January 16, 2013

Ottawa's Frank Finnigan's Heart Was With Toronto

Twitter's @NHLhistorygirl sent me the following Ottawa Citizen article from 1988. It was written by none other than the great Roy MacGregor. I know I'm not supposed to reproduce this article like this, but it is so good that I simply must share it. Enjoy!


If it were not for the hair _ snow white and thick as ermine _ you'd swear he could still play in the National Hockey League.

Fearless Frank Finnigan has his right leg over his head, pumping it back and forth in a demonstration of how the doctors once scattered a blood clot that threatened to bench him forever.

The Shawville Express bounces to his feet, one foot shooting out in a demonstration of the way Eddie Shore took the skates out from under Ace Bailey on a December night 55 years ago and all but killed him.

For three hours Fearless Frank laughs and winks and jumps about his daughter Joan's Aylmer living room like a man a third his age _ whatever his age really is.

The record books say 85 this summer. His son, Frank Jr., says 87 this summer.

No matter, the Shawville Express has lived and died already a half dozen times over the past 10 days.

But such is the fate of the oldest, perhaps the last, Toronto Maple Leaf fan on earth.

Fearless Frank Finnigan played right wing for the Leafs for four seasons during the 1930s, played for the Leafs when they won the 1932 Stanley Cup, and is still True Blue loyal more than a half-century later.

That's partly through default, since all the other teams he loved to play for _ the Stanley Cup-winning Ottawa Senators among them _ are no longer around at all, let alone barely kicking like the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It will soon be 75 years since a 13-year-old Frank Finnigan picked up $10 in Quyon for a game against the cross-river Ontario rival, Fitzroy Harbour.

From up the Ottawa River it was down to the city for a professional career that included, even, the University of Ottawa hockey team, where the Grade 9 graduate was paid to play and told to let on he was studying for what he likes to call ''my degree in business administration.''

''They rolled a piece of paper into a typewriter, typed out a sentence and I sat down and copied it, one finger, and that was that.''

But hardly that for hockey: on to senior, on to the Senators, on to Toronto, St. Louis, a second stint in Toronto. An entire life spent in hockey.

And from Frank Finnigan's point of view _ as intense from the easy chair as he ever was on the bench _ an awful lot has changed in the meantime.

Like strategy. All this talk about set plays and Jacques Demers outcoaching John Brophy and matching lineups _ good God!

''You had a coach or a manager,'' Fearless Frank Finnigan says of the days when he first came to Ottawa to play with Nighbour and Clancy and Denneny and the other greats, ''but what did he know? You didn't change the lines too often, I'll tell you.''

Like line changes, for that matter. Sometimes Fearless Frank Finnigan will barely cough once in front of his television set before a player he's trying to figure out is booting it for the bench.

''Don't you think a fellow has got to be on for three or four minutes to find himself?'' he asks. ''You can be on for two minutes and not even touch the puck.''

Like hitting to hurt. ''I hit with my rear. Maybe take the wind out of a fellow, that was it. I never used my stick on anybody, never carried my stick high.''

That doesn't mean Frank Finnigan stayed out of the way. You don't pick up a nickname like ''Fearless'' for nothing. And there are still some around who remember how Frank Finnigan decked Sprague Cleghorn with a single punch _ ''a lucky punch'' _ after the vicious Cleghorn had cut several of his teammates.

No, he means the stickwork and the interference. "The hooking is terrible,'' in Frank Finnigan's opinion.

''I think they'll have to make the rinks bigger. Maybe another 20 feet longer and 20 feet wider, something that will give the average-sized fellows _ the good hockey players, I mean _ a chance against all their clutching and everything.

''You know, if you had all the games the same as the Russians play, you'd have a pretty good league. They play the way it should be played.''

But why then, would a man with such a background, such knowledge and such concerns for the game of hockey be found night after night these past two weeks living and dying with the Toronto Maple Leafs?

''I can't do anything about it,'' he laughs, tapping his chest. ''That's where my heart is.''

-- Joe's note: Finnigan passed away on Christmas Day, 1991. He had spent the last couple years of his life helping out a consortium of businessmen trying to bring back the Ottawa Senators to the NHL. They were successful but the team did not start playing until the 1992-93 season, several months after Finnigan's death.

The new Ottawa Senators retired Finnigan's #8 jersey 58 years after he last wore it. That marks the longest wait any hockey player has ever had to wait for his jersey to be retired!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a hockey puck with a huge sticker on it. It says, "FINNIGAN 1934 Frank Finnigan scored last goal in Ottawa for the original Senators, March 15, 1934.
I'd like to know the value, as this is almost 70 years since F. Finnigan, the Shawville Express scored the last goal for the original Senators.
A.L. Smeathers alsmeathers@rogers.com