Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Toronto Blue Shirts, 100 year anniversary


As the Toronto Maple Leafs begin training camp in this their Centennial season, its interesting to look at what was happening at camp 100 years ago. 
Now, in reality, 100 years ago precedes the actual history of the Maple Leafs and the National Hockey League itself. In the autumn of 1916, teams of the National Hockey Association were preparing for the upcoming season. However, they did not begin gathering for camp until December as opposed to the current day, mid-September. The NHA would of course fold and re-form as the NHL the following year in a successful effort to oust Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone. The plan succeeded and the new Toronto NHL squad (alternately referred to in the press as the "Arenas" or "Torontos") was made up of Livingstone's former Blue Shirts players. The Leafs Centennial season is a celebration from this point (1917) onward, but the history of the Maple Leafs franchise realistically goes back further than 100 years. 
The Toronto World newspaper reported on the opening  of camp in the Dec. 2, 1916 issue;
"The Toronto N.H.A. team had its first real workout at the Arena yesterday, when six players appeared on the ice in uniform and had a good practice. Ken Randall and Alf Skinner, who have settled their differences with the club, were the new-comers. The team lined up with Claude Willson in goal, Andy Kyle and Ken Randall on the defence, Reg. Noble at left, Corbett Denneny in centre and Alf Skinner at right. Harry Cameron is expected to report on Monday. Jack Marks of Quebec practiced with the Torontos."

The "Arena" was the old Mutual Street Arena, at that time the largest rink in Toronto. It would house the Toronto NHL franchise until 1931 when The Gardens was erected. Randall, Skinner, Noble, Denneny and Cameron were the core of the previous season's Blue Shirts and would go on to lead Toronto to the Stanley Cup in the inaugural NHL campaign in 1917/18. Goaltender for the training session on this day, Claude Wilson, was merely filling in as a practice goaltender. Wilson had played two games for the Toronto Blueshirts in 1914.
On Dec. 6, 1916, The World discussed the situation of Toronto retaining previous season's top scorer Duke Keats from the 228th Battalion team;
"Captain Reade, manager of the 228th battalion team of the N.H.A. announces that Sgt. Gordon Keats of that battalion would play with the Toronto team this season. This is the end of the trouble over the Keats controversy. The 228th felt that they were strongly enough fortified with forward players, and that allowing Keats to play with the Torontos would make the two local teams better balanced. Torontos had eight out to practice following the workout of the 228th. Eddie Longfellow, the well-known lacrosse player, was the newcomer to the squad. It was his first appearance on skates this season. Wilson, Kyle, Randall, Cameron, Corbett Denneny, Skinner and Noble were the others out."
The 228th Army Battalion of Northern Fusiliers was added to the NHA for 1916 and they proceeded recruiting players from existing NHA squads. Toronto's star player of the previous year, Gordon "Duke" Keats was recruited but Livingstone complained to NHA president, Frank Robinson. He decided that the Army should make the final call, and they allowed Keats to stay with Toronto for the 1916/17 season. However, in the end, the Army was not pleased with Keats playing against the 228th in league matches and they often found Keats military duties to conduct on days the two teams would face-off. On several occasions when the 228th played the Blue Shirts, Keats was unavailable for action, often times on "latrine duty" for the military.

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