OneFrom the Hardcover edition.
The Montreal Forum, built in 1924 specifically for that greatest of sports, ice hockey, was a place where both French and English Montrealers could come together to yell, jostle, bet, fight, argue, and drink as one people—at least when the despised Bruins came to town. The Forum could hold more than eleven thousand spectators (in a tight fit), two hundred red-capped ushers, and as many plainclothes and undercover police officers as were deemed necessary. Thousands of fans that day, November 23, 1929, had spent hours outside in a line for tickets, keeping warm by lighting small bonfires, and now, once inside, they joined other spectators who were settling themselves into the expensive box seats, the regular seats, the overflow seats, the standing-room areas, the windowsills, and, for a spectacularly good view, the rafters. Everyone was in a boisterous mood, particularly those at the far end of the rink who had paid fifty cents for the right to “rush” the wooden benches of “Millionaires’ Row.” The Forum’s wooden benches held only two thousand, but there was always room for one more because there was always one more who could be pushed to the floor.
The Montreal Maroons were playing the roughest kind of game against Boston that night, and taking advantage of the roughness were Reginald “Hooligan” Smith and Dave Trottier, both having decided to make a sandwich out of Eddie Shore and, while they were at it, to give him plenty of the butt ends of their sticks. The crowd roared its approval at this, and seconds later roared even louder when Shore was sent reeling to the Forum’s near-perfect sheet of ice. Shore groggily picked himself up, blood spurting from his eyes, and the manager of the Bruins, Art Ross, rapped his fists violently against the boards of the rink to get Shore’s attention. Ross demanded he go off for repairs, but Shore refused, insisting on remaining in the game. When the Forum fans saw that Eddie was going to stick it out, they greeted this display of raw courage with hoots and cheers in both French and English.
The whistle blew, play resumed, and Shore dashed into combat again and was met by the Maroons’ up-raised sticks. Two well-placed jabs to his face tore open his cheek and sliced deeply into his chin. Then the Maroons dropped all pretense of civility and really let Shore have it. “He was,” according to an observer, “hammered, pounded, cut; and just at the end, a Maroon player cut across Shore and deliberately gave him a sickening smash in the mouth, which knocked out several teeth and felled the Bruin in his tracks.” The final wallop was delivered by Babe Siebert, and it sent Shore reeling to the ice once again. This time, though, Shore did not get up; he lay motionless in a pool of his own blood and teeth.
Montrealers were the most sophisticated hockey fans in the world, and they knew true talent when they saw it, even if that talent wore the hated brown and yellow of the Boston Bruins. And so, as Shore, apparently dead, was borne away, everyone in the Forum rose in respect, putting their hands together in polite applause. Meanwhile, the referee, naturally, had been looking in some other direction and missed everything. Siebert and the rest of the Maroons escaped without penalty.
Five minutes after the game ended, the legendary Montreal hockey writer Elmer Ferguson ventured into the visitors’ dressing room to see if Shore really had been killed. To his relief, Ferguson was told that the Bruin was still among the living. He found Shore “standing silently beneath the showers. Expecting an outburst I said, ‘Rough going, Eddie.’ Through bloody, swollen lips he answered laconically, ‘It’s all in the game. I’ll pay off.’”
Eddie Shore was one tough hombre, and he got his moxie from his upbringing in the “wilds” of Canada. “I have heard him talk,” the Boston sports columnist Austen Lake wrote in 1934, “with a trace of suspicious mist in his eye and a faraway look, about the winter moon over the tips of fir forests and the frozen void of nature that fairly throbs with loneliness, in which the distant howl of a wolf was a perfect soul note.”
In reality, Eddie grew up far removed from any trees, fir or otherwise, because in the heart of Saskatchewan, where he was born in 1902, trees had yet to be planted. Most of the land had also yet to be tilled, and back then the area was a barren but beautiful landscape covered by grass so short that when Shore was a little boy it barely came up to his knees. In the wintertime, the wind whipped across the prairie and a small Eddie, aged five and heading out to the unheated barn to milk the cows, could feel its cold sting.
Eddie Shore’s paternal grandparents were among the first European settlers in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley, arriving from Ontario in 1870. Those were the days of roaming buffalo, of Indian teepees, of Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts, and the watchful (of the Americans to the south) eye of the North-West Mounted Police.
Made a province in 1905, Saskatchewan was bristling with opportunity, and the Canadian Pacific Railway was luring immigrants from eastern North America and Europe with the promise of free land if they would settle the prairie; thousands were taking the railway up on its offer. By 1910, when Eddie was eight years old, his father, Thomas John “T.J.” Shore, had moved his wife, Kate, sons Aubrey and Eddie, and daughters Lizzy and Irene from Fort Qu’Appelle in the valley to a newly opened area twenty miles northwest. The son of pioneers, and therefore not an average homesteader, T.J. had a jump-start on everyone else, and in only a few short years he somehow leveraged his quarter-section (160-acre) allotment into a ranch of nearly seventy thousand acres, thirty-five miles wide and thirty-six miles long. The Shore place held four hundred head of horses and six hundred head of cattle; the operation produced 100,000 bushels of wheat and shipped 100 to 150 head of stock a year. The enterprise was worth at least half a million dollars, making Eddie’s father the richest man in the district.
Of Irish Protestant stock, T.J. Shore embodied the work ethic, and he made sure that his two sons, Eddie and Eddie’s older brother, Aubrey, did too. Under his harsh tutelage, the boys were never idle. As they grew older, the chores became ever more onerous until there were, it seemed, a dozen tasks, such as wheat harvesting, wood chopping, stock tending, and team driving, all of which had to be done before bedtime.
To help their work on the ranch, the two boys were taught to ride almost as soon as they could walk. At age seven, Eddie had his own horse, and soon he was breaking in ponies and starting to display a unique ability to endure great pain. When he was nine years old, one of these ponies refused to be tamed, and, with Eddie aboard, the animal reared back and then suddenly snapped forward. The boy’s face slammed into the animal’s head and he held on for dear life. Spinning in the saddle with a bloody and broken nose, he could hear a friend’s voice yelling in encouragement, “‘Stick it out, Eddie, stick it out!’” remembered Shore years later, “And I stuck it out.”
At twelve, Eddie was driving four-horse teams to the grain elevators in nearby Cupar, and folks in town noticed that T.J.’s young son possessed unusual strength. Eddie became known as the boy wonder who could remove a thousand-pound grain tank from a wagon unassisted, and who could also work in the wheat fields like a grown man and never wilt. At thirteen, Eddie, with his six-shooter at his side and a rifle across his lap for good measure, was entrusted by his father to herd the family’s prize horses to a distant grazing area. During one trip, he put the rifle to his shoulder and laid out warning shots to keep some strangers at bay. Word of this incident got back to the ranch, and T.J. found no cause to censure his son. At fourteen, he was taking on his father’s broncos, and these four-legged outlaws reared and stamped and lunged wildly in an effort to toss him clear into the next county. At fifteen, Eddie was an expert roper, and he could make the hemp loop spin at his wish—but not without incident. A steer once dragged him a quarter of a mile at the end of a lasso before he let go. At sixteen, he was riding herd on thousands of cattle and rounding up strays.
Eddie was competitive; he had to be, with a brother two years older who wanted to keep him in his place. One day, the two of them were doing some barnyard work when Eddie became tired of being bossed around by Aubrey. A tussle developed over who would use the spade and who would use the pitchfork. Aubrey, like his father, wouldn’t countenance any insubordination, and punched his little brother solidly in the mouth. Stunned, Eddie shook his head to clear his brain, then caught his older brother flush on the nose with a direct hit.
“For the next twenty or so minutes,” Shore said, “we went around and around, knocking each other down time and again, but neither could put the other away, nor would either of us give up.”
The brothers wrestled on the dusty earth, both hoping to land the knockout punch, but they were too much in each other’s clutches for either of them to break away and execute the final blow. Exhausted, dirty, and bloody, Eddie and Aubrey had to settle for a draw. Their father had calmly witnessed whole thing. “I hope you two are satisfied,” T.J. said. “Now get back to work.”
T.J. was a stern disciplinarian, and if it was for the good of his boys, he was not afraid to apply the sting of the whip. He also had a temper and, if provoked, could administer a sound thrashing, especially if Eddie or Aubrey ever made a mistake. T.J. was a perfectionist who would not tolerate failure in himself or anybody else, and he once ordered Eddie to operate on the hernia of a bull, telling him that if he failed, he would get a beating.
There were adventures aplenty for a boy growing up on the infinite reaches of the prairie, and Eddie had his fair share of them. There was the time when he almost froze to death while herding cattle in the winter. The temperature was sixty-one degrees below zero Fahrenheit. “I say sixty-one,” Shore qualified, “because our thermometers registered sixty below and they all broke. I had to drive twenty-three head of cattle thirty-two miles for my father. A hired hand went with me because we couldn’t get the cattle out of the chutes it was so cold.” The trail through the deep snow was narrow. “The cattle stayed in file all right,” Shore said, “and we jog-trotted them so they wouldn’t freeze. We got off the horses ourselves every so often so we wouldn’t freeze also.” On the return journey, Eddie’s horse fell down. “I didn’t realize it until then but I was probably frozen. My legs were frozen in the shape of a horse. I couldn’t get off, but the horse got up again with me in the saddle.” A hundred yards farther on, the horse went down once more. “I was thrown off. I had to get up. It took me about thirty minutes to get on the horse again.” With effort, and a good deal of pain, Eddie managed to regain his mount and make his way home. “You could freeze to death in a very short time out there,” Shore explained, “and freezing would be a pleasure, just a pleasant numbness.”
Eddie had his closest call at age twelve, when he was ordered to corral some horses; those that failed to go peaceably were to be roped and dragged in. Eddie had a twenty-square-mile area to cover, and he grabbed off all the easy horses first, leaving the hard ones for last. “That was an awful mistake,” Shore recalled, “because when a fellow has a fresh horse under him he should go to work on the tough horses first, and not tire his mount unnecessarily on the easy ones, and then find that the tough horses have it in their dizzy brains to have some fun.” By late afternoon, he had gotten the horses corralled, except for the last one, which sped away. Eddie took off after the escapee, and the pursuit was on.
The fugitive maintained a lead of several lengths, but by early evening the boy had gotten the better of the renegade. Just as he was about to rope the horse, however, his own mount hit a hidden burrow and he was thrown to the ground as 1,200 pounds of horseflesh came crashing down on top of him. Eddie’s horse rolled clear and patiently waited for its master, who lay motionless on the grass, to get up. When Eddie finally recovered his senses, nighttime had arrived, and he discovered, painfully, that both of his shoulders were cracked. His loyal horse was still waiting, and it would be another half-hour before Eddie could successfully manoeuvre his crippled body back into the saddle and make the eighteen-mile trudge back to the ranch house.
The doctor did not offer hope for full recovery because the shoulders, particularly the right one, were too badly smashed. For three months, the boy had to be dressed by his parents, but, determined to get better as soon as he could, Eddie exercised the wounded shoulders for several hours each day. In time, he was able to twirl a rope and ride the range again. It was six years, however, before he could raise his right hand above his head.
T.J. Shore did his business in Cupar (pronounced Q-par), where, among other things, he granted loans, owned a livery and feed store, and sold horses, land, and insurance. The frontier town had sprung up almost overnight as a result of a Canadian Pacific Railway dictate, and in Eddie’s youth Cupar was just a bare-bones collection of wood-framed buildings and houses lining wide, unpaved streets. Thanks to the civic generosity of Mr. T.J. Shore, however, Cupar did have sidewalks, as well as a new ice rink in a substantial structure that cost T.J. four thousand dollars. In a farming community like Cupar, where there was nothing to do during the long winters, it was a generous gift indeed.
As the sons of the influential T.J. Shore, Aubrey and Eddie were given keys to the rink, and Aubrey became a star on the local junior hockey team. Eddie, by contrast, was, he remembered, a “very weak and wobbly” skater. The future NHL superstar had little interest in hockey, perhaps because he considered it his older brother’s sport, and therefore not for him. By happenstance, though, Eddie did get a crack at hockey once. He had accompanied Aubrey and the Cupar team on the sleigh ride to neighbouring Markinch for a game, but when the players arrived, they realized they were one player short, and so Eddie Shore was given his first hockey audition. It did not go smoothly. “I was,” he recalled, “terrible.”
Baseball and soccer were Eddie’s sports, as was horseback riding, which came naturally to him. He would roar his pinto pony down the main street of Cupar in any position imaginable, and once, while standing up with his bare feet clinging to the animal’s back, the pony halted abruptly and Eddie did not. He landed face down in the dirt. He attended the school in town, but was no scholar. “If the class was assigned twenty words to spell,” a classmate recalled, “Eddie would misspell eighteen of them.” He skipped classes, got into disagreements with his teacher, and was suspended several times.
In Cupar, there were enticements not found back at the ranch, and once, when he was about twelve, Eddie stood in front of the butcher shop while the butcher was cutting up an assortment of cooked meats. The butcher offered the boy a slice. “How would you like this, Eddie? Beat up that boy over there and I’ll give you this, but if he beats you up then I’ll give it to him.” The other boy was four years older and thirty pounds heavier, but to Eddie it seemed a fair proposition. A crowd gathered to watch as he pummelled his opponent into submission. The butcher kept his word, gave Eddie the meat, and promised him a bigger slice if he took on an even larger, older, opponent. This time, he lost. Licked, he picked himself up off of the ground and seethed as his better devoured the prize. There was a lesson here, one that Eddie Shore had learned twice already in just one day: the winner gets everything, and the loser gets nothing. He would remember this.
When Eddie turned fifteen, he was a strong and steady youth on the cusp of full manhood. His father could trust him with all aspects of ranching and gave him responsibilities, such as allocating stock and overseeing the tenant farmers, usually afforded men twice his age. Eddie fulfilled his duties with confidence and skill, and his future as a prosperous rancher was certain, just as certain as the fact that his father’s land extended as far as the eye could see. Yet, within three years, Eddie Shore, that same fresh-faced youth who was once poised to be master of all that he surveyed, would be penniless. He would not have enough money even to buy food.
Eddie’s mother, Catherine Spannier “Kate” Shore, died in 1918 at age fifty-two, following a daughter, Clara, who died in 1908, and several infant children who had died earlier, into the grave. Nothing more is known about Kate Shore, but it can be surmised that she had a strong and positive influence on her son. When Eddie got married, it would be to a woman named Kate, and throughout his life he was invariably a gentleman around women and treated them as equals.
Around the time his mother died, Eddie’s father sent him to the Manitoba Agricultural College, where Aubrey probably was already enrolled. Eddie planned on becoming a veterinarian, but for sport he tried out for the school’s football team, where he was placed in the fullback position and did most of the kicking. Eddie also tried out for, and made, the basketball team. In the newspapers at the time, he learned about the sensational Dick Irvin, Winnipeg’s hockey hero and the kind of player who could lead his team to 9–0 victories by scoring all the goals himself. Reading about Irvin’s exploits gave Eddie the “dim idea,” as he described it, to play hockey in addition to football and basketball. Aubrey was already on the college hockey team, and he candidly informed his younger brother that his hockey ambitions were, simply, absurd. This not only did nothing to quell Eddie’s hopes, but predictably it had just the opposite effect. He vowed to Aubrey that he would not only be playing hockey for Manitoba soon, but would be playing professionally in five years.
Eddie knew that hockey demanded good legs, so he started running five miles every day and spending hours in the gymnasium. He also spent time rinkside, where he studied the best skaters’ moves as they strutted their stuff. When not observing others, Eddie would practise alone on the ice and, like a fighter shadow boxing, would imagine himself checking an opponent or being checked himself. Or, he would pretend that he was dribbling through three or four opposing players and, by feinting and shifting, outwitting them to advance the puck. “That sort of thing looks ridiculous,” Shore said, “but it is valuable to any boy who wants to play hockey.”
The college had three hockey teams, and Eddie got playing time on one of the minor ones. He was properly initiated into the sport at age sixteen, when he received his first body check. Eddie would dress for games in the dormitory, then go down to the open-air rink. “Often we played at thirty to forty below,” Shore said. “Our ears, noses and cheeks used to freeze regularly, and we’d be playing a little while and you could scrape the hoarfrost off of our backs and our chests. I remember we once played a game when it was fifty-five below and our eyelashes froze so stiff we were almost blinded.”
After just one year, the budding veterinarian left the Manitoba Agricultural College for an unknown reason (his academic records are no longer extant) and enrolled at St. John’s College School in Winnipeg the following fall. St. John’s was western Canada’s oldest school, and it would become famous for turning out such hockey players as Andy Blair, Murray Murdoch, and Red Dutton. Generations of boys had learned the game on the school’s tiny sheet of ice, and, amazingly, at one point in the 1930s there were no fewer than thirteen “Johnians” in the NHL. Whether Eddie went for the hockey or for another reason is not known, but he did catch on with the St. John’s team for the first two games of the hockey season before going home for Christmas, never to return. The only record St. John’s (now the St. John’s-Ravenscourt School) has on Shore is a brief one, and it ends cryptically: “Withdrawn, Christmas 1919.”
In Cupar, the hockey club was nearing the end of its first real season after limping along shorthanded for the past several years. The Great War of 1914–18 had wreaked havoc on Canada’s hockey leagues, both professional and amateur, because the legions of young Canadian men who would otherwise have been in hockey togs had instead been fighting across the ocean in Europe. Canada, a vast but sparsely populated country of only eight million, had sent a staggering number of its citizens, more than six hundred thousand of them, to war, and now, after the armistice, in towns large and small across Canada, memorials were being planned for the local boys who would never come back. Saskatchewan, with a population of half a million, had contributed forty-two thousand men to the war effort; from the rural Cupar district, vacant of almost everything except horses, cattle, and gophers, 126 men—fifteen of whom would never return—served with the Canadian forces. With peace came the Spanish influenza, which killed more people worldwide than had died in the war. The epidemic swept through Cupar, taking away entire families. Thankfully, by the conclusion of 1919, the dual calamities had ended and Cupar could once again devote time to leisure pursuits. The Cupar Hockey Club readied itself for the 1919–20 season.
In the United States, it was believed that all Canadians were born wearing ice skates, and in fact for many Canadians their earliest and most cherished memory was of getting their first pair. “I remember thinking what a great present these skates were,” the Ottawa Senators’ immortal great, King Clancy, said of his youth, “and couldn’t wait to put them on that morning. I stepped out on the verandah but had taken one stride when I sailed right down the steps and landed on the sidewalk.” Getting skates was, for Clancy, as it was for a multitude of little Canadians just like him, only the beginning. “Once a fellow wangled the skates and a stick, the river became a second home,” Clancy explained. “The rest of the equipment you had to come by as best you could. We used to make our own shin pads out of sweeper sticks tied together. These were sticks we’d find along the streetcar tracks after the sweeper car had been by to clean the rails. If we couldn’t find enough sweeper sticks, we’d use issues of the Saturday Evening Post. It was the next best thing.”
King Clancy’s childhood friend in Ottawa was Frank Boucher, who would later earn fame with the New York Rangers. “We played hockey morning, noon, and night when we weren’t in school,” Boucher recalled. “On Saturdays, for instance, the first arrivals would start a game around 8 o’clock [in the morning], dividing the available players evenly into two teams. As more boys came they joined one side or the other, always keeping the teams equal. Soon there’d be fifteen or twenty boys playing on each side, thirty or forty kids pursuing the puck.”
The game that Frank Boucher and his chums were playing was “shinny,” the basic version of hockey. The word hockey traditionally meant a curved wooden stick of some sort, but in the 1820s and ’30s it came to be associated with an obscure game played in England, which apparently involved a hockey. The first recorded mention of “hockey on the ice” was made in 1843 in Kingston, Ontario, which would seem to place the birthplace of the sport in Ontario—but Nova Scotians will have none of that. They claim that ice hockey comes from the Halifax region, where, by the 1860s, “the match game of hockey,” as it was called in old newspaper accounts, was a popular winter pastime. While Nova Scotians may well have been early and ardent adopters of hockey, their claims of exclusivity have to be weighed against evidence that similar games called hockey were also played in the United States, if not in other parts of the world, for at least as long as they had been played in Nova Scotia. Unquestionably, however, it was in Montreal that hockey as a modern organized sport, as opposed to a mere game, was conceived with the adoption of the Montreal Rules, written in 1877. Hockey flourished, and from then on it was just a matter of scattering the sport across the continent via the newly built railway lines.
In Saskatchewan, hockey followed the railway as it linked the distant outposts of Moosomin, Indian Head, Regina, Moose Jaw, and Swift Current together. The larger towns of Regina and Moose Jaw were playing each other in hockey matches as early as 1894, and a year later a wayward shipment of hockey sticks abandoned in Moosomin served to fertilize the growth of the sport there.
Ice hockey in the years before 1900 was different from the modern game in many respects. Despite the Montreal Rules, the sport varied from place to place, and sometimes quite dramatically, but in general it was played in two periods of thirty minutes each and, whether played outdoors or indoors, the games were cold for spectators and players alike. Hockey’s first superstar, Cyclone Taylor, remembered the game of his youth in Ontario: “Fans in those days were an amazingly hardy lot, and they had to be. In those days of more than seventy-five years ago, it seemed that the winters were much colder and longer than they are now. The wind would howl and the temperature would get down way below zero, but out they’d come in the bitter cold, packing those draughty arenas, and loving every minute of it. They came on foot, by train, in sleighs and cutters, dressed in furs and mufflers, and sat huddled under blankets. And they’d stay right to the end.” Sometimes, on those mean winter nights, Taylor would look at the packed stands and ask himself, “Why are they here? Why do they come out on a night like this? But of course,” he said, “I knew why. They simply loved hockey.”
Between periods, shivering fans would have ten minutes to get some hot coffee, brewed in big, steaming urns under the stands, or furtively buy liquor, at a dollar a bottle, to keep warm. Tie games went into two five-minute extra periods, and if after these two sessions there was still no winner, play continued indefinitely until someone scored. In those days, players were not fussy about their sticks, as long as they were solid and heavy, and the only shot known to man or woman was the wrist shot. Teams played seven-man hockey, which most differed from the modern game because of the rover position between offence and defence, and also because forward passing was forbidden in all circumstances. Depending upon who did the reminiscing, seven-man hockey was preferable to the later six-man version either because it encouraged individualism or because it discouraged individualism.
All seven players were expected to stay on the ice for the entire contest. No substitutions were allowed for any reason, and if someone had to leave due to injury or a broken skate (with the exception, perhaps, of the mishap occurring at the very start of the game), they could not return; the opposing side, out of fairness, would also have to drop one of its players. The “goal guarder” stood between fixed pipes, both of his skates firmly planted firmly on the ice at all times. The NHL’s great stand-up netminders, like Georges Vézina, who learned the game in the early days, retained that stance and had all the angles down so perfectly, and were able to anticipate each shot so keenly, that they gave every impression of standing still the entire game.
Hockey then was a rough-and-tumble affair, despite efforts to keep it gentlemanly. By the first decade of the century, fisticuffs were common, timekeepers fiddled with the clock when it was in their team’s best interest to either make or lose time, and the sprinkling of salt on the ice was considered a good way to slow up faster opponents. Players caught in the act of making mischief had to pay their penance by “sitting on the fence” for three minutes, and, with no delayed penalties allowed, a spate of violations could leave practically no men on the ice. Goalies had to serve their own sentences on the fence (which made for some dramatic minutes), and there was also a rule (which should be reinstated immediately) against “loafing,” meaning that any player not moving forcefully with the puck was penalized.
Hockey games back then were run by three on-ice officials. Two of these luckless individuals would be forced to serve as goal umpires by standing exposed on the ice sheet behind the goaltender, while the third one would skate around the rink to referee the play—and dodge the tobacco juice that streamed from the stands. There were no off-ice officials in those days, spectators were expected to keep count of the score, and the um-pa beat of live bands provided a musical backdrop to the action.
By the time the 1919–20 hockey season in Cupar got off to a slow start (so slow that it didn’t even begin until late January), ice hockey in Saskatchewan had already developed into a well-organized affair, with leagues of differing levels of skill. The sport was overwhelmingly a boy’s and a man’s game, although there were a few girls’ and women’s squads in the province, as well as spirited co-ed jousts of shinny on sunny prairie days. Men’s teams could vie for local and provincial trophies, and even dream of national ones like the Stanley Cup (although no team from the province ever became a Cup challenger).
In Saskatchewan, like most of Canada, seven-man hockey had given way by the end of the war to the newer six-man version. Also in Saskatchewan, as in the rest of the country, the pressure to bring money into the game was fast threatening the traditional amateur status of the sport. To the west, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, formed in 1912, was paying all of itsplayers, not just its stars, as was the National Hockey League, organized in 1917 from the remnants of the National Hockey Association in the east. Both pro leagues were angling to lure away the province’s best players. Within a year, Saskatchewan would fight back with its own professional hockey clubs, but for the time being, hockey in the province was still played for the love of the game, and occasionally for a little money under the table.
With Aubrey Shore leading the way, by the end of the truncated 1919–20 season the Cupar squad had ripped through all local competition to face the Melville Millionaires in the Saskatchewan intermediate amateur playoffs. The Millionaires had gone undefeated all season, and interest in the two-game, total-goals series was running high. Everyone in Cupar was expected to attend the first match on February 26, even with tickets an expensive fifty cents for adults and twenty-five for children (at a time when, in Cupar, twelve dollars could buy a ton of coal). Eddie Shore, having left St. John’s that December, asked to join the home team for the series, and he even promised to pay his own way for the second game in Melville so as not to be a burden. The Cupar manager, a man named Heeb Sellars, refused. Faced with a determined Eddie Shore, however, Sellars learned what other managers would later find out: that it was next to impossible to say no to Eddie. Aubrey Shore’s kid brother did not disappoint, and in the first game against Melville he proved his worth as a strong and skilled skater on the right wing, and as an untiring and energetic player overall. He caught the attention of the crowd both by his staying power and by scoring the last four goals for Cupar to give the team a convincing 9–3 victory over the Millionaires.
A few days later, when warming weather, the bane of hockey in the days before refrigeration, threatened to end the season at any minute, the two clubs were assembled in Melville for the second and deciding match. As play was set to commence, word came that a wire from the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association had just arrived. Three Cupar players, the saha had ruled, would be ineligible to play because of their unsportsmanlike conduct during the game in Cupar. The three had allegedly threatened referee Corky Stein of Melville with violence. The Cupar men denied this, although they allowed that Stein, in their opinion, was an incompetent who had never played hockey and had no idea of how to handle a game. What was more, Cupar argued, the players in question—two regulars and the new boy, Eddie Shore—were all three incapable of being the roughnecks that Stein claimed they were. Cupar offered to pay the saha’s thirty-dollar fee to protest the suspensions on the spot, and to forfeit the game if the suspensions were later upheld. The Millionaires refused to go along with this plan, but they did permit Cupar to use a wounded war veteran with an amateur card in place of the three banished players.
At the end of the second period, the Millionaires were leading Cupar when Cupar’s goaltender, Laurence Gordon, was struck in the face by the puck. Badly injured, Gordon had to leave the game, whereupon the referee, a man named Heywood, took the opportunity to write a new page of the hockey rule book by abruptly ending the match. Heywood (who was, incidentally, the Millionaires’ vice-president) declared the Millionaires winners, and thus the Saskatchewan champions, based on their razor-thin 11–10 total-goals advantage over Cupar. Incredulous, the men of Cupar reminded Heywood that there was still more than a full period of hockey left in the game.
The following day, Cupar Hockey Club officers were in Regina, the provincial capital, to meet with Frederick E. Betts, president of the saha. They put forth their case that the officiating for the series had been suspect, and Betts concurred by nullifying the results of both games and decreeing that the series be determined by a single sudden-death match to be played in neutral Regina on March 10.
T.J. Shore hired a train for the fifty-mile ride from Cupar to the capital, and aboard the special express as his guests were his two sons and their hockey team, assorted Shore relatives, and almost the entire population of Cupar. The Melville contingent arrived on its own hockey excursion, and the rival rooters made their separate ways to the Regina Arena, where admission for the contest was a pricey seventy-five cents, open seating. Inside the building, it was warm, and the ice was wet and sticky. Emotions were running high.
The imperfect playing surface seemed to be mostly to the detriment of the Cupar players, although they did manage to get off more shots than the Millionaires, even if none of them actually went into the net. Both teams tried their hardest, and the game turned out to be both exciting and clean. Eddie Shore proved not to be much of a factor, though, and his fans would later claim that the man who sharpened his skates before the game was a partisan of the Millionaires who had ground the blades backwards, causing Eddie to stumble around the ice as if drunk. True or not, it is fact that Melville won the game, 4–2, and with it, the championship.
The heartbreaking loss to the Millionaires did nothing to diminish Eddie’s love for hockey, and the following winter he practised at the Cupar town rink, pushing himself hard. He tried out new tactics, intended to catapult his body past opposing defences. For one, he placed an oil barrel on the ice and stacked three willing youngsters on top of it. Then, taking a running start at the far end of the rink, he rushed forward at top speed, made an awesome jump, and cleared the obstacle with room to spare. Other times, to keep in shape, Eddie skated thirty miles up river to buy provisions for the ranch.
Aubrey Shore was still playing for Cupar that next season, 1920–21, which may have been one older brother too many on the team for Eddie’s liking, and after a game or two with Cupar, Eddie moved the twenty or so miles to Fort Qu’Appelle. The town had been a trading post in pioneer days, and to commemorate its heritage the streets had names like Hudson Street, Bay Street, and Company Street. Shore was seriously injured after just two games with Fort Qu’Appelle, and although the nature of his injury is no longer known, it was severe enough for the doctor to tell him that he would not be able to move for two months. The patient countered by saying he would be on his skates in a week. T.J. implored his son to give up hockey and return home to the ranching business, but Eddie had been terminally bitten by the hockey bug and could not see himself working for his overbearing father ever again.
A week after the doctor had given his prognosis, Eddie got out of bed and woke up an hour later on the hard wooden floor. He had fallen down and knocked himself out cold. Crawling back to bed, Eddie managed to put on his clothes. He tried to stand again, and this time he was more successful, even managing to go downstairs. Two weeks later, and against all advice, Eddie lasted through a very rough game where he received another bang to the head that left him dazed for twelve hours afterwards.
When the Fort Qu’Appelle hockey team’s season had run its course, Shore caught on with the team from neighbouring Indian Head for a couple of its final games, but his performance there was not to everyone’s liking. Shore remembered one of the Indian Head fans saying to him, “Too bad young fellow, but you won’t be able to make a hockey player of yourself.”
“That’s your opinion,” Shore replied, “not mine.”
That summer, Eddie put his education in agriculture to work, growing wheat on a half section of his father’s land. He did well enough to show a sizable net profit. But farming, to Eddie Shore, was just a summer job; his larger ambition was to make a real hockey player out of himself.
That November, the officers of the Cupar Hockey Club met at the Imperial Lumber Yards to discuss the upcoming 1921–22 campaign. According to the front page of the Cupar Herald, the lumberyard conference was “an enthusiastic gathering” at which “it was decided to try to arrange a league with western towns if possible, namely: Bulyen, Strasbourg, and Nokomis. We have,” the newspaper reported optimistically, “considerable new material in town, and prospects are bright for a good season’s sport.”
Two weeks later, on December 15, the front page of the Herald was not devoted to recreation. The tidings were grim: T.J. SHORE FOUND DEAD.
Under most painful circumstances Mr. Thomas John Shore came to his death on Monday last. Mr. Shore had been greatly stressed with financial worries for past year, but had been buoyed up with the hope that the crops this year would tide him over. The slump in prices however, with their consequent losses to the farming industry, only aggravated the situation and on Monday in a fit of depression and mentally unbalanced he evidently decided to end it all. The deceased left the house at about one o’clock and was not missed until he failed to put in an appearance at supper time. A search was immediately instituted and his lifeless body was found suspended from the rafter in the coal shed by his brother Sanford.
Unmentioned was the fact that T.J. had literally bet the ranch on a factory in British Columbia that made nuts and bolts, and had lost everything, including money given to him by his fellow investors. Whatever T.J. had planned on leaving his children was also gone, and his sons and daughters were now destitute. T.J.’s funeral was held at the house, and the burial, presided over by the Reverend J.C. Mathews, was at the Cupar cemetery.
Just three days after the death, and two days after the funeral, a large and buoyant crowd convened at the very same ice rink that T.J. had paid for a decade earlier. The team from Strasbourg were the visitors, and they opened the scoring a few minutes into the first period, but Cupar fought back, putting the puck into the back of the Strasbourg net three times. During the second period, Strasbourg battled through the Cupar defences for two goals of its own to tie the score. The third frame of the exciting contest proved to be the most thrilling, when, with the final bell not far off, Strasbourg beat the Cupar goaltender for the final tally of the game. By that time, however, the Strasbourg cause was hopeless. This was because, in the last minutes of play, “Eddie Shore,” according to the Herald, had scored “no less than four goals.”
Shore quickly became Cupar’s best player, equally at ease at right wing or right defence. He had a hot shot that invariably bulged strings behind enemy goaltenders, and he could secure the puck at faceoff to have it in the rivals’ net in ten seconds. And because of all this, Eddie was a marked man. Opposing players would gang up on him in twos and threes, but when the smoke had cleared Eddie would emerge, seemingly unharmed, to score the winning goal. The young Shore was unstoppable and unflappable. When his hip was severely injured in a fall to the ice, the doctor said he would never play hockey again. Eddie was back in only four weeks. He left hostile crowds gasping and he left the Cupar crowds, which were turning out in record numbers, singing and parading around the ice after each victory.
Cupar dispatched the little town of Lipton in the first round of the intermediate championship of Saskatchewan, and then soundly defeated the team from Lumsden in the second round. The third round would be a sudden-death match against the Cee Pee Rovers, and the contest was held at Moose Jaw, where spring had turned the playing surface to a slushy mush.
The game against the Rovers, according to the Moose Jaw Evening Times, was “not an afternoon tea affair by any means.” Far from it: the game was more like the recently ended Great War, only fought on skates. Blows were exchanged in the first two periods before the match degenerated into a free-for-all in the third. While order was somehow restored so that the contest could proceed to a conclusion, the game was a reminder of just how violent hockey could be. It never happened in Saskatchewan, but in Ontario, men had actually died playing hockey. Alcide Laurin was cut down by the stick of Allan Loney in 1905 (at trial, Loney was acquitted by a jury), and Owen McCourt met a similar fate at the hands of Charles Masson two years later (Masson was also acquitted by a jury). The sport, then as now, was fodder for critics who said it was little more than boxing or cockfighting on ice. Periodic predictions that the latest hockey outrage would doom the game forever always proved false, because the rough stuff was what the fans wanted, and if the fans did not get their fill of the rough stuff from watching hockey, they could always slug each other.
One story told in the January 12, 1929, issue of the Literary Digest, of all places, by a minor-league player named P.J. “Spider” Fynan, reflected those bad old days. “The worst riot I ever saw took place up in the little town in Quebec where I started my career—Richmond,” Fynan recalled. “We had an independent league and the race was a close one and the championship hinged on a final game to be played between our team, Richmond, and Waterville, which had in its lineup the three Blue brothers. Walter Blue was the oldest, the biggest, and the toughest.”
The Waterville team arrived in a big bobsled, and their fans in a narrow-gauge train consisting of two dingy little passenger cars pulled by a worn-out engine. The rink was surrounded by boards twelve feet high, but there was no roof to the building because it had blown away in a blizzard. “All through the game there were little tiffs here and there,” Fynan said, “but nothing serious happened until Bill Cook, one of our players who had ‘taken the butt end’ many times from the Blue brothers during the season, went over to Walter Blue and hit him on the head with his hockey stick. Instantly there was a riot. The 800 spectators were about evenly divided, half from our town and half from Waterville, so they came down off the seats onto the ice and went to it. The players were way ahead of them by that time, of course.
“First one side of the fence was kicked down,” Fynan said, “and the other three followed. Two cast iron stoves, known as ‘box stoves,’ were kicked over and the place caught fire and burned to the ground. The Richmond fans chased the Waterville supporters to their ‘special train’ and then smashed the windows and wrecked the cars before the train pulled out.”
Fynan did not pretend to have been a hero during the riot, known as the “Battle of Richmond,” but Major McIvar and Bill Rarry, prominent Richmond citizens, were. “Each six feet, two inches tall,” Fynan remembered, they “stood back to back and handed out ‘one-two punches’ until they were exhausted. Every man who came within their range was knocked down. Almost as many home folks as aliens became their victims because, in the excitement, there wasn’t sufficient time to figure out who was friend and who was foe. Those two just socked for the pure love of socking.”
By the time the bell rang in Moose Jaw, the hockey men of Cupar had eliminated the Cee Pee Rovers by a score of 4–2. Eddie and Aubrey Shore and their teammates had become the southern Saskatchewan intermediate hockey champions, and they stood just sixty minutes away from winning the provincial trophy, the Henderson Cup. All Cupar had do was beat the northern Saskatchewan intermediate champions—none other than the Millionaires.
The train left Cupar for Saskatoon at 11 a.m., packed tight with the Cupar team, which had just absorbed a number of players from neighbouring Strasbourg, and a mob of hockey-mad supporters from both towns. Along for the ride was the Strasbourg band, and it would be difficult to imagine a merrier crowd as all sang songs while the band played on. The train arrived in Saskatoon early in the evening. The fans prepared themselves for a night’s entertainment, the music men tuned up for the game, and the Cupar team braced itself for the business at hand.
The Millionaires were always partial to an unfair advantage as long as it benefited them, and for that night’s amateur hour, according to the Saskatoon Phoenix, they had retained the services of men who were “not playing purely for the love of the game.” Cupar Hockey Club officials vigorously protested Melville’s use of hired guns (whose identities were not divulged by the newspaper), but as outraged as it was, Cupar was hardly about to delay a game that 1,700 spectators were so looking forward to seeing.
Cupar dominated in the opening exchanges, and for the first ten minutes the speedy Melville forwards, even with their paid help, were bottled up. The Millionaires seemed nervous, their passes went wild, and Cupar got the first goal when the puck was batted into the Melville net through a flock of Millionaires. Soon, though, the Millionaires shook off their trepidation and evened the score.
There was some rough stuff in the second period, and the referee dished out the penalties in an equitable manner, such that both sides seemed to be a man short at all times. The shooting increased, the play opened up, and to keep the fans happy, there were some pretty end-to-end rushes—as well as an unusual incident. It occurred when a Melville player named Harris, who was carrying the puck on his stick, slipped, fell on his back, kept possession of the puck, slid into Cupar’s goaltender, and continued on his way right into the Cupar net. It was an innovative way to score, but the play judge disapproved of the technique on principle and the goal was taken back. Harris tried again, this time using more orthodox methods, and he put the Millionaires into the lead, 2–1. Eddie and his linemates gave the Melville goaltender, a man named MacDonald, a lot of work to do, but despite their best efforts they were not able to lodge the rubber in the strings behind him.
The game was decided in the concluding stanza. Shore staged one of the neatest rushes of the night, right up centre ice to get off a good shot that beat MacDonald completely. The Millionaires retaliated by quickly scoring a goal of their own. This left Eddie with no other choice but to repeat himself and again beat MacDonald completely. However, Eddie’s two goals were Cupar’s last of the night, while Melville went on to build a four-goal lead. For the second time in three years, the Millionaires had cruelly dashed Cupar’s hopes for higher hockey glory.
Shattered by the loss, Shore walked out of the arena into the Saskatoon night. It was March 18 and hockey was over until next winter. Eddie Shore, nineteen years of age, had to hang up the skates and find a job.