Hockey Needs Its Hard Harrys
Hockey too rough? Nonsense, says this writer; if there’s anything the matter with the game, it’s become too refined
AMONG OTHER cockeyed suggestions which have been offered governors of the National Hockey League so far this season, free of charge, is the one that players be fined instead of being ruled off for rough play. The sponsor of this idea is one of that growing band of fans who claim to be appalled at what is happening to hockey, and who predict a natural death for the game if it isn’t immediately given some kind of a shot with the well-known needle. He argues that such a rule would open up the game, because it would reduce the amount of rough play now in vogue and thus give puck carriers more freedom. For if a player were lined every time he was penalized, he says demurely, he’d soon learn to avoid penalties.
You’re right there, brother! He most certainly would. For don’t let anybody tell you that players in the National League are out there for fun, because they’re not. Their first consideration is salary, and any fun they get out of it is purely incidental. Not that we’re arguing that they get no fun at all out of the game. Plenty of them do, and they’re usually the good ones. Most men seem to like their work if they do it well ; or maybe it’s the other way around and they have to like it before they can do it well. But many of the players have families to keep besides themselves, and if you start slapping fines on them right and left, they’re certainly going to think four or five times before checking an opponent.
Then what would you have? Just this: a game without balance, a game that would be all offense and no defense,
a show shorn of its drama. Have you ever seen touch rugby? It’s football without tackling, and another name for it might be tag. No matter how swell a game it may be to play, it’s terrible to watch. And if you take the heavy checking out of hockey, you’re going to have something similar. It’s the old body contact that pulls the spectators up, yelling their heads off with excitement, and where you have body contact you’re going to have penalties.
Crowds Crave Action
IT SEEMS to us that in recent years the game has, if anything, become too refined. There are no Bad Joe Halls, Newsy Lalondes, Minnie McGiffens or Sprague Cleghorns around nowadays, and it may be that pro hockey is something less without them. These boys were rough, but they had that quality in large gobs which is known as crowd appeal. There was a thrill to watching Newsy Lalonde riding into a defense, or a fast-flying forward trying to go around Sprague Cleghom. It was the same leap you felt in your blood when you saw Dempsey climbing through the ropes or Babe Ruth stepping into the batter’s box. The sensational didn’t always happen; in fact, it happened very seldom. But there was always the chance that it might.
They say that Minnie McGiffen was responsible for delaying Connie Smythe’s entry into professional hockey —the same Smythe who is now managing director of the Toronto Maple Leafs—by at least ten years. Even in those
days, though he was coaching a college team, Smythe had an idea there was gold to be taken out of the commercial game, and he went down to the old Mutual Street Arena in Toronto to watch it. That night McGiffen ran amok and turned the game into a free-for-all.
Smythe, they say, was disgusted. He thought you could never induce ladies and gentlemen to witness such goingson. But he probably knows something now that he didn’t know then, and that is that sport crowds are primitive and crave action, and the more exciting the action becomes, the better they like it. If McGiffen were playing hockey today, he would be one of the league’s greatest attractions.
What these old-timers had in common, apart from a fierce comjietitive instinct and a burning desire to win, was enormous pride in their professional skill. They refused to allow other players to make saps of them and get away with it. And recruits rarely talked back to them. We can still remember Sprague Cleghom one night in Toronto, when the Canadiens and the Leafs were locked in an overtime tie. The referee made a ruling that caused an instantaneous protest and players of both teams milled around him in middle ice. Cleghom was in the centre of it, and so was Ace Bailey, then a young and fiery forward. Bailey said something hotly to Cleghom and Sprague knocked him flat with one hand, continuing the debate with the official and gesticulating with the other hand, as if nothing had happened. But if people thought Sprague was rough and tough they packed the rinks to see him play, if only because they hoped to see the tables turned on him.
' I 'HE VILLAINS in the modern version of the hockey melodrama, judging by time spent in the penalty box and the razzberries of the crowds all around the circuit, are Red Horner, of the Maple Leafs; Eddie Shore, of Boston; Babe Siebert, of the Canadiens; Lionel Conacher, of the Maroons; Neis Stewart, of the New York Americans; Ching Johnson, who now plays only occasionally on the New York Rangers’ defense; and Bucko McDonald, of Detroit.
Most of the body-checking strength of the present Maple Leafs is concentrated in Red Horner. But a body check looks ferocious, even when legitimate, and that’s why Horner looms up as one of the real Hard Harrys of hockey. He’s out there to throw flying blocks into attacking forwards and keep them from crowding in on the goal. So he gets cheered both at home and on the road for the same thing, though the cheers abroad are all of the Bronx variety.
There was a story going the rounds a couple of years ago that Jimmy Johnston, matchmaker at Madison Square Garden, lingered one evening to watch a game between the New York Rangers and the Maple Leafs. He’d had a particularly hard day trying to match fighters who only wanteçl a first mortgage on the Garden for their efforts. He was tremendously impressed by Horner’s play.
“He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen,” Johnston is supposed to have told newspapermen, “who fights for nothing and doesn’t care who he meets or how fast they come.”
But the path of a blocking defenseman is uneven and thorny, as Horner could probably tell you, and if he’s dished it out he’s absorbed plenty of punishment in return. In his second professional appearance, a Christmas Day affair in Montreal, in a scramble with Neis Stewart he was clipped over the hand and suffered a broken thumb. But it was the 1933-34 season that was a real pain-in-the-neck to Horner. He started it off by colliding with Blinco, the Maroons’ forward, and losing three of his teeth. Another time a high stick rapped him sharply in the mouth and a tooth flew out of the aperture; two others went down his throat and nearly choked him. Then he had a bumping contest with big Ching Johnson and emerged with a broken collarbone. On top of this came the unhappy Ace Bailey-Eddie Shore incident, when, for his part in the fracas, he was called brutal, yellow and half-witted by people who were thousands of miles away when it happened. But more about that in a moment. Then, just before the play-offs, he broke his thumb again and was forced to go through that long overtime struggle with Boston, one of the longest games on record, with his right arm in a cast and his hand encased except for the thumb, which was taped to the stick so that he could hold it.
But Homer packs ’em in everywhere because people hope to see fireworks when he’s in the game—a fact which he must appreciate. Anyway, two years ago he went through a couple of play-off games without a single penalty, which was such a rarity that Frank Patrick, then managing the Bruins, kidded him about it.
“How come?” Patrick wanted to know. “Two hard games and no penalties?”
“I guess I must be slipping,” said Horner.
The fans in some cities seem to think that Babe Siebert, of Canadiens, is the roughest player in hockey today. He has been called “the merry woodsman,” because of a tendency to swing his stick too lustily. One night in Toronto, after being bodied by a Maple Leaf player, he flailed his stick through the air like a cleaver, and it looked as though the Leaf just got his head out of the way in time. This caused a fan from the Pacific Coast, who was
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witnessing his first game in the East, to remark that he had once seen Cully Wilson swing his stick like that and break another player’s jaw, drawing life suspension from hockey for the offense.
“Yes,” observed another fan, “but Siebert never aims to connect with those swings. He tries to scare ’em to death.”
It has been pointed out by Lionel Conacher. Maroons’ durable defense star, that the so-called “bad men” are defensive types of hockey players usually, and that it’s the heavy checking they’re called upon to do that giyes fans the impression they’re toughies.
“Players like Homer and Ching Johnson and Marty Burke play the man and let the puck go,” Conacher says. “That’s their job and they’re good at it.”
But what about Conacher himself? He
is certainly not a high stick artist. When riled, the first thing he does is drop his stick; then lie’s apt to drop his gloves and wade in, swinging. Other players might well follow his example, for no serious accident ever occurred on the ice through tactics like these. It’s the sticks that cause the damage.
Bucko McDonald, of the champion Red Wings, is the very newest of the Hard Harrys, though of course it all depends upon where you sit as a fan. In Detroit, his crushing body checks make him something of a hero, but in other cities around the circuit they mark him as a “bad man.”
Many people see Eddie Shore as little more than a gangster on skates. But in Boston they see him as one of the greatest hockey players who ever lived, a temperamental star who feels intensely and must blow hot or cold, who acts impulsively and
sometimes wrongly, but whose worst actions on the ice are never deliberate.
The Bailey-Shore Incident
r"PHE BOSTON-TORONTO game in Boston three years ago, which produced the famous incident which nearly ended in tragedy, was hockey’s greatest donnybrook of recent years and it was Shore who precipitated it. Following a rush on the Toronto goal and a mix-up in a comer, Shore, obviously in a state of high tension, tripped Bailey. The latter’s head crashed violently against the ice. Shore’s state of mind was apparent by the trancelike way he stood looking at the fallen player. Then Horner, seeing that his teammate was seriously injured, attacked Shore. Shore went down, his own head crashing against the ice. The crowd then flowed over the promenade wall and police had to come to the assistance of the officials. Both Bailey and Shore were carried from the ice. It was a wild scene in Boston Garden.
Shore recovered quickly, but Bailey remained unconscious for days and hope for his recovery was faint. Shore was so grief-stricken, though he could give no coherent account of what had happened, that those closest to him feared he might never be able to return to the ice, no matter what the outcome.
What happened next should have convinced citizens that there was no longer any calculated ferocity left in the game, because it proved beyond any doubt that a new and better feeling existed among the players than in the old days. You might have expected the Toronto players to retaliate against Eddie Shore. But it can be taken for granted that the attitude adopted by Connie Smythe and Dick Irvin, manager and coach respectively of the Leafs, was that of the entire Toronto team. Both these men made it more than plain that, above everything else, they wanted to protect the Boston player. They said that Shore was the hardestworked player in the whole league, and thought it was a wonder he hadn’t cracked wide-open long before he did, They held the Boston management responsible for not providing adequate substitution for their great star. Horner too was absolved by all the players and most witnesses for his part in the mix-up; they understood that his action was wholly impulsive and prompted only by the sight of his popular teammate lying on the ice in what appeared to be a dying convulsion.
But hockey was already on trial in some newspapers and in the minds of jittery reformers, when Bailey himself supplied the answer by coming out of his coma. Then he had his say, and it was a truly sportsmanlike utterance that thrilled the sport world and put a happy ending on a drama that had looked for a while to be tagged for tragedy.
“I don’t blame Eddie Shore,” he said. “Eddie’s my pal and you can’t make me believe he meant to do me any serious harm. Hockey’s a fast and rough game, and what a fellow does on the ice when he’s under a strain isn’t always what he intends to do. Besides, when you play hockey for a living, it’s understood you’re willing to run certain risks. It’s all in the game.”
It can also be taken for granted that this speech of Bailey’s, made from a cot in a Boston hospital, expressed the attitude the players themselves have toward the game —that the bumps that come their way are all part of the game and that they’re ready to take them.
That incident was the very worst in the history of modem hockey. What happened took place in a flash, and there was no suggestion of premeditation about it.
Rougher in the Minors
CONTRAST IT with the Regina-Saskatoon epic of more than a dozen years ago, when those two Western Canada cities were battling for the right to chal-
lenge for the Stanley Cup. Regina had a goalie then named Red McCusker, a giant in stature and in fighting heart. The bad feeling between the teams flared in the open late in the first game, when McCusker ran wild and swung his stick over the heads of four or five of the Saskatoon team. In the return game, several nights later. Saskatoon players combed McCusker so effectively with their sticks that he had to lay up for repairs on three separate occasions, when eight, nine and finally ten stitches were taken in his scalp. That made twenty-seven reefs in all, but each time he returned to the ice full of fight, and he was still in there at the end.
That could never have happened in bigtime hockey as it is played today. Why? We’ll give you the answer by quoting Sweeney Schriner, of the New York Americans, one of the brightest of the National Hockey League’s new crop of stars. Recently he was asked if he didn’t think big league hockey was pretty rough.
“Rough?” said Schriner. “Why, it’s rougher in the minors. You’ve got to play hockey here or you don’t stick, so you haven’t got time for personal feuds. The checking is stiffer here, it’s true, but the play is far cleaner and smarter and the refereeing more efficient. You get a lot more high sticks and butt-ends in the International.”
There may be plenty of things wrong with professional hockey at the moment, but heavy checking or excessive roughness isn’t among them. Indeed, it must have occurred to many fans during the past few seasons, after listening to the squawking of rival managements, that much of the game’s struggle is between the managements instead of the players. They all seem so busy watching what the other guy is doing, and taking exception to it, and thinking up ways of retaliating.
The serene Cecil Hart, manager of the famous Flying Frenchmen, is a refreshing exception. He always seems too occupied with his own men to bother much about anyone else’s players; and he has shown, so far this season, that it’s still possible under the present rules to play a pleasing and, at the same time, a winning brand of hockey. He doesn’t appear to be employing any new magic either. He was always an understanding as well as an inspiring leader, so there’s complete harmony in the club. He has a number of veteran players, but he gets the most out of them by handling them the way they should be handled. He has a sound goalie in Cude, and a stand-out defenseman in Siebert, who leads many offensive thrusts that culminate in goals. And he’s got his forwards skating fast both ways. They combine beautifully to get right inside for goals and hustle back fast enough, if the rush is ineffectual, to be of some help defensively. But there’s nothing new in these tactics, is there?
A Talking Clock
BEFORE the World War any telephone “central” would tell you the time of day. In New York you now dial a number, and a trained voice says mechanically, “When you hear the signal the time will be twelve twenty-five and a half.”
Both Paris and London do better than this. In London, where a mechanical system was recently introduced, telephone subscribers dial T-I-M and are told the time of day by a gramophone. The sound record is driven by a motor which is synchronized with a pendulum clock corrected every hour from Greenwich. Different announcements are required for every ten seconds or 7,200 in all for twelve hours of civil time.
London’s talking clock can tell 200 subscribers at once just what time of day it is. But if some souse tries to listen to the signals continuously he is cut off automatically after three minutes. Telephone engineers think of everything. —New York Times.