Friday, July 18, 2014

Shorty Horne, The Death of a Maple Leaf

Young Players Star as Leafs Shutout Hawks - That was a headline in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on November 16, 1928. The article was referring to Toronto Maple Leaf youngsters Andy Blair and George 'Shorty' Horne. It went on to state;
"Blair and Shorty Horne, a star with Stratford in the Can-pro circuit last season, bounded squarely into the limelight with two quick goals in the second period. It was 'Youngsters Night', for the kids of the Leaf team ran wild for practically the entire time they were on the ice..."

The article then went on to describe Horne's play that game; 
"Short Horne jumped into the limelight with two brilliant rushes and then combined with Andy Blair on a pass in front of the goalmouth that made Gardiner step lively...Irwin and Gottselig gave Chabot close ones and then Shorty Horne broke down right wing, stickhandled around the defense and swept in to beat Gardiner for the Leafs' second tally."

Less than a week later the young star was at it again as Toronto beat Montreal Maroons 4-1; 
"Shorty Horne was the Toronto star of the night. He was on the receiving end of two brilliant three men combination efforts, resulting in the first two Leaf goals."

Most fans of hockey history will have some familiarity with Andy Blair. He played nine NHL seasons collecting 157 points and a Stanley Cup with the Leafs in 1932. But who was Shorty Horne? Horne would go on to finish 25th in the NHL with 9 goals in 39 games in 1928/29 in his first full NHL season and his hockey future looked bright. Alas, he would never play again after that campaign. He perished that summer in an outdoor accident.

Born in Sudbury, Ontario in 1904, George Horne grew to a height of only 5 ft 6 in earning him his nickname. He starred with the Sudbury Wolves juniors and North Bay Trapper seniors before signing as a free agent with Montreal Maroons in October 1925. He went scoreless in 13 games for the Maroons and was eventually claimed on waivers by Stratford of the Can-Pro league in February 1927. It is here that Shorty Horne began to flourish as a professional player. He lead the league with 32 goals in 40 games and once again caught the eye of an NHL squad. The Toronto Maple Leafs purchased his rights from the Maroons on October 1, 1928.

Following his successful first year with Toronto, teammate Hap Day called him one of the most promising players in the league. That summer he returned home to Sudbury as a 25 year old, up-and-coming NHL player, and future star. On July 31, 1929 Horne joined a pair of childhood friends and another man on a prospecting trip by canoe on Lake Sagotosky, about 150 km northwest of Sudbury. The four men were intending to assess some mining claims when an unexpected storm formed. They were paddling their heavy canoe about 100 yards from shore when large waves began flooding the boat. Eventually capsizing, they clung to the overturned canoe. The men decided to swim for shore and removed their heavy clothing and boots to aid in the effort. Shorty Horne was not able to remove his boots. Horne became exhausted attempting to swim with the boots still on his feet. He vanished below the waves, unable to resurface.

The three others searched in vain before deciding to hike seven miles through the bush to find help. Police and government officials searched for four days before finding the body of George Horne. His funeral would be held in Sudbury and was attended by Maple Leafs Hap Day, Art Smith, Ace Bailey, Red Horner and Conn Smythe.

In a preview of the upcoming NHL campaign the following November, the Associated Press referred to the Maple Leafs "cruel blow suffered during the summer when Shorty Horne, one of their most brilliant young players, was drowned in Northern Ontario". The hockey world would never find out how brilliant Shorty Horne could have been.

Special thanks to Hockey Heritage North for details about the tragedy.

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