Articles

How Doug Harvey loafed his way to fame

For years fans and critics lambasted this Canadien defenseman for laziness. But, without straining a muscle, he dawdled his way onto six all-star teams and into one of hockey’s top salaries

TRENT FRAYNE February 15 1958
Articles

How Doug Harvey loafed his way to fame

For years fans and critics lambasted this Canadien defenseman for laziness. But, without straining a muscle, he dawdled his way onto six all-star teams and into one of hockey’s top salaries

TRENT FRAYNE February 15 1958

How Doug Harvey loafed his way to fame

TRENT FRAYNE

For years fans and critics lambasted this Canadien defenseman for laziness. But, without straining a muscle, he dawdled his way onto six all-star teams and into one of hockey’s top salaries

Ten years ago there was some doubt that Doug Harvey would make the grade with the Montreal Canadiens because he was inclined to loaf. Six years ago, although it was noted that he was inclined to loaf, Doug Harvey was voted to the National Hockey League's all-star team, which he has made every year since. This season hockey experts are fondling the notion that, although he is inclined to loaf. Doug Harvey is possibly the best defenseman in the history of the NHL.

Ten years ago his own fans booed him in the Montreal Forum, and sportswriters covering the Canadiens deplored his lackadaisical style ot play. Now, the volatile French-Canadian fans rattle the Habitant playpen with praise for "DugGar-Vee" and when Gazette columnist Dink Carroll was polled by an American magazine recently he named Harvey and Eddie Shore, the former Boston star, as the two best defensemen of all time.

Shore himself says unhesitatingly, “Harvey is the best I've ever seen. He's cool, he can think and he can lift a team." Shore would hardly be expected to name Shore, so I sought an opinion from Hector (Toe) Blake, the Canadien coach who broke into the NHL when Shore was electrifying audiences in the Thirties. "Yes. he's ahead of Shore,” said Blake. "He can do more things— when he wants to.” Another Shore contemporary who has stayed abreast of the game, Joe Primeau, the former centre of Toronto’s Kid Line who is the only man ever to coach teams that have won the Memorial Cup, the Allan Cup and the Stanley Cup, doesn't agree with Blake because he feels rule changes in hockey have made comparisons impracticable when they involve players of

different eras. But he agrees that Harvey is "one of the best who ever played.”

Whether he's the best or one of the best, the remarkable thing is that Harvey has never changed his basic approach to the game or his style of playing it. "If 1 w;as loafing the year 1 broke in,” he says, "I'm loafing now'.” He has made the transition from the doghouse to the penthouse on his ow n terms, and he has won universal acclaim by continuing to do things his way rather than by conforming to the mold. For example, in his early years he exasperated his coach and outraged the paying guests by carrying the puck across the very threshold of his own goal in trying to elude enemy forecheckers. The coach, the late Dick Irvin, unable to break Harvey of committing this fundamental error, told him he'd be fined one hundred dollars every time an opponent stole the puck from him and scored a goal as a resuit of what the coach felt was Harvey’s carelessness. No one ever did. Nowadays, when Harvey carries the puck across his own doorstep, the fans cheer his wonderful dexterity, and pressbox occupants applaud him as one of the best stickhandlers in the game. Coach Toe Blake is not enthralled by the spectacle but he is resigned to it with the heavy philosophy that “you can break the law just as long as you don't get caught.”

Harvey has other non-conformist traits which, when employed early in his career, brought him abuse and which now are regarded as illustrations of his vast ability. Once, in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1953, the Forum fans shouted their annoyance when he apparently threw away an obvious scoring opportunity. The Canadiens were

leading the Boston Bruins 4 to 2 in the first game of the final round. With a few minutes remaining Harvey broke clear from a Boston ganging attack, and there was only one Bruin with a chance of heading him off. He never had to. Harvey took a quick burst of strides, then slowed as he reached the centre red line. When he crossed it he shoved the puck easily toward the Boston end of the arena, circled, and coasted leisurely back into his own end amid a rumble of fan displeasure. The Canadiens won the game 4 to 2 and a couple of the newspaper accounts pointed out somewhat tartly the next day that Harvey’s apathy probably prevented the score from being 5 to 2.

Tart comments are unusual these days. The customers have come to know' that Harvey rarely makes an unpremeditated move, that there is nothing impulsive about his actions, and that apathetic is not the w'ord for the sometimes dawdling Douglas. He later explained his motive in that Boston game:

"If it’s 4 to 2 or 5 to 2. w'hat difference did it make?” he asked. "The important thing was that Boston didn't make it 4 to 3. If Ed gone into the Boston end and the other guys had followed me in, we might have been trapped. If Boston had made it 4 to 3 they’d have got a terrific psychological lift with six minutes to play, and we might have got panicky and blown our lead.”

Harvey’s equanimity possibly contributes to the charge that he loafs. He performs his duties w'ith a bland colorless efficiency that is deceptive. When he is not involved in a play he has a manner of standing heavily on his right foot with the left one a few inches in

continued on page 47

continued from page 23

“The point isn’t whether or not to loaf,” says Harvey, “but when”

front of it, providing balance. His arms hang limply at his sides. His face is chubby and his green eyes are wide and round, and they give him a casual innocent look, suggesting disinterest. He skates effortlessly, but with sudden sharp acceleration that shifts him into top speed in a few quick strokes. He looks stocky on the ice, less than his five-feet-eleven, because he has a thick chest and heavy thighs, and he weighs a solid 186 pounds. Unlike most defensemen Harvey spends a good deal of his time in his own half of the rink and rarely winds up for an end-toend rush, the sort of thing that lifts a crowd. Instead of dashing off in all directions to the roars of the mob, he feeds the puck ahead to forwards in full stride with deftly timed passes, and then he appears to be one of the arena’s less interested spectators standing solemnly or coasting casually toward the other team’s area while the accomplished Canadien forwards buzz the enemy net. It has taken years for most fans to recognize that it’s Harvey who carries the puck out of danger in his own zone, that it’s Harvey who frequently sends the Richards and the Beliveaus and the GeofTrions skimming their lethal shots at the hapless net minder, and that it’s Harvey who is an uncoiling spring at the opposition’s blueline when the foe appears to have made a breakaway from a pack of trapped Canadiens. He whirls into action, forcing the breaking player into the boards if he can overtake him. or getting himself between his own net and the opposing player if he can’t, thus forcing the player wider and wider until there s no ahgle left for the man's cut toward the Habitant goal.

“I have to save something”

“I don't think the point is whether or not you’re loafing, but whether you know when to loaf,” says Harvey. He prefers the word pacing to loafing, and readily admits he paces himself.

“1 spend quite a bit of time on the ice,” he says pointedly. “I m on for our power plays and I’m on when we re a man short. 1 take my regular turn. This is no complaint; I wouldn t want it any other way. But I feel I have to save a little something now and then for what might happen in the late stages of a game.”

It’s his nature to be unruffled in this manner. Once on a Pullman returning from New York he was upbraided by a veteran Montreal columnist for what the writer felt was a poor performance. Harvey said nothing, merely stared in his round-eyed impassive way. Possibly emboldened by Harvey’s silence, the columnist continued in his critical vein and then asked him why he never complained about the barbs the writer had occasionally aimed at him in print.

“One thing about your job, you have to watch me play hockey," said Harvey, rising and strolling to the door of the smoking room. “I never read your column.”

Another time he was asked if he ever had salary disputes with Frank Selke, the Canadiens' managing director. “Not very often,” replied Harvey blandly. “Just once a year.” The inference was that he names his figure and then sits adamantly until he gets it. He earns close to $15,000 a year and has averaged another

$3,500 in playoff and all-star bonuses over the last half-dozen seasons.

Harvey's self-assurance extends to almost everything he undertakes. Four years ago he decided to build a six-room house in the Notre Dame de Grâce sub-

urb of Montreal, not far from where he and his two brothers, Alf and Howie, were born and grew up. He built it himself, with the help of Alf and Howie, neither of whom had ever wielded a trowel before. A builder showed them

how to install the wiring. Right now Harvey’s converting the dining room into a fourth bedroom because of the arrival last summer of a fourth child. Diane, a sister for eight-year-old Doug, five-yearold Darlene and two-year-old Nancy. He was married ten years ago to a childhood schoolmate. Ursula Hardie.

He illustrated his innate confidence again while attending a boxing show in the Halifax naval barracks during the war when he was a gunner on merchant ships on the North Atlantic. The heavyweight champion of HMCS Cornwallis,

the Atlantic naval station, challenged anyone attending the show to a bout. Harvey, who had never boxed, climbed into the ring “to see what it would be like,” he says now. He knocked out the barracks champ in the first round.

In 1946 he went to Ottawa to play professional baseball with the Ottawa Nationals of the Class C Border League. Gripping the bat with his hands some six inches apart, he hit .342. The next season he reasoned that he’d get more power if he placed his hands together in an orthodox grip, and hit .351 to lead the league in batting. He was offered a contract by the Boston (now Milwaukee) Braves to report for training at Bradenton, Fla., but rejected it because he figured hockey was his best game, and the seasons overlapped.

In 1945 he played football for the Montreal Hornets in the Big Four, a year before the Alouettes were formed. Joe Krol, who played against him for the Toronto Argonauts, recalls: “He’d have been a great player if he’d stayed with it.”

He didn’t stay with it because hockey appeared to be the game with the most lucrative future, and he went about it in his typical single-minded way. He played for two seasons with the Montreal Royals of the old Quebec senior hockey league.

“When 1 coached him with the Royals,” says Frank Carlin, “he’d play sixty minutes if I’d let him, and often he would be out there for fifty. Then the next day he’d be the first guy on the ice at a practice and the last to leave."

Harvey’s first year with the Canadiens was the 1947-48 season when he was farmed to Buffalo in the American Hockey League for twenty-four games, and then played thirty-five games with the parent NHL club.

One night he was sitting in the smoking room of the Canadien sleeping car with teammate Billy Reay, now coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was downcast because he was the fifth, or “extra” defenseman and didn't feel he was playing enough.

“You’ve got all the equipment to be an all-star,” the soft-spoken Reay soothed him, “but this league isn’t the Quebec league. You’ve got to go-go the minute you hit the ice. You aren’t playing fifty minutes around here; you’re lucky if you’re on for twenty-five. You’ve got to make them count. You can't coast.”

The fans seemed to share Reay’s reasoning, but they lacked his sympathy. Boos continued to come down like storm windows in the spring.

“I used to wonder when I’d take the puck near our net and look for a man breaking for a pass if maybe the fans and the newspapermen were right and I was wrong,” Harvey recalls. “I was tempted to change my style and become the great rusher. That’s the best way to make an all-star team and make the fans love you. Just keep rushing up the ice. In Montreal they remember Kenny Reardon for that. He was a terrific competitor and had a lot of spirit. They loved his slam-bang style of rushing and he looked great. But I just don’t play that type of game. When we’re a goal up my first thought is to protect the lead. I never changed my style.”

The thing that changed, of course, was the attitude of his critics, and the change came early in 1952, possibly by coincidence, when a Detroit hockey writer named Marshall Dann polled NHL coaches after forty games of the seventygame schedule for their all-star selections. You could have knocked over the boys in the jury box with a split infinitive when the coaches said that along

with Red Kelly of Detroit the defenseman with whom they would most prefer to be marooned was Douglas Norman Harvey, the ugly duckling from the Forum.

A couple of months later it became official. The annual sports writers' poll placed him on the all-star line-up. Harvey took the news typically—“I just want to say that I made the team without any help or encouragement from Montreal newspapermen.”

His selection by the coaches as one of the league’s two best defensemen seemed to set off a chain reaction. Fans and other critics have been applauding his work ever since. He’s been chosen on th. all-star team for the last six seasons. Three years ago he won the James Norris Memorial Trophy as “the regular defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability." The trophy has been up for competition for four years; Harvey has won it the last three years. Detroit’s Kelly was the first winner.

Harvey earned the admiration of his teammates long before he gained it on the ballots of radio and newspaper reporters naming the all-stars. Tall and lean Bert Olmstead, who joined the Canadiens from Chicago halfway through Harvey’s fourth season, recalls his amazement one night as he watched the defenseman try to get his hockey boot over an instep blackened and swollen almost twice its normal size. Olmstead says he'd never seen a worse-looking bruise!

“You’re not going to play on tlwt," he said to Harvey.

“I am if I get this skate on,” the defenseman replied. “The X-rays show there’s no break.”

“Wasted motion hurts”

Olmstead relates that Harvey played that game, and another, and then reluctantly told the team’s physiotherapist Bill Head that his foot didn't seem to be getting any better.

“So more X-rays were taken,” says Olmstead, “and this time they showed a crack in the big toe. Have you ever tried to walk with a broken toe?”

Harvey has played with painfully sprained ligaments in the knees and ankles, and once went a week with a broken hand before reporting to Bill Head’s infirmary in the Forum.

“He’s the easiest man to handle with an injury I’ve ever seen,” says the physiotherapist. “Most people have a low threshold of pain. Doug has a very high one, plus a will and desire to play despite pain that is the most unusual I've seen in fourteen years with this team."

Harvey seems to go about everything he does in hockey with this stolid purposefulness. “Wasted motion will hurt a team as much as it will hurt a player," he says. “Hockey, in spite of what you hear these days, is a scientific game. Teams that have no system lose. Teams with a negative system lose. Like Toronto until this season: their defensemen were always rushing and their forwards were always backchecking, exactly the reverse of what their very names dictate they should be doing.

“With the Canadiens I’ve found that the nights we’re playing badly are the nights the defensemen are rushing all the time. Their job is to defend and to feed the puck to the forwards—head-manning it, we call it. Toronto even had a rule that a defenseman couldn't pass the puck in his own end. Why in the world should a man carry the puck when the rules permit him to pass it half the length of the ice?

“The Canadiens win because we have i positive system — move the puck around, play your position. As soon as a guy comes to check me I know that he had to leave his position to do it. That means that we’ve got a man loose in his area. I immediately feed our man there the puck. He's got to be there because that’s our system, and this is a uam game—it’s not a game for individuals.

“Defensively? It’s the same thing. Suppose we’re playing Chicago, and Ted Lindsay and Eddie Litzenberger get a break. Let’s say Rocket Richard is on his wing chasing Lindsay. Well. I know Rock will take Lindsay so 1 naturally tike LJtzenberger, and don’t bother with Lindsay at all. Now we'll look pretty silly, won’t we, if Rock suddenly switches to Litzenberger and tries to take the puck from him with me also covering him? That’d leave Lindsay wide open to tike a pass. Richard gets a lot of knocks about never backchecking but in my eleven years playing on his side of the nnk I've never seen him cross up a defenseman by switching. That’s what I mean by system. If every man does his job the way common sense says he should do it, then you’re playing the game properly.”

It was not unexpected when Harvey, with so businesslike an attitude to his business, became one of the originators of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, of which he is now vicepresident. Until the association was formed a year ago Harvey and Lindsay were the players’ representatives on the NHL pension-fund board. Representing the league were Ian Johnston QC, a director of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gen. John Kilpatrick, president of the New York Rangers, and Clarence Campbell, president of the NHL.

“They had two lawyers, Campbell and Johnston, and they could always outstickhandle Lindsay and me with their legal chitchat,” says Harvey. “We figured we could do better by the pension plan if we had an association and our own legal advisers, so we started banding together. To tell the truth, I always figured I could take the association or leave it alone, whatever the players wanted, until the owners began raising all kinds of obstacles to oppose us. The way I look at it now, if they’re so all-fired intent on blocking us, we must really need an association.”

Harvey’s employer, Frank Selke, has had less than a benign eye for the association, and Harvey, accordingly, has felt reluctant to call post-practice meetings in the Forum dressing room, the most convenient place for the players to assemble. Not long ago in a game between Chicago and the Canadiens, Harvey and Lindsay and Jim Thomson, former Toronto representative who now plays for the Hawks, became involved in a heated imbroglio along the hoards. When referee Red Storey shouted “Break it up! Break it up!” and began pulling the players apart, Harvey stepped back from the melee and suddenly grinned at the referee.

“Hey, Red,” he said, “can't we even have a meeting here?”

Harvey, who turned thirty-three last Dec. 19, hopes to be a coach when his playing days end. but the imperturbable manner in which he plays and the way he has learned to pace himself suggest that this might be at least another five years. During that period he'll probably be named on five more all-star teams, win a trophy or two, and earn something approaching $ 100,000.

It’s a downright shame that he’s such a loafer. ★