Tag Archives: Cooper Smeaton

Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?

Isn’t it funny that no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950s and 1960s were my golden hockey years. They were magical years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six-team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

But for men who played in the 1930s and ’40s, those 1950s and ’60s years sucked. And for those who played in the 1910s and ’20s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

Here’s some examples.

Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

“Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

“It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

“Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed. But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”

McKenzie Earns An Elmer

Congratulations to the always excellent and insightful Bob McKenzie for winning this year’s Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, his profession’s highest honour, and which puts him Hall of Fame bound.

McKenzie is an absolutely deserving recipient, a guy at the top of his game, and the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) thinks so too.

There’s no word yet on whether P.J. Stock will take home the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for Excellence in Sports Broadcasting.

Below, a letter I have from Mr. Ferguson to Emile Dion in Quebec City, dated 1929.

 

Elmer

Elmer Ferguson, born in 1885 and deceased in 1972, was the sports editor for the now-defunct Montreal Herald, a newspaper in existence from 1811 to 1957. That’s quite a run. 146 years.

Elmer also did color commentary on radio broadcasts, first with the Montreal Maroons between 1933 and 1938, and then the Habs from 1938 to 1967. He worked alongside the late, great Danny Gallivan in later years.

Mr. Ferguson, who has signed the letter using fountain pen, was inducted into the media section of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982, and the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award is given each year to a journalist “in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose words have brought honour to journalists and to hockey“.

Among those honoured are the likes of Jacques Beauchamp, Red Burnett, Trent Frayne, Red Fisher, Andy O’Brien, Michael Farber, and Roy MacGregor, and now McKenzie joins the pack.

The man mentioned in the letter, Cooper Smeaton, was a referee and the NHL’s first referee-in-chief when the league was formed in 1917. He was inducted into the referee/linesmen section of the Hall of Fame in 1961.

Elmer Ferguson’s Letter

Recently I added two original letters to my collection. I’ll put the other up later on because spacing things out is my new mental health strategy. Sometimes it’s good to be spaced out.

I’ve got a bunch of cool letters and I’m very happy about this one, a beauty from 1929 on Montreal Herald letterhead from the one and only Elmer Ferguson, who was a long time editor of the Herald, later a Gazette columnist, and a guy an important award is named after.

I love old letters. Nobody sends me any, so I’ve resorted to collecting other people’s. Of course, I don’t write letters either but that’s beside the point.

I’ve added a small story about Elmer below it

Elmer

Elmer Ferguson, born in 1885 and deceased in 1972, was the sports editor for the now-defunct Montreal Herald, a newspaper in existence from 1811 to 1957. That’s quite a run. 146 years.

Elmer also did color commentary on radio broadcasts, first with the Montreal Maroons between 1933 and 1938, and then the Habs from 1938 to 1967. He worked alongside the late, great Danny Gallivan in later years.

Mr. Ferguson, who has signed the letter using fountain pen, was inducted into the media section of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982, and the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award is given each year to a journalist “in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose words have brought honour to journalists and to hockey“.

Those given this big time award are automatically placed in the Hall of Fame, and among the many honoured are the likes of Jacques Beauchamp, Red Burnett, Trent Frayne, Red Fisher, Andy O’Brien, Michael Farber, and Roy MacGregor, all writers I’ve admired greatly over the years.

The man mentioned in the letter, Cooper Smeaton, was a referee and the NHL’s first referee-in-chief when the league was formed in 1917. He was inducted into the referee/linesmen section of the Hall of Fame in 1961.

The Golden Age Of Hockey Is Never Now, Always Before

Isn’t it funny how no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

 It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

 Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950’s and 1960’s were my golden hockey years. They were magic years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

 But for men who played in the 1930’s and ’40’s, those 1950’s and ’60’s sucked. And for the ones’s who played in the 1910’s and ’20’s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

 Here’s some examples.

 Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

 Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

 “Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

 Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

 “It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

 Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

 “Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed.

But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”