Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Andy Blair and the Four-man Disadvantage

Here's another fine tale from the long lost days of hockey history. It is regaled by Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman Hap Day;

Only once in all the years I've been associated with Conn Smythe have I seen him totally at a loss for an answer, and really stumped.
It occurred around the 1928/29 season, and it was Conn's first winter as active coach of the Maple Leafs. Here I should explain that Smythe made frequent use of the word "strategy" while checking up  on the players.
One night we were playing in Ottawa, where the Leafs hadn't won a game from the powerful Senators for a long time. However, the Toronto squad was playing extremely well; the score was 0-0 in the third period.
Suddenly, we ran into a most unusual string of four quick penalties, all of them to our defencemen. Our four rear-guards, Art Duncan, Red Horner (then in his first year with the Leafs), Art Smith and myself, were all in the penalty box at one time. This was in the days before the delayed ruling. Thus, the club was left with just goalie Lorne Chabot, and one forward, Andy Blair, on the ice. Blair was the proud possessor of a Bachelor of Arts degree, he sported a little Joe College type moustache and he carried a handkerchief  up the sleeve of his jersey while playing hockey. In those days too, he had a nervous hesitation in his speech when he was under exceptional stress.
Blair proceeded to give the greatest one-man defensive-forward show I've ever seen. He was simply magnificent, and so was Chabot in goal. Long-armed Andy's sweeping, flailing stick seemed to be in the way of every Senator attack as he frantically skated and spun.
Blair and Chabot almost got away with their impossible task, too. It wasn't until just before the first of our penalized defencemen got back on the ice that King Clancy, finally scored a goal. The goal beat us 1-0.
But I've skated right past the main point in my story.
When the last of our defencemen was thumbed to the penalty box, and Blair realized that he was still 
going to have to stay out there to check the whole Ottawa team, he leisurely skated over to the Leaf's bench. Andy looked appealingly at Conn, but the coach didn't speak.
Blair fidgetted; he pulled off his gloves, took a handkerchief from his sleeve and daintily blew his nose while the whole rink watched and waited.
Finally, Andy coughed, and said;
"W-well, S-s-mythe, w-what's the s-strategy n-n-n-ow?"

Such high drama from Smythe and his gang. The question is, did it really happen though? Were the Leafs really penalized four times within a two minute span? This one proved to be a toughie.
Firstly, the year which this is supposed to have happened is hard to nail down. Given that Andy Blair was the principle of the story and it happened in Ottawa against the Senators, we are left with a three year window. Blair's first year was 1928/29 and the Senators would be no more by the 1931/32 season.
This leaves only nine possible games in which this could have occurred, and none of them ended 1-0 in favour of Ottawa. Perhaps Hap Day got the final score wrong, this still leaves only a few likely games to check.

On March 16, 1929 Toronto lost 2-0 in Ottawa. The game, however was not scoreless into the third period and there is no mention in the write-up in the Montreal Gazette about a four-man disadvantage. Also, in no period were there penalties to all Toronto defenders. Only Art Smith and Art Duncan received penalties.

The following season, the Leafs lost by a 2-1 score at Ottawa, but Toronto actually scored first in this one at 5:40 of the first period. Again, three of the four Leaf d-men survived un-penalized.
Six weeks later Toronto again lost 2-0 in Ottawa, both of these goals however were scored in overtime, by Frank Finnigan, within twenty seconds of each even strength.

The final season in which the tale could have happened was 1930/31 and Toronto did not lose in Ottawa that year.

So, as great a story as this was, it seems that Day may have been exaggerating some. The odds that it happened exactly as Hap Day described are fairly low.

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