Friday, September 20, 2013

A Look at Maple Leafs Training Camp 70 years ago

I have finally got around to reading my 1950 copy of "Come on Teeder" by Ed Fitkin, the story of Toronto Maple Leaf captain Ted Kennedy. I'm reading it gently, as it's quite rare and not in perfect condition, but I had to give it a look. Inside, there is a detailed account of Ted Kennedy's first training camp with the Leafs that took place exactly 70 years ago in the autumn of 1943. My comments are added.

Training camp headquarters for the Maple Leafs in St. Catherines was the Welland House, a five-story hotel just off the main thoroughfare and a five-minutes' walking distance from the rink.
Their training camp time-table, another systematic bit of Leaf organization, revealed that waking-up time was set for 6:45am. Sharp at that time, the insistent ringing of the room telephone signalled the start of a day that was to be as arduous as it was hectic. At 7:15 Ted and Jack Ingoldsby joined the rest of the players in the lobby of the hotel. So far, sounds fairly close to what one would expect today.

Hap Day, who looked as zestful as a spring lamb, counted heads, found that nobody was missing, then snapped: "Okay, let's go." He led the way to the street, then moving off as briskly as a champion heel-to-toe artist, set the pace for a 10-minute walk along streets adjacent to the hotel. It was next to impossible to keep up with him. The coach leading the team on a morning walk around the neighbourhood, you probably wouldn't see that today. A ten-minute walk too, wouldn't want to pull or strain anything so early in the morning. Jeez.

By the time they returned to the Welland House, Ted was ready for a country-sized breakfast. Ingoldsby, however, had advised him to eat sparingly for the first couple of days of training. "If you don't," he explained, "you'll throw everything up during the first workout." After breakfast, Hap Day gave them a half-hour chalk talk to explain various phases of offense and defense strategy. Then, at a park near the hotel, the players were given 30 minutes of P.T., which officially meant Physical Training, but which was translated by the players, after their first experience, to Physical Torture.  Woah, woah woah, slow it down Hap! Too much, too soon. How can he expect his players to take in a whole 30 minutes of strategy? These guys just woke up! Playtime at the park will no doubt straighten them out.

Ted and the rest of the squad went from there to the arena for the morning workout. It lasted for an hour and a half. Coach Day told the panting, gasping leg-weary squad, "The harder you work now, the quicker you'll get into shape." "Get in shape." Because you wouldn't want to come to camp in any form of shape. Half the boys were probably working at the car lot or beer sales-repping up to a few days before.

At noon the morning session ended and the players returned to the Welland House for 12:30 luncheon. Ted felt pretty good and managed to put away most of his cold-meat dinner but quite a few of the younger players, still feeling the effects of the first workout, could do little more than nibble, though they consumed what seemed to be gallons of milk. Milk? I have played easily over 1,000 games of hockey in my life and have never, ever craved a glass of milk before, during or after a skate.

Back to the grind they went at 2:00 and again it was a hard-driving session with the emphasis on skating. No body-checking was permitted during the first few days of training but occasionally some over-eager youngster would forget and at times, tempers flared. At  3:00, Hap called a halt. "You can take the rest of the afternoon off," he grinned at them. "Go out and play golf."
"Are you kidding?" came back a woeful chorus from practically everyone within earshot.
"No," said Hap, chuckling. "I can't understand what's wrong with you fellows. I feel fine."
Coach Hap Day probably was indeed in better shape than most of his players. He was only 42 years-old at the time, and four seasons removed from a Hall of Fame playing career.

Toronto would go on to an exactly .500 record in 1943/44 to place third in the NHL. They lost in five games to eventual Cup champs Montreal. Kennedy enjoyed a splendid rookie season with 26 goals and 49 points in 49 games. He lost the Calder Trophy to teammate Gus Bodnar who finished tenth in league scoring with 62 points.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happy Birthday Darryl Sittler

I heard that today is the birthday of one of my childhood heroes Darryl Sittler as well as the great Peter Stastny. With 1121 and 1239 points respectively for the two Hall of Famers, I wondered if today was perhaps the greatest hockey birthdate of the year. Let's have a look:
There are only three dates that produced two Hall of Famers with over 1,000 career points.

September 18
Darryl Sittler 1,121pts, Peter Stastny 1,239pts. Also Bun Cook, all three Hall of Famers.

October 29
Mike Gartner 1,335pts, Denis Potvin 1,052pts. Also Eric Staal.

May 12
Johnny Bucyk 1,369pts & Bernie Federko 1,130pts

A few other dates that could contend for the best hockey birthdate:
July 1
Rod Gilbert 1,021pts, Steve Shutt 817pts both Hall of Famers. Also Jarome Iginla 1,106pts and a future Hall member.
January 22
Elmer Lach, Bill Durnan, Mike Bossy and Serge Savard. No 1,000 point men but all Hall of Famers.
December 4
Alex Delvecchio 1,281pts, Dave Taylor 1,069pts & Rick Middleton 988pts. Only Delvecchio in the Hall.
December 28
Terry Sawchuk, Harry Howell, Ray Bourque. All Hall of Famers.
March 31

Gordie Howe, Pavel Bure & Bob Pulford. All Hall members.

October 5
Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy. Tough to beat one of the top five skaters and goaltenders of all-time.

 In the end, we may have to go with January 22 as the greatest hockey birthdate mainly due to the fact that is the only one with four Hall of Famers born.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Four Games in Four Nights, Game Four

As NHL training camps kick into gear, my own beer league season is under way as well. This weekend, I have a gruelling four games in a row Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Gruelling, if only for the fact that I am personally feeling older and slower pretty much every time I step on the ice.

Well, that was easy. My weekend of hockey was salvaged with a convincing 7-3 win by the Flying Vees last night. Jumping out to a 3-0 lead five minutes into the game usually helps to snap a losing streak. Amazingly, after four games in four nights my body has survived. There was just a small amount of leg "heaviness", especially after one of the couple excessively long shifts I had last night.

We had three lines, which is ideal for beer league hockey. When my fellow centreman, Doc Rowan (pictured above savouring the victory) came off, it was my line's turn to spring into action. Unfortunately (for the line following us) we had a couple shifts in which  the opponents could literally not get the puck out of their end. Myself, Bidzy and capable sub John (whose goal I assisted) along with either of our defence pairs kept the bad guys hemmed in their own end for almost two minutes a few times. Sure, that's a long shift, but my thinking is; as long as you are in the opponents end it's not time to change.

Incidentally, new line mate John is singer/songwriter in the terrific Vancouver band, Portage and Main and fits in nicely with the rest of the music/artist types on the Vees. Also he's a nice skater, Bidzy and I will have him on our line anytime.

So the weekend ends with one win and three losses for my two teams. Honestly, going into the weekend I thought it was too much hockey in too short a time. I assumed that by Sunday, I'd be "hockeyed out" and in need of a break. Truth is, nothing could be further from the truth. Even with the team and personal struggles, I was itching to go Sunday night. I suppose that's a good sign that I still love this great game .

I could play another game tonight if I had to, anybody have some ice?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Four Games in Four Nights, Game Three

As NHL training camps kick into gear, my own beer league season is under way as well. This weekend, I have a gruelling four games in a row Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Gruelling, if only for the fact that I am personally feeling older and slower pretty much every time I step on the ice.
Well, this is not going very well. Another loss for the Generals, this time 7-3. Although this was my higher calibre hockey, it was almost a carbon copy of the previous evening's Flying Vees loss. 

Just like the Vees, the Gens got down early and never could claw back. also like the night before, we out shot and out chanced the opponents. The problem was, they finished on their chances while we rarely did. Afterwards in the dressing room (my LW, Bidzy in foreground above), our despondent bunch was attempting to come to terms with the terrible 0-2 start the season. Immediately talk turned to the fact that we perhaps should have entered the 30+ age division this season.

The majority of us had agreed this past summer, that maybe the time had come to get out of the open-age division hockey. The only problem is, one of our defencemen and a real great teammate is only 28 years old. If we joined 30+, he couldn't play, as well as few of our regular spare players. We decided to give it a go at least one more season in open-age hockey.

Truth be told, the team that beat us last night were probably all over 30 anyway, and the way we couldn't finish chances and gave up odd-man rushes, we wouldn't have beaten a 60+ aged team.

So, it looks like if we don't get our shit together, the Generals are in for a long season. Tonight I have a game with the 2 win/ 1 loss Flying Vees coming off an awful Friday night loss. The possibility of an "oh-for-four" weekend is staring Bidzy and I in the face, time to put an to this nonsense.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Four Games in Four Nights, Game Two

As NHL training camps kick into gear, my own beer league season is under way as well. This weekend, I have a gruelling four games in a row Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Gruelling, if only for the fact that I am personally feeling older and slower pretty much every time I step on the ice.

Friday, North Vancouver

9:45 on a Friday night. There are not many worse time slots for a beer-league hockey game. Friday evening is the time of the week when one likes to wind down, relax and perhaps have a few after-work adult beverages. In the case of my Left Winger, Bidzy, it was the day of his annual work golf tournament. So, whereas I showed up to the rink only feeling slightly lazy, Bidzy showed  up with post-golfing "glow". This did not bode well. When we saw our change room filled with only eight other skaters, we knew we were in trouble.

The Vancouver Flying Vees are populated mainly with artist types, a lot of ex-musicians (a few still active) the majority of whom have now settled down with wives and kids. The leader of the Vees is goaltender Grant Lawrence, pictured above. He's a host on CBC Radio as well as an award winning author. In fact his new book, released next month is about his life as a beer league goaltender titled, "The Lonely End of the Rink".

On this night, the Flying Vees would be grounded. It wasn't the fact that we had only two lines where we usually have three, it was just a general team malaise. It was one of those games when the puck seemed to be bouncing on us, and we just couldn't catch a break. Honestly, this game had the intensity level of a bad scrimmage. Nothing there. It's our own faults for not generating intensity and instead sitting back and letting the melancholy of a late Friday night overtake us.

This is my one of two teams where I should and usually do produce more offensively. It's a good 6 or 8 division levels below my other team The Generals. In fact, my entire line this evening are all Generals, with Bidzy and Kellen rounding out the trio. After getting behind 2-0 fairly quickly, the Vees had minimal push-back. I would put a half-slapper threw a defenceman's legs on a three on two rush to beat the goalie (you had better score when shooting and not dishing the puck on a three on two rush). Wobbly Bidzy tied it up on a breakaway goal halfway through the game. But, that was about it for us.

Four unanswered goals would make the final a 6-2 loss. The Vees did end up out-shooting and out-chancing the opponents despite our overall lack of intensity, but we could simply not bury the puck.
Immediately afterward, Bidzy and I came to the realization that we very well could go "oh for four" this weekend. Tonight's Generals game presents us with another short bench, at the far higher level of hockey. 

This may get ugly...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Four Games in Four Nights, Game One

As NHL training camps kick into gear, my own beer league season is under way as well. This weekend, I have a gruelling four games in a row Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Gruelling, if only for the fact that I am personally feeling older and slower pretty much every time I step on the ice.

Game One, Burnaby B.C.

Well, that didn't start well.
First game of the season for my higher level team the Generals H.C. (I'm pictured above modelling the jersey I designed). We're playing in the open age Division 5 of 18 divisions playing in the ASHL out of Burnaby 8 Rinks. We've been in this div for four or five years now and have fared well enough. The main issue that seems to be creeping up now is the "open age" aspect of our league. Where the Generals average age has to be close to 40, most of the other teams we play are around 30, if not younger. A ten year age gap is not too prohibitive between 20 and 30, but 40 to 30...that's when you notice some differences.

I've been trying to keep in some semblance of physical shape over the summer (at 42, I have no choice but to keep active, lest my body begin breaking down). I've been doing at least one, often two Grouse Grind hikes in the North Vancouver mountains each week. This is a hike that's 3 km in length but with a 1 km elevation game that's also referred to as Nature's Stair-Climber. On the ice with the Generals I contribute 8 or 10 goals over a 25 game season, kind of a Danny Cleary type of veteran, except from the centre position, and 7 years older than him, and slower...a lot slower.

Anyway, even though this was our first game of the season we shouldn't have looked as out of practice as we did last night. Most of us played in the Spring/Summer league and we even had a couple of high-tempo shinny skates the last few weeks. You wouldn't have known it last night with a 6-1 defeat.

I centred my regular Left Winger, Bidzy on the third-line and our pal and regular goal-scorer Craig was saddled with us for the evening. The old legs felt fine overall, but somehow we ended up minus three on the night. This was with the help of a goal from Craig, a nice backhand deke that started as I was jostling with the opposing centreman in front of our net. Honestly, the three of us felt there wasn't much more we could have done on the goals we allowed (don't they all say that?) Two of the goals were fairly sharp angle high corner picks that we as a line could do nothing about.

The good thing is we get to jump right back it Saturday at 5pm...apparently with a short line-up of 10 skaters. But first, I have a late Friday game today with my other team the Vancouver Flying Vees. On this team I'm expected to contribute a bit more offensively, we shall see about that after a sunny patio lunch that will likely include a couple of delicious IPA's.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bert Corbeau Hangs 'em Up

Bert 'Pig Iron' Corbeau was a defenceman during the inaugural season of the National Hockey League. Born in Penetanguishine, Ontario on the shore of Georgian Bay, Corbeau was considered huge in his day at 5'11", 200 lbs. He was the first player to play for both the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, and in 1925/26 he became the first player in NHL history to rack up 100 penalty minutes in a season.

From the 1953 book Gashouse Gang of Hockey by Ed Fitkin, comes the story of Corbeau's last ever game. It occurred while playing in the Canadian Professional Hockey League with the London Panthers. A young Joe Primeau regales the incident;

Bert Corbeau was manager, coach, player and just about everything else where the London team was concerned. A huge, colourful man who always wore a hard black derby, Corbeau was as unpredictable as the weather.
His last game as a player sticks vividly in Joe Primeau's memory. The date was Christmas night, 1928, the locale was London. The Panthers and the Detroit Olympics were locked in an 0-0 deadlock with five minutes to play when Primeau broke his skate. Corbeau, who had played very little that season, decided to meet the emergency personally. He had Carl Voss and George Redding as his defence pair but knowing that Voss had had some experience as a forward Corbeau moved Carl to centre in Primeau's place and took over from him on defence.
"When I got back two minutes later," Joe recalls, "the score was 3-0 for Detroit. Voss told me they went around Corbeau for all three goals and by the time I got back the fans were throwing things at him and calling him all sorts of names. Well, at the end of the game, Bert stormed into the dressing room, took off his skates, slammed them against the wall and said he'd never play again. I don't think he ever did either.

Corbeau would play nine games for London that season before retiring. He would meet his untimely end in 1942 on the waters of Georgian Bay. His personal 75 foot yacht sank during an excursion killing Corbeau along with 24 of his co-workers of the 40 he was entertaining.

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