Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Overtime Winner that Almost Wasn't

Here's another good little hockey history yarn as told by Toronto Maple Leaf great Joe Primeau.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadiens were playing in the Montreal Forum on Christmas Eve, 1931. The regulation 60 minutes had ended in a one-all tie. Pit Lepine had scored for the Flying Frenchmen mid-way in the first period, and King Clancy had tallied for us at about the same stage in the third period.
Neither team opened up at anything like full tilt in  the rather slow 10-minute overtime and, as I staged face-offs with Howie Morenz he began to beef, mildly enough, about having to play through a meaningless overtime on Christmas Eve. 
There had been no scoring in the overtime when the siren sounded to end the game. Both teams were on their way to the dressing-rooms when we were called back by referee Cooper Smeaton. The timekeeper, it seems had sounded the siren a little more than 10 seconds too soon. We had to go back on the ice to finish the affair. 
Before Smeaton came to centre-ice with the puck, Morenz said to me:
"When he drops the puck, just let it lie there. We can use up their 10 seconds that way."
I didn't make any reply, but I didn't think that I should get involved in any game-stalling episode. I decided that I would simply slap the puck out of the face-off area, and thus give somebody else a chance to stall, if he wanted to.
As the referee got ready to face-off, Morenz wheeled on him and declared:
"This is a sheer waste of everybody's time, especially on Christmas Eve. Even the fans want to get away. With only 10 seconds left to play, there's no time for anything to happen. It's a farce!"
However, Smeaton dropped the rubber and I, quite aimlessly, cleared it over toward the left boards.
Then something happened - and how!
At that moment, for some unknown reason, Busher Jackson was steaming at full speed down our left wing. He was never able to explain the sudden move.
Anyway, Jackson took that puck in stride, simply fled past the surprised Canadien right winger, skated up to the defence and used a rear-guard as a screen for a terrific, ankle-high shot.
Morenz and I were still parked, almost stock-still, at centre ice. We had been left so far out of Jackson's rush that there was no point in trying to get in on it.
We heard the shot ring in a goalpost; then saw the puck flash into the cage behind Hainsworth.
You should have heard Morenz then!
I was really called down as we got ready for just one more face-off. I had been just as surprised by Jackson's move as Howie had, but the timing of my freak pass had been perfect, and I guess Morenz thought the play had been planned.

There is no doubting that this story took place pretty much as described, but as usual, the teller may have exaggerated a few things or in this case, Primeau may have downplayed his involvement. The December 25, 1931 Montreal Gazette has a story with the headline;

"Canadiens Lose To Toronto, 2-1 With 5 Seconds To Go";
With five seconds to go in the overtime session last night, Harvey (Busher) Jackson, Maple Leafs dashing left winger, broke up what looked almost certain to be a tie. 

It's here were Primeau appears to be slightly less innocent than he painted himself.

It was a beautifully-executed effort, for Primeau drew the Canadien defence neatly together and flung a perfect pass to the dark-haired Torontonian who was tearing in on his wing. Hainsworth was beaten by a biting shot low to the far corner.

It would appear that the winning scoring play happened not from a face-off but during the regular course of play. Also, there is no mention of the teams leaving the ice surface prematurely only to be called back. Still, this story passes basic inspection and remains a great, small part of hockey history.

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