DECEMBER 2005
The 1936 Stanley Cup Playoff Semi-final Game 1: Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Maroons.
The Longest Game in NHL History

By Mark Weisenmiller

Seventy years ago, the National Hockey League (NHL) was compromised of only eight teams. They were divided into two divisions: Canadian and American. In the American Division were the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, and the New York Rangers. Those teams in the Canadian Division were the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Maroons, Toronto Maple Leafs, and most peculiarly, the New York Americans.

When the play-off session for the 1935-36 season began, the Red Wings and the Maroons (who had the best records in their respective divisions) were paired against each other in the opening semi-final round. Game One of the series was scheduled to start at 8.35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on March 24, 1936, at the fabled and historic Montreal Forum.

For the previous two years, the Red Wings had been a constant threat to win the Stanley Cup, but were not able to do so. Then, shortly before the 1935-36 season began, Red Wings General Manager Jack Adams traded his All-Star centerman Cooney Weiland to the Bruins in return for Marty Barry, who was also a center. The trade by Adams was controversial in the Detroit area at the time but Adams move proved to be the right one.

With Barry at center and Larry Aurie and Herbie Lewis on the wings, the Red Wings Number One starting offensive line was set. The three players styles clicked immediately and when the season ended, Barry ended up finishing second in scoring (with 40 points). On the " D," the Red Wings had a duo of hard-hitters named Bucko McDonald and Ralph Bowman. This last-mentioned player's nick-name was "Scotty," but no, this was not the legendary NHL coach Scotty Bowman. NHL teams usuallly carried only one goaltender in those days and the Wingers netminder was Norman "Normie" Smith, who was one of the better goalies in the 1930's.

The Montreal Maroons had a talented team themselves. Their starting offensive line had Baldy Northcott, Jimmy Ward, and the leader of the club, Hooley Smith. The Maroons defensemen were adequate, but the team had the talented goalie Lorne Chabot in the nets, so they didn't have to be overly concerned with their defense.

Smith and Chabot put on such a great exhibition of NHL playoff goaltending in this game and series that it was not surpassed until 1971, when the Chicago Black Hawks Tony Esposito and the Montreal Canadiens Ken Dryden's "dual in the nets" took the 1971 Stalney Cup Finals to seven games. Both the Maroons and the Red Wings had numerous opportunities to score in the game, but Smith and Chabot didn't crack under pressure. So the 60-minute-long game ended in a scoreless tie.

The concept of deciding the winner of a scoreless NHL game by way of a shoot-out was unknown in the 1930's. The winners of such games had to earn their victories by way of sudden-death overtime play. Quite simply, the first team to score in sudden-death overtime won the game.

The quality of the ice in the Montreal Forum after regulation-time play was poor and it was to get much worse, as the players for both teams took to the ice for sudden-death overtime. After one 20-minute-long overtime period, no one scored a goal. After a second overtime period, no one scored a goal. After a third overtime period, neither a Red Wing nor a Maroon had tallied a goal.

The Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons had now played two complete games during the course of one evening. It was past midnight and thus the date was now March 25th. Although dozens of people left the game, the majority of the audience stayed for the entire match.

The Forum's ice surface was now mostly slush. Players for both teams slogged around the rink somewhat in the manner of skate-bound children sloushing through puddles.

Both Smith and Chabot were running out of energy, but due to their great performances in the game, both goalies enthusiasm and zest to win had not yet waned. Plus, the Red Wings had a secret potion to keep Smith and his team-mates sharp, as is revealed in "History of Hockeytown" (2002). " They fed us sugar dipped in brandy to keep us going," said Smith.

Some of the Red Wings, besides being bone-tired, also had to be slightly inebriated (which makes Smith's sterling performance in the nets all the more remarkable; he finished the night was an incredible 90 saves).

At the end of Period 7 the score was still 0-to-0. Now, in Period 8, both teams players went for a win. Getting their second wind, the Maroons and Red Wings now reverted to a "go-go," all-offense, end-to-end type of game-playing.

We now refer to the chapter about the game in "Hockey ! The Story of the World's Fastest Sport" and we quote at such length to try to convey the sense of pace of the wild eighth period:

"Near the end of the period Marty Barry, the Red Wings accomplished center, was approaching collapse. With what energy he had at his command, Barry sent a pass to Herbie Lewis that catapulted his wing into the clear for a play on goal. He moved into striking distance and released a hard shot that obviously beat goalie Lorne Chabot. As Lewis prepared to raise his stick in the traditional victory salute he heard the puck clang off the goal post. It rebounded harmlessly to the corner where Hooley Smith retrieved it and began a counter attack with as much danger as Lewis' play.

Smith was accompanied on his rush by Baldy Northcott. There was a choice, either Smith could make the play himself, using Northcott as a decoy, or he could try the pass. At first, Smith cut sharply towards the net, giving the impression he would go it alone. But, at this precise moment, he skimmed the puck to Northcott who shot hard at the Red Wings net. However, Normie Smith anticipated the play, caught the puck on his pad, and steered it to teammate Doug Young who reversed field.

Now, it appeared that each team was bent on wild kamikaze attacks in the hopes of bringing the game to a sudden end. Young raced along the boards until he reached Maroon territory. Then, he fired wildly but the puck suddenly hit Maroon defensmen Lionel Conacher's skate and changed direction, sliding straight for an empty side of the net. It appeared to be equidistant between Young and goalie Chabot. The Red Wing skated lunged for it but before he could get his stick on the rubber Chabot smothered it with his glove. "

As one may suspect, it took a young player with lots of energy to win this type of game. Near the end of Period 9, Adams instructed 21-year-old Modere Bruneteau to get on the ice. He was the youngest player in the game and his nickname with his team-mates was Mud.

He got the puck in his zone and quickly passed it to fellow red Wing Hec Kilrea. Coming up ice, they worked their way past the Maroons defense. Kilrea made a pinpoint pass to Mud and the youngster lifted a shot over Chabot (who had dived across his goal crease) which found the back of the net. Score!

Well, maybe. The goal judge did not flip the switch igniting the red light, signifying a goal, but he had a good reason: the puck stuck in the net twine and never fell to the ice. However, Referee Nels Stewart, who saw the shot, quickly ruled it a goal.

The game ended at 2.25 a.m., March 25th, 1936. In sum, Game 1 lasted almost six hours in "real time" and 176 minutes and 30 seconds in "hockey game time." The Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup this season and after surviving the longest game in NHL history, the players probably felt that they deserved it.




 
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