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Riverdale Historical Society (Virtual): Men o’ the North: The Most Talked About Hockey Outfit in the World by Stephen Smith

November 30, 2021 @ 6:30 pm

Tuesday, November 30, 2021:

Today’s NHL teams regularly celebrate the service and sacrifices of military men and women. Armored cars invade pre-game ice, players take warm-ups in camo. But the hockey’s top league has never seen anything like the episode that unfolded in Toronto in the turbulent years of the First World War when in 1916, an active Canadian Army infantry battalion on its way to the front took the ice to compete in a pre-NHL league with the world-champion Montreal Canadiens and other well-established teams.

Early in 1916, as more and more young men enlisted in the Canadian Army, one Northern Ontario unit began to accumulate some of the country’s finest hockey talent at its training depot. George McNamara, Goldie Prodgers, Duke Keats, Percy LeSueur were among the recruits, several of whom would later ascend to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The fact that the battalion applied to and was accepted as a franchise in the National Hockey Association wasn’t, perhaps, so great a surprise in a country consumed by the winter game — and where, indeed, some considered hockey to be a perfect preparation for soldiers headed for combat. The team prospered on the ice for as long as they played there — they only lasted halfway through the season, as it turned out, when the Army decided that the battlefield was more of priority than a championship.

Hockey historian Stephen Smith’s telling of the vivid story of the khaki-clad team illuminates a lesser-known aspect of Toronto’s wartime (and hockey) history and reflects on the relationship, then and now, between sport and war.

Stephen Smith is a writer in Toronto, a sometime contributor to The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and Canadian Geographic. He’s author of the book Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession (2014), and steers a blog at that keeps an eye on hockey history and culture. He shoots left.

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