July 30, 2008

Hamilton's Hockey Tigers

Sam Wesley is a talented writer and researcher, a lifelong hockey enthusiast and, just as importantly, a proud Hamiltonian.

Hamilton is a blue collar city with big league dreams. We have lost count of the number of rumored expansion franchises and relocated teams coming to the southern Ontario city. To most of us Hamilton is a junior league city with a spotted minor league history. It has a major league stadium at Copps Coliseum, best remembered as the host of "the greatest hockey games ever played" in the 1987 Canada Cup finals.

Like most residents of Hamilton and hardcore hockey fans across Canada, Wesley was only vaguely aware of Hamilton's long forgotten NHL past. If the Tigers are remembered at all, it is as the NHL team that went on strike and therefore lost their NHL team, or for favorite player Shorty Green, whom the old city water fountains are still affectionately nick-named after.

So Wesley set forth to discover his city's glorious hockey past, and with the help of his father David formed the excellent book Hamilton's Hockey Tigers. Another proud Hamilton supporter, Don Cherry, writes the foreword. It is published by Lorimer.

Buy at Amazon - Chapters

The book is well researched, but more importantly exceptionally written. Wesley does a good job of trying to recapture the rollicking days of the city and hockey back in the 1920s. It was a fascinating time so very much different than today.

Wesley accomplishes this with heavy use of colorful quotes from newspapermen of the day. Of course these were the days when sports "writers" covered sports, not journalists. A couple of great examples: Montreal goalie Georges Vezina was "kept busier than a porcupine with hives" while thin Hamilton forward George Carey was described as "about as wide as a steam-pipe and as hefty as a flea."

The 96 page book is laced with great images of memorabilia and photos from generations ago, further accomplishing our trip back in time.

The book starts out on December 22nd, 1920, the date of the very first NHL game in Hamilton. It goes on to look at life in Hamilton back then, as well as looking at the beginnings of the NHL.

The book goes on to look at the Quebec Bulldogs, and why the team was relocated to Hamilton.

The authors then take us on a season by season recap of the Hamilton Tigers short history. The first couple of seasons were disasters on the ice. Art Ross came in to help clean things up, but it was not until the arrival of the Green brothers, Red and Shorty, that Hamilton would experience NHL glory. With the Greens, particularly Shorty, wearing the gold and black the Tigers became a top team in the league.

In addition to the Green brothers, the Wesleys do a good job of sketching the stories of many other players in Hamilton history, too. Phantom Joe Malone. Joe Matte. Goldie Prodgers. Harry "Mum" Mummery. Billy Burch. Mickey Roach. Leo Reise. Jumping Jakie Forbes. All of these players were big name stars at the Barton Street Arena. Nowadays they are barely remembered.

The only reason most of us even know there was once a NHL hockey team in Hamilton is because of the strike of 1925.

Despite being a heavy favorite to win the Stanley Cup, the Hamilton Tigers, led by captain Shorty Green, refused to play the post season unless each member of the Tigers received a $200 raise.

The players were upset because the NHL had increased the schedule to include 30 games instead of 24. Plus the teams would have to play 2 more additional playoff games, for which they were not paid. The Tigers, who had earned record profits due to their first winning season, refused to pay extra, so the players refused to play. Despite attempts by NHL president Frank Calder, the situation was never resolved. The players refused to play for the Hamilton Tigers ever again, and the NHL suspended all the players and fined them $200 a piece. The Tigers, a favorite for the Stanley Cup championship, never participated in the playoffs.

In the summer the NHL announced the sale of the Tigers to prohibition bootlegger Bill Dwyer who moved the team to New York and renamed them the Americans (originally they were to be named the New York Hamilton Tigers, believe it or not!)

The strike cost Hamilton it's long-since desired NHL team, and paved the way for US expansion. Enticed by the bright lights of the big city, the Tigers were a dismal team in New York. But hockey in Manhattan proved to be a hit, and led to the formation of the New York Rangers.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Wesleys' offering. I felt that I learned a lot not only about hockey in Hamilton and hockey in the 1920s, but a little bit about life in Canada in the 1920s as well. It is a good book for hockey history fans right across Canada, and mandatory reading for puck heads of all ages in Southern Ontario.


John January 14, 2010 at 1:05 PM  

Did you know that Red Dunn played on the 1935 hamilton Tigers team that went to England and won the British Empire championship. That was in April, 1935. In the same year, December 1935, Red also played for the Hamilton football Tigers in the Grey Cup - they lost 18 - 12 to Winnipeg. he is, I believe the only player to play on both teams - I have pictures of both teams.

John Dunn

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