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CHANGING THE GAME

A History of NHL Expansion

STEPHEN LAROCHE

FOREWORD BY JOHN GARRETT

ECW PRESS

To my wife, Michelle, and my stepdaughter, Guenevere. This book has long been a dream of mine and I wholeheartedly thank you both for your support.

This book is also dedicated to all the players, coaches and management staff who were ever involved with an NHL expansion team. Hockey fans will forever remember your amazing experiences and all that you contributed to making the sport the greatest one in the world.

FOREWORD

by JOHN GARRETT

I was playing midget hockey in 1965 when the National Hockey League announced that they were going expand by adding six teams to form another division that would begin play in the 1967–68 season. The NHL had applications from 14 cities that wanted to get into the league. That meant there would be more opportunities for me, but being a professional hockey player was not at the top of my wish list until I started playing junior hockey in Peterborough. Then in my first year in junior I won a Memorial Cup and made the All-Star Team.

I was drafted by the St. Louis Blues a year before the World Hockey Association (WHA) started up and was soon traded from the Blues to Chicago as a future consideration to complete an earlier deal for Danny O’Shea. The WHA comes into the picture a bit here, because J.P. Bordeleau originally went from St. Louis to Chicago, but he then jumped to play with the Quebec Nordiques. Chicago wanted to cover their bases and needed a player to be named later if that happened — and that player was yours truly.

The WHA began play in 1972–73 as an alternative to the NHL. Players who were previously obligated to play for the NHL team that drafted them or had traded for them now had an option. To make the paying public believe that they were truly big league, the WHA had to lure some name players. Ben Hatskin and the Winnipeg Jets went after Bobby Hull and were able to entice him to leave Chicago and head for the Manitoba capital. Hull was the centrepiece; he was the key that made other players believe this brand-new league could compete and would survive. The NHL establishment had its doubts and did not try to match the WHA money that was being offered to such great players as J.C. Tremblay, Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson, Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson. Yet even Gordie Howe came out of retirement — and was rejuvenated — in 1973–74 when he was given the opportunity to play alongside his sons, Mark and Marty.

The WHA was the new league and could afford to try to be different. The blue puck they used rarely stayed circular after a few shots and never caught on. I have one in my basement. The clear glass boards of the St. Paul Civic Center, home to the Minnesota Fighting Saints, was a good idea for the fans but a nightmare for the goaltenders. In 1969–70, the NHL put in a rule limiting the curve in sticks to one inch, but the WHA had unlimited curvature. No wonder I let in all those long shots! The NHL limited their draft to 20-year-olds and up, but the WHA let players sign on as soon as they felt they were ready. The list of Hall of Famers and future stars who cut their teeth in the WHA is impressive. We had Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Ken Linseman, Rod Langway, Michel Goulet, Rick Vaive, Mike Gartner, Craig Hartsburg, Rob Ramage, Mike Rogers, Real Cloutier and many more.

Personally, I had the good fortune to play with some of the all-time greats. I signed with the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the WHA to get a chance to play with and learn my position from one of the best goaltenders in Olympic history, and one of the best people I have ever met, Jack McCartan. If I had stayed in the NHL, I would have been stuck in the Chicago organization behind Tony Esposito and Gary Smith. The kicker was that the Hawks, even if I made the big club, were offering less than half the money!

The WHA had its growing pains, some lasting longer than others. How many of today’s fans remember the Michigan Stags, the Jersey Knights, the New York City Golden Blades or the Philadelphia Blazers? They were just a few of a long list of teams who fell by the wayside.

In the last year of the WHA, it became apparent that the league and the NHL would be better served if there was a merger. Or, as the NHL preferred to see it, an expansion to include the four strongest cities and four strongest teams in the WHA. I was playing in Hartford with the Whalers and we were excited about the possibility of playing in what every Canadian kid thought of as the best league in the world.

It didn’t take long for people to realize that those four teams from the WHA were as good as or better than most in the NHL. Nobody thought our Whaler team, depleted by one-sided expansion rules, could ever make the playoffs. Yet led by a determined Dave Keon, we did. And once in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers won five Stanley Cups in their first 10 years, the Quebec Nordiques became champions as the Colorado Avalanche and the Whalers won a Cup of their own as the Carolina Hurricanes. Not bad for expansion teams!

INTRODUCTION

To this day, I can vividly recall my beginnings as a hockey fan. It is a period I look back on fondly. My introduction to the world’s fastest sport came to me through books, television and, of course, hockey cards.

I was five years old during the 1981–82 season. There were 21 teams and the men who played for them were larger-than-life heroes. Although I had an appreciation for players from my hometown of Trenton, Ontario, like John Garrett of the Hartford Whalers and George Ferguson of the Pittsburgh Penguins, none of them were as big as Wayne Gretzky and his teammates on the Edmonton Oilers.

I wasn’t just interested in what was going on the ice at the time. I was hooked on the history of the game. I had been taught about the Original Six era and knew which teams were around during those halcyon days. I was even more fascinated by the other teams that came after them. Once I saw a picture of a player from the California Golden Seals. Who were the Golden Seals? Why aren’t they in my hockey sticker album? Why don’t I have any cards of them?

Soon enough I began to find out more about the game’s vast history and learned that occasionally teams had to relocate. That concept was introduced to me when the Colorado Rockies left the NHL and moved to New Jersey to become the Devils. I was also learning about the WHA and its crazy history and knew that the Oilers, along with the Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets, had been a part of it. Even though I was quickly discovering that a career as a hockey player was not for me, that didn’t keep me from enjoying many other aspects of the game.

As I grew older, I learned more about the origins of every NHL team. I developed a keen interest in the concept of expansion in my teen years, when the league was growing by leaps and bounds. The game was heading into the Sunbelt and new teams were appearing at a rapid pace, either through expansion or relocation. The new teams all seemed to struggle out of the gate, but I knew that that was no more than could be expected from them in their first season.

As an adult, I came to truly appreciate the human side of playing for an expansion team through my interactions with retired players in my job with In The Game, a trading card manufacturer. When I called certain players to see if they were willing to sign on for our projects, the conversation occasionally turned to their experiences playing for expansion teams. Their stories of those days were often entertaining, at times shocking, and gave me a genuine appreciation for what they went through.

This book is my tribute to all the players who ever played for a first-year team. Each of the men covered here is a part of the history of the game. Even if some of them have been forgotten, their contributions are by no means insignificant. Their presence was essential to the formation of the vast majority of the NHL’s clubs. Their stories can educate and entertain and may even help us, as fans, find a little sympathy for those players who had to face greater-than-usual odds against victory every time they laced up their skates.

THE ORIGINAL EXPANSION ERA

Many fans know that the National Hockey League began play in the 1917–18 season, but few realize that the league was created as a way for a group of previously established National Hockey Association teams to cleanly break away from Eddie Livingstone, the troublemaking owner of the Toronto Blueshirts. Because the other clubs could not, according to the National Hockey Association’s constitution, vote him out, they did the next best thing.

The Ottawa Senators, Quebec Athletics (otherwise known as the Bulldogs) and two teams from Montreal — the Canadiens and the Wanderers — got together to form their own loop, effectively leaving Livingstone in a league by himself and causing years of headaches for both sides. The Bulldogs were unable to drum up enough capital for the first season and their players were loaned to the other clubs. However, the NHL also decided to sell a temporary franchise to the Toronto Arena Company, enticing many Blueshirts players to jump ship. Unofficially called the Arenas, the team went on to capture the Stanley Cup in its first season and became a permanent fixture after the 1918–19 campaign before eventually changing its name to the St. Patricks.

The NHL’s inaugural season also saw its first franchise fold after the Montreal Arena burned down on January 2, 1918. Before and after the fire, the Wanderers asked for reinforcements from the other teams, yet none were sent their way. The team lasted just four games before the blaze. Their next two contests were forfeited and the roster players were cut loose to other clubs.

After some delay, Quebec finally came into the league in 1919–20. They were an absolute disaster despite the presence of prolific scoring legend Joe Malone, who won a scoring championship. With a 4–20 record, they were at the bottom of the standings. The league showed some pity for them and took the franchise back. It was a smart move, as the team became the Hamilton Tigers and prevented Livingstone’s rumoured new league from putting down roots in the Steel City. The Tigers were not exactly competitive for most of their existence, but there was certainly community support for them.

In the early 1920s, the NHL was still stuck in eastern Canada, but an enterprising promoter named Thomas Duggan helped change the league’s fortunes by purchasing options for future franchises based in the United States. He had a hand in building the Mount Royal Arena, where the Canadiens played for a brief period and eventually sold the franchises to Charles Adams of Boston and Bill Dwyer of New York. The Boston sale was fraught with controversy, and in subsequent years long lawsuits followed. Although attentive hockey historians are aware of his contributions to the game, he never received recognition from the Hockey Hall of Fame. He died in 1930 and is almost forgotten today.

Sensing an opportunity for growth, the NHL chose to add two clubs for the 1924–25 season, and with one of them finally entered the American market. The Boston Bruins had a harsh first season, but proved a hit with local crowds and within five years saw great success. The other new club was a second team in Montreal. They tried to get the rights to revive the nickname Wanderers but were turned down and began play without a name. When the press and fans started calling them the Maroons, inspired by the colour of their sweaters, the name stuck. By their second season, they were Stanley Cup champions and many of the game’s greatest players wore their uniform.

A labour disruption marred the end of that season, however, when players for the surprising first-place Hamilton Tigers decided to hold out for more money due to the longer schedule. As a result, the league decided to suspend them and they did not compete in the playoffs. Since the New York Americans were entering the NHL the following year, a deal was struck to send the rights of Tigers players to the new club and the Tigers were folded soon after. The Amerks played out of Madison Square Garden and were the toast of Broadway — at least for the 1925–26 season. That same year also saw the arrival of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were built out of the ashes out of the amateur Yellowjackets club.

The death of the western pro leagues was what most furthered the NHL’s original expansion. Although the sport had thrived in the west a decade earlier, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) eventually merged with the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL, later WHL). The WHL had some teams in major centres, but they were all losing money, and the dream of brothers Frank and Lester Patrick, founders of the PCHA, had become a nightmare. After the 1925–26 season, talent was sold off to NHL interests looking for fresh blood, and a remarkable era of hockey history came to a close.

Many members of the Victoria Cougars ended up with the new Detroit Cougars team, and the stars of the Portland Rosebuds headed to the Chicago Black Hawks. Other NHL teams were fortified with WHL talent and the Patricks made quite a bit of money in the process — even though they did not have the right to sell some of the players. By the time Lester Patrick went to New York as coach and general manager of the Rangers, the league had 10 member clubs. Within their first decade of operation, the Cougars, Black Hawks and Rangers had each won at least one Stanley Cup and survived through to the Original Six era.

The Great Depression took its toll on many aspects of sports culture, but the NHL was hit especially hard and the league saw several franchises move or shut down. The first shift took place before the 1930–31 season, after the Pittsburgh Pirates moved across the state of Pennsylvania to become the Philadelphia Quakers. That woeful club lasted just one season, winning only four games and earning a dubious spot in hockey history.

It might be assumed that pro teams should not have too many problems up north, but the Ottawa Senators simply could not draw large enough crowds to keep their doors open. They suspended operations for the 1931–32 season and came back for two more years before they shut down for good. The franchise was moved to St. Louis to become the Eagles, but lasted only on the 1934–35 season before folding. The Montreal Maroons could not compete alongside the Canadiens for the hearts of the city’s hockey fans and bid the league farewell after the 1937–38 campaign. The franchise remained active for a few years afterward, but efforts to move them to Philadelphia proved fruitless.

The New York Americans attempted to hold on valiantly for several seasons in the shadow of the Rangers. Forced to sell off top talent to stay afloat, they were mired at the bottom of the standings. Team management made an attempt to attract a different crowd by changing their name to the Brooklyn Americans, but they lasted only one final season in 1941–42. Red Dutton tried to keep hope alive that a suitable location could be found for his franchise and even served as the league’s president before being shuffled out for Clarence Campbell. The team was officially folded soon after.

Even though the NHL iced just six teams for the 1942–43 season, the Americans and Maroons franchises remained active on paper for the next few years. Not long after World War II, both of them were folded and the Original Six era was officially underway.

EXPANSION YEAR RECORD: 6–24–0

(12 points — sixth in NHL)

COACH: Art Ross

FIRST GAME: December 1, 1924 —

2–1 win vs. Montreal Maroons

FIRST GOAL: December 1, 1924 by Smokey Harris

BOSTON

BRUINS

In its formative years, the NHL was based in eastern Canada and its clubs came from the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. But as professional sports grew by leaps and bounds in the early 1920s and amateur hockey in America came to life, it was only a matter of time before the league chose to expand into the United States.

Boston-based businessman Charles Adams, who often travelled to Montreal to catch games, was a fan of the sport and he approached the NHL intending to bring the league south of the Canadian border before purchasing one of the franchises held by Tom Duggan. When he was officially granted a franchise on November 1, 1924, he already had some players under contract, but he immediately started to acquire free agents and talent from financially troubled western pro clubs.

Adams also hired Art Ross, one of the game’s true greats, to run the team, and Ross went on to spend 30 years with the organization. When he asked Ross to come up with a nickname for the club, Ross chose Bruins, a term often used for brown bears (although there is evidence that Adams’s secretary came up with the name). Funnily enough, the name worked with the brown and yellow uniforms worn in Adams’s First National Stores grocery chain.

The Bruins opened their first season at the Boston Arena on December 1. Their first opponents were the Montreal Professional Hockey Club, who were also making their NHL debut. The Bruins gave up an early 1–0 lead to the Maroons, but they bounced back in the second period with goals by Smokey Harris and Carson Cooper that were enough to secure a victory. That temporary high did not last long, though, as they lost their next 11 contests and had just two wins in their first 20 outings.

Over the rest of the schedule, they managed four wins over 10 games, two of them shutouts, one against the Maroons and the other, Hamilton. The second blanking was particularly notable because the Tigers were the regular-season champions that year — and that game also gave the Bruins their first back-to-back triumphs in franchise history. Chalking up a 6–24–0 record in their first year, Boston did not have much success on the ice, but the team was a hit with local fans.

It did not take long for the Bruins to become one of the NHL’s marquee clubs. During the early years, Ross brought in some prime talent that included Hall of Famers Eddie Shore, Tiny Thompson and Dit Clapper. They won their first regular-season title in 1927–28 and captured the Stanley Cup the following year. A decade later, they did it once more with such stars as American rookie goalie Frank Brimsek and the legendary Kraut Line of Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart, and yet again in 1940–41 with most of the same cast.

Jimmy Herberts

A free agent signed by the Bruins on November 2, 1924, Herberts played for the Eveleth Rangers of the USAHA in 1923–24 and scored only three goals in 19 games. He seemingly came out of nowhere during the club’s expansion year and was the undisputed leader of Boston’s anemic offence.

Comfortable at both centre and right wing, he went scoreless in the team’s first outing, but managed a power-play goal and an assist against Toronto on December 3, 1924. A month later, he had a pair of tallies against Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons, but it was not enough in a 4–3 loss. That game marked a five-game point streak, and for the rest of the season he scored at a frantic pace. At the conclusion of his rookie campaign, Herberts ranked seventh among all NHL players in goals and number 10 in points.

Jimmy Herberts

Carson Cooper

The Bruins looked as if they had potential from the beginning of their first season because Carson Cooper was in the lineup. He had just ended a great senior hockey career with the Hamilton Tigers and was expected to score some goals.

Cooper started the season with a bang by assisting on the franchise’s first-ever goal and ensured its first victory with a game-winning tally against Clint Benedict of the Maroons on December 1, 1924. Nine days later, however, he was forced out of action with a knee injury during Boston’s 7–1 loss to the NHL’s version of the Hamilton Tigers. By the time he returned, it was too late for the first-year club and he was left looking at the next season.

Carson Cooper

George Redding

A small but versatile player who could play left wing and defence, Redding came from the same Hamilton Tigers senior club as teammate Carson Cooper and was one of Boston’s most thrilling players in the team’s first season.

The strange thing is that he had second thoughts about turning pro — even after signing a contract with the Bruins. When he tried to return to Hamilton, the Ontario Hockey Association turned him away and he was forced to play in the NHL. Although his offensive numbers were weak, he accomplished a rare feat when penalties forced him to take over in net after Hec Fowler let in nine goals by the Toronto St. Patricks on December 22, 1924. In the crease for 11 minutes, Shorty let in just one goal by Babe Dye (who had already scored four that evening) and secured a place in league history.

Lionel Hitchman

Lots of talent on the blue line in Ottawa allowed the Bruins to acquire Hitchman in exchange for cash on January 10, 1925. He became one of the club’s most beloved players.

A defensive specialist, Hitchman did not put up huge numbers for his new team, but there was a noticeable decline in the number of goals opposing teams scored after his arrival. His third goal of the season helped force overtime in what eventually became a 2–1 victory over the Maroons on February 24.

Lionel Hitchman

Hec Fowler

Art Ross wanted a solid veteran netminder for Boston’s first season in the NHL and he was able to get one of hockey’s best in Fowler. But it was not exactly a match made in heaven.

Fowler was sold to the Bruins by the Victoria Cougars of the PCHA on October 29, 1924. His arrival in Beantown was heralded as a move that could provide the new club with stability between the pipes. The relationship began well with a win over Boston’s expansion cousins, the Montreal Maroons, on December 1, but the next three weeks were hell on earth for the goalie as he lost six straight. The final straw came during the disheartening 10–1 loss to Toronto on December 22. He gave up nine goals before being relieved by George Redding, and that marked the end of his time with the Bruins.

After securing his release from the club, Fowler signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the WCHL on January 28, 1925. He stuck around the game for a couple more seasons before fading into obscurity. For fans in Boston, however, he was the goalie who started a fine tradition that spawned many Hall of Famers and memorable characters over the years.

Charles Stewart

After Boston’s failed experiment with Hec Fowler as their starting goaltender, Doc Stewart was called in to breathe some life into the club’s woeful defence. According to the box scores after his arrival with the team, he brought the club back from the brink.

Stewart was a veteran of senior hockey in Toronto and Hamilton and was part of the Tigers team that produced a few other members of the original Bruins roster. He signed a pro contract on December 24, 1924, and made his debut in a 5–0 loss to the Canadiens the next night.

The club’s early games were marked by incredibly high scores by the opposition, but Stewart cut the other teams down to a little more than three goals per game for the rest of the schedule. He was relieved by Howard Lockhart for a couple of games, but the team was beginning to slowly turn things around. His best outings during the expansion season were shutouts against the Maroons on February 7, 1925, and against the big-league version of the Hamilton Tigers a month later.

Charles Stewart

EXPANSION YEAR RECORD: 9–19–2

(20 points — fifth in NHL)

COACH: Eddie Gerard

FIRST GAME: December 1, 1924 —

2–1 loss vs. Boston Bruins

FIRST GOAL: December 1, 1924 by Charles Dinsmore

MONTREAL

MAROONS

After the Montreal Wanderers shut down following an arena fire early in the NHL’s first season of 1917–18, the city’s Anglophone hockey fans no longer had a team to call their own. Sure, the Canadiens had some success in the early 1920s, but as they prepared to move into the new Montreal Forum in 1924, there was an opportunity for another team to come to town.

Luckily, the NHL was prepared to expand for the first time and when they admitted their first American-based team in the Boston Bruins, they also said yes to the Montreal Professional Hockey Club, headed by James F. Strachan. Strachan had owned the Wanderers nearly 20 years earlier and he intended as team president to bring back the old name but could not obtain the rights. As a result, the club had no official nickname, but the main colour of their uniforms eventually led the press and fans to dub them the Maroons.

The Canadiens received most of the $15,000 expansion fee, but the Maroons were willing to spend freely and signed several senior and amateur players and purchased a pair of stars in Punch Broadbent and veteran goaltender Clint Benedict from the Ottawa Senators. Their most intriguing acquisition was Dunc Munro, who had helped Canada to a gold medal at the 1924 Winter Olympics. The local press did a great job of getting fans excited about the new team in the weeks leading up to their debut.

The Montreal Maroons started the year on the road in Boston against their first-year contemporaries, but they lost by a tight 2–1 margin on December 1, 1924. They jumped out to a 1–0 lead on a first period goal by Charles Dinsmore but fell behind for good in the next stanza. Two days later, they opened their home schedule against the Hamilton Tigers but were shut out by goalie Jake Forbes.

Undaunted by their rough start, the Maroons were pumped for the anticipated arrival of the Senators on December 5, and both Broadbent and Benedict starred in the 2–1 triumph. Over the first half of the season, they managed to win back-to-back games on three occasions, but a brutal month-long 10-game slump from January 24 to February 24, 1925, undid what momentum they had going. By the end of the year, they ranked second-last in the league — surpassing only the Bruins, who had a horrendous record of their own.

Regardless of their rank, the Maroons succeeded at the box office and added some prime talent before beginning their second season. Strengthened by newcomers Nels Stewart and Babe Siebert, they went all the way to the Stanley Cup in 1925–26. Over the next decade, they proved to be one of the most successful franchises in the league and missed the playoffs only once during that period. Another championship followed in 1934–35, but the financial realities of the Great Depression meant the Maroons had the lowest attendance in the league for several years running and had to sell off several star players.

By the beginning of the 1937–38 season, there were rumours that the Maroons would be relocated, and they ended up with their worst record since their first year in the NHL. The league allowed them to suspend operations for the next year. St. Louis seemed a possible destination for the struggling franchise, but unfortunately, the costs of travel weighed too heavily against relocation.

Len Peto, director of the Canadiens, offered a glimmer of hope after he got the franchise transferred to Philadelphia, but no suitable arena could be found even after several years. By 1947, the franchise was officially folded. It was another 20 years before the NHL operated with more than six teams.

Sam Rothschild

Punch Broadbent

Broadbent was one of the NHL’s top-scoring stars during its formative years and whenever he was healthy he put up strong numbers with the Ottawa Senators. He led the league with 32 goals and 46 points during the 1921–22 campaign, establishing a still-unbroken league standard by scoring a goal in each of 16 consecutive games.

After a rough 1923–24 season, the pioneer power-forward’s days in the nation’s capital were numbered. Even though he had helped the Sens to a pair of Stanley Cup titles, the team deemed him expendable. The Maroons received Broadbent, along with fellow veteran Clint Benedict, in a cash deal on October 20, 1924. Their arrival gave the new club instant name recognition.

On December 5, Broadbent scored a pair of goals against his old club in a 3–1 victory. He also scored the game-winner against them 18 days later. His best performance of the year, the club’s greatest highlight during the first season, came when he scored five goals against Jake Forbes of the Hamilton Tigers on January 7, 1925.

Punch Broadbent

Reg Noble

Noble’s lengthy pro career began in the old National Hockey Association before he spent several seasons with the Toronto Arenas and St. Patricks, winning a pair of Stanley Cups along the way. His tenure there ended December 9, 1924, when he was sold to the Maroons for $8,000.

Arriving in Montreal for their first matchup against the Canadiens the following day, Noble instantly became one of the club’s veteran leaders. On December 13, he got an assist against his old team. His biggest goal of the season led to a 2–0 victory over the Boston Bruins on January 20, 1925.

Dunc Munro

Munro spent several years playing senior hockey with the Toronto Granites club and was there when they won the Allan Cup and earned the right to represent Canada at the 1924 Winter Olympics. A respected defenceman and all-around athlete, he also played on the first Memorial Cup–winning squad at University of Toronto a few years earlier.

After winning the gold medal at the Olympics in Chamonix, France, Munro had a reputation as the best amateur defenceman around and was highly sought after. The new Montreal team made the offer that most appealed to him, but the press prematurely reported the signing. He addressed the matter personally in the Montreal Gazette: I have signed nothing yet, but after a long-distance phone conversation with James Strachan of Montreal, yesterday, during which he raised the ante, I wired Strachan that I would accept his terms. I am getting a salary beyond anything I thought any team would go for my services, and in addition, the people behind the Montreal team, who are among the strongest men financially in Montreal, have offered me business opportunities, which I would be foolish to turn down. St. Pats made me a flattering offer yesterday, but they cannot do for me in a business way what these Montreal gentlemen are doing for me, so I have decided to go to Montreal, give them what hockey I have, and get myself established in a real business. Though Munro lacked even a lick of pro experience, the Maroons named him team captain. His first two goals of the season came in the 6–2 win over fellow expansion club, the Boston Bruins, on December 17, 1924. His second tally of the night came when the Maroons were shorthanded.

Clint Benedict

Benedict revolutionized the way goalies played the game. His propensity to hit the ice to make a save, even when threatened with a fine, eventually forced rule changes that benefited netminders. A native of Ottawa, he had played for his hometown Senators for more than a decade and backstopped them to Stanley Cup glory.

But Alex Connell was vying for the starting job in Ottawa, so the team sold Praying Benny to the new Montreal club along with veteran Punch Broadbent. They were two of the first players the Maroons signed to contracts.

After leading the NHL in victories for six straight seasons, Benedict was in for a shock. As part of the expansion club, he ended up, for the only time in his career, losing more games than any other netminder.

He was, however, still keeping the puck out of the net, as his goals-against average rose only slightly, to 2.12. He registered the team’s first shutout on January 20, 1925, against the Boston Bruins, and he blanked the league-leading Hamilton Tigers on February 28. Despite the lack of offensive power in front of him, Benedict kept the Maroons alive in many games and his future with the club remained bright even though he was in his early 30s. His understudy during the 1924–25 season, Eric Lehman, was more than a decade younger and the nephew of Hall of Fame goalie Hugh Lehman, but he never saw a second of NHL action.

Clint Benedict

EXPANSION YEAR RECORD: 12–20–4

(28 points — fifth in NHL)

COACH: Tommy Gorman

FIRST GAME: December 2, 1925 —

2–1 win vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

FIRST GOAL: December 2, 1925 by Billy Burch

NEW YORK

AMERICANS

On the advice of a newspaper writer named Bill MacBeth, who believed that big-league hockey could be a hit on Broadway, notorious bootlegger Bill Dwyer purchased an option for an NHL expansion club from Tom Duggan, the owner of the Mount Royal Arena in Montreal. The league approved the franchise on April 17, 1925, and it was set to begin play at Madison Square Garden in 1925–26.

Instead of putting their roster together from scratch, the New York club had a stroke of good fortune that ensured their team was going to be competitive. The players of the Hamilton Tigers were suspended for going on strike at the end of the 1924–25 campaign, so the future of that particular club looked bleak. Dwyer was able to come in and purchase their players for something between $75,000 and $80,000. Once the players individually apologized to the league, they were reinstated and many of them were given even higher salaries than before. The Tigers officially ceased to be a part of the NHL on September 22, 1925, but the league did not publicly acknowledge Dwyer as the owner of the New York club; their officers were named as Duggan, Tommy Gorman and Madison Square Garden’s Colonel John Hammond.

The Americans are officially considered an expansion team by the NHL, even though most of their original lineup were Tigers players. The roster was loaded with some promising talent like Billy Burch, who was born locally, and brothers Red and Shorty Green. Gorman served as coach and general manager after selling his interest in the Ottawa Senators.

The Amerks, as they were known, started the season with a four-game road swing that included a 3–1 overtime victory in their debut against their expansion cousins, the Pittsburgh Pirates, on December 2, 1925. They also got a win over the Montreal Canadiens, but lost to the same club in their home opener on December 15. An opulent affair that brought out members of high society, the game was an excellent way to showcase some of the sport’s top talent in Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat and ensure that fans went home feeling they had witnessed something special.

Later in the month, New York had a three-game winning streak, but as the season moved on, the losses began to pile up. Goalie Jake Forbes was put to the test on many nights, and Burch recorded a career-best 22 goals, but even with four wins in a row from February 19 to March 2, 1926, it was not enough to make it into the playoffs.

Despite their promising beginnings, the Amerks faced direct competition in their second season in the league when Madison Square Garden brought in a team of their own called the Rangers. In their early years, the Americans didn’t improve much, but at least they didn’t have a problem drawing a crowd. One of their best acquisitions came in the form of diminutive Roy Worters. His strong MVP performance in 1928–29 led them to a second-place finish in the Canadian Division and to the playoffs for the first time.

For the next six seasons, the Americans had their share of decent stars, but the team was usually near the bottom of the standings and crowds began to get smaller as the Rangers won the hearts of local fans. The end of Prohibition in the United States also did not help the organization, as Dwyer’s revenues dried up dramatically. At one point, the league even turned down an idea to merge the team with the Ottawa Senators.

In 1935–36, Dwyer finally decided to cut his losses and sell the team. But no buyer could be found, so he ended up abandoning the Amerks, and the NHL took control for the following season. Lawsuits ensued and eventually team executive and original member Red Dutton took over the operation. Even with some playoff appearances, the debt was tough for Dutton to manage, and many top players were sold off before the war broke out.

By the start of the 1941–42 season, Dutton was at the end of his rope. He decided to change the team’s name to the Brooklyn Americans in time for their first home game. While the renaming may have seemed gimmicky, he actually intended to move his club out to the borough once a suitable arena could be built. At the end of the season, however, Dutton made a request to suspend operations. The franchise remained in limbo until 1946, when the league backed away from its promise to let the team back in after the war. Dutton was justifiably miffed and held a grudge for the rest of his life.

Charlie Langlois

Billy Burch

Burch emerged as a top star with the Hamilton Tigers in 1924–25 when he scored 20 goals for the first time in his career and, despite leading his team into a strike with Shorty Green, was voted the second-ever recipient of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Burch’s presence on the debuting New York Americans club went a long way toward establishing a fan base in the Big Apple. It also helped that he was born in Yonkers, New York. He grew up in Toronto, but that did not stop the crowd from cheering him on. In the season opener on December 2, 1925, he scored the first-ever NHL goal in the city of Pittsburgh. Six days later he had a three-point night, scoring the winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens.

As the season progressed, Burch became the top offensive performer