Welcome back to Peculiar Side of Sports. Every so often something in sports perplexes me, and I just hate not knowing something. So, I do what any normal, sane sports fan does – I search ad nausea for the answer by any means necessary. The good news is that I take all my hard work and relay the results to you.
This week I wanted to delve a bit into hockey’s history with some names I recall when I was a kid watching the game – Campbell, Norris, Smythe, Adams and Patrick. Many fans will recall those as being the names distinguishing the two conferences (along with Prince of Wales) and four divisions in hockey, but I wonder how many actually know who they were, or what they did to deserve such a high honour?
I did some digging and came up with some answers for you, which I will present in as briefly as I can muster. So, without further ado, I give you today’s Peculiar Side of Sports.
In 1974, two new teams joined the NHL – the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts. With the league at 18 teams, it decided it necessary to divide into two conferences: The Prince of Wales Conference and the Clarence Campbell Conference. The structure lasted from 1974 until re-alignment in 1993.
Prince of Wales Conference
The Eastern conference was formed and became known as the the Prince of Wales Conference. The conference had two divisions – the Adams and the Patrick.
The Adams Division – Jack Adams (born “John”), was a legendary player, coach and general manager. Adams professional career began in 1917 when he was asked to play for the Toronto Arenas. His career blossomed when he left to play for the Vancouver Millionaires, where he led the league in points. Spending a few seasons there, Adams came back to Toronto to play for the St. Pats. He finished his career with the Ottawa Senators. Adams’ 115 points in 173 games was good enough to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959, though he was more remembered for his time spent in management, most of which was with the Detroit Red Wings.
In 1928, Adams became coach and GM of the Detroit Cougars. After a couple disappointing seasons, the team name changed to the Falcons (equally bad), before James Norris rescued the franchise giving it a much needed financial boost in 1932. Norris also changed the name to the Red Wings. They won three Stanley Cups before he dropped “coach” from his job description in 1947. By 1947 he amassed 413 wins, 390 losses and 161 ties.
The Patrick Division – Patrick had a long playing career with many notable teams. After a stint in Brandon, Manitoba, Patrick played for the Montreal Wanderers beginning in the 1906 season. In just 28 games, Patrick scored 41 times as an offensive defenceman, and led his team to two straight Stanley Cups. He left Montreal and signed in the newly formed National Hockey Association for a team from Renfrew called the Creamery Kings for a salary of $3000. The National Hockey Association was the league that would years later become the NHL.
Lester and his brother Frank founded the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911. The new league would go on to rival the NHA and eventually the NHL large in part due to the Patrick family who were wealthy from the lumber industry. Lester played for Victoria Aristocrats for several years, but the team moved to Spokane and became the Canaries. The Canaries soon folded and Patrick ended up playing for Seattle Metropolitans. Eventually the team from Victoria was resurrected as the Cougars. He retired in 1922, but that would not be his last game. In the playoffs in 1928, Lester was a coach/GM, but that didn’t stop him from putting himself in the game when his goalie was injured against the Montreal Wanderers. To this day, Patrick holds the record for the oldest goalie to play in an NHL playoff game – 44 years old.
Patrick retired from coaching in 1939, and as General Manager in 1946. Patrick is remembered by the Lester Patrick Trophy, which is awarded for “contributions to hockey in the United States”. The Prince of Wales Conference had a division named after him, which remained until 1993.
Clarence Campbell Conference
The Campbell Conference was formed, which eventually became the Western Conference. It had two divisions; the Smythe and Norris.
The conference was named after Clarence Campbell, the third NHL president who ruled over the league from 1946-1977. He was the president during the 1967 expansion (and future 70s expansions) that modernized the league from the “Original 6” era into the modern league that covers North America today.
Campbell was also the man who laid down the controversial decision to suspend Rocket Richard for the rest of the regular season, and the entire playoffs in 1955. Sitting in his seat at the Montreal Forum for a game between Montreal and Detroit after making his ruling, and the actions of fans in the building eventually set off the series of events that led to the Richard Riot.
Campbell was a lawyer with a degree from the University of Alberta. He was Rhodes Scholar who played on the University of Oxford Hockey team. In 1933 he joined the NHL as a referee. He was the referee in the famous game where Howie Morenz broke his leg in 1937, eventually leading to the superstar’s death in hospital.
Following a 1939 game where Campbell called a 2 minute minor high sticking penalty despite the fact that Red Horner of the Maple Leafs was bleeding, Conn Smythe petitioned the league to have Campbell not rehired the following season. Frank Calder, NHL president at the time, agreed and did not bring Campbell back as a referee. Instead he hired Campbell as part of the NHL head office. Campbell would rise through the ranks and become president during a period of incredible post World War II growth and expansion.
The Smythe Division – The Smythe Division was named after the legendary Conn Smythe. Interestingly, his full name is Constantine Falkland Cary Smythe. Smythe’s first and most important claim to fame has nothing to do with hockey. Conn Smythe enlisted and was a Lieutenant in the Canadian Military. In 1916, Conn and his 40th Battery of Hamilton were sent to fight in the trenches of two of the most legendary battle sites in WWI – Ypres and Sommes. He was honoured with a Military Cross for his bravery in battle. Smythe transfered to the Royal Flying Corps where his commander was Billy Barker, who would go on to become the first President of the Maple Leafs. In 1917, Smythe’s plane was shot down, and for 17 months he was a German POW, released only after the official end of the war in November of 1918.
After he returned home, he started his own sand and gravel business. One of his first employees was Frank Selke. Smythe took on a coaching job with the University of Toronto, and because of that exposure during visits to play teams in the US, he was asked to begin assembling a team for the new team in New York (Rangers). However, not long before the season began, he was fired as the owner decided to go with Lester Patrick.
After turning down the Vice Presidency of the Rangers, and then a coaching job with the Toronto St. Pats, in 1927 Conn Smythe paid $10,000 to partly own the Toronto St. Pats. His first order of business was to rename the club the Toronto Maple Leafs (For a history of the name “Maple Leafs”, click here) and the next year he changed their colours from green and white to their present blue and white. Smythe became the team’s Governor and General Manager (he became coach the year after).
Smythe wanted a new arena so he partnered with his friend, Frank Selke (he had connections to labour unions), to build a new arena from Timothy Eaton land. To pay for the building, which would cost around $1 million, Selke and Smythe drew up a plan to offset some of the builders’ pay with stock in the new company Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd., which owned both the arena and team.
Smythe was again called to defend his country in war, this time in WWII. He was deployed in 1942 to England, and then in 1944 to France where he was badly injured and sent home. He suffered from these injuries until his death. When he returned home he attempted to resume his position in the Maple Leafs organization, as his friend, Selke, was filling his job while he was at war. Selke did not take kindly that Smythe wanted his job back, and two had a falling out to the point that Selke left the organization and took on a job with the Canadiens. In November of 1947, Conn put some money together and purchased enough shares in the company to make him primary shareholder. He made himself President.
After gradually giving up his stock and power within the organization, he became the Chairman of the Board. Eventually he would give that up as well, which he blamed on the decision to allow a Mohammed Ali fight in Maple Leaf Gardens. Conn was very opposed to Ali because of his refusal to serve in his country’s military.
Conn is remembered in many ways, some of which are hockey related, while others are not. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which he helped to build in 1961, and was the building’s chairman until 1971. The NHL created the Conn Smythe (Memorial) Trophy in 1965, which it awarded to the playoffs’ most valuable player. Outside of hockey, and in addition to his Military Cross, he was a massive supporter of the Ontario Society for Crippled Children and the founder of the Conn Smythe Foundation. The Smythe Division in the Campbell Conference was named after Conn Smythe from 1974 until 1993.
The Norris Division – The Norris division was named after James Norris Sr., a Canadian-American businessman who owned the Detroit Red Wings, and also had interests in both the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers. Born in Montreal, raised in Toronto and working out of the United States (became US citizen in 1919), James was born into a wealthy family who made their fortune from owning land, having several mills and an entire fleet of ships. The mills, called Norris Grain, was moved to Chicago and eventually passed on to James who became the top grain buyer on the planet. Norris also owned several large cattle ranches, and by 1940 it is said he was worth over $200 million.
The NHL approached Norris with the idea of buying the Detroit Falcons who were in receivership. Norris had shown interest in buying a team, and even attempted to purchase the Ottawa Senators as well as an expansion franchise in St. Louis – both were rejected. He had interest in the expansion team in Chicago, but his bid lost out to another. Norris liked the idea of Detroit, and the bought the franchise. His first order was to change the name to Red Wings. In the early-mid 1930’s, he bought as much of Madison Square Garden as possible, and then in 1936 he bought Chicago Stadium. It was widely known that he had a lot of sway in the affairs of both the Rangers and Blackhawks organization.
Norris passed away in 1952. In 1954, the NHL began awarding its top defenceman the Norris Trophy. Norris was admitted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958 as a Builder, and from 1974-1993, one of the league’s divisions was named after him. There was even a James Norris Memorial Trophy awarded by the IIHF for its top goaltender.
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Photo Credit: National film board of Canada. Photographer: Chris Lund., Wikipedia