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100 Greatest NHL Players

100 Greatest Players

Eddie Shore: 100 Greatest NHL Players

First great Bruins defenseman was 'Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb of hockey'

by Wayne Coffey / Special to NHL.com

When their nascent enterprise was not even a decade old, the founding fathers of the NHL made the bold decision to expand south of the border. The Boston Bruins became the first team outside of Canada to join the League, in 1924, to be soon followed by others. 

To more than a few observers, it was a move no less risky than being a goaltender without a mask, a truth acknowledged by Frank Boucher, a star forward for the Rangers who would help them capture their first two Stanley Cup championships, in 1928 and 1933.

 

Video: Eddie Shore was Bruins' first great defenseman

 

"In order to succeed, the League needed a superstar of extraordinary dimensions," Boucher said.

And the League got precisely that, in the person of a defenseman from the Saskatchewan prairie in Cupar, a Western Canadian cowboy who came to the game late and grew up breaking wild stallions and hauling grain over 40 miles of dusty ranchland before becoming the pugnacious poster person for an entire sport.

Eddie Shore, the man who launched the Boston Bruins' legendary lineage of dominant defensemen (see Orr, Bobby; Park, Brad; Bourque, Ray), was not even the best player in his family as a kid. That would've been his older brother, Aubrey. 

The younger Shore was well into his teens before he took the game seriously, but he was a quick study. While it would be a reach to say that Eddie Shore singlehandedly put American hockey on the proverbial map, there's no question that between his flying fists and furious end-to-end forays, he became irresistible hockey theater every time he was on the ice -- a leading man for stateside hockey.

 

EDDIE SHORE CAREER TOTALS | View Full Stats
Games: 550 | Goals: 105 | Assists: 179 | Points: 284

 

Not for nothing did he supposedly finish his 15-year NHL career with enough stitches in his face - by some counts nearly 1,000 - to make a quilt. 

Or as Maurice Podoloff, former president of the American Hockey League, once said, "Eddie Shore did not walk. He stalked."

Richard A. Johnson is the curator of The Sports Museum in Boston, a historian with encyclopedic knowledge of sports in New England.

"I always describe Shore as both the Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb of hockey," Johnson said. "He had skill and a charisma that made you never want to take your eyes off him, and also had a competitive ferocity that created this aura of imminent dread and contention that was always present. You always had the sense that something was going to happen when he was on the ice."

The contention, indeed, was not long in coming. Shore had scarcely introduced himself to his new teammates after being acquired from the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Hockey League on Aug. 20, 1926, when the Bruins' Billy Coutu took exception to Shore's tough-guy persona, precipitating a wild fistfight that ended with one of Shore's ears flapping like the last leaf on a tree, so far gone that team doctors wanted to sever it completely.

Shore would have none of that, finding his own doctor to sew it back on - a process Shore endured without any anesthetic.

"I was just a farm boy who didn't want his looks messed up," Shore said in an interview years later.

Shore's ruggedness could not be questioned. During his Edmonton days, he suffered a gash in his leg that required 14 stitches to close. The doctor told him to stay off the leg, but Shore ignored him, played in the next game and busted all 14 stitches, leaving his hockey pants soaked in blood.
In his rookie season, Shore set a record by piling up 130 penalty minutes, a total he far exceeded (165) one year later. Playing in an era when boxing was at or near the peak of its popularity, Shore was one of league's most frequent pugilists, seemingly spending almost as much ice time without gloves as with them. In an early-season game in 1929 against the Montreal Maroons, Shore was especially combative, even by his standards, spending much of the three periods fighting with the Maroons' Buck Boucher and Dave Trottier, absorbing so much punishment that he spent the night in the hospital.

Shore's most infamous game, though, came four years later, against the Maple Leafs, when an irate Shore was seeking revenge after absorbing a wicked hit, skating up ice and delivering a crushing blow from behind to Ace Bailey, the Toronto star who crashed headfirst to the ice and was knocked unconscious. Bailey was rushed to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery to relieve the pressure in his traumatized brain, teetering on the brink of death for almost 10 days before regaining consciousness.

Bailey, who would never play again, was the beneficiary of the receipts of a charity game played at Maple League Gardens the following February, an event that was in effect the NHL's first All-Star Game.

Shore shook hands with Bailey over the sideboards before the game. 

"I was skating with my head down and I didn't see Bailey until it was too late," Shore said later about the incident. "There was no bad feeling between us. It was purely accidental."

For all of his bellicosity, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Shore was nobody's goon. He was the rare defenseman who would use his speed and stick-handling skill to carry the puck into the opponent's end, doing it with a stand-up skating style and almost a defiance, daring people to try to derail him as he barreled up the middle of the ice. Shore had 12 goals as a rookie and 62 goals over his first five seasons, going on to capture four Hart Trophies as the NHL's MVP and helping the Bruins win the Stanley Cup twice.

"He was the only player I ever saw who had the whole arena standing every time he rushed down the ice," longtime Bruins trainer Hammy Moore said. "He would either end up bashing somebody, get into a fight or score a goal."

It was this almost unheard-of hybrid -- frontier feistiness braided with an artisan's touch -- that constantly placed Shore in the middle of mayhem, on the ice and off. 

Maybe the most legendary Shore story began on a winter's night in Boston, Shore riding to the station with a friend to catch the Bruins' overnight train to Montreal. The friend's car broke down, and rather than abandon him and catch a cab, Shore got under the hood to fix it. They finally got to the station, but the Bruins train had left, so Shore convinced a cabdriver to drive him more to Montreal, some 320 miles away, for $100. 

So began a harrowing trip northward, traversed in blizzard conditions on serpentine, snow-covered roads in the White Mountains, with a driver and vehicle wholly ill-equipped for the journey. Shore wound up doing the driving himself, flagging down a truck driver to get a set of chains, and shoveling the car out of multiple ditches, before he hitched a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh to a train station. 

The 22-hour trip got Shore to Montreal just in time for the game. Coach Art Ross fined him $200 for being late, and then marveled as Shore, his face chapped red with vestiges of frostbite, played one of the best games Ross had ever seen.

You never knew what Eddie Shore would pull off next, which is precisely what made him a box-office bonanza, on the blue line - exactly what the League needed as it expanded southward. 

"When the best player is also the best fighter and the best warrior on the team, that's an unusual combination," Richard Johnson of the New England Sports Museum said. "Having the best player in the league playing for an American team had a huge impact."

 

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