Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Dit Clapper
Spotlight
One on One Treasure Chest Pinnacle
One on One with Dit Clapper

7 MAY 2010
Bill Cowley #10 and Dit Clapper #5 of the Boston Bruins.
Bill Cowley #10 and Dit Clapper #5 of the Boston Bruins.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
In an era of colourful characters, the versatile Dit Clapper stood out as one of the giants of an exceptionally successful era for the Boston Bruins. His legacy was further confirmed in the film 'Slapshot' when coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), mused aloud to his Charlestown Chiefs, "Old-time hockey ... Toe Blake, Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore. Those guys were the greats!"

Aubrey Victor Clapper was born February 9, 1907 in Newmarket, Ontario. Called Vic by his parents, the youngster, unable to articulate his name, called himself 'Dit,' a nickname that stuck throughout his life.

The family soon moved to nearby Hastings, where Dit first learned of the game by which he would be identified.

In 1925-26, the 18-year-old Clapper played with Parkdale Canoe Club, a junior squad from Toronto. By the next season, Dit had turned professional with the Boston Tigers of the Canadian-American Hockey League. Playing forward, he caught the eye of the Boston Bruins. That fledgling franchise had debuted for the 1924-25 season, playing at Boston Arena (now Matthews Arena at Northeastern University). Clapper was purchased by the Bruins on October 25, 1927, and placed on a line with Dutch Gainor and centre Cooney Weiland. The chemistry was immediate, and local sports writers dubbed the trio the 'Dynamite Line' because of their offensive explosiveness. With Clapper and his linemates up front, Eddie Shore and Lionel Hitchman on defence and Tiny Thompson in net, the Bruins became a serious force in the National Hockey League. That season, Boston finished first in the NHL's American Division.

Boston Bruins head coach Dit Clapper talks to one of his players.
Bruins head coach Dit Clapper talks to one of his players. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
1928-29 began with the Bruins playing in the brand new Boston Garden. Again, the Bruins finished first in their division, and went on to defeat the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup, the first for the franchise. Since 1925, the Stanley Cup final consisted of a best-of-five series, but in the spring of 1929, the NHL declared a best-of-three, as Boston Garden had been booked for a track meet and New York's Madison Square Garden was hosting a circus.

Clapper truly came into his own in 1929-30, his third NHL season. He exploded for 41 goals in 44 games, second only to linemate Cooney Weiland's 43-goal campaign. Dit finished the season with 61 points, placing him third in regular season scoring. The Bruins won 38 games, lost just 5 and tied one to finish first in their division for a third straight season, but were astonishingly upset by the Montreal Canadiens, who finished 21 points behind the Bruins during the regular season. In fact, the best-of-three final saw Boston lose back-to-back games for the first time all season.

Clapper and the Bruins finished atop the American Division for a fourth consecutive time in 1930-31. Although Dit would never again have a productive season like he did in 1929-30, he was chosen to the NHL's Second All-Star Team in 1931, finishing the season with 22 goals and 40 points.

Dit Clapper and one of his players at a Boston Bruins' practice.
Dit Clapper and one of his players at a Bruins' practice. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
The Bruins tumbled badly the following season, dropping like a stone from first to last in the division. Clapper led the Bruins in scoring, finishing ninth in the league with 39 points (17 goals and 22 assists). But Boston then yoyo'd crazily, leaping back to the top of the division in 1932-33, falling to last in 1933-34 (Clapper's first season as captain of the team), and then back to first in 1934-35, a season in which Dit again was named to the Second All-Star Team.

Although he dwarfed most other NHL players of the time (he stood 6'2" tall and weighed 200 pounds), Clapper seldom abused his size and strength. But on one occasion, he took a butt end to the face from Dave Trottier of the Montreal Maroons and was stunned to see that referee Clarence Campbell (later the NHL president) had not signalled a penalty. Seeing red, he sought retribution against Trottier and earned a penalty. While escorting Clapper to the penalty box, Campbell swore at the Bruins' star, causing Dit to turn around and punch the referee. Punishment was swift but minimal for the usually pacifistic forward. Clapper was assessed a fine of $100 after Clarence Campbell admitted his own blame for the incident.

By 1937-38, the Bruins needed help on defence and successfully experimented by placing Dit on the blueline. Much of the offence was being provided by Bill Cowley as well as Bobby Bauer, Porky Dumart and Milt Schmidt of the Kraut Line. Boston finished first in the division again and the defence duo of Clapper and Eddie Shore was outstanding.

The NHL folded the two divisions into one for the 1938-39 season, and with a formidable line-up, the Bruins finished first and went on to win the Stanley Cup. "This is the greatest team ever assembled," declared coach Art Ross. Dit was named to the First All-Star Team, thus becoming the first NHL player to be named to an All-Star Team at both forward and defence.

Dit Clapper behind the Boston Bruins bench.
Dit Clapper behind the Bruins bench.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
With Clapper on defence and a formidable offence, Boston finished first again in 1939-40 and 1940-41, and it's no coincidence that Dit was a First Team All-Star in each of the seasons. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup again in 1941, defeating the Detroit Red Wings.

During the 1941-42 season, Clapper suffered a tendon injury that many thought would bring his glorious career to a conclusion, but he soldiered on. He was named to the Second All-Star Team in 1943-44. In 1945-46, he took over the coaching duties from Art Ross while continuing on defence and as captain of the Bruins and guided Boston to the Stanley Cup final, although the Bruins lost out to Montreal.

With his ability beginning to be surpassed by younger players, Clapper retired early into the 1946-47 season, and was recognized with a special ceremony. He had played in twenty NHL seasons – the first NHLer to do so – and retired having played 833 regular season games in which he scored 228 goals and contributed 246 assists for 474 points. In playoff action, he added 30 points (13 goals and 17 assists) in 82 games.

Dit Clapper along with two of his Boston Bruins players.
Dit Clapper along with two of his Bruins players.
(Imperial Oil-Turofksy/HHOF)
Clapper was player-coach of the Bruins from 1945-46 until his retirement early in 1946-47, then served as the team's full-time coach through 1948-49, but found the position challenging because of his closeness to the players. He would coach the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League in 1959-60, but spent his post-playing years in Peterborough running a plumbing firm and a sporting goods store while serving on the board of directors of the Ontario Hockey Association's Peterborough Petes.

Dit Clapper died on January 21, 1978, just shy of his 71st birthday. His grandson, Greg Theberge, was playing for the Petes at the time, and would follow his grandfather to the NHL.

In 1998, Clapper was ranked number 41 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 greatest NHL players. "Clapper had a simple creed," wrote The Hockey News in 1948. "He fought his heart out, bounced players around and took the same kind of punishment he dished out. That's what made him so popular with other players and fans throughout the NHL."

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.