Thursday, May 26, 2016

Softball at Maple Leaf Gardens, 1945

I just had to share this. Hockey historian, archivist and writer, Paul Patskou had quite an interesting thread going on his Facebook page this week. He noted that both Punch Imlach, Leafs GM/coach and his wife Dodo Imlach had at different times played games at Maple Leaf Gardens. Punch played at the Gardens multiple times as a junior and senior hockey player in the 1930s and 40s, while his wife Dodo played there in a charity game in 1945. A charity game of...softball.

Leave it to Paul to dig up this nugget. Personally, I had never heard of softball ever being played at Maple Leaf Gardens, but it's true. Patskou with help from his friend Bill Williams, shared the story of this strange happening. It was a Friday night, November 9, 1945 when the Rotary Club of Toronto put on the event as a fundraiser for Toronto Sick Children's Hospital. The Globe and Mail newspaper described the event thusly; "The Major's Manse (the Gardens) gave itself wholeheartedly over to the curl and mascara of gal softballers." In total, 11,154 folks were in attendance to see the "queens of the softball world" the Jax of New Orleans. They would play a double-header first winning 2-1 over Simpson's before falling by the same score in the nightcap to a squad named Sunday Morning Class. This was the team that Dodo Imlach patrolled the outfield for.

In the photo above, the field appeared to be laid out with second base right about at centre-ice. If home plate is approximately 10 feet in front of the end boards, this would make the bases about 60 feet apart which would be the proper distance for softball. The centre-field wall would then be approximately 190 feet deep at the far end of the rink with virtually no room for left or right fields. A quirky layout for a ball diamond to say the least. In addition, the game appears to have been simply played on the floor boards that covered the ice surface at the Gardens. The Leafs had played there two days prior and would beat the Chicago Black Hawks 3-2 in the same building the very next night.

In addition to the top quality softball, the patrons were treated to a halftime show of sorts; "Between games, funnymen Hap Watson and Needle Walker kept fans in stitches with their towboat and golf antics." Not sure what "towboat and golf antics" entailed, but I'm sure it was a big hit in 1945.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Vintage Vancouver Amateur Teams

Vancouver Waterfront HC 1933
I found these two cool team photos over at the Vancouver Archives database. The first is of a squad called Vancouver Waterfront from 1933 that played in the amateur Vancouver Commercial League. The circuit included other teams such as Vancouver Ex-King George, New Westminster Cubs and Vancouver Merolomas. The one player I can identify for certain is at front row, far right as Art Jerwa. He was older brother to Frank and Joe Jerwa who both were playing in the NHL at that time with Boston Bruins. 

Interestingly, the Waterfronts would make the championship game in 1933 and lose in a fairly unique fashion. Playing the Vancouver Sun in the final, the teams split the first two games of the series before the deciding match on March 3, 1933. After three periods, the fifth game was tied, scoreless. However, league officials, fed up with too many games finishing in a draw, had previously decided that all games that ended even would be called "no contest" and be replayed in full. The second game would commence right away. However, after another full game, the teams remained tied. The following day's newspaper wrote, "the fair-sized crowd sat back to wait for the boys to come out for the third game. They were getting their money's worth and seemed to enjoy the marathon."

The heads of the league huddled to see what would be done next. League official, Stan Smith issued the ultimatum that the teams must finish the series "if it took them until morning to do so." 

After the break, the Suns came out for the third full game of the night but the exhausted Waterfronts refused to do so. Referee George Irvine had no choice but to drop the puck with only one team on the ice. The Suns went through with the formality of scoring a goal into the empty netto clinch the game and the series, but alas, referee Irvine called them back to do it again as there was no goal judge in place. That they did, and they were declared champions.

The second photo is of the 1929/30 Vancouver Athletic Club, with players names listed. There again at front, right is Art Jerwa. None of these guys played professional ever, but they sure got to wear some great jerseys with the V.A.C. this season.
Vancouver Athletic Club 1929/30

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Detroit Red Wings Exhibition Game in Vancouver, 1959

Here's a real nice photo from the City of Vancouver Archives showing Gordie Howe playing the Western Hockey League Vancouver Canucks at the PNE Forum. There are no labels or date attached, but I believe I've narrowed it down.

First of all, we see that Gordie Howe is wearing the Captain "C" for Detroit, a position he surprisingly only held between 1958 and 1962. Seeing as the Canucks goalie's face is visible clearly, he should be identifiable. Checking the Society for International Hockey Research photo database I looked at Canuck goaltenders of this era. It's fairly easy to name the goalie as Hank Bassen when compared to the photo below. This really aids in dating the photo, as Bassen played for the Canucks for only one season, 1959/60. If this is a pre-season game with Detroit, it must have then taken place in late September or early October of 1959.
This season, Bassen would lead the WHL in Wins with 44, shutouts with 5 and Goals Against Average with 2.45. He would then help the Canucks win the Patrick Cup as playoff champs. Bassen was then claimed in the Inter-League draft by Detroit in July 1960. In 1960/61 he split duties with Terry Sawchuk and convincingly outplayed the Hall of Famer. Bassen finished with a .500 record and 2.87 GAA, Sawchuk was four games under .500 with a GAA of 3.13. Bassen would go on to start the first ever game for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1967. His son, Bob Bassen would play 765 NHL games in the 80's and 90's.

A search for a note about this game proved fruitless, but I found three Red Wings games out West that fits the time period. The Wings were on a nine game exhibition tour of Western Canada and the U.S. If they were in Edmonton on Sept. 26, 1959, Seattle on Sept 27th and Spokane, Washington on the 29th.

Next, I came across a game program from this very game listed on eBay, check out the cover below. However, among the program images included in the listing, there is no actual date for this game but included with the program the seller added a newspaper clipping of the game. 

There is the date, handwritten on the clipping; October 1, 1959. The clipping says this was the ninth and final game of the Red Wings Western tour, a game won by Detroit by a score of 9-2. But wait, what's that at the bottom of the game boxscore? The two goalies listed are Sawchuk and Bentley. Bentley? This would be referring to longtime WHL goalie Bev Bentley who would play this upcoming season with Seattle Totems. Compare the photo below of Bentley with a closeup of the goalie in the archive pic.

There's no way that's Bentley in the archive photo. If that's not Bassen, I'll eat my hat. And I have a lot of nice hats. I'm thinking that the Canucks must have recruited the previous season's Coast Division All-Star Bentley to bolster their squad, and he and Bassen split duties against the Wings.

So, the date of this game was October 1, 1959 and I'm sticking to the goalie being Hank Bassen. One other player that is easily confirmed in the archive pic is Canucks number 5 who is defending Howe. It is none other than defenceman Larry Cahan seen below. Cahan would go on to be named to the 2nd All-Star team in 59/60 posting 11 goals and 33 points.
Larry Cahan

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bobby Orr Overtime Cup Winner, 46 years ago today

As any good hockey fan on scoial media knows, today is the 46th anniversary of one of the greatest goals ever scored. Here are two other photos of the iconic goal found on Google news archives. They are both creditied to the Associated Press Wire Service, but were taken from slightly different angles. Both are approximately 180 degrees rotated from the more well-known shot pictured below.
"After the third period I told the fellows, 'look, let's not do too much thinking. We've lived and died playing our gung ho hockey all along.' We went out there to attack. If we died by it, we died by it.", coach Harry Sinden summed up his advice for his Bruins as they entered overtime. 

Orr himself admitted he took a gamble on the winner when he tried to beat Blues' Larry Keenan to a loose puck inside the St.Louis end. "I guess it was. (a gamble) I get caught like that sometimes but at other times it works. This time it worked." Derek Sanderson decribed the play in fairly simplistic terms, "It came in from the left point. I fed Bobby from the back of the net and all he had to do was flip the puck over Noel Picard's stick."

Thursday, May 5, 2016

1966 Western Hockey League Playoff Program

Fifty years ago exactly, the Western Hockey League championship was being decided between the Victoria Maple Leafs and the Portland Buckaroos. Featured here is a game program issued in Portland for Game Two of the series on May 2, 1966. Lineups are below.

Both teams had won hard-fought, seven game series to advance to the final. Portland came back from down three games to two to beat Vancouver in games six and seven back in Portland by scores of 4-2 and 7-3. They were led by regular season scoring leader and runner-up, Cliff Schmautz and Art Jones. They notched 10 and 12 points repectively in the seven game set. Vancouver defenceman Larry Cahan erupted for a record 16 points in a losing effort. Cahan was a veteran of almost 400 NHL games at this point and had produced 48 points in the just-completed season. He would play four additional NHL years once the league expanded with Oakland and Los Angeles.

Victoria bested San Francisco in the semi-finals in similar fashion to Portland. Down three games to two they won the last two at home by scores of 5-4 and 6-1. The Leafs were topped by Milan Marcetta with 13 points and Bob Barlow with 11. Game one of the final series played on April 30 in Victoria, was won by the Maple Leafs in double overtime 6-5 on a goal by Claude Labrosse, assisted by goalie John Henderson.

In this second game of the series, Portland exacted revenge on their home ice. Led by the newly formed forward line of Bill Saunders, Len Ronson and Tom McVie the Buckaroos blasted the Leafs 6-2. The trio combined for 11 points, with Ronson potting a pair of goals and the others one each. Victoria's Andy Hebenton scored both of the Leafs goals. Hebenton had played nine full NHL seasons, never missing a game for 630 consecutive matches which was the record at the time. He would continue on to play 1,054 straight professional games including the Western League. The streak was only interupted in the 67/68 campaign when Hebenton attended his father's funeral. He would play 440 additional consecutive games before retiring in 1974. In all, Hebenton played an amazing 1,562 of 1,564 games over 22 full seasons.
In the program there's the great ad pictured above from Nordstrom's. Looks like Buckaroo, Larry Leach scored himself a nice pair of Nunn-Bush shoes as player of the month. Sweet. Oh, and just for good measure, here's a bio on Portland defenceman Doug Messier. His son played a bit in the NHL.
In the end, the two teams would alternate victories each game of the final. In Game seven back in Portland, Victoria embarrassed the Buckaroos by a score of 5-1 to take the Patrick Cup.

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