Hockey Grows Up

Rinks, rules and equipment have been improved but it's still the same old game—And the pioneers had a lot of fun too

H. H. ROXBOROUGH December 15 1939

Hockey Grows Up

Rinks, rules and equipment have been improved but it's still the same old game—And the pioneers had a lot of fun too

H. H. ROXBOROUGH December 15 1939

Hockey Grows Up


Rinks, rules and equipment have been improved but it's still the same old game—And the pioneers had a lot of fun too


ON CHRISTMAS morning, in 1867, some of the English soldiers stationed at Tête-du-Pont Barracks craved diversion. Converting thought to action, they shovelled snow from the ice in Kingston Harbor, donned their sharpened bone or rocker skates, brought out field-hockey sticks, and whacked a solid rubber ball toward a couple of fiat stones, which they humorously termed “goal posts.”

The soldiers had a lot of fun. Indeed, they so enjoyed themselves that the garrisons in Halifax, Quebec, Montreal and Toronto soon heard about it. The idea of transplanting hockey from field to ice travelled so quickly that shortly a dozen centres in Eastern Canada were experimenting with the sport.

For a few years the folks just toyed with it. If a hundred club-bearers turned up, a hundred played. If they wanted to play all afternoon, they played all afternoon. Just so long as nobody was drowned or murdered, nobody cared where or how you hit the ball, providing you-didn’t look as though you were playing both ways.

But such chaos didn’t suit the finer-developed university mind. The learned McGill students had been trained to demand law and order even in the sport kingdom. So around about 1879 they assembled all the prevailing hockey customs, selected those that seemed more desirable, interjected ideas from lacrosse, baseball and football, and designed the first recognized rules of the new game.

Soon exhibition games advanced into tournaments and tournaments progressed into leagues. But still the facilities were crude—and humorous.

About “Northwest Rebellion time,” there was a league in Kingston. This league operated in an outdoor rink, and in the centre of this rink was a bandstand. To the tune of “Marching Through Georgia,” a puck-carrier probably sneaked up to the bandstand, waited for a wing to whistle “All clear.” then dashed around the safe side and steered for the goal.

But hockey was growing up. In 1890 there were so many teams in Ontario that the Ontario Hockey Association was organized. Even the Governor-General of Canada was hockey-minded, for in 1893, before returning to England, Lord Stanley invested $50 in a silver trophy, and offered it for competition among the leading amateur clubs in Canada.

Those sporting folks in Ontario and Quebec weren’t visionaries; they were realists having a good time. The Kingston soldiers, as they skimmed over the harbor ice, had no idea that some day the game they were inventing would be played under brilliant lights, on artificial ice, in a million-dollar ice palace. Probably the Montreal rulemakers never dreamed that they were legislating for a sport which would become so popular that 15.CKX) spectators would pay over $20,000 to see a single match. Those Kingston pucksters. whirling around the music centre, would have wagered all the cut stones in the Limestone City that no player would ever receive $15,000 for a season’s play, or be sold for $50,000, or that promoters in New York, Chicago, Boston or Detroit would pay big sums of money for league franchises. Even Lord Stanley never contemplated that his donation of an unpretentious trophy would give him greater fame than any other act of his gubernatorial years.

The Hardy Pioneers

BUT ALL those things came to pass. And they didn’t just happen, for hockey—like any other industrydepended upon pioneers, inventors, honest workmen, men

who weren’t afraid to take financial risks, and capable executives.

Among hockey’s more daring pioneers were the goaljudges of the not-so-gay nineties. Those early officials didn’t stand in security behind heavy wire protection and press a button to flash a red light when a goal was scored. They stood right out on the ice, on a line with the two goal posts. Those uprights had no nets—not even a bar across the top.

Moreover, the goal umpire was surrounded by spectators who didn’t have to jump the boards to get at him. Still more menacing were the easily angered snipers who crowded the overhanging balconies and hurled epithets and farm produce.

Not .only the paying guests made the umpire’s life a stretch of misery; the players didn’t spare him either. It was not uncommon for disgruntled attackers to spare the goalie and spoil the official. Old-timers say that when the umpire was the target, the aim was astoundingly accurate.

Nevertheless, those pioneer recorders fearlessly exposed themselves to all attacks and openly called goals with all the courage of Brave Horatius. In some games there were more disputes than goals, umpires were set up and knocked down like pins on a bowling alley; but there were always more brave men ready to serve the cause.

The late Francis Nelson was an early and great contributor to hockey’s growth. One of his many ideas was exceptionally effective. “Why not put a net around the goal to retain the puck and prove it really eluded the goalkeeper?” Being a man of both resource and action, he went down to Toronto’s waterfront, borrowed a fisherman’s net. took it

to a rink, draped it around the posts. exjx»rimented, and found it eliminated most disputes. After the first game in which nets were used in Montreal, the goalkeeper commented, “1 would have argued all night that the first goal had never scored, but there was the black puck curled up in a corner of the net and calling me a liar.”

Early referees suffered their share of pioneer hardships. Fred Waghorne, Sr., was one of them.

“Originally,” he recalls, “most rinks were narrow and short, for they had been planned for curling. When fourteen players and the referee crowded into the glorified ‘box-car,’ someone was in the way, and invariably that someone was the official. In all the rinks the lighting was poor. 1 remember one that had only coal-oil lamps. The referee had fun trying to follow the play under those conditions.”

But referees evidently found time to improve the game, for Mr. Waghorne was the originator of at least two radical ideas, and both were inspired by necessity.

"When I broke in as a referee,” continued the veteran, “the puck was carefully placed between the two sticks just as in a lacrosse draw. But I soon found that before I could jump away, the two eager centres would begin swinging and slashing. My shins were always black and blue. By the way. for some years the blades of the sticks were reinforced with metal. Finally, in self-defense, I decided to break the rule. Sri instead of getting down to the ice and placing the puck, I just dropped the rubber and clearer! away. Other referees preferred my method, and soon the rule was changed to ‘drop’ instead of ‘face’ the puck.

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“Another problem was whether to use whistles or bells to indicate starts and stops. In the ‘magic lantern days,’ we used whistles. But some of the rinks were so poorly insulated that they were as cold inside as outdoors, and on a zero night the whistle would freeze to the lips.

“One night I replaced the whistle with a nice brass hand-bell. The bell was soon legalized by the association, but again we had trouble, for the farm boys robbed the cows, brought along their own bells and began ringing confusion rather than harmony. Later, with warmer rinks, the whistle returned to favor.

“I wasn’t the official concerned, but 1 recall a report of a Galt-Georgetown game played about forty years ago. The newspaper comment was to the effect that ‘when time was called, the referee left the rink under rather alarming conditions. He finally escaped and is safe in his home at Guelph, for the present.' ”

When Lester Rushed

ALL THE hockey developments haven’t come from referees and executive leaders. Players, too. have shown originality and made history. Lester Patrick was a revolutionary who made hockey history.

In the days of poor lighting and short, rinks, it was customary for the defenseman, particularly the point player, to scoop the puck high in the air—often from goal to goal. Not infrequently, one of these marathon heaves was temporarily lost in the stratosphere, then suddenly bounded behind the astonished goalkeeper.

The strategy had some merit, but it wasn’t much to look at. and young Patrick didn’t think it was effective. However, it was traditional that a defenseman’s job was just that; scoring was the forward’s responsibility. A point player would sooner sing a solo than dare to carry the puck and take a shot on goal.

But one night Lester became tired of just stopping rubber. He sensed that hockey was coming into an era of better lighting, improved and larger ice surface and faster skating. He had speed and stamina, so he defied tradition, carried the puck to the far goal, shot and returned in time to meet the opposing forwards as they dashed toward his own goal. Lester Patrick was two-way defenseman Number One.

Industries have contributed to hockey’s progress. Once, sharpened bone-runners fastened to ordinary shoes were the first word in skates. Then rockers, resembling figure-skates, were considered quality. Players in the earliest Stanley Cup competitions were not ashamed to wear spring skates. “Bill” Hewitt wore them, and he recalls they were damped to the soles, and even though strapped, they occasionally came off the boot on a sharp turn or when the puck hit the skate. The genius who thought up the idea of rivetting skates to boots undoubtedly made the greatest single contribution to hockey as a game of speed.

Time recording has also shown astonishing improvement. Originally, stop watches were rare, and even the best-intentioned timers had difficulty in reaching agreement with their ordinary watches. One timer w'ould inform the referee that time was up; the other—if his team w-as behind— might insist “three minutes to play.” The experienced official generally compromised and split the difference.

Today, in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, the public checks the time and score w'ith a “sportimer” that weighs over three tons and cost $10,000. Still another set of docks records the penalty duration and indicates to the second w’hen the prisoner has served his sentence. Certainly club owners have invested heavily in gadgets to keep the fans accurately informed.

Radio has contributed to hockey popularity; good publicity has been exceptionally helpful. But no other factor has given such an impetus to hockey’s development as a major sport, as artificial refrigeration.

Before the days of artificial ice, a hockey schedule was but an intention. In the 1899-1900 season, the first senior game in Toronto was not played until January 4. Every year the “January thaw” caused so many postponements that schedules were shattered. The final games, the most important of the year. wrere played in midMarch. and it v'as not uncommon for green grass or wooden flooring to be visible in the rinks.

Refrigeration developed slowly. In 1900 there were artificial ice rinks in England and Scotland. In 1906 Cleveland had such a rink. In 1921, there were only four in all Canada. Today there are over twenty in Ontario alone.

The results have been that teams now start training in October, schedules are arranged for early November until late March, spectators can attend without dressing like Eskimos, ice is uniform throughout every rink and in all rinks. Professional hockey is played in a score of American cities, even in California. Artificial ice has given hockey a stability without which there would have been little growth beyond that of twenty years ago.

The Game of the Future

TS HOCKEY now at its peak? What will -*• be the trend in the future?

Fred Waghorne, Jr., son of the pioneer of frozen-whistle days, and himself an officer in an association that has over 200 teams in its membership, has taken a long look at hockey, and here is what he secs.

“I see a rink where the two present blue lines will be replaced with one centre line. The two lines encourage too many offsides, too much whistle blowing and too many delays. I may have picked a bad night, but in one match in our enclosed rink, I counted no less than seventy-five stoppages. There shouldn’t be more than about twenty, if we want to keep the game continuously fast.

"I also believe we will see a reduction in the number of players. Once the number was seven, then six. Now I would prefer five men to a side. On ganging attacks. wrhich are now so frequent, eleven players and the official are crowded in about one third of the playing surface. The result is a massing of slashing and poking with little organized attack or defense. It is more like a throwback to old ‘shinny-on-your-own-side’ days. Even without a ganging attack there are often nine players in that same small portion of the rink.

“Five men a side would ensure more speed, less bodily contact, fewer injuries, and would help smaller towns who now find it difficult to secure the player-quantity that is more abundant in more populous centres.

“I also look for more goals in the hockey of—say 1950. Players skating their heads off and getting nowhere, can only be compared to horses on a treadmill. The fans want to stand and cheer, and nothing inspires enthusiasm like a smart goal.

“In the present style of play, a team gets a two-goal lead and hangs on defensively, afraid to open up. The average game has about five goals, one every twelve minutes. That’s not enough. The most thrilling game we ever had in our league was one where the leadership changed six times and the final score was 11 to 10. That was a game. Hockey doesn’t need that many goals to be good, but 1 would like to see a ten-goal average per game.

“How would I get them? Five men to a side and more open play would help. So would a slightly wider goal, narrower goal pads and a penalty to the keeper who went to his knees or sprawded on the ice.”

Hockey has come a long way. Perhaps the road of the future will follow Mr. Waghorne’s direction post. Certainly hockey can’t stand still, even though it is now more than the threescore years and ten since that Christmas morning in 1867.

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Liquid Gloves

A NUMBER of skin protective creams—• • sometimes called liquid gloves—have been on the market for years. These have been used to protect the hands of workingmen against the action of various kinds of chemicals, paints, and solvents.

A new compound for this purpose, called “Shelltex,” is made of such pure ingredients that the manufacturers claim that it is even safe to eat. In using this, the workman first washes his hands thoroughly and dries them, after which he applies a liberal quantity of Shelltex and rubs it in until the sticky feeling disappears. This one application shields the skin from dirt, gasoline, paints, inks, lacquer and lacquer thinners, and most solvents. The flexible film on the hands does not interfere with work and is easily removed by washing with warm water and soap.—Scientific American.