Friday, May 25, 2007

Sprague Cleghorn

Sprague Cleghorn is one of the game's all time best defensemen, but also one of the most aggressive. Perhaps too aggressive.

A monster with a short fuse, Cleghorn was also incredibly skilled. He emulated Cyclone Taylor, once scoring 5 goals in one game. In 17 years, including NHA totals, he scored 163 goals. He also helped the 1920 and 1921 Ottawa Senators and the 1924 Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.

But his on ice greatness has been forever overshadowed by his on ice antics. He played the game with vigilante vigor

Cleghorn started out as property of the Montreal Wanderers before joining the Senators. The Wanderers folded only 6 games into their inaugural NHL season after their arena burned down. The Wanderers' players were dispersed across the league. Despite a broken leg and domestic problems with his wife, Cleghorn was given a chance to prove he wasn't washed up, like many people were claiming.

Cleghorn would go on to be the star and the early day Ottawa Senators. Teamed with names like Cy Denneny, Jack Darragh, Punch Broadbent, Frank Nighbor and Clint Benedict, the great skating Cleghorn anchored the Senators defense to Stanley Cup victories in 1920 and 1921.

Sprague was never popular in Ottawa, even when he played there. In one game against Montreal Cleghorn viciously attacked Newsy Lalonde with his stick, reportedly drawing the ire of police although no charges were ever drawn.

Whenever he played against former Ottawa teammates, Cleghonr often instigated brawls and cheap shots as if he seemed to have a personal vendetta against certain players. In fact, in one playoff game, after Cleghorn viciously cross checked Lionel Hitchmen, his own team fined and suspended him for the rest of the playoffs. The decision was even handed down before the NHL had time to rule on it.

Tired of Cleghorn's ruthlessness and undisciplined play, the Senators decided on releasing the most feared man in hockey in 1921. The league assigned him to the Hamilton Tigers but the Montreal Canadiens desperately wanted the local native as a drawing card for home games. They executed one of the first trades in league history, as Montreal sent Harry Mummery, Cully Wilson and Amos Arbour for Cleghorn and defenseman Bill Couture.

Cleghorn was very upset with Ottawa for letting him go, and was determined to get revenge the only way he knew how. In one of the first clashes between Cleghorn's new team versus his old, reports claimed prior to the game that Sprague would settle the score once and for all with Ottawa for dropping him after he helped them win the 1920 Stanley Cup. He would go on to viciously injure 4 Senator players - Cy Denneny, Frank Nighbor, Tommy Gorman and Eddie Gerard. Cleghorn's disgraceful conduct in resulted police action and even league movement to ban him from the NHL for life. Reportedly two teams would not agree to the ban.

Despite such actions, Cleghorn continually produced results, including helping the Habs win their first Stanley Cup as a member of the National Hockey League.

After a stint with the Boston Bruins, Cleghorn, once described by an NHL official as "a disgrace," retired in 1928. His numbers were unarguably great - 84 goals and 123 points in 256 games as a defenseman. His PIMs total was 489.

Sprague Cleghorn died in Montreal in 1956. Two years later, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


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