It’s a Tough Game


It’s a Tough Game


It’s a Tough Game




WHEN I SIGNED to play hockey for Ottawa at the beginning of the 1918-19 season I was mad clear through and thirsting for revenge. Revenge on Canadiens. Revenge on George Kennedy, figure it out for yourself. I wanted to play hockey in Montreal. Kennedy’s was the only Montreal club. Kennedy would have no part of me. He told me I was done, finished, crippled.

It was true enough that for one whole season and a part of the season before that I had been out of hockey because of the two leg fractures I have already told about; but in my heart I knew my legs were right and that I was fit. I had done everything possible to get back in condition, and I was in condition. I knew I was in condition.

But sport was business with George Kennedy. He dealt in hockey players as a fish merchant trades in fish. There was no question of trying out my supposedly fragile underpinnings and talking terms afterward. Not with George Kennedy. It was in his mind that I was through, that at best I could never be anything more than a second-string player, and I had no words to change his settled conviction.

Our negotiations ended when he made me a final offer of $600 for the season, take it or leave it and I’d just as soon you left it. That was just half the salary Renfrew had paid me eight years before as a half-baked kid who thought he was a forward. In those years between I had proved myself.

I had been captain of Wanderers up to the time of my first accident, acknowledged as one of the best defense players in the league, selected for All-Star teams. I knew I was still good—and Kennedy was offering me $600 for the season !

It is impossible for me to repeat here exactly what I told George Kennedy to do with his $600. He understood me.

So, here I was, fit and rarin’ to go, with no chance on earth of playing for a Montreal club. What to do? Tommv

Gorman was managing Ottawa for Ted Dey and his associates. I could live in Montreal and play for Ottawa without too much inconvenience. My old friend and teacher, Alf Smith, who had made a defense player out of me when I was nothing but a second-string forward, was coaching the Senators. I wired Gorman : “Give me a chance to show you that my legs are good and I’ve still got the stuff.” He sent me transportation and a message: “Come on and show me.” We had no argument over salary, and when the 1918 season started I was there in the old barber-pole uniform alongside Eddie Gerard, with Clint Benedict behind us.

Serious Business

EDDIE GERARD. There was a great hockey player. He had everything except robust health. He was fast, he could stick handle, he was afraid of no man living, and—a qualification not always present even in players who make hockey headlines season after season—he had brains. No one had to tell Gerard what to do. He knew it instinctively. Alf Smith, who was smart enough to know when he had a natural on the dice, never bothered Gerard with instructions.

Eddie would have been in hockey as a player for many more years than he was had it not been for a throat ailment, which was aggravated every time he stepped on the ice. When I joined Ottawa it was only Gerard’s second season in major league hockey, but he had proved his worth right from the beginning. For three seasons the Gerard-Cleghorn partnership was known as the hardest to pass and the most dangerous on attack. Those were good years, and Gerard, the youngster, rates every bit as much credit for our showing as does Sprague Cleghorn, the veteran. Maybe more.

Canadiens nosed us out for the championship that season, but before the schedule closed George Kennedy knew he had

booted one when he turned me down. From the start I was a sixty-minute player. What’s more—and I can see this now although it wasn’t so plain to me at the time —I was beginning to take hockey seriously. Really seriously. Schoolboy and amateur hockey had been fun. My year in New York had been adventure. That winter in Renfrew was a new and amusing experience, big frog in little puddle stuff, and during my six seasons with Wanderers I had been more or less of a playboy, having a good time, sure my luck would last for ever. That jolt on the chin Kennedyhanded me changed my whole attitude toward the game. I began to see that this hockey proposition was a serious business, a hard job of work, something to be studied and thought about, demanding sacrifices for the sake of perfect physical condition.

With Gerard, I kept cases on the men opposed to us. We took note of their weaknesses, figured out plans to stop them where they were easiest stopped. I improved my stick handling and my puckcarrying, and I played to stay on the ice, In my three seasons with Senators I was in a serious jam with referees only once, and that was in the last game of the Stanley Cup play-offs against Vancouver at the end of 1921. That’s pretty good for a “bad man.”

Ottawa, with the Benedict-Gerard-Cleghom defense beat out Canadiens for the National League hockey title in the 1919-20 season, then won the Stanley Cup and the World’s Championship from Seattle in a series played on our own rink.

That year Odie signed with Canadiens and for the first time the Cleghorn brothers played professional hockey on opposing teams. We banged each other around plenty, but all in good fun, exactly as we had been banging each other around since we were kids. At intervals we’d go into each other with high sticks and wrestle against the boards with loud and profane language. That, I don’t mind confessing, was an act; but the fans ate it up. They loved it. Isn’t it a big part of a hockey player’s job to keep the fans amused?

My third season with Ottawa was a queer sort of an experience. That was 1920-21. The Maroon club had not then been organized, and, of course, there were no American teams in the N.H.L. Struggling to discover some means of holding public interest, President Calder and his directors

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decided on a split season. Ottawa won the first half by the distance from here to South Africa, so, in order to make some sort of a race of the second half, the players were shuffled and re-dealt. I was ordered, for the second time, to report to Toronto.

'I'his time I agreed to the move, but not until the Toronto club had met my salary terms—$3,(XX) for the balance of the season. There was a further understanding that, should Ottawa win the league championship, the players who had started the season with the capital city club were to be returned to the Senators for the Stanley Cup series. The whole cockeyed scheme was just another of those desperate measures brought into action when the professional game was fighting for its life against powerful amateur opposition.

At Toronto I teamed with Harry Cameron on the defense. Mitchell was in goal, and we won the second section of the split schedule with the aid of Babe Dye, Ken Randall, Corbett Denneny, Reg Noble, Doc Smillie and Bill Stewart. Ottawa beat us in the play-offs, and I changed uniforms again to make my first trans-Canada trip to the Pacific Coast, where we met Vancouver in the Stanley Cup series.

Ottawa won that one, too, scoring double championships in two successive years— which is something to brag about in any competitive sport—but we had to fight to the last whistle to land it. The five-game series was tied at two all. We snatched the final verdict by a single goal, netted by Punch Broadbent on a pass from jny stick.

That was a bad night for S. Cleghom. Early in the third period I stopped a puck with my left eye, and, I finished the game with that useful organ shut tight. With only a minute or so to play, Lloyd Cook took a sock at Gerard. I took a sock at Cook, and Mickey Ion, always a faithful Pacific Coast referee, sent Gerard and myself to the coop. Cook stayed on the ice., Ottawa, hanging on like grim death to a single-goal lead, fought it out four men against six. We did it, but it was too close to be comfortable.

Incidentally, that series was the most successful Stanley Cup series in the history of the game up to then. More than 55,000 people saw the games, and when the winner’s end was divided the gate produced the biggest cut any club had ever taken from the series. My share was $700 and I felt pleased.

There was no earthly reason why I should not have believed, as I did, that I was an Ottawa player for the rest of my time in hockey. But once more the big shots who deal the cards stacked the deck on me. I was in the woods with a gun and a bunch of good fellows in the autumn of 1921 when I read in a four-days-old newspaper that I had been sold to Hamilton. And again my reaction was, “Is that so?”

I was perfectly happy in Ottawa. I knew nothing whatever about Hamilton. If I couldn’t stay with Ottawa I wanted to return to my home town.

The situation with regard to Canadiens had changed. George Kennedy, who had never entirely recovered from the effects of Canadiens’ trip to the Coast at the close of the 1919 season, when the whole club was stricken with influenza and Joe Hall had died out there, finally succumbed. Control of the Canadien Hockey Club had been purchased by the Dandurand-Cattarinich-Letoumeau combination, and those gentlemen were just as keen to have me on their payroll as I was anxious to play in Montreal. They traded Bert Corbeau and Butch Arbour to Hamilton for my services, and threw in a cash payment to boot. In that fashion I returned to Montreal to play on the same team with Odie, and I was very happy about it.

Four Pleasant Years

rTMIE FOUR YEARS I played for Cana-

diens remain among the pleasantest of all my hockey memories. I helped Canadiens

to win one double championship— National Hockey League and Stanley Cup -and I was with the team the following season when we won the N.H.L. title and lost to Victoria Cougars in the play-offs. But my reason for holding especially friendly recollections of my association with the Canadien Hockey Club does not come from pride in my achievements on the ice while I was wearing a Canadien sweater, so much as from my appreciation of the comradeship and understanding existing between the owners of the club and the men on their payroll.

Through four seasons there was never the whisper of an argument between us. I signed a blank contract at the beginning of each winter. The owners fixed my salary. I never asked the Canadien management for an increase, and I always got it if it was coming to me on the record. Lou Letourneau has dropped out of the combination in recent years. He was there during my time with Canadiens. The Dandurand-Cattarinich partnership carries on. My hat comes off to those people as the finest sportsmen it was ever my good luck to deal with.

In the 1921-22 season Toronto St. Patrick’s won the N. H. L. title. Next year Ottawa beat Canadiens in the play-offs, then went on to trim Vancouver and Edmonton for the Stanley Cup. But in 1923-24 we were back again. Canadiens beat Ottawa for the N. H. L. title. Calgary and Vancouver, Western League and Pacific Coast League champions, came East and were turned back. I remember that we were forced to play the final game against Calgary in Ottawa, because there was no ice in the Mount Royal Arena, at that time Canadiens’ home rink. We had won the first game without much trouble, and when a Western fan stopped me in the passage on the way from the dressing room to the ice and said, “Sprague, can you tell me when the Calgary team leave for the West?” I replied ;

“On the first train tomorrow.”

The Calgary team left Ottawa for the West on the first available train next day.

Cocky? Of course I was cocky. Never yet was there a really top-notch hockey player, professional or amateur, who wasn’t cocky.

Age Takes Its Toll

OUT, ALTHOUGH I didn’t see it yet, T' I was getting to the end of my rope. I had been a professional hockey player for fourteen years at the start of the 1924-25 season. For twelve of those fourteen years I had been a sixty-minute player, always, of course, barring the season and a half when I was out of the game with two smashed ankles. Mentally I had all the fire, all the assurance I had ever possessed. Physically I was beginning to fade.

Your legs show it first; and there’s no use trying to fight it off because the man who sits on the bench, if he’s any sort of a coach, can see it, even though you swear by all the gods that be, you’re okay. You’re not quite so fast as you were last year and the year before. You know more than these smart kids who’re burning ice under your toes, but you just can’t put what you know into action.

The human body can flame for just so long. Then come the ashes. It is a wiser man than most hockey players who has sense enough to know when the flame begins to die.

It was my good fortune to be on two more league championship teams before my playing career ended. I was with Canadiens in the spring of 1925 when we won the N. H.

L. title; and after I had moved over to Boston, in 1927-28, I captained the Bruins team that took the American division championship that season. But Boston did not win the Stanley Cup until the next season. When I wisecracked to that stranger in the Ottawa rink in the spring of

1924, I was playing in my last Stanley Cup game.

But how can a man know?

The manner of my transfer from the Canadien payroll to Boston is typical of the methods of Leo Dandurand and Joe Cattarinich. They could have released me outright or sold me for what they could get. Instead, Dandurand called me into his office one day in the late summer of 1925 and said:

“Sprague, I think Art Ross would like to have you in Boston. He needs an oldtimer to steady that outfit. Make your own deal with him, and we’ll let you go; but make your deal first.”

What could be fairer? Ross was my old friend since school days. I knew nothing of Charles F. Adams then, but I did know that Art Ross was the white-haired boy in his hockey enterprise. I made my deal with Ross for $5,500 and living expenses for the season, and Charles Adams accepted the terms without a murmur.

Through !

TT IS ONE of those freakish kinks that come up every so often in hockey that the Boston management, whose dealings with me in our first association were so generous, should be the organization with which later I was to have the most serious quarrel of my career over money. Until the time came when Boston turned me over to Newark as manager, I had no possible cause for complaint against Charles Adams and Art Ross. After that deal I had plenty.

Boston in the season when I first joined the team paid players on a plan that, to my knowledge, is not used by any other club in the game—more’s the pity. Each player was asked how much money he figured he would need as a weekly salary to keep him going comfortably. The sum he named was the amount he received. If he wanted it all, he could have it. If he was wise he calculated the least amount he could get along on, and let the balance accumulate to his credit. When the season finished he was paid in full—plus interest at a higher than savings-bank rate. In other words the club saved his money for him, and settled his account at the end of the contract by paying him more money than he could possibly have made for himself by saving his surplus.

Anyone who knows how impossible it is for the average hockey player to save any money at all, will appreciate the real service that Charles Francis Adams did for his athletes when he inaugurated that system.

During the season before the one when I joined Bruins, the club had lost approximately $18,000. In 1925-26 Adams got back his losses, with a profit and split the amount of the profit among his players. In addition to the balance with interest due me on my salary, I was presented with thirty-five twenty-dollar gold pieces. That night, when I talked in my sleep, Mrs. Cleghom tells me I was saying: “God bless Charles Francis Adams, and hurrah for Boston”.

I remained with Boston Bruins as captain and coach and deck hand until the end of the 1927-28 season, encouraging and instructing young players, giving the best there was left in me on the ice, happy and feeling secure in my old friendship with Art Ross and my new one with Charles Adams. Eddie Shore came to Bruins from Edmonton in the winter of 1926-27. I broke him in to the big time, and I claim some credit for making Shore the stand-out defense man he is today. He had a lot of stuff when he joined us, but there were still things he needed to leam and I taught him those things.

In the winter of 1927-28 an old intestinal trouble caught up with Art Ross, laid him low when the season was about two-thirds gone. Art was a very sick man. He could

not possibly leave his bed, and the active management of the team was turned over to me for the balance of the season. While Ross was flat on his back, under my personal leadership, Bruins that winter won nine games, tied one and lost one. That's not boasting. It's in the record books.

We won the championship of the American section of the National Hockey League that season, beat Rangers and Chicago in the play-offs and lost to Ottawa in the finals.

And the next year Boston sent me to Newark, in the Canadian-American League as playing manager. I was through, as a player in the big tent.

“That Newark Deal”

TT COMES HARD for me to talk about T that Newark deal, even now. The time was the winter of 1928-29—and 1929 is a sixjokv year in most people’s recollections. J. A. Allan, a promoter who had been with Tex Rickard in the Madison Square Garden organization, had an idea for a similar plant on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. He had the necessary hockey franchise in the Canadian-American League. He had all the financial backing in the world on paper. His plan— and I am satisfied today that he was entirely sincere all through the transaction—was to operate a modern garden in Newark, with boxing, bike racing, horse shows, hockey and anything else he could put in the plant.

But all that J. A. Allan ever had was a hockey club, which never played a game on its home ice because there wasn’t any home ice.

Allan’s financial backers began to get cold feet before the foundations of the Newark Garden were dug. He held on to his franchise and the Newark Hockey Club —Sprague Cleghom manager and coach— played its “home” games in Providence, New Haven, Springfield, Boston. Whereever we could find open dates. The Newark Garden was never built, and the Newark Hockey Club faded out of the picture after one tough winter.

But my transfer from Boston to Newark brought me to the bitterest disagreement of my life. Every hockey fan who follows National Hockey League affairs knows that I have quarrelled with my oldest friend in hockey over this deal.

While Art Ross was sick in the winter of 1927-28 I was in daily attendance upon him at his apartment in Boston. He told me one day that he was going “to do something for me.” Later he assured me that in the event of my sale to any other club, he would do his best to see to it that I received the amount of the purchase price. There was no written agreement between us, and no contract to that effect between the Boston hockey club and myself. It was a verbal understanding.

In 1928, the Boston club asked waivers on my services, obtained them and sold me to Newark for the waiver price of $5,000. I believed myself entitled to receive that amount from Boston, and I so believe today. I never saw a cent of that money, and that is why Art Ross and Sprague Cleghom,

close friends for twenty-five years, today just say "hello" as they pass.

Hockey as a Profession

TNOES A MAN who has been a good -l-M hockey player make a good manager? In my mind, that depends on what you mean by a good manager. If you want a man to coach a reasonably capable collection of hockey players toward at least a playoff position in any league, I would say “yes.” But, on my own record, I'd have trouble convincing club owners that I am a good manager. I've never managed a losing team; and I've always been fired.

After the Newark disaster, which surelv was no fault of mine, I picked up the Providence team around Christmas of 1930. With Sprague Cleghorn handling them, the boys went from the bottom of the Canadian-American League to the top, finishing the season with a record for points scored.

In my second year as manager of Providence the club got into the play-offs and was beaten by Boston Cubs.

I had Maroons in the National Hockey League in 1931-32. Maroons were in the play-offs. The team was beaten out by one i goal in overtime and S. Cleghorn lost his job.

In 1933-34 I coached the Verdun team in the Senior Group of the Province of Quebec Hockey Association. Verdun made an excellent showing; but Sprague Cleghorn has to work for his living, and lie cannot live on air.

So what? Is it worthwhile? Or, as so many parents of young and ambitious youngsters ask me constantly: “Would you rej

commend my boy to take up hockey as a j professional?”

I say, by all means, yes—if he has the hockey touch. If there is that in a young player today which makes him want to play hockey more than he wants to do any| thing else in the world, let him go to it.

Hockey is the finest game on earth. Your boy today has advantages which Odie and Sprague Cleghom never imagined j back in 1910. The game is organized, j settled, controlled. Frank Calder, undoubtj edly the biggest individual in professional j hockey in 1934, was once a schoolmaster. | The young players your son will meet and associate with will be educated as he is. Many of them will be university graduates. Their manners, their general outlook on life and living are better, finer. And, always providing that your boy does not lose his sense of proportion, no occupation in | Canada equals professional hockey for a young man, for a few years, in financial rewards.

If he has the hockey instinct.

Would I do the same thing again, supposing that I had the chance?

You bet your life I would.

Maclean’s regrets that in a previous installment of this series an error icas made in the identification of a photograph staled to be that \ of Fra?ik Patrick. The photograph which | appeared over Mr. Patrick’s name was actualI I y that of Col. J.S. TIammond, owner of the New York Rangers.