January 11, 2016

Tommy "Cowboy" Anderson

Imagine a team finishing dead last with just 16 wins in a 48 game schedule, then folding forever. The odds the Hart Trophy winner as the NHL's most valuable player coming from that team are pretty slim. But that is the exact scenario that played out in 1942 when the NHL awarded the Hart Trophy to Tommy "Cowboy" Anderson of the Brooklyn (formerly New York) Americans. Anderson got nearly twice as many votes as runner up Syl Apps. Lynn Patrick, Bill Thoms and Frank Brimsek also got votes.

Anderson became the first player on a last place team to win the Hart, with Chicago goalie Al Rollins joining him as the only other player to follow suit in 1954. So far they are the only two players to win the Hart Trophy but not be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, though Jose Theodore is likely to join them.

After 8 years playing left wing with the consistently awful Amerks and briefly with the Detroit Red Wings, "Cowboy" was moved to defense for the 1941-42 season. Anderson thrived at his new found position - leading all defensemen in scoring with 12 goals and 29 assists for a career high 41 points! Anderson was also named to the First All Star Team. There was no trophy yet established for the league's best defenseman, but Anderson likely would have won that, too.

Unfortunately for Anderson his new found fame was short lived. The Americans folded due to financial struggles and his rights were to transferred to Toronto. However Anderson would never play in the NHL again. He would serve in the Second World War for 3 years, based near his home in Calgary. He continued to play hockey when time allowed, even challenging for the 1943 Allan Cup.

Upon his discharge he found the NHL was not interested in a 35 year old player. He continued to play in the minor leagues, first a season with the AHL Providence Reds and then a final season with PCHL's Hollywood Wolves where the Leafs asked him to mentor a young prospect they had high hopes for - Bill Barilko.

Babe Gresko, another rookie defenseman on that Hollywood team, recalled the veteran Anderson in Kevin Shea's book Barilko: Without A Trace:

"Tommy Anderson worked with Bill a lot," he said, pointing out skating a positioning were key focuses. "In fact, Tommy wasn't a great skater himself. He was a choppy skater and he had bowlegs, but he was a very good hockey player."

Shea also points his readers to an old press clipping that stated, "Like the old bird do, Tommy Anderson knows the shortest distance between two points, gets there on schedule and usually breaks up some well-oiled play the opposition wants to put through."

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Tom scored 62 goals and 127 assists for 189 points in 219 NHL contests. He added 2 goals and 9 points in 16 playoff affairs.

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