April 25, 2015

Gizzy Hart

Gizzy Hart was a hockey star in the 1920s and 1930s.

Though Wilfred Harold Hart was born in Brandon, Manitoba in 1901, the Hart family moved to Weyburn, Saskatchewan in 1914. He rose to prominence as a hockey presence in Weyburn, as well as an excellent baseball player and track star.

But he was at his best on the ice. He starred for the Weyburn Wanderers junior and senior hockey teams, challenging for the Allan Cup in 1923.

After his strong showing in 1923 Hart jumped to Vancouver Island out west in British Columbia to turn pro with the Victoria Cougars of the PCHA/WCHL. He had a particularly strong year, scoring 15 goals - the second most on the team behind only Hall of Famer Frank Fredrickson. He was named to the PCHA All Star team.

Hart's production levelled off the following two years, scoring 8 goals and 6 goals, respectively. But the Cougars team was as strong as any hockey team in the country. The Cougars won the Stanley Cup in 1925, the last non-NHL team to do so. Gizzy Hart even scored the Stanley Cup winning goal! In 1926 the Cougars returned to defend their championship but ultimately lost in the final to the Montreal Maroons.

Major league hockey out west collapsed in 1926 and the NHL secured the playing services of the best of the west. The entire Victoria Cougars team was purchased by hockey interests in Detroit. The team was moved to the NHL as an expansion franchise, and eventually would be renamed the Red Wings. Hart moved, too, and was given sweater number 13. Records are murky, but Hart may have become the first player in NHL history to wear number 13.

By the time the short and stocky Hart got to the NHL he was not putting up fantastic numbers any longer. After playing two scoreless games with the Detroit Cougars in 1926-27, Hart's contract was sold to the Montreal Canadiens. Over the next two seasons Gizzy contributed six goals and 11 points over 84 games.

The fantastic skater was perhaps better known to Montrealers for his intermission entertainment than his in game play. Players used to kill time during the break with timed puck carrying sprints, with Gizzy winning his fair share of competitions.

In 1928-29 the Montreal Canadiens shuttled him off to the Providence Reds of the CAHL where he played for another six seasons. Hart was a prolific scorer at this level, especially when teaming together with linemate Hago Harrington. They finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in CAHL scoring in 1931-32, trailing only Lloyd Klein of Boston.

Hart did get called back up for an 18 game trial with the Habs in 1932-33. He played sparingly, picking up only two assists.

Hart retired as a pro in 1934 and returned to Weyburn to coach many teams over the years. He would live in Weyburn the rest of his life.

Gizzy Hart passed away in 1964 at the age of 63.

Red Heron

Toronto's Robert "Red" Heron was a goal scoring sensation in junior hockey in the 1930s. That was never more true than in 1936. Heron scored an astonishing 18 goals and 26 points in just 12 games as he led the West Toronto Nationals to the Memorial Cup championship. The slim and rangy center scored 4 goals in a 7-2 victory in the championship game.

Heron would play two more seasons of amateur senior hockey before turning pro with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1939. Over the next two seasons he apprentice on the Leafs' depth lines, centering checking units with Gus Marker and Pete Langelle as his wingers. Though he was described as dynamic player he never really got untracked offensively, however.

Perhaps a lot of that had to do with a lack of opportunity. Late in 1939-40 season Heron was moved to Pep Kelly's wing with the great Sweeney Schriner on the opposite side. Playing with more offensively talented players Heron showed what he could do, exploding for a four goal game in a 8-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

But such top line opportunities were rare for Heron, for whatever reason. In 1941-42 Heron started the season by tearing it up in the minor leagues with the Pittsburgh Hornets. He scored 20 goals and 36 points in just 23 games, including an AHL record six goals scored in one game! Three of his goals came in a 75 second span as the Hornets humiliated the visiting New Haven Eagles.

That type of pace gets you noticed, especially as NHL teams were losing talent to World War II efforts. The New York Americans traded Lorne Carr to the Leafs for Heron and Marker, but neither got untracked in New York, either. Heron scored just one assist in 11 games.

The Amerks moved Heron to Montreal before the end of the season, but his scoring woes continued. He picked up one goal and one assist in 12 more games with the Habs. In a nice piece of symmetry Heron's last NHL goal came against Toronto.

Montreal turned out to be Red Heron's last NHL stop. He, too, was called upon for military service the next season, though he was stationed in Toronto mostly. He was able to continue playing hockey at the senior level, finding his goal scoring touch once again.

After his military commitments ended Heron never did return to the pro game. He remained in Toronto and played senior hockey until the end of the decade.

April 24, 2015

Yvan Joly

Yvan Joly was an absolute speedster and goal scorer in junior hockey. Playing on what may have been the smallest and fastest line in all of the OHL, Joly played on a line with Jim Fox with the Ottawa 67s in the late 1970s. He was truly one of the more sensational players in the 67's long and fabled history.

The 5'8" right winger had a season to remember in 1979-80. He led the OHL with an amazing 66 goals in 67 games, adding 93 assists for 159 points! He would have had even more but he was added to Canada's World Junior Championships team, scoring three more goals in five games. He then concluded his season with his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs, appearing in a game against Minnesota.

It was a game he'll never forget. And it could have been two, but his flight to Montreal was late so Montreal opted to scratch him for the game they originally wanted him to debut in.

"Get some sleep, they said," remembered Joly. "How was I supposed to sleep? I was up at 4am so I wouldn't miss the plane. Ever since I was a little kid I've been waiting for this. I can't believe it's happened. My legs are still shaking."

Joly never figured on the scoresheet in that first NHL game. He probably figured he would get a number of chances to do so in the future, but in hockey, as in life, you should never expect such opportunities to just be given to you.

Including that lone playoff game, Yvan Joly would play only three career games. "The French Canadian fireplug" from Hawkesbury would get into one more NHL game in each of the 1980-81 and 1982-83 season, but otherwise spent the better part of three seasons apprenticing with the Habs farm team in Nova Scotia. He never did register on a NHL scoresheet.

Montreal tried trading Joly to Hartford but for unknown reasons the deal could never be arranged. Montreal and Joly seemed to have a rocky relationship. The Habs had trouble signing Joly out of junior, and Joly expressed that he felt he had not been given a proper chance in Montreal. Montreal opted to release Joly from his contract in 1983. He would sign as an AHL free agent in Maine after starting the year in Italy.

Joly retired for the 1984-85 season. He tried an AHL comeback in 1985-86 with Indianapolis but after 17 games he hung up his skates for good.

The love of hockey was still strong with Joly despite his setbacks. He stepped behind the bench, finding a lot of success at the junior level.

Lorne Davis

Despite a long playing career it seems Lorne Davis gained more fame in the hockey world as an amateur scout.

After graduating from junior hockey with his hometown Regina Pats, Davis embarked on 12 year professional career. He travelled all through western Canada, playing in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg as a pro. He road the minor league buses for Hershey, Buffalo, Providence and Muskegon. All told he survived about 700 minor league games - not bad for a player who turned down the chance to play minor league baseball, too.

Here and there Davis was rewarded with NHL try-outs that totalled 95 career games.

After a 3 game look with the Montreal Canadiens in 1951-52 (scoring 1 goal and 1 assist), Davis got a good look with the Habs as a call up in the 1953 playoffs. Despite not playing in any regular season games that season, Davis appeared in seven post-season contests, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist. He got his name on the Stanley Cup that year, as the Habs defeated the Boston Bruins four games to one.

Davis strong spring resulted in an extended look in the 1953-54 season. He played 37 games, scoring 6 goals and 10 points. He also chipped in 2 more goals in 11 Stanley Cup post-season games. Ultimately Montreal would come up just short, losing the Stanley Cup in overtime in game seven versus the Detroit Red Wings.

Davis was moved to Chicago for the next season, but after only 8 games he was moved to Detroit. He went 22 scoreless games with the Wings before being demoted to the minor leagues for the balance of the season. Detroit went on to win another Stanley Cup, but Davis did not play and was not included in the team engraving.

The Boston Bruins acquired Davis in the shocking Terry Sawchuk trade. Though he was ultimately a throw in in the deal, the Bruins hoped Davis could get his NHL career back on track. They gave him a 15 game look in 1955-56, but when Davis contributed only one assist the Bruins sent him back to the farm. He did not get another look for another four years.

All told Lorne Davis scored 8 goals and 20 points in 95 career NHL games and another 3 goals and 4 points in 18 playoff games.

After he retired as a pro he continued to play senior hockey for another five seasons, mostly in Regina. He also participated in the 1966 World Championships.

When Davis finally hung up his blades and became a scout for the St. Louis Blues, Houston Aeros (WHA) and New York Rangers

In the late 1970s Davis decided to return to Regina and step behind the bench of his Alma mater,  the junior Pats. He also was one of three co-coaches (with Clare Drake and Tom Watt) for Canada at the 1980 Olympics. The legendary Father David Bauer insisted upon Davis' inclusion.

Soon after the Olympics Davis joined the Edmonton Oilers as a bird dog, finding such greats as Grant Fuhr, Ryan Smyth and Kelly Buchberger. Davis earned five more Stanley Cup rings while working with the Oilers.

Davis continued scouting for the Oilers right up until his death in 2007. The 77 year old suffered a cardiac event. He was also battling cancer.

Wildor Larochelle

From 1925 through 1934 Wildor Larochelle was a mainstay with the Montreal Canadiens. He played in 11 straight seasons - a real streak of longevity in any era but especially back then.

Described as "tough and strong despite his 5 foot 8 inch frame," Larochelle was a productive right winger during his long career. Including two seasons with Chicago late in his career, Larochelle played in 474 games, scoring 92 goals and 166 points.

The Sorel, Quebec native cracked the Montreal Canadiens’ lineup for the first time in 1925-26. He was only 19 years old when he first put on the Habs jersey.

Like many young players Wildor had to bide his time for the first few seasons, but by 1929 he emerged as a confident and physical presence who could be counted on to score, as well. Playing along side Pit Lepine and Georges Mantha, Larochelle helped Montreal win the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1930.

Larochelle and the Canadiens repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 1931, with Larochelle scoring a key overtime goal to close the oppening series against Boston.

"The entire Canadiens team jumped to the ice and almost smothered Larochelle," wrote L.S.B Shapiro in the morning paper. "After a few seconds of wild struggling he was lifted to the shoulders of his exhausted teammates and carried to the dressing room . . . It was a stirring finish and took place to the roar of a capacity crowd."

That goal advanced Montreal to the final against Chicago. They would narrowly defeat the Hawks three games to two.

"It was called the "One million dollar goal," recalled Larochelle's nephew Yvan Joly, referring to the hefty pay raise Larochelle got that summer - from $2000 a year to $3500. "He often had me the story of that goal. He also told me of the time he got broken collarbone and nose when he was dumped by Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins. These are memories that remain to me always like when players of the caliber of Howie Morenz and Newsy Lalonde came home in Sorel."

Larochelle, now flanking Lepine and Armand Mondou, scored a career-high 18 goals in 1931-32 and finished 1933-34 with 27 points, second best on the team only to the legendary  Howie Morenz.

Thirteen games into the 1935-36 campaign, Larochelle was sold off to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he wound down his NHL career. He opted to retired in 1937 rather than report to the minor leagues.

Wildor Larochelle worked in the hotel business with his father until 1951. He then contracted tuberculosis and was admitted to a convalescent home for the last 13 years of his life. He died in 1964, though it was cancer that claimed him. He was just 58 years old.

Though he left us nearly half a century earlier, the city of Sorel still honoured him and other local hockey heroes in 2013.

"He was a very affable man with a big heart who loved children, especially his nieces and nephews. He had no children, so he spoiled us in droves. It was he who kept us when my parents left. And it was a hockey player!" recalled his nephew Yvan Joly.

Art Giroux

Art Giroux may have only played in 54 NHL contests, scoring six goals and four assists. But he, too, is a legend of hockey.

Especially in Rhode Island.

Giroux was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba but first became prominent in Saskatoon with the Crescents. But it was in sunny California, of all places, that Giroux became noticed by the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs bought Giroux's contract from the San Francisco Tigers following an outstanding 34 goal season (in 46 games). They also signed Art's brother, George, who played for the champion Oakland Sheiks.

The Giroux's would report to the Habs farm affiliate in Rhode Island - the Providence Reds. It was there that Art, in particular, became a legend, winning four championship titles.

His success begged for a shot at the big leagues. Art Giroux played one full season with the Montreal Canadiens. He scored five goals and seven points in 40 games, but time has largely forgotten Art Giroux. He may be only remembered nowadays as part of the answer to a trivia question as he was one of the few Montreal players to wear number nine before Rocket Richard arrived and made the number famous.

Giroux would later briefly play with Boston and Detroit, but would return to the minor leagues for the balance of his long career. He was happy to be able to return to Providence for the bulk of his career.

Art Giroux passed away on June 5th, 1982 in Calgary, Alberta.

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