Category Archives: Conn Smythe

The Writers Get Paid

From my collection, this original accounts payable sheet is from Frank J. Selke, signed at the bottom, to various writers who had contributed stories to the Maple Leafs Gardens program in 1938.

Frank Selke, before he became the iconic GM of the Montreal Canadiens from 1946 to 1964, was an assistant and right-hand man to Conn Smythe in Toronto, from 1929 until ’46, when he moved to Montreal.

The names on this sheet are extraordinary, and when you see a payment of $40 for example, according to the Consumer Price Index, $40 in 1938 is equivalent to $642.23 today. And $25 equals $457.42.

Here they are:

Bobby Hewitson, an NHL referee from 1920 to 1934, was the very first curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was sports editor of the now-defunct Toronto Telegram, a newspaper I delivered when I was 11 or 12. I had the final edition copy for years until my ex-wife threw it out.

Bill Grimes, legendary Boston sportswriter.

Elmer Ferguson, legendary sportswriter for the Montreal Herald and Montreal Star, which spanned 39 years. Elmer was also a radio commentator for the Montreal Maroons (1933-38) and the Canadiens (1938-67). He remains one of the greatest hockey writers of all time.

Tommy Munns, assistant sports editor of the Globe and Mail.

Victor O. Jones, sportswriter for the Boston Globe.

Ted Reeves, a true legend. Played on two Grey Cup Argos teams, and became a beloved sports writer with the Toronto Telegram and Toronto Sun. There’s even an arena named after him in Toronto. He used to write these rambling sports poems, one of which I have in an old program, and his nickname was “The Moaner.”

Fred Jackson, succeed Lou Marsh as sports editor of the Toronto Star.

Hal Straight, sports editor of the Toronto Sun, a man who taught Pierre Berton the ins-and-outs of the newpaper business.

Marc McNeil, sportswriter for the Montreal Gazette.

Bill Roche, sportswriter in Sarnia and Toronto, and hockey author.

Jim Hurley, sportswriter for the New York Daily Mirror.

Harry Scott, sports editor of the Calgary Albertan, who played two seasons for the Montreal Canadiens (1913-14, 1914-15), with Georges Vezina and Newsy Lalonde as teammates.

Please note: I couldn’t find any information about Boaxil O’Meara and John Buss. If anyone can fill me in I would appreciate it very much.

Dad, What The…?

My father was a Habs fan as far back as I can remember, but from reading his journal he once wrote about his childhood, it turns out he was a Leafs fan when he was a kid. He changed later on, and I wish he was alive so I could ask him about it.

All I know is, he used to complain about all things Leafs, including Foster and Bill Hewitt and of course Punch Imlach and Conn Smythe, and he’d go on about the sports section of the paper which was all Leafs, all the time, which, except for him, is understandable considering it was a Toronto paper.

But thankfully somewhere along the way, he became a Habs fan. If I had grown up a Leafs fan, I might have had to shoot myself.

Here’s a section of his journal:

“The Toronto Star used to come up on the train the day after it was published and as a rule, we could usually come up with the three cents it cost. We didn’t have a radio but I became a Toronto Maple Leafs fan through reading the sports pages of this paper. Almost every day of the hockey season, the sports section would carry a drawing of a player and these I would cut and paste in a scrapbook.

It was around 1932 when one of the Leaf players, Ace Bailey, was injured in a game against the Boston Bruins. While he was in hospital, I wrote him a letter and in due time received an answer from his wife along with an autographed picture of him. I dare say, I must have been the proudest kid in Trout Creek and I like to think I was the envy of all the other boys in town.”

 

 

Smythe And Kid

When you see a building being built that takes maybe a year to finish, think about this; Maple Leaf Gardens was built during the depression in just five months.

It takes me that long to build a fence gate.

Conn Smythe recruited several rich buddies to invest in the Gardens, and when the money fell short by several hundred thousand dollars, he convinced the workers to trade twenty percent of their wages for shares in the building. The thing got built and the workers’ shares, that were bought for a dollar apiece, quickly increased by a hundred-fold.

Smythe was one powerful hockey man. After building Maple Leaf Gardens and a successful Leafs franchise, he was offered the presidency of the entire league, basically so the other owners would finally have this loud and forceful bully out of the way. But Smythe said no way was he becoming a yes-man to the owners. So they hired Clarence Campbell, who was the definitive yes-man and a guy the owners, especially Smythe, could manipulate like a puppet.

Think about the St. Patrick’s Day riot in 1955 in Montreal, when Campbell suspended Rocket Richard for the remainder of the season, plus all of the playoffs. Owners, especially Smythe, had been fed up with the Rocket causing havoc with officials throughout the league and wanted him reined in. Happily for them, they had Campbell to do their dirty work for them, who turned around and handed Richard that gigantic suspension that we still talk about every St. Patrick’s Day.

Years later, someone asked Stafford Smythe, Conn’s son who succeeded dad as Maple Leaf president, why they didn’t get rid of Campbell, who would, from time to time, piss the owners off. Stafford replied, “Where would we find another Rhodes scholar, graduate lawyer, decorated war hero, and former prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, who will do what he’s told?”

Stafford seemed to be a man disliked by almost everyone who knew him. Howie Meeker punched him in the face during a disagreement about certain players when Howie was coaching the Leafs, and it seems whenever there’s mention of Stafford in various books, it involves bullying and manipulating, and it’s obvious the man had issues. Just not a nice person. Rude to the players’ wives. A tax evader, a fraudster, and a stealer of company funds.

Dad had more class than son.

Conn had a beautiful apartment built in the innards of the Gardens where he lived much of the time and where he called in many Gardens employees to yell at and often fire. How cool would that be? You don’t have to go out in the cold when you go to the games.

He also owned a thriving gravel pit where some of the Leafs worked, and a ranch where he raised prize racing horses.

Smythe held firm when it came to the players’ idea about forming a players association, and managed to prolong it for ten years, mostly by convincing all the teams to trade the main instigators, like Ted Lindsay and Doug Harvey, to other teams. He was very proud of this accomplishment. A union of course wouldn’t jive with Conn. He needed full control. He needed to be able to treat his players and coaches as he saw fit, and pocket much of the profits while being cheap about giving small raises to deserving players.

I wonder if Gary Bettman has a picture of him taped to the ceiling above his bed.

The old bastard also lobbied for years to stop Harvey Busher Jackson, one of his star players throughout the 1940′s in Toronto, from being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame because he disapproved of Jackson’s drinking and womanizing. Smythe would quit hockey completely when Jackson was finally inducted in 1971.

He also didn’t like Roman Catholics and was mortified when son Stafford fell in love with and married one.

Conn Smythe was a piece of work, but raised countless dollars for crippled children. So he had a good side of him, I suppose. Although it doesn’t excuse him for all the other stuff. And that includes fathering Stafford.

What Players Had To Do

I pulled cards from my 1954-55 set to show you examples of what players back then did for summer jobs, which you can see on the last line of each player description. This was long before a players association, when the game was much different, and there was no such thing as a wealthy player. The owners made millions, the players worked summer jobs, and if these stars-on-ice somehow incurred the wrath of Conn Smythe and other owners or general managers, they could be buried in the minors or cast adrift, rarely or never to be heard from again.

 

 

 

Selke Pays The Program Writers

From my collection, this original accounts payable sheet is from Frank J. Selke, signed at the bottom, to various writers who had contributed stories to the Maple Leafs Gardens program in 1938.

Frank Selke, before he became the iconic GM of the Montreal Canadiens from 1946 to 1964, was an assistant and right-hand man to Conn Smythe in Toronto, from 1929 until ’46, when he moved to Montreal.

The names on this sheet are extraordinary, and when you see a payment of $40 for example, according to the Consumer Price Index, $40 in 1938 is equivalent to $642.23 today. And $25 equals $457.42.

Here they are:

Bobby Hewitson, an NHL referee from 1920 to 1934, was the very first curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was sports editor of the now-defunct Toronto Telegram, a newspaper I delivered when I was 11 or 12. I had the final edition copy for years until my ex-wife threw it out.

Bill Grimes, legendary Boston sportswriter.

Elmer Ferguson, legendary sportswriter for the Montreal Herald and Montreal Star, which spanned 39 years. Elmer was also a radio commentator for the Montreal Maroons (1933-38) and the Canadiens (1938-67). He remains one of the greatest hockey writers of all time.

Tommy Munns, assistant sports editor of the Globe and Mail.

Victor O. Jones, sportswriter for the Boston Globe.

Ted Reeves, a true legend. Played on two Grey Cup Argos teams, and became a beloved sports writer with the Toronto Telegram and Toronto Sun. There’s even an arena named after him in Toronto. He used to write these rambling sports poems, one of which I have in an old program, and his nickname was “The Moaner.”

Fred Jackson, succeed Lou Marsh as sports editor of the Toronto Star.

Hal Straight, sports editor of the Toronto Sun, a man who taught Pierre Berton the ins-and-outs of the newpaper business.

Marc McNeil, sportswriter for the Montreal Gazette.

Bill Roche, sportswriter in Sarnia and Toronto, and hockey author.

Jim Hurley, sportswriter for the New York Daily Mirror.

Harry Scott, sports editor of the Calgary Albertan, who played two seasons for the Montreal Canadiens (1913-14, 1914-15), with Georges Vezina and Newsy Lalonde as teammates.

Please note: I couldn’t find any information about Boaxil O’Meara and John Buss. If anyone can fill me in I would appreciate it very much.

Gentlemen, Start Your Skates

Carey Price is under the weather and may not play in the season opener Thursday night in Toronto. C’mon Carey, shape up. Up and at ‘em. Eat six raw eggs and drink a half pint of cod liver oil.

Or if all else fails, smoke a doobie. But not too close to game time.

Finally, after all these months, hockey returns for real. And the schedule maker may have other issues, but having the Habs and Leafs go at it in game one is very good. 

It goes without saying that Habs and Leaf fans love when these two play each other. The rivalry between teams is an old one, a great one, and for those who don’t know, many years ago, many, many years ago, the Leafs were a force to be reckoned with.

I know. I read it somewhere in the Old Testament.

I have my mom’s diary beside me that she wrote when she was a teenager, and the entry for April 18th, 1942 is: “The Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup tonight for the first time in years.” She was right. It had been ten years since they’d won it before that, in 1932. Overall though, the team in blue has captured the hardware 13 times, which is better than anyone else except our guys, of course. (Detroit has won it 11 times, the Bruins five).

And imagine the Stanley Cup playoffs ending on April 18th.

My mom knew the Leafs’ Bucko McDonald when she was growing up in Sundridge, Ontario, where he’s from, and it’s entirely possible she liked the Torontonians as a young girl. Maybe all those times she helped me type letters to the Montreal Canadiens at the kitchen table, she was secretly a Leaf fan and never mentioned it. (Bucko is known for another reason too: he coached Bobby Orr in nearby Parry Sound when Orr was a wee lad and McDonald can certainly claim some responsibility for helping Orr grow as a player in his formative years).

As a hockey fan, I have great respect for much of the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Conn Smythe and Frank Selke building the team in the early days; Turk Broda, Syl Apps, Hap Day, the Kid Line, Bill Barilko. Later, Tim Horton, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Johnny Bower.

The Eddie Shack – John Ferguson battles that usually led to bench-clearing brawls. Backstrom and Keon lining up for a faceoff. Punch Imlach with his fedora and arrogant smirk. Harold Ballard saying and doing the outrageous, often distastefully and lacking a certain amount of grace and decorum. But he was a fixture and mover and shaker at the Gardens for decades.

All those many nights when the Canadiens and Leafs went toe to toe at the Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens and fans got their money’s worth in spades.

The story of hockey in many ways is the story of Montreal and those dastardly Toronto Maple Leafs.

But I’m a Habs fan, and so I do what I always do – hope for a Montreal slaughter, a gigantic take-down of the boys in blue. I want a demolishing, a trouncing, a slaughtering, a one-sided embarrassment. It’s not too much to ask.

Bring ‘em on. Bring on Komisarek with the bad passes and bad penalties, bring on the unlikable duo of Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel. In fact, on the subject of Grabovski, here’s a lovely little read in case you missed it; Couple sues Maple Leaf.

Random Notes:

Roman Hamrlik is still nursing his sore knee but seems almost ready. Andre Markov says it’s a secret when he’ll return, and Mike Cammalleri stays in civvies for one night only for getting down and dirty against the Islanders in pre-season. Hey, you don’t mess with Cammy.

 

I Was Cold (And Mildly-Warm Other Things)

Yes, I know there are wars and strife and you have your own many problems, but I just want to say that I dealt with really uncomfortable air-conditioning today and you just might start thinking that your own lives aren’t so bad after all.

The ferry was freezing, the doctor’s office was freezing, the Telus office was freezing, the restaurant was freezing, and the ride back on the ferry was freezing.

You tell me. Are your problems so bad now?

But this is a Habs blog, at least until the NHL shuts down for a year, so here’s the important Habs stuff for today:

I’m reading Net Worth which I think every hockey fan should read if you haven’t already as it deals with the corruption and greed of owners and others over the years, with Alan Eagleson getting his share of ink of course, and in a memo from Frank Selke to his Montreal owners, he described Jacques Plante as “almost a mental case in his exalted ego and we must give serious thought to a replacement as he is not very amenable to discipline.” Another star’s “I.Q” is so low that we must not let ourselves count too highly on him.” Bernie Geoffrion “can’t even check his suitcase.” Dickie Moore was a “disappointing worker at training camp and as you know I had quite a session with him at contract-signing time.”

What a nasty memo. The book also details the viciousness of Detroit GM Jack Adams and naturally, good old Conn Smythe in Toronto. These people, and others, acted like children, were ruthless, cheap bastards who manipulated every person who came into their lives. They stole, lied, cheated, and connived, all for the almighty buck. 

I don’t know whether Gary Bettman looks good or bad compared to them.  

James Norris Sr, a man who virtually controlled hockey at one time, although he’s barely remembered, had a great-grandfather who injured his leg in a logging accident and amputated it himself.

I got this picture to go with my Billy Reay stick. This is the 1948-49 Montreal Canadiens – Butch Bouchard is the captain on the left just beside Bill Durnan, and that’s coach Dick Irvin over on the other side. (Give it a click, it’ll get bigger). My stick is signed by pretty well everybody in the picture. Billy Reay is three over from Irvin. I wonder if that’s my stick.

I think there should be this kind of team picture nowadays. Even if just from time to time. Players standing like that. Something different.

The New NHL Schedule And A Strange String Of Coincidences

 

The new 2010-2011 NHL Schedule has been released today and in honour of my brother Paul’s birthday on October 7th,, the Habs will open the season in Toronto on this big day. Paul is about 15 years younger than me and is a big Habs fan like older brother and I’m sure he’ll be thrilled that this honour is being bestowed upon him.

Paul lives in Orillia and I’d like to announce that in 1914, the Orillia junior squad beat Toronto Varsity, led by a young Conn Smythe who would later become owner of the Leafs, to win the Ontario junior finals. Varsity, with the hotshot Smythe, had eliminated the Berlin (now Kitchener) Union Jacks, managed by good old Frank Selke.

So you see? If you combine all the pieces of the puzzle – the Habs opening on my brother’s birthday, and this brother happens to live in Orillia, and Orillia beat Conn Smythe’s team which had overcome Frank Selke’s team, and Selke went on to run the Montreal Canadiens and Smythe became owner the Leafs, the team the Habs meet on October 7th, not to mention that I saw Blind Faith featuring Eric Clapton at the old Varsity Stadium, a stadium where Smythe probably watched football and yes indeed, the same Varsity which had a hockey team that lost to Orillia, my hometown.

When you add everything up – it was only by some strange twist of fate that didn’t see me become a Montreal Canadien.

 

Jim Thomson Was Another Rebel With A Cause

 

Previously I wrote about Ted Lindsay and how the Detroit Red Wings traded him to the lowly Chicago Black Hawks because he was of the movers and shakers involved in creating the first players’ association.

Here’s another of the ringleaders, Jim Thomson, who absolutely infuriated Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner Conn Smythe by his union actions and therefore, Thomson, who had played 12 seasons in Toronto, was also banished to the basement dwelling Chicago Black Hawks.

This photo is another I had clipped from the Toronto Star’s “Star Weekly” from back then, and it’s obvious that although Smythe said and did what he wanted in the NHL, he had no control over what the Toronto papers printed. Because if he did, I’m sure there’d be no way he’d allow such a traitor to have his coloured photo printed for all to see.

Or, could it be possible Smythe was happy that people saw Thomson in a Hawks uniform? That way, he could get his message across more firmly that if you messed with league management, this is what happens to you.

Howie Feels The Habs Are………….

There is someone very interesting living across the water from me, just over on Vancouver Island, and I wanted to find out what he thought about a couple of things, including the Habs.

So I phoned him.

Howie Meeker played eight years in the NHL, between 1946 and 1953, and all eight were with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He beat out Gordie Howe for rookie of the year, and although he played with and against legendary and mighty warriors during the golden age of hockey, he says he doesn’t dwell on the past. “That was then and this is now,” he says. I don’t think about it.”

 After Howie retired he coached the Leafs for a season, became a Member of Parliament, and probably his biggest claim to fame was the gig he found himself in when hecame an outspoken and much-talked-about Hockey Night in Canada analyst in the 1970′s and 80′s. He also sounds the same now as he did then.

My little phone call with Howie wasn’t exactly award-winning, because I’m no Peter Mansbridge or Ron MacLean or George Stroumboulopoulos. I just tried to shoot the breeze with him and I think he got bored with me quite quickly. He doesn’t know me, I was interrupting his day and his oyster shucking, and I understand that. But it thrills me when I can chat with someone from back then.

I asked what he thought of this year’s Habs. “A lot of heart,” he said, “but too small.” But, I countered, is small such a bad thing? “You bet,” he said. “Small guys have to play the game of their lives every single night. They must be number one stars all the time.”

It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to hear. I wanted him to say that even though they’re small, they can win. But he didn’t. (And hey Tomas Plekanec. Howie says small guys have to play the game of their lives.)

What do you think of the Canucks playoff run so far? “They’re toast,” said Howie. “Kesler’s done nothing. The playoffs are a step faster and tougher, and Kesler hasn’t been tough. He’s called a power forward but nowadays, he’s too small to be called a power forward.”

Then came the question I like to ask of any oldtimer. What he thought of the Rocket. “I HATED THE SON OF A BITCH,” he said in his raised and good old Howie Meeker voice. “I hated the way he played. I thought he was a no good, rotten……….But I got to know him later on when I was doing HNIC, and I really got to like him.”

I also asked him something I’ve been curious about for many years. I’d always heard that Busher Jackson, part of the famous Leafs ‘Kid Line’  of Jackson, Joe Primeau, and Charlie Conacher, had a real drinking problem and had become destitute in his later years, even selling Leafs game sticks on Carlton St. outside Maple Leaf Gardens.

But Howie set me straight. “Busher was a great guy. I knew him well. And he was the best player on that line.” But what about him becoming destitute? “Not so, said Howie. “He happened to like drinking and Conn Smythe disliked him for some reason because of this, made a big deal of it, and kept him out of the Hall of Fame for years.

Howie was also one of the Leaf forwards on the ice when Bill Barilko scored his famous Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal in the 1951 finals against the Habs, and when I brought this up, he shot back, “I should have scored it. I hit the post. And then big dum-dum skates in and scores.”

And then, without warning – “Gotta go,” Howie announced. “I’m shucking oysters.” And that was that.

In the famous photo below, that’s Howie being pinned against the boards by Tom Johnson after he had passed the puck out to Barilko. (Barilko would later die that summer in a plane crash in Northern Ontario.)

You can see a couple of other retired player chats I’ve had, right here Drinking beer with Aurele Joliat and here, Shooting the breeze with Terry Harper.

I also asked Glenn Hall once about the Rocket and he said Gordie Howe was better. Another answer I didn’t want to hear.