Canada ’08: Howie Morenz – The Stratford Streak

Hockey is a great game for nicknames. Consider ‘The Chicoutimi Cucumber’, the name given to goalie, Georges Vézina for his cool head in between the pipes for many a year in Montreal or ‘The Production Line’ used to describe Detroit legends Gordie Howe, ‘Terrible’ Ted Lindsey and Sid Abel of fabled scoring exploits. Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens collected two such monikers in his all-too-short time in the game.

When playing for his hometown Mitchell Juveniles, Howie quickly became known as ‘The Mitchell Meteor’ for his blazing speed on the ice. When he moved over to the nearby team in Stratford Ontario, Howie again earned a new nickname when in winning the Provincial title he became widely known as ‘The Stratford Streak’ for similar reasons.

Montreal quickly got wind of Howie’s abilities and signed him on a two-year contract only for him to break his contract and head home to Mitchell, homesick. The Canadiens were not to be denied however and visited the Morenz family, placing the then huge sum of $850 on the Morenz kitchen table as a signing on fee. Howie was a Hab again.

Howie Morenz’s rookie year in 1923/4 resulted in him helping the Montreal Canadiens to their first league title since 1916. He was also very instrumental in establishing the ‘fire wagon’ style of hockey favoured at the club from Montreal and much feared by opponents.

around his defenceman. He also bullet-like shot was always released on sight. His stellar play enbaled him to win twoMorenz’s style was fast and direct. He could either barge his way through a defence or was equally adept at wheeling scoring titles and three Most Valuable Player awards in quick succession.

One famous incident occurred when Morenz accidentally knocked out opponent New York Rangers’ Bun Cook’s four front teeth with the butt end of his stick. Howie immediately dropped his stick and helped his stricken opponent from the ice. Cook was heard to say afterwards, ‘It was just an accident, Howie wouldn’t pull anything like that intentionally’.

Curiously great success and the accompanying fame didn’t deter the Montreal Canadiens from trading Howie Morenz to the Chicago Blackhawks after some years. The Habs perceived him as having slowed down a little by 1933/4. The Quebec team did however retire his number seven jersey in respect to his services for the club. Things didn’t work out for Howie away from his beloved Habs and he was traded to New York Rangers a season and a half into his time with Chicago.

In the meantime one of the centre’s greatest admirers, Cecil Hart – the man who had originally signed him for the Canadiens returned as Montreal General Manager and immediately re-signed him for the club.

The trade galvanised Howie and much of the magic returned to his sparkling play until one tragic day in 1937. On January 7, Morenz sadly played his last game for the Canadiens. He was knocked down and slid into the boards where his skate became jammed, snapping his leg and sustaining fractures in five places. Howie spent several weeks convalescing in hospital afterwards. Two months later however, on March 8, aged just 34 years, Howie Morenz died in his sleep of a coronary embolism.

Howie Morenzs body lies in state at The Montreal Forum
Howie Morenz's body lies in state at The Montreal Forum

More than sixty years later Howie Morenz Jnr. disclosed a long time secret. A nurse had confessed that the doctor attending Howie had postponed an operation for blood clots found in his leg the night of his death, until the next morning. This flew in the face of the romantic and legendary story that as soon as Howie realised he wouldn’t play for the Canadiens again he died of a broken heart.

On March 11, 1937 Howie Morenz’s body lay in state at centre ice in the Montreal Forum. In no more than three hours over 50,000 mourners filed past Morenz’s casket. A further crowd estimated at 250,00 lined the route of his funeral procession. One of the all-time greats of the game had passed on.

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