In his new book, "Checking Back," Neil D. Isaacs recounts the history of the National Hockey League. In this chapter, excerpted with permission from the publishers, Isaacs explains how the league coped with World War II, making changes that were to affect the game from then on.
Looking down at center ice at Capitol Center. Milt Schmidt pointed to the red line and said, "That's what ruined the game of hockey." That is no solitary sentiment but an idea held in common by many people whose background in hockey extends as far back as the thirties. In fact, Frank Boucher, who devised the new rule in 1943, called for its repeal as early as 1949.
The Second World War produced, as (hockey announcer) Foster Hewitt put it, a "weird pattern to the game." For a time, it seemed that the NHL would suspend play for the duration, not only because of the mass enlistments of front-line players but also because of the notion around Ottawa that continuance was unpatriotic. On this issue the American Hockey League took over the leadership. Under its president, Maurice Podoloff, and executives like Lou Jacobs of Buffalo, they said that hockey was needed for morale.
Over-aged veterans and under-aged rookies, like Maurice Richard and the 16-year-old zootsuiter. Bep Guidolin, helped to staff the teams. But war-time travel restrictions made it often a problem to meet game schedules. For this reason, pressure was put on officials to speed up play, and they responded by calling fewer penalties and virtually ignoring penalty shots. The latter development has persisted, at the expense s. The latter development has persisted, at the expense of one of hockey's most exciting features. But the most severe casualty of the travel problem came with the abandoment of overtime. Again a significant feature of the game - particularly in terms of fan interest - was sacrificed to expediency. But long after the causes ceased to exist, the effects have been retained.
The 1943 season was a scoring bonanza, despite the loss of overtime minutes. Only once in league history had anyone broken the 70-point barrier - Cooney Weiland's 73 in 1930 - and now three players did it: the Bentley broters for Chicago (Doug 73, Max 70) and Bill Cowley for Boston (72).
Detroit scored fewer goals than anyone but the Rangers, but the Red Wings had both a slight personnel advantage over most teams, as well as the incentive of the embarrassing 1942 Stanley Cup collapse (when they lost the final to Toronto in seven games after leading the series 3-0). At the end of the season, they led the league with 61 points to Boston's 57.
Boston could still put a good starting team on the ice - and they put Montreal out in five games, three of their four wins coming on overtime goals by Don Gallinger. Busher Jackson and Ab DeMarco. Meanwhile Detroit got a measure of revenge against Toronto, eliminating them in a six-game series.
In the finals, Detroit got off winging at Olympia. Jack Stewart and Art Jackson matched first-period goals, but then the Wings scored five straight to win, 6-2. In the second game they came from behind, to beat Boston 4-3, despite two more Jackson goals. Moving to Boston, the Red Wings made sure there would be no repeat of their collapse last year. Johnny Mowers shut out the Bruins in two games.
The Rangers had suffered through a horrendous season, winning only 11 games and finishing 19 points out of fifth place. Red Dutton, temporarily out of hockey because of the Amerks' folding had taken over in February the acting presidency of the NHL when President Calder died of a heart attack. Dutton appointed Frank Boucher, coach of the hapless Rangers, to rewrite the rule book. He accomplished that summer job, and the league accepted every clause including the immovative (or abominative) red line.
Ironically. Boucher's Rangers went nowhere on the red line express. From bad they went to worse - from the cellar to record-setting ineptitude. Ken McAuley played all but one period of the 50 games and allowed 310 goals. New York won only six games, totaled only 17 points, and finished 26 points behind fifth-place Boston - all records, and there were more. They had a 25-game nonwinning streak which survived all challenges for more than 30 years (until the Washington Capitals came along). In a single game in Detroit, with Lester Patrick handling the team because Boucher had gone home for a brothers funeral, the Rangers gave up 15 goals (to none) and 37 points, with eight goals and 22 points in the third period alone.
Raffles Boucher, at age 42, came out of retirement himself after five years behind the bench and played 15 games. Scoring four goals and 10 assists, he actually outscored 19 other Rangers. McAuley kept his average under five in 46 games the following season before the return of major-league goalies brought his retirement. Certainly McAuley's heroics failed to erase memories of Steve Buzinskis nine-game stint in the New York goal in 1943.
Of the 55 goals scored against him in NHL play (a career average of 6.11), only one was a shot he caught in the air and then tossed into the net himself. But his most memorable play came in Maple Leaf Gardens. Buzinski was knocked flat on his back, popped up suddenly, and then just as quickly was supine agina. Lynn Patrick skated over to the bench and gave this report as soon as he could stop laughin:
"We thought Steve had been knocked out. We were yelling for a penalty to Davidson for high-sticking." Davidson said, "Hell, I didn't belt him. It was the puck. He got hit on the head by the puck." That's when Steve, lying there cold as a mackerel, sat straight up and said to the referee, "That's a damn lie. He high-sticked me," and fell flat on his back again with his eyes closed.