Thursday, November 10, 2016

More on Hick Abbott, a real Hall of Famer

Here is one more piece on Lyman (Hick) Abbott. I wrote this one on June 7, 2014, six days before he was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. Yes, I was thrilled with the Hall of Fame committee's decision.
It began with a column I wrote that appeared in the Regina Leader-Post on Nov. 10, 1994.
The column was headlined: Abbott Cup deserves a much better fate.
The Abbott Cup
The Abbott Cup, once the most sought-after trophy in Western Canadian hockey circles, had by now become something of an after-thought, awarded following a round-robin game between the two western teams at the then-Centennial Cup national junior A championship tournament.
At one time, it had gone to the winning team in a best-of-seven showdown with the winner representing the West in the Memorial Cup championship series.
That column lit a fire in two men -- Lyman Potts and Tom (Scotty) Melville, the latter a former columnist, sports editor and editor-in-chief of The Leader-Post.
Before we were done, the Abbott Cup, named in honour of Regina’s own Lyman 
Lyman (Hick) Abbott
 (Hick) Abbott, a First World War hero who died on Aug. 14, 1918, during the Battle of Amiens, had been retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Melville, who was a lieutenant when he joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders during the Second World War, was one of 167 men who were captured during a messy raid on the French port of Dieppe. He ended up in a Bavarian prisoner-of-war camp, at one point spending 13 months and 13 days in handcuffs.
It’s little wonder then that Melville, who died in 2005, had a soft spot for Abbott.
Here’s Melville, in the last column he wrote for The Leader-Post (Nov. 10, 1998):
“It was during (the First World War) when a fine Regina athlete turned in his hockey stick for a gun and lost his life in a charge against enemy trenches a few months before the Nov. 11, 1918 armistice put an end to hostilities. Captain Lyman Abbott, winner of two Military Crosses for bravery, had been the star of the Regina Vics hockey team that had won the Allan Cup and the Canadian hockey championship in March of 1914.
“Nicknamed Hickory, which became Hick, Abbott was an all-round athlete, excelling in football and baseball. But it was in hockey that he is best remembered -- by some.”
Hick Abbott will be remembered next Friday, June 13, when he is among the 2014 inductees into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in Regina.
But it was Potts, a much-decorated career broadcaster who is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and an Order of Canada recipient, who got the ball rolling. Potts, who lives in Burlington, Ont., also is a member of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. (Google him and you will learn that he has been called the Godfather of Canadian recording.) Potts is 98 now and, as he told Paul Wilson of CBC News a year ago: “I’m the oldest living broadcaster in the Hall of Fame.”
Potts started things off by writing an Aug. 2, 1995 letter to Ed Chynoweth, then the president of the WHL.
The Abbott Cup had been conceived by Joe Potts, Lyman’s father, who was a mentor to Abbott. Joe Potts thought so highly of Abbott that he named his son after him -- Joe Lyman Potts.
In that letter, Lyman Potts pointed out that the Abbott Cup had been put into competition “on the understanding with the CAHA that they would accept it for annual competition in the Junior Hockey Championship of Western Canada. . . .
“I understand that the Abbott Cup is no longer being used for its designated purpose, but assigned to a second grade of hockey . . .”
Over the ensuing four years, Potts kept up regular correspondence with officials at the Canadian Hockey Association, primarily Scott Smith, the vice-president, operations, and Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who is best known today as the keeper of the Stanley Cup.
Then, in a letter dated Oct. 20, 1999, Smith informed Potts that “during a conference call of October 5, 1999, the Officers of this association moved the following motion: To retire the Abbott Cup and to ensure that this trophy is placed in the Hall of Fame (either Hockey Hall of Fame or the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame), as per the wishes of the family.”
Meanwhile, in August 1996, I had nominated Abbott for entry into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. The nomination wasn’t accepted, and life went on . . . until a couple of years ago when, out of the blue, Dave Thomson phoned me.
Thomson, from St. George, Ont., has an affinity for military medals and, according to a Leader-Post story of April 21, “is trying again to generate support for a public campaign to buy (Abbott’s) medals in hopes they can be donated to the (Saskatchewan) Sports Hall of Fame.”
Abbott. Joe Potts thought so highly of Abbott that he named his son after him -- Joe Lyman Potts.
Hick Abbott's medals.
(Photo: Dave Thomson)

A deal to get the medals -- a military medal and Military Cross with bar, the latter being
the equivalent of two crosses -- fell through two years ago.
At the same time, Thomson, who had discovered that Abbott was the highest-decorated Reginan from the First World War, nominated Abbott for inclusion in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
This time, the nomination was accepted.
Next Friday, Abbott will be inducted into the Hall, along with three other athletes -- hockey’s Bob Bourne and Keith Magnuson, and basketball’s Jacqueline Lavallee. Brian Clark (athletics) and Claude Petit (boxing) will be inducted as builders. There also will be four teams going in -- Randy Bryden’s 1996 mixed curling rink and the Saskatoon Hilltops football teams of 2001, 2002 and 2003.
As I got more and more involved in researching the life of Lyman (Hick) Abbott, I came to wish I had known him. A law student when he left for overseas, he was one of those people who excelled at everything he did. I really feel that had Abbott returned from the First World War, he could have been whatever he wanted to be. Premier of Saskatchewan? Prime Minister of Canada? Hey, if he had been so inclined . . .
Melville wrote in that Nov. 10, 1998 column:
“I did not know Hick Abbott but I knew a few of those who played on the (Regina) Vics with him -- Charlie Otton, Fred Wilson, Austin Creswell and Al Hammond -- and a lot of other Reginans from that era. All were unanimous in saying that Hick Abbott was a gentleman on and off the ice and a credit to the city and the sports in which he was involved.”
One of the things I stumbled upon as I spent hours reading old issues of newspapers was a column by the legendary Ralph Allen that appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune in April 1936.
Charlie McCool and his Saskatoon Wesleys.
Allen was preparing to cover the Western Canadian junior hockey final between the Elmwood Millionaires of Winnipeg and the Saskatoon Wesleys, who were managed by Charlie McCool, a man who had a long history as an executive with the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association.
“Most of the really good stories happen back of the scenes,” Allen wrote. “It is there, in the dim half world between reality and what might have been, that Charlie McCool is preparing to keep his rendezvous with Hick Abbott. He’ll be 18 years late, will Charlie McCool, but this is a standing date. This is an appointment that will keep, because Hick Abbott has nothing to do but wait and Charlie McCool is not the type to forget.
“In the third year of the war, Charlie McCool of Saskatoon and Hick Abbott of Regina were together in the ‘A’ company of the 52nd battalion. Abbott, one of western Canada’s favorite athletic sons, commanded the company. During the hectic days of late 1917-early 1918 both won the Military Cross for valor. Small wonder that between these two youngsters from Saskatchewan, distinguished by the same standards of heroism, there developed a strong feeling of comradeship. In the fall of 1918, Abbott led his company over the top, and when McCool came back there was a white cross to say that Hick Abbott had been killed in action.
“McCool succeeded to the command of the 52nd battalion’s ‘A’ company. They brought him in a few weeks later with his right arm missing. When the armistice was signed and Charlie McCool went back to Saskatoon, he hadn’t forgotten his friend Hick Abbott, nor had the rest of western Canada. By popular subscription a trophy was presented to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to commemorate the name of the clean boy who had been one of the prairie’s outstanding athletes.
“To Charlie McCool, the winning of the Abbott Cup would signify, perhaps, the term ‘Attaboy, Hick!’ which military discipline bade him to keep locked in his heart on the day 18 years ago when Hick made his last advance. Charlie McCool, white of head now and far more proud of the 768 young hockey players who performed under his control this year than of his Military Cross, doesn’t put it that way. Anyhow that is one reason why I, as a secret admirer of the Elmwoods, could stand to see Charlie McCool and the Wesleys win the Abbott Cup for the first time in three tries.”
The Wesleys won the Abbott Cup that year, but went on to lose the Memorial Cup to the West Toronto Nationals.
Still, it is obvious through Allen’s writing just how much Abbott meant to McCool.
As I wrote on Nov. 10, 1994:
“It must have been special the night the Wesleys won the Abbott Cup. There must have been tears in McCool’s eyes -- or, at the very least, a lump in his throat -- as he remembered his good friend, Hick Abbott.”
It was Joe Potts who spearheaded the movement to fund and found the Abbott Cup. Among his son Lyman’s possessions are Hick Abbott’s last two letters to Joe, both of them, according to Lyman, “written by pencil at the Front.”
June 21, 1918
Dear Old Piece of Cheese:
Just a note to say that I am jake. Played a game of lacrosse -- got trimmed 16-1 -- sore as the dickens but old tummy doing a great business as we have moved into a town vacated recently by the civvies who left a lunch of great gardens behind them, and the fighting troops are not hollering about rations. My best to all. . . . 
August 5, 1918
Dear Old Joe:
General Currie’s platoon has moved away north, south, east and west during the last 2 weeks and if the Bosche knows where we are or where we are going to, he has a mighty fine intelligence system because we don’t know where we are ourselves -- well, hardly.
Just to let you know that I am all OK and like the lads sporting to mix it with the Bosche. If we ever do, I think you will find the Canucks corps will go to it with a hop -- and if ever we get into the big thing we want nothing better than to catch him on the run -- and if we do there won’t be any sore feet on that march.
Poor old Sammy Taylor. How awful for the people he knew at home -- and yet I’d bet that Sam didn’t give a hang.
Will send you a whiz bang in about a week. Goodbye to all.
P.S. How is that young blood (Lyman)? Don’t think we are going to need him for this war after all.
Nine days later, Capt. Lyman (Hick) Abbott was dead, killed in action during the Battle of Amiens.
(For more on Hick Abbott, click right here and read a story that I post every Remembrance Day.)

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