Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Clancy: Leader By Example

Hockey Blog In Canada continues to profile the trophies that the NHL awards to its teams and players. Today, we look at the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is annually awarded to the NHL player who "best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community". As you know, HBIC did a long examination last summer of some of the charities started by members of the NHLPA, and it really goes to show how involved the NHL players are in their communities. To me, the King Clancy Memorial Trophy might be the most underrated trophy in the NHL because it normally goes to the player who has done outstanding work for others in his community each year. It's that kind of dedication that attracts fans to the game, and helps to forge a bond between athlete and fans unlike any other. How did this trophy come about? Who was King Clancy? What is significant about the winners of this trophy?

Francis Michael "King" Clancy was born on February 25, 1903 in Ottawa, Ontario. Clancy grew up playing hockey for local junior teams, and established himself as a high-scoring, offensive defenceman. He would routinely get into altercations with other players, but his talents were putting pucks in the net, not fighting. Thus, he was reported to have lost almost every fight in which he was involved.

Clancy's hockey talents allowed him to sign on with the Ottawa Senators in 1921 at the age of 18. The transfer to professional hockey was a jump that slowed Clancy down a bit as he only posted four goals and six assists in 24 games with the Senators in 1921-22. However, over the next couple of years, Clancy blossomed into a promising defenceman who could hit and score despite being significantly smaller than the other defencemen in that time period.

In 1923, Clancy made NHL history when he became the first man to play all six positions in a Stanley Cup Final game. During the 1920s, goaltenders would serve their penalties in the penalty box if assessed a penalty. When Clint Benedict was whistled for a penalty in Game Two of the best-of-three series on March 31, 1923 against the WCHL's Edmonton Eskimos, Clancy guarded the net while Benedict served his minor penalty. Having lined up in the other five positions on the ice in the game, Clancy became the first man in history to play all six in a Stanley Cup Final game. Ironically, the Senators won that game by a 1-0 score, allowing them to win the Stanley Cup by a 2-0 series win.

Clancy had established himself as one of the best rearguards in the game by 1930. The 1929-30 season saw Clancy score 17 goals and add 23 assists in 44 games. However, the team was bleeding money as the smallest market in the ten-team NHL, and had played in American cities as the home team in order to turn a profit from gate receipts at those games. With the Great Depression looming, the Senators began selling players to other teams. Scoring star Frank Nighbor was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs early in the off-season of 1930. And Clancy was also a victim of the sell-off as he was sold to the rival Maple Leafs for $35,000 and two players before the start of the 1930-31 season.

Clancy's production was consistent in Toronto over the next few seasons, averaging approximately nine goals and 13 assists annually. He was still tenacious in his own zone, however, and improved Toronto's blueline immensely. Clancy helped the Maple Leafs to the 1932 Stanley Cup with his play in what some called the "Tennis Series". Toronto won Game One in New York by a 6-4 score, followed up with a win in Boston by a 6-2 score, and then finished off the best-of-five series with another 6-4 win. Game Two had to be moved to a neutral location due to the circus invading Madison Square Gardens. Clancy's play was steady but unspectacular as he had two goals and an assist in seven playoff games. However, he was voted to the second all-star team after the season for his solid play.

Clancy ended his playing career in Toronto just six games into the 1936-37 season. He had one goal at the time of his announcement, but he retired as the NHL's best goal-scoring defenceman at the time with 136 goals to his name. However, he wasn't done in hockey just yet.

Clancy was hired by the Montreal Maroons as their head coach in 1937. His stint behind the bench wasn't all that spectacular, however, as he was fired after just 18 games that season after going 6-11-1 in those 18 contests. Clancy still had the passion for hockey burning inside him, so he moved into officiating, and the NHL employed him as a referee. He spent 11 years in the referee sweater, working all sorts of games for the NHL, but his love of the game took him back behind another bench.

In 1949, the Montreal Canadiens hired Clancy to coach the Cincinnati Mohawks, their AHL franchise. Clancy accepted, but found his time with the Mohawks similar to his time with the Maroons. Clancy posted two losing seasons in Cincinnati, and the Canadiens relieved him of his coaching duties. The Maple Leafs welcomed him back to their family as they granted him the head coaching position for the Pittsburgh Hornets, their AHL affiliate, in 1951.

As the head coach of the Hornets, Clancy went on a tear. In his first season behind the bench, the Hornets finished first overall in the AHL with 46 wins and 95 points before capturing the Calder Cup in the AHL Playoffs. They defeated the Providence Reds in six games to capture their first AHL Championship. Clancy guided the Hornets back to the Calder Cup Final the next season, but the Cleveland Barons used all seven games to wrestle the Calder Cup away from the Hornets. Clancy's coaching didn't go unnoticed by the Maple Leafs, and they moved him from the AHL bench to the NHL bench for the next season.

Clancy coached the Maple Leafs for three years, from 1953 until 1956, but never found the same success he had in Pittsburgh. His first season saw him win the most games in those three seasons with 32, and the Maple Leafs never finished higher than third in the NHL standings. In all three seasons, they were dispatched in the first round of the NHL Playoffs. Conn Smythe moved Clancy upstairs to the Assistant General Manager position for the 1956-57 season, but Clancy was rarely involved in any personnel decisions. In 1958, Clancy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player.

Clancy worked under Punch Imlach as the assistant GM through the 1960s. When Imlach was let go by the Leafs, Clancy had stated that he would follow Imlach, but the Leafs sweetened the deal and made him Vice-President of the Maple Leafs. With Harold Ballard taking over the Leafs in 1971, Clancy and Ballard became good friends and often seemed inseparable. Clancy even stepped behind the bench for 15 games while head coach John McLellan recovered from a peptic ulcer - something an executive would almost never do in today's NHL.

In 1986, Clancy went into the hospital to have his gallbladder removed. However, complications from surgery allowed the infection from his gallbladder to spread into his body, causing septic shock. Clancy passed away on November 10, 1983 from this complication.

The NHL's Board of Governors presented the NHL with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in Francis M. Clancy's honour in 1988.

Now you may be asking how he got the name "King" Clancy. Well, his dad was actually nicknamed "King" Clancy as he was a skilled football player for the Ottawa Rough Riders. The football, at the turn of the century, wasn't "snapped" like it is in today's football. Instead, it was "heeled" back from the line, and Clancy's father was an expert at this maneuver. He was nicknamed the "King of Heelers", or "King" colloquially. Growing up, Francis' friends began calling him "King" like his dad, and the name stuck with him through his life.

So there's the man behind the trophy. Clancy's PR work for the Maple Leafs was instrumental in bringing people to the arena through the 1960s and 1970s. The very first King Clancy Memorial Trophy was awarded in 1988 to Lanny McDonald of the Calgary Flames for his work with numerous charities in Toronto and Calgary. Since that time, there have been no repeat winners in the history of the trophy. Let's take a look at some of the interesting facts about the winners:

  • The Calgary Flames have had the most Clancy Trophy winners with three. Lanny McDonald was the first in 1988, Joe Nieuwendyk won in 1995, and Jarome Iginla won in 2004.
  • The Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers are second with two Clancy Trophy winners each. Ray Bourque won in 1992 and Dave Poulin won in 1993 for the Bruins. Kevin Lowe won in 1990 and Ethan Moreau won in 2009 for the Oilers.
  • The Bruins are the only team to have consecutive winners of the Clancy Trophy.
  • Players from six Canadian teams have won the Clancy Trophy. Of the teams still active in Canada, only the Ottawa Senators have not had a Clancy Trophy winner. Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg all had Clancy Trophy winners.
  • 17 different teams are represented on the Clancy Trophy.
  • All the teams in the Northwest Division, except the Minnesota Wild, have won the Clancy Trophy since the switch to geographical divisions.
  • No teams in the Pacific Division have won a Clancy Trophy since the switch to geographical divisions.
  • Six of the winners founded or co-founded a charitable organization. They include Vincent Lecavalier, Saku Koivu, Olaf Kolzig, Shjon Podein, Curtis Joseph, and Trevor Linden.
  • Only two goaltenders - Kolzig and Joseph - have won the award.
  • Only two defencemen - Bourque and Lowe - have won the award.
So there's a little history on the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, the man behind the trophy, and the winners of the trophy. Again, I think this trophy should get a lot more recognition, along with the nominees, simply due to the outstanding work done in the community by NHL players. The NHLPA is proud of the work these men do, and it should be highlighted more than what it currently is. Please check out the NHLPA Charities section to the right for more information on a lot of excellent charities that NHL players work with and support.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


JTH said...

The football, at the turn of the century, wasn't "snapped" like it is in today's football. Instead, it was "heeled" back from the line

Do you have any idea what this means? Did the center have to kick the ball backwards with his heel or something? I've been scouring the interwebs for hours trying to find the answer (OK, I did like 3 different Google searches) and I've got bubkes.

Teebz said...

It's a move used in rugby, JTH. The ball is essentially kicked back to the quarterback who, at the time, could not pass the ball in a forward motion - similar to rugby. "Heeling the ball" essentially refers to the kick back to the quarterback. While snapping the ball with the hand was made legal in 1890, heeling the ball was used predominantly until the early 1910s.