What if there was a centennial and nobody noticed?

Guess who?

This is George McNamara of the Toronto Tecumsehs, one of two NHA (the precursor to the NHL) teams that were due to start play for the 1912-13 season.  The other team – the Blueshirts – is far better-known to modern fans.

Note that the Blueshirts were never officially called that.  It was a nickname – they would probably be better described as Toronto HC and as often as not they were simply referred to as the Torontos.

The teams would both have played a season earlier but had to wait for the completion of a brand-spanking-new new arena, the 6000-seat (7500 including standing room) Arena Gardens.  Lacking ice, the teams would each play a handful of exhibition games during ’11-12.

I bring it up because not only are both the Tecumsehs and Blueshirts ancestors of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but 2011-12 is the 100th season since 1912-13 (not that you’ll hear it mentioned officially).  The entire reason for the existence of the NHL is to sever the connection between the Leafs and the teams that came before.

There is an excellent book available called Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey.  Written by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth, it traces the process by which the owners of the old NHA abandoned it in order to create a new league that would not involve Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone.  Still wanting a team in Toronto, the Blueshirts were originally leased lock, stock and barrel from Livingstone.  A season later, the owners of the Arena Gardens simply took the team and locked Livingstone out.  Years of legal machinations followed as the new owners tried to obscure the connections to the old Blueshirts – first splitting off the team from the arena and later dissolving and recreating the franchise under new partnerships, but Livingstone never went away and the damages he was awarded forced the sale of the franchise.  It was bought by Conn Smythe, and the rest was history.

The old franchise was history in more ways than one because they’ve been all but eliminated from the collective memory banks.  Many people know that the Leafs were once the St. Patricks and some will know that prior to that they were called the Arenas.  Very few people will know anyone who played for those teams and the Blueshirts, winners of the 1914 Stanley Cup, won’t be recognizable at all.  The Tecumsehs?  They might as well never have played.

Yet for a time, the names of these teams and the players on them would have rolled off the tongues of hockey fans as easily as Kessel, Reimer and Grabovski do today.  In other markets, they make an effort to at least acknowledge the pioneers.  We don’t do that here.  Part of it, I think, is by design and part is just happenstance.  The Leafs have always treated 1927 as a new beginning and other than the championship banners of 1918 and 1922, rarely mention what came prior.  Career totals listed on the official site make no mention of games played prior to 1927 (Note – this is no longer true since the last redesign.  The things one learns.  I suspect it’s the result of a central NHL database serving the stats.).  The Star is running a poll to name the best goalie in Leaf history – the St. Pats, Arenas and Blueshirts need not apply.

I don’t see this as malice on the part of the Leafs.  They’ve simply treated it this way for so long that it’s custom.  Nobody champions the cause of the old players, so they don’t get talked about.  It’s just how it is.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a 20-odd part series on the history of hockey in Toronto and the demise of the Blueshirts.  This is all still available on Pension Plan Puppets.  A (not insignificant) portion of this was based on my interpretations of Holzman and Nieforth’s work, which I thought was highly relevant then and even moreso now.  The rest was my own mucking about.  I think I’ll have to revisit most of it this year.

One thing I found now that I didn’t have available a couple of years ago is a 1983 release by the Hockey Hall of Fame.  All the members of the Hall at that time were commemorated on both a series of postcards and a hockey card-sized release.  All the pioneers are there in full colour and it’s the only good images I can find of some of them.  I can use that to walk through some of the key figures.  Eddie Livingstone is not part of that set.  Despite being as important to the history of the game as anyone, he’s still on the outside looking in.

As for George, he was one of three McNamara brothers, all of whom played for Toronto at one point or another.  George played defense alongside his brother Howard.  Both were big boys, weighing in between 225 and 240.  They were heavy hitters known as the Dynamite Twins.  When a young forward (future HoFer Cy Denneny) wanted a shot at the pros, Eddie Livingstone sent him out to face down the McNamaras.  After knocking him around for a while, they pronounced him fit for competition.

George would see action for three Toronto teams.  After being part of the inaugural Tecumseh squad, he joined the Blueshirts midway through 1913-14 and won Toronto’s first Stanley Cup.  He rejoined the Tecumsehs (now named Ontarios after having also played as the Shamrocks) that fall.  The Ontarios were folded into the Blueshirts for 1915-16.  George joined the military after that season and played for the short-lived 228th Battalion, whose departure for Europe kicked off the entire process that resulted in the NHL we know today.

Howard McNamara would go on to become a Canadien and captained them to their first Cup win in 1916.  He would also play for the 228th in 1916-17.  Brother Harold, a forward, played for a number of teams in the early pro leagues and was part of the Hab win in 1916.  All three were inducted into the Penetanguishene Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.

George McNamara at the HHOF

This is the only picture I’ve ever seen of the Tecumsehs:

The 1912-13 Tecumsehs as seen at Wikipedia

The trainer at left is listed as Tom Daly, but he looks a tremendous amount like early Leaf trainer Tim Daly.  George is second from the left.  Harold is fourth.  Goalie Billy Nicholson was the star of the 1902 Final for the Wanderers.  (full link)

This is a wonderful set, but not particularly verbose.

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One Response to What if there was a centennial and nobody noticed?

  1. Great post, I definitely learned a thing or two…or three…or four…

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