October 30, 2023

The Hockey News Archives: The Very First Issue

October 1st, 1947 sees the launch of The Hockey News. The Bible of Hockey. Hockey's paper of record.

Featured prominently on the very front page is a spread by 16 year old cartoonist Lee Kavetski. Now the cartoon nowadays would be considered politically incorrect, and good on The Hockey News for being open about that in print and online 75 years later. But Kavetski would become a regular contributor to The Hockey News and hockey cartoons have always been a part of THN's 75 year history.

A quick search on Google doesn't tell me too much about whatever happened to Mr. Kavetski. 

NHL in Cuba?

On the very front page of the very first issue in the long history of The Hockey News is a fascinating story about the possibility of a National Hockey League game being played in Havana, Cuba of all places. 

Remember, this is 1947. NHL teams did do some international games back then, most notably in Britain. Over more recent years the NHL has travelled the globe, including debuting in Australia in 2023. But no one has ever mentioned Havana, Cuba in terms of hockey at any other point in hockey history.

The idea was pitched by a Cuban promoter named Ernesto Azua. Azua was the sport director at Havana's fancy new Sports Palace. His vision, which he pitched to media largely, was to have the Montreal Canadiens play an American based team, preferably the New York Rangers. The Sports Palace featured a full refrigeration system for creating artificial ice, though it had never been put to use in the first four years of it's existence to that point. Azua also wanted skating shows to visit Havana.

A quick search of Cuban hockey history tells us that there was a Cuban hockey team, the Havana Tropicals, dating back to 1938. But they played in Miami as there was no rink in Cuba at that point. They played in a 4 team Tropical Hockey League, finishing last with a 4-11 record despite reportedly stocking their team with Canadian born ringers such as leading Soggy Green and goaltender Hugo Caron

I don't know if ice ever was created for the Sports Palace at any point in history, or if any other rinks were ever established in the country. There are no rinks in Cuba today. Cuba is a common vacation destination for winter weary Canadians though, so one of the resorts tried introducing a skating rink but there was no ice involved - it was synthetic plastic that no longer is in operation.

I also found this piece about a cruise line that invited former NHLers Gary Leeman, Bernie Nicholls, Dave Hutchison, Jack Valiquette and Ric Natress to Cuba and headlined a ball hockey friendly.

More International Hockey

The Hockey News always tried to be hockey's paper of record, and that means covering more than just the NHL. Minor leagues, junior leagues and senior leagues (extensive coverage of Allan Cup champion Montreal Royals was fascinating) were well represented in the first issue. And there were more international news items.

Most interestingly was a feature on Jaroslav Drobny, the Czech tennis star, one of the world's best. But he was also a fine hockey player. And there was a story about hockey associations in Sweden and Poland trying to recruit Canadian coaches to come teach them the game.

Featured Personalities

Today's issues of The Hockey News may feature in depth features on Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin or the Hughes brothers. It wasn't so different back then either, though they tended to be more colourful thanks to the use of the great nicknames of yesteryear.
You wouldn't think a man dubbed "Toe" would need another nickname, but Hector "Toe" Blake was known as "The Old Lamplighter." You may recognize Blake as one of the top coaches of his day, but before that he was a heck of a player in his own right. This issue previews his quest to catch Bristol Bill Cowley, the Wayne Gretzky of his day, to become the NHL's all time leading scorer in the coming season. 

Blake, along with Elmer Lach and Rocket Richard, was part of Montreal's famed Punch Line. THN compares the great trio against Boston's equally great Kraut Line, which featured Bobby Bauer, Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart, who also went by the affectionate nickname of Porky. Bauer gets his own feature as he had just retired.

Coaches Jolly Jack Adams and Tommy Ivan also get special articles. This is the value of accessing the archives. When I grew up Adams and Ivan were already long done, with reputations as battle scarred disciplinarians, stern andgrumpy but very successful coaching legends. When you can go back to 1947 and see Ivan being introduced as the up and coming new age of hockey tacticians.

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