Welcome to 1964 and the “As it Happens – 50 Years Ago Today in Hockey!” Blog. Our aim here is to provide news as it would have been reported as it happened 50 years ago. The difference is, there was no blogging, instant access via internet, and no Twitter back in those days. So, we will report on things at the time they would have been taking place via today’s technology, but restricting ourselves to the access to information that reporters and others had at that time. Since we will be reporting on the news as it was known on that date, some historical inaccuracies will, out of necessity, be encountered.
The main focus of the blog will be the Canadian NHL teams, and most news from the league will be reported from that perspective. Minor professional and junior leagues will also be featured, but only to the extent of the information that the major news outlets would receive.
In keeping with today’s technology, there will be a Twitter account also reporting on events in 1964. Keep in mind that, since for these purposes we are in 1964, much of the news may be a day, or at least several hours late. Our Twitter account is @1964NHLtweets.
1964 – What’s happened up to now?
So, as we begin, it is now September, 1964. It has been a busy summer in the NHL, with several interesting events taking place. The Toronto Maple Leafs are still basking in the glow of their third consecutive Stanley Cup victory, thanks to the goaltending of venerable Johnny Bower, who was named the playoff Most Valuable Player.
The Leafs’ Junior A club, the Toronto Marlboros, was the runaway winner of the Memorial Cup, which goes to the top Junior team in Canada. The American Hockey League champs were the Cleveland Barons, farm club of the Montreal Canadiens, while the Western Hockey League championship was captured by the San Francisco Seals, who had a working agreement with the Boston Bruins. The fledgling Central Professional Hockey League named the Omaha Knights as their champions. The Knights were a development team for the Montreal Canadiens and featured several future NHL’ers.
Following the playoffs, the NHL All-star team was named, and it was dominated by the Chicago Black Hawks. The forwards were all from Chicago, with Stan Mikita at centre, Bobby Hull on the left wing, and, in a slight surprise, Kenny Wharram on the right side. Hawks’ captain Pierre Pilote was named to one of the two defence spots, and Glenn Hall was the goaltender. Only defenseman Tim Horton of Toronto foiled a complete Chicago sweep.
Second team members were goaltender Charlie Hodge of Montreal, defensemen Elmer Vasko of Chicago and Jacques Laperriere of Montreal, and forwards Jean Beliveau of Montreal (centre), Toronto’s Frank Mahovlich on left wing, and the Red Wings’ Gord Howe on the right side.
The American Hockey League All-star team featured Goaltender Lorne (Gump) Worsely of Quebec, Ted Harris from Cleveland and Rochester’s Al Arbour on defence, with forwards Art Stratton and Yves Locas from Pittsburgh, and Gerry Ehman from Rochester.
In early May, the Black Hawks received a scare when superstar Bobby Hull was injured in an auto accident. Hull’s injuries were not serious, but it did cause quite a stir when he showed up to an off season function with his hands bandaged.
Jacques Laperriere, the fine young defender of the Montreal Canadiens was named the NHL rookie-of-the-year, while team mates John Ferguson and Terry Harper finished second and third respectively in the voting. The AHL’s top rookie was 21-year-old goaltender Roger Crozier of the Pittsburgh Hornets, the Red Wings’ top farm club. As the off-season wore on, Crozier would find himself anointed the starting goaltender in Detroit for the upcoming 1964-65 season.
The Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the most sportsmanlike player, was won by Ken Wharram, with Toronto’s Dave Keon second in the voting. Wharram was the first Chicago player to win the trophy since Bill Mosienko in 1944-45.
In addition to his first all-star berth, Hawk captain Pierre Pilote, was named the league’s top defenseman and was awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Tim Horton of Toronto was the runner up in the voting.
The Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s most valuable player, went to Jean Beliveau. Big Jean finished well ahead of Bobby Hull in the voting in what many feel is the league’s premier individual award.
As with every NHL off-season, management changes were inevitable. Montreal was the first team to make a splash, with vice-president Ken Reardon resigning his position. Most observers felt Reardon quit in protest over being by-passed for a more significant role as the Habs re-aligned their front office. Reardon had been with the Canadiens organization as both a player and executive for 25 years. He gave his official reason for leaving as wanting to spend more time with his family and to explore opportunities outside of hockey.
Shortly after Reardon’s departure, the Canadiens named Sam Pollock as general manager. Pollock took over the duties performed by 71-year-old Frank Selke, Sr., who retired. In yet another surprising move, Senator Hartland Molson announced that star centre Jean Beliveau had been appointed to the position of vice-president of his brewery’s Quebec operations. Another Canadiens legend, Maurice Richard, was named a vice president and special assistant to new club president David Molson. Other additions included Frank Selke Jr., vice president in charge of publicity, the Forum, and other matters not relating to hockey, and Howard Hamilton, vice president in charge of finance and administration.
One thing that would not change for the Habs was the personality behind the bench. This was confirmed with the announcement that Hector (Toe) Blake would return for a tenth season as Montreal coach.
Finally, as May drew to a close, veteran Montreal star Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion announced his retirement to become coach of the Quebec Aces of the American Hockey League.
While the Canadiens were cleaning house and setting up a new management model, the American and Western Hockey Leagues began to talk merger. There were unconfirmed reports that the Los Angeles Blades were considering leaving the WHL, although just where they would go wasn’t clear. The Denver Invaders, a financial disaster in 1963-64, were staging a season ticket drive, but it was strongly rumoured that the parent Toronto Maple Leafs would move the franchise to Victoria, B.C.
The WHL quickly discounted the merger rumours and announced it would once again be a six team loop in 1964-65. The league also adopted an indemnity rule, which would make it financially prohibitive for any member club to leave the league to join the NHL. The WHL was quite aware of the NHL casting an eye westward to enhance their chances of securing a national television contract, so this was their pre-emptive strike to prevent such a move by one of their teams.
The American Hockey League was busy as well, as it named Rochester Americans general manager Jack Riley as the league’s new president. He succeeded James C. Balmer of Pittsburgh, who resigned. The new general manager in Rochester will be the team’s coach, Joe Crozier, one of Punch Imlach’s long-time cronies.
Smythe & Ballard: Carpetbaggers or just guys trying to help?
While all this was going on, an intriguing story began to unfold in Vancouver. Toronto Maple Leaf president Stafford Smythe announced plans to build a 20,000 seat major league arena in the city’s down town core. Smythe said that the arena plan was contingent on the City donating the land in question, and that the structure, which would be more than suitable for hosting a National Hockey League franchise, would be ready for operation by the1966-67 season.
The intriguing part of this idea is the widely differing viewpoints on the addition of franchises to the existing six now in operation. Smythe said that adding Vancouver would be part of the creation of a completely new six-team division, in which Vancouver and five other new franchises would operate. Toronto vice-president Harold Ballard, however, said that the league would bring in only 4 new clubs, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and possibly St. Louis. NHL president Clarence Campbell claimed to have no knowledge of any plans for expansion of the highly successful league, and that Smythe was operating completely on his own. Campbell said that no committee had been struck by the league to explore the possibility of expansion. He called this expansion discussion “kite-flying”. Bill Rathie, the mayor of Vancouver, seemed unsure of exactly what Smythe was peddling, and asked the Leaf president to come to Vancouver and explain his plan.
Several days after the initial Vancouver story broke, Smythe backed off on his original expansion talk and said that he was, as Campbell said, talking strictly for himself, not the League. It was fairly obvious that Campbell had admonished the Toronto president for speaking out of turn. Smythe, however, did say he planned to travel to the west coast to meet with Vancouver’s mayor.
That much anticipated meeting took place near the end of May, with stories emerging that Vancouver’s city council had given Stafford Smythe the “green light” to proceed with his proposed arena plan and that it would donate the land in the downtown area upon which the rink would be built. There had been a last minute bid from the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby to house the arena, with that municipality offering to donate land for the rink. Smythe said that Burnaby was unsuitable because of a local by-law prohibiting professional sports on Sundays, something that is not a problem in Vancouver.
So ended the month of May in an already hectic NHL off season. Up next, we’ll summarize the rest of the summer’s events, including the NHL summer meetings, where most of the off season player movement and other league business takes place.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the Toronto – Chicago photo.