High Hat Hockey
Big Business is betting $30,000,000 that 'pro' hockey is a popular spectacle
FREDERICK B. EDWARDS
HOCKEY, which began its career as a rough and ready game played by small boys on home-made skating rinks in a thousand Canadian vacant lots, and grew up to be Canada’s national pastime, is Big Business, now.
With the opening of the season which began on November 15th, the structure, which has been growing during the last three seasons, so rapidly as to make Jack’s celebrated Beanstalk look like a century plant, was complete. This year, for the first time in the history of this fast and fascinating sport, plain ordinary hockey became Organized Hockey.
Except for baseball, which blazed the efficiency trail that the puck-pursuers and their mentors have faithfully followed, no game on the American continent is now so completely, thoroughly and finally organized as is hockey. Neither football, basketball nor boxing can approximate the airtight, leakproof, copper rivetted asbestos packed machine which now controls the professional skate and stick pastime.
Six professional leagues, one rated as a ‘major’ establishment, and the other five called ‘minors’—observe the baseball influence in this terminology—are occupied this winter with the business of providing spectacular excitement for something like 3,000,000 hockey fans, whose yells and howls are heard from Quebec to Los Angeles, and from Calgary to Kansas City.
Associated in these six leagues are thirty-eight clubs, which are employing at contract salaries ranging from $75 to $300 a week, approximately 600 earnest toilers, in the enterprise of poking a three-inch puck into a sixfoot net, while preventing by fair means or foul their perspiring opponents from doing likewise.
The ten clubs in the major loop—the National Hockey League—perform their extravaganzas in arenas, gardens, coliseums and forums, which represent in round figures an investment of $15,000,000 in real estate and buildings. The palaces which house the smaller clubs are, of course, less costly, but even though we allow for the remaining twenty-eight only an equal investment with the major league ten, certainly a very moderate estimate, that makes $30,000,000 of hard cash, tied up in equally hard bricks, mortar and ice. A bet of $30,000,000 that professional hockey is a popular spectacle!
If $30,000,000 isn’t Big Business, then Henry Ford’s a piker.
High Hat Hockey
rT'HE most amazing feature about this whole amazing development, which is unlike anything that the sporting world has ever seen, is the fact that it has all sprouted, budded, and come to mature bloom in less than three years. As recently as the season of 1923-24, major professional hockey was a wan and fragile growth struggling to justify its pallid existence with four clubs in four cities in Eastern Canada and four others on the Pacific Coast.
Between the two organizations there was a languid rapprochement having to do with an arrangement for an annual Stanley Cup series, and, as a self-pre-
servative, an agreement touching upon the enormity of clubs in one league poaching promising playing material from clubs in the other organization.
That was all. In style of play, in the rules governing the game, even in the number of players used, East was East and West was West in the best Kipling tradition, and the theory that never the twain shall meet seemed to be irrevocably established for all time.
There is no Pacific Coast League to-day. Instead there exists a ten club organization, with six of the clubs representing United States cities, which will play this season to something like 2,000,000 people. Millionaires back the organizations, fine ladies in evening gowns applaud the efforts of the skating roughnecks with polite
patting of gloved palms, ticket speculators buy out the seating accommodations for the crucial games, and the Wall Street commission houses handle bets on the results.
Hockey has put on a high hat.
There’s a Reason
T ET’S get retrospective and find out how this strange -*-* thing came about.
Recognized professional hockey had its origin in the beginnings of the present century. During the game’s early growth it was honestly amateur, a home-brew proposition filled with the fine, feverish frenzies of local pride running wild. There were seven men on a team, rinks were barns, ice was natural and any true fan was ready to lick the everlasting daylights out of any other true fan who claimed that the team from the village of fan number one was inferior to the seven from the village of fan number two.
Shrewd men, especially in centres of population discovered that people could get so crazy about hockey that they would actually give up two bits at the door to get into a rink and see a game.
Professionalism, in any sport, starts with the establishment of a box office. Spectators, who will accept with easy tolerance an inferior performance for which they do not have to pay money, become critical and articulate of their criticisms when cash is extracted from them at a ticket window.
If performances continue inferior, the stung sucker will supplement his squawk with direct action. He will refuse to come back, and if he has been very badly stung, he is quite likely to kick over the box office on the way out, just for emphasis.
Coincidentally, when the performance has quality, so that the suckers continue to gather in ever increasing numbers, the players, observing that the promoter grows fat with profits while they remain in rigid training on a diet of kind words and pleasant smiles, begin to speak one with another in the market places.
They remark, pointedly, “Say, who’s playing this darn game, anyway? Who’s taking the bumps, and the slashes, and the butt ends in the ribs? Not that fat slob. It’s us. Well then, where does he get off to get all that jack, while we don’t get a nickel?”
This is a blunt, crude point of view, of course, but a very human one, brethren, a very human one.
Finally, then, the situation amounts to this. The spectators won’t come unless the play is worth watching; and the boys who make the play worth watching won’t perform unless they get a cut in the house.
Hence, professionalism, which means nothing more than permitting a share of the profits to the men who make the profits possible.
i’herefore, as hockey became more and more of a pubic spectacle in this country, professional hockey became more and more firmly entrenched, until at last most of the hockey that was played that was also worth looking at, was played by professional teams.
This was the case less in Ontario than anywhere else. Amateur hockey was better organized among the Ontario cities than anywhere else; and the Ontario Hockey Association was so powerful that it was able for many years to resist the inroads made into the amateur ranks by professional promoters.
Some amateur teams turned professional wholesale; as witness the Kenora Thistles of revered memory; and professional leagues flourished at last in the Maritime Provinces, on the Quebee-Ontario border line, and in the west.
. .-•.dentally, there were, even in those days, plenty of amau-ur’ lu;. c*s who could be depended upon to set up a loud and raucous howl of anguish, unless the toes of ■Talking shoes were found at proper intervals to be mysteriously stuffed with nice crinkly green paper :i a lot of government printing. Yes, indeed. That will come later.
. i - - ' - - m.ù hockey no good. It did no . ; ■: -■ ;; und hockey suffered with
the rest. Attendance figures fell off, players were hard to find, and the whole outfit suffered from comparison with a much more spectacular, dangerous and important game which was being played out in France; so that the season of 1916-17 found professional hockey pretty much n : doldrums. East and West alike, were just stagger-
ing along, no more.
The club owners of the National Hockey Association of Canada: Dey, Lichtenhein, Kennedy, and the rest, had been unhappy for some time in the conviction that they were not going any place with their various enterprises. Emmett Quinn, a lean, accommodating, pleasantly amiable Montrealer was president of the league. He carried on, all right. As the dramatic critics say, his performance was adequate. But there was a growing feeling that something, somewhere, was lacking.
In t he season of 1914-15, the National Hockey Associait attempted to take some of the responsibilities of his position off Quinn's shoulders by giving him a secretary. They picked out a red-headed, stiff-necked and positive-minded newspaper writer of Montreal. His name was Frank Calder.
The Czar of Hockeydom
DRANK CALDER, who was once a school teacher, and
who has come by way of the sporting editorships of
the defunct Montreal Daily Witness and the Montreal Herald, to
be the Czar of Hockey, just as ____
Judge Landis is Czar of" Baseball, is an Englishman who never played hockey in his life. I've known him for twenty years and I doubt if he can even skate. I am not positive about this, though, because it would be exactly typical of Calder’s thoroughgoing character to go out and learn to skate and to play hockey, too, once he made up his mind to connect himself with the pastime.
He is one of the most painstaking, accurate, inquisitive and firmminded men I have ever met.
Calder came to Canada with his young wife, around 1900.
Trained for pedagogy in the English schools he at first essayed to teach in private preparatory establishments here. He found the hie irksome and the rewards small. I think, too he quickly discovered that after you have inquired into the minds of one year's growth of small boys, the minds of all the rest of the small boys in the world provide little opportunity for further profitable exploration. So he went in for journalism as practised in the extremely discreet sporting pages of the Witness.
Soccer football was Frank Calder's first great affection as a spor„ executive. He was secretary,
treasurer, and president of several of the soccer leagues which were then shifting and changing each season in the Montreal district. As an executive he became celebrated for his strength of mind and stoutness of conviction in the face of opposition, more than for his tact. In that shambling, loose-knit pastime Calder always was at odds wich some club or another and his leagues were usually either, just on the point of splitting, getting over splitting, or plain split. After a few years he quit in disgust.
Meanwhile, in his professional character as a writer on sports, Calder had been making inquiries concerning hockey. The swift, crackling, robust quality of the game appealed to him, for he is a robust person himself with small sympathy for weaklings. On the other hand the slip-shod, careless character of its slatternly government annoyed him very much, because he likes to have things neat and tidy around the house, and he has all the ingrained obstinacy of the English race in his belief that rules and regulations are made to be obeyed, not to be avoided for the sake of convenience.
In his columns in the Montreal Herald, whither he had gravitated around 1910, he began to abuse the hockey magnates when he thought the occasion called for abuse ami to instruct them when instruction seemed indicated.
Sam Lichtenhein was at this-time the owner of the Wanderer franchise in the National Hockey Association, and the late George Kennedy had promoted Canadians into front rank. Neither of these gentlemen was accustomed to being either abused or instructed by any upstart sporting writer. They said so. The inelegant reply of Mr. Calder was, in effect:
"Go chase yourselves. I know my job a darn sight better than you do yours.”
Thus it happened that, at last, the men who had been irritated by Calder’s trenchant criticisms of their lack of discipline came to be respectful of his positive personality, and through that respect, to the notion that perhaps there might be something in his opinions.
He was made secretary of the National Hockey Association, in 1914, and remained in that capacity until 1917, when at the end of a disastrous season the association turned over on its side and passed peacefully into oblivion.
At the beginning of the 1917-1918 season, that is, in the autumn of 1917, four clubs, Montreal Wanderers, Canadians, Ottawa and Toronto organized the National Hockey League. Frank Calder was made president, and the promoters stepped aside remarking: “Well, you know so much. Let’s see you in action.”
Right at the start the new organization ran into a tough break, that came near to causing the premature death of the baby enterprise. The Montreal Arena which had been hockey headquarters in the metropolis for nearly twenty years, burned down. The Canadien Club moved into the decrepit and barn-like Jubilee Rink, which in its palmiest days couldn’t seat as many people in a week as a modern rink accommodates for one evening’s jousting. Sam Lichtenhein threw up his hands and his franchise. The Montreal Wanderers, whose birthright dated back to the days of the ‘Little Men of Iron’ passed out of hockey history.
And Mr. Calder’s new league finished the season, limpingly, with three clubs.
Some attempt was made to bring Quebec back into the circuit when the 1918-1919 season began, but money was tight, promoters were shy, and Frank Calder came to bat at Christmas with what he figured was the smallest aggregation it was possible for any man to be president of; the same three-club circuit that had gone through to the bitter end in the spring of 1918.
He was mistaken. Before the spring thaws had washed away the remains of the playing surface in the Jubilee Rink, the Toronto Arena Directors held an agitated conclave to discuss the undoubted fact that the Toronto team was in red ink for $2,000 with the prospect of more to come. Toronto resigned with regrets, and Mr. Calder’eambitious enterprise which ^as to put hockey on its feet was reduced to Ottawa and Canadiens playing home and home matches.
That, unquestionably, was the smallest league in the history of sport.
Just Before the Dawn
OBSERVE, however, that Frank Calder, the president of a two club league, was the same crest-raised,, cocky, battling Frank Calder who had told the National Hockey Association promoters they didn’t know how to run their own affairs'half a dozen years before. He believed in hockey, as a pastime, as a spectacle, as clean, hard, competitive sport. Once a man of Calder’s type believes in anything, opposition to his belief makes him only the more securely fixed in his faith.
He spent summer and early fall dashing from Montreal to Ottawa, to Toronto, and to Quebec, and when the first reports of damage to the western wheat crop from frost began to appear on the news pages of the daily papers, the sporting pages were carrying the announcement that Frank Calder had reorganized the National Hockey League into a four-club circuit once more, wuth Ottawa, Canadiens, Quebec and a new Toronto team known as St. Pat’s, on the schedule.
Mr. Calder stuckhis thumbs into the armholes of hie waistcoat and crowed lustily, for a while; but the crow faded and the thumbs were removed when the Quebec team, always the weak sister, dropped out of major leaguehockey for keeps.
Another summer of scurrying about the country in 1920, brought Hamilton into the big time pro line-up for the first time since the first puck was faced. Things looked better, although the Hamilton venture was a gamble. It was possible that the Ambitious City was not populous enough to support a major league team.
But the luck, which had been running against the venture turned. It was a fire which first brought disaster to the National Hockey League, causing the abandonment of the Wanderer franchise. It was another fire which set the wabbling organization back on its feet.
The Jubilee Rink, ancient, uncomfortable, difficult of access in Montreal’s east end, obligingly burned down during the summer. Tom Duggan, who had béen promoting various sports in Montreal for a decade and had been hanging on the fringe of the hockey crowd, eager to break in, saw a chance, and took it. He built the Mount Royal Arena, a sorry shed as rinks go to-day, but a vast improvement on the Jubilee at that, and with a seating capacity that at least gave Canadiens a chance to break even.
When January came the Flying Frenchmen were established somewhat sketchily, in the new and unfinished Mount Royal Arena, and the prosperity line on the graph of professional hockey had begun an upward curve that was to carry it clean out of the chart before it finished.
Through the seasons of 1922, ’23 and ’24, the four-club circuit of Toronto, Hamilton, Canadiens and Ottawa held tenaciously together. Some money was made. Crowds began to take a fresh hold on hockey. A couple of hot Stanley Cup series and a bitter rivalry between Ottawa and Canadiens helped keep the interest brightly aflame.
With the finish of 1924’s hockey year there began to be attracted to Mr. Calder’s modestly successful organization a certain amount of new interest. The old Montreal Arena company was reorganized, and the new Forum was built. Down around Boston thousands of expatriated Canadians were paying money to look at amateur The spectacle of thousands of
people paying to look at anything is always an interesting one to professional promoters.
The Montreal Maroons were given a franchise, with the new Forum, perhaps the finest of all the hockey plants, not excluding Madison Square Garden, which was built for many things beside hockey, as their home. Boston came in on a running jump, and Frank Calder’s tottering
Continued on page 53
High Hat Hockey
Continued from page 6
two-club league of five years previous was suddenly a six-club circuit flourishing and proud of itself with, moreover, the added spice of international competition to give it a piquant flavor.
And in 1925 Tex Rickard built the new Madison Square Garden.
It was Tom Duggan who finally sold hockey to Rickard, aided by many urgings and promptings from excited New Yorker Canucks whose hearts yearned for the sport of their childhood days. He carried Tex and Colonel Hammond and others of the Garden directors into Canada to see what the game was like. They fell for the fascination of the game, and the New York Americans and Pittsburgh were added to the list of members of the National Hockey League.
The rest is recent history fresh in the mind of every sport follower. Hockey went big in New York. Aided by judicious promotion, and especially by Rickard’s old, shrewd trick of enlisting the real Social Register Society folks on his side, through stimulating their interest by donating parts of certain of his gates to their pet charities, the game was a success in its first season; and last year a second New York team, the Rangers, was admitted to the league.
Chicago and Detroit fell into line, so that this year Mr. Calder’s National Hockey League had a membership of ten clubs, two in New York, two in Montreal, and one each in Ottawa, Toronto, Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
'T'HE story is not yet complete. Per-
haps what comes next is really the most important, and most significant of the many spectacular developments.
Major league hockey must have constant recruits. The game is, with the possible exception of polo, the hardest, most dangerous, swiftest, most exhausting pastime played to-day. Ten years is a good average life for a first string hockey player, excluding goalkeepers. Sprague Cleghorn, now wich Boston, is the veteran of the major league to-day. Sprague has been in fast company since 1910; but there is no one else who comes near that record. A decade is a good average.
Until last year the only recruiting grounds for new hockey material were the amateur clubs in Ontario, Quebec and the West. Once in a while, somebody came up unexpectedly from the Maritimes, the New England states or the rinks of Minnesota, but not often. Most of the good players to-day graduated from clubs around Ottawa, Toronto, or northern and western Ontario.
These players were rated as amateurs. True some odd incidents were reported from time to time. For example the case of the ‘amateur’ who laughed at an offer from a professional club, with a scornful: “Say, what sort of a sucker do you think I am? Why should I lose money to wear one of your sweaters?” and the Massachusetts ‘amateur’ who, when asked if he was going to turn pro, replied, simply: “No; just honest.”
The trick was that none of these amateurs whether real or sham, could return to their former status once they had signed with a professional club. Therefore the professional clubs were being held up right and left for big longterm contracts for men who offered nothing more solid than an attractive gamble. On the other hand the amateur clubs constantly were being raided and their best players seized by the pro organization which dangled the lure of big money before the eye of the ambitious young puck chaser.
A series of informal conferences were held during the past two seasons, and the busy, practical-minded Mr. Calder was very much in on them. As a consequence there began to spring up in the smaller cities which had previously been stoutly
wedded to ‘amateur’ hockey, new leagues’ of professional players who weren’t ashamed to admit it. Practical considerations had forced ‘shamateurism’ to capitulate.
Five of these groups are operating this season: the Canadian Professional League, with Windsor, Niagara Falls, Hamilton, London, Stratford, Kitchener, Detroit and Ravinas of Toronto as its members. The Canadian-American League, which combines Providence, New Haven, Boston, Springfield, Quebec, and Philadelphia. The American Hockey Association, with Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Winnipeg, and Kansas City. The Prairie League which has Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Regina on its list and the California League—that’s one for the book—consisting of four clubs in Los Angeles, with an expectation of extending to Oakland and San Francisco.
All the clubs in these leagues are working in agreement with the National Hockey League, through Frank Calder, hockey’s red-headed Czar. They get players considered not yet seasoned enough for the big show; some of them are “farm” clubs for major league outfits. They pay their players moderately, draw fair gates, and seem happy as bugs in a rug, secure from the raids of former days, and certain that they will be permitted to carry on their own affairs as long as they behave themselves reasonably well and are duly respectful to the big boys.
It’s really just another schoolmaster’s job for Calder. He makes the boys behave, too, and the bigger they are the more determined he is that they must say: “Yes, teacher.”
Take for example the case of ‘Hooley’ Smith. ‘Hooley’ is an impetuous young man, and one of the finest forward players in the league. At the very tail end of last season ‘Hooley,’ then with Ottawa, so far forgot his school manners as to smack an unsuspecting opponent upon the nose. Being a clever young chap he did it while the referee’s back was turned; but being far enough along in life to have forgotten some of his early school days, he neglected to take notice that Mr. Frank Calder, the all powerful president of the National Hockey League, had a watchful pedagogic eye upon the performance from what might be termed a ringside seat.
The referee, who didn’t see it, penalized the excitable Mr. Smith in no manner whatever; but the President, who did see said, “One month’s suspension for you, sir.”
“I should worry,” was Mr. Smith’s probable answer. “The season’s over anyway.”
And during the summer ‘Hooley’ Smith was traded by Ottawa for much fine gold to the Montreal Maroons.
Now the Maroons would very much like to have Mr. Smith among them when the season starts. Right in the first game, in fact; but President Calder who doesn’t hand out punishments lightly doesn’t forget that they are outstanding, either.
“No,” said Mr. Calder, “Smith is suspended for one month from the start of the 1927 playing season, and it makes no difference whether he’s playing for the Montreal Maroons or the Patagonia Purples, suspended for one month from the start of the 1927 playing season he stays.”
I asked him about the Smith suspension, suggesting that heavy pressure might have been brought to bear upon him to at least soften the sentence, on the ground that it was unfair to penalize the Maroons for an offence committed when Mr. Smith wore an Ottawa uniform.
“Didn’t your directors want that suspension lifted, or anyway eased off a bit?”
“Some of them did,” he said; “but I didn’t.”