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.

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