Sunday, 30 November 2008

Linking To Genius

I've decided to push the latest addition to Teebz's Book Club back a day in order to bring you a fabulous article written by Uni Watch Blog's Phil Hecken. Phil is a regular contributor to the fabulous site, and he's brought life to a story rarely told outside the Hockey Hall of Fame. Pictured to the left are the Preston Rivulettes. They were a dominant female hockey club in the early 1930s, and Phil wrote a phenomenal piece on these women today on the Uni Watch Blog. I'm going to post the entire article here, and then post some additional stuff on the Rivulettes afterwards. Enjoy Phil's work. It's a beauty.

"That sweater’s a ting of beauty, eh? (Here’s the back, breezers and socks.) It belongs to one of the greatest teams ever to play hockey — the Preston Rivulettes. From 1931 until 1939, this professional team’s record was an estimated 350 wins, 3 ties, and 2 losses. So great was this team that they were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963. But you probably never heard of them, right? That’s because the Preston Rivulettes were a women’s team.

So, to whom does that beautiful sweater belong? Perhaps the greatest player ever — Hilda Ranscombe, a member of the Preston (P/Springs) Rivulettes. She has been called the "Wayne Gretzky of women’s professional ice hockey." She was regarded as the heart and soul of the Preston Rivulettes. Playing right wing, Hilda Ranscombe’s skills dominated the sport (here’s a color shot of a similar sweater). Scoring data have not been saved, but Ranscombe was by far the top scorer, becoming a legend in her time. An all-round athlete, she also excelled in softball and tennis. She was twice a finalist for Canada’s Female Athlete of the Year. Here is Hilda shortly before her death being inducted into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame.

The Rivulettes were the first women’s team inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and were voted along with the 1947-48 Maple Leafs, 1949-50 Detroit Red Wings, 1959-60 Montreal Canadiens as one of the greatest teams ever. They so dominated women’s ice hockey in the 1930s that the Rivulettes won 10 Ontario titles, 10 Eastern Canadian Championships and 6 Dominion Championships.

So what happened to the Rivs? The team disbanded at the end of the 1930s upon the outbreak of World War II. Unfortunately, after the war, women’s hockey would not return, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the sport started to regain popularity. So, now that they’re not The Greatest Team You Never Heard Of anymore, who is? Let’s hear your nominees."
You can post your nominees on the Uni Watch Blog here.

Pretty phenomenal stuff, right? This is a team that went 350-2-3, and you've probably never even heard the name "Preston Rivulettes" mentioned in your life. Let's take a closer look how the Rivulettes came to be, and what happened to them.

According to legend, the Rivulettes were formed in 1930 at the Lowther St. Arena in what is now Cambridge, Ontario. The women's softball team was discussing their future when one of the ladies suggested that they form a hockey team. When the idea was scoffed at, the ladies decided to form the hockey team to put their doubters to rest.

The original team was composed of nine players: Hilda and Nellie Ranscombe, Marm and Helen Schmuck, Marg Gabbitas, Myrtle Parr, Toddy Webb, Pat Marriott and Helen Sault. As softball players, they showed their athletic abilities on the ice, and they quickly rose to prominence in the Ladies' Ontario Hockey Association that featured teams from Toronto, Kitchener, London, Hamilton, Guelph, Stratford, and Port Dover in Ontario. Hilda Ranscombe emerged as the high-scoring winger in the mold of Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens, while Nellie Ranscombe was a star in net. They won their first title in 1930, and didn't stop winning until they were forced back to the factories for World War II. In total, they won the Bobby Rosenfeld Trophy as Ontario Champions 10 times, the Elmer Doust Cup as Eastern Canadian Champions six times, and the Lady Bessborough Trophy as Canadian Champions six times.

The Rivulettes, in their first two seasons, went 21-0-1 and outscored their opponents by a mind-blowing 151-9! In 1933, they won their third Ontario Championship by defeating the University of Toronto 1-0, and won again in 1934 over the University of Toronto by a 1-0 score. In the 1934 game, the winning goal was scored by Marm Schmuck from center ice!

In the spring of 1934, the Rivulettes travelled to Edmonton with a short-handed team as several of the women were suffering from the flu. "In Edmonton, the atmosphere was so different and we went with nine players and three were sick," said star player Hilda Ranscombe. "Myself, all I did on the ice was cough. The girls played good hockey but we only had one spare."

Ironically, the game was refereed by future NHL president Clarence Campbell, and the games resembled the men's game as both were played rough with lots of bodychecks. However, after a three-day train trip and battling the flu, the Edmonton Rustlers won both games 3-2 in the best-of-three series, sending the Rivulettes home with two stinging losses.

In 1935, the Rivulettes returned to the Dominion Championship game, and throttled the Winnipeg Eatons in Game One by a 7-1 score. The game was marred by a brawl between the players which only spawned bad blood for the second game. In Game Two, the Rivulettes won 3-1 over the Eatons to secure their first Lady Bessborough Trophy.

In 1936, the women's game was so popular that the Dominion Championship was moved to the Montreal Forum where the Rivulettes won yet again. It is estimated that over 10,000 people attended each game, making it the largest women's sporting event in Canada to that point in time.

The Rivulettes won their seventh Ontario Championship in 1937-38 by defeating the Stratford Aces 10-1 and 3-2 in a best-of-three series. Lottie Rigg, goaltender for the Aces, was sensational in the series, prompting Aces' teammate Ollie Aiken to say, "If Lottie had been a boy, she would have made it to the NHL."

As the Rivulettes' notoriety grew, they added additional star players in Violet Hall, Sheila Lahey, Gladys Pitcher, Norma Hipel, Ruth Dargel, Elvis Williams, Fay Hilborn, Winnie Makcrow, Eleanor Fairgrieves, Midge Robertson and Marie Bielstein.

In 1938, the Beacon Herald - Stratford's local newspaper - filed this report on a game between the Aces and the Rivulettes: "Preston Rivulettes, who still talk about the time they lost a game three or four years back, spent a few anxious minutes at the arena last night. The Rivulettes, holders of just about every title that's available in the realm of ladies' hockey in Canada, left the ice at the end of the first period trailing Armour Keane's Aces 2-1. Only twice in the last seven years have the gals from the mineral springs town lost a hockey game, so there wasn't much whoopie in their dressing room between periods. They came back with a do-or-die look in the second session and rattled in three goals, without a reply from the Aces. Another counter in the last session gave them a 5-2 decision."

The key line in that snippet from the press? "Only twice in the last seven years have the gals from the mineral springs town lost a hockey game". Those would be the losses to Edmonton, and that's absolutely outstanding.

In 1939, the team had been invited to Europe to compete against men's teams, but the outbreak of World War II cancelled that opportunity. However, the Rivulettes folded in 1940 after government-imposed gasoline rationing prevented them from honouring their travel commitments. In 1996, the Rivulettes were inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame for their achievements. In 1997, they were inducted into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame, and, in 1963, were inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1999, Hilda Ranscombe was named the female athlete of the 20th century by the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame.

The CBC archives have a fabulous interview with Gladys Pitcher and Hilda Ranscombe, and it can be seen here. I recommend watching it as it really is informative.

Hockey history really is amazing, isn't it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

My grandmother is Ruth Dargel (now Collins) and from the stories she has told this truely was one of the greatest teams to ever lace up skates. Total unrelenting domination. When you hear some of the stories, it will completely shatter any image you may have had of women playing hockey in those times. Too bad this intensity and competition didn't continue on with such vigour post-war, who knows where women's sport would be today!

Teebz said...

Anonymous, I don't know who you are, but I am extremely impressed! Could I persuade you to contact me in an effort to find out more about the Rivulettes?

tapit911 said...

I just came across this 2009 post re. Ruth Dargel and the Preston Rivulettes. My mother, Gladys Pitcher (nee. Hawkins) also played for many years for the Rivulettes. If Ruth is still alive, they would be the last two living members of that team. My mother continues to live in Preston at a retirement home.

Teebz said...

Tapit, please email if/when you can. I'd love to get in touch with your mother and yourself regarding the Rivulettes. I'd like to find out more about this amazing team!

Anonymous said...

My grandmother, Norma Hipel, played for the Rivulettes. She is alive and well in Kelowna, BC!

Anonymous said...

Is Ruth still alive ? I have heard Glady's passed last year . Long live this team .

Tracey said...

I would love to know if Ruth or Norma are still alive. I'm working on a piece inspired by this team and it would be wonderful to hear stories. Thank you

Teebz said...

Hi Tracey!

I believe that Ruth may still be alive. My contact was her grandson, and she was a fascinating woman. If Norma Hipel is still alive (see above comment), I'm going to try to get an interview with her as well.

Anonymous, if you read this, send me an email!

Anonymous said...

Norma Hipel is still alive and lives in kalowna. I believe that she is that last living player. She is my aunt