Saturday, 2 June 2018

Road Trip Saturday

I'm not sure the veracity of the claim posted on the billboard, but I am out and about in rural Manitoba on a visit to the lovely town of Gretna, Manitoba! Gretna is a small community of just under 600 people that sits about a kilometer north of the Canada-US border and it about seven kilometers north of Neche, North Dakota which is my destination to pick up a UPS package today. While Neche is the goal, Gretna is the focus of today's article thanks to the town having one NHL player ever call the town home.

The man pictured to the right is Hal Winkler, and he was born on March 20, 1892 in the bustling village of Gretna, Manitoba. Winkler started his career in Manitoba in 1913 with the Winnipeg Winnipegs of the Manitoba Senior Hockey League where he played eight games, posting a 2-6-0 record. It wasn't the most auspicious of starts for the netminder, but it would be the first recorded history of Hal Winkler standing in the crease for any team.

Winkler would play five seasons in the Manitoba Senior League for three teams including the Winnipeg Ypres who make an appearance in the 1917-18 Allan Cup. Winkler played extremely well in the Allan Cup, going 3-1-0 with a 2.25 GAA, but it was the one loss that stung the most as the Ypres fell to the Kitchener Greenshirts in the Allan Cup Final.

Winkler would move to the Brandon Elks in the Manitoba Senior League for the next season before moving west to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to join the Maple Leafs of the Western Canadian Hockey League in 1919-20. After that season, he'd move north to Saskatoon to join the Crescents. One season of rather poor Crescents hockey led him to being traded to the WCHL's Edmonton Eskimos following the 1920-21 season.

It was in Edmonton that Winkler would get his first taste of big-time hockey as the Eskimos were a solid team. In his first season with the team, the Eskimos would be backstopped by a 10-4-0 Hal Winkler with a 2.38 GAA en route to a first-place 15-9-0 season. The Eskimos would actually finish tied with the Regina Capitals at 14-9-1 atop the standings, so it was decided that the tie game between the two teams from the season would be replayed to determine who finished in first-place. Edmonton handily won the game by an 11-2 score, and they claimed the top spot in the WCHL. One week later, the Capitals exacted revenge in the WCHL final by winning the two-game total-goals series 3-2 after the teams played to a 1-1 tie in Game One and Regina won Game Two 2-1.

The 1922-23 WCHL season would see no tie-breakers needed as Edmonton was the class of the league once again with a 19-10-1 record that included Winkler's 17-10-1 season. The Eskimos would easily dispatch the Regina Capitals in this season to advance directly to the Stanley Cup Championship after the WCHL-PCHL playoff format was abandoned. The NHL champion would play the PCHL champion, pitting the NHL's Ottawa Senators against the PCHL's Vancouver Maroons, and it would the Ottawa Senators who advanced to meet the Edmonton Eskimos.

In a rather strange twist, the series between the Eskimos and Senators was played in Vancouver, marking this series as the last series in Stanley Cup history to be played entirely in a neutral site. Winkler would get the start for Edmonton across from Ottawa's Clint Benedict on March 29, 1923, and it appeared that this series was all about goaltending and defence. John Morrison put the Eskimos up 1-0 midway through the second period before Ottawa's Lionel Hitchman tied the game with seven minutes to play in the third period. In Game One of the Stanley Cup Championship, we'd need overtime, but it didn't last long as Cy Denneny found room past Winkler just two minutes into the extra period for the 2-1 Ottawa overtime win.

Game Two would be another low-scoring affair as just a single goal was scored. Harry "Punch" Broadbent notched a power-play marker 11:23 into the first period, and Clint Benedict and the Ottawa defence did the rest as the Senators withstood 68 shots to post the 1-0 shutout victory! Ottawa would win the Stanley Cup 2-0 in the best-of-three series, and they set a little history along the way as King Clancy became the only player to play all six positions on the ice in a Stanley Cup Championship after relieving netminder Clint Benedict in the second period after Benedict was whistled for a minor penalty and served it.

Despite falling the in the Stanley Cup Championship in 1923, the 1923-24 WCHL season was one to forget for the Edmonton Eskimos as they fell to the bottom of the standings with an 11-15-4 record. Hal Winkler was 9-13-4 on the season with a 2.50 GAA, but the Eskimos would miss the WCHL Championship.

The 1924-25 season saw the PCHL and WCHL merge after the PCHL collapsed, and the six-team league saw some movement as Hal Winkler was dealt to the Calgary Tigers on August 28, 1924 for cash. The Tigers roared through the six-team league to a 17-11-0 season with Winkler playing all 28 games. However, things would unravel in the WCHL Playoffs as the Tigers met the Victoria Cougars in the final, and the Tigers fell in the two-game total-goals series 1-1 and 2-0 to lose 3-1 on total goals. Once again, Winkler came up just short of going back to the Stanley Cup Championship.

The 1925-26 season saw the WCHL renamed as the Western Hockey League after the Regina Capitals relocated to Portland, Oregon to become the Portland Rosebuds. The Calgary Tigers, unfortunately, would be a non-factor in the WHL in this season as they and Hal Winkler posted 10-17-3 records to finish in fifth-place. That wouldn't be good enough to make the WHL Playoffs, but Winkler had a solid season in between the pipes. He finished fourth with a 2.70 GAA, but led the league in shutouts with six! And it would be that kind of solid goaltending that attracted the attention from one team in particular.

On October 27, 1926, Hal Winkler would be traded east as Calgary traded the netminder to the New York Rangers for cash, meaning that Winkler would now be an NHL goalie! His first game was against the Montreal Maroons on November 16, 1926 where he would post a 1-0 shutout! How about that for playing your first game in the show? Unfortunately, his career with the Rangers would be a very short one, however, as Winkler only appeared in eight games, posting a 3-4-1 record with a 1.87 GAA. The reason it was short? He was on the move again.

January 27, 1927 saw the New York Rangers trade the Gretna-born goalie to the Boston Bruins for $5000. It would be in Boston where Hal Winkler posted the best numbers of his short NHL career. For the remainder of the 1927 season, Winkler would go 12-9-2 with four shutouts and a 1.66 GAA, good enough to help the Bruins finish in second-place in the American Division with a 21-20-3 record.

Prior to the 1927 NHL Playoffs starting, news hit the NHL that the WHL had collapsed and folded, so the Stanley Cup Championship had no challenger from the west. Instead, the NHL Final would now be the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in history. Thanks to the ten-team divisional alignment that featured all the American teams in one division, it also meant that an American team would be guaranteed to play for the Stanley Cup in the final for the first time in history.

The division winners advanced to the semifinal series while the second-place and third-place teams played a two-game total goals series to advance to play the division winners. The Bruins and Winkler would meet the Chicago Blackhawks in this two-game series, and the Bruins won Game One 6-1 on March 29 before the two teams tied 4-4 on March 31. As a result of the 10-5 total of goals scored, the Bruins advanced to meet the New York Rangers in a two-game total-goals series with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

The April 2 game saw Hal Winkler and Lorne Chabot match one another save for save through four periods as the game ended in a 0-0 tie. As obvious as that is, it would be Winkler's first shutout in the NHL playoffs. Game Two went on April 4, and the Bruins fell behind five minutes into the game when Bill Cook beat Winkler to put the Rangers up 1-0. However, three second-period goals by Jimmy "Sailor" Herbert, Lionel Hitchman, and Harry Oliver put the Bruins up 3-1, and that would be the final score as the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with the 3-1 total-goals series victory!

The best-of-three Stanley Cup Final started in Boston on April 7, and both teams did their best in what can only be described as less-than-ideal ice conditions. The game would finish in a 0-0 tie after Frank Calder called the game with ice conditions in the second ten-minute overtime period basically resembling slush. Calder also determined that the series would be a best-of-five after this tie game, and if the two teams were tied in wins they'd share the Stanley Cup.

April 9 saw Game Two played in Boston again, and the Senators went on the offensive as King Clancy and Cy Denneny beat Winkler in the first period. Harry Oliver would make it a 2-1 game after poking the puck home with a mob of players on the doorstep with just over three minutes to play in the third period, but Denneny would score with seconds to play to ice the 3-1 win for the Ottawa Senators, giving them 1-0-1 series lead.

The series would shift to Ottawa for Game Three on April 11, and it appeared that the teams had shifted back into defensive-minded hockey. However, Jimmy Herbert sniped a goal past Alec Connell seven minutes into the game to give the Bruins the early 1-0 lead. Cy Denneny would find the equalizer with five minutes to play in the second period, and we'd have a scoreless third period to set up overtime! Neither team, though, would solve the goaltenders as this game ended 1-1 to push the series to 1-0-2 in favour of Ottawa. With the two ties, this series essentially became a best-of-three!

Game Four took place on April 13, and Ottawa head coach Dave Gill decided to make changes to his lineup as he inserted Frank Finnigan and Hec Kilrea into the starting lineup. Those moves proved wise as Finnigan and Cy Denneny both scored in the first period with Kilrea running general havoc all over the ice. Denneny would find the back of the net again in the third period, and things began to get out of control. Fights broke out all over the ice, the Ottawa police were called onto the ice to help keep the peace, and things began to settle down. Harry Oliver would put Boston on the board with two minutes to play, but an ugly butt-end to the face from Hooley Smith on Oliver ended Oliver's night, and Eddie Shore and Smith fought and were ejected.

In the end, Ottawa won the game 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup with a 2-0-2 record in the best-of-five series, but this game was marred by the late violence that included Boston's Billy Coutu attacking referee Jerry Laflamme before tackling alternate referee Billy Bell and setting off a bench-clearing brawl. Hal Winkler lost for the second time in a Stanley Cup Championship, but the fallout from the fisticuffs and brawling saw Coutu banned from the league for life, Hooley Smith was suspended for one-month from the start of the 1927-28 season, and Lionel Hitchman, George Boucher, and Jimmy Herbert were all fined for their parts in the melee.

The 1927-28 season saw that crazy downturn in scoring in the NHL where fifteen goalies posting eleven shutouts or more in the 44-game NHL season. One of those goalies? None other than Hal Winkler of the Boston Bruins who posted a 20-13-11 record with a 1.51 GAA and fifteen shutouts! That's a Boston Bruins record that still stands today, so Hal Winkler still has his name in the record books!

Boston finished atop the American Division with that 20-13-11 record, earning the very first Prince of Wales Trophy and a spot in the semifinals to await the winner of the New York Rangers-Pittsburgh Pirates two-game total-goals series. New York would advance, and the series between Boston and New York started on March 31 in New York where the two teams battled to a 1-1 tie. Game Two was played on April 3 in Boston with the winner of this game advancing thanks to the total-goals rule. Things did not go well for the Bruins as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Rangers, ending their playoffs after just two games.

The 1928-29 season saw things change in the Bruins' front office as Art Ross reduced his coaching and GM duties to just the general manager's duties. In doing so, he acquired Cy Denneny from the Ottawa Senators as player-coach, and promoted a new goaltender who was all sorts of good in Cecil "Tiny" Thompson. With the promotion of Thompson, Hal Winkler was sent to the American Hockey Association's Minneapolis Millers where he continued to play well for the Bruins' affiliate. They would finish second in the AHA in '28-29 with an 18-12-10 record, but fall 3-1 in a series against the third-place, crosstown rival St. Paul Saints that would see the Millers and Winkler start their summers early once again.

The PCHL's Seattle Eskimos would sign Winkler as a free agent on October 28, 1929, and he would help the team by posting a 15-13-8 record with nine shutouts and a 1.61 GAA. The Eskimos, however, would miss the playoffs, and Seattle would deal Winkler to the Boston Tigers of the Can-Am League on October 30, 1931 for cash. With Boston, Winkler would play just ten games, going 3-7-0 with a 3.15 GAA. The Tigers would miss the playoffs that season, and it would be the final time that Hal Winkler pulled on a jersey in a professional game as he would retire at the season's end.

Winkler would live out his days in Winnipeg, Manitoba until he passed away on May 29, 1956 at the age of 62. While he never actually got to win a Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins did an incredible thing to honour Winkler. The Stanley Cup was redesigned in 1957, and Winkler's name was added to the 1929 Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup champion names despite him playing with Minneapolis for the whole season. While his name was added posthumously, Hal Winkler officially has his name on the Stanley Cup forever.

He's the only NHL player to have ever come from the small town of Gretna, but Hal Winkler holds a special place in hockey's rich history.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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