Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Babe Siebert
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One on One with Babe Siebert

29 FEBRUARY 2008
As a member of the Montreal Maroons, Siebert and his club defeated the Victoria Cougars three games to one a best-of-five series to capture the Stanley Cup, that last of which to feature a non-NHL team.
(HHOF Archives)
With triumph, sadly, often comes tragedy, and such was the case with Albert 'Babe' Siebert.

The community of Plattsville, Ontario, south-west of Kitchener, is today part of Blandford-Blenheim Township. Even to this day, though, the sleepy community revels in the fact it is the birthplace of 'Babe' Siebert, born January 14, 1904. Yet, although 'Babe' was born in Plattsville, he was raised in Zurich, Ontario, 100 kms. due west, located on the shores of Lake Huron. It is here that Siebert learned to play the game he loved so well. It is also where 'Babe' tragically lost his life.

Having just turned eighteen, Siebert joined the Junior Kitchener Greenshirts in 1922-23. He graduated to Senior hockey by the next year, starring with Kitchener Twin City, where he scored 9 goals during the ten-game season. In 1924-25, he played Senior with the Niagara Falls Cataracts, and it was here that his skills were noticed by the NHL's Montreal Maroons, who signed 'Babe' as a free agent on March 16, 1925.

Although Siebert was originally a rover, a hockey position held over from an era when the game employed seven players per side, he was later used as a defenceman. Considered exceptionally strong, making it difficult to stop him in his tracks, 'Babe' also had outstanding skating skills. With his abundant skills, the Maroons placed Siebert at forward, and he contributed immediately. In his rookie season, 'Babe' finished second on the team in scoring with 16 goals and 24 points, as well as an aggressive 108 penalty minutes. The Maroons finished second in 1925-26, just behind the Ottawa Senators. But those two teams met in the playoffs, and Montreal eliminated Ottawa. Then, the Maroons defeated the Victoria Cougars, the Pacific Coast Hockey League champions, three games to one in the best-of-five series to capture the Stanley Cup. Siebert scored a goal and two assists in the Stanley Cup final, the last to feature a non-NHL team. The next season, the NHL took sole possession of the Stanley Cup, as it stands today, as well. On the Stanley Cup itself, 'Babe' was identified as A.C. Siebert (Albert Charles).

In 1927-28, Hooley Smith was acquired from the Ottawa Senators and placed on a line with Siebert and Nels Stewart. Journalists immediately tagged the unit the 'Three S Line' (Siebert, Stewart and Smith) as they terrorized opposing netminders. The three led the Maroons in scoring, with Stewart counting 34 points, Smith 19 and Siebert 17. Nels Stewart was the goal scorer, Hooley Smith was the playmaker but Siebert was the digger, using his physical strength to spring pucks from opponents in the corners, then backchecking relentlessly in order to lug the puck back into the opposing end.

Although memories are relegated to relics of the era, the line is considered one of the top offensive lines of the late-1920's and early-1930's. The 'Three S Line' remained at the top of the league, with 'Babe' enjoying the finest season of his career in 1931-32. He scored 21 goals and 18 assists for 39 points, good for eighth best in the NHL that year.

In the twilight of his NHL career, the savvy veteran scored eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points and helped the Canadiens to a first place finish. In recognition of his contributions to Montreal's season, Siebert was selected as the Hart Memorial Trophy winner in 1936-37.
(HHOF Archives)

The 'Three S Line' came to an end on July 2, 1932, when the cash-strapped Maroons started to sell of their chattel. 'Babe' Siebert was sold to the New York Rangers and linemate Nels Stewart was sent to the Boston Bruins for cash.

Siebert sat out the first three games of 1932-33 in a contract dispute with the Rangers, but once it was settled, was part of a second Stanley Cup championship. The Rangers faced the Toronto Maple Leafs in the best-of-five Stanley Cup final. New York came out of the box strong, winning Game One by a 5-1 count, then followed with a 3-1 win in Game Two. Toronto rebounded sharply in Game Three, edging the Rangers 3-2, but on April 13, 1933, the Rangers got an overtime goal from Bill Cook at 7:33 to win 1-0 and capture the Stanley Cup. Babe had no points in the four games that comprised the final, but his ten minutes in penalties led the team.

Midway through the following season (on December 18, 1933), Siebert was traded for, believe it or not, Vic Ripley and Roy Burmeister. The trade reunited 'Babe' with his long-time friend Nels Stewart, but Siebert was met by an adversary in the dressing room. Eddie Shore, Boston's All-Star defenceman, had a long-running feud with Siebert that had resulted from Babe's days with the Maroons. Apparently, a Maroon player had held Shore down while Siebert administered a bloody beating on the Bruins legend. Although they now played together, the two never spoke a word during the time they shared a dressing room.

'Babe' was dismissed in Boston as past his prime, but Montreal Canadiens' coach Cecil Hart insisted that his club do whatever they could to acquire 'Babe' Siebert. Just prior to the commencement of the 1936-37 season, Siebert was packaged with Roger Jenkins and sent to the Canadiens, with Boston receiving Leroy Goldsworthy, Sammy McManus and $10,000.

Cecil Hart knew that the 32-year-old Siebert had lost a step, so moved him from forward back to defence. By re-inventing Siebert, Hart rejuvenated him. He was named captain of the Canadiens and was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team that season as well as the two that followed. In 1936-37, his first season with the Canadiens, he was awarded the Hart Trophy (ironically, donated to the NHL by Cecil Hart's father) as the league's most valuable player. Curiously, during his three seasons with the Canadiens, Siebert wore the number 1.

Immensely popular, fans suffered with the Montreal captain when his wife, Bernice, was paralyzed from the waist down due to complications during the birth of the couple's second child. Elmer Ferguson, sports editor of the Montreal Gazette, wrote, "The 'Babe' would become embroiled in fistic battles. Perhaps he would suffer penalties and earn the disfavour of the crowd by his bruising style of play. Perhaps the game would make him seem like a crude and uncouth person, rough and brutal. From the dressing room, the 'Babe' would stride along the promenade until he reached the chair where his fragile bit of an invalid wife sat. Bending down, he would kiss her, then he would gather her up into his great muscular arms, stride out of the rink, and deposit her carefully in a waiting car that would take her home to the kiddies that he adored so much."

Babe Siebert's grandson, nine-year old Tom Swartz receives a Hockey Hall of Fame plaque from NHL President Clarence Campbell on behalf of his illustrious ancestor, Babe Siebert. (Imperial Oil Turofsky/HHOF)
'Babe' Siebert retired following the 1938-39 season. In fourteen seasons, he scored 140 goals and 156 assists for 296 points in 592 regular season games, also picking up 982 penalty minutes.

On June 9, 1939, mere weeks after calling an end to his playing career, Siebert was named coach of the Montreal Canadiens. The move wasn't entirely a surprise to on-lookers as 'Babe' and Jules Dugal had taken on coaching duties for the Canadiens when Cecil Hart took a leave of absence from the team in January of the previous season.

Tragically, 'Babe' Siebert never got the chance to step behind the bench for the Canadiens. On August 25, 1939, while on holiday at the family cottage in St. Joseph, on Lake Huron not far from where Siebert grew up in Zurich, 'Babe' drowned in the process of swimming out to retrieve an inflated inner-tube with which his children had been playing. As the tire drifted further away from shore, 'Babe' grew tired and simply disappeared below the lake's surface.

Devastated, the hockey world banded together when they discovered that most of Siebert's savings had gone to care for his wife. A special tribute hockey game was planned, using a template that had helped raise funds for the families of other players. The Hod Stuart Memorial Game was held in Montreal on January 2, 1908, and raised funds following the drowning death of the Montreal Wanderers' star. On February 14, 1934, the Ace Bailey Benefit Game took place in Toronto. Bailey's career had been cut short due to an on-ice incident. The Howie Morenz Memorial game was held in Montreal on November 3, 1937, honouring the Canadiens' Hall of Famer following his death due to a coronary embolism suffered after he broke his leg in a hockey game. 'Babe' Siebert was one of the participants in the Morenz tribute contest.

The Babe Siebert Memorial Game was held at the Montreal Forum on Sunday, October 29, 1939. The Canadiens, who 'Babe' was set to coach, faced a collection of All-Stars from the other NHL teams. The Stars defeated the Canadiens 5-2. Although attendance was a disappointing 6,000 fans, the game raised $15,000, which was presented to 'Babe's' widow and two young daughters.

In honour of an outstanding career, Albert Charles 'Babe' Siebert was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.

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