July 30, 2014

1941-42: Hockey Stars Join War Efforts

World War II is in full swing. Canada has been involved in the allied effort since the earliest days, but it's hockey players begin answering the call in earnest in 1941. Toronto GM Conn Smyth, a decorated war hero, returns to military life and urges all his players to do likewise. Many do. Many other players around the mostly Canadian league follow suit, including the Boston Bruins entire "Kraut Line" of Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.

On December 7th, 1941, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, drawing America into the war. On December 9th, 1941 the Boston Gardens delays the start of the Bruins vs Blackhawks game so the 10,000 fans could listen to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's declaration of war.

The war claims the lives of millions of people. The hockey world was not untouched, with Joe Turner, Red Tilson and Red Garrett among them.

By the way, did you know there was some Canadian speculation that passport issues would force the NHL's American based teams to play all of their games in Canada? It never came to that, of course. But rumour had it Chicago would play out of Montreal, Boston in Hamilton, the NY Rangers in Toronto and the NY Americans in Ottawa.

But things did get bad enough that errant pucks shot into the crowd at games had to be returned because of a rubber shortage thanks to World War II

The Three Stars:

Leafs Amazing Comeback: It's a comeback for the ages. Toronto is down 3-0 to Detroit in the Stanley Cup final. Maple Leafs' coach Hap Day benches veterans Gordie Drillon and Bucko McDonald in favor of youngsters Don Metz and Ernie Dickens. At the time no team had ever rallied from such a deficit, but the Leafs were undeterred. The new line of Syl Apps between Metz brothers Nick and Don get the game winning goal in three straight games to tie the series. A record crowd over 16128 people cram into the Maple Leaf Gardens for game 7 to see Toronto win 3-1 and improbably win the Stanley Cup!

Brooklyn's Cowboy: The New York Americans change their name to the Brooklyn Americans, even though they continue to play in Manhattan's Madison Square Gardens. It would prove to be their final season in the NHL as they suspended operations. The only bright spot of their final season: defenseman Cowboy Tom Anderson wins the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP. Oddly, with the franchise's folding the 31 year old Anderson could not find another team to play for. He finished his career in the minor leagues.

Cowboy Tom Anderson

Offense Up: Frank "Mr. Zero" Brimsek saw his goals against average soar in 1941-42, but his 2.45 GAA was still the lowest in the NHL that season. With so many of hockey's best players overseas in the war, the NHL saw more goals being scored around the league. Brimsek was able to post only three "zeroes" but he was still good enough to win his second Vezina Trophy.

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