The Titans -- NHL Governors of the 1940s (p. 3)
by Milt Dunnell
Bernard Geoffrion, another of Pollock’s pupils, had just arrived with the Habs. He already was known as Boom-Boom and he justified the handle by winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s leading rookie. Dickie Moore, up for a trial with the senior Royals, had scored 15 goals in 26 games — quite a trial.
Still with the junior Canadiens were Henri Richard, who was to become renowned as the Pocket Rocket and finally retire with a record 11 Stanley Cup rings. Then, there was a lanky forward, named Bert Olmstead, whom Selke had stolen from Chicago.
Selke’s warning that a surprise might be in store for Adams came sooner than expected but Canadiens couldn’t take credit for it. The over-confident Red Wings were upset by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 1952-53 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was a shocking defeat for the proud defending champions.
They had finished 21 points ahead of the Bruins in the regular season, winning 10 of the 14 meetings between the two clubs. They played back to that form in the first game of the playoffs, beating the Bruins 7-0. Then, they flattened out and lost the series in six games. Lynn Patrick, now coaching the Bruins, credited his veteran, Woody Dumart, with being the difference. Tommy Ivan, Detroit’s coach, differed. He said Boston goalie Sugar Jim Henry killed the Red Wings.
In the Stanley Cup final, the Bruins were no match for the Habs, losing the series 4-1. A crowd of 14,450 gave Montreal captain Butch Bouchard a tremendous ovation as he accepted the old basin from Clarence Campbell. Montreal fans hadn’t seen the Stanley Cup in seven years. To Montrealers, that seemed like a generation.
The upset obviously was good for the Red Wings. With practically the same roster — acquisitions were Bill Dineen and Earl Reibel, they regained the Stanley Cup 12 months later, beating Canadiens in seven games. Two aspects of the final game were ammunition for future trivia buffs. The crowd of 15,791 was the biggest in Detroit history and the recipient of the Cup was Marguerite Norris, president of the Red Wings and the first woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
That was Ivan’s last Stanley Cup winner as coach. Jimmy Skinner coached the Red Wings to their fourth Cup in six seasons, again beating Canadiens in the spring of 1955. No one was willing to predict it then but that victory ended an historic era in Stanley Cup play. Decades would pass — 41 years to be exact—before Detroit would welcome the trophy which, for so long, it had taken for granted.
This was one of Adams’ greatest teams. Since it was his last great one, the lineup which is inscribed on the Stanley Cup deserves posting, so the debates in the parsonages and the pubs can be preserved: Terry Sawchuk, Red Kelly, Bob Goldham, Marcel Pronovost, Benny Woit, Jim Hay, Larry Hillman, Ted Lindsay, Tony Leswick, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Marty Pavelich, Glen Skov, Earl Reibel, Johnny Wilson, Bill Dineen, Vic Stasiuk and Marcel Bonin. Six members of that roster are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In the wake of the departures of both Ivan and Irvin to Chicago, there had been hopes, in rival cities, that the lock which Montreal and Detroit had been exercising on the Stanley Cup was about to end. Far from it. An even more frustrating period, for those cities was to begin.
Toe Blake, who had been a member of the Montreal Maroons, Stanley Cup champions of 1934-35, and of two Canadiens winners in the mid-forties, succeeded Irvin as coach for the season of 1955-56. There were the usual predictions that Blake would have a shaky season. The game had changed, it was argued, since his days as The Old Lamplighter.
Indeed the game had changed but Toe had gone right along with the parade. The Canadiens had changed, too. They were loaded with talent and youth. Blake showed he knew how to utilize those skills. Canadiens finished the season with 100 points — 24 more than Detroit and 50 more than the rebuilding Hawks.
The playoffs proved to be a repeat of what the season had been — Canadiens in a breeze. They swept by New York Rangers and the Red Wings, losing only two games. When they did it again in Blake’s second season as coach, the players shouldered him and lugged him to center ice for the cup presentation. Toe Blake, the coach was for real — just as Toe Blake, the player, had been.
Now, the question was being asked: Who will stop the Blake bulldozer — and when? Adams, now admittedly impressed, said a club on a roll, as Canadiens had been — and his own club had been — could be expected to run out of gas in three years. The astute Lynn Patrick had it right. Canadiens, he said, somewhat wistfully, might keep right on going for five years.
The fifth straight Stanley Cup winner — something no other NHL club had accomplished — went through the playoffs undefeated, duplicating what the Red Wings had done in 1951-52. So the roster of that one rates the right to the loudest acclaim: Jacques Plante, Charlie Hodge, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Bob Turner, Jean-Guy Talbot, Albert Langlois, Ralph Backstrom, Jean Béliveau, Marcel Bonin, Bernie Geoffrion, Phil Goyette, Bill Hicke, Don Marshall, Ab McDonald, Dickie Moore, André Pronovost, Claude Provost, Henri Richard, Rocket Richard. The manager, of course, was Frank Selke, who had seen his forecast come true.
The Chicago Black Hawks, now coached by Rudy Pilous, who had developed several of his top stars in junior hockey, were destined to derail the Montreal Express the following season. They served notice during a torrid 1959 semi-final with the Habs, which ended with a wild demonstration, in the sixth game at Chicago, and led to the loss of the league’s most colourful referee, Red Storey.
More than 18,000 fans — second largest in Chicago history, showered the ice with cans, fruit, programs and other garbage because Storey failed to call penalties for what they thought were tripping infractions against Chicago’s Eddie Litzenberger and Bobby Hull. Several fans invaded the ice and one caught a crease in his scalp from Doug Harvey’s stick.
League President Campbell, who was at the game, was quoted by Ottawa sports columnist Bill Westwick as saying he felt Storey “froze” on one of the calls. Storey, who thought he had called a good game, under most difficult conditions, promptly announced his resignation when Campbell’s comment became public. He vowed he never would officiate in another game, as long as Campbell was president. And he never did.
Campbell, who took a lot of flak — some of it from Red Dutton, his predecessor — did not claim to have been misquoted. He did say he had considered his remarks off the record but he knew who Westwick was and what he did for a living. So he had no excuses and claimed none, although he did urge Storey to continue. The league governors, at their next meeting, decided to take no action.
And so the decades of the 1940s and 1950s ended as the titans probably figured they would. There always would be controversy. There always would be name-calling. There always would be vendettas. It had been that way since the day Lord Stanley of Preston donated that bowl. But more people knew about it now because of increased media attention. First radio, then television created millions of new fans.
Unhappily, many of those hard-nosed pioneers, who had helped to make it happen, were gone. McLaughlin, Calder, Jim Norris, Sr. and Irvin were dead. Ross had announced his retirement from the Bruins and his bitterest foe, Smythe, had moved the motion of happy retirement at the next meeting of the governors. Dutton, the caretaker president, was back, making money in his construction business. Adams had two years left with Detroit.
Smythe, himself, was only a few months away from selling his controlling interest in Maple Leaf Gardens to his son, Stafford, Harold Ballard and John Bassett. Hap Day had gone earlier. Selke soon would hand over the reins of general manager to Sam Pollack.
Those tumultuous 20 years indeed had been the twilight of the titans. It never had been dull. Nor would it ever be dull. That’s the secret of success of Lord Stanley’s rose bowl. Every show is new. There are no reruns.
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A distinguished sports writer and editor for more than half a century with the Toronto Star, Milt Dunnell is a past recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for journalistic excellence. Article reprinted with permission from The Official National Hockey League Stanley Cup Centennial Book, Copyright 1992, The National Hockey League and Dan Diamond and Associates. Published by McClelland & Stewart.