Monday, May 17, 2010

The Best Seat in the House

     The Blackhawks went into the 1938 Stanley Cup playoffs with an uninspiring record of 14-25-9. They dropped the opener in their first best-of-three series, against the Montreal Canadiens, before rebounding to take the next two games. They lost their first game against the New York Americans, then came back with a pair of do-or-die wins to claim that series as well. In each series, a shutout by goalie Mike Karakas staved off elimination and swung the momentum to the Hawks’ favor.      The Cinderella Hawks advanced to the finals against Toronto as decided underdogs; they had managed only one win in six tries against the Maple Leafs during the regular season. Worse yet, Karakas was diagnosed with a broken toe (suffered in the last game with the Americans) only hours before the series opener on April 5. “We had sent Paul Goodman, our spare goalie, home before the playoffs started,” recalled Hawks captain Johnny Gottselig. “There was no way of getting him to Toronto before the game that night.”
     Coach Bill Stewart tried to engineer a hasty trade with the New York Rangers, who had already been eliminated, for their outstanding goalie Dave Kerr—who was willing to join the Hawks, if only temporarily. But Toronto general manager Conn Smythe threatened to have any such deal vetoed by the league office. He recommended Alfie Moore, a journeyman who was property of the Maple Leafs but had played the entire season with Pittsburgh (then a minor-league club). After briefly scuffling with Smythe in a corridor of Maple Leaf Gardens, Stewart recognized that he had little choice but to give Moore a try. He sent Gottselig and Paul Thompson to fetch him.
     The two went to Moore’s house, not far from the arena, and were told by Moore’s wife that he was at a local tavern. When they got there, the bartender informed them that Moore had left an hour earlier for another tavern up the street. Sure enough, Gottselig and Thompson found Moore on a barstool, seeming a bit worse for wear. “He turned around and when he saw me his face lit up,” Gottselig remembered. “‘Geez, I’m glad to see you. How about a couple tickets to the game tonight?’ he said. ‘I’m glad to see you, Alfie,’ I said. ‘You’re going to get the best seat in the house.’”
     Moore was hustled to the arena and given a shower and several cups of coffee to sober him up, then he took the ice. “When we were warming up,” Gottselig said, “Stewart said, ‘Take it easy—don’t shoot too hard. I don’t want him hurt.’ But Alfie was stopping everything, laughing and waving at his friends. He was mad at Smythe for sending him to Pittsburgh and said, ‘I’ll show him.’”
     When the Maple Leafs’ first shot on Moore ended up in the net, the Hawks figured they were in for a long night. But nothing else got past him. “We threw everything at him but the house,” said Toronto goalie Turk Broda. Moore’s heroics and two tallies by Gottselig carried the Hawks to a 3-1 win.
     Smythe had technically loaned Moore to the Blackhawks, and he promptly unloaned him prior to Game 2 of the series. Goodman, pressed into service after two weeks of inactivity, proved no match for the Leafs in a 5-1 Toronto victory. But when the series shifted to Chicago Stadium, Karakas—outfitted with a special skate that protected his broken foot—was ready to go. A then-record crowd of 18,497 saw the Hawks win 2-1 in Game 3. Then, before another overflow throng of 17,204, the Hawks wrapped up their second Stanley Cup championship with a 4-1 triumph in Game 4.
     Alfie Moore received $300 and a gold watch from the grateful Blackhawks for what proved to be the only playoff victory of his career. He played only 21 regular-season games in the NHL, 14 of them losses. In 1961, on the occasion of the Hawks’ third Stanley Cup, Moore was asked if he had really been drunk that night in Toronto. “I’ve always been sort of hazy about that,” he replied. “I had quite a few beers that day and I just can’t remember.”

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c)2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

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