Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
A five day break couldn't have come at a better time for the St. Louis Blues. After a disastrous home stand in early February, the Note improved and played quite well on the road, at great cost, however, as Russian rookie Vlad Tarasenko was lost to injury. He will be sorely missed as the arch-rival Chicago Blackhawks come calling at the TradeStocks Center. St. Louis will be seeking a measure of revenge against the Hawks, who won the previous meeting at the United Center in a close, hard-fought bout. The Blues came back from a 3-0 deficit with a strong third period, pelting goaltender Corey Crawford with 16 shots, scoring two goals. Yet, they could not get the game into bonus time. Tonight's meeting provides a great opportunity for the boys in blue to even the season series.
The Blackhawks did not join the NHL until the booming economy of the Roaring Twenties allowed expansion to take place. The National Hockey League featured seven teams by 1925; two in Montreal (Maroons and Canadiens), Ottawa Senators, the expansion Pittsburgh Pirates, the one year old Boston Bruins, New York Americans (transplanted from Hamilton, Ont.) and Toronto St. Patricks (changed to Maple Leafs in 1927). Notable rule changes that year involved limiting rosters to 14 players, with only 12 to be dressed for any one game, as well as instituting a salary cap of $35,000 for each team. It just so happened that the rival Western Hockey League was dissolved during the summer of 1925 and the NHL was quick to take advantage of the influx of players now available. Spurred by the success of the new American clubs in Boston, New York and Pittsburgh, the NHL added three more expansion teams in 1926. One franchise was granted to New York City (dubbed the Rangers), another to Detroit (stocked with players from the WHL Victoria Cougars) and a third to Chicago. The franchise in the Windy City was awarded to wealthy coffee tycoon, Frederic McLaughlin, who outbid grain and cattle magnate James E. Norris. Norris, of course, would go on to purchase the Detroit Falcons in 1932 and rename them the Red Wings.
A graduate of Harvard and a decorated World War I veteran, McLaughlin wisely purchased the entire roster of the disbanded Portland Rosebuds from owner Frank Patrick, who later coached and managed the Boston Bruins and became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950. Unwilling to use the name Rosebuds, Major McLaughlin decided to commemorate his army unit, the 86th Infantry Blackhawk Division, and honor the 86th by naming his new hockey team the Blackhawks. It was McLaughlin's wife, the well-known silent film actress and dancer Irene Castle (portrayed herself in film by Ginger Rogers in 1939), who is credited with designing the now famous Indian head crest the Blackhawks still proudly wear. The first sweaters were black with horizontal white stripes running across the shoulders, elbows, and waist. The Blackhawks would not change to the predominantly red jerseys they wear today until 1955.
The Blackhawks would compete against the Rangers, Bruins, Pirates and Cougars in the American Division in the ten team NHL of 1926. The Canadian Division featured the Senators, Canadiens, Maroons, Americans and St. Patricks. (Sharp-eyed readers will chuckle at the N.Y. Americans being placed in the Canadian Division, just as they can laugh at Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division, Winnipeg in the Southeast Division or Dallas in the Pacific Division today.) Rookie center Dick Irvin (H.O.F. 1958) led the Hawks to a respectable finish that inaugural year, scoring 18 goals. He would go on to coach in Chicago, Toronto and Montreal, where he would have his greatest success, winning three Stanley Cups. Right winger Babe Dye (H.O.F. 1970) benefited playing with Irvin as his center, leading the club with 25 goals. Chicago qualified for the playoffs, yet was eliminated in the first round by Boston.
A thoroughly disappointed McLaughlin fired coach Pete Muldoon after the season was over. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail's Jim Coleman, Muldoon was so upset that he declared that if fired, the Hawks would never finish in first place. "I'll put a curse on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time." And so, the Curse of Muldoon was born, although Coleman admitted years later that he made the whole thing up. Nevertheless, the Hawks would not finish first (not winning a division until 1970 or a President's Trophy until 1991) during McLaughlin's lifetime. The Major died in 1944, fulfilling the prophecy at least within his own time on earth.
Please join me in offering gratitude and blessings to the hockey gods for not allowing the Edmonton Oilers to defeat Chicago in regulation Monday and thereby granting the Blues the opportunity to stop the Blackhawks' record point streak at 19 games. This added motivation should make for an extremely interesting contest as the Blues need to take a stand, especially at home, and show just how good they can be, especially against the rather despised Blackhawks.