It's Tough Game

SPRAGUE CLEGHORN December 1 1934

It's Tough Game

SPRAGUE CLEGHORN December 1 1934

It's Tough Game




WHEN THE Cleghom brothers landed on Broadway—with eyes wide open and dreaming—it was late autumn of 1909. We were not alone, for Cooper Smeaton, later to become one of the best hockey referees who ever blew a whistle, went along to do or die for dear old New York Wanderers. Ernie Garon, for years past a busy executive on the staff of the Montreal Forum, was also among those present.

As I have already explained, the New York Wanderers Club was owned by Cornelius Fellowes and managed by Ernie Dufresne. Except that the organization of professional hockey was to come later, the situation regarding cash payments to useful performers was pretty much as it is now. It had been agreed in Montreal that we were to get $50 a week each—Odie and myself, that is. I don’t know anything about the others. So, in order to make the thing look right, we had to be provided with jobs.

Odie was easily fixed up. They put him in a stock brokerage office, doing sums on a blackboard. That was no good for Sprague Cleghom. Figures make my head ache. They offered me a spot in the Spalding retail store, and I reported for duty with a light heart. Hadn’t I been a salesman for Art Ross?

Unfortunately, Spalding’s already had all the salesmen they needed—old-timers who weren’t going to let any cub counter hopper from the sticks shove his nose into their racket. The store manager took me to a room on an upper floor. It was stacked to the ceiling with football cases and bladders. I’d never seen so many footballs in my life. There must have been a million of them.

“There you are,” said the boss. “Get to work on those footballs.”

“What do you want me to do with ’em? Count ’em?” “No, I don’t want you to count ’em. Blow them up.”

I shook my head.

“Not me, mister,” I said. “I don’t aim to cut my fingers to pieces lacing up a million footballs.”

So they threw me out of there, and I went back to Ernie Dufresne. Afterward, they persuaded Smeaton to go to work on the footballs. For days his hands were so sore he couldn’t grip a hockey stick.

Finally they placed me with the New York and New Jersey Telephone Company. I was supposed to be an inspector. What are the duties of an inspector for the New York and New Jersey Telephone Company? Don’t ask foolish questions. How should I know? But I reported faithfully on the right day each week and drew a pay cheque for $25. The other $25 kept turning up regularly at the rink in the toes of my street shoes, and I hadn’t a care in the world.

Adventure on Broadway

ALL FIVE CLUBS of the New York Hockey League— 4*St. Nicholas, Crescents of Brooklyn, Wanderers, the New York Athletic Club, and the Hockey Club of New York—played their games at the old St. Nicholas Rink, at Broadway and Sixty-second Street. The playing surface was artificial ice—fifteen years before Tex Rickard lay awake nights worrying whether or not to put an ice plant in his new Madison Square Garden.

The place had been made over from a riding academy and there were several queer features about it. The ice floor was built above the old surface, with a space between, and the smell of tanbark persisted, so that sometimes you didn’t know whether you were skating or going over the hurdles on a horse.

Sam Austin, publisher of the Police Gazette—famous pink prayerbook of the tonsorial parlors in the days when a man still had some rights and a woman would as soon enter a saloon as a barber shop—owned the rink, with Fellowes and one or two others cutting in.

They were all Broadwayites; big shots in the sixirting and theatrical world of their time, when the theatre was the theatre and Hollywood had never been heard of.

The hockey wasn’t anything to write home about.

Each of the five teams had one or two imjjortations who knew something about the game, but the balance was made up of local talent or Canadians honestly working in New York whose notion of hockey was to take a bat at the puck and see what happened. Wanderers finished second in the league, losing in the finals to the New York Athletic Club, and that was that.

But if the hockey wasn’t anything to excite a pair of veteran players from Westmount we got a lot of fun out of our adventures on Broadway. Odie and I shared a room on Sixty-fourth Street, and put in our spare time wandering up and down the Main Stem in company with Mr. Fellowes and his friends. *

Cornelius Fellowes was a generous boss, and he took a fatherly interest in us. Through him we met many of the famous actors and actresses of the period. Two of them whom I especially remember were Mademoiselle Dazie, the dancer, and Lillian Lorraine, the musical comedy star.

Dazie, who later became Mrs. Cornelius Fellowes, was a beautiful girl and as bright as they make them. The boss was giving her a heavy rush at the time, and every night when she appeared in New York he sent Odie and myself to the theatre with huge boxes of flowers and candy. As she finished her act, we would march down the aisle and hand Cornelius Fellowes's gifts over the and if you think we didn’t get a big kick out of that, you’re crazy.

One day while I was hanging around the rink with time on my hands, Mr. Fellowes called me over and introduced me to the most stunning woman I had ever met in my life. He said:

“Sprague, this is Miss Lillian Lorraine. She wants to learn to skate. Do you think you could teach her?”

Could I teach Lillian Lorraine to skate ! I don’t know what I stammered, but it must have sounded like “yes,” because next thing I knew I was lacing skating boots on her feet, and holding her up with my arm around her waist. Believe me, I made those lessons last twice as long as they might have done. She paid me handsomely for the instruction, which was a sheer waste of money. She could have had twice as many lessons for nothing, and I’d still have figured I was ahead of the game.

Continued on page 36

It’s a Tough Game

Continued front page 15

We had a swell season, even if there wasn’t much hockey in it, and we quit New York in the spring of 1910 with many regrets and promises to be back next winter.

But it didn’t work out that way. I returned to my job behind the counter in Art Ross’s store in Montreal for the summer, and played baseball with Cecil Hart’s Stars in the City league. By the time hockey talk started again the whole picture was changed.

Hockey Crazy

TT ALL BEGAN with the Cobalt mining

boom. When the Northern Ontario silver country was opened up in 1905 there followed a hectic period when millionaires were made overnight. By the winter of 1908-09, both Cobalt and Haileybury were full of rich men looking for excitement, with expense no object.

So, toward the end of the 1909 season, the silver country magnates brought the Ottawa and Wanderer hockey clubs up for an exhibition series. When the teams returned to the capital and to Montreal, a full half of the players stayed behind to cash in on the easy dough.

The Temiskaming League was organized with teams in Cobalt, Haileybury and New Liskeard. Later, this grew into the Federal League and took in Renfrew.

The whole country was hockey crazy. Tens of thousands of dollars were bet on each game; often thousands changed hands on a single goal. Spectators fought one another in the rinks during the games and up and down the streets after the games.

During that wild period the best hockey players in the world were performing in this unimportant backwoods league. Art Ross and Walter Smaill were up there. Chief Jones, Harry Cameron, Harry and Tommy Smith, Skene Ronan, Billy Nicholson, Horace Gaul, Steve Vair, Louis Berlanquette, Con Corbeau joined the gold rush to the silver country, together with a lot more whose names I’ve forgotten. Some of the boys lived up there, others commuted. It got so that no dub in the Eastern Canada Hockey Association could be sure of the services of any one of its players until he stepped on the ice. On one occasion the management of the Montreal Wanderers offered to send up the whole team to play in Cobalt uniforms for a $5,(XX) guarantee rather than risk further raids. The offer was refused, but it goes to show how things stood.

That couldn’t go on, and during the summer of 1910 the Eastern Canada Hockey Association passed out of existence to make way for the National Hockey Association, which brought Cobalt and Haileybury, Renfrew, Wanderers, Canadiens, Ottawa, and Quebec into one group. The late Emmett Quinn was made president of the new body.

Of course, there was a big demand for new playing material. Odie and I were offered Cobalt contracts, but there had been a smallpox epidemic in the mining town, and mother said “No!” This time she made it stick. Some time later George Martell, representing the Renfrew crowd, came to Montreal and talked to Art Ross. When he left he carried with him Odie’s signature and mine at the bottom of legal agreements to play hockey for Renfrew during the 19101911 season at salaries of $1,200 each.

We were honest professionals at last !

The Renfrew Millionaires

rT'HE RENFREW Millionaires. You’ll never see a team like that again. M. J. O’Brien was a leading citizen of the Creamery Town long lx fore he became a mining man. He made a pot of money in Cobalt, but his heart was always in Renfrew. He wanted to put Renfrew on the map; so. with his son Ambrose, and Thomas Lowe, George Barnett and William Jamieson, he threw his bulging bankroll behind the Renfrew Professional Hockey Club.

By any rule of sound business, the thing was plain nuts. If you added in the milk cans, the telegraph poles and the travelling salesmen, there might have been 5,000 people in Renfrew. Total capacity of the rink, seated, standing and hanging to the rafters, couldn’t have been more than 3,500. The schedule called for travel to Cobalt and Haileybury, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec. It simply could not be done.

But the O’Briens and their friends did it. Even the magnates were tougher in those days.

They organized the Renfrew Club in 1908. Refused a franchise in the Eastern Canada Hockey Association, they joined with Cobalt and Haileybury and Canadiens of Montreal to form the Federal League. By the start of the 1910-11 season Renfrew was in the National Hockey Association.

One thing about a hockey career—you learn plenty of geography. Until we signed those contracts, neither Odie nor myself had anything but the foggiest notion where Renfrew was. We knew it was in Ontario, somewhere above Ottawa, but it might have been on the Georgian Bay or in Essex County for all we could have told you different.

Odie reported direct. I wanted a final whirl at Broadway, and I took the few dimes I had saved during the summer and spent them strutting my stuff among my New York friends.

It was a bitter cold night in December when I dropped off the train at Renfrew.

I was wearing only a light overcoat. Odie met me, peeking out over the top of a bale of sweaters.

Renfrew has two railroad stations, both of them placed for the convenience of the milk shippers without much regard for the location of the town. I shivered and looked around. There was nothing to see but darkness.

“Good gosh!” I said. “What is this?”

My brother has a mean sense of humor.

"This,” he told me, “is Renfrew.”

We walked out of the station to the cutter which Odie had borrowed from Larry Gilmour, who ran a livery stable. I couldn’t see a house in sight, and I had just left Broadway and my ears were beginning to nip.

“I don’t think we’re going to like it here,”

I said.

"For twelve hundred dollars we gotta like it,” my brother told me. “Giddap, hoss.”

There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast in a world cruise than New York the winter before and Renfrew that winter; but, once we settled down, we liked the place. You couldn’t help liking Renfrew.

For one thing, the men behind the club believed that money was for spending—and they spent it. At one time or another, Bert Lindsay, Larry Gilmour, Bobbie Rowe, Ken Midien, Didier Pitre, Steve Vair, Frank and Lester Patrick, Fred Taylor and Newsy Laionde were on that Renfrew payroll, and those boys are hockey players in any man’s league, now or then, The story is that M. J. O’Brien paid $5,000 for Cyclone Taylor’s jump from Ottawa. I never saw the documents, but if Renfrew wanted Taylor and Taylor wanted $5,000, that is what was paid.

How Padding Was Born

THE RENFREW fans were swell. No club ever bragged of a more loyal follow! ing. They came from all the countryside around to see us play. A twenty-mile drive in an open sleigh on a below-zero night meant no more to them than twenty minutes on a heated street car means to a Toronto or Montreal fan today. Figure a boy and a girl riding behind a horse for anywhere from ten to twenty-five miles in frostbite weather, against the same boy and girl this winter, crabbing because they can’t find parking space for their closed and heated car within two blocks of the rink, and you’ll get what I mean when I say that in those days the spectators were tougher, too.

Fred (Cyclone) Taylor was Renfrew’s idol. Taylor was a big man but lightning fast, an unusual thing with defense players of that period. He was one of the first back-division puck carriers, and I believe he was the first man to use pads on his shoulders. These days hockey players go into action armored up like a tank. Some clubs are planning to use modified football helmets this year, in addition to the rubber knee pads, the fibre shin guards, and the half-inch-thick felt protectors the boys carry on their hips and shoulders. When the Cleghoms broke in as professionals you dragged on your long underwear and stockings, climbed into short pants and sweater, grabbed a pair of light gauntlets and went out there fighting.

Taylor, who was always poking around and figuring things out, picked up a couple of pieces of felt over at Larry Gilmour’s livery stable one day, cut them to fit and sewed them to the shoulders of his undershirt—and that’s how padding was born.

The Cyclone never took a drink of hard liquor, but he’d swallow eggnog by the gallon. He didn’t believe in dressing up, and all winter in Renfrew I never saw him with a shirt and collar on. He’d climb into his underwear and trousers, put on a couple of sweaters and be dressed for anything from church to a card game.

We played a lot of cards, and when we got tired of cards we put in time thinking up dirty tricks to play on one another. Justly or otherwise, I have gained quite a reputation as a practical joker around my home town. The boys can blame it all on Renfrew.

Heaven’s Gift to Smart Guys

P’iR A WHILE that season we had a lad with us who was heaven’s gift to the smart guys. I’ve forgotten his name, but we can call him Mac. He drifted into town one day from some lumber camp and announced that he was going to play hockey for Renfrew. He knew less about hockey than I know about Manchukuo, but the club carried him around for a few weeks, probably to give the boys something to occupy their minds.

Mac was the sort of character you read about in stories by Ring Lardner. He had never been in a big hotel or seen a sleeping car. He brought along his own boots and skates. Take it or leave it, those boots were white kid and the skates had been bolted— not rivetted, bolted—to the soles. Maybe they didn’t know about rivets where Mac came from. I don’t know how he could stand on those things, let alone skate.

First long trip we took after Mac joined up, we put him on shoes. In the sleeping car as we got ready for bed we explained that everybody had to take off their shoes and leave them out in the aisle. But, we told him, somebody had to sit up all night and watch the shoes, otherwise they would be stolen. We faked a lottery and Mac was chosen for shoe guard. Then we turned in, leaving Mac sitting on top of the stepladder at one end of the car with the footwear piled in front of him, watching, pop-eyed, for train robbers.

Poor old Mac. We pulled the finger bowl and the tabasco sauce tricks on him in Ottawa. Naturally he’d never heard of finger bowls. So, when they were handed round, with a dinky slice of lemon floating in each bowl, one of the boys sipped the water, pulled a face, and said :

“Gosh, that’s terrible. Try yours, Mac.” Mac said: “What’s it supposed to be?” “Lemonade.”

i Mac tasted his. He said: “It’s mighty weak lemonade.”

“It’s awful,” we told him, “and there .isn’t enough sugar in it either. That’s rotten service. You call the waiter over and we’ll tell him what’s what.”

Mac called the waiter. We tipped him the wink and he took a terrific bawling out. Mac scolded him harder than any of us, until he took the finger bowls away, then brought them back, exactly as before. Mac grabbed his and drained it, smacking his lips.

“Ah!” he said, “that’s more like it;” and then his chin hit his chest as he watched us make a great fuss over rinsing our fingers and wiping them.

You know the tabasco sauce trick. The idea is to get hold of a green hand, pry the top off the tabasco bottle and tell him it’s a special kind of tomato ketchup. Mac was very fond of tomato ketchup. I doubt if his tonsils have cooled off yet.

So I Played Point

"DUT ALL THIS horseplay was on the -L' side. Meanwhile the Cleghom boys were finding out about the serious business of hockey. I’ll always think gratefully of Renfrew for one thing. It was there I first discovered that I might really be a hockey player.

Alf Smith was coaching us, and Alf was plenty tough. He believed that the way to learn to play hockey was to get out on the ice and play hockey, and we never lacked for exercise. If you played for Smith you had to take it and hand it out.

Odie was a sniper, in his day one of the smartest goal scorers in the game, and they watched him every minute. One night when he was being smothered by a particularly close check, Smith told him:

“Go out and stop that guy. Body him stupid.”

The other chap was bigger than Odie, and when the kid brother went into action he rode in with elbows spread high and wide. Next time play stopped, Alf called him over to the boards and growled :

“Listen. Are you yellow or what? I told you to body that guy. I didn’t tell you to chop his ears off. Now go stop him.”

Odie stopped him. It was rough stuff, yes; but it made hockey players of us. Remember, we were playing the seven-man game, two thirty-minute periods, no substitutions except at half time. A man had to be tough.

I was still sticking to it that I was a forward, and it wasn’t until the season was well along that anybody found out different. For one thing, no man figured himself a defense player in those days unless he weighed a ton and was built like the side of a bam. The main theory of defense play was to wait until the puck carrier got close enough and then fall on him. If a point or cover point had to get rid of the rubber in a hurry, he lofted it into the gloom up among the rafters and hoped for the best.

We had to play Wanderers in Ottawa in the middle of February. This was a transferred game postponed from our own rink when Wanderers’ equipment got lost on the journey up. Postponements because trunks went astray or trains were stalled in snowdrifts were common enough. Even railroad travel was tougher.

The team was pretty badly battered up, and Sprague Cleghorn was on the spot. The directors knew Odie was a coming star but I looked like a total loss to them. They were on the edge of firing me for keeps, only for this game we needed every man who could stand on skates.

Just before the game Alf Smith came to me and said:

“You’re going to play point.”

“Point!” I said, scared to death. “I can’t play point. I never played point in my life.” “Nevertheless,” Smith said, “you’re going to play point.”

So I played point.

I don’t think Alf had any real idea that I’d be good on the back line. He knew I was no good up front and he had to have somebody back there, so he took a chance.

Sometimes when a man gets in a tough spot like that, he gives stuff he never knew he had to give. I was frightened and desperate and fighting mad. We beat Wanderers five to four. I still have the clipping from ! the Montreal Gazelle of February 16, 1911. Here’s what the Gazelle reporter wrote:

“Sprague Cleghom starred for Renfrew throughout. He was shoved in at point when nobody else could be found for the position, and was without a doubt the most effective man on the winning team.”

You never know what you can do until you have to. Since that date I have always been a defense player.

Yes, indeed. The Cleghom brothers learned a lot that season in Renfrew. One thing we learned was that playing professional is a vastly different proposition from playing amateur or even semi-professional hockey. Once you sign a pro. contract you stop being your own man, right there. You eat what you’re told to eat, go where you’re told to go, do what you’re told to do when you’re told to do it—and like it. You become property, either a liability or an asset, and you are treated accordingly.

I found out still more about that at the beginning of the 1911-12 season, when they almost sold me to Toronto; but that belongs in the next chapter.

Note: This is the second of a series of articles by Sprague Cleghom and Frederick Edwards, telling of Sprague's career as a hockey player. The third will appear in the next issue.

To be Continued