Hello, and welcome to the first edition of Wayback Wednesday.This will be a weekly thread in which we talk about the history of hockey. This can be anything from a historic game (USA-USSR in 1980) or series (1972 Summit Series), to a historic event that altered the NHL (Ted Lindsey forming the NHLPA). As long as it’s hockey related, and historic, we’re interested in it.
I thought up this thread and /u/trex20 from Reddit has agreed to help me with this and contribute content, but I would love to have more people contribute with ideas or writing as well. As this hopefully develops and evolves we’ll get more feedback from the community and be able to generate better content for the community here.
For this first edition we thought we should go over some firsts for hockey. What are the first things you need to play hockey? Skates of course. But skates aren’t exactly hockey-centric as they were around for thousands of years before hockey was played. Did you know the Fins invented skating? And that it’s the oldest human-powered means of transportation?
Skates are of course essential to playing ice or roller hockey, but you don’t need skates to play floor hockey. So what is the first thing you need to play hockey? A puck? Well, some forms of hockey use a ball. In fact, as /u/MrPennyWhistle shared with us earlier this week even the first ice hockey games were played with a ball.
There are numerous varieties of hockey played throughout the world, each with different rules and equipment but in each there is one common thing you’ll need. A stick.
The first ice hockey sticks were made by the Mi’kmaq people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mi%27kmaq_people#Mic-Mac_hockey_sticks) of Nova Scotia as early as the 18th century. These native Canadians would capitalize on the growth of hockey and during the late 1800’s thru the early 1900’s their Mic-Mac stick would become the most popular stick in the Canada.
Now we’re ready to play hockey! We have our skates, a puck and a stick. That’s all you really need right? Well, in theory, you could play with just those. The game did start that way over 150 years ago. But today we know it’s best to have more equipment than just that. One of the most important of which are gloves. Originally hockey players mainly wore gloves to protect their hands from the cold. Additional padding was added as the game evolved, but it was in 1931 when the first major design change in gloves happened. After Montreal Maroons star Babe Siebert (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babe_Siebert) suffered a broken thumb, trainer Bill O’Brien put a shoehorn inside Siebert’s glove to provide reinforcement and protection to his thumb. This clever invention was the impetus for the reinforced fiber thumb which would become a staple on hockey gloves in the 1930’s. (http://stars.nhl.com/ext/pdf/NHL_UniformBooklet.pdf)
Believe it or not, goaltenders used to use the same gloves as every other skater on the rink. That all changed though with one man that /u/trex20 will tell you about.
Emile “The Cat” Francis’ on-ice NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers was not what you’d call remarkable. A mid-season call-up for in 1947, he tended for a basement-dwelling Chicago team and then moved on to Chicago to be an occasional back-up. While his play was unremarkable, he managed to become an innovator for his sport not once, but twice.
In a game against the Detroit Red Wings, Francis took the ice wearing a modified baseball mitt on his left hand. Francis felt the usual glove – the same as the ones used by forwards- didn’t have enough protection, so he looked to his background in baseball to remedy the issue, later saying-
“The old goal gloves were five-fingered gloves with a little wee webbing between your forefinger and your thumb. It wasn’t two inches wide, so as a result, every time you caught a puck, it caught you right in the middle of your hand. I can still feel bruises today! Because of baseball, I got a first baseman’s mitt. It was a George McQuinn model made by Rawlings. He played for the New York Yankees. At training camp, I asked the trainer to take the glove to a shoemaker and have him take the cuff off an old hockey glove and sew it onto the baseball glove. I used that glove.”
When Jack Adams, the Red Wings coach, saw Francis’ glove during warm-ups, he protested and the refs told Francis he couldn’t use the glove (which he had been using in the minors without incident). Francis, knowing there was no back-up goalie, stood his ground saying “‘If I can’t use this glove, you’ve got no game tonight! I don’t have any other glove and I have no intention of using any other glove. I’m not using a forward’s glove to play goal.’”
The next day the team traveled to Montréal for a game against the Canadiens and Francis met with NHL President Clarence Campbell. After an hour of questioning, Campbell declared Francis’ glove legal. According to Francis, sporting goods companies began manufacturing the gloves within a month. They quickly caught on throughout the hockey world.
Francis didn’t stop there though. After getting approval for his glove, he switched his efforts to other hand, having the Blackhawks trainer tape sponge rubber to his stick-hand glove. This became what we now know as the blocker.
Francis went on to have a successful career behind the bench and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category in 1982, but his influence on the game started decades earlier on the ice as a call-up for a last place team, making goaltending safer (and less painful) for goalies everywhere.
and Hockey’s Book of Firsts by James Duplacey
Thank you for taking the time to read this and please let us know what other firsts you think are interesting or that stand out in hockey history.
If you have a topic you’d be interested in having us research next week please PM myself or /u/trex20. Or let us know if you want to write a piece one week.