often at games (before he was PM and certainly after), and you can catch him in the footage of the '72 series as well.

Clark, Turner, Campbell, Chretien, Martin - no thoughts.

I have read several places that Harper is writing a book on hockey, which I would have to say would probably make him the biggest hockey fan to sit behind the PM's desk (unless Ken Dryden makes the cut). The best article about Harper's hockey writing seems to be Red Fisher's interview, although the New York Times was also interested. (Confirms their stereotypes of "Canooks" I'm sure.) I am curious about Harper's take on Toronto hockey, if and when it ever appears. Fisher at least needs to be educated about how the Canadiens really survived the 1930s and 1940s, and it wasn't about "bringing in the right people" as much as it was kicking out some other people - namely the Montreal Maroons.

Andrew Gilpin - "Old time hockey player"

Today I interviewed Andrew Gilpin, self-described "old-time hockey player" and a member of Canada's 1948 Olympic team, the RCAF Flyers. Andy is still quick-witted and has a fine memory for hockey events, from the age of five until sixty-eight, when he hung up his stick (but not his skates) for good. He grew up in Montreal, around the corner from Doug Harvey, playing with and against the likes of Ken Mosdell, Maurice Richard, and Pat Desbiens, among others.

Born in 1920, Gilpin's path to professionalism was broken by the war but he had a successful career as an amateur playing on RCAF teams in service leagues, alongside many professionals like Paul Platz, Chuck Rayner, Bobby Kirk and others. Gilpin claims the first slap shot he ever saw was from Platz's stick (it wasn't too accurate). Gilpin's high level of play was exemplified by his scoring a hat trick in a game against Rayner. After the third goal the future Hart Trophy winner went after him with his stick.

Gilpin has many stories about the 1948 Olympic experience, team manager Sandy Watson, coach Frank Boucher, player George Mara and others. I hadn't realized that the team had trouble getting out of Czechoslovakia after the Communist takeover in February 1948, an event that occurred right in the middle of their tour of the country! Gilpin's comments were reported on the front page of the Toronto Daily Star of February 28, 1948, certainly one of the first first-hand accounts of the event.

This interview will add to my research on Hockey in the Second World War, a future book project.

Welcome to Hoghee!

In the course of my dissertation research on the National Hockey League, I come across a lot of information (and sometimes insights) that may not fit into any academic product, but are worth publishing to the community. This blog is dedicated to that dissemination, as well a discussion of the historical context of more recent hockey events.