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The Bruins against the b’ys

The Montreal Canadiens’ Jacques Plante dives to make a stop on the Boston Bruins’ Vic Stasiuk as Cal Gardner follows the play in this file photo from a Dec. 14, 1955 game at Boston Garden. Five months later, with the Bruins one of two original six teams outside the playoff picture, the team was brought to Newfoundland by Gerry Regan, future Nova Scotia premier and federal cabinet minister, to tour the island and take on local hockey teams in seven games over 10 days.
The Montreal Canadiens’ Jacques Plante dives to make a stop on the Boston Bruins’ Vic Stasiuk as Cal Gardner follows the play in this file photo from a Dec. 14, 1955 game at Boston Garden. Five months later, with the Bruins one of two original six teams outside the playoff picture, the team was brought to Newfoundland by Gerry Regan, future Nova Scotia premier and federal cabinet minister, to tour the island and take on local hockey teams in seven games over 10 days. - Bettmann/CORBIS

April 9, 2016, marks the 60th anniversary of the first-ever appearance by an NHL team playing on an outdoor rink before a paying audience, and it occurred in Bay Roberts. The Telegram revisits that game between the Boston Bruins and teams from the Conception Bay North Senior Hockey League.

He had only turned 31 a few months before, but still was the third oldest of the men on the ice dressed in black and gold, and he had seen and come to know a lot about hockey during a full decade in the NHL.

Alex Faulkner
Alex Faulkner

So, as he lined up for the faceoff against the teenager opposite, the words he offered really meant something to the youngster, and perhaps provided a little spark of ignition to the creation of Newfoundland hockey history.

“Why aren’t you playing somewhere on the mainland?” Cal Gardner asked Alex Faulkner of Bishop’s Falls.

•••••

Gardner was one of the leading scorers on the Boston Bruins, who were nearing the end of a coast-to-coast, off-season tour of Newfoundland, one that deserved the ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ tag long before the movie, with ‘Boats’ tossed in for good measure.

“... a hectic trip across Newfoundland, which saw them use every possible means of travel except dog team,” wrote The Daily News after the Bruins — with a roster including all-star goaltender Terry Sawchuk, future Hall of Fame defencemen Fern Flaman and Leo Boivin, Doug Mohns and Vic Stasiuk —  arrived in St. John’s five days earlier into the tour.

The chief musher was Gerry Regan, future Nova Scotia premier and federal cabinet minister, who, while still a law student in Halifax, saw a business opportunity in one of the two teams that annually missed the playoffs in the Original Six era of the National Hockey League.

Regan, who also worked as hockey broadcaster and as a scout for the Bruins, reasoned that outside-looking-in players — whose regular-season pay in those days was but a pittance of today’s NHLers — would be up for the chance to make the equivalent of at least some of the lost post-season shares, and that folks in eastern Canada, who never got the chance to see big-league teams up close — unless they could travel away — would be willing to pay to watch them play.

He was right, and the early forays throughout his home province and the rest of the Maritimes proved successful. Even after he had started what would become a prominent legal career, Regan continued promoting the trips and in 1956, organized the ambitious tour of Newfoundland.

With 37 points in 59 games, Vic Stasiuk was the Boston Bruins’ leading scorer in 1955-56.
With 37 points in 59 games, Vic Stasiuk was the Boston Bruins’ leading scorer in 1955-56.

It wasn’t Regan’s first time bringing a team to the province. Back in 1951, he saw to it that the New York Rangers, with the likes of goalie Chuck Rayner, defenceman Allan Stanley and forward Nick Mickoski — who would eventually return to Grand Falls and play for the Cataracts in the late 1960s — played two exhibitions in the central Newfoundland town at the tail-end of a 15-day tour that had started in Fredericton, N.B.

But the visit to Newfoundland five years later — and which began 60 years ago this week —  was something very different; seven games in five centres, coast-to-coast on the island, over 10 days.

•••••

After a rough ferry crossing from North Sydney, N.S., the Bruins proceeded to Corner Brook, where they played their first game at Humber Gardens on April 7, 1956. The next day, they backtracked to Stephenville, from where they were to fly to St. John’s, but fog at Torbay Airport forced a diversion to Gander, leading to a train trip to the capital on April 9, just in time to bus out to Bay Roberts for a game on the new outdoor rink in that community.

Then it was immediately back to St. John’s, where there were three games in many days against all-star sides from the city league.

Perhaps no local was more intimately involved in the latter contests than future Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Cole, then a 22-year-old rookie broadcaster with VOCM who had only recently beat out what was said to be 72 other applicants for the job.

However, Cole was also a well-regarded senior hockey player and was part of the lineup — the City ‘A’ All-Stars — that took on the Bruins in the first of three matchups at Memorial Stadium, then just a year old.

Cole, who covered the Bruins for VOCM when he wasn’t facing them on the ice, listened to the last-name listing of the April 10, 1956 St. John’s all-star team as published in the paper, and filled in some of the blanks.

Bob Cole’s first NHL game came on April 24, 1969, at old Boston Garden, where the Montreal Canadiens beat the Bruins on Jean Beliveau’s overtime goal. He’s called games in just about every rink in the league, including old Maple Leaf Gardens where he was a regular play-by-play voice of the Leafs. Here, Cole is seen with broadcasting partner Gary Dornhoefer doing a Leafs game in the mid-1970s.
Bob Cole’s first NHL game came on April 24, 1969, at old Boston Garden, where the Montreal Canadiens beat the Bruins on Jean Beliveau’s overtime goal. He’s called games in just about every rink in the league, including old Maple Leaf Gardens where he was a regular play-by-play voice of the Leafs. Here, Cole is seen with broadcasting partner Gary Dornhoefer doing a Leafs game in the mid-1970s.

“That’s Irv Walsh, he was a goaltender ... Bern Goobie, he was with Guards ... that’s ‘Mickey’ Woodford, he played up front,” said Cole, adding in some of the player’s given names.

To be sure, most of the St. John’s players that night — Jackie Withers, Ted Gillies, Merv Green, Hugh Fardy, ‘Fa’ Murphy, Lloyd Cooke, Len Coughlan and Noel Hutton for example — were just as well-known, perhaps better so, than the visitors.

Despite longstanding trade and many family connections that existed between Boston and St. John’s, the Bruins didn’t have a large following here in those days — Newfoundland was, as it still is, primarily Leafs-Canadiens country — although there were names of Bruins who could be easily recognized from newspaper write-ups, radio reports and the rare Hockey Night in Canada televised offering that included Boston.

Certainly team captain Flaman, Gardner and burly Fleming Mackell, all former Leafs; Don McKenney, only a year removed from a 20-goal rookie season; Bruins leading scorer Vic Stasiuk; and most assuredly Sawchuk, the three-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender who had come over in a trade from Detroit less than a year before.

•••••

Sawchuk had the reputation as a dark personality even as a young man, but he and Cole got to know each other at a reception VOCM held for the team, and hit it off.

“They say not many did, but he and I got along,” said Cole, “so much so that I loaned him my car while he was here.”

Whatever generosity Sawchuk reciprocated didn’t happen on the ice. In the early part of the three city contests, which were conducted in a more serious vein, he didn’t allow a goal. It wasn’t until the some of the Bruins began switching sides and sweaters and hooking on with the senior teams, that the all-stars began scoring, but almost against their own, since Sawchuk was among those who had changed over.

Only Jack Withers was credited with getting the puck by Sawchuk in an April 11 story in The Daily News, although that was only after the two sides had pretty much become jumbled beyond recognition.

The further the game clock ticked along during stops on the tour, it was more likely that the contests would fall into something akin to Harlem Globetrotters on ice, with the Bruins — often led by a zany Mackell — displaying good humour and good-naturedness, but almost always still exhibiting supreme skill.

“It was all business at the start of the game,” recalled Cole. “We worried how bad they were going to make us look, and they could do it. It seemed like they could score whenever they wanted.

“But it was fun, too.”

Cal Gardner was second in scoring for the Boston Bruins in the 1955-56 regular season, notching 36 points in 70 games.
Cal Gardner was second in scoring for the Boston Bruins in the 1955-56 regular season, notching 36 points in 70 games.

•••••

The Bruins were beaten once on their stay in the capital, but it was by the famous St. John’s peewee all-stars of the day, with young Basil Fagan being credited as the first to get a puck past Sawchuk. It was a 10-minute lead-in to a game that saw Bruins from Eastern Canada hooking up with St. Bon’s against a combined team of Western Canadians and St. John’s all-stars.

When they weren’t playing — or helping officiate some local minor-hockey games — the Bostonians were well fed during their stay, including a VOCM-sponsored dinner at the Pioneer Drive Inn, with seal flipper featured on the menu.

Most of the Bruins reportedly at least nibbled politely at the dark meat, with some — perhaps the most courteous, hungriest and/or bravest of the lot — consuming all the meal. There were also receptions at the Bowring Park bungalow, put on by the City of St. John’s, and another at Frost’s Restaurant which was hosted by Bennett Brewery, a chief sponsor of the tour.

The latter saw “Stadium” soup, roast chicken a la Signal Hill, potatoes “Kitty Vitty” style, as well as “puck” coffee and “stick” tea.

•••••

After their St. John’s stay, the Bruins turned back west to central Newfoundland, finishing up the tour at what was then the new Gander Gardens, albeit with a thinned-out roster. They had lost forward Jerry Toppazzini to a severe ear infection while in Corner Brook, and in St. John’s, veteran rearguard Hal Laycoe, who in the absence of regular head coach Milt Schmidt had been acting as playing-coach on the tour, learned his father has died.

Then Flaman’s father took gravely ill, and both men headed home to be with their families.

Jerry Toppazzini
Jerry Toppazzini

That left Boston as a two-line team, with Doug Mohns getting to show off his versatility as forward who could play defence. Yet even without their veteran blueliners, the Bruins were dominant. In Gander, John Murphy did score on Sawchuk, becoming the third Newfoundlander with a recorded goal against the Bruins netminder during regular ‘local vs Bruins’ play on the tour, the others being Shearstown’s Gerald Saunders in Bay Roberts and Jim Temple, whose goal came in Grand Falls.

•••••

The latter was the same game the saw Gardner suggest Faulkner, then still 18, should be polishing his talents elsewhere.

“I guess he saw something in me,” recalled Faulkner after confirming the face-off query by the Bruins centre.

“Those words stayed with me.”

Still, whatever the inspiration, it would be five years before Faulkner became the first Newfoundlander to play in the NHL, when he broke in with Toronto, which had signed him after a recommendation by another former Leaf and a former teammate of Gardner’s —  Howie Meeker —  who was impressed by Faulkner’s play for the CeeBees all-stars during a 1960 exhibition game against a St. John’s team coached by Meeker.

Faulkner's Conception Bay CeeBees were at Prince of Wales Arena to play Meeker's Guards, and Meeker's old coach from his days with the Leafs, King Clancy, was in town and took in the game in what was then a brand new rink.

Faulkner played just the one game with the Maple Leafs before being claimed by Detroit, where he had his greatest success and became a teammate of the biggest Bruins star of the 1956 tour.

“How would I ever know when I was playing in that game in Grand Falls, that Terry Sawchuk and I would eventually end up on the same team?” said Faulkner.

“Isn’t that something?”

•••••

Faulkner’s brother, Lindy, also played in that 1956 game, staged at Grand Falls Stadium (later Joe Byrne Stadium), but it didn’t mark the first time a member of Newfoundland’s first hockey family had suited up against an NHL team. Neither were they the youngest.

Their brother, George, has been 17-year-old member of the Grand Falls All-Stars that took on the Rangers in 1951, although he wasn’t in town for the Bruins five years later — in 1956, George was a Montreal Canadiens’ farmhand with Shawinigan Falls of the Quebec Hockey League.

A 17-year-old Cole had taken in that 1951 contest, at some personal sacrifice.

He had arranged to stay with a Grand Falls family that had one time billeted him as a visiting minor hockey player, but there was still the matter of coming up with the train fair to Central. He did so by selling his Remington rifle, one of his most prize possessions.

“I wouldn’t have sold it for anything in the world, except for that ... the chance to see NHL players in person. It was my first time, my first chance and I wasn’t going to let it go by,” stated Cole, whose would go on to witness thousands of big-league players calling games for Hockey Night in Canada.

bmcc@thetelegram.com

With thankful acknowledgement for the help of Newfoundland hockey historian Bruce Chafe, as well as the research already conducted and posted on the Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Heritage website (nlhhs.org).


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