It's still a million-dollar-a-year business, but foreign countries are beginning to develop their own players
H. H. ROXBOROUGHJanuary11939
It's still a million-dollar-a-year business, but foreign countries are beginning to develop their own players
H. H. ROXBOROUGH
SO YOU were born in Canada. How about teaching us to play hockey?” Such a greeting has been extended in every country where water freezes. The impression prevails that every Canadian possesses this national instinct to skate through a maze of sticks and whip round rubber into a cotton net. It is so universal that, before next spring, half a thousand puck-chasing Canucks will earn a million dollars for teaching and demonstrating hockey to a sporthungry world. Where do these 500 “do their stuff”? In New York. Chicago, Boston and Detroit ; in a score of smaller United States centres from Coast to Coast; in England and Scotland; in nearly every important European city. Even in Japan, war or no war. some Canadian will, this winter, instruct young “Nips” in the art of skating and shooting a rubber puck.
Thirty-five years ago the first big trek began when wealthy coal miners in Michigan raided Canadian rinks and grabbed a team so good that it averaged more than ten goals a game.
Europe did not get its first "eyeful” of hockey, as it should l>e played, until 1920, when the Winnipeg Falcons, Dominion champions, competed in the first world’s championship at Antwerp. In winning every game decisively, their sudden bursts of speed and quick stops so impressed the Europeans that the latter actually searched their lxx>ts and skates for the electrical energy which they thought made such skating possible.
At Chamonix, St. Moritz and Lake Placid, other Canadian teams repeated the Falcons’ initial triumph. Only once in five Olympics did Canada lose a game, and then the victors were a group of Canadian-developed but Britishborn players.
During this period from 1920 to 1936. native professionals were finding jx>ts of gold. At the peak of the rush, salaries of $10,000 for six months of hockey were not uncommon. One player received $15,(XX) a season, and some clubs paid annually more than $100,000 to fifteen players. So keen was the bidding for goal-getters that a few outstanding prospects received $10,000 for a promise to play; and one American team, in its eagerness to win the old Stanley Cup, bought an entire prairie league to ensure suitable material.
While these salaries have since “cooled,” the world demand for hockey has remained quite hot. Recall the happenings of last season. In six American and Canadian cities, about 2,000.000 spectators paid to see major professional hockey. At Prague, in Czecho-Slovakia. no less than fourteen nations competed in the world’s amateur championship. In England the zeal was so fervent that one observer reported, "more people paid to see hockey than test cricket.”
When the 1938 professional season ended, Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens barnstormed England and France and, even though the fans paid up to $5 for one ticket, the rinks were frequently sold out. In the last game at Dindon’s Earls Court, more than 3.(XX) were turned away. In Paris, 9.(XX) Frenchmen exchanged francs for hockey pasteboards. So successful was the venture that the same clubs were invited to return in 1939 and play a twenty-game tour in England. France, Scotland, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.
Australian promoters are now toying with the idea of inviting teams to spend their summers playing wintertime hockey “down under.” England may soon demand a pro-
fessional circuit corresponding in importance to the present National Hockey League in North America.
Up till now, Canada has been able to furnish enough good hockey for home consumption, and also supply the markets of United States, the British Isles, Europe and some of Asia. But isn’t the game getting too big for us? Can we continue exporting quality and quantity to satisfy the world?
Canadians Start Young
"pORTUNATELY for Canada, it requires about fifteen “L years to produce a top-grade hockey player.
United States rink owners know that this theory of “ageing” is correct. Colleges like Dartmouth and Yale have played hockey for some forty years, and American university athletes are well endowed in mentality and physique. But there isn’t a hockey team representing a United States educational institution that couldn’t be beaten by a score of Canadian junior teams. Why? Because the U. S. students didn't start playing the game until they were in their late teens.
Contrast that retarded development with conditions in Canada.
In Toronto, every Saturday morning in winter, two teams of kids, not one of whom is over ten years old. play hockey in Maple Leaf Gardens, while an adult coach teaches them “inside stuff. ”
Several years ago, in Iroquois Falls, a group of small lads started playing together. They remained together, and by the time they started shaving they were a nationally respected team. Once, when the now famous Conacher brothers were youngsters, I saw them shooting a puck at a target in July. “Syl” Apps, the starriest centre player in hockey, played in a league at the age of ten, and in the Junior O. H. A. at fourteen. At an age when most American university students are beginning to learn the game, he was a finished player with a decade of experience.
Back of the 500 front-line Canadian hockey players who make a good living selling hockey skill, there are about 25.000 other players registered in leagues organized by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Roughly, 700 of them play in the Thunder Bay District, 800 in British Columbia, about 1,300 each in Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1,600 in the Maritime Provinces, more than 1.700 in Manitoba, and 2,500 around Ottawa. About 4.000 reside in Quebec, and nearly 11,000 in Ontario.
Excluding university players, there is a reserve of fifty candidates for each position now occupied by the 500 Canadian frontliners; and most of these reserves would be stars in any other country.
Does that 25,(XX) exhaust Canadian resources? Not nearly. In Toronto it is definitely known that during the 1938 season, 12,880 players played hockey on sixty-six city rinks; and, as Toronto is no more hockey conscious than any otiier part of the country, there is evidence that more than 180,000 Canadian boys know enough about hockey to belong to a team and play games.
So our hockey army includes 500 in the trenches. 25.000 in immediate reserve, and 180.(XX) recruited and in training. No general staff would quarrel with this strength of reinforcements. Apparently, Canada’s ability to feed a puck-conscious world is no longer a problem.
Will the Demand Continue?
DUT will there continue to be a decent outlet for our normal hockey crop? Will United States and Europe always want our 500 experts? Will they continue annually
to buy our million dollars worth of hockey skill? Those jobs and that money are very desirable, and so is the by-product of good will. Argue against its reasonableness as you may, sport skill does advertise a country and its people.
Unfortunately, however, Canadian sports, until the advent of ice hockey, found little favor in the British Isles. The English were particularly interested in field hockey, cricket, tennis and rugger. India had won the Olympic field hockey championship on three successive ventures, and her national team could beat the best in the Mother Country. New Zealand’s rugger teams could meet Britain’s champions without loss of game or reputation. Australia, on cricket pitch or tennis court, was often superior to the strongest teams that England could muster. This mutual gtxKl will was translated into an approving response that touched the hearts and pockets of British shoppers.
Just so long as cricket, tennis, rugger or field hockey enthused the English masses, Canada could only sit in the bleachers. But when England and Scotland became icehockey conscious, it was hoped our puck chasers would do a good job for the development of Canadian trade.
To ensure that hockey players would be good publicity, we exported only our best grade. Because our representatives were smart and the British sportsmen were flocking to the rinks, it was expected hockey would be the medium to arouse a popular Old Country interest in Canadian products.
More direct in its trade value is the fact that Canada now equips almost the entire hockey world. So general is this condition that in the world’s championship tournament at Prague last February, 181 out of 185 players wore skates made by one Canadian manufacturer, and more than ninety per cent of the sticks also came from this one supplier.
What makes us think that America and Europe may not want our 500 players each year? Is United States, for instance, losing interest? Big sporting cities like Philadelphia and St. Louis tried major hockey and both folded up within a year; the New York Americans are owned by the league itself; when the Maroon franchise and players were recently dangled before the money-conscious American promoters, there was little snapping at the attractive bait. If this apparent lessening of interest continues, there will be fewer jobs for Canadian players in the United States.
In England and Europe the situation is quite the opposite. Enthusiasm for hockey is definitely “on the up.” but the overseas countries are developing their own boys to replace importations.
Some years ago, when Toronto Grads won the Olympic championship at Chamonix, they were invited to visit Zuoz College. The college principal had learned hockey at Oxford University, and had constructed seven rinks and taught the game to 238 boys. The Grads showed the students a lot of things the principal didn’t know, and three of those students later formed the smartest line in Europe.
Germany is making outstanding progress in developing young talent. In the 1928 Olympics Germany didn’t advance far enough to meet Canada; in 1932 she lost by 5 to 0; in 1936 by 6 to 2. Last February, with less than two minutes remaining, Germany was actually leading by 2 goals to 1, then Sudbury Wolves tied the score and won in overtime. The margin was too narrow for our national pride. A Canadian who has played against this German team tells me that a couple of its players would be good professional material even on this side of the ocean.
In Dusseldorf 100 youngsters play hockey, and in Munich there are three rinks, one with a six-team league. In Berlin the boys are so anxious to make good that the national coach, Bobby Bell, a former Montreal Victoria player, gives them summertime shooting practice on a polished linoleum floor.
In England, artificial ice was maintained during the summer in a London rink so that the more promising kids could practice.
Perhaps no one has had a better chance to evaluate European hockey development than Cecil Duncan, immediate past president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Following his 1938 continental tour with Sudbury Wolves, Mr. Duncan reported, “Hockey in Europe is developing very rapidly, and it will not be long before we will have to acknowledge that their teams are every bit as good as our own.”
A few years ago Canada's wheat crop was so abundant and excellent that the Dominion was sometimes called "the world’s bread basket.” Then other countries, seeking to be self-sustaining, planned, experimented and eventually supplied most of their own needs. Now, even a bumper Canadian wheat crop has lost considerable of its world importance and monetary value.
Is Canadian hockey following a trail similar to the course of wheat? We think it is. but we hope we’re wrong. + + + + +
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