Lighting the Lamp: Winged Wheelers

Logo of the Montreal Hockey Club (Winged Wheelers) 1893 on a baseball-style hat - Rick Ackerman

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

Lighting the Lamp

with Rick Ackerman 13 April 14 Detroit Red Wings

Can things get any more miserable for the St. Louis Blues? So far in April, the hockey gods are piling on the Blues as it goes from bad to worse. Is this some kind of April Fools' joke? Blues Nation was teased on April Fools' Day with a thrilling 1-0 shootout victory over the Flyers and another win two days later, albeit a listless and sloppy victory over the last place Sabres.

And then the proverbial wheels came off as the Blues were outworked and outgunned by both the Avalanche (4-0) and Blackhawks (4-2) over the Lost Weekend. An expected victory over the non-playoff Capitals was not to be as Alex Ovechkin scored for the first time in his career in St. Louis, leading Washington to a handy 4-1 victory. Two nights later in Minnesota, Ryan Miller and the Blues rolled over and died, 4-2, despite out shooting the Wild 45 to 15. That made four losses in a row, the first time all season. And when Colorado defeated Vancouver later that night, they tied the Blues in points, taking over the division lead since they have more ROW (the greater number of games won excluding games won in a shootout) victories, 47 to 43. Friday's loss in Dallas, the season-high fifth in a row, was another feeble attempt by the beleaguered Blues, outshot 40-22. The Blues and Avs currently have identical records (52-22-7) and have both scored 248 goals. The Blues have allowed 29 fewer goals against.

To add insult to injury (pun intended), the hockey gods have now severely crippled the Blues, punishing them as seven of the 12 forwards (Tarasenko, Backes, Oshie, Sobotka, Roy, Morrow and now Berglund -- Yikes!) are currently hurt at the worst time possible for a team preparing for the playoffs. After winning seven of his first nine games for the Blues, Miller, the supposed savior obtained from Buffalo as an upgrade in goal, went on to lose six of the following nine games. With the Blues, Miller now has a 10-7-1 record with a 2.44 goals against average and 90.5 save percentage, certainly not elite statistics. The funny thing is that Brian Elliott has played four games since Miller joined the team and is 3-1, only allowing six goals against. Will knowledgeable Blues' fans look back at the trade with Buffalo in the same light they regard the 1991 trade with Vancouver in which Garth Butcher, another supposed savior, was obtained at a high cost?

The division championship is on the line this morning as the still-hated Detroit Red Wings come to town. My earlier prediction the Blues would wrap up the division on Thursday was squashed into just a hopeful fantasy that never came to be. If I were more egotistical, I would take the blame for the loss Thursday.

Contrary to the marketing gurus of the NHL, Detroit is not an "Original Six" team as they weren't even around in 1917 when the league was founded and joined the league as an expansion team in 1926. The original owners were the Townsend-Seyburn group of Detroit. They purchased the contracts of the players of the Victoria Cougars, the Stanley Cup champions of 1925, after the Western Hockey League ceased operations that same year. The Detroit Cougars played their first season in nearby Windsor, Ontario, just across the river, since there was no rink ready for play in Detroit then. The following season, the Cougars moved into the brand-new Detroit Olympia, which was home until 1979. It was also the first season for Jack Adams (HHoF 1959), who would either be coach or GM of the franchise for the next 36 years. In 1930, the team was renamed the Falcons.

In 1932 the NHL allowed wealthy grain merchant James E. Norris to purchase the franchise. Norris, a Montreal native, was an accomplished hockey player, a defenseman at McGill University, as well as a member of the Montreal Hockey Club, nicknamed the Winged Wheelers, winners of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup in 1893 and the intermediate amateur championship in 1897. After moving to Chicago, Norris headed the Norris Grain Company and the Norris Cattle Company, net worth estimated at $200M in 1940. Norris lost a bid to put a franchise in Chicago to Major Frederik McLaughlin, who purchased the Portland Rose Buds of the WHL and founded the Blackhawks in 1926. However, Norris was one of the financial backers of the new Chicago Stadium, which opened in 1929. Before landing in Detroit, Norris tried to put an NHL team in St. Louis, yet that bid was turned down by the league due to concerns over travel costs to and from the Mound City.

By 1931, the poorly attended Falcons and the Olympia had been placed into receivership and were managed by a committee of creditors. Of course the NHL would allow the affluent Norris to purchase the franchise. His first order of business was to change the name of his team to the Red Wings and design the current logo, which was adapted from his old team in Montreal. It was a clever move since it also paid homage to the automotive industry in Detroit and was highly appealing to hockey fans in Detroit.

Under Norris' leadership, the Red Wings won five Stanley Cups. When McLaughlin died in Chicago in 1944, Norris helped long-time friend Bill Tobin, president of the Hawks, put together a syndicate that purchased the team from the McLaughlin estate. Norris had previously bought the Chicago Stadium in 1936 and was Chicago's landlord, giving him effective control of two NHL franchises. Norris died in 1952 and was elected to the HHoF in 1958. The Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman (as well as the old Norris division) was named in his honor.

If Colorado wins later tonight in Anaheim, the outcome of today's matinee will be a moot point as the Blues will host Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. However, if the Avs lose and the Blues win this afternoon, the Blues will face the Minnesota Wild in St. Louis later this coming week.

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