January 24, 2011

Babe Siebert Memorial Game

The NHL's last All Star memorial game was held at the Montreal Forum on October 29th, 1939 in honour of Babe Siebert.

Albert "Babe" Siebert was a great hockey player, and an even better person.

Siebert was one of those few players who could do it all - excelling both as a power forward and an all star defenseman. You don't see that any longer! He was as strong as an ox, making him nearly impossible to stop. In addition he added very good skating abilities with good straight-ahead speed. He was very responsible defensively and though he never had the scoring exploits of his famous "S" Line teammates, he was an underrated shooter and a skillful playmaker.

Born in Plattsville, Ontario, Jan. 14, 1904, and played his minor hockey in Zurich, Ontario. He played for Kitchener in the OHA in 1922-23 and quickly elevated to the senior level, playing with Niagara Falls. In 1925-26 Siebert made the jump into the National Hockey League with the Montreal Maroons, just in time to taste sweet victory from the Stanley Cup.

Though Siebert was initially utilized as a defenseman, Siebert quickly earned a reputation as an outstanding left winger when he replaced Jimmy Ward on a line with Nels Stewart and newcomer Hooley Smith. The line was quickly dubbed as the S-line, one of the most famous trios in hockey history.

After several strong scoring seasons, the trio was shockingly broken up in 1932 when the cash starved Maroons traded Stewart to Boston and Siebert to the Rangers. Siebert, who was coming off of a career high 21 goals in his last season with the Maroons, spent 1 1/2 seasons in New York before he was traded to Boston.

It was a unique situation in Boston as Siebert's hated rival Eddie Shore was on the team. The two never spoke and it was obvious they didn't like each other. Earlier in their careers they had a bloody fight in which Siebert administered a beating on Shore, who was allegedly held down by another Maroon.

Unable to recapture any magic in Boston, Siebert was mistakenly written off as being in the twilight of his career. The Bruins moved Siebert to Montreal, though this time he was to play with the fabled Canadiens.

The Canadiens realized that Siebert no longer had the speed needed to excel at forward, so they moved him back to the blue line. The move by coach Cecil Hart was sheer genius, as Siebert was reinvented into one of the league's best players again. Some would argue he was never better.

Siebert, who was also named as team captain, played in 3 seasons in Montreal, being named to the first all star team on defense in all three years. He was also named as the league's most valuable player in 1937, a rarity for NHL defensemen. Not bad for a guy who was supposed to have seen his best days gone by.

Babe Siebert died tragically on Aug. 25, 1939, in St. Joseph, Ontario, as the result of a drowning accident. He was trying to retrieve an inflated rubber tube that had drifted out into the middle of the lake. He was supposed to take over as coach of the Canadiens that autumn.

His death left his family in great financial distress. The NHL stepped in and held a memorial game for him, much like they did for Ace Bailey and Howie Morenz. The proceeds of $15,000 went to Siebert's widow and 2 daughters. This game is considered to be, unofficially, the third all-star game in NHL history.

The All Stars defeated the Canadiens 5-2 on this night, thanks to Syl Apps 1 goal and 3 assists. But it was Eddie Shore who stole the show, returning to the ice early in the second intermission to dance a "shag" as an orchestra entertained the waiting hockey fans. Shore, hockey's great villain, won over the Montreal fans who called for an encore.

Sportswriter Elmer Ferguson wrote the following about Siebert the hockey player, and Siebert the man.

"The Babe would become embroiled in fistic battles. Perhaps he would suffer penalties, earn the disfavor of the crowd by his bruising style of play. Perhaps the game would make him seem like a crude and uncouth person, rough and brutal. From the dressing room, the Babe would stride along the promenade until he reached the chair where his fragile bit of an invalid wife sat. Bending down, he would kiss her, then he would gather her up into his great muscular arms, stride out of the rink, and deposit her carefully in a waiting car that would take her home to the kiddies that he adored so much."

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