Will U.S. Cash Cripple Our Hockey?
CHARLES H. GOOD
SIT down, you fight fans! Fade out, you baseball bleacherites!
Back water, you aquatic eggs!
But, sit up, you hockey fans! Polish the old cheaters and have a spier at what is happening in the grand and glorious game of professional hockey these bright days. The National Hockey League teams are shooting around their circuit like a train of blazing comets, with minor stars and major ones giving off sparks enough to dazzle the blind; and no matter what the teams in play, you can cheer for both sides of the international line and know that you’re whooping Canadians to victory. The Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins, the Ottawa Senators, the New York Yankees, the Montreal Maroons, the Pittsburg Pirates, the Toronto St. Patricks—the names are different, but the personnel is almost entirely Canadian.
A fine thing, you testify.
Sure—but where is it leading the game? Listen to this:
“The biggest crowd that has attended a hockey game in Canada in many years crowded the old Arena last evening, attracted by the first visit of a Big League team since 1926 or thereabouts. An off night in the American League, caused by the return of the Eastern teams from their recent invasion of the Western half of Tex Rickard’s loop, permitted the New York Yanks to break their journey from Chicago by playing an exhibition with the local semi-pro aggregation.
“As was to be expected, the homesters were no match for the visitors w'ho, although visibly under wraps throughout the piece, were masters of the situation from beginning to end.
“Mr. Rickard, it is rumored was much smitten with the possibilities of Toronto as a big league proposition and declared that with a modern rink this city would be a decided addition to the majors.
Where have we heard this before? It has a familiar sound. In the language of the venerable ‘Six Bits’ it listens like a lot of ‘applesauce’.”
That’s a little more than up-to-date, but unless the unforeseen occurs, something like that is likely to appear in the Toronto GlobeTelegram of about Feb.
It sounds rather weird, doesn’t it? But this is a funny old world, and stranger things have come to pass even than the seemingly-impossible prospect that the United States, having started to adopt our national winter game, may go through and make a thorough job of it.
FO R professional hockey is, first and last, a money-making affair. And, sad to say, our neighbors to the South possess more of that useful commodity,
Can the backers of professional hockey in Canada hold their own against the money-bags of rich United States promoters or will Canadian hockey fans be forced year by year to see their stars disappear to shine in another firmament? That is the question which is worrying “pro” hockey fans.
variously known as “jack” or “dough” or “mazuma” than we do. So, if hockey develops into a battle where the longest purse is bound to wdn, Canada’s chances of retaining any star hockey experts will be very slim indeed.
And, make no doubt about it, they are taking to hockey with a vengeance down under the Stars and Stripes. New York—which sets the fashions for the nation in sport as well as in hair-bobs—has an artificial-ice palace which cost the sagacious Mr. Rickard and his associates several million dollars. Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati and a dozen other big cities are getting the fever and threatening to do likewise. And the sport-writers are searching the dictionaries to find new words to describe the thrills of “the fastest game on earth.”
To Canadian readers some of these American hockeystories sound irresistibly funny. We have been accustomed to the kick” of hockey for so long that we have perhaps overlooked the fact that there are millions to whom it is not even a name. In fact, when you peruse some of the panegyrics on metropolitan sport pages of the great icegame you can hardly help being reminded of the one about the Scot who, visiting a race track for the first time, was lucky enough to wager a “bob” on a horse that won at forty-to-one.
“Eh, mon,” said Sandy, as he collected his twa pound. ‘Eh, mon, wud ye mind tellin’ me, noo, how long has this thing been going on?” It has been going on for quite some time now but it is only in the last few years that it has developed into a real paying proposition in the eastern part of the country. The St. Pats, of Toronto, pack ’em in with but an indifferent team and the Canadiens and Maroons, of Montreal, play to capacity whenever they perform, no matter who their opponents may be. Ottawa misses very seldom, but there is grave
danger that the strain of supporting a team of the calibre of the Senators, coupled with the long jumps entailing much extra expense, may at no late date compel the backers of the club to relinquish their franchise. This would be a national calamity, as Ottawa has bulked largely in the hockey world for these many years.
The capital is more than a stop gap between Toronto and Montreal — a resting place for the St. Pats on their way to Montreal or vice versa—it is a battle ground of champions. There seems to be something about the atmosphere in the vicinity of Hull conducive to the breeding of champions. At any rate it is a poor year when the representatives of that neighborhood are not there or thereabouts when the play-offs are being held.
The present Ottawa team is a knock out. Imagine what a furore Hooley Smith, Nighbor, Clancy and Co. would create if they Continued on page 55
Will U. S. Cash Cripple Our Hockey?
Continued from page 13
were located in, say, Chicago. And that is what is likely to happen. Ottawa is, from a population standpoint, only a medium-sized town; and the scale of prices charged there is the smallest in the league. There’s the rub. The fans, keen and enthusiastic as they are, will never stand for a boost in the tariff. They have seen high-class hockey too long at a low rate to fall for what they would consider to be a hold-up; and who could blame them? Neither would they take it as a kindly act on the part of the management if the stars of the celebrated six were disposed of to the highest bidder. But there are signs that the same fate that befell Hamilton may be Ottawa’s portion.
It is too much to expect that the powers that be will take the same stand that President Ban Johnston, of the American baseball league, did when efforts were made to move the franchise of the Washington club elsewhere some years ago. The Senators were the joke organization of the circuit and the smart Aleck’s of the ten, twenty, thirty, were always sure of a laugh when they sprung the old one about, “Washington being first in the hearts of his countrymen and last in the American league.” Nevertheless Mr. Johnston would not listen to any overture which had for its object the abandonment of the Capitol, as he considered that the inclusion of the home city of the President of the United States in his circuit added lustre to the loop.
New York’s Chagrin
HERE’S the United States all worked up over the great puck chasing sport and with Brooklyn, Philadelphia, not to speak of Chicago, Detroit and other sizable cities ready to crash into the sport with both feet; in other words, all dressed up and nowhere to go. Signs are not lacking that those interested in the sport across the border are prepared to divorce themselves from their Canadian affiliations as soon as the time is ripe. Already there is some talk of the formation of a league composed of American cities alone. New York authorities do not like the idea of Canadian domination. It irks the money bags to be compelled to submit to the dictation of Frank Calder and his associates. Articles, evidently inspired, appear from time to time in the big New York dailies forecasting the formation of an all U.S. “pro” hockey league. Maybe the agitation would not be so intense if the Yankees, nee Hamilton Tigers, occupied a more exalted position in the N.H.L. race. “Tommy” Gorman, manager of the team, has not “cleaned up” as it was expected that he would when he took over the former Bengals en bloc and naturally there is much disappointment in Gotham circles. With all the money in the world at his back, Gorman has discovered, much to his chagrin, that he cannot get anywhere. He has fished with dollars as the bait in many waters but without getting a nibble. The St. Pats of Toronto need players just as badly as their big rivals, and they are out to buy, not to sell. None of the other clubs is prepared to knuckle down to Rickard and Co. New York is only a name to them. They have no sympathy or players to spare, despite the plight of the New Yorkers. No wonder there is no joy in the big city.
The outcome of this situation, may be, as has been pointed out, a split in the ranks. If this transpires, chaos will be the result. Contracts will not be worth the paper they are written upon and there will be an unprecedented exodus of Canadian players to the United States. Here’s what a writer in the New York World of an early date had to say in commenting upon the difficulty the American clubs have in securing players worth while:
“The only remedy in sight is for the Americans to break loose and by organizing a league of our own have the power to act without restriction.”
Rather significant, isn’t it?
The writer in question asserts it is almost impossible to buy a man away from a Canadian pro club under the ■present conditions.
His conclusion is that there is nothing for the American clubs to do but to take
the bull by the horns and give the Canadian end of the circuit a miss. Mr. Man is apparently firmly of the belief that the majority of the performers in the league would jump at the chance to play in the U.S. if the proper inducements were forthcoming. Perhaps he would not be sanguine if he interviewed the members of the New York club. More than one of that high-salaried organization would welcpme the opportunity to play in Canada at a much smaller stipend than they are receiving now. The high cost of living in Manhattan as compared with home is largely the reason.
The Homing Instinct
NOT only the expatriates in New York but those elsewhere are filled with unrest. Lionel Conacher, of Toronto and Pittsburg, who has been playing sensational hockey with the Pirates and thereby confounding the critics who predicted that he would not shine as a professional, makes no secret of the fact that if given his choice he would muchly prefer to wear the colors of the St. Pats. And stranger things than that have happened. It may be worthy of note in this connection to point out that the Pittsburg team with but two exceptions — Milks and Darragh—played under the colors of the Toronto Canoe Club as juniors some years ago. The old O.H.A. has much to answer for.
In New York the fans first came out of curiosity, but now they are learning the game and the Yankees, as was to be expected, considering everything, are making money right and left for Rickard. In fact the well known sporting impressario who built his big Madison Square structure primarily for boxing is now considering the advisability of passing up the fight game altogether. Boston is hockey mad and it is seldom that the spacious auditorium in the city of the hub is not filled to the limit when a pro game is scheduled, for all that the Bruins are hobnobbing with the St. Pats at the bottom of the league table. If a major league comes into being in the United States Boston can hardly be passed up.
And with all these cities hot after hockey, how long will Canada be able to hold its teams? As stated before, professional hockey is played for money and it is only logical to presume that star puck chasers will gravitate to the place where they can fatten their exchequers. This applies to clubs as well. Hamilton was frozen out; and what can happen to one can happen to all.
It is given out that there is a possibility that the Canadiens of Montreal are contemplating transferring their franchise to Chicago next season. This report emanates from New York, the breeding place of rumors and rummies. This also may happen. Hamilton won a championship and then lost its franchise, and the backers of the Montreal team are not doing so well that they would turn down an opportunity to do better.
Of course Canada will always be the recruiting ground of players. You can’t develop hockeyists where you have to depend on artificial ice. It is on the ponds, the rivers, the open-air park rinks that the youthful puck chaser learns his A, B, C.’s—how to skate, how to stick handle, how to take his bumps and hand back a receipt for same.
CONNING the names of players on the American teams of the N.H.L. one can understand why some Canadian cities appear to be depopulated. Here’s the tally of Canadians in the City of Beans and Brains: Doc. Stewart, Sprague Cleghorn, that veteran of many battles, Hitchman, from our capitol city, Red Stuart, and Cooper and Herberts, both former Hamilton amateurs. The Smoky City rings up the following: Odie Cleghorn, manager; Wörter, Conacher, Roger Smith, Spring, Cotton, Tex White, Milk and Darragh. Drury, also with the Pirates, has lived for years in Pittsburg, but the light of Coburg, Ont., first kissed his baby brow, so we declare him in.
As before stated, Gotham’s menagerie consists of the last year’s champions, the
Hamilton Tigers, in toto, whjcl^knqcks.out an average of about of Canadians
in the teams of the United Skates. Not to make it too one-sided, however, Shay, whom the St. Patricks got from Boston, is an American.
The Canadian West has produced some fast and clever puck stalkers, but speaking by and large, most of the big timers in the game have hailed from points further east. Of course, roses in December curtail practice on the outdoor rinks—all right, you British Columbians! Lemme up!—so the horticulturists have to do the best they can with the weather man so inconsiderate, and they have done passing well.
The Pacific Coast Hockey League, which takes in Vancouver, Victoria, and Seattle, gets a little variety by playing inter-league schedules with the Western Hockey League, which includes Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon, and the game is carried still further east by the circuit which includes the Eveleth, Minnesota, outfit, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the Canadian and American Soos. The fans of those parts have more than a speaking acquaintance with the game, but geographical handicaps have prevented their playing a great part in the pro-game as practised in the eye of the sun, to wit, the N.H.L. But with the inevitable spread of the game in the U.S. a change may take place, and the Wild and Western may yet tread on the toes of the effete East.
Prices Going Up
TIME was when the fans yelled themselves into laryngitis, if that’s the way you spell it, over players to whom $750 to $1,200 a season was big money. Them was the days that is no more. Progress and prices go hand in hand, and far be it from hockey to interfere with the laws of nature. Prices to-day in the N.H.L. run from $2,000 up. They do say that Lionel Conacher coaxes the Pirates to the tune of $7,000, while Hap Day of the St. Pats, former Varsity and Hamilton star, brings down a six and three ciphers. The St. Pats offered Dr. Billy Carson of Stratford, and his brother Frank, the haberdasher-hockeyist, $15,000 between them for the season, with a guarantee of an additional $60,000 for three years. But the brothers had another proposition in mind. Their services were available j at these figures if, in addition, the club would buy out Billy’s dental practice, and Frank’s store. The club modestly declining the compliment, the deal fell through. Who says that dentistry and haberdashery don’t pay? Harry Watson, of the Canadian Olympic team, is a gentleman who exercises considerable fortitude in withstanding the cajolements of the professional clubs. He turned out with Parkdale of Toronto this year to keep his fist in, but has declined a share of the “pro” limelight, although it is a well-known secret that he can name his own price.
For many years Canada has, each fall and winter, imported a large portion of its amusement from the U.S.A. Our drama, our vaudeville, our music, our moving pictures, all come from the South. And now, a natural reciprocity has set in.
In exchange for the import of an Ethel Barrymore we will reply with the export of a Dutch Nighbor. In return for a Gloria Swanson super-film we will send them a Harry Watson super-star. In place of a Charlie Chaplin stopping custard pies, we will ship them a Charlie Connell stopping hockey pucks.
Of course, it will be said that all this is impossible. The professional hockey league, when it was re-organized a few years back, bound itself together by a contract by which each team agreed faithfully to stick to all the others for a long period. But every agreement has its loophole; and for every lawyer who will draw you a contract you can find a dezen who will show you ways to break it. And even a “till-death-do-us-part” agreement of professional hockey teams might be found possible of abrogation.
Perhaps—just perhaps, mind you—it might be possible for all the “big fellows” to get together and form a new league, leaving all the weak sisters out in the cold to warm themselves with a fire fueled by the scraps of paper from the “iron-bound agreement.” It is even hinted in some quarters that something of the kind occurred at the formation of the professional hockey league as at present constituted.