July 16, 2013

Dick Irvin, Sr.

Several recent generations of fans are probably quite familiar with the name Dick Irvin, but they are thinking of Dick Irvin, Jr, the fantastic broadcaster on Hockey Night in Canada for many, many years. He, too, made some great contributions to the game.

But right now we want to look at his father, Dick Irvin Sr., who is truly one of the most legendary figures in hockey's storied history.

Many remember him as a long time coach with Chicago and especially with Toronto in the 1930s and with Montreal from 1940 to 1954. He won 692 career games and four Stanley Cups and is generally regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time. He actually made it to the Stanley Cup finals as a coach an unbelievable 16 times. That's right - his all time record in the Stanley Cup is a sorry 4 wins and a record 12 losses!

But not everyone realizes Dick Irvin Sr. was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for his playing ability, not for his coaching success. Irvin, you see, was one of hockey's true greats, long before radio and television brought the game to the masses. Not a lot of people can say they saw Dick Irvin play, but those who did will attest to his brilliance.

Irvin was one of the game's top players in the 1920s. Noted for his stick handling ability and accurate shot, many sources refer to Irvin having a heavy slapshot. Of course this was years before Bobby Hull or Boom Boom Geoffrion were around to popularize the tactic, making Irvin one of the earliest practitioners of the slapper.

Born in Hamilton but raised in Winnipeg, Irvin was a goal scoring star in both junior and senior amateur hockey. He played both his junior and senior amateur hockey in Winnipeg, winning the Allan Cup in 1915 with the Winnipeg Monarchs.

He was such a prominent senior star that he scorred 207 goals in 70 senior league games in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. One night he scored all nine (!) of the Monarchs goals in a 9-1 victory over Toronto. That landed him a featured place in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" national newspaper column.

In 1916 Irvin turned professional, signing with the Portland Rosebuds of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and was an instant hit. He may never have left Portland had he had his way at that point. But league finances and World War I ruined any such idea.

Irvin didn't play any hockey in the 1918-19 season because he had a brief stint serving in the Canadian Army. When he returned from service he returned to amateur status until 1921 when he joined the Regina Capitals of the Western Canada Hockey League.

The PCHA/WCHL was Western Canada's top hockey circuit, and pretty much on par with the Eastern based NHL in the 1920s. But ultimately the NHL won out on the bidding war for players and in the second half of the 1920s the PCHA/WCHL dwindled away. Many of the star players headed east to play in the NHL, including Irvin.

In 1926, at age 34, Dick Irvin signed by the expansion Chicago Black Hawks. He was made the Black Hawks' first captain and finished second in league in scoring (behind Bill Cook) and 4th in MVP voting. The old man could still score goals!

Until December 28, 1927, that is. On that night Irvin fractured his skull in a collision with Red Dutton of the Montreal Maroons, directly leading to his retirement after the 1928-29 season. Irvin played three seasons in Chicago, but was never the same player after the scary injury.

His NHL totals are paltry at 29 goals and 52 points in 94 games. Remember, he joined the NHL at age 34. The bulk of his brilliant career was played out west, where he tallied 124 goals in 155 games. He was a four time all star.

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