Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eddie Gerard

This is Eddie Gerard, one of the early greats of the game. An inaugural member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, some writers back in the day claimed he was better than Eddie Shore.

He was born February 22nd, 1890. He would grow up to be a great athlete, also starring in football, paddling, cricket, tennis and lacrosse.

But it was hockey he loved most, and he excelled at his whole life. And he did it all in his hometown of Ottawa.

Gerard played his amateur hockey with Ottawa New Edinburghs before turning professional with the NHA's Ottawa Senators in 1913-14 as a left wing. It was far from an easy decision, as Gerard had a stable job with Geodetic Survey of Canada.

But the chance to play hockey against the best in the world proved to be too strong of a calling for Gerard. Well, that and money. The Senators offered Gerard a $400 signing bonus, a significant sum in those days. Gerard's father is said to have proclaimed that the hockey team were "a bunch of damned fools" for such a signing bonus.

It paid off for the Sens though, and quite handsomely at that. Gerard had 10 assists in 1914-15,which in those days was exceptional. He played in the Stanley Cup final that season, but Ottawa lost to the Vancouver Millionaires.

In 1917-18, the NHL was formed and he served as the Senators player-coach After a losing season he gave way to Alf Smith. It was in 1917-18 that Gerard moved back to defense for good, and this is where he would prove to be so great.

In 1918-19 Gerard was outstanding this year, both offensively and defensively as Ottawa gave up the fewest goals against for the next five years, largely in part due to Gerard's outstanding play. Gerard would be named captain of the Senators and the team would go on to win the Stanley Cup - the first of four championships for Eddie.

1920-21 was one of his best seasons. Not only did he score 11 goals in 24 games, but Ottawa continued to be the best defensive team in the NHL, and Gerard's great passing and stickhandling abilities left little room for rough play.

But he ran wild in the 1921 playoffs, getting 53 minutes in penalties in 7 games to lead all performers in that dubious distinction. The Senators also won their second straight Stanley Cup that year.

Gerard had another great year in 1921-22 with 7 goals 11 assists for 18 points in 21 games. Oddlly, he would play on a Stanley Cup champion this year as well, but not with the Senators. The Toronto St. Patricks had beaten Ottawa and played Vancouver for the Cup. During one of the games Harry Cameron was injured and the St.Pats asked permission of the Patricks to use Eddie Gerard and were granted permission. He played well in that one game, and that prompted Frank Patrick to withdraw his permission for the final game. But it was too late as Toronto defeated Vancouver 5-1 to win the Cup.

Gerard was back with Ottawa for 1922-23, but misfortune struck him. He was struck in the throat by Sprague Cleghorn, damaging his vocal cords. He would only have a weak voice for the rest of his life. But he stuck it out and played 23 games for the Senators that season.

Despite injuries, he played well in the Stanley Cup classic and when the undermanned Senators won the Stanley Cup that year, Frank Patrick, president of the PCHA called them the greatest team he had ever seen.

But Gerard had enough as a player, as the asthma and the throat injury convinced him to retire.

He was a gentleman on and off the ice and played his defense position well and cleanly. He signed as an assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 1923-24.  During 1924-25, Hart was both manager and coach, but resigned as coach at mid-season, leaving the coaching to Gerard. When Hart was fired at season's end, Gerard was named general manager as well.

Gerard accompanied Cecil Hart to the new Montreal Professional Hockey Club which would be named the Maroons in 1925-26. Gerard was also instrumental in signing Babe Siebert and Nels Stewart. These two led the Maroons to win the Stanley Cup in 1925-26.

Gerard went to the finals yet again in 1928, but lost to the New York Rangers in that classic series where Gerard refused to lend Alex Connell or Hugh McCormick to the Rangers to replace the injured Lorne Chabot in goal. In an unsportsmanlike gesture, Gerard chuckled as he told the Rangers 44 year old coach Lester Patrick to take to the nets himself. Patrick did, and he unthinkably beat the Maroons in that game for one of the most famous moments in Stanley Cup history. Joe Miller finished the series for the Rangers as they defeated the Maroons for the Cup.

After a last place finish in 1928-29, Gerard's Maroons finished first for the first time in 1929-30, but they lost in the playoffs. Gerard received a lucrative contract offer from the New York Americans, though the stint would prove to be unsuccessful.  He would return the Maroons and later coached the St. Louis Eagles, but his magic seemed to be lost.

Throat cancer claimed the life of Eddie Gerard in August of 1937. He was only 47 years old and all of those who knew him mourned.There had been another death that year of another great of the game, Howie Morenz, who also died too young.

For recognition of his great contributions to hockey, Gerard was one of the nine charter members elected to the brand new Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, which later moved to Toronto.


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