Sunday, April 18, 2010

The French Goalies of Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Mohawks may very well have been the greatest minor league hockey team of all-time. Between the years of 1952/53 and 1957/58, they finished first in the International Hockey League all six seasons and won the Turner Cup Championship five years in a row. The Mohawks worst season in that span produced a .675 winning percentage, every other year was over .700. They topped out in 1956/57 with a 50-9-1 record and a win pct. of .842.
A huge factor in the success of the Mohawks was their affiliation in the powerful Montreal Canadiens farm system.
In the early '50s the Habs had a stable of players under an extensive minor league umbrella
from the Quebec League Montreal Royals, the AHL's Buffalo Bisons, the Western League's Victoria Cougars and the Cincinnati Mohawks. During the aforementioned season of 56/57, Cincy had one of the most dominant seasons in hockey history. In the six team IHL, they were the only team to finish over .500 and had 44 more points than second place Indianapolis. Cincy scored 245 goals while giving up only 113, every other team in the league had a negative in the goals for/against department.
Interestingly, 56/57 was the first year in five that they were not anchored by a Quebecois goaltender. This year they had Glenn Ramsay between the pipes in his rookie pro season. He would go on to play until 1973/74 mainly in the IHL and was named top goalie in six seasons.
Prior to Ramsay, the 'Hawks were led by a constant chain of French tenders supplied by the Habs.
In 1952/53 they were treated to 19 year old Claude Evans from Longeuil, Quebec who would play all 60 games sporting a 2.53 average. Evans had a cup of coffee with the Canadiens in the mid-'50s and play as well with the Boston Bruins.
The 1953/54 season saw Evans move on to the Montreal Royals and Victoria Cougars and brought 20 year old Charlie Hodge to Cincinnati. The Lachine, Quebec native posted a 2.34 GAA
and even played 3 games with Buffalo in relief of their regular starter Jacques Plante.
1954/55 took Hodge to the Montreal Royals and brought Shawinigan Falls native Gaetan Dessureault to the Queen City on the Ohio River. Dessureault would prove to be the least distinguished goalie to pass through Cincy during this era, he would proceed to play another ten seasons mainly in the Eastern League never to see the NHL.
During these last two years, ex-NHLer (and Montreal native) Paul Bibeault played the mentor role. Bibeault, pictured at the top, veteran of eight rather uneventful NHL seasons played a handful of games for the Mohawks before hanging up the blades after the '55 season.
1954/55 was also the year the Mohawks had their first and only future NHL star skater come through town. Phil Goyette was in his first professional season after two with the Montreal Junior Canadiens and as a 21 year old topped the IHL with 41 goals and 92 points. Goyette apprenticed two more seasons with the Royals in the Quebec League before playing 941 games in the NHL. His Mohawk jersey is pictured above (for sale on eBay) and below during his playing days (he's on the right).
1955/56 saw the last of the French brigade of goalies come to town in the form of Grand'Mere, Quebec native Jacques Marcotte and Guy LeClerc of St.Hyacinthe. 20 year old Marcotte played 53 of the teams 60 games in his rookie pro season before moving on to the Trois Rivieres Lions of the QHL. He played until the mid-60s, never reaching the big-time. LeClerc was at the opposite end of his career, finishing up after eight pro years, only once getting as high as the AHL.

In finding out about these great Cincinnati squads of the 1950's, I also learned about their home arena The Cincinnati Gardens. Built in 1949 it was a near exact replica of Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. It was in fact designed and built by the same company that constructed the Leafs shrine. The Cincy Gardens are still in use to this day and is seen below on the right side with MLG on the left.


3 comments:

melissa said...

My Dad,Jacques Marcotte ,did make it to the big leagues ( Toronto Maple Leafs), where he lost his eyesight ( no masks) on February 22,1958,
In 1690, the great Fred Shero ( only 2 cups for philly ) asked him to join the IHL ,playing for the St Paul saints.(MN)
He met my mother,they married,and he brought back his American bride to Grand-Mere,Quebec,where he started a very succesful Pepsi-Cola franchise.
Unfortunately,my Papa lost his battle to a brain tumor at. Age 59 in June,1994. My Mother died same age,same date in 2002. Thank you in advance for correcting.Too bad you do not have a photo. Very interesting site.

Nitzy said...

Melissa, Thanks for the great information about your father! I have found a few newspaper articles about his awful injury, how it happened in his very first practice...terrible. I'd love to ask you a few more questions. If you like, contact me at nitz_992001@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Hi Nitz, great article on the Cincinnati Mohawks who were quite the minor league powerhouse in the 50's. You forgot to mention the great Donnie Marshall who played in the 52-53 season for Cincinnati and who along with Phil Goyette ended up playing many seasons in the NHL.

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