Terry Sawchuck, makin' saves and terrifyin' spectators.

It’s a Monday at the end of July. The sun is hot and yellow, the trees are full and green, there’s beach volleyball on the television and dandelions on the lawn.  The neighborhood patios are full of women in floaty sundresses and men in unflatteringly short shorts.  Every green space more than three feet square has some size of children playing some variation of soccer.  There has never been an afternoon more summery than this one.

You know what this day needs? It needs a 9-minutes hockey montage from 1967 inexplicably set to a Tijuana brass score!

You may be thinking, Ellen, you are so wrong. There are lots of things I need today: sunscreen, a beer, a warm patch of sunshine and a mass-market paperback featuring spies or possibly vampires, but an old-time hockey montage set to weird music is not one of them. Nobody needs that today, Ellen. Nobody needs that ever. That’s crazy talk.

No! It is not crazy talk. You need to watch this video, and here is why: this is the best quality footage you are ever going to see of Original Six hockey. Most pre-1970 hockey recordings are miserable things- blurry, unfocussed black-and-white affairs where you can hardly tell one player from another. They don’t feature slow-motion, or close-ups, or ice-level footage, or any of the other things we’ve come to expect from televised hockey, and the result is that you can’t really see it very well. The Original Six, although misnamed (I think of them as The Accidental Six), is still our prototypical era of hockey. It’s where most the big heroes and the great ideals come from, the old-time stars who still mean something to us, the old-time values that are now considered traditional. And yet most of us have no idea what it really looked like, then and there. The older among us have vague childhood memories of flickering televisions, the younger can bring to mind an assortment of frigid, crew-cut hockey-card photos, but compared to the intense physicality we see in the contemporary game, the mental images we have of old-time hockey are dull, bloodless things.

But not in this video:

Some observations:

  • Today we primarily remember the 1966-67 season as the last year the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, but that overshadows the fact that the Blackhawks really owned that season. Chicago finished first in the League that year for the first time in franchise history, and Stan Mikita became the first player in NHL history to win three trophies in one season (the Ross, the Hart, and the Lady Byng). This film reflects that: there are a lot of long, loving shots of Bobby Hull and heavy footage of the Blackhawks in general.
  • Speaking of Bobby Hull, check out the banana blade. Mikita and Hull started curving their own sticks in the mid-60s, but the rest of the League was slow to catch on. Virtually every stick you’ll see in that video is square-toed and completely flat, but watch for Hull’s when he takes a shot- that shit would be eight different kinds of illegal today.
  • There are a few other advancements starting to creep in, but you can see how slow hockey was to adopt safety features.  Jacques Plante became the first goalie to regularly wear a mask in 1959.  Eight years later, most goalies are still bare-faced.  On the Canadiens, Charlie Hodge (#1) wears one, but Gump Worsley (#30) doesn’t.  On the Leafs, Terry Sawchuck (#30)- he of the 8 million facial scars- has clearly recognized the ‘intimidation factor’ of the mask by adopting the most fucking terrifying goalie mask in the history of hockey. Also notice that Rangers goalie Ed Giacomin continues to play maskless despite almost being decapitated by his own defenseman.
  • Guys smart enough and defiant enough to be helmet early-adopters:  JC Tremblay (#3 Canadiens), Bobby Rousseau (#15 Canadiens), Jim Johnson (#24 Rangers).
  • Advances in style of play in hockey have a lot to do with advances in technology. You’ll notice there are no hard stops or very quick changes in direction here. The players make a lot of large loops and whirls and seem to try to maintain continuous motion for as long as possible to keep up momentum. It looks laconic to the point of laziness. That’s not a stylistic choice, though, it’s the skates: the soft leather of the boots just didn’t offer enough ankle support for the stresses of contemporary power skating.
  • Possibly due to skate technology, possibly due to culture, there doesn’t seem to be much finishing of checks going on.  There’s other dirtiness, of course- a lot of clipping, a bunch of elbows, and a few bigish open-ice hits- but players tend to loop away from a guy who’s dished the puck at moments I’d expect them to try to level him.  Hypothetically, I’d guess that less mobility meant that the positional disadvantage of finishing your check wasn’t worth the intimidation element, but that’s just a hypothesis.
  • Trying to break up a fight was waaaaaaay more difficult back then- I’ve never seen a modern player try to punch his way through a linesman that hard and that long.  Player-on-player violence goes up and down in waves, but one of the NHL’s unsung safety victories has been curbing player-on-official violence.  Beating up the ref used to be a postgame tradition.   Now it’s unthinkable.
  • The low glass offers a lot more opportunity for, shall we say, ‘audience participation’.  Check out the tracking shot of guys in suits standing on the boards and leaning over.
  • Speaking of audience participation:  shoes thrown on the ice (especially women’s shoes) was apparently quite common back in the day, but it seems insane to me.  It’s one thing to go home without your hat in the middle of winter, but without your shoes?  How angry do you have to be at a game to be willing to go home in the snow in your socks over it?
  • I don’t think Don Cherry is right about very many things, but he’s got a point about protective equipment contributing to injuries.  These guys don’t even look like they’re wearing shoulderpads.
  • 1966-67 was Bobby Orr’s rookie season, and they go out of their way to get a few shots of him on the bench, but there’s almost no in-game footage of either him or the Bruins.  Why?  Because they were terrible that season, and finished at the bottom of the standings and out of the playoffs.  Similarly, despite Gordie Howe, the Red Wings aren’t much represented either.
  • Jean Beliveau, who probably gets more screen time here than any other individual player, was 6’3″ and about 200 lbs in his playing days.  For a modern player, that’s a fairly normal size.  Compared to everyone else in 1967, though, he looks positively enormous.
  • John Ferguson (#22 Habs), who was considered an ‘enforcer’ and led the League in PIMS (177) that year.  He also played on the same line as Beliveau and scored 20 goals and 42 points.
Many thanks to the National Film Board of Canada for putting this video on YouTube, and to Jeff Marek, who knows more about hockey history than all the rest of us put together, for pointing it out to me.