July 18, 2016

Melville Vail

Melville Vail - known in hockey circles as "Sparky" Vail - may have come across as a polite, unassuming fellow off the ice.

But on the ice he had his moments where his temper got the best of him.

Take one night in 1935. While playing with the Cleveland Falcons in the minor leagues, he and Earl Roche of Detroit were each fined a hefty $15 for brawling in the penalty box!

The fight actually cost Vail a lot more than that. He aggravated a shoulder injury suffered earlier in the season and missed more than a few games as a result.

This incident came pretty late in Vail's career. He was in his ninth of ten seasons as a professional hockey player. He mostly bumped around the minor leagues, but did get into a total of 50 games in the National Hockey League, too.

The defenseman played parts of two seasons with the New York Rangers. In 1928-29 he debuted and played 18 games. He even scored three goals and participated in six playoff games.

In 1929-30 he returned for the majority of the season, skating in 32 contests, plus four more in the playoffs. This time around he added one more goal and his only career assist. He suffered a concussion in a scary hit with Sailor Herberts, though it was Herberts who ended up missing action with a shoulder injury.

The Rangers cut him loose after that season, securing a new home for him with the minor league Providence Reds.

It was a disappointing ending of Vail's NHL dream. At one time more than a few people expected him to become a NHL star. The Meaford, Ontario boy was a junior star in North Bay. He was known as a great skater and puck carrier - something of a rarity among defensemen back in those days. The knock on his game was that he wasn't great defensively.

After retiring as a pro in 1936, Vail ended up back in Toronto. He played senior hockey through the 1940s and got a job as a tinsmith and he stayed active in hockey, be it with youth teams or at oldtimers' events.

Sparky Vail passed away in 1983 after suffering from Alzheimer's.

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