The Golden Years: Habs-Maroons ’42

In early 1942, World War Two was in full swing with events overseas occupying center stage in all aspects of North American life. Newspapers carried daily dispatches from Europe and the Pacific and provided extensive coverage of the efforts being made on the home front as well. Radio newsmen, sounds of the conflict often clearly heard in the background of their reports, kept millions of listeners hanging on their every word. Hollywood stepped up the production of war films, drawing audiences that filled their cashboxes to overflowing while automobile manufacturers touted their contributions to the war effort, with full color ads extolling the virtues of armoured vehicle or airplane engines rather than that year’s new coupe or sedan. Victory Gardens were planted and scrap metal drives were held in neighbourhoods across the continent as citizens dug in for the long haul.

Small pockets of opposition to far-flung military involvement could be found here and there, with the province of Quebec’s French speaking majority including a large number of people who, as had been the case a generation earlier, felt no allegiance to England and saw no reason to fight what they regarded as their war. When the Canadian Prime Minister began musing about the possibility of conscription it did not go over well in La Belle Province.

On February 11th a crowd of 7,000 rallied to share their disapproval with an estimated 300 youths continuing the party along Ste Catherine Street where they attacked streetcars, smashed plate glass windows and injured a handful of police officers, in short, behaving in a manner that is now more closely associated with Canadiens postseason play that politics.

Waging war is an expensive proposition and every opportunity was given to help citizens put a few pennies in the kitty.

The Gazette carried an article the day after the conscription riot announcing that a fundraiser called the Victory Loan Sports Parade was to be held on the 24th of that month with the showpiece of the evening to be a revival of one of the greatest enmities in hockey history, a game with former members of the (defunct since 1938) Montreal Maroons facing off against a squad of Canadiens oldsters. Leo Dandurand agreed to run the Habs bench while Tommy Gorman was tapped to handle the Maroons.

A half-hour figure skating display from the Winter Club was to open the night’s activities and would be followed by the Canadiens-Maroons game, the teams playing a pair of 20-minute periods before yielding the ice to a game with airmen from Australia going up against their New Zealand neighbours. Drawn from the ranks of Aussies and Kiwis stationed in Canada for training purposes, most of the players had not worn skates before travelling to the great white north, a fact likely to make for great hilarity for fans used to far more proficient fare.

The second half of the program was going to open with speed skating, the races featuring members of the current Habs and a variety of the city’s quickest senior pucksters competing in separate and distinct events. The NHL Canadiens would then take on an All-Star team drawn from senior amateur ranks in another two-period event before the night finished on a non-partisan patriotic note.

Coaches Dandurand and Gorman began recruiting before the public announcement of the Victory Loan Sports Parade and their signings began to be noted in the press as soon as the day after it was made official. Gorman inked former Maroons superstar, Hooley Smith, and announced that Archie Wilcox would also be returning. Dandurand, in New Orleans tending to his horse racing interests, made it known that Wildor Larochelle and Sylvio Mantha would be back in their familiar red, white and blue uniforms.

As the big day approached, more info was forthcoming. Frank Carlin, coach of the QSHL Montreal Royals was to run the bench for the All-Stars facing the 1941-42 Canadiens with Senior Habs crowd-pleaser, the flamboyant Legs Fraser, sharing duties between the pipes with Shawingan’s Roger Bessette for the amateur side.  Maroons training duties would be handled by present-day Forum staffer, Bill O’Brien, who dug deep into his closet to retrieve his old team jacket to wear for the occasion.

Mickey Ion and Cooper Smeaton were announced as the officiating team for the Oldtimers game and the rosters of both the Maroons and Canadiens were rounded out. A Gazette photograph of the Canadiens bench, taken during a practice, showed a dozen players sitting on the team bench. From left to right the alums included Jean Pusie, Nelson Crutchfield, Pit Lepine, Aurel Joliat, Sylvio Mantha, Albert Leduc, Wilf Cude, Walter Buswell, Leo Bougeault, Armand Mondou and Odie Cleghorn (The official team photo taken some time later shows a total of 23 men). Sitting on the far end of the bench was a young man with a very familiar name.

Fourteen-year-old Howie Morenz Jr. was slated to skate on the left wing, wearing the No. 7 made famous by his legendary father, on a line centred by Joliat and completed by Johnny Gagnon and Billy Boucher who would alternate on right wing.

On February 22nd Le Petit Journal, Montreal’s major French-language daily listed a dozen men who would suit up for the Maroons two nights later. Supplementing the previously announced Smith and Wilcox on Tommy Gorman’s bench were goaltender Alex Connell, Lionel Conacher, Nels Stewart, Herb Cain, Gus Marker, Russ Blinco, Cy Wentworth, Stew Evans, Dave Trottier and Jimmy Ward.

More details emerged as to the identities of the figure skaters booked to take part in the Sports Parade. They included the World pro titlist pair of Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders as well as the 1942 Canadian Champion, Cynthia Powell. Also on the playbill was that year’s runner-up, Barbara Ann Scott, still six years away from her Olympic gold medal and ensuing decades-long reign as Canada’s unofficial sweetheart.

By the time the doors opened on February 24th, 13,000 tickets had been snapped up at prices ranging from fifty cents to $1.50, the sold-out house guaranteeing the evening would be a financial success. Among the crowd were hundreds who had not set foot inside The Forum since the Maroons’ demise. Tommy Gorman shared his impressions with Gazette columnist Mark T. McNeil the day before.

“It’s amazing how some of the old-guard fans have come rushing back to get tickets for this affair. Maroon fans who haven’t been there in years; former box seat holders wanting their same seats again. And regular subscribers to both Canadiens and Maroons games in former years returning to see their old heroes once more. One woman, an ardent Maroons supporter throughout the team’s existence, bought two tickets and told me, ‘I’m coming back to have a good cry’.”

Gorman also allowed ventured that he had the better team, stronger despite being far fewer in number than the 23-man bench assembled by Dandurand. He was proved right.

After the fancy skating exhibitions, things turned to matters of puck. Players were introduced one at a time as they stepped onto a darkened Forum ice into the glare of a spotlight, many receiving ovations reminiscent of those that rewarded the best efforts of their glory days with the biggest hand of the night going to young Howie Morenz Jr., who started the game alongside Joliat and Boucher, just as his father had done countless times during his career, which had come to a tragic end four days short of five years earlier. The opening ceremonial faceoff was handled by Air Force Pilot Officer W. L. S. O’Brien, an injured serviceman who had suited up for McGill University’s hockey team in happier days.

Just over a minute into the opening period, Bob Gracie opened the scoring for the Maroons, who doubled their lead ten minutes later thanks to Russ Blinco. The Habs got their first of the game courtesy of Lou Trudel before Hooley Smith put the Maroons up 3-1 a second short of the fifteen-minute mark.

The second frame opened with Wilf Cude replacing George Hainsworth in the Habs net. An early Montreal marker off the stick of Jack Portland brought them back to within a single goal but the Maroons put the game away with a pair shortly after the midpoint of the period. The first was by Tony Grabowski, normally listed on the Canadiens NHL roster but loaned to Gorman’s team along with Bunny Dame to even out the numbers a little bit, and the second, coming moments later, was Bob Gracie’s second of the evening.

While it was a “fun” game, some of the men involved made sure the referees had something to do. Lionel Conacher, by then a member of the Ontario legislature as well as the chairman of the Ontario Athletic  Commission was thumbed off twice and, according to Horace Lavigne in La Patrie, might well have deserved a third banishment. Jean Pusie lit the lamp but had his goal disallowed and after being given the needle by the 40-year-old Connell, the game’s consensus MVP, initiated a rhubarb, the sincerity of which could not be accurately distinguished, given his long-established reputation as the clown prince of hockey.

The last bit of excitement came with seconds to play when referee Smeaton dictated that Howie Morenz had been interfered with and awarded the teenager a penalty shot. He skated in unmolested on the Maroons netminder and (wink) blasted one over a surprised Connell’s shoulder and into the net behind him, prompting his second ovation and making the final score a respectable 5-3 in favour of The Forum’s original tenants.

No mention was made of the Australia – New Zealand shinny exhibition in free online news archives but the speed skating competitions, which consisted doing a lap of the rink while carrying the puck, were a big hit. Jack Portland proved to be the fastest pro on the ice, earning a $50 Victory Bond for his 15-second rotation while Smiley Meronek of the senior Habs captured the amateur honors with an identical time.

The NHL Canadiens prevailed over the local senior All-Stars by a 2-1 score in a penalty-free game that saw the amateurs lead at the conclusion of the opening half on a goal by Dick Kowcinak only to have the NHLers come back with a pair by Terry Reardon and Toe Blake in the closing segment.

The four-hour public part program ended around midnight with precision drill teams and massed bands representing both Air and Navy Cadets parading and forming a V for Victory on the ice surface but for the evening’s insiders the evening was not over.

Leo Dandurand hosted a post-game banquet for 125 people, including most of the participants, organizers and assembled media, at Drury’s restaurant, one of his many business concerns. Among the people subjecting the hungry with speeches were players Joliat and Connell, hockey executive William Northey, writers Baz O’Meara, Paul Parizeau, Elmer Ferguson and Myrtle Cook but the most entertaining of the bunch were the evening’s coaches, who engaged in a bit of verbal repartee that, according to La Patrie, allowed Dandurand come away as the victor in at least one confrontation that night.

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2 Responses to “The Golden Years: Habs-Maroons ’42”

  1. Brion OConnor
    March 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Great stuff! Old time hockey, before the NCAA and Gary Bettman screwed everything up! Nice work, Mike!
    -B

  2. Brion OConnor
    March 21, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    The one constant, I see, is that the French were afraid to fight (even the French Canadians!) … ;-)