August 01, 2014

1943-44: The Rocket Arrives

Early in the 1943-44 season Montreal coach Dick Irvin put a feisty young second year winger named Maurice Richard (replacing Joe Benoit) on a line with veteran stars Toe Blake and Elmer Lach. The legendary Punch Line was born. Richard, who missed most of his rookie season with injuries, exploded for 32 goals, while Blake and Lach added 26 and 24 goals, respectively. The Punch Line paces Montreal to an incredible 38-5-7 regular season and the Stanley Cup!

The Three Stars:

Center Ice Opens Up The Game: This particular season is considered to be the beginning of hockey's modern era, thanks to some rule changes. The league allows defending teams to pass across their blue lines and adds a center red line to which they can pass the puck from within their end. The league's goals-per-game average jumps by a full goal.

Blue Line Babe: Toronto's rollicking defenseman Babe Pratt  sets a record for defensemen scoring with 57 points and is awarded the Hart Trophy. Interestingly, the playboy Pratt roomed not with a fellow teammate but head coach Hap Day. Keeping a short leash on the Babe seemed to have paid off well.

Low Rangers: The New York Rangers organization lost 28 men to the armed forces during World War II. With only six players returning from the previous season, the Rangers get off to a 0-14-1 star and finishing 6-39-5. One of their losses set an embarrassing record as Detroit beat them 15-0 on January 23rd, 1944. Coach Frank Boucher, the 43 year old former star player, even returned to the ice, but to no avail. He does score 14 points in 15 games, however.

Season Highlights:
  • On February 23rd, 1944 Chicago and Toronto skate through the only scoreless and penalty free game in NHL history.
  • On October 30th, 1943 Toronto's Gus Bodnar sets a NHL record by scoring just 15 seconds into his first NHL game.
  • On February 3rd, 1944 Syd Howe scores 6 goals in a 12-2 Detroit Win over the Rangers.
  • One of the big reasons for Montreal's turnaround is goaltender Bill Durnan. The 27 year old had long been reluctant to turn pro, but he did and won the Vezina trophy in his first year. He would win six Vezinas in the next 7 seasons.
  • Boston's Herb Cain captures the NHL scoring title with 82 points - a 46 point improvement over his previous best season.
Herb Cain

July 31, 2014

1942-43: The Original Six Era Begins

The Three Stars

The Original Six Era Begins: After years of sharing Madison Square Gardens with the New York Rangers the Brooklyn Americans are forced out of the arena. Unable to find a suitable replacement, the Amerks fold, leaving the NHL with just six teams. The Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks get dubbed as the Original Six. The six team league - remembered by many as hockey's golden era - lasts until expansion in 1967-68.

New President: Frank Calder, 65, has served as NHL president since it's inception in 1917. But he suffers a heart attack on January 25th, 1943 and dies 10 days later. Former Brooklyn Americans manager Red Dutton is named as the new president.

World War II Continues To Play Havoc With NHL: 80 NHLers are serving in the armed forces. NHL roster sizes are reduced to just 14 players per team, and if necessary teams are allowed to play with less than 12 players.  10 minute overtime periods are scrapped due to wartime travel restrictions. There are even concerns the NHL was considering cancelling the entire season but the US and Canadian governments want the season to go ahead "in the interest of public morale."

Season Highlights:
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are powered by an all brother line as Max, Doug and Reg Bentley. While Max and Doug are future Hall of Famers, Reg's career lasts just 11 games. Doug leads the NHL in scoring with 73 points, while Max is third with 70.
  • Montreal's unproven youngster Maurice Richard badly breaks his leg. Speculation has Montreal giving up on the kid who would soon be known simply as "the Rocket."
  • On January 14th, 1943, Montreal's rookie Alex Smart scores 4 points (including 3 goals) in his first NHL game, setting a record.
  • The Detroit Red Wings, led by goaltender Johnny Mowers, sweep the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup.

July 30, 2014

1941-42: Hockey Stars Join War Efforts

World War II is in full swing. Canada has been involved in the allied effort since the earliest days, but it's hockey players begin answering the call in earnest in 1941. Toronto GM Conn Smyth, a decorated war hero, returns to military life and urges all his players to do likewise. Many do. Many other players around the mostly Canadian league follow suit, including the Boston Bruins entire "Kraut Line" of Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.

On December 7th, 1941, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, drawing America into the war. On December 9th, 1941 the Boston Gardens delays the start of the Bruins vs Blackhawks game so the 10,000 fans could listen to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's declaration of war.

The war claims the lives of millions of people. The hockey world was not untouched, with Joe Turner, Red Tilson and Red Garrett among them.

By the way, did you know there was some Canadian speculation that passport issues would force the NHL's American based teams to play all of their games in Canada? It never came to that, of course. But rumour had it Chicago would play out of Montreal, Boston in Hamilton, the NY Rangers in Toronto and the NY Americans in Ottawa.

But things did get bad enough that errant pucks shot into the crowd at games had to be returned because of a rubber shortage thanks to World War II

The Three Stars:

Leafs Amazing Comeback: It's a comeback for the ages. Toronto is down 3-0 to Detroit in the Stanley Cup final. Maple Leafs' coach Hap Day benches veterans Gordie Drillon and Bucko McDonald in favor of youngsters Don Metz and Ernie Dickens. At the time no team had ever rallied from such a deficit, but the Leafs were undeterred. The new line of Syl Apps between Metz brothers Nick and Don get the game winning goal in three straight games to tie the series. A record crowd over 16128 people cram into the Maple Leaf Gardens for game 7 to see Toronto win 3-1 and improbably win the Stanley Cup!

Brooklyn's Cowboy: The New York Americans change their name to the Brooklyn Americans, even though they continue to play in Manhattan's Madison Square Gardens. It would prove to be their final season in the NHL as they suspended operations. The only bright spot of their final season: defenseman Cowboy Tom Anderson wins the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP. Oddly, with the franchise's folding the 31 year old Anderson could not find another team to play for. He finished his career in the minor leagues.

Cowboy Tom Anderson

Offense Up: Frank "Mr. Zero" Brimsek saw his goals against average soar in 1941-42, but his 2.45 GAA was still the lowest in the NHL that season. With so many of hockey's best players overseas in the war, the NHL saw more goals being scored around the league. Brimsek was able to post only three "zeroes" but he was still good enough to win his second Vezina Trophy.

July 29, 2014

Gordie Howe Appears On TV Game Show "What's My Line?"

Mark and Marty Howe make an appearance towards the end of the clip.

1940-41: Bruins Streak To Stanley Cup

The Three Stars:

Bruins Win The Stanley Cup: The unstoppable Boston Bruins win their third Stanley Cup. They enjoyed a NHL record 23 game unbeaten streak (15-0-8) spanning 2 months. The Bruins also go 15 games at home without losing. The Bruins would not win another Stanley Cup until 1970 - 29 years later.

Irvin Leaves Toronto, Goes To Montreal: Toronto's coach Dick Irvin, who has guided the Leafs to 8 Stanley Cup finals in the last decade, re-signs from Toronto and joins the arch rival Montreal Canadiens. Irvin's first season in Montreal was nothing to get excited about - 16-26-6 record - but he would turn the Canadiens into a powerhouse. He would reach the Stanley Cup final 8 more times in Montreal, winning three championships.

LoPresti's Record Night: The Boston Bruins use Chicago Black Hawks goalie Sam LoPresti as their shooting gallery in a 3-2 win on March 4th, 1941. LoPresti faces 83 shots! LoPresti's record performance almost got Chicago at least a point. The Bruins Eddie Wiseman only scored the game winning goal with 2:31 left in the game.

Chicago Goalie Sam LoPresti

Season Highlights:
  • When Chicago downed Boston 3-2 in overtime on December 8th, 1940 it marked the first Bruins overtime loss in 6 years. They went an astonishing 13-0-36 in that span.
  • Boston's Bill Cowley shatters the record for most assists in a season. His 45 helpers are 8 more than Joe Primeau's previous best. Cowley wins the scoring championship (as well as the Hart Trophy as MVP) with 62 points. For the first time in history the scoring champion has more assists than any other player has total points. Bryan Hextall of the New York Rangers is runner up with 44 points.
  • A new rule is introduced: resurfacing the ice between periods is made mandatory.

July 28, 2014

1939-40: Shore Leave

The Three Stars:

Eddie Shore Traded: Four time Hart Trophy winner Eddie Shore and Bruins GM Art Ross are at odds when Shore purchases the Springfield Indians of the International-American League and asks to play for that club. Shore and Ross agree that he will play all of Boston's home and playoff games, but Ross decides, instead, to trade Shore to the New York Americans January 25th for Eddie Wiseman and $5000. The Amerks agree to allow Shore to play for both teams, but Shore leaves the NHL at the end of the season.

All Star Game sweater from 1939 Babe Siebert Memorial Game

Habs Humiliating Season - The season gets off to a tragic start when Babe Siebert - the legendary player turned new Montreal Canadiens coach - drowns in an August accident before he ever coach a game. Replacement Pit Lepine led the Habs to arguably their worst season ever - finishing last place with just 10 wins.

Leafs, Circus Can't Stop NYR - The New York Rangers, with former star Frank Boucher taking over as coach from Lester Patrick, win the Stanley Cup despite being able to host only 2 games in the final. The famous Ringling Brothers Circus had been booked in the Madison Square Gardens, forcing the Rangers to play their "home games" at Maple Leaf Gardens. Bryan Hextall, Phil Watson, Neil Colville and goalie Dave Kerr lead the way.

Season Highlights:
  • Rise of America - Even though the NHL began welcoming American clubs in the mid 1920s, the game's top stars - with the notable exception of Eddie Shore - tended to play in Canada. This season marked the dramatic end to that. Milt Schmidt of Boston won the scoring title while Ebbie Goodfellow of Detroit won the Hart Trophy. Dave Kerr of the New York Rangers won the Vezina trophy while teammate Kilby MacDonald won the Calder.
  • The New York Rangers win 6-2 over Montreal on February 25th, 1940 is the first ever televised broadcast event of a NHL game. New York station WZXBS aired the game live from Madison Square Gardens.
  • We mentioned Milt Schmidt won the scoring title, with 52 points. Linemates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, each with 43 points, were next, making for the first time linemates finished 1-2-3 in scoring in NHL history.
  • That trio had been affectionately known as The Kraut Line, but political correctness brought on by the Second World War saw the trio re-dubbed The Kitchener Kids.
  • The New York Americans did not only trade for Eddie Shore, but they traded their popular sniper Sweeney Schriner in exchanged for Busher Jackson, Buzz Boll, Murray Armstrong, Doc Romnes and Jimmy Fowler.
The Kraut Line

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