Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley’s Cup
“Hello Canada and hockey fans throughout Canada, the United States and Newfoundland. This is Foster Hewitt from the gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens.”
Those words from Foster Hewitt, who was known as the ‘voice of hockey’, you will hear intoned into the prelude to every CBC hockey broadcast today. The familiar theme music is the same as when General Motors sponsored Hockey Night in Canada back when.
Foster Hewitt was part of the opening night ceremonies at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1931. Conn Smythe, a businessman and former military officer, a decorated First World War hero, hired Foster Hewitt to broadcast the Toronto Maple Leaf Games. He even made sure that Hewitt would have a bird’s eye view of the games from a gondola high above the ice. The Conn Smythe Trophy is annually awarded to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup finals.
Given his outstanding play, Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers might well be awarded the trophy. Bobrovsky’s birthplace, as listed in the Panther’s roster is Novokuzetsk, USSR. Yes, that is what it states. Conn Smythe’s trademark remarks, when he owned the Maple Leafs was: “If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice.”
It is Foster Hewitt’s iconic greeting that rings in the minds of many of us dating to the time when the NHL had only six teams. It is his voice that reverberated throughout households across Canada and the then Dominion of Newfoundland, when we were young. On Saturday nights, we were tuned to the hockey broadcasts over the big radio next to mother’s sewing machine. The NHL playoffs, especially the Stanley Cup, were the highlight of the year.
My brother, Leo, and I, dressed in our long johns after our bath, gathered around the big radio in eager anticipation of the game. Between periods we would grasp our hockey sticks. A tennis ball was our puck.
It was the Stanley Cup final in 1949. The Toronto Maple Leafs were playing the Detroit Red Wings. Our goals posts were the side frames of the door leading to the hallway. We alternated between shooting and taking our turn as goalie. The person who scored the most goals won the game. Leo played for Detroit, as Gordie Howe and Harry Lumley. As a Maple Leaf, I was Ted Kennedy and Turk Broda, in goal.
When we went to bed, the winner of the Stanley Cup may not have been the ones who hoisted the Holy Grail of hockey. We both may have taken some consolation in that it was ‘we’ who won the game.
Today, it is a very different world from those halcyon years. There are now 32 teams in the National Hockey League, seven of them in Canada. The four finalists this year were the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars and Las Vegas Golden Knights. At this writing, the most probable teams vying for Lord Stanley’s coveted trophy will be Florida and Las Vegas. Las Vegas has 17 Canadians on their roster; Florida has 15. The teams will play for the cup emblematic of the best ice hockey team, in places where the average temperature at this time of year hovers around 34 degrees Celsius.
Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, who was Governor General of Canada in Colonial times, would be amazed at where we have arrived with the oldest trophy awarded of them all. I wonder if he might not have preferred two boys in their ‘white’ hockey attire hoisting his trophy?