Wow, so the last blog I wrote here was roughly 3 months ago (I know, you missed me) so I believe it's high time we get back on that. I've been super busy with work, and seeing as that's coming to an end in a week or so, I should have more than enough time to blog it up.
Anyways, with the constant barrage of superstar marketing in today's sports, I got the idea to profile Hockey's first superstar; someone that may not be too familiar to today's generation - yet had a giant impact on today's game.
The man I'm talking about is Howard William "Howie" Morenz. Or as he was known as in his time "The Babe Ruth of Hockey"
Morenz was born in the small village of Mitchell, Ontario in 1902 and began staring the juvenile league at the tender age of 14. He was nicknamed the "Mitchell Meteor" due to his blazing speed, but surprisingly started in net for his first game with the Mitchell Juveniles. That didn't last long, as his skill as a forward could not be denied any longer - and off he went.
Morenz's family moved to Stratford, Ontario when he was 15 and he began playing for the Stratford Midgets. He was good, really good. So good that he and his teammates would engage in exhibition matches with senior players, and often won.
As a 17 year old, Morenz was dominating people twice his age and size.
As an 18 year old, Morenz led 3 different amateur clubs to 3 different championships, one being the Memorial Cup.
At 21 years old, when his amateur career ended, Morenz was being courted by almost every professional club in the league - and everyone was convinced that Morenz would jump to the NHL and immediately make an impact, well everyone except Morenz that is.
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Morenz wasn't sure he was ready yet, a feeling that was backed up by the team that lost the "Morenz Sweepstakes" - the Toronto St. Pats who contended he was still an amateur (Montreal eventually signed him). It eventually led to a break-down by Morenz in a meeting with Canadians Manager Leo Dandurand, in which Dandurand told Morenz that if he didn't play for the Canadians, he wouldn't play Hockey at all. Morenz still being a kid at 21, took this hard, and confided in Dandurand that he had a major homesickness problem and that he thought he wasn't ready to play in the big league. That was quickly remedied with a luncheon with other Habs vets, in which Howie got to know his teammates and feel a little more comfortable in that environment.
And comfortable he felt, especially after winning the Cup in his rookie year with the team. He had a very good first championship run, accounting for 3 out of the teams 5 goals in their 2 game series with the Ottawa Senators.
He would continue his great play throughout the 1920's, blossoming offensively in the later years of that decade. In 1927-28 he scored a league high 51 points, and won his first Hart trophy. In 1929-30, he scored an astonishing 40 goals in 44 games, and in 1930-31 he tallied another 51 points (league-high) on his way to another Hart trophy. He helped Montreal win two cups in those years (1930, 1931), and helped sweep the power-house Bruins of 1930, who finished with a regular season record of 38-5-1. He was arguably the best defensive forward on those teams as well, often serving as the Canadians "shut-down" forward while carrying the load offensively.
Being the focal point of the Canadians team at that time, Morenz took a lot of abuse (a la Sidney Crosby of this era) and eventually started declining in the mid 1930's. Minor injuries and a broken ankle sidelined him for periods of time, and the lack of production led to him being booed by his faithful Forum fans. He was eventually traded to the Blackhawk's were he was marginally successful before being benched by the owner, and subsequently traded to the Rangers soon thereafter.
At the same time, the Canadians were free-falling, and needed a boost. They wanted to bring Howie back for morale and leadership, and they did, but he started producing like his old self and surprised owners by leading them to first place in the regular season standings. It seemed that the old "Canadian Comet" was back, and ready to lead the Canadians back to glory.
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On January 28th, 1937 the Montreal Canadians were playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Forum. Morenz was having a decent game when he collided with Hawks' Earl Sibert, fracturing his leg in four different places. An injury so severe, that Howie was to be in traction for weeks, so that the bones could set properly.
No matter, friends and family were quick to lift Morenzs spirits in the hospital, claiming that he'd be back next year and better than ever - doctors and most importantly Howie, were not so sure.
The morning of March 8th, 1937 arrived; and Howie was X-rayed to see how the breaks were healing. Unfortunately, the severity of the breaks had led to various blood clots in his leg - something the doctor had planned to remove the next morning. That afternoon, after eating a light dinner, Howie went to sleep - and never awoke.
Howie was only 34 when he passed. The fans of Montreal went into a state or Mourning, and the Forum was turned into a Shrine to pay respects. The funeral was also held at the Forum, with thousands of fans attending, and watching on national television.
The Montreal Canadians, and most importantly, Canada, had lost a hero.
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Howie's legacy lives on though, and while you may not hear about him much, his fingerprints are firmly on the game we play today. His amazing skill in an era were forward passing was heavily restricted, led to rule changes that allowed more skill and speed to be displayed.
Fan of the Bruins or Rangers? Well you have Howie to thank for that. It was at an exhibition game he played in Boston when Charles F. Adams applied for the Bruins franchise. When Tex Rickard saw Howie play, he demanded his partner start a New York franchise, and that Howie's Montreal Canadians by the first game they play at home. Voila, the New York Americans (or Rangers of today). Hockey's first superstar had paved the way for American franchises in the NHL.
Howie was one of the first to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945, and is widely regarded as the best pre-war player in the history of the game. It's just too bad that we don't hear about him enough.
In a decade that was deemed "The Golden Age of Sport", Morenz was to Hockey what Red Grange was to football, Bobby Jones to Golf, Jack Dempsey to boxing, and Babe Ruth to Baseball.
Howie Morenz was Hockey's first superstar, and quite possibly the least remembered of all the greats that succeeded him. He is an integral part of the history of the NHL, and I'm happy I was able to provide you with his story today.