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The First Professional Amateur and the Last Amateur Professional

Borrowed but unbowed, Eddie Gerard was in the right place at the right time
Borrowed but unbowed, Eddie Gerard was in the right place at the right time
Hockey Hall of Fame

It isn’t very often that a player whose team has already been ousted from the playoffs gets the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup championship in that very same year. But that’s what happened to Eddie Gerard.

Ottawa’s Eddie Gerard was a star in every sporting activity he chose to pursue. A champion in football, paddling, cricket, tennis and lacrosse, he ultimately chose hockey as his designated sport and signed on with his hometown Senators in 1914.

Often described as being a “composer” on the ice because of his creativity, Gerard’s composure and confidence helped the Senators win a pair of back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1920 and 1921. The following year, the Senators attempt to win a third straight title was foiled by the Toronto St. Pats. Gerard returned home to Ottawa, upset, uptight and down right ornery.

However, after reading newspaper reports that suggested the series between the St. Pats and Vancouver would be one of the most competitive and hard fought (and injury filled) Stanley Cup showdowns in some time, Gerard journeyed to Toronto to judge the proceedings for himself. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision on Gerard’s part, both for himself and the St. Pats.

In game three of the best-of-five Stanley Cup set, Harry Cameron, one of the St. Pats top performers was injured. Somehow, the Toronto brass learned of Gerard’s presence in the city, and with nothing to lose, asked Vancouver manager Lester Patrick if they could use Gerard as Cameron’s replacement. Incredibly, Patrick gave the St. Pats permission to dress the visiting superstar.

Some pundits argue that this gesture by Patrick was based on his belief in the “amateur code” of athletics – competition judged on fair play on even terms. Others suggest that since Patrick’s Vancouver side were only one win away from taking the Cup back to the Left Coast, Patrick felt Gerard’s presence would not have any affect on the outcome. As for Gerard, he felt it was by “divine providence” he “happened” to be in the right place at the right time.

In game four, Gerard was a maestro on the ice and played in perfect harmony with his new teammates. Gerard’s only contribution to the score sheet can only be measured in penalty minutes, but by smashing and smothering every Millionaire who tried to cash in the St. Patrick’s zone, he helped Toronto paint a 6-0 goose egg on the Vancouver wagon.

Apparently, Gerard’s performance soured Mr. Patrick’s affectation for fair play, so he advised the St. Pats that Mr. Gerard would not be welcome to perform his magic in the decisive tilt. But by now, however, the tides of the series had turned and the St. Pats easily broke the Millionaires bank with a convincing 5-1 win.

Since Gerard had played in a game during the Stanley Cup finals, he was credited with being a member of the Stanley Cup champion Toronto St. Pats. With that credential on his resume, Gerard became the first professional player to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles.

Or was he? The “amateur code” didn’t desert Mr. Gerard, either. He refused to accept any compensation for his efforts in game four, making him the first “amateur” to win a Stanley Cup championship on a professional team!

Or did it? Flash forward to 1928. Lester Patrick was now the bench boss of the NY Rangers, who were engaged in a tough best-of-five Stanley Cup tug-of-war with the high-flying Montreal Maroons, who happened to be piloted by none other than Eddie Gerard.

In the third period of game two, the Rangers incumbent crease cop Lorne Chabot took an errant wrist shot flush in the face. Old “Beetle Brow” was carted off to the infirmary with a sizable gap beneath his eye and what was left of his cheekbone. To many observers, this left Lester Patrick and his Blueshirts up crease creek with only a paddle.

What they pundits didn’t know was that old Les still had a “marker” he could cash in, one that he had placed on the table way back in 1922. He strolled over to the Maroons dressing room and asked Eddie Gerard if he could “borrow” goaltender Alex Connell, who happened to be in attendance at the match, to replace the obviously unable-to-continue and quite seriously damaged Lorne Chabot.

Well, not only did Gerard refuse to allow Connell to take Chabot’s place, he insisted NHL President Calder put Patrick and his Broadway Blues on the “clock.” Eddie pointed out that the NHL rulebook required any team whose goaltender had been injured to find a suitable replacement within 20 minutes. Eddie reiterated that since the Rangers had already wasted half of that deadline, the NHL president must make a hasty decision. Calder ruled in Gerard’s favor and informed the Silver Fox he had 10 minutes to find a replacement for Chabot or default the match.

That verdict was a frightful folly for Gerard’s Maroons. All it succeeded in accomplishing was making Lester Patrick mad. And all that did was fan the competitive fires that always lived in his heart and soul.

Les donned the pads himself and slammed the door on Eddie Gerard and his Maroons by stopping 18 of 19 shots and guiding the Rangers to a 2-1 overtime victory. Buoyed by the courage of their 44-year old coach, the Rangers won the right to bask in the glow of the Stanley Cup spotlight and bring the world’s most celebrated sporting chalice to Broadway for the first time.

Eddie Gerard was assigned to post-season purgatory, winning only one more playoff game in an NHL coaching career that lasted until 1935.


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