HOCKEY ISN'T AS ROUGH AS IT USED TO BE
MY 43 YEARS IN HOCKEY: PART I
Jack Adams with Trent Frayne
Players and fans who say the sport is rough these days should have seem it in the era of Rusty Crawford, says the sage of the Detroit Red Wings. But he admits that of the oldtimers, only Howie Morenz and Eddie Shore could make an all-star team today
IT’S AN UNUSUAL WINTER when the newspapers across the land aren’t quoting somebody in a denunciation of professional hockey. A couple of years ago a University of Toronto professor decried the game’s brutality, called it a “blood-letting” sport, and went on television coastto-coast to argue his point further. Last winter Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers got front-page attention when he called Gordie Howe the “meanest” player in the game, accused five players of using their sticks as spears, and prophesied that "somebody’s going to get killed.”
Hockey is a tough game nowadays, it’s true, but 1 don’t mind telling the university professors and boys like Bathgate that the game today is a picnic compared to what it used to be. The Rusty Crawfords, the Joe Halls, the Sprague Cleghorns and the Billy Coutus of four decades ago have no counterparts in the game now. If you were lucky enough to skate by them in one piece they’d turn and hook their slicks at your face or crack you over the head.
I’ve been involved in professional hockey as a player or coach or manager for forty-three years. This is my thirty-third season at Detroit, where I’m general manager of the Red Wings. From that experience I’m the first to admit that only Howie Morenz and Eddie Shore could come out of the past and hold all-star rating today, but I also must insist that the modern players just don’t know how hard and mean their game once was, or how tough some of the players couldbe.
The first man who springs to mind is Rusty Crawford. Rusty was a lean, hawk-faced, wicked little guy with a big hooked nose. He was the most cold-blooded of men, absolutely fearless, who’d cut his own players in practices if the action got a little out of hand. For some reason, I’ll never know why, he took kindly toward me. The first morning that 1 walked into the rink for practice with the old Toronto Arenas back in 1918, Rusty spoke solemnly to me as we changed our clothes.
“Son,” he said, “don’t take anything from anybody. Not even in practice.”
I think most of the players around the league figured he meant it, too, because not many men fooled with Rusty. Most of the games weren’t all that savage, but one stands out in my mind as the most brutal I ever took part in. The Arenas played the CONTINUED ON PAGE 64
CONTINUED ON PAGE 64
Continued from page 30
Hockey isn’t as rough as it used to be
In that second game of the ’18 Stanley Cup final, it took 22 stitches to close the cuts in my face
Canadiens in Ihe NHL final, that spring of 1918, and we won the first game 7 to 3 in Toronto. It was a two-game totalgoals series, with the second game in the old Jubilee rink in Montreal, and the winner qualified to meet Vancouver, the champion of the Pacific Coast league, in the Stanley Cup final. There was never a game in my experience like that second one. I got cuts over the eye, down one check, and under my chin. When it was over. I was taken to the Montreal General Hospital for hemstitching. 1 needed twenty-two stitches, as it turned out, and all the cuts were dripping blood when I was led into the emergency ward. My sister Alma was nursing there then, and by coincidence she was on duty when 1 arrived. She didn’t recognize me.
We lost the game, 4 to 3. but won the round 10 to 7. I have an old newspaper clipping about that game:
“The Blues,” it says, using a nickname for the Arenas, "refused to quit and that tells the whole story. For the entire first period, the Canadiens hammered and battered these game youngsters. They put Ken Randall out of the game for keeps, cut Jack Adams’ head to ribbons, battered Rusty Crawford from head to foot, sent Harry Mummery hobbling off halfway through the period with one leg limp from a sweeping slash, broke the teeth of goalkeeper Harry Holmes, knocked out Harry Meeking and Alf Skinner, and bumped every other opposing player on the ice— but the Blues didn’t quit. It was the most punishing game ever played in an NHL final, and Canadiens made punishing play the main issue. An unforgettable picture was chunky Jack Adams dashing up and down the boards with blood streaming from cuts over his eyes and ears.”
I was there, too, on the night nine years later when a violent-tempered veteran named Billy Coutu attacked a referee and was barred from hockey for life for the assault. This was right after the Ottawa Senators, with whom 1 closed out my playing career, had won the Stanley Cup by whipping Boston in a game that concluded with a wild brawl on the ice. Coutu, who’d played for the Canadiens for years, was a Bruin defenseman that season. He led a surge of Boston players toward referee Jerry Laflamme when the game ended. They engulfed the referee, knocking him to the floor near the referee’s room in the Ottawa Auditorium, and cutting and bruising his face. The league president, Frank Calder, fined or suspended five players for the brawl and for the attack on Laflamme. Hooley Smith of the Senators was fined a hundred dollars and suspended for a month of the 1927-28 season. Poor Coutu. in addition to his life suspension, was fined a hundred. too.
It may sound like a whopping contradiction. but with one or two notable exceptions the old-timers weren’t vicious men. Rough-hewn and unbridled, yes, but rarely ruthless. With most of them, hockey was a part-time exercise that brought in a few extra dollars. Gruff, massive Harry Mummery, for example, was a locomotive fireman who took a few months off every winter to play hockey.
Salaries were so low that few men could make the game a career. The total payroll of the Toronto Arenas the year 1 broke into pro hockey early in 1918 was less than the salary of one NHL player today. When I signed with Charlie Querrie, who ran the Arenas, for eight hundred dollars, his payroll for nine players totalled $5,350.
Hockey is pretty close to a year-round proposition in the 1960s, and many players earn more than fifteen thousand dollars a season, but when 1 started out most of the men who played the game were undisciplined easygoing fellows who liked the bodily contact, the boisterous companionship and the rollicking life they led between games. There were exceptions, of course, but mostly they were a harddrinking crowd, and it wasn’t unusual for Querrie to make the rounds of the betterknown bootleggers on the afternoon of a game to round up his players. It wasn't necessary for them to have the condition demanded these days. They’d play only eighteen or twenty games a winter. Preseason training was a matter of three or four days of skating in mid-December and they were ready to go.
Small money, large appetites
As I think back on the years I have to conclude that the conditions under which hockey was played accounted for a lot of the crude tactics. The rinks were small and smoke-filled, and the ice grew heavy with snow as the games wore on. The players were sixty-minute men who came off the ice only if they were badly injured. The spares sat out game after game, rarely logging even a few minutes of ice time. Crowds were small but boisterous. The old Jubilee rink in Montreal had to run a netting along the end of the rink to catch the empty gin bottles hurled by the steamed-up fans. In this atmosphere, nerves grew taut and tempers frayed as the regulars slogged up and down the ice. and slashes and jabs and fights were inevitable. We kept a pail of cold water and a sponge on our bench. When you got cut you skated to the boards where the trainer sloshed off the blood and put some sticking-plaster over the cut. and you went back at it.
There were no players with the vast skills of our present great captain, Gordie Flowe, the finest hockey player 1 ever saw, or the explosive brilliance of Rocket Richard, and none of the goalkeepers, not even the immortal Vezina, could rate with the incredible acrobats we have today.
In my day, the players had small money and large appetites. Harry Mummery’s was prodigious. Mummery, who weighed all of two-sixty, was the biggest eater I ever knew in hockey. Fle'd eat a gallon of ice cream at a sitting and then ask for a couple of pieces of pie. One night as we went to the dressing room in the old Mutual Street Arena in Toronto, the most wonderful aroma of frying beef assailed my twitching nose. I looked around the room and Mummery was missing, so I went prowling through the dark corridors looking for him. I found him in the furnace room. The door of the furnace was
open and Big Mum was crouched in front of it. wearing his hockey stockings and his underwear. He was holding a shovel over the flames on which a steak was sizzling. This was late in the first war and steaks were hard to come by.
"Hello Bo," he grunted. He called everybody Bo.
"Whcre’d you get that?" I asked him.
"I got a friend, a butcher." he said. "I gave him a couple of tickets and he let me have it."
"But the game starts in about fifteen minutes," I said. "Couldn't you have waited?"
"Ah. I got a little hungry. Bo,” said Big Mum.
One thing about that era. the boys gave it everything they had once they got on the ice. it was an attitude that suited me l ight down to the ground, because as long as I can remember it's been my notion that if somebody had to lose, it might as well be the other guy. The urge to win swells as strongly in me today as it did sixty years ago when I was a kid growing up in Port William. I acquired this attitude. I suppose, on Rabideau's rink. Rabideau was a skinny kid whose first name I've forgotten who lived a couple of doors from us on Archibald Street in Port William. He had a sprawling backyard reaching off toward the brush on the edge of tow n and we used to flood a rink there every fall, a big one for the whole neighborhood. There was always a game in progress no matter how many kids showed up. If forty kids were on the ice. we played twenty a side. In a mess like that, you either learned to stickhandle or you never had the puck. It was no place for a loser.
And cold! Once. I remember my mother coming around the corner of Rabideau's house to the rink. It was just before suppertime, almost dark, and I guess she was worried that I hadn't come home.
I told her I'd be there in a minute.
"But aren't your feet cold?" she asked me.
"Gee. no. Mom. they're not cold." I told her. " They 're numb. They're fine."
They were numb because my toes were frozen. It was twenty-eight below zero.
There was nothing unusual about kids freezing their feet. I hey'd turn absolutely white and they fell fine as long as they stayed frozen. But when they were thawing out the pain was excruciating. It wasn't unusual, either, to see the tip of a kid's ear or the end of his nose suddenly turn white as it froze while he was playing. You could watch the color leaving the flesh as the blood receded. If somebody told you your nose was frozen you grabbed a handful of snow and rubbed it on until the frost came out and the circulation returned. When I think about it now I shudder, but at that time it was all a part of growing up at the l.akehead.
We used to go out into the bush nearby and wdiack down an ash tree to make our own hockey sticks. We'd cut the end oil a piece of cordwood to make a puck. When we weren't playing on the rinks we'd clear the fresh-fallen snow off the sidewalk down to the hard snow-packed layer that began to accumulate in midNovember and kept packing, a little at a time, until the spring thaws in April. We'd play in our boots, one kid in goal and the rest battling each other to try to score. When a kid scored three goals he became the goaler. The goaler wore the inevitable roll of magazines jammed under his knee-length woollen socks for pads.
1 had a wonderful time as a youngster. I've read so many stories lately about people who endured hardship and unhappiness in their youth that this must be an uncommon confession but 1 look back
on my childhood with great fondness. Why. we weren't even poverty-stricken. My dad, John, was a six-footer from Cornwall, Ont., who went to Fort William in the 1880s when the railroad was going through. He helped lay the rails for the (PR west of the l.akehead. My mother. Sarah, w as a big woman, too. I'm a fairly heavy-set man so I guess I take after her. My father never did grow stout.
John and Sarah had six children, and niter two girls. Alma and Hilda. I was the first boy. My sister Helen and mv brothers Bill and Walter came along after
me. We didn't have all the money in the world but our mother was a good manager and a wonderful cook. We owned our own four-bedroom home in which, incidentally, my sisters Hilda and Helen live today . It was in a workingman s neighborhood—on the outskirts in those days but now practically in the centre of town. I he trees joined their leaves over the street in summer and the sidewalks were wooden and they creaked with frost under the snow in winter. The fathers of most ot the kids in our neighborhood worked on the bridges and the grain ele-
vators that were going up at the turn of the century.
1 he l.akehead cities, being the first on the (’entrai time zone, had long lingering evenings in the summer. We could play a thirteen-inning ball game and still have plenty ot light. In winter, there were open-air rinks on every vacant lot. I guess the population of our town was around thirteen or fourteen thousand people then.
We called Tort William the imperial city ot the unsalted seas, and we had no use whatever tor Port Arthur, our natural
11v¿ii uccausc in mai rocKy and tairly remote area of central Canada it was our only one. Wc used to skate and play hockey on the Necbin River, a thin ribbon smack in the middle of a four-mile stretch of no man’s land dividing Fort William and Port Arthur. We went to that other town only when we couldn’t avoid it. Port Arthur loved its hills and homes, Fort William its industry and aggressiveness, and therein lay the difference between the conservative east and the new west.
But one spring, around 1910, we were out on Archibald Street playing hockey on the still-packed snow when 1 saw a wisp of smoke coming from the arena down the street. We abandoned the hockey game and tore down there as the crowds gathered. It was the only covered rink in the town and it seated about three thousand people. Florse-drawn fire engines came clanging around the corner but the firemen couldn’t stop the flames. We stood there watching the rink burn to the ground, leaving great charred embers sizzling and throwing up wide puffs of dirty smoke. After that we had to go to Port Arthur, it had the only covered rink for hundreds of miles around.
Fort William had two newspapers then, and I worked for them both. I got up at 5 o’clock to deliver the Morning Herald, and I sold the Times-Journal on the streets after school. My best customers were the men in the bars who dropped in for a hooker on their way home from work. I hey were real saloons, where a man could stand with his elbows on the long polished wooden bar, propping up one foot on the brass rail at the base of the bar. One evening a man offered me a drink as a tip.
I don t drink, ’ 1 said. I was in my early teens then, a stocky kid with fair curly hair and light blue eyes. 1 don’t know what made him think I was old enough to drink.
‘C’mon, kid,” the man said. "One drink won’t hurt you.” He was a dark smirking fellow, chewing on a cigar. I was afraid of trouble.
“Naw, I don’t want a drink, mister,”
I said, smiling. “But I’ll tell you what: I’d like a cigar.”
I'd remembered that the old gent who looked after the rink smoked cigars, and 1 figured if 1 took him one he’d let me skate free. I he fellow at the bar seemed placated and gave me the cigar, and when 1 took it to the rink the man there handed me a scraper and said I might as well clean off the ice while 1 was at it. After that, whenever 1 was offered a tip in a saloon I asked for a cigar instead. I got in a lot of extra ice-time that way.
Indirectly, religion afforded me extra hockey time. There was a church league operating al the Lakehead then and I was a Methodist or a Presbyterian or a Catholic or whatever a player had to be to fill in for a team that was short-handed. I even played for a team of butchers one night when one of their players didn’t turn up.
Fort William had a good senior team, the North Stars. There were no such things as junior hockey teams; as soon as a kid was big enough and good enough to play for the seniors he qualified. My brother Bill was only fourteen when he made it. 1 was sixteen and played right wing. We won the Thunder Bay senior championship around 1911 or ’12 and qualified to meet Dick Irvin’s Winnipeg Monarchs in the Allan Cup playdowns in a two-game total-goals series. The Monarchs had a strong tough seven-man club led by Irvin, who could fly. We amazed everyone by winning the first game in Port Arthur. 5 to 3. But then they knocked us off by 13 to 5 in the second
game in Winnipeg and won the round easily.
I’d quit school at fifteen and was working in the grain elevators. By the time I was eighteen I was the head weighmaster, which meant that I checked the weight of grain at the top of an elevator and supervised the pouring of it into the lakeboats tied up below. I was making 22'A cents an hour and twenty-five cents for overtime. During the fall grain rush we’d work around the clock. Some months I made close to a hundred and fifty dollars. My sister Alma was working at the TimesJournal and Hilda went into the Bank of Montreal, and every week we put our pay cheques onto the dining-room table for mother.
Hockey was all the stimulant I ever needed. I suppose the best hockey player I ever saw at the Lakehead was Frank Nighbor. who came west with a team from his home town, Pembroke, and played in what, for him, was probably the most significant game of his life. We had a player named Joel Rochon, a squat little guy who had somewhere somehow developed a hook-check, the first one I ever saw. Joel would let you skate past him and then he’tl reach around from behind and hook the puck from your stick with his. Nighbor, a long-armed solemn fellow, was a good scorer for Pembroke, but I can t recall him as being much of a checker then. However, he must have studied Rochon’s unusual style that night, for near the end of the game he was trying the hook-check.
Nighbor struck like a cobra
Later, when Frank joined the Ottawa Senators, he became the most famous defensive centre of all time, and his hookcheck and poke-check were so devastating that the Ottawa Auditorium was built eggshaped to suit his checking skills, its narrow ends contoured to keep puck-carriers from sweeping wide past him. But. as far as I know, the night Nighbor saw Joel Rochon’s hook-check was the first time he’d ever seen the lactic that helped put him in hockey’s Hall of Fame. Of course, Frank perfected it. In later years when I played against him in the NHL I learned that that stick of his came out at you like a cobra striking. Nighbor’s checking ability even became a psychological hazard. An opposing player would stickhandle past him but then he’d tighten up in apprehension of the hook-check, and the puck would roll off his stick. I found the only way to beat Nighbor. if at all, was to skate close to him, inside his long reach, if you tried to go wide with the puck you were dead.
I was twenty years old in 1915 when 1 left Fort William. The grain elevators laid men off in the winter, and I went to Calumet, a town in the copper country of northern Michigan. On the strength of being a hockey player I got a job with a bridge construction outfit that had a senior team. I made thirty-five bucks a week. Then I moved down to Sarnia in the tall of ’16 and. again because I was a hockey player. I got a job with Imperial Oil and played for Sarnia in the Senior OH A.
Then one night, about a year and a half later, Charlie Querrie, who ran the Toronto Arenas in the NHL, came to see me and asked if I’d like to finish out the season with him. Charlie was a lean, bald, pipe-chewing fellow who’d taken over the Toronto club a few months earlier, following the formation of the National Hockey League which, until November 22, 1917, had been known as the National Hockey Association. I’d never considered professional hockey, which was pretty generally in disfavor. It was a six-man
game, extremely rough and often brutal. It hadn’t caught on in Toronto after its introduction in 1912 and. in fact, in the fall of 1917 Querrie and three associates, Percy and Fred Hambly and Paul Ciceri, vere able to buy the franchise for the newly formed NHL for a mere sixteen hundred dollars, putting up four hundred apiece.
However, 1 knew that Fd soon be drafted into the army and 1 felt 1 might as well pick up a few extra dollars until that happened. On such meagre motivation, then, I signed for eight hundred dollars and 1 had not the vaguest notion that night that I was undertaking my life’s work when 1 signed with Charlie Querrie.
We won the Stanley Cup that spring hut even with a championship club Toronto fans didn’t respond to the pro game. After one more season with the Arenas Querrie made Alf Skinner and me free agents because he didn’t have the money to pay us. We decided to go to Vancouver when Frank Patrick offered us nine hundred dollars each for the season. For a time things were as tough there as they’d been in Toronto. We packed our own bags, carried our own equipment, taped a couple of sticks together, bought a sandwich and caught the boat for a game in Victoria, week after gloomy week.
But interest suddenly swept Vancouver when we came up with a strong team the next season. Frank Patrick moved me to centre between Smoky Harris and Gordie Roberts, and Mickey Mackay was our rover. This was seven-man hockey, which still was in vogue on the coast, although the NHL had changed its game to the sixman style. We won the coast - league championship, and the Ottawa Senators came west to play for the Stanley Cup. In those days, the series alternated between east and west, w'ith the rules of the host league prevailing.
The public response in Vancouver was tremendous. Thirteen thousand people watched the first game in a rink with less than ten thousand seats. The fire department closed the doors on hundreds more who were looking for standing room. In fact, so many people were walking aw'ay from the rink an hour before game-time that when my wife and 1 met them as we were walking to the rink we thought the game had been called off.
The Senators beat us, three games to tw'o, in a wonderful five-game series in which each team scored twelve goals. It was that close.
I’d led the league in penalties with a hundred and twenty minutes, a circumstance so impressive to Frank Patrick that he gave me a fat raise for my third season, all the way up to fifteen hundred dollars. And, for the only time in my life, I led a league in scoring. 1 got twenty-six goals and four assists as we qualified for the Stanley Cup final once more, this time the six-man game in Toronto where my old teammates, the Arenas, were now called the St. Pat’s. With a hard-shooting rookie named Cecil (Babe) Dye giving us fits, we once more lost the final by the odd game in five, and I decided not to return to Vancouver. In fact, I decided to quit hockey.
The decision had nothing to do with the game itself. It was reached after a long conversation with my wife’s uncle, John Walsh, who had made a fortune in South Africa, gold mining. My wife, Helen Trimble, a girl I’d met and married in 1918 in Toronto, was Walsh’s only living female relative. When he got rich he came back to his old home in Napanee, about a hundred miles east of Toronto, and he wanted us to live with him. We spent our summers at his home and he urged us to keep him permanent company. In that summer of 1922 1 de-
cided wc would and informed Frank Patrick i was through with hockey.
Then Frank began bombarding me with telegrams. I’d gel three and four a week asking me to reconsider. 1 went to John Walsh and showed him the wires.
“They must want you pretty badly,” he conceded.
"What do you think I ought to do?” I asked him.
"Well, if you happened to play hockey in the east you could return to the game and Helen could stay here,” he suggested.
So 1 wrote to Patrick explaining my predicament and Frank worked out a trade with Charlie Querrie whereby I joined the St. Pat’s and Corbett Denneny went to Vancouver. We lived in Napanee and I commuted for the next four seasons. In the spring of 1926 I had a dispute with N. L. Nathanson, the president of a movie company, who had bought the St. Pat’s franchise. He was looking for a new coach and I’d been told by Charlie Querrie that I was the man. Instead, the job went to Mike Rodden, and 1 protested so violently that they sold me to the Ottawa Senators.
I had pretty well decided, for sure this lime, that this would be my last year in hockey. 1 was now thirty-two and had been kicking around for ten years in the pro game. I was hopeful of getting a coaching job, and the Senators’ manager
and coach, Dave Gill, let me work with some of the younger players. Then, during the Stanley Cup final in which we engaged the Boston Bruins 1 learned that the Detroit Cougars were looking for a new man. The Cougars lost eighty-four thousand dollars operating in Windsor in their first year in the NHL after their franchise had been transferred from Victoria. The owners were building a new rink in Detroit, the Olympia, which would be finished by the fall of 1927, and they apparently wanted to start fresh.
Frank Calder was president of the NHL then, and he was in Boston for the Stanley Cup final. I went to his hotel room and told him I’d heard Detroit was looking for a coach. Mr. Calder, a quietspoken, sharp-featured, mild and stocky man, confirmed the rumor and asked me if I was interested. When I told him I was, he looked at me over his rimless glasses, his blue eyes expressionless for a long moment.
”1 think they might be looking for somebody like you.” he said quietly. And then he put in a call to Charles Hughes, the president of the Cougars, in Detroit, and arranged an interview for me after the playoffs.
The Ottawa victory went a long way toward earning me my job in Detroit. The reputation of the Senators was never higher than after we whipped the Bruins
in the spring of '27, and when I walked into my interview with Hughes I realized I had a psychological advantage. There was no such thing as a cap-in-hancl applicant seeking employment; I had the feeling that this club, which had finished dead last and lost a ton of money that season, was grateful for my presence. Don’t get me wrong: any Senator at that particular moment in hockey history would have been accorded the same reception.
And so in the fall I began what has turned out to be, so far, a thirty-threeyear career in Detroit. The thrills have been high — our unmatched seven-year domination of the NHL during which I was able to watch, game after game, the finest team I’ve ever seen in hockey, the 1951-52 Red Wings. There have been low moments, too — we almost went bankrupt in the mid-Thirties and. worse, there was the long night when Gordie Howe nearly died. There has been great happiness — there always is when you win and in my time we’ve finished in first place twelve times and won the Stanley Cup seven. And there has been some bitterness, for I’ve traded away players who didn’t want to leave us. So next, I’d like to tell you why these trades were made and how the great teams were built.
Jack Adams continues the story of
his hockey life in the next issue.