If there was someone in the old days of hockey who was cut from a different cloth, it was Eddie Shore. Not only was he highly gifted as a defenseman, but he was also one of the toughest guys on the ice and the stories of his hockey exploits have become legendary.
He was so well-known for old-time hockey, that he was name dropped in the greatest hockey movie ever made, Slap Shot
As with the players I feature on here, we have to begin with the early days when they were just someone who had a dream of making it to the NHL one day.
Eddie Shore was born in Fort Qu’Appelle, which today is in Saskatchewan but at the time was in the Northwest Territories, on Nov. 25, 1902. Growing up on a ranch near Cupar in Saskatchewan, he spent his time breaking horses, herding stock and hauling grain. All of this helped form him into a man who could handle the physical grind of hockey. In Cupar, the first rink was 44 feet by 100 feet, and that was the first ice surface Shore would skate on.
In school, Shore never did extremely well and at one point when assigned spelling 20 words, he misspelled 18 of them. Shore was also known to skip school often and spent most winter days on the outdoor rink playing hockey instead of attending class. Through 1914 to 1918, he would play for the Cupar team, often at the mercy of the weather. In 1915, the first hockey game of the season could not be played until Feb. 22.
After the end of the First World War, Shore would go to the Manitoba Agricultural College with his brother, but he had not become the player he would eventually be. He did not make the school’s hockey team and after his older brother told him he would never be a good hockey player, Shore went all in on his dream. He began working hard and played for the Cupar team that was in the Saskatchewan Intermediate C League from 1919 to 1923.
One story of this time comes when the team was playing in Moose Jaw but Shore was having trouble skating and kept tripping and falling over. Fans assumed that Shore was drunk, but it was later discovered that the man at the Moose Jaw rink had sharpened Shore’s skates backwards. No proof of this could be found, and the team would lose the game.
In 1922, Cupar won the Southern Championship against Moose Jaw and played Melville in the provincial final. The display Shore put on would eventually lead to the Melville Millionaires asking Shore to play for them in the 1923-24 season. He would accept, and led them to the Saskatchewan Senior Championship in his first year. This was not a professional league so Shore worked as a fireman for the railway during that same time.
During a championship game against Winnipeg, the Melville coach instructed Shore to not take a penalty, no matter what. Shore agreed and as the game went on, the Winnipeg players began to see that Shore was not going to retaliate and started to hit him harder and harder. Shore played a full 50 minutes in the game and was eventually hit so hard that he was taken to the dressing room, unconscious, with a broken jaw, a broken nose and the loss of six teeth.
Continuing his run through professional hockey, and moving up the ranks, he next played for the Regina Capitals of the Western Canada Hockey League in 1925. His coach, Wes Champ, said of him during his time with the team:
“Not only a fast skater, but a flashy attacker as well and he carries the weight to make him a hard man to stop.”
When the team folded and moved to Portland the next season, Shore chose to play for the Edmonton Eskimos, who had won the WCHL the previous season. It was there that he went from playing as a forward to playing as a defenceman. It was also in Edmonton he gained the nickname, The Edmonton Express. It was also in Edmonton he met Kate Macrae, his future wife. She was a star with the Edmonton Grads from 1924 to 1929 and Shore bought a farm outside Edmonton with the plan of staying in Edmonton for awhile.
Shore helped to guide Eskimos to first place in the league and they would play in the final round against Vancouver. In one of the first games in the final, Shore was cut on the leg by a skate, requiring 14 stitches. It was not known if he could play in the final game of the series and one of his teammates joked he was faking the injury. Shore, taking it quite seriously, went out to prove his teammate wrong. He played the entire game but the stitches in his leg came out and blood started to seep down his leg, leaving a trail on the ice as he played. He played a brilliant game but Vancouver came out ahead and won the series.
The WCHL would fold in 1926 and Shore’s contract was sold to the Boston Bruins, making the team in his first season where he had 12 goals and six assists for 18 points. Along with those 18 points he had 130 penalty minutes, which was a record for the time. In fact, Shore’s first fight in the NHL was with a teammate at training camp Despite playing defence and being a rookie, his goal total was exceeded by only three Boston players, all of them forwards. His influence was seen immediately as he helped the team reach its first Stanley Cup in 1929.
It was in Boston we have one of our first stories of the legendary grit and toughness that Eddie Shore brought to the game. In the 1925-26 season, Billy Coutu and Sprague Cleghorn were traded to the Bruins from Montreal. Cleghorn was known for being one of the most aggressive players in NHL history and after Lady Byng saw him play, she donated a trophy to the NHL that rewards gentlemanly play. During their first practice with the Bruins, Shore strutted back and forth in front of the two new players. Coutu responded by picking up the puck and rushing Shore after he had tried to torment Shore with head buts, elbows and more. The two players would collide but Shore held his ground and Coutu flew through the air, hitting the ice hard and being knocked out. While Coutu would be out for a week from the hit, Shore had his ear nearly ripped off his head. Barely noticing the injury, he would be told that the ear had to be amputated, which Shore refused. He then visited several doctors until he found one that would sew it back on. Refusing any sort of anesthetic, Shore used a mirror to watch the doctor sew the ear back on.
Shore is quoted as saying that he was, quote, “Just a prairie boy who did not want his looks messed up.”
In another game against the Maroons, a Maroon player tore open Shore’s cheek with his stick and another player sliced his chin. Throughout the game, the Maroon players continually attacked Shore and by the end of the game he had been hit hard enough to lose several teeth and was unconscious on the ice for 14 minutes. In that one game, he had a broken nose, two black eyes, a gashed cheekbone, a two inch cut above his left eye and three broken teeth. Shore got his revenge in the 1927 playoff series against the Maroons where he methodically attacked each player one at a time, getting into two fist fights and nearly chasing the Maroons off the ice.
Sometimes the shenanigans of Shore would cross sports. In January of 1930, Art Shires challenged Shore to a boxing match. NHL President Frank Calder said he could if Boston manager Art Ross was okay with it. Shire had begun boxing in December 1929, knocking out one fighter in 21 seconds that month. After defeating Boston Braves player Al Spohrer in four rounds at Boston Garden, he wanted to fight Shore because of his known fighting skills. Major League Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis would prevent this from happening by stating any baseball player who engaged in boxing would be considered retired from baseball, which ended the fighting career of Shires.
Another story from off the ice centered on Shore’s attempt to get to a game on Jan. 3, 1929. On Jan. 2, all the Boston Players were outside getting ready to board the train for a game against the Maroons the next day. Everyone was there except Shore who was stuck in traffic in Boston. He missed the train but he was not going to miss the game. He arranged for a flight to Montreal but all flights were then grounded due to a snowstorm. Shore then contacted a wealthy friend who offered him a limousine and chauffeur. Shore left with the chauffeur at 11:30 p.m. in a snow storm. The chauffeur drove until the limo slid into a ditch. Shore then took over the driving and he arrived at an all-night gas station where he bought tire chains. Continuing to drive north in near zero visibility. The wiper blade then froze to the window so Shore removed the top half of the windshield and continued to drive. At 5 a.m., the chains gave out and Shore bought a new set of chains at another gas station. The car would slide four times off the road before they reached the Canadian border. At 3 p.m. the next day, Shore let the chauffeur drive so that Shore could fall asleep. As soon as he did, the car went into another ditch. Shore then walked to a nearby farm house and bought a team of horses for eight dollars, or $118 today, and took the horses to the car and pulled it out of the ditch. At 5:30 p.m., Shore arrived at the Windsor Hotel and staggered exhausted into the lobby. Shore then ate a steak, had a short nap and then splashed cold water on his face. Ignoring his manager Art Ross, Shore dressed and played in the game. He scored the only goal of the game, winning it for Boston.
Arguably the most famous of the incidents on the ice for Shore was on Dec. 12, 1933 when he hit Ace Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs from behind. Baily’s head hit the ice, knocking him out and putting his body into convulsions. The incident came as a result of King Clancy upended Shore with a check as he rushed up the ice. Shore, looking to get back at Clancy, rushed Baily mistaking him for Clancy. After the hit on Bailey, Red Horner punched Shore so hard his head hit the ice, knocking him out as well and resulting in seven stitches. Bailey was rushed to hospital with a fractured skull and had to go into the operating room for four hours. There was speculation that he would die, and while he was in a coma for ten days, he did make a full recovery but never played professionally again.
Red Horner would say later of the game, quote:
“Eddie Shore was having a frustrating night. He was playing a great game but it wasn’t getting him or the Bruins anywhere. They couldn’t score on us.”
Going on to mention the infamous hit, Horner said, quote:
Ace would regain consciousness and was being attended to by doctors. Shore, also having regained consciousness, went into the dressing room to apologize to Bailey, saying quote “Ace, I’m sorry, I had no reason to do that to you. I hope you forgive me.” Bailey responded that it was all part of the game before losing consciousness again.
A drunk fan then accused Bailey of faking his injury, prompting Maple Leafs manager Conn Smythe to punch the fan in the face. Smythe would spend the night in jail for that and had to pay the fan’s dental bills. The next day, Bailey’s father took a handgun and bought a train ticket to Boston to get revenge on Shore, only to be stopped by Frank Selke. Shore was not allowed to visit Bailey in the hospital and Bailey would once again say that there was wrongdoing. Many thought Bailey would die, and his funeral was planned. Three times, his death was announced but Bailey pulled through. If Bailey had of died, it is likely Shore would have been charged with murder or manslaughter.
Frank Calder would suspend Shore for 16 games and upon his return to the NHL, he would say “There was no bad feeling between us, it was purely accidental.
The first all-star benefit game was held on Feb. 14, 1934 to raise money for Bailey and his family. With nearly $21,000 raised, or $401,000 today. At the game, Bailey and Shore shook hands and embraced at centre ice. The crowd cheered but the incident would stay with Shore for the rest of his life. Bailey would later say, “I hold no grudge. I see Eddie often when he comes up to Toronto for the games. It was just one of those things that happens.”
One player who always seemed to get under the skin of Shore was the aforementioned King Clancy. In one game in 1936, after Red Horner scored a goal for Toronto while in the crease, Clancy said to Shore quote: “Tough break Eddie. You’ve been robbed. Don’t let him get away with it.” Shore then shot the puck at the referee, hitting him and taking a two minute penalty. He then grabbed the puck and threw it into the stands getting a ten minute misconduct. This allowed Toronto to win the game and the series. Despite all this, Shore rarely fought Clancy because of Clancy’s quick wit. In one game, Clancy hit Shore hard enough that Shore dropped his gloves to fight. As Shore was about to punch, Clancy shook Shore’s hand and said “Hi Eddie, the family okay?” Shore started to laugh and skated away shaking his head.
In 1939, Shore would win a second Stanley Cup and then retired and bought the Springfield Indians of the AHL. The Bruins then approached Shore about coming back to the team, offering him $200 per game, or about $5,200 today. Shore played only four games before deciding his heart wasn’t in it. He would obtain permission to play in home games for the Springfield Indians, and after pushing to play in road games, he was traded to the New York Americans, despite owning the Indians. As a result, he played with the Americans until their elimination from the playoffs, and then played for the Indians in their playoff games. In six games over six nights, he played three games for the Americans and three games for the Indians. On March 24, 1939, he would play in his final NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Over the course of his career, Shore had won two Stanley Cups, was named to the NHL First All Star Team in 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1938 and 1939 and was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy four times, only Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky won it more, in 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1938. He also won the Hart Trophy more than any other defencemen in history. Over the course of his NHL career, he had 105 goals and 179 assists for 284 points in 550 games, along with an astounding 1,047 penalty minutes.
In February 1940, he was one of eight other arena managers who would help to organize the iconic Ice Capades that exist to this day. In addition to his awards and points, during his career he also received 900 stitches on his body, fractures to back, hip and collarbone, had his nose broken 14 times, his jaw cracked five times and lost every tooth in his mouth.
While retired from the NHL, Shore played two more seasons with Springfield until the operations of the team were halted by the Second World War. Shore would move his players to Buffalo and he coached the Buffalo Bisons to the AHL Calder Cup Championship twice, in 1943 and 1944. In 1946, the Springfield Indians resumed play and Shore returned to the team.
In 1959, Foster Hewitt spoke with Shore about his AHL team and the NHL during the intermission of a hockey game on Hockey Night in Canada
Shore was a tough customer on the ice, known for battling anyone who was up for a challenge. As a manager, he was often seen as a man who treated players with little respect. Even though he was a tough manager, the team did quite well under him. They would make the playoffs 12 times and won the Calder Cup in 1960, 1961 and 1962. The stories of his management style are as legendary as his abilities on the ice. He would fire two publicity directors in Springfield because they refused to help him clean the ice after a game. He asked his players’ wives not to engage in romantic activities before a game because he felt it reduced the productivity of his players. One time, during a one-for-one trade with the Hershey Bears, for two players of equal value, Shore demanded that a new net be thrown into the deal so that he could receive just a bit more than Hershey received.
During training camps, Shore was known to open the camps by having his players tap dance in the lobby of a hotel, do ballet steps on the ice and even tape his player’s hands to sticks if he felt they were in an improper position.
In 1967, Shore suspended three players for what he felt was indifferent play. The players would not receive any pay as a result, causing the rest of the team to refuse to play. Shore responded to this by suspended the two players who spoke for the team. The battle would escalate for months and in the end Shore gave the day-to-day operations of the team to the Los Angeles Kings. This incident would have long lasting ramifications though as a little-known lawyer named Alan Eagleson was brought in to negotiate for the players. While he would eventually be seen as a terrible person for stealing from the players in coming decades, the incident with Shore led to the creation of the National Hockey League Players’ Association. While many of his players said they hated his extreme methods, many also claimed they learned valuable hockey lessons they would have not received anywhere else. Kent Douglas once said that playing for Shore was like getting your doctorate in hockey science.
As well, Shore was known for being quite a kind man when it came to children. He would create a youth hockey program in Springfield and Jim Anderson, a former coach of the Indians would say, quote:
Shore would donate ice time to the Greater Springfield Amateur Hockey League so that children could play hockey and he would often meet with hopeful young players at 6 a.m. to help them learn the game.
Romeo Cyr, who ran the youth hockey program in Springfield, said of Shore, quote:
“There was that tough exterior but when he got with the kids, he was a different man.”
In 1953, a group of all-stars from Springfield were given the chance to play in New Haven in the national championship. Shore would coach the children for three weeks solid, then paid for their trips and sent them to Madison Square Garden as well.
In 1974, Shore took control of the Indians back, take them to the Calder Cup in 1975, and then sold it in 1976.
On March 15, Shore was visiting his son in Springfield when he began to vomit up blood. He was rushed to the hospital and died the next day from liver cancer.
Shore was honoured extensively throughout his life for his contributions to hockey. In 1947, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and had his #2 retired by the Bruins that same year. He won the Lester B. Patrick Award for contributions to hockey in 1970. In 1975, he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame. In 1998, he ranked #10 on the list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players of All Time, the highest of any pre-World War Two player. In 2017, he was part of the first group of players to be named as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history. The Eddie Shore Award, awarded to the top defencemen in the AHL, was created in his honour.
In looking back on his life Shore would say:
“Most of us were a little crazy one way or another, some of us admit it. As for me, I’m not sorry about anything I’ve done in my life.”
Information comes from Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Hockey Hall of Fame, American Hockey League Hall of Fame, The Town of Cupar