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July 14, 2013

Herb Cain

Coaches love a player who practices as hard as he plays. Herb Cain was an enthusiastic and gifted skater who fits the previous description. However his energetic approach almost killed him in one infamous practice in 1939.

Montreal Maroons manager Tommy Gorman believed too many of his veterans were lugging the puck behind the net prior to the heading for the opposition's territory. Before a practice session, Gorman decided to block off the area behind the net by attaching a rope to the goal and extending it to each of the side boards. The players weren't allowed to skate behind their goal before starting a rush.

Herb Cain was the first player on the ice. Unfortunately for Cain, no one told him or his teammates that the obstructive barrier had been erected. In a typical and energetic fashion, Cain stepped on the ice and quickly was in full flight. He eyed a puck which happened to be sitting a few feet behind the rope. Herb was so focused on the puck he failed to notice the rope.

Cain was reportedly flying at about 20 miles per hour when he was clothes-lined by the rope. He quickly became entangled in the rope and with the moment behind him, began whirling upside down like a Ferris Wheel. He would eventually land on his back and was knocked unconscious.

As vicious as this incident was, Cain's injury was not serious.

Fortunately Cain had better times with the Maroons. With line-mates Bob Gracie and Gus Marker, Cain was the shining emerald of "The Green Line." The trio led the English Montrealers to the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1935.

In November of 1939 he was traded to Boston where he would emerge as one of hockey's top players. In 1943-44, while playing on a line with Bill Cowley and Art Jackson, set the NHL record for points in one season with 82. A very popular player with the Bruins fans, Cain's other big moment with the Bruins came in 1945-46 when he became just the 13th player in NHL history to score 200 goals in a career.

His departure from Boston left the bitterest of memories for Cain. Art Ross, the Bruins boss, decided Cain's career in the NHL was over. Though other teams inquired about his services, Ross was determined to bury Cain, a 2nd team all star just two years earlier, in the minor leagues.

Why? Turns out Cain held out for more money one year in Boston. Nowadays players withholding their services for more money is commonplace, but back then it simply was not done, and anyone who tried was punished. Cain was punished by being sent down to AHL Hershey with the condition that Hershey could not sell him to any NHL club.

The banishment was doubly embittering for Cain. In addition to the humiliation of being removed from the NHL, Cain would not be able to qualify for the new NHL pension. Some believe this punishment also kept him out of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He remains the only eligible former NHL scoring champion yet to be inducted into the the Hall.

"The NHL was like a little house league then," Cain told Brian McFarlane in the book The Bruins. "The six owners simply made up their own rules, called each other up and made deals, and settled things among themselves. They players had no clout, no say in anything."

In 1955 he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease, the same cancer that Mario Lemieux would make famous many decades later. Back then there was little hope of his survival, so Cain agreed to become the human guinea pig for a serum that had positive effects in animal testing. Miraculously Cain's health was restored and he lived for another thirty years, gaining employment with a sheet metal company.

Cain, who passed away in 1982, played in 570 NHL games and scored 206 goals and 400 points.

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