Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Original Red Green

If you're Canadian or a fan of Canadian comedy, you probably know that the guy to the left is Red Green. Red Green, however, isn't a real person. He's a character portrayed by comedian Steve Smith as a parody of The Red Fisher Show that was all about being a wily outdoorsman. As Red Green, Smith's character was a handyman who was always trying to fix something or improve something, but often found that what he was fixing was better off before he touched it. With this weekend taking a very distinctive Canadian theme because of Canada Day, today is all about the original Red Green who was a very real person and played for a number of NHL teams in the 1920s and 1930s. He never once used duct tape for anything that I am aware of, but he was good at scoring goals!

Christopher Redvers "Red" Green was born on December 12, 1899 in the city of Sudbury, Ontario. He took to hockey in an early age with his brother, Wilfred Thomas "Shorty" Green, who was three years older. The two Green brothers were excellent goal scorers in their youth, and they moved through the minor hockey circuit in Ontario quickly. Red Green played with Toronto De LaSalle, the Parkdale Canoe Club, and the NOHA's Sudbury Wolves before jumping to senior hockey where starred for the senior Sudbury Wolves and the Port Colborne Sailors. With the Green brothers making a name for themselves in the senior Ontario circuit as bonafide goal scorers, it wasn't long before newly-formed NHL's Hamilton Tigers came looking for players to help them escape the bottom of the standings in the four-team professional league!

There were a handful of stars that moved to Hamilton from their previous incarnation as the Quebec Bulldogs. Joe Malone was a superstar, Babe Dye was emerging as a solid player, Goldie Prodger was an excellent goal scorer, and Billy Coutu was a rugged power forward. However, the Tigers followed the Bulldogs' lead in that they consistently found themselves in last-place in the NHL. They went 6-18-0 in 1920-21, 7-17-0 in 1921-22, and 6-18-0 in 1922-23 before the Tigers signed the Green brothers to play in the NHL.

Even with the addition of a couple of solid goal scorers, the Tigers struggled to a 9-15-0 record - better than what they had shown in the previous three seasons, but still last-place in the NHL. For the record, Red Green had a solid season, finishing second on the team in scoring with 11 goals and zero helpers - he was a goal scorer!

The 1924-25 season was a complete change for the Tigers as they battled to a 19-10-1 record, one point better than the Toronto St. Pats for top spot in the NHL! Because of their finish, they earned the bye into the NHL Final where they were expected to meet the Montreal Canadiens who dispatched the St. Pats in the 2-vs-3 total-goals series.

On their way back to Hamilton following their final game of the 1924-25 season, the players decided to strike on account of not being properly compensated for the longer NHL season. The NHL had increased the number of games from 24 to 30 for the 1924-25 season, but Hamilton management held true to the contracts signed that bound players to the team from December 1 to March 30. With management refusing to pay any additional money for the six additional games, the Tigers informed the team that they would not play another game until they were paid for the extra games.

Word got back to the NHL President Frank Calder of the Tigers' stunt, and he warned the players that if they sat out, they would be suspended and ineligible to play in the Final as well as having all back-pay being held. On March 14, 1925, Calder consulted with Tigers management and it was determined that the Montreal Canadiens would be named as the winners thanks to the Tigers' refusal to play. In what seemed like a season where fans of the Tigers would possibly be able to celebrate a Stanley Cup, the entire team was suspended by the NHL. For the record, Red Green finished second in team-scoring again with 19 goals and four assists, one goal behind team-leader Billy Burch! He also became the eighth player in league history to score at least five goals in a game when he victimized John Ross Roach of the Toronto St. Pats on December 5, 1924!

The strike made by the Tigers players, however, put the Tigers franchise in jeopardy. The NHL, meanwhile, went ahead and granted new franchises to Boston and New York, and it was New York owner Bill Dwyer who wanted to purchase the Tigers' suspended players. Hamilton was working on a new arena deal, so it seemed that the Tigers might not be up for grabs, but the arena deal fell through and Hamilton's franchise was in limbo. Dwyer went ahead and bought the rights to the Tigers' players for a sum between $75,000 and $80,000 as his "New York Hamilton Tigers" began to take form.

At the NHL league meeting in September, it was made known that the Hamilton franchise had had its membership revoked and the new New York team would be called the "Americans". The suspensions and fines for the former Tigers players were largely forgotten on the league's demand for apologies from the players. The NHL got apologies from the majority of the players, and the New York Americans were ready to play for the 1925-26 season.

When Dwyer purchased the rights to the players, he increased every player's salary, in some cases up to 200%. He hired Tommy Gorman to coach the team while icing basically the same team as the Tigers had one season earlier - Burch, the Green brothers, Charlie Langlois, and goaltender Jake Forbes. The Amerks, as they were known, appeared to be ready to take another run at a chance to play for the Stanley Cup!

Despite some nice crowds who came out to see the Amerks play at Madison Square Garden, they would finish in fifth-place in the seven-team NHL, 11 points back of third-place Pittsburgh. Red Green, however, had another solid campaign as he finished second in team-scoring with 13 goals and four assists behind Billy Burch once again. Green, who played right-wing to Burch's center position, proved that the tandem was still lethal in a new city.

1926-27 presented an entirely new challenge as the league expanded to ten teams with the addition of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Cougars, and the New York Rangers. The Americans would move to the Canadian Division and find themselves in tough against the established Canadian franchises. They would fall short of a playoff spot by six points, ending the season in fourth-place in the division with a 17-25-2 record and 20 points worse than the newly-formed Rangers who won the American Division. Fans began to show their support for the winning team as attendance dropped for the Americans.

The Americans dealt Charlie Langlois to the Pirates for a kid named Lionel Conacher midway through the season, and the new defenceman came in and added a pile of offence from the blue line. In doing so, he bumped Red Green to third in team-scoring. Green still managed ten goals and four assists, but it was 13 points off the pace that Burch once again set for the Amerks.

Perhaps worse for Red was that his brother, Shorty Green, suffered a major injury during a game late in the season and was taken to hospital. It was determined that the elder Green suffered a dislocated kidney an was in critical condition. He would recover, but Shorty Green's hockey playing days were over.

Shorty would return for the 1927-28 season, however, as the coach of the New York Americans. If you might have some belief that this season would be a fairy tale with the elder Shorty coaching the younger Red to a championship, you're in for disappointment. Instead, the Americans finished last in the Canadian Division with an 11-27-6 record - 22 points shy of a playoff spot. Red's production really slipped as he finished the season with just six goals and one assist at the age of 27.

New York was failing as a franchise with attendance dwindling, and the 1928-29 season wouldn't help their cause. However, Red Green wouldn't have to deal with that as he was traded to the Boston Bruins for Harry Connor on May 18, 1928. He but went pointless in his 22 games as he never found the same scoring touch or chemistry that he had with Burch during their run with the Tigers and Americans. He was waived towards the end of the season and claimed by the Detroit Cougars on February 16, 1929, but Green would finish the season in the Canadian-American Hockey League with the Providence Reds where he scored two goals and added a helper in seven games.

Green would not return to the NHL for the remainder of his career. He played two seasons in the American Hockey Association, a precursor to the USHL, where he scored 15 goals and three assists in 47 games to finish second in team-scoring with the Duluth Hornets in 1929-30 season while being coached by his brother once more! The second-place Hornets, however, would falter in the playoffs as they fell to the Tulsa Oilers in the 2-vs-3 game. For all the regular season success seen by the Greens, they never could complete the deal in the postseason.

The two would stick around for the 1930-31 season where they helped the Hornets to another second-place finish in the AHA with a 28-19-1 record. Green certainly saw his production fall as he recorded seven goals and one assist in 42 games, but he was the second-oldest player on the squad. Once again, the second-place Hornets came up short in the 2-vs-3 game as they fell to the Kansas City Pla-Mors. When it came to the post-season, the Greens would have no luck if they didn't have bad luck.

Red and Shorty were enticed to move to a rival team in the Tulsa Oilers, the champions of the AHA from the 1930-31 season! However, it was clear that at the age of 31 that Red Green's better playing days were behind him. He played in just a pair of games with the Oilers before hanging up the skates and joining his brother behind the bench. It didn't seem to matter how many Greens the Oilers had coaching, though, as they finished in fifth-place in the six-team league with a 16-28-4 record. They would miss the post-season, and Red Green's hockey career would come to an end.

You'd like to hear how Green retired and found a nice job that allowed him to grow old and happy. I'd love to write that story as well, but the reality is that Green did find a job that was pretty decent. The remainder of the story, though, isn't as great as one would hope it would be.

At the age of 32, Green took a job with a commissary in Elliott Lake, Ontario where he worked for a number of years. He would move to the Labrador peninsula later in his life, but he suffered from an illness that forced him to move to the Sudbury-Algoma Sanitarium sometime after 1952 when the center opened. There is some belief that he may have suffered from Alzheimer's Disease prior to its clinical name, and was admitted to the institution for treatment and observation. Unfortunately, Green would pass away in July 1966 at the hospital at the age of 76.

For six seasons, the real, original Red Green was a high-scoring NHL winger. While he never had his name added to the Stanley Cup, he was an integral part of the Hamilton Tigers' history and the New York Americans' history. While the more current Red Green certainly fulfilled the pop culture quotient for Canadian comedy, the original Red Green was all about filling the nets when he was on the ice!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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