Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Eddie Shore
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One on One with Eddie Shore

1 FEBRUARY 2005
A native of Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan,
the 24-year old Eddie Shore joined the Boston Bruins in 1926-27.
Born near Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan in 1902, Eddie Shore was raised on a sizeable ranch west of his birthplace in the town of Cupar, about seventy-five kilometres northeast of Regina. Cupar, today as then, is nestled on the flat plains of Saskatchewan's best grain growing area. Wild horses roamed the Shore homestead at the time. "It was my delight and pleasure to break in those stallions," boasted Shore. "It helped me build the boy I needed to be to play nineteen years of professional hockey." At just twelve years of age, Eddie helped his father haul grain. "I drove a four-horse team pulling wagons loaded with 150 bushels of grain forty miles a day. That's a lot of miles for a kid," Shore said, shaking his head.

Most observers felt that Eddie's older brother Aubrey was the hockey player in the family. In fact, Eddie didn't even play hockey as a youngster, preferring soccer and baseball. It wasn't until he attended Manitoba Agricultural College in Winnipeg that Eddie started playing hockey.

"I knew Eddie when he was 15 and I was 17 and we went to the same school in Winnipeg," said former NHL star, Murray Murdoch. "He got kicked out for smoking, as I recall." Other stories reveal that Shore's father lost a substantial amount of money with a disastrous steel mill investment and was unable to afford his son's schooling. "But he became a great defenseman. He had a way of coming around the net and up the ice, weaving along. It was hard to take the puck from him. But because I knew him, I knew you had to get him as he was coming around the net."

Shore joined the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Senior Hockey Leagure during the playoffs in 1923-24 and promptly led the post-season in both goals (10) and points (18). The next season, Shore earned a try-out with the Vancouver Maroons of the Western Canada Hockey League, but was cut. Instead, he spent the season with the last place Regina Capitals of the same league.

After an on-ice incident with Shore ended the playing career of Toronto's Ace Bailey on December 12, 1933, the NHL implemented what is regarded as the first All-Star Game. Prior to the February 14, 1934 contest, the helmeted Shore shook the hand of Bailey, who received proceeds from the game.
The Capitals relocated to Portland in the fall of 1925, and Eddie found himself traded to the Edmonton Eskimos in what was re-named the Western Hockey League. Shore established himself further as a highly competitive and combative player, moving back to defense from his formerly familiar forward position, and earned the nickname, the 'Edmonton Express.' Eddie was named to the WHL's First All-Star Team on defense for the 1925-26 campaign.

As the National Hockey League expanded in 1926-27, new teams debuted in Chicago, Detroit and New York, with each searching for appropriate players to fill their rosters. The Western Hockey League folded and grocery magnate Charles Adams, owner of the Boston Bruins (who debuted themselves in 1924), paid $50,000 for Shore and six other WHL players.

In his first National Hockey League game, the Boston Transcript described the Bruins' rookie, writing, 'The new defenseman is tall yet sturdily built. His speed is exceptional and he handles his body and stick well. He caught the fancy of the fans.' As a twenty-four year old rookie, Shore almost lost his ear in a confrontation wih teammate Billy Coutu. The Bruins' doctors wanted to remove the organ, which was hanging by a thread of flesh, but hours later, Shore found a doctor who agreed to try to save the ear. "I was just a farm boy who didn't want his looks messed up," Shore laughed, remembering how he underwent the procedure without anesthetic. "I made him change the last stitch; he would have left a scar!"

The rookie impressed all those who saw him play, and in an era when defenseman seldom ventured past centre ice let alone into the opposing team's end, Eddie scored an unprecedented 12 goals, and showed his moxy with an NHL record 130 penalty minutes. The next season (1927-28), he led the league in penalties again, breaking his own record with 165 minutes. But his aggressive play was countered with finesse both in leading and finishing plays. "He was the only player I ever saw who had the whole arena standing every time he rushed down the ice. He would either end up bashing somebody, get into a fight or score a goal," laughed Hammy Moore, the trainer for the Boston Bruins during that era.

Eddie Shore was a dominant defenseman who revolutionized the game in the same manner Bobby Orr would fifty years later. Shore was the NHL's MVP and a First Team All-Star in 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1938.
Eddie Shore quickly became the biggest box office attraction in the NHL, especially when, in 1929, he led the Bruins to the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. In an era when sports needed a face and personality to get through the Depression, Eddie Shore gave hockey just that, while stars like Babe Ruth did the same for baseball and Jack Dempsey to boxing. Not all were there to cheer Shore — many attended to jeer him, too, but the arenas were packed both home and on the road when the Boston Bruins were playing. With Shore on the blueline, the Bruins took first place in the NHL's American Division seven times.

All-Star games during Shore's NHL tenure were not annual affairs, although the press named First and Second All-Star Teams beginning in 1930-31. Shore was named to the First All-Star Team seven times — 1931, '32, '33, '35, 36, '38 and 1939, as well as to the Second All-Star Team in 1934. But in fact, Shore played a role in establishing what is considered the NHL's first actual All-Star Game. On December 12, 1933, in an intense contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Shore, looking for revenge, belted Toronto's Ace Bailey from behind. The hit knocked the Leafs' star unconscious, and rushed to the hospital, his life hung in the balance for two weeks. Doctors performed emergency surgery on Bailey to relieve the preessure on his brain. Ace lived, but was never able to play again. "I was skating with my head down and I didn't see Bailey until it was too late," stated Shore. "There was no bad feeling between us. It was purely accidental." On February 14, 1934, the National Hockey League staged an all-star game, with proceeds benefiting Bailey's rehabilitation. The crowd erupted in spontaneous cheering when Bailey, in his street clothes, met Shore, dressed in his hockey equipment ready for the game, at centre ice. Bailey extended his hand to Shore and handed him an all-star sweater with number 2. The two shook hands and the hatchet was buried. "It was the loudest I ever heard a Maple Leaf Gardens crowd," mentioned longtime season ticket subscriber Tommy Gaston in his memoir, 'A FAN FOR ALL SEASONS.' The NHL All-Star Game took place on a more regular basis after that game. The near-tragic Bailey incident haunted Shore fo the rest of his life.

In his 14th NHL season, all spent with Boston, Shore was traded to the New York Americans. He not only played with the Americans in 1939-40, but also played with the Springfield Indians of the AHL -- a team he owned, managed and coached as well.
On four occasions, Eddie Shore was also recipent of the Hart Trophy as the NHL's regular season most valuable player. Shore, the first NHLer to win the award four times, was presented with the honour in 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1938.

A shrewd businessman, Shore quietly purchased the bankrupt Springfield Indians of the Can-Am League (later became the American Hockey League) in 1939 for $42,000. The Detroit Red Wings had also wanted the team. "They were too late," laughed Eddie, who was ridiculed at the time but turned the franchise into a very lucrative venture.

Shore negotiated a deal with Boston's general manager, Art Ross that would permit him to play for the Bruins in emergencies at the same time as he would manage the Indians. The deal was specific that Eddie would not be playing for his AHL team. Shore hoped that Boston would eventually allow him to play for the Indians. But the Bruins shocked the hockey world, including Eddie Shore, when they traded him to the New York Americans instead, receiving Eddie Wiseman and cash on January 20, 1940. Angered, Eddie Shore struck a deal with the Americans that allowed him to play in all of New York's games and in as many Springfield games as he could manage.

Through the remainder of the season, Shore played regularly for the Americans while simultaneously owning, managing, coaching and playing for the Indians. The workload was astronomical for the thirty-eight year old, and after collecting just five points for New York, Eddie Shore retired from the NHL. He did, however, continue to play for his AHL Indians for two more seasons before retiring so he could concentrate more fully on the executive side of the business. Shore also secured ownership stakes in the San Diego Skyhawks in the Pacific Coast Hockey League, Fort Worth Rangers in the United States Hockey League and the New York Americans hockey club of the NHL.

An astute businessman, Shore parlayed his hockey savvy into a successful career as an owner. At various times, Eddie owned the Springfield Indians of the AHL, the San Diego Skyhawks of the PCHL, the Fort Worth Rangers of the USHL and the New York Americans of the NHL.
Shore was an owner, general manager and coach at a time when players had no recourse but obey even the most outlandish orders. Shore quickly became infamous (and often hated) for the eccentricities he brought to the operation of his team. For example, while running the Springfield Indians, inactive players were required to sweep the arena, make popcorn and blow up balloons by the thousands.

Shore also believed that nothing was more important to a hockey player than balance, so he scheduled tap-dancing classes for his players. "Tap-dancing improves balance and balance is the foundation of an athlete's ability," Shore explained. "From balance you get power and maneuverability. I want a player who can move forward, backward, one side or the other without actually taking a step; just shifting his balance." In a 1984 interview, the late Brian Smith recalled one such incident. "Shore ordered myself. Barclay Plager and Yves Locas to go to coach Pat Egan's room and tap-dance for an hour," Smith laughed. "Even Egan wasn't crazy enough to make us do that, but we had to go to his room just the same. He sat at the door looking through the keyhole to make sure Shore wouldn't sneak around and check on us. We watched TV with the volume turned up high."

Shore also considered himself a medical expert, citing survival of eight heart attacks and being cured of cancer as his training in the field. For the slightest ailment, he prescribed daily doses of a harsh laxative called Marlet. "It was a laxative made with oils," remembers Springfield alumnus Ken Schinkel. "I was so scared, I only drank half. I lost twelve pounds. If I'd taken it all, it would have been suicide."

But the eccentricities didn't end there. Eddie also considered himself a chiropractor and attempted to straighten the spines of unsuspecting players by putting them in wrestling moves that likely created more damage than it corrected. "He loved to get players on the trainer's table and crack their backs and necks," recalled Brian Smith.

The Hockey Hall of Fame added Eddie Shore to its list of Honoured Members in 1947. That year, Dit Clapper, Aurel Joliat, Frank Nighbor, Lester Patrick and Cyclone Taylor were added in the Players' category, while Frank Calder, William Hewitt, Francis Nelson, William Northey, John Ross Robertson, Claude Robinson and James T. Sutherland were added as Builders.
Shore unwittingly started the first successful hockey players' union. He treated his players so despicably in Springfield, withholding pay for little or no reason, forcing them to clean the arena after games and practices and suspending them at his slightest whim. The players finally revolted and in December 1966, refused to play any further. Toronto lawyer Alan Eagleson was summoned to settle the dispute. Eagleson convinced Shore that the players were serious about quitting rather than continue playing under his despotic rule, so Shore begrudgingly resigned, turning the Indians over to his son, Ted. The incident had historic ramifications. It led directly to the formation of both the Professional Hockey Players' Association and the National Hockey League Players' Association. "There's no question that the whole thing — the way it developed — created a climate among players and owners both in which we were able to get the association off the ground," said the NHLPA's founder, Alan Eagleson.

Brian Kilrea, one of the Springfield players who led the revolt and later, an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the greatest coaches in junior history, reflects back on the tyrannical Shore. "He was tough on everyone. Didn't matter who you were, he was tough on you. If it was your day, boy, you got it. No one ever messed with him. A lot of the things he did then you couldn't do now, but in those days, there was no union."

"I'm not sorry about anything I've done," Shore stated defiantly before his death in 1985. "As long as I'm close to hockey, I'm glad to be alive."

Despite the owner's overbearing eccentricities, the Springfield Indians were a very successful franchise, winning the Calder Cup as AHL champions three seasons in a row — 1960, '61 and '62. After years of being an independent franchise, the Indians were sold to the Los Angeles Kings when that expansion club joined the National Hockey League in 1967. The sale allowed players like Kilrea, Smith, Dale Rolfe and Bill White the opportunity to enjoy NHL careers. During the 1974-75 season, the Kings relinquished Springfield as their AHL affiliate, so the seventy-two year old Shore took over the club personally and went on to win the Calder Cup; the fifth time for Shore.

It is unfortunate that Eddie Shore's latter life had him dismissed as a 'crackpot' because, up to that point, Shore as a player had been the standard by which great defensemen were measured. "You could go on and on with Eddie Shore stories, but any article on the legendary Boston Bruins' defenseman would be unfair if it didn't mention his genius for teaching the basics of the game," stated Brian Smith. "Eddie Shore was years before his time when it came to the fundamentals of passing, skating and shooting. As the old saying goes, you may not have liked the man but you sure had to respect him." Kent Douglas, a Springfield alumnus who went on to win the Calder Trophy with Toronto, stated emphatically, "Studying with Shore was like getting your doctorate in hockey science. He taught me things about the game that nobody else ever mentioned."

Ted Harris, who left Springfield to star with the Montreal Canadiens, added, "He put me in the NHL. I was a late developer. Shore gave me a chance to play and worked with me each day. Nobody else would even have bothered."

Kevin Shea is the Hockey Hall of Fame's Manager of Special Projects and Publishing.