Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Memorial Cup: A history . . . 1944

Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Oshawa Generals
at Toronto (Maple Leaf Gardens)

Bob Kinnear, who had coached the Winnipeg Rangers to the 1943 Memorial Cup title, didn't mince any words prior to the 1944 event.
"Oshawa by a mile,” Kinnear said. "Junior hockey in western Canada is not what it used to be. Most junior teams of previous years would have beaten either one of the two teams, Trail or Port Arthur, who have just concluded the western Canada playoffs.
"When you stop to think that most of these kids still have two or three years of junior hockey left, and that Oshawa is about two years older per man, is it any wonder I say Oshawa?”
It was the Trail Smoke Eaters and, yes, the Oshawa Generals for the 1944 Memorial Cup, with all games played at Maple Leaf Gardens. Oshawa won the Ontario title for the seventh straight season and was into its sixth national final in those seven seasons.
This Oshawa bunch was arguably as good as any junior team ever to arrive on the scene.
Coached by Charlie Conacher and with Matt Leyden still the manager, these Generals were loaded with talent.
Left-winger Ken Smith, originally from Moose Jaw, would play seven seasons with the Boston Bruins. Goaltender Harvey Bennett of Edington, Sask., played with Boston in 1944-45. The other goaltender, Johnny Marois, saw action with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks. Defenceman Bob Dawes of Saskatoon played for Toronto and the Montreal Canadiens. Right-winger Floyd Curry ended up spending 10 seasons with the Canadiens. Defenceman Bill Ezinicki spent nine seasons in the NHL, with Toronto, Boston and the New York Rangers.
On top of all that, the Generals added three players from the St. Michael's Majors -- left-winger Ted Lindsay, who would play 17 seasons in the NHL, 14 with the Detroit Red Wings and three with Chicago; defenceman Gus Mortson, who would spend six seasons in Toronto and seven in Chicago; and, David Bauer, who is today better remembered as Father David Bauer and who had a longtime involvement with Canada's Olympic hockey program.
Oshawa didn't have a whole lot of trouble qualifying for the Memorial Cup, although the Montreal Royals were able to at least keep the games close.
Oshawa took out St. Mike's, winning a best-of-seven series 4-1, and then whipped the University of Ottawa, 10-3 and 11-1 to sweep a best-of-three affair. That put the Generals in the east final against the Royals, who had advanced when the Amherst, N.S., Ramblers forfeited.
In the east final, a best-of-five affair, the Generals won the first two games, 6-3 and 3-2, lost the third 5-4 when Montreal scored twice in the last five minutes of the third period, and wrapped it up with a 5-3 victory.
Meanwhile, the Trail Smoke Eaters were stumbling along the western playoff trail.
Coached by Gerry Thomson, and starring 16-year-old goaltender Bev Bentley, nephew of Chicago scoring ace Doug Bentley, the Smoke Eaters were anything but dominating.
They swept a best-of-three series from the Edmonton Canadians, winning 6-3 and 6-1, and moved on to meet the Regina Commandos.
Trail ended up winning a best-of-five series in five games, even though the teams played eight games. That's right -- eight games.
The first three games of the series ended up being tossed out when Paul Mahara, a Trail player, was found to be ineligible. In fact, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association ended up suspending Mahara from organized hockey for three years for "twice falsifying baptismal papers.” Only a signed confession by Mahara kept the CAHA from hitting him with the maximum five-year suspension.
The Commandos then came awfully close to ousting Trail, winning the first two games, 4-3 in overtime and 1-0, only to have the Smokies roar back to win three in a row -- 7-2, 6-4 and 5-0.
In the meantime, the Port Arthur Flyers were eliminating a St. James Canadians team that included future NHL coach Fred Shero. St. James won the opener of the best-of-five series 7-4, but Trail then won three in a row, 5-2, 6-2 and 4-2.
In the best-of-five west final, it was Trail over Port Arthur in straight games -- 4-2, 4-3 and 3-2 -- and the Smoke Eaters headed for Toronto having won seven straight games.
With an average age of 17.5 years, it was said that the Smokies were the youngest team to ever represent the west. They were also the first team from B.C. to reach the Memorial Cup final which was about to be contested for the 26th time.
"I'd like to look over this Oshawa club before saying how we'll stack up,” Thomson said. "We've heard a lot about them and I'm anxious to see what they've got.”
One report prior to the series opening noted: "The Trail team has astounded many who have watched them on their way to the Canadian finals. They are a strange team in these days of strange ‘military replacements' -- the Smokies haven't added a single player since they started their hockey campaign in November.”
Still, the Smoke Eaters went in on a high note as they were wearing brand new sweaters and socks. When Thomson took the jerseys into a Toronto sporting goods store to have new numbers sewn on, Charlie Watson, a prominent Toronto sportsman, "noticed the ragged sweaters and donated 15 new sweaters and 15 new pairs of stockings to the team.”
The best-of-seven final opened on April 15 in front of 14,643 fans.
Ezinicki scored just seven seconds into the game and that pretty much set the tone, not only for the first game, which the Generals won 9-2, but for the series.
"Oshawa Generals had too much power, speed and polish . . .,” reported The Canadian Press. "Smoke Eaters fought gamely, but appeared nervous and were unable to keep up with Generals on their fast, ganging attacks.”
Oshawa held period leads of 4-1 and 7-2.
Smith led Oshawa with three goals, while Bob Love scored twice. Lindsay, Curry and Bill Barker added one each, while Ezinicki chipped in with three assists.
Jake McLeod and Lorne Depaolis replied for Trail.
When it was over, though, they were singing the praises of Bentley.
"Star of the game,” read the CP report, "was 16-year-old Bev Bentley in the Trail goal. He held off the smooth-skating Generals almost single-handed, kicking and batting away dozens of shots that poured at him from all angles . . . without Bentley the score probably would have been doubled.”
In the Oshawa dressing room, Conacher went out on a limb.
"I think we can take them in four straight,” he said.
The Generals went up 2-0 on April 17, thanks to a 5-2 victory before 7,474 fans.
Eddie Miller got Trail on the board first, early in the first period, but Smith tied it for Oshawa before the frame ended.
After that it was all Oshawa -- Ezinicki and Curry scored in the second period, and Lindsay and Mortson found the range in the third before Depaolis ended the night's scoring late in the third.
"It seems they're in on me all the time,” Bentley said. "Their shots aren't so tough, but when everybody piles in front of the net I can't see the puck. Oh well, you can't stop them all. And 5-2 wasn't bad.”
Thomson said: "You can tell the folks back home we're not beaten yet. The Generals have a strong club, but we were in a tough spot against Regina when we had to win three straight and the kids came through.”
Except that the Smokies hadn't seen anything yet.
Dave Dryburgh, writing in the Regina Leader-Post, noted: "Oshawa has finally come up with a team that isn't faltering on the home stretch. This bunch of Generals can wheel and have the poise of National leaguers.”
And wheel they did. The score on April 19, in front of 7,138 fans, was 15-4.
The Generals, who had 67 shots on goal, held a slim 3-2 lead after one period but erupted for nine second-period goals, including four in a 70-second stretch.
Thomson took out Bentley at that point, and inserted backup Howard Wilson.
"Generals found him just as much to their liking as Bentley,” The Canadian Press reported, "and out of three shots they pasted at him two went in for goals.”
Bentley was back in for the third period.
Smith led the scoring parade with three goals and four assists. Love and Dawes added three goals each, with Curry scoing twice. Singles came from Lindsay, Barker, Ezinicki and Johnny Chenier as everyone in the Oshawa lineup, with the exception of goaltender Harvey Bennett and defenceman Bert Shewchuck, figured in the scoring.
Roy Kelly, Frank Turik, Harvey Ross and Dick Butler scored for Trail.
"All I can say is that we'll be in there battling again (in Game 4),” Thomson said. "The team is too young and inexperienced, but I'm not at all disappointed in them. In fact, I'm quite proud of them. They've got lots of guts.”
The Smokies ran out of players before Game 4. Injuries to Turik (arm), Depaolis (ankle) and Mark Marquess (shoulder) left Trail short of players. So the CAHA allowed the Smoke Eaters to add three players from St. Mike's. Coming on board: Johnny McCormick, Jim Thomson and Bobby Schnurr.
They didn't help.
Oshawa wrapped up the Memorial Cup with an 11-4 victory before 7,929 fans on April 22.
The teams were tied 3-3 after one period and Oshawa led 4-3 heading into the third as the Smoke Eaters tried to hang in there. But they ran out of gas and were outscored 7-1 in the third period.
Smith was the big gun, again, this time with three goals and three assists (he totalled 10 goals and eight assists in the four games). Curry, Love and Lindsay scored twice each, with singles coming from Ezinicki and Don Batten.
Kelly, McCormick, Schnurr and Butler scored for Trail.
The Memorial Cup-winning goal went to Smith. His goal at 4:46 of the third period put Oshawa out front 5-3.
Oshawa outscored Trail 40-12 in the series.
Kinnear had been right.
About the only thing missing from Oshawa's victory was Albert (Red) Tilson. He had been part of six consecutive OHA championships with the Generals (1938-43), but missed 1944 because he was overseas. Tilson never came home.
The Red Tilson Trophy, established by The Globe and Mail, has gone annually to the regular season's most outstanding player since 1945.

NEXT: 1945 (Moose Jaw Canucks vs. Toronto St. Michael's Majors)

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