Today, he is known as the namesake for the Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the highest scorer in terms of points in the NHL. The irony is that the man who It is named for, Art Ross, only played three games in the NHL and only scored one point, a goal, in 1917-18.
That being said, the impact of Art Ross on hockey history is immense and there is a reason he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Art Ross was born on Jan. 13, 1885 in Naughton, Ontario. One of 10 children, nine sons and one daughter, his family moved around as his father worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1886, they would settle at a trading post near Whitefish Lake in Northern Ontario that was far from civilization, requiring the family to journey 370 kilometres twice a year for supplies.
It was at this trading post that Ross first learned how to skate by going out on a nearby lake. He would also learn to speak English, French, Ojibwe and Montagnais.
When Ross was seven, the family moved to Lake St. John and three years later his mother left his father and moved back to Ontario with her younger children. She would marry Peter McKenzie, the Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the region and they would settle in Montreal in 1896.
It was in Montreal that Ross began to play more sports, becoming skilled in rugby and hockey. His first organized hockey was played there as well, in 1900-01, when he played for the Westmount Amateur Athletic Association. In the club were two brothers who would also have a massive impact on hockey history, Lester and Frank Patrick. Ross and Lester Patrick would set up a ticket resale business at Montreal Arena as well, when they bought tickets for 35 cents and sold it for one dollar.
Ross and the Patrick Brothers soon began to gain renown for their abilities on the ice and by 1905, Ross was playing for Montreal Westmount in the Canadian Amateur Hockey League, the top league in the country.
In 1904-05, his last season with the team, he played eight games and scored 10 goals, creating the image of a rushing defenceman. At the time, most defenceman shot the puck down the ice or passed it to a forward. Ross chose to take it himself.
The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“Griffiths at point and Art Ross on the forward line were largely responsible for the success of their team both playing exceptionally fine hockey.”
The following season, he moved to Brandon, Manitoba where he got a job at a bank. With the Brandon Wheat City team, he played seven games and scored six goals.
In 1907, the Kenora Thistles, a team I have covered on the show, wanted to win the Stanley Cup and defeat the juggernaut Montreal Wanderers. Ross, being one of the top players of his day, was offered $1,000 to play two games. He would accept it, as it was equivalent to being paid $30,000 today. It paid off not only in terms of money for Ross, but professionally too as he won his first Stanley Cup with the team that year. Despite his high pay, he would have no points in the two games.
Back with Brandon the following season, he had six goals and three assists in 10 games with the team.
The next season, he had moved back to Montreal and played for the Montreal Wanderers in the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association.
The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“Art Ross, the ex-Westmount and Victoria player, who was Brandon’s star last year and one of the Kenora seven who brought the cup west after the series with the Wanderers, arrived in Montreal yesterday morning. Ross came through from Toronto with the Montreal football team, and was questioned on all sides as to which club he was going to play with, Wanderers or Montreal. Ross gave evasive answers.”
He would help the team finish first with his eight goals in 10 games, and he helped the team retain the Stanley Cup in the process. He became, as a result, the second player in Stanley Cup history to win the Stanley Cup in consecutive years with two different teams.
After Hod Stuart, a teammate died in the summer of 1907, Ross participated in the first all-star game in sports history, which was held to benefit the family.
By 1909, Ross was being paid $1,200 by the Wanderers, double the average salary for a hockey player at the time.
In November 1909, the Canadian Hockey Association was formed, a new league in which the All-Montreal Hockey Club hired Ross to serve as player manager. The league would fold by January 1910, but in his four games he had four goals.
Ross was not unemployed long, as the Haileybury Comets of the National Hockey Association signed him. He would receive $2,700 to play from January to March, in which he scored six goals in 12 games.
As salaries were getting high for the time, the NHA imposed a salary cap of $5,000 per team. Ross, among others, was not happy about this. He would write to the Montreal Herald and state quote:
“All the players want is a fair deal. The players are not trying to bulldoze the NHA, but we want to know where we get off at.”
Ross and others wanted to form their own league without a salary cap but this failed as they realized they would have to rent arenas for the NHA owners.
Before the 1913-14 season, Ross refused to sign for the Wanderers, asking for a salary increase. The Wanderers agreed to his request for $1,500 to play for the team, and he had nine points in 18 games.
The next season, Ross began to work with other players in the NHA to leave their teams and form a new league. Emmett Quinn, president of the NHA, then suspended him. Ross in turn then declared himself a free agent, stating his Wanderers contract was not valid. Quinn then suspended Ross from all organized hockey, something he had no power to do so.
When the new league could not get off the ground, Ross asked to be reinstated in the NHA. The owners in the league, realizing that if they suspended Ross they had to suspend all the players he had signed to his new league, decided it was easier to just let Ross back in the league.
No longer playing for the Wanderers, Ross first trained with the Montreal Canadiens and then joined the Ottawa Senators.
In 1914-15, the Senators and Wanderers finished first in the league and a two game series was held to determine the league champion, who would play against the Vancouver Millionaires for the Stanley Cup.
Ross would help the Senators win the series through an innovative defensive method he came up with. It involved having three defenders align themselves across 30 feet of ice in front of the goaltender to stop rushes up the ice. This would become widely used in mid-1990s and early-2000s, and became known as the Neutral Zone Trap. The team, unfortunately, did not win the Stanley Cup against Vancouver.
On April 14, 1915, Ross married Muriel Kay, and together they would have two sons, Arthur Jr. and John.
The next season, Ross had 16 points in 21 games and was the second-highest paid player on the team, making $1,400. Once the season was done, he left to go back to Montreal so he could manage his sporting-goods store and he played once again for the Wanderers. His sporting good store had been opened in 1908 and he would run it for decades.
The Vancouver Daily World wrote quote:
“Art Ross, the veteran hockeyist, who bought his release from Ottawa at noon yesterday, signed with the Wanderers here. Ross signed for a consideration of $1, leaving the amount of his salary to be decided later.”
When the Wanderers, Canadiens, Quebec Bulldogs, Senators and Toronto Arenas joined the new NHL, Ross became the coach of the Wanderers and played in the first NHL game ever on Dec. 19, 1917. He would earn the first penalty in NHL history.
On Jan. 2, 1918, the Wanderers arena burned to the ground and the team folded after only four games. With the team gone, Ross retired as a player and began decades long managerial career.
In his hockey career, he had his greatest success with the NHA, where he had 72 points, including 56 goals, in 131 games.
In July of that same year, he would be in a serious motorcycle accident. His nephew, Hugh Ross, would suffer a fractured skull and died in hospital. As for Ross, he only had a few bruises and scratches.
The Edmonton Journal reported quote:
“Each was riding his own machine and, according to the story told to Dr. Colin Ross of Montreal, Hugh Ross was in advance of the others. In trying to avoid a rig on the road, Hugh Ross swerved his machine and was thrown violently to the ground, fracturing his skull.”
After working as a referee, Ross became the coach of the Hamilton Tigers but the team finished last and he did not return the following year. In 1924, when a Boston team was admitted to the NHL, Charles Adams hired Ross as his vice president, general manager, coach and scout. Adams asked Ross to come up with a nickname that portrayed a cunning, agile and fast animal. Ross decided to name the team the Boston Bruins.
Using his ample hockey connections, Ross began to sign players from across Canada and the United States. Despite his efforts, the team won only six games out of 30 in its first season, making it the worst in league history to that point. The team’s losing streak from Dec. 8, 1924 to Feb. 17, 1925, was the longest in NHL history until 2004.
The team rebounded the next season, winning 17 games out of 36.
It was in 1926 that the Western Hockey League was folding and the Patrick Brothers, his old friends, were selling players from the five teams for $300,000. Ross knew there was a wealth of talent in the league and he would sign Eddie Shore, Cecil “Tiny” Thompson, Ralph Weiland and Cy Denneny. All four would wind up in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Eddie Shore would become one of the greatest players to ever play in the NHL. He also brought in Sprague Cleghorn, the legendary tough player who would mentor the young Eddie Shore. Sprague would say in Macleans in 1935 of joining the team, quote:
“Ross was my old friend since school days. I knew nothing of Charles F. Adams then, but I did know that Art Ross was the white-haired boy in his hockey enterprise. I made my deal with Ross for $5,500 and living expenses for the season and Charles Adams accepted the terms without a murmur.”
Prior to the start of the season, he would also develop a new style of goal net with a B-shape that was better designed to catch pucks. This style of net would be used until 1984 when a modified version was adopted. He also improved on the hockey puck, creating with bevel edges to prevent bouncing and using synthetic rubber rather than natural rubber.
On Nov. 20, 1928, the Bruins played in their new arena, the Boston Garden, and quickly began to improve with their stacked roster. The season was difficult for Ross who had intestinal trouble that left him missing the last third of the season. Cleghorn would write in 1935, quote:
“Art was a very sick man. He could not possibly leave his bed, and the active management of the team was turned over to me for the balance of the season. While Ross was flat on his back, under my personal leadership, Bruins that winter won nine games, tied one, lost one.”
That same winter, Cleghorn would visit Ross daily in his apartment to check on him. Ross told Cleghorn that he would do something for him to say thank you, assuring him that in the event of his sale to any other club, he would do his best to see to it that Cleghorn received the amount of the purchase price.
Cleghorn wrote quote:
“There was no written agreement between us, and no contract to that effect between the Boston hockey club and myself. It was a verbal understanding.”
Later that year, Cleghorn was put on waivers and his contract was bought by Newark for $5,000.
Cleghorn wrote quote:
“I believed myself entitled to receive that amount from Boston, and I so believe today. I never saw a cent of that money and that is why Art Ross and Sprague Cleghorn, close friends for 25 years, today just say hello as they pass.”
In 1929, the team won the Stanley Cup and in the 1929-30 season, Ross guided the team to 38 wins in 44 games, a record at the time. The .875 winning percentage of his team continues to be a record. From Dec. 3, 1929 to Jan. 9, 1930, the team won every game, the longest streak in NHL history until 1982.
There was one hiccup in 1928-29, when Conn Smythe traded Bill Carson to Boston mid-way through the season for $20,000. In his two seasons with Toronto, he had 39 points in 56 games, but in his two seasons in Boston he had 17 points in 63 games. While Carson scored the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Bruins, Ross was unhappy with the trade.
Macleans wrote in 1932, quote:
“It was Smythe who traded the decrepit Bill Carson to Boston, and that wily old fox, Art Ross, who would rather lose money in a poker game than be outsmarted in a hockey deal, has never forgiven Smythe for that sly trick.”
Ross and Smythe would never speak again.
On March 26, 1931, Ross took his goalie Tiny Thompson off the ice in the final minute of play and put out a sixth skater to replace him. While the team lost 1-0, this was the first time an extra attacker had been used in NHL history and it is now standard practice in the NHL.
The Windsor Star wrote quote:
“During the final minute, Manager Art Ross resorted to an amazing maneuver. In a final desperate scoring attempt, he pulled his goalie out of the game and replaced him with a forward. The Bruins kept the puck inside the enemy territory until the final bell but the Flying Frenchmen’s stubborn defence could not be cracked and they held their 1-0 margin.”
In 1934, Ross stepped aside as coach to focus on managing the team and he hired his friend Frank Patrick with an annual salary of $10,150 to coach the team. Unfortunately, off ice issues and a poor winning record meant that Ross relieved Patrick of his duties after the 1936 playoffs and once again coached.
That year, Ross signed Bobby Bauer, Woody Dumart and Milt Schmidt, all three Hall of Famers, who formed the legendary Kraut Line. In 1937-38, this team would win another Stanley Cup.
The Second World War would decimate his roster, as his entire top line went off to fight in the war but he still kept his team in contention initially. The team would miss the playoffs in 1943-44, but returned to the playoffs the following year.
At the end of 1954, Ross retired from the team, having coached and managed the team, off and on, for almost 30 years by that point. As a coach, from 1917-18 to 1944-45, with a few gaps in between various years, he coached the Wanderers, Tigers and Bruins. In 19 seasons as a coach, his teams finished first eight times and second twice. He had 394 wins, 313 losses and 95 ties in 802 games, helping his teams win three Stanley Cups in 1928-29 and 1938-39 and 1940-41.
Along with developing the modern hockey puck and a better goal net, Ross developed the red line with Frank Boucher to speed up the game, which was used until 2006 when rules changed to allow two-line passes to increase scoring.
In 1947, his two sons donated the Art Ross Trophy, which is now awarded to the leading scorer in the regular season.
In 1949, Ross was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame. On Dec. 2, 1949, prior to a Bruins game, he was given his Hall of Fame scroll and a silver tray with the emblems of the six NHL teams on it.
The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“Art Ross, who was kind to hockey and found that it was kind to him in return, has been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He could have had the honor several years ago, but refused it because he was already a governor.”
On Aug. 5, 1964, Ross died at a nursing home in Boston at the age of 79.
The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“Death came to the former player, referee, coach and manager in the city where he had contributed most to the National Hockey League…Modern hockey owes much to Uncle Art Ross, a man whose practical visions of hockey’s greatness never dimmed.”
His team, Boston, was at the bottom of the league but only three years later his former star player, Milt Schmidt, orchestrated trades that would bring in new star players, as Bobby Orr joined the league, leading the Bruins back to greatness.
In 1984, he was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to hockey in the United States.
Information from Hockey Hall of Fame, Greatest Hockey Legends, Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Wikipedia, Windsor Star, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Daily World,