1930-31 NHL Season: Back To Back Cups Start The Canadiens Decade Off In Roaring Style
For the defending 1930 Stanley Cup champion Canadiens, the the onset of the looming depression had yet to have any impact. The team and its fanbase were solid, and the team continued to be one of the NHL's best draws on the road due to the flash and skill of Howie Morenz.
With the crash of the stock market, the Great Depression was just beginning to take a toll on the NHL, affecting the financial foundation and stability of several of its member clubs. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who got off to a strong start in terms of fan interest in 1926, saw their fortunes wane with each passing season and a succession of last place finishes. The team moves to Philadelphia, is renamed the Quakers, while ideas of building a new arena in Pittsburgh fizzle away with the hard times. As pro hockey does not immediately catch on in Philadelphia, the franchise is terminated after one season.
The problems in Ottawa are even more serious, as fans with tighter wallets continued to be very selective in showing up for games. One night, there would be half empty houses for the Americans and Quakers, while fans fans packed the building 10,000 full for the likes of the Canadiens, Maroons and Leafs. Struck hard for cash, Ottawa sold off its best asset, King Clancy, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for $35,000 and a pair of players. Legend has it that Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe hit it big at the racetrack one afternoon, and made the inquiry to Ottawa concerning Clancy's purchase not long after. The move, in the end, severely weakens the Ottawa team, leading to another decline in fan interest. The trade would signify the beginning of the end for the original NHL franchise.
Around the NHL, there were subtle changes in the cosmetic appearance of the game. Detroit changed their nickname from the Cougars to the Falcons. The league approved farm club franchises for the Rangers, Americans, Bruins and Falcons. The Canadiens had such an association with the Providence Reds of the Can - Am league that had been operating for several years now. Against high odds in desperate financial times, Toronto owner Conn Smythe achieves the impossible by having Maple Leaf Gardens built and ready for the opening of the 1931-32 season. Smythe and managing partner Frank Selke ingeneniously got the deal done by having the tradesmen working on the structure, take Gardens stock rather than pay, once it looked as though the project might not be completed.
On the league rules front, certain refinements were made as to the specifications of an offside call, namely that the puck must proceed all players before they can enter the offensive zone. Remaining in play with a broken stick was also now disallowed. In such instances, players must now leave the ice or fetch a replacement stick at the players bench. The league also instituted a February 15 trade deadline for teams. The first four sided electric arena clock was also brought into action in a few arenas.
The playoff format was also tinkered with, as Bruins coach Art Ross bitterly complained about the Stanley Cup final setup after his team had been vanquished in two consecutive games by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1929-30 finals. As a result, the Board of Governors decide to make the final a best of five series. It was not a hard sell, considering the extra money one or more additional games would involve.
Fan interest was evident in many aspects of the promotion of the game, and hockey followed baseball's lead in naming All Star teams at the season's end. In addition to the Hart Trophy for the most valuable player, the Lady Byng for the most gentlemanly, and the Vezina for the goalie allowing the least goals, the NHL would now name its best players annually on two select teams.
Perhaps due to the depression, the quietest member of the Canadiens ownership, Louis Létourneau, bowed out of the business of hockey ownership at this time. Letourneau was one of the owners who had become known as "The Three Musketeers" who purchased the Canadiens for $11,000 from George Kennedy in 1921. Working mainly away from thelimelight that he preferred to leave to partners Dandurand and Cattarinich, he sold his shares in the team to them for $150,000 and went on to concentrate his focus on other interests such as boxing, wrestling, and racing.
The depression, for society in general, helped create a longing for heroes in all sports. It was in this era, and likely due to the hard times, that the legend of Howie Morenz grew largest. Everywhere hockey was being played, Morenz's exploits were on everyone's lips. Now in his eighth NHL season, and with two Stanley Cups and a scoring title to his credit, Morenz had hit his prime.
For hockey fans, Morenz became the equal of baseball's Babe Ruth, football's Red Grange, and boxing's Jack Dempsey, and his aura encompased the entirety of the sport. With a reputation for speedy puck rushes, stickhandling swiftness, and dazzling goals, the player known as the "Stratford Streak" begins to fullfill the role of hockey saviour as capacity crowds greet Howie and the Canadiens wherever they play in NHL cities. It seems that everyone wants in on the Morenz name, and the player is in demand for sponsorships and publicity functions at every turn.
In an exhibition game held in Boston in 1925. to test the thirst for pro hockey in the market, Bruins owner Charles F. Adams applied for a franchise in Boston after being bowled over by Morenz's play. When future Ranger's owner Tex Rickard saw Howie in action, he convinced Bill Dwyer to apply for a franchise. Once Rickard was granteed the Rangers, he insisted upon Howie and the Canadiens as the New York Americans first home game opponent. The AHA's Chicago Shamrocks offer Morenz a whopping $12,000 contract to launch their team, but the player politely declines, stating that "as long as I am able to give the best of myself to the game of hockey, I will remain a Montreal Canadien".
There were many stories circulating in the day to attest to the Morenz prowess and aura. His ability to score top corner goals, making him the fright of goaltenders, was but one. His intimidating, rising shot became know as a "bean puck" similar to baseball's "bean ball". His reputation for scoring such amazing goals was enhanced by a fan from St. Catherines, Ontario, who, on the occasion of a Morenz goal, jumped to his feet to exclaim his appreciation, only to be knocked into the eternal by a cardiac arrest. Even though he was noted for his scoring, Morenz was also an excellent backchecker, and the Canadiens never had to worry about a defensive specialist because he filled that role as well. Hockey historian, Charles L. Coleman, writing of Morenz in "The Trail of the Stanley Cup, Vol. II " told that he "bodychecked with the ferocity of a giant."
Likely due to the popularity of Morenz and the Canadiens as an attraction, team owners Dandurand and Cattarinich demand that road teams pay the Habs a 5% surplus from their home gate receipts. Owners of the other nine teams balk at the idea initially, but after understanding the importance of the Canadiens to the NHL at large, compromise with a 3.5% share heading Montreal's way.
Morenz would match his career high points total of 51 in 1930-31, on the strength of 28 goals and 23 assists, would score his 200th career NHL goal against the Maple Leafs on February 3. His linemates for the season were the always dependable Aurel Joliat, who had one year of seignority more than Morenz with the team, and rookie Johnny "Black Cat" Gagnon. Together the trio scored 59 of the Canadiens 89 goals on the season and were greatly involved in the team's successes. While the combination remained intact, they were dubbed the "Speedball Line".
Despite the NHL's new regualtions for forward passing and offsides, the Canadiens continued to be one of the leagues highest scoring teams as well as one of its stingiest clubs in allowing goals against. While only Boston outscored the Habs on the season, only the Americans, Blackhawks and Rangers allowed slightly less goals against.
While George Hainsworth would be beaten a mere 89 times in 44 games, he would not gain the Vezina Trophy in this season, nor gain an All Star team berth. Morenz and Joliat were first team All Stars, at center and left wing respectively, while defenseman Sylvio Mantha earned a second team nod.
Oddly, despite former co - owner Louis Létourneau's interest in car racing, Leo Dandurand continued to discourage players from getting involved in off ice activities that could prove dangerous to their hockey careers. Seeing as how fellow owner Jos Cattarinich's days on ice were ended by a car accident in which he lost a foot to amputation, Dandurand attempts to convince Sylvio Mantha to forego the dangerous practice of flying small planes. Regardless of the warnings, Mantha pursues his hobby.
The 1930-31 edition of the Montreal Canadiens did not differ greatly from the lineup that captured the previous season's Stanley Cup. The Habs added only Gagnon, Art Lesieur, and Jean Pusie to make up for the departures of Gerry Carson and Gord Fraser.
Pusie was signed on as an insurance policy for injured players on February 4, appearing in only 6 regular season and 3 post season contests. Although he would only see action in one game with the Canadiens the following season, he gained some notoriety with the fans who were known to shout "We want Pusie" during games. Pusie's rights would be retained by Montreal for a further five years as he travelled through a succession of minor league teams.
Lesieur was a player the Habs employed for 15 games during the 1928-29 season, before he was loaned to the Blackhawks for a pair of games. He remained associated to the Canadiens until 1940, playing 24 games with Montreal in 1931-32 and another 38 in 1935-36. In the interim, he was a Providence Reds farmhand.
Twenty five year old Johnny Gagnon was perhaps one of the first prospects developed for the Canadiens through their affiliation with Providence. After notching 20 and 21 goal seasons on the farm club, Gagnon was now deemed ready for NHL play. Gagnon made the Habs out of training camp, and Montreal sent Carson, along with the loaning of Pusie to Providence for his services on October 21. Gagnon would score in double digits for Montreal six times in the course of the next eight seasons. After a rough 1934 campaign, he was dealt to the Bruins for Joe Lamb, but was reaquired three months later in a cash deal. Gagnon would add 83 goals for Montreal in his final five and a half seasons with the team.
The 1930-31 Canadiens team would win five more games than it did the previous season, and their 26-10-8 record brought them back to first place in the Canadian Division for the first time since the 1928-29 campaign. The Maroons finished with a 20-18-6 record while Ottawa hit the basement of the division with a 10-30-4 mark.
The Habs did not get off to a start worthy of their stature as defending Cup champions, as they dropped three of their first five contests on the year. They opened strongly with a 5-1 undoing of the Senators at the Forum on November 15, only to fall 5-2 to the Bruins three nights later. They bounced back by pounding the Maroons 7-1 before dropping the next game 3-0 in Chicago. A 3-2 loss to lowly the Detroit Falcons became a wake up call of sorts for Montreal, and the club soon hit its stride.
After a reassuring 3-2 win against the Bruins, the Canadiens post a 17-4-4 record over their next 25 games. During that run, they have two winning streaks of six games, and another four game stretch in which they did not lose. In the final fourteen games, they managed a record of 7-3-4.
Several Canadiens players enjoyed very excellent seasons. Apart from the exploits of Morenz, who would earn the Hart Trophy a second time for his efforts, second line center Pit Lepine would contribute 17 goals, Joliat would chip in 13-22-35 totals, and defenseman Sylvio Mantha conted for 11 goals. Secondary support came from wingers Nick Wasnie and Wildor Larochelle, who hit for 9 and 8 goals respectively. Rearguard Albert Leduc scored a highly respectable 8 goals.
The Canadiens finished 7 points ahead of the Maroons, with a franchise record 60 points to win the Canadian Division title and the O' Brien Cup. On the American Division side, Boston retained its superiority with a 62 point season, despite star Cooney Weiland's drop in individual numbers from a 73 point campaign down to 25-13-38 totals.
In a New York Times article, dated Monday January 5, 1931, the paper assessed the Cup chances of the NHL best teams as such:
Like baseball watches who say that the team that leads the league on the Fourth of July will win the pennant, hockey followers also have a mid season superstition. They say that the Stanley Cup is won in January. Of the ten major league teams that begin this week the critical middle month of their activity, four stand high in the running.
Montreal Canadiens, present world champions, are the fastest and one of the toughest teams on the ice. In their lineup is still famed slope faced, round shouldered Howie Morenz, the highest paid, the fastest hockey player in the world. Aurel Joliat, in his little black cap, puts Morenz in position to shoot and handles his passes with none of the jealousy that in past seasons has marred their cooperation.
Montreal Maroons: big boned, heavy hewed, they win by muscle rather than strategy; they are the strongest team in the league defensively. They began the season losing game after game but have since pulled up to second place in the Canadian Division.
Boston: last year, with flat faced Eddie ("Shining") Shore tossing puck carriers off his wide hips on the defense, snaking through the opposition when he cared to take the puck, the Boston team swept the board all season but were mysteriously beaten by the Canadiens in the playoffs. Now Shore is quieter; his team has a slight edge in the American group, nothing more.
Chicago: in the first weeks the Blackhawks played phenomenally, justifying the odd theories of owner Frederic McLaughlin who copied Knute Rockne's football tactics, sent a bigger squad into action than his rivals, got them up for calisthenics at an hour when most hockey players are sleeping. But recently two Chicago players, overtrained, have fainted in action; the team has slipped from first place to second.
Montreal, who had to vanquish the Bruins in last season's Cup final, now had to deal with Boston as an opening round opponant in a battle of division winners. The Bruins may actually have been an improved squad over the previous season, as their attack was better spread across the lineup. With less dependance on the abilities of the Weiland - Clapper - Gainor trio, they were again seen as favorites in the opening round against the Canadiens.
Prior to the start of the season, Bruin's coach Art Ross had complained bitterly regarding the setup of the Stanley Cup final. He felt that it was unfair that earlier series were settled in a greater number of games than the Stanley Cup final was. He had a good point, in suggesting that the Cup final be the toughest of showdowns, and as a result the NHL's board of governors decided the final would now be a best of five series. Ross was upset that his powerhouse team had been vanquished in two consecutive games by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1929–30 playoffs when a better fate seemed destined.
This Bruins and Canadiens matchup would be a classic one, and a much closer series than last spring. Beginning in Boston, the Bruins got off to a better start this time around with a 5-4 win in the opening game. Montreal quickly learned that playing the Bruins open style in their rink would not work, and they tightened their checking game for the second match.
Back in Montreal, fans were impatient for news. All during the Boston series, the Montreal Gazette were inundated with calls inquiring about updates on the game's scores. As the series was not broadcast on radio, the paper had to issue a public statement plea that callers limit their inquiries to the late evening when scores were final.
Bruins' coach Ross, clearly one of hockey's earliest thinkers and innovators, became the first coach to pull his goalie for a sixth attacker in the second game of the series. With fourty seconds left in the 1-0 contest, Bruins goalie Tiny Thompson raced to the bench. Though the tactic did not work to his advantage on the first try, it would become employed by coaches from this time on. Sylvio Mantha's lone goal in the game held up, and the Canadiens evened the series heading back to Montreal for the final three games.
Game three saw the Canadiens lost a 4-3 overtime heartbreaker, but they rebounded strongly two nights later and put the clamp down on the Bruins once more for a 3-1 win to tie the series. The fifth and deciding game brought overtime on for a third time in the series, and the Canadiens sent a stunned Boston club home again with a 3-2 victory.
The Canadiens line of Pit Lepine, Wildor Larochelle and George Mantha gave the Bruins fits in the final contest. Larochelle potted the game winner eighteen minutes into overtime, as he accepted a pass from defenseman Marty Burke, cut in from a bad angle and deked Bruins goalie Tiny Thompson and slipped the puck in on the far side. Larochelle was then mobbed by his team mates, who carried his front the ice to the dressing room doors.
A dejected Eddie Shore was found in the Bruins dressing room post game, noting that everywhere Boston turned, there seemed another Mantha.
One day after the game, the Gazette reported that the Habs were a banged up bunch. Armand Mondou, with a badly bruised shoulder, had Albert "Battleship" Leduc as a beside room mate at the Montreal General Hospital. Lepine, Burke, Joliat Georges Mantha and Morenz - who was so hampered he hadn't scored all series - were all said to be in bandages and mercurochrome.
For the Blackhawks, first time Stanley Cup finalists in five years of existance, beating the Maple Leafs and Rangers seemed trying enough, but they were healthy compared to the Habs. Hockey fans in Chicago, whose team were peaking after five seasons in the league, were clearly impressed by their club's chances. An 18,000 strong throng, then an NHL record, filled Chicago Stadium for game 2 of the final series.
The Blackhawks were a much improved club behind the coaching of future Canadiens bench boss Dick Irvin. An innovator himself, Irvin boasted a team loaded with larger players who weren't up to the Canadiens speed. The coach compensated by rolling three equal lines, limiting shifts to no longer than two or three minutes.
After a rough start against Montreal, they bounced back from losing the series opener at home ice 2-1. With Montreal remaining confident of victory, the fresher Blackhawks stole the momentum of the series with overtime wins of 2-1 in Chicago and 3-2 on Forum ice.
In the fourth game, with less than 20 minutes remaining and a 2-1 Chicago score, the Blackhawks may have been guilty of having champagne dreams before the game was up. They started the third period flat, and Johnny Gagnon knotted the score early. Pit Lepine played the hero by notching the go ahead goal with only 4:25 remaining on the clock. Minutes later, Lepine added an insurance marker to seal the win at 4-2 and even the series at two games each. With fans at the Forum singing the Canadiens praises as they headed off ice, coach Cecil Hart marvelled at his team's ability to come from behind and win, calling them "the most wonderful team imaginable." Hart then predicted victory two nights later.
April 14 was a warmer than usual spring day in Montreal, but the Forum was of course sold out regardless. With anticipation that could be pealed off the arena walls, a jammed to capacity crowd cheered the Canadiens every move on, while fans at home listened to Foster Hewitt as he broadcast every on ice mannerism through homes across Canada.
While the fifth and deciding game would not pack the same flair and drama as the first four hard fought battles, it began as a goaltending dual between Hainsworth and the Hawks Chuck Gardiner. Gagnon, on a spectacular play, ended the scoreless tie midway through the middle frame. Taking a feed from linemate Joliat, he yanked Gardiner into a sprawl and hoisted the puck over his flattened frame. The score remained the same until the fourth minute of the third, when Morenz broke a personal nine game draught by blasting through half the Blackhawks in his path and firing the clincher past Gardiner.
The goal, broadcast into Montrealer's homes, sent the city into a partying frenzy. Inside the Forum, celebrations continued almost a full hour after the game. The most rambunctious celebrations were heard down St. Catherines street, where honking horns announce a symphony of revellers miles long.
It was a hard fought fourth Stanley Cup victory for the Canadiens, and a very satisfying one, as they were brought to the five game limit twice by their opponents. In addition, five of the ten Canadiens playoff games went into overtime - three against the Bruins and two against Chicago. All in all, the playoffs and the final were the most exciting the NHL had yet produced, and with their second Stanley Cup win in as many season, the Canadiens were soidified as the class of the NHL
One evening later, the celebrations spilled into the Windsor Hotel, where the club and players were toasted at tuzedo banquet. Guest speakers, tributes from city officials, and a jazz band were on the menu, and the champagne flowed to begin a sumer in which there would no shortage of opportunities for Montrealer to celebrate and cheer their heroes. The Canadiens players, and especially Morenz, were in great demand for banquets and various forms of publicity tie - ins. Hockey fever had gripped the city like never before, and the ferocity of the fans love for their team would become a trait associated with hockey in Montreal for decades.
Here is another article from the New York Times, about the Canadiens Cup win from the Monday, April 27
edition that seems very typical of the era:
After the usual involved but lucrative series of preliminary playoffs, two teams of the National Hockey League survived to compete for the Stanley Cup, symbol of the world's championship - the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Black Hawks.
Wise money favored the Black Hawks, reasoned that the Canadiens were bruised and tired after their preliminary series with Boston, that Chicago, with its famed staff (biggest in hockey) of eleven forwards would come through if only on freshness.
In the first game in Chicago, the Canadiens mustered speed for what seemed a dying effort, blocked the rushes of Cook, Adams, Gottselig, won 2 to 1. Then the Black Hawks hit their stride. In two games their rapid substitutions kept fresh men on the ice all the time and these men in their cubistic black & white jerseys skated parabolas around the tired Canadiens.
With the series at 2 to 1 in favor of Chicago it seemed almost certain that the fourth game would also be Chicago's. Instead, after being two goals behind at the end of the first period, one behind at the end of the second, the Canadiens, with burly Gagnon and long waisted Lepine playing like madmen, won the game 4 to 2, evened the series.
Now it was the Black Hawks who had their hearts in their skate boots, the Canadiens who were confident. With their cheering section, called the "Millionaires," - chanting their battlesong "Les Canadiens Sont Là" (Tune: "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More") the Montreal team outplayed their rivals, won the game 2 to 0, the series, and the championship cup.
|1929-30 NHL season||1930-31 NHL season||1931-32 NHL season|