Canadiens 1912-13 Barber Pole Jersey, A Sweater Of Many Tales

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True to the cliché, some pictures may tell a thousand stories!

And so it goes for a photo of the 1912-13 Montreal Canadiens.

One of the more curious items in ancient Canadiens history, are the barber shop pole red, white and blue striped sweaters that the team will revisit and wear in a game against the Boston Bruins on February 1, 2009. The colour scheme, adopted for the 1912-13 season were destined to have a short shelf life.

The problem with the striped colours arose in a meeting in Ottawa against the Senators, who adorned themselves in almost identical game wear featuring slightly wider stripes of red, white and black.

After playing one game against the Senators in these wollies on January 18, 1913, Ottawa management complains that the local fans were confused, often cheering for the Montreal players rather than the home team due to the abundance of on ice horizontal stripes. It couldn't have been much easier for the players to distinguish themselves from their counterparts, with nothing more than a large "O" or a blue outlined, white maple leaf to choose from. 

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The complaint was a reasonable one, and it led to Montreal wearing the very first alternate jersey in hockey history.

Artist sketches of games that season relate that Montreal wore a white sweater with a thick colour bar across the torso against Ottawa, but there has never been official confirmation from team sources that such occured. The artist rendering places numbers of the backs of Canadiens players, also a new feature on the barber pole sweater.

The white alternates were supposedly an unplanned, last minute solution in a meeting in Montreal against Ottawa.

From then on, in games against Ottawa, the Canadiens adopted colours similar to that of the dark sweater worn by trainer Bill Noseworthy in the 1912 black and white team photo featured at the top of this post. The photo is perhaps the only known posed shot of the 1912-13 team, and it has been colourized to great confusion among historians.

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The Noseworthy sweater, although it looks to be completely one dark colour, may actually have had a thick blue bar across the chest, where a stylized "C" was placed. The question of this, and the confusion arising from it, is due to the sweater Montreal employed in their next Ottawa meeting.

It what can be regarded as the most basic prototype of the colour scheme of today's Canadiens team jersey, Montreal then donned a red sweater, with a blue colour bar, and a simple white "C" logo overtop when facing the Senators in remaining games. It has been said that the sweater in question had been used in practices up until that point in time, but such a fact may also be mere mythology.

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The "CAC" inside the maple leaf shaped logo stood for "Club Athletique Canadien", the incorporated name of the team at the time. When the 1913-14 season began, the Canadiens were wearing a design very reminiscent of today's colour scheme, with an oval "CAC" logo in place of today's "CH".

For the record, the Canadiens played 20 games in the season in which this unlikeliest of sweaters was worn. They won 9 of those contests, while losing eleven. The NHA was a well balanced that season, and Montreal finished fifth in a six team league, scoring 83 goals and allowing 81.

It was a time when player's salaries were much in dispute, with a rival Pacific Coast Hockey League doing to the NHL what the WHA did to the NHL in the 1970's. With talent jumping to the highest bidder, payrolls were soon out of control. A league mandated salary cap of $5,000 was exceed by all NHL clubs, with the Canadiens themselves forking out a ridiculously high $8,000 for the time.

Imagine that! Today, Andrei Markov will earn as much just spitting on the ice! 

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In the 1912-13 team photo, goalie Georges Vezina does not appear too fond of captain Jack Laviolette's dog. The dog was added to the team shot for superstitious reasons. The Quebec Bulldogs, winners of last season's Stanley Cups had such a mascot in team photos, and the Canadiens were either trying to poke fun at their rivals, tap into their good luck, or both.

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Fourteen players would wear this sweater in it's one season of existence, and five of them would go on to become future Hall Of Famers. These fourteen players were also the first Canadiens to be asigned sweater numbers on these barber pole editions. Of course, Canadiens fans are well acquainted with the names and exploits of Georges Vezina (1), Newsy Lalonde (4), Didier Pitre (5) and Jack Laviolette (3), but they may be less so with regualrs Ernest Dubeau (3), Donald Smith (6), Eugene Payan (7), Louis Berliguette (8), and Henri Dallaire (9), or spares Fred Povey (9), Alphonse Jetté (10), Clayton Fréchette (11), and Hyacinthe Guevremont (11).  

Of the eleven players pictures in the team photo, only eight would play for the Canadiens in 1912-13. The names of Pete Degrowy and Shorty Coderre are quite trivial today, but Cy Denneny is a whole other story. In the photo, he is the player third from left in the back row with the moppy hair.

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As the Canadiens 1912 training camp was underway, players as usual were invited to try out for the team. Denneny, 21 years old at the time, had most recently played with the Cornwall Internationals of the Lower Ottawa Valley Hockey League in 1911-12, scoring 9 goals in eight games.

Denneny made the team, and the Canadiens had signed him to a contract on November 29, 1912, but like the other two players in the photo, he was released when training camp ended.

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There are varying stories as to why Denneny was released, and the most substantiatd one has it that Canadiens management were unable to convince NHA authorities that Denneny was in fact french speaking, a ruling that they still were required to adhere to at the time. As the Canadiens had already signed their alotted limit of two english speaking players - Smith and Povey - they could not retain Denneny.

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This fact is strikingly odd, considering the common misconception that the Canadiens club had always benefitted from a french speaking player territorial right. Well before the supposed myth had ever paid dividends to the organization, the Denneny instance is clearly one in which it hampered their progression.

Denneny, as hockey history notes, played 16 more seasons and retired as the NHL / NHA all time points leader with 331 in 1929. ".

Following his release from Montreal, Denneny joined the Russell team in the LOVHL for the 1912-13 season. he would make his NHL debut with the Toronto Shamrocks in 1914-15. After a season in which he scored 24 goals in 24 games with the Toronto Blueshirts, he moved on to play 15 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, cementing his NHL legend in a barber poll jersey after all.

Photos for this post were culled from La Glorieuse Histoire Des Canadiens, which has recently published a one hundreth anniversary edition. No Canadiens book comes close, not even remotely, to the contents and accuracy of this one. The colour spread of the 1912-13 team photo is from the Sports Illustrated tribute, "The Canadiens Century" - a neat and pricey keepsake that barely tips the iceberg of Habs lore.

For more on the subject of the 1912-13 season, and the sweaters the Canadiens wore in their formative years, check out "1912-13 Newsy Returns", and "The Evolution Of A Hockey Jersey / The Origin Of Our Flag".

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