I always wonder what Leo Dandurand must have thought when the crying started. This was the 1920s, after all, when gender roles were still fairly restrictive and the spectrum of male social expression ran pretty much from ‘enraged’ to ‘stoical’. And anyway, it’s hockey. There is no crying in hockey. And yet here he is, the managing owner of the Canadiens, sitting in his office, staring across his desk at the single most promising prospect of the young century, who is sobbing and blubbering into his handkerchief.
I have no idea what Dandurand was thinking then, but I’m pretty sure it was not complimentary.
Howie Morenz didn’t want to play hockey. That was why he’d come to Montreal; that’s why he broke down in tears: he wanted out. A Canadiens scout had seen him play in Stratford and seen what everyone else had seen, that the boy was talented beyond talent, faster than anyone in the game then, faster possibly than anyone had ever been. He was that rarest of creatures, the natural hockey prodigy. Unfortunately, his great dream was to become a railroad engineer.
It had been hard for Dandurand to convince him to sign with the Habs, but not that hard. Howie was bad with money and already $800 in debt, a phenomenal sum for a twenty-year-old in 1922. Over his father’s objections, he’d signed the contract, mostly for the $1000 signing bonus that had been offered on the spot. But later that summer he changed his mind, and sent the checks and the contract back to Montreal with a note saying that he was very sorry, but he simply didn’t want to play professional hockey, and would Mr. Dandurand please be sportsmanlike and let him out of the deal?
Now, in 1922 no owner ever let any player out of a contract for anything save injury, incompetence or death, so of course Dandurand said no. Howie came to Montreal begging, weeping, saying, please don’t make me play pro hockey, and Dandurand said, kid, you don’t play for me, you’ll never play again for anyone, professional or amateur, your whole life long, and Howie gave in. He showed up at training camp with all his worldly goods in a box and skates so battered it was a wonder he could stand in them, resigned to his fate.
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