The 1943/44 NHL season had the highest goals per game average in modern history. The 8.167 goals per match was higher even than the 8.025 of 1981/82. During this season Boston's Herb Cain set the record for points in a season with 82 besting the 73 shared by Cooney Weiland and Doug Bentley. Cain's teammate Bill Cowley would have most likely shattered even this number if not for a mid-season injury. In fact, Cowley was on pace to be the first to score 100 points almost a quarter century before Phil Esposito did it for the first time.
Cowley had in fact just the previous season got within one point of the single season points record when he scored 72 over a full season. He began the 1943/44 season in fine if unspectacular fashion with 14 points in his first 8 games.
Dec. 3, 1943
At this point, the media started to realize there may be some scoring records set this season. The Montreal Gazette on Dec. 4, 1943 stated; “Unless Bill Cowley and Modere (Mud) Bruneteau start slowing down at all intersections, two scoring standards will be shattered when the NHL completes it's 4 ½ month schedule next March.” Cowley's 18 assists in 13 games was well ahead of his own record pace of 45 from 1940/41. " As well, Mud Bruneteau had scored 15 goals in 11 games to that point, threatening the all-time mark of 44 by Joe Malone.
The Edmonton Journal was one of the first media outlets to talk of a possible 100 point season; "Ott Heller's prediction that Bill Cowley would score more than 100 points in 1943/44 NHL competition seems to have been something more than a shot in the dark. With little more than seven weeks of the 4 ½ month schedule completed, Cowley has collected 36 points."
Dec 23, 1943
100 points of course would require a two points per game pace over the entire 50 game campaign and Cowley was still scoring at that rate as Christmas approached. Uncharacteristically Cowley had really upped his goal scoring rate during this time with 10 goals and "only" 8 assists in his last 7 games.
Dec 28, 1943
As the new year loomed Cowley finally broke through the 2 Pts/Game pace. He seemed assured of breaking the single season points record. It all came crashing down four games later in Toronto as stated in Montreal Gazette headline from Jan.11; "SHOULDER INJURY TO SHATTER HOPES, Unable to Top Weiland Mark Now. Bill Cowley, Boston Bruins’ centre star who, up until Saturday night had a great chance to surpass the present all-time scoring record, saw his hopes fade away at Toronto Saturday night, when a separated shoulder injury put him on the shelf for at least four or five weeks."
Jan 9, 1944
Perhaps frustrated with the loss of his superstar, Boston coach Art Ross fired acqusations of intent to injure at Leaf centre Jack McLean. He was quoted in the Toronto Star on Jan 11; "Ross said McLean 'was the central figure in a mass attack carefully designed to put Cowley out of business.' Ross also warned the Leafs to 'bring plenty of reserves into Boston.' When the Leafs travel to Boston January 18. It was believed that McLean would be unable to make the trip to Boston with the team, because of his student duties here. "
Toronto GM Frank Selke replied to the charges and is quoted in the Calgary Herald the next day; " 'I'm afraid Arthur is building this up for Boston consumption,' was the only comment of Frank Selke, Toronto Maple Leafs in his reply to screams from Art Ross of Bruins, that his Bill Cowley had been deliberately put out of commission. Telling how he was injured Cowley merely said; 'I was going around the south goal and McLean was checking me. He eased me into the boards. I felt my shoulder pain and skated directly off.' Cowley had nothing to say when told that Ross had termed it a savage and deliberate attack. "
Fortunately when Toronto paid a return visit to Boston on Jan. 18, the threats of retaliation from Art Ross and the Bruins failed to materialize. Leafs won 7-2 and Toronto veteran Lorne Carr tallied a hat trick and an assist to climb past Cowley for the scoring lead.
Cowley would return from the shoulder injury on Feb.13 against Detroit in a game which he failed to register a point. The Associated Press tells; "The loss of Bill Cowley, veteran centre, for another week to 10 days was announced tonight by the Boston Bruins management. He now is suffering from water on the knee, which resulted from a bumping with Flash Hollett, his former teammate, in Sunday’s game here with the Detroit Red Wings. That was Cowley’s first start in five weeks, since he suffered a shoulder separation in Toronto."
He did indeed return ten days after the knee injury to play in an exhibition game on Feb. 23. Boston played Cowley's hometown Ottawa Amateur Commandos in nation's capital. Cowley proved he was healthy in collecting five points. Coach Ross commented on his squad's chances of catching Toronto, Detroit or Chicago for a playoff spot; “A great deal depends on Cowley, “ he admitted. “ If Bill is right for the rest of the schedule, if he can shake off that knee injury, I imagine we’ll be all right.”
Cowley returned against the Leafs on Feb. 29 scoring a goal and two helpers. By March 7 he had returned to the 2 points per game rate with 4 goals and 7 points in the next 3 matches.
He continued his torrid goal pace with 6 goals and 9 points in the final 5 games of the season. Overall, Cowley notched 10 goals in his last 8 matches and finished with a Point/Game average of 1.97. This would stand as the modern record until Wayne Gretzky topped 2.00/game in 1980/81.Final Stats
Perhaps a chance at the first ever 100 point season in history was lost with Cowley's injury in January. He seemed well able to maintain his scoring pace throughout his injury plagued year, never really having a slump.