Monday, 14 December 2015

“ORIGINAL SIX” HOCKEY

1963-64 Parkhurst card of Dave Keon
(Canadian Public Domain)
I remember the tail end of those iconic years very well. I was 15 when the National Hockey League expanded to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season.  I was a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan in the early-to-mid 1960’s, in the days that they actually won Stanley Cups: three in a row and four in six years. Little did I know that when I watched the last game of the 1967 playoffs between the Leafs and Montreal Canadiens--won by Toronto--on my friend’s blurry black-and-white TV, the Leafs would still be without a championship so many years later.

Original Six Hockey is a term depicting the six-team NHL during a 25-year period beginning in 1942-43. The teams were Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers.

The tag Original Six still pops up every hockey season, especially when two of these teams meet in the regular schedule or--better yet--in a playoff series. There was something mystique about the six-team hockey: a little over 100 players combined on the rosters at any given time, with only one goalie per team for most seasons, until the rules allow for two dressed in 1965-66. As a kid, I had the pleasure of collecting the era’s classic hockey cards put out by Parkhurst and Topps, as well as the Bee Hive Corn Syrup pictures that you had to mail away for. During art classes in grade school, my friends and I would bring our bent hockey cards and draw our favorite Leaf players. I liked Dave Keon and goaltender Johnny Bower, since I was a goalie myself. One of my friends absolutely worshipped Frank “The Big M” Mahovlich.

The period produced many great stars. Some had iconic nicknames. Besides the players already mentioned, we saw Detroit’s Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk and “Terrible Ted” Lindsay; Montreal’s Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, and Jacques “Jake the Snake” Plante; Chicago’s Bobby Hull; and Boston’s Bobby Orr as an 18-year-old rookie who stunned the league with his talents in the fall of 1966. Classic coaches Hector “Toe” Blake and George “Punch” Imlach battled each other for league dominance. Between them, they won 12 Stanley Cups, eight of those going to Blake.

1963-64 Parkhurst card of Gordie Howe
(Canadian Public Domain)
We also saw the introduction of the slapshot beginning with Geoffrion, followed by Toronto’s Tim Horton and New York’s Andy Bathgate before Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita took over with their banana-curved sticks in the Sixties. Jacques Plante was the first goalie to use a mask on a permanent basis in 1959, after taking a Bathgate slapshot off his noggin. However, by the last year of the six-team league, most goalies still weren’t wearing face protection, for some strange reason.

Off-ice, two incidents occurred that spotlighted the sports world…
In the spring of 1957, Detroit’s Ted Lindsay announced the formation of the first NHL Players’ Association, in which he and player reps from the five other teams had secretly signed every NHL player except one: Ted Kennedy of the Leafs. It all began the year in late-1956 with the Player Pension Fund, which the players had to contribute a whopping one-third of their salaries, being the biggest issue. The players wanted to know how much money was in the fund, and the amount they would receive upon retirement. The whole thing appeared to be a huge secret. The league eventually broke the union by not recognizing it, but did settle up (sort of) in 1958, after Lindsay (having been traded to the lowly Black Hawks out of spite) filed a $3 million anti-trust suit against the NHL. The league agreed to a $7000 minimum salary and would pay for a player’s moving expenses when traded, among other minor details. Nothing on the secretive pension fund, though. That didn’t come up again until 30 years later, a story in itself that I had mentioned in my 2013 article about Ted Lindsay and the first NHL Players’ Association. http://danielwyatt.blogspot.ca/2013/07/ted-lindsay-and-first-nhl-players.html

In 1962, during the World Series between the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants, crazy news hit the sports pages, quite possibly engineered to render baseball’s Fall Classic secondary. Chicago Black Hawk owners James Norris Jr and Arthur Wirtz--after a few rounds of stiff drinks--offered to take star Frank Mahovlich off the Toronto Maple Leafs hands for an unbelievable $1 million. We Leaf fans were in shock. My friend, in particular, wanted to jump ship and follow the Black Hawks. At his peak in 1962, the 24-year-old Mahovlich had been Rookie of the Year in the 1957-58 season and had scored 48 goals in 1960-61. Alas, cooler heads prevailed, and nothing came of the deal.

Almost all the players came from Canada’s Junior A hockey leagues across the country. American- or European-born players were rare or not at all in some years. The NHL depended on the Junior A Sponsorship system. No Entry Draft. According to the CAHA-NHL agreement, each of the six teams could sponsor two Junior A teams. I remember that because in my hometown of Regina, the Junior A Regina Pats had the Habs logo on the sleeves of their uniforms. Here’s some ex-Pats who made it to the six-team NHL: Terry Harper, Bob Turner, Red Berenson, Bill Hicke, Eddie Litzenberger, and Bill Hay.

When one looks back on it now, Original Six Hockey was a very unfair system in favor of three teams. Territorial privileges demanded that each NHL team also had the rights to every player within a 50-mile radius of its NHL home arena. That was great if you were the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs more so, and to a lesser extent the Detroit Red Wings. All three could draw off a lot of Canadian talent in their circle. But what did that do for the Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers? For many years during that 25-year stretch, the latter three teams were the doormats of the league. In fact from 1942-1967, Montreal won the Stanley Cup 10 times, Toronto nine, Detroit five, and Chicago once, while Boston and New York not at all. During the five-year period from 1955-1960, the Canadiens won five straight Stanley Cups with 12 future Hall of Famers (including coach Toe Blake and GM Frank Selke), finishing the decade in which they went to the Stanley Cup finals ten straight years.

1957-58 Parkhurst card of Jacques Plante (Canadian Public Domain)
Montreal also had the distinct advantage--thanks to NHL legislation--of getting first crack at all Quebec French-Canadian players, which is how they snapped up Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, and Jacques Plante. Another aspect that made the system unfair (which could have been partly due to the Reserve Clause, where a player was forced to stay with a team unless released or traded) was that it kept some very exceptional hockey players from developing. If there were one or two more NHL teams, minor league legends such as Guyle Fielder, Gordie Fashoway, Fred Glover, and Willie Marshall perhaps could have become NHL stars.

Also, if you didn’t tow-the-line, so to speak, during the Original Six era, you could find yourself in the minors for the rest of your career. Western Hockey League star center Guyle Fielder, for example, who had several short tryouts with NHL teams, refused to step over center ice and fire the puck in the corner, the way NHL coaches wanted him to play. Fielder preferred his own way: carry the puck in.  NHL coaches couldn’t get Fielder to change. But with Seattle Totems of the Western Hockey League, where he played a good portion of his pro hockey, he was adored by the local fans and much appreciated for his stickhandling abilities and scoring prowess.

A few years ago, I watched the third game of the 1959 Stanley Cup playoffs between the Canadiens and the Leafs, one of those classic games on cable TV. I was amazed at how slow the game was in the Fifties. And we thought it was so fast then. Back then they skated like “their skates were stuck in the mud,” as Toronto sports personality, Bob McCown, once remarked on his Fan 590 radio program. I had to agree. Equipment was heavier in the Original Six, especially the skates, and the shifts were two minutes long, forcing players to pace themselves, until the right moment came along for a burst of energy.  Not like the intense 40-second shifts we witness today.

I remember Montreal great Henri Richard saying on a TV program about ten years ago: “If I had the lighter skates in my time, I’d be flying.” This coming from a player already thought to be one of the fastest in his day.

I’m a Baby Boomer raised on Original Six Hockey. In my opinion, the hockey today is played much better, as long as they don’t trap too much. It’s faster and just as easy to follow. But if I was an NHL coach, I’d still have a Guyle Fielder on my team, just to keep the opposition honest.

Stadiums USA Radio Interview!


"We all recall the thrill of our first trip to a ballpark or stadium. That magic is rekindled in our conversation with Canadian author and writer Daniel Wyatt, who recounts his 1976 visit to Detroit's Tiger Stadium."

Visit the link below, select the December 11th program, and listen for Daniel at the 28 minute mark. You won't want to miss this trip down baseball memory lane!
http://www.stadiumsusa.com/radioshow

Then read the article mentioned in the broadcast, My First Game: An Affair With a Ballpark.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

THE REICHSTAG FIRE AND CONSEQUENCES

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, 1933
(German Federal Archives)
This article is for those left wing “bleeding heart” Canadians who think the controversial Bill C-51--the Stephen Harper Conservative government anti-terror legislation had that passed earlier this year--would turn us into a police state. They should have been living in Germany in the early 1930’s when Adolf Hitler took power and turned his own country into a real police state. And it was done lightning fast, all nice and legal in the courts beginning with the Reichstag Fire: the arson attack on Berlin’s Reichstag in 1933. Nazi propaganda at its best, it paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s total power in Germany and brought about a world war six years later that killed tens of millions.

To start, a little background on how this scoundrel Herr Hitler had even got that far in politics in the first place…

A highly decorated, trench-fighting foot soldier during World War I, the Austrian born-and-raised Adolf Hitler was deeply disappointed by Germany’s defeat in 1918 at the hands of the Allies, believing that his army had been betrayed by Marxists, Jews, and gutless politicians. It infuriated him that at the 1919 Treaty of Versailles the Allies blamed Germany for the entire war and then demanded the Germans pay the Allies the equivalent of $440 billion in today’s US dollars.

After the war, Hitler continued to be employed by the army as an intelligence officer. One of his jobs was monitoring the new German Workers’ Party (DAP) and looking into their anti-Semitic, ant-Marxist views. Lo and behold, Hitler liked what he saw, instead, and joined the group in 1919, then became its leader in 1921, when those within the party saw his talent for great speeches. He changed the name of the DAP to the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), or simply the Nazi Party. He continued with the party’s policy:  inspiring speeches against Jews, Marxists, opposing politicians, and the degrading Treaty of Versailles payments that were killing the German economy and driving the country into bankruptcy.

One of Hitler’s followers was Ernest Rohm, head of the paramilitary organization called the Bund Reichskriegsflagge, which was nothing more than a group of thugs who supported the Nazis by breaking up opposition meetings and providing security at Hitler’s meetings. On the evening of November 23, 1923, Hitler and a few hundred of his followers, including Rohm and some of his cronies, disrupted a public assembly of 3,000 people at a beer hall in Munich--later known as the “Beer Hall Putsch”--to announce that a national revolution had begun and that Hitler would be forming a new government in the state of Bavaria. In the midst of the insurrection that continued into the morning, Hitler and his henchmen went into hiding when Munich’s military forces intervened.

Hitler was arrested three days later, tried for high treason, and sentenced to five years in prison. While behind bars, he began dictating his ideas for a future German society based on one Aryan race to his future Deputy Minister, Rudolf Hess, one of Hitler’s followers at the time. These ideas later emerged in Hitler’s best-selling book, Mein Kampf, which is German for “My Struggle.”

A few years ago, I found an English translation of Hitler’s book. It’s very interesting to note that in it, I saw that Hitler stated in no uncertain terms that the Soviet Union was Germany’s natural enemy and that England was Germany’s one true European ally. What? With a great Aryan master race army, he would leave England intact with its sea power, while he destroyed the Russians and the surrounding countries for the good of Europe and all humanity.
German Reichstag Fire, 1933 (US Public Domain)

Following his release from prison after serving only nine months, Hitler decided that in future he would use the democratic process to seize power, then legally inflict his will upon the nation and eventually Europe. So, in five federal elections called from December, 1924 to November, 1932, Hitler and his Nazi Party gradually claimed popularity from 907,300 votes (3% of the votes and 14 seats) to 11,737,000 votes (33% of the votes and 196 seats). Thanks to the panic caused by the world-wide Great Depression, which began after the 1929 New York Stock Market Crash, the Nazis now held the most number of seats, but still no majority to pull the strings. Also, in the German presidential elections in early 1932--the first round on March 13 and the second round on April 10--Hitler came in second both times to the sickly, 84-year-old incumbent, World War I hero Paul von Hindenburg.

To balance the politics of the nation, Hindenburg reluctantly announced that Hitler would be Chancellor of the coalition government on January 30, 1933. Hitler immediately asked Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and call for a new parliamentary election, to which Hindenburg agreed, although as President he had every legal right under German constitutional law to remove Hitler as Chancellor. But Hindenburg didn’t have the stones, not with how powerful Hitler and the Nazis had become. The election date was set for March 5, 1933. Hitler’s plan was to obtain the majority he so badly craved.

Which brings us to the Reichstag Fire…

At 21:25 hours, on February 27, a Berlin fire station took a call that the Reichstag was in flames. The Berlin Fire Department did all they could for the next two hours. But by the time they put the fire out, most of the building was far too damaged. A Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was supposedly found inside, seized, and charged with the arson attack. Within 24 hours, three others were charged with him. The day after the fire, Hitler asked Hindenburg to activate Article 48 of the Weimer Constitution. Once again, the weak-willed Hindenburg complied. Overnight, the Nazis suspended nearly all civil rights and freedoms in what was called the Reichstag Fire Decree. In addition, all publications across the country deemed anti-Nazi were banned.

Hitler claimed a Communist plot to take over Germany was afoot and, as a result, the Nazi newspapers quickly spewed out this propaganda. Thousands of Communists, including all those holding Reichstag seats (the Communists held 17 percent in the previous election), were imprisoned. When the March 5 vote was taken, Nazi popularity jumped to 44 percent of the vote. Combined with their allies in the German National Party, who took eight percent of the vote, the Nazis had a 52 percent majority.

Hermann Goering, first row at far left, during Nuremberg Trials, 1946 (US Public Domain)

Next on the list, Hitler needed to get his grimy hands on the Enabling Act, but that needed a two-thirds Reichstag majority. The Enabling Act was an emergency measure that gave the Chancellor power to pass laws by decree for four years (thus ignoring any Reichstag vote), then would come up for renewal after that. To achieve Hitler’s two-thirds majority, Ernest Rohm’s thugs prevented the Social Democratic Party members (the final opposition to the Nazis in the Reichstag) from taking their seats for the Enabling Act vote on March 23.

Once the ballots were counted, the Nazis had their majority, helped along by taking over or intimidating different smaller right-wing parties such as the Centre Party and the German National People’s Party to make them disband. Four days later, Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany. By July 14, 1933, the Nazi Party was the only legal political party in all of Germany. For the next 12 years of the Nazi Party’s existence, which Hitler foolishly believed would last a “thousand years,” the Kroll Opera House, across the street from the burned-out shell of the old Reichstag, became the new Third Reich’s Reichstag.
But Hitler didn’t stop there: He had enemies within the rank and file. One of them was Ernest Rohm (the former head of the Reichskriegsflagge from the 1920’s), who now ran the Sturmabteilung (SA), and who helped Hitler gain power just the year before. Rohm, along with others in the SA challenging Hitler’s authority, were shot to death during the Night of the Long Knives, which took place the end of June and beginning of July, 1934. With their leaders gone, the SA was disbanded. By the time Hindenburg died a month later in August, Hitler had abolished the presidency and combined the office with his own as chancellor. Hitler was now the supreme commander of the German armed forces and he began to mobilize his nation for yet another war which he was certain they could win this time around.

For years many historians have wondered who set the Reichstag Fire. Although Marinus van der Lubbe was beheaded for the crime in 1934, while the three others arrested with him were released, it’s still uncertain he committed the crime. It’s obvious the Nazis had the most to gain, however. William L Shirer in his masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, wrote that Reichmarshall Hermann Goring, according to German General Franz Halder, took the credit for the torching while at a birthday party for Hitler in 1943. However, Goring, under cross-examination at the Nuremberg trials in 1946, denied he had said anything about the fire.

Could something like another Reichstag Fire be perpetrated today? You tell me. What if a modern government deliberately creates a national crisis, then suspends freedoms and liberties across the board for the good of the nation, all under “National Security?”


Think about it.