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Hockey History

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Hockey History – A Small Slice From My Life Experiences

I followed ice hockey throughout the 1950’s and thought I would share a little about this older era.

National Hockey League

The history of the National Hockey League begins with the end of its predecessor league, the National Hockey Association (NHA), in 1917. The NHL’s first quarter-century saw the league compete against two rival major leagues—the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and Western Canada Hockey League—for players and the Stanley Cup. The NHL first expanded into the United States in 1924 with the founding of the Boston Bruins, and by 1926 consisted of ten teams in Ontario, Quebec, the Great Lakes region, and the Northeastern United States. At the same time, the NHL emerged as the only major league and the sole competitor for the Stanley Cup; in 1947, the NHL completed a deal with the Stanley Cup trustees to gain full control of the Cup.

The Great Depression and World War II reduced the league to six teams, later known as the “Original Six”, by 1942.
Boston Bruins (joined league in 1924)
Chicago Black Hawks (joined league in 1926)
Detroit Red Wings (joined league in 1926)
Montreal Canadiens (founded in 1909; joined league in 1917)
New York Rangers (joined league in 1926)
Toronto Maple Leafs (joined league in 1917)

The NHL consisted of ten teams during the 1920s, but the league experienced a period of retrenchment during the Great Depression, losing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Maroons in succession to financial pressures. The New York Americans – one of the league’s original expansion franchises, along with the Bruins and Maroons – lasted longer, but World War II provided its own economic strains and also severely depleted the league’s Canadian player base, since Canada entered the war in September 1939 and many players left for military service. The Americans suspended operations in the fall of 1942, leaving the NHL with just six teams. Despite various efforts to initiate expansion after the war, including attempted restarts of the Maroons and Americans franchises, the league’s membership would remain at six teams for the next twenty-five seasons.

The Canadiens

Founded in 1909, the Canadiens are the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team and the only existing NHL club to predate the founding of the NHL, as well as one of the oldest North American sports franchises The Canadiens have won the Stanley Cup more times than any other franchise. They have won 24 championships, 22 of them since 1927, when NHL teams became the only ones to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Since 1996, the Canadiens have played their home games at the Bell Centre, which was named the Molson Centre until 2003. Former homes of the team include Jubilee Rink, Montreal Westmount Arena, Mount Royal Arena and the Montreal Forum. The Forum was considered a veritable shrine to hockey fans everywhere, and housed the team for seven decades and all but their first two Stanley Cup championships.

Montreal Maroons

1924/25: The NHL entered its eighth season with two goals, place a team in a major US market and place another team in Canada’s Largest City Montreal for the Anglo fans left behind when the Wanderers were forced to fold, after a fire destroyed their arena just five games into the first NHL season. The team in Montreal would be named the Maroons, and they would play their first game against their American expansion brothers on December 1st, losing the first ever NHL game played in the USA to the Boston Bruins 2-1. The Maroons, who had to pay $10,000 of their $ 15,000 expansion fee to the Montreal Canadiens for territorial rights, would have an arena of their own in Montreal, as they became the first tenant of the brand new Montreal Forum that had been built specially for the Maroons.

In the 1925/1926 Stanley Cup Finals the Maroons would face the Victoria Cougars from the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) who had beaten the Montreal Canadiens a year earlier for the Cup. The Maroons would easily knock off the Cougars winning in four games as Nels Stewart scored all 10 Maroons goals and Clint Benedict recorded three shutouts, winning the Stanley Cup back for the NHL. It would mark the last time the NHL Champion faced another league for the rights to the Stanley Cup as the WCHL folded following the season.

The Maroons were Stanley Cup Champions un 1926 and 1935

1938-: In the years after Maroons folded the Canadiens, where left to represent Montreal, which was upended by Toronto as the largest city in Canada during the 1970’s. Through these years Anglo hockey fans in Montreal either found themselves weaning onto the Habs or found themselves becoming Toronto Maple Leaf fans. Meanwhile the Montreal Forum, which was built specifically for the Maroons, would become the most famous venue in hockey as the Canadiens set a record with 24 Stanley Cup Championships with hockey heroes that will become legends throughout Canada, as the Maroons would be forgotten. A cruel twist to a once great rivalry that once saw the most fights between any two clubs. As many fights even erupted in the crowds, as well as the reporters covering each team would often be mean-spirited in their articles when mentioning their rivals inside the city of Montreal.

New York Americans

The New York Americans (colloquially known as the Amerks) were a professional ice hockey team based in New York, New York from 1925 to 1942. They were the third expansion team in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL) and the second to play in the United States. The team never won the Stanley Cup, but reached the semifinals twice. While it was the first team in New York, it was eclipsed by the second, the New York Rangers, which arrived in 1926 under the ownership of the Amerks’ landlord, Tex Ricard’s Madison Square Garden. The team operated as the Brooklyn Americans during the 1941–42 season before suspending operations in 1942 due to the twin strains of World War II and longstanding financial difficulties. The demise of the club marked the beginning of the NHL’s Original Six era from 1942 to 1967, though the Amerks’ franchise was not formally canceled until 1946. The New York Metropolitan Area would not have a second NHL team again until the establishment of the New York Islanders in nearby Uniondale, New York, on Long Island, in the 1972–73 season. The team’s overall regular season record was 255-402-127.

The Clinton Comets

Yes, I followed minor league hockey too.

Clinton, New York has had ice hockey since 1918 when Coach Ira Albert Prettyman arrived at Hamilton College and introduced the sport. Clinton has only a couple of thousand residents, but was once known as “Hockey Town, USA”.

Founded in 1927–28 as the Clinton Hockey Club, the team was originally started by Ed Stanley who acted as manager to build a team from local high school students and helped to provide finances for the team to buy equipment and take road trips. He quickly was able to build a very successful team which in the 1933-1934 season played in the National Amateur Championship at Madison Square Garden against the Hershey Bears.

Stanley, along with Coach Prettyman who brought college hockey to nearby Hamilton College went on to be the only two people from the same town or city on the 1940 Olympic hockey committee. The 1940 Winter Olympics were scheduled for Sapporo, Japan but were canceled because of the start of World War II, as well as the hopes of Comets players Wilfred Goering and Art Scoones who were trying out for the Olympic team.

The name Comets was picked in a contest run by the Clinton Civic Group in February 1949 when the first Clinton Arena was dedicated. This team played in the New York-Ontario League from 1951 to 1954 and then in the Eastern Hockey League between 1954 and 1973. During that time the venerable and beloved Comets won five League championships and received the Walker Cup in 1958, 1964, 1968, 1969, and 1970.

Saturday nights were “Hockey Night in Clinton” during those thrilling years when the Comets dominated the EHL. Over 2500 fans jammed the arena filling all seats and sometimes standing 2-3 deep around the catwalk. Cheering for the Comets and jeering for the opponents became normal. The rink was rocking and cars were parked on village streets such as Utica and Mulberry. Fights often broke out and sometimes chairs landed on the ice. This was exciting hockey in which the fans were a big part of the game. One referee and two linesmen tried to keep control.

From 1954 until 1973, the Comets participated in the Eastern Hockey League, dominating for ten of their nineteen seasons. Most notably, under head coach Pat Kelly, the Comets posted a 315–208–64 (wins-losses-ties) record over eight seasons. During that period, in the 1967–68 season, the Comets produced an awe-inspiring 57–5–10 record. The Comets won the EHL playoffs in 1958-59, 1963–64, 1967–68, 1968–69 and 1969-70.

Eastern Hockey League Teams
Baltimore Clippers (1954-55 to 1955-56)
Charlotte Checkers (1956-57 to 1972-73)
Clinton Comets (1954-55 to 1972-73)
Greensboro Generals (1959-60 to 1972-73)
Jersey Larks (1960-61)
Johnstown Jets (1955-56 to 1972-73)
Long Island Ducks (1961-62 to 1972-73)
New Haven Blades (1954-55 to 1971-72)
New York Rovers (1959-60 to 1960-61; 1964-65)
Philadelphia Ramblers (1955-56 to 1963-64)
Washington Lions (1954-55 to 1956-57)
Washington Presidents (1957-58 to 1959-60)
Worcester Warriors (1954-55)
Note: some of these teams “morphed” into NHL teams

The Comets played in the New York Ontario Hockey League 1952-1953
Clinton Comets 26- 6-0-62
Brockville Magedomas 22-15-1-45
Cornwall Falcons 19-16-2-40
Gananoque Gans 17-18-2-36
Inkerman Rockets 4-33-1- 9

See more about my sports interests