Friday, May 25, 2007

Frank Finnigan

Frank Finnigan was born in Shawville, Quebec, only 75 km outside the city of Ottawa. It was in Ottawa that Finnigan established himself as a legend of hockey

After playing in Ottawa city senior leagues since 1921, Frank started playing professional hockey with the Ottawa Senators in 1924. At the time, the Senators were the defending Stanley Cup Champions, winning 3 Cups in the last 4 years. With a team loaded with future Hall of Famers, Frank played only 2 games in his first season as well as 2 in the playoffs, where his team lost to the Canadiens for the NHL championship. Since he was a rookie on a team blessed with such great talent, Finnigan essentially was what was termed as a substitute, which meant he sat on the bench the entire game and only played if there was an injury.

Frank never got a chance to really play until the 1926-27 season. He responded well, scoring 15 goals in 36 games, and adding 3 more in 6 playoff contests en route to winning the Stanley Cup against Boston. "The Shawville Express" even managed to score the game winning goal in the first game of the finals!

The 1927 Senators were a team blessed with some of the greatest players of all time: Alex Connell, King Clancy, George Boucher, Jack Adams, Frank Nighbor, Cy Denneny and Hooley Smith are all Hall of Fame members!

The following three years Finnigan improved as he received more and more opportunities to play. He finished 9th in League scoring in 1928 at a time when the forward pass in the offensive zone was not allowed.

When the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, several great Ottawa players were sold, but "The Slumbering Romeo" continued to play for the Senators. When forward passing was finally allowed in all three zones in 1929, Frank had his best statistical year ever, posting 21 goals and 15 assists in 43 games. However the depleted Senators had a poor team the following season, and Frank's stats suffered because of that.

When the Ottawa club asked for leave absence from the NHL for the 1931-32 season, Toronto's General Manager, Conn Smythe, stepped in and grabbed Finnigan off the Ottawa roster. Finnigan, an eight-year veteran who played a reliable two-way game, gave the Leafs a solid second line winger and an expert penalty killer. After playing a key role in the Leafs' 1932 Stanley Cup victory, Frank was returned to Ottawa. When the franchise ran into more financial problems in 1934, it moved to St. Louis, where the club was known as the Eagles. He ended the 1934-35 season with Toronto and played just two more seasons before hanging up his skates.

In an interview with Brian McFarlane in 1968, King Clancy had this to say about Frank Finnigan: "I'd label him as one of the finest right wingers in hockey. He could dish out the punishment and take it, too, as he flew down his wing. He was another straightaway skater. You could put a string out there and Finnigan would skate right up and down that line".

Although he was small he was nearly impossible to knock off of his feet. He was strong as an ox, having worked as a telephone lineman in Ottawa prior to turning pro with the Sens. Compared by the book Ultimate Hockey to Mike Peca, Finnigan was an extraordinary defensive forward. Hall of Fame player and legendary coach Dick Irvin once commented that if he had a team full of Frank Finnigans, he'd never lose!

Frank, who returned to Shawville and owned and operated the Clarendon Hotel until 1980 after his hockey career was finished, was scheduled to drop the first puck for the new Ottawa Senators expansion franchise in 1992, but he passed away on Christmas day in 1991. The club retired his number 8 on opening night as a tribute.


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