Goaler Normie Smith, who made 90 (or 92, depending on your source) saves for Detroit in the NHL’s longest game.
In light of the triple overtime Blackhawks-Bruins match in Game 1 of the current Stanley Cup final, I’ve dug into my files to pull out a 1999 feature I wrote, reconstructing the longest-game in NHL history – a six-overtime contest played March 24-25, 1936 at the Montreal Forum between the Montreal Maroons and victorious Detroit Red Wings.
Mr. Caddell, the subject of my feature, has since passed away. But what a wonderful visit with him 14 years ago to relive the historic game.
On a Wing and a prayer:
Detroit rookie Mud Bruneteau won NHL’s longest game with a Forum goal in sixth overtime
Published June 19, 1999
- At twenty-five minutes past two this morning, a bushy-haired blonde veteran of hockey, Hector Kilrea, a sturdy, scarlet-clad form wearing the white emblem of Detroit Red Wings, went pounding tirelessly down the battle-scarred, deep-cut Forum ice, trying to pilot a puck that was bobbling crazily over the rough trail, almost out of control.
It looked like another of the endless unfinished plays – when suddenly, in shot the slim form of a player, who through this long, weary tide of battle that ebbed and flowed had been almost unnoticed. He swung his stick at the bobbling puck, the little black disc straightened away, shot over the foot of Lorne Chabot, bit deeply into the twine of the Montreal Maroon cage.
And so Modere Bruneteau, clerk in a Winnipeg grain office, leaped to fame as the player who ended the longest game on professional hockey record.
- Elmer Ferguson
Montreal Herald, Wednesday, March 25, 1936
They played a National Hockey League double-header eight weeks ago, and the Dallas Stars eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in their Western Conference quarter-final after 57 minutes and 34 seconds of overtime. A long, grueling night of playoff hockey, to be sure, yet only a pale pretender to the throne.
As this season lumbers along to its summertime end, Phil Caddell might even suggest that Joe Nieuwendyk, who scored the winner for Dallas, couldn’t have tied the skatelaces of Detroit’s Modere (Mud) Bruneteau, a hockey hero for the ages.
At the Forum on March 24 and into the wee hours of March 25, 1936, the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Maroons played a triple-header, nearly three full games, in the first match of their best-of-five semi-final playoff series.
Sixty-three years ago, Phil Caddell was still on his north-end bench seat at 2:25 a.m. – flat out and sound asleep, he admits – when Mud Bruneteau scored the game’s only goal, lashing the Red Wings’ 67th shot past Maroons goaler Lorne Chabot at 16:30 of the sixth overtime period. The teams had played 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra time, 176:30 including 60 minutes of regulation, to decide the longest game in NHL history.
In the other crease, Detroit’s Normie Smith was numb, unbeaten by 90 Maroon shots. He hadn’t lost 12 pounds through perspiration, he merely had transferred the weight to his saturated peak-cap, long-johns and leather goal pads that were stuffed with soggy horsehair.
“You know, we figured it was going to go on all night,” says Caddell, who will turn 86 in a few weeks. “And our pact was, we weren’t leaving until it was over. Whether we were awake or not.”
- There was quite an array of clerics in boxes on the east side, among whom was Ven. Archdeacon Gower-Rees and the Very Rev. Dean Carlisle. They stayed through 100 minutes of overtime, and then called it a day, or rather a night. But they weren’t alone. Many others toiling on bankers’ hours had gone long ago.
- Baz O’Meara, Montreal Star
Until that night, the longest game on record had been played on April 3, 1933 in Toronto, going 104 minutes and 46 seconds into overtime. The Maple Leafs’ Ken (Cagey) Doraty finally scored to defeat Boston 1-0.
The NHL was an eight-team league in 1935-36, four clubs in both the Canadian and American divisions. The Canadiens, who late in the season had traded Lorne Chabot to the Maroons for three players, including a rookie winger named Toe Blake, were on the outside looking in as the playoffs began. They had finished in the Canadian cellar with 11 victories in 48 games.
The Maroons were the defending Stanley Cup champions, and in the opinion of Montreal’s English newspapers – The Gazette, the Star, and the best sports page in town, the Herald – they were a cinch to repeat. Their first post-season test would be the Red Wings, champions of the American Division.
The series opened at the Forum at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, before a crowd estimated at 9,000, a thousand less than capacity. With two friends, Val Traversy and Herbie Howe, Phil Caddell walked to the arena from National Breweries, where he worked as a junior clerk earning $40 a month.
“There were tickets galore. We just walked up and bought ‘em at a window on the sidewalk, and I’d be surprised if we spent more than 50 cents for our (unreserved) rush-end seats,” says Caddell, who was 22.
“We just went to see three periods of hockey. How could we possibly know we’d get nine?”
- The boys were so tired they were skating from memory and shooting by ear. The referees were so weary they could only blow feeble toots on their tin whistles. Here’s to Hec Kilrea, who started the play that sent the fans home for breakfast!
- Philip Morris Navy Cut cigarette ad, The Star
Phil (Pip) Caddell was born in Brantford, Ont., on July 7, 1913 and moved to Lachine as an infant when his father went off to war. One of four children, he was 7 when his family moved to Edinburgh, where he worshipped Scottish Olympic track star Eric Liddell, the central character of the film Chariots of Fire.
He was 14 when they returned to Lachine, and as a young caddie at a local golf course he often stood pop-eyed at the first tee, ogling hockey’s fabulous Cleghorn brothers, Odie and Sprague, and two living legends: Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat.
“That’s the difference between hockey then and now,” Caddell says. “The players then lived in your neighbourhood year-round. You grew up around them, and they were part of you. Either you knew them, or you knew someone who knew them.”
Before long he was going to McGill to watch college football, or riding the streetcar from his home to the Forum, where he’d queue to buy a ticket – always in the rush-end of the rink – to watch his beloved Maroons.
He didn’t play a lot of hockey himself.
“There was only one rink in upper Lachine,” he recalls, “and very seldom did it have decent ice.”
- Nearly three tons of snow was swept from the ice between periods. The surface remained hard, but eventually the puck refused to lie down and be good. Bert Newbury, Forum superintendent, made suggestions to Frank Calder, president of the NHL, that a little longer period of rest be given so that the ice might be flooded, but he stoutly refused all such offers of advice. Ten minutes rest was all the boys needed, according to the president.
- Al Parsley, The Herald
No one had expected the Maroons to win the Stanley Cup a year earlier, least of all the publicity director of National Breweries, the corporate parent of a number of ale and lager brands. One of its labels, Black Horse, was enormously popular as much for its stables as its beer; the brewery owned a number of mighty Percherons it would loan to rural Quebec horsemen for breeding.
Reginald Joseph (Hooley) Smith, the Maroons captain, coveted the valuable horses and apparently convinced the brewery to give him one should his club win the 1934-35 Cup. Ranked fourth in the regular season, the Maroons knocked off Chicago, New York and finally upset top-ranked Toronto in three straight games to win the title.
A young brewery office boy named Phil Caddell, in his first year on the job, was immediately dispatched to every beauty parlour on Ste. Catherine St. to buy all the black hair dye he could find. Caddell never knew for certain, but he assumed that the publicity director, perhaps in deep with his bosses for an offer he couldn’t deliver, was planning to give Hooley Smith a brown nag painted black.
But in The Gazette’s archives is a tiny news brief published in April, 1935, covering a ceremony attended by 2,000 fans at which Smith indeed was presented with the genuine article.
- Detroit goaler Smith played like a stallion. The highest total of shots that bounced off his sprightly, alert frame in a period was in the third, when he turned aside 15 smashing drives. In the third period of overtime, again in the fourth, as Maroons time and again rallied their forces to crash his citadel, he stopped 13 in each.
- Ferguson, The Herald
Normie Smith broke into the NHL with the Maroons in 1931, playing 20 games before he was accidentally crushed by then-teammate Howie Morenz in a goalmouth scramble and sidelined for the season. He languished in the minors for two years and took to wearing a peaked cap, which he found cut the glare from the overhead lights. In 1934, he was signed by Detroit manager and coach Jack Adams.
Not only did Smith shut out the Maroons over nearly nine periods of this incredible game, he blanked them again in Game 2 and wasn’t beaten until 12:02 of the first period of Game 3, giving him a shutout streak of 248:32, which remains an NHL record. The Wings swept the Maroons and then beat Toronto in the final to win their first of two consecutive Stanley Cups.
Smith’s 90 saves in one game (92, according to some reports) are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“We could not believe they kept coming out to play, and as Maroon fans we could not believe the stops the Detroit boy kept making,” says Caddell, sitting in an easy chair, chewing on a peppermint and warming to the memories.
Caddell’s war medals, and those of an uncle, are framed above his bed in the Lachine seniors home where he lives. He was widowed four years ago, and on a table at his bedside is a framed photograph of Elga Ramsey – Duckie, he called her – whom he married on March 23, 1945, two days after returning from battle. He has four children – Susan, Ian, Andrew and Graham – and 11 grandchildren.
Most of them love hockey, and all of them adore the tale about Hooley Smith, the nag and the black hair dye.
- Bucko McDonald, rugged steak-destroyer, almost wrecked the Maroon forward line with his crashing bodychecks. He flattened everyone but Chabot.
- Ferguson, The Herald
Wilfred Kennedy (Bucko) McDonald, a beefsteak-and-potatoes man of 205 pounds, earned his pay and more on this night. Renowned for his physical style, a Red Wings fan offered him $5 for every Maroon he leveled. Nine periods and 37 punishing bodychecks later, the fan happily forked over $185, enough to buy Bucko a few prime sirloins.
The Maroons’ Joe Lamb didn’t see action until the “second” game. He later told reporters, “After this, I’m going to have my steak at around 8 o’clock instead of 3 in the afternoon!”
At least a few fans chose shut-eye over sustenance. Published reports vary on how many spectators were left at the end, but Caddell, who finally was awakened by the cheers – “It was more a sigh of relief,” one columnist wrote – recalls having enough room to stretch out on his rush-end bench.
The girls working the refreshment booths on the promenade deck, who usually would close up shop by 10 p.m., were still serving cakes and coffee four hours later.
During intermissions, players were sipping tea and coffee laced with brandy, then lying on their backs with their legs up on benches to improve circulation. The two referees, Ag Smith and Bill Stewart (the latter the grandfather of current NHL official Paul Stewart), stopped taking their skates off, afraid they wouldn’t be able to lace up their boots over surely swollen feet.
Finally, at 2:25 a.m., a 21-year-old rookie from St. Boniface, Man., played the hero. The following morning, Maroons goaler Lorne Chabot presented right-winger Mud Bruneteau with the puck that ended the game.
“Gee whiz, gee whiz, that’s swell,” an overwhelmed Mud told reporters as he twirled the prize in his hands.
Only a few hours earlier, the last streetcar to Lachine having long since departed, Phil Caddell had hiked up to Val Traversy’s house in Westmount to nap on a parlour couch. He was back at work at 8:30 a.m.
- Bruneteau scored just about the time the milkman was starting to steam out on his morning rounds. The fans had steeled themselves for a fluke goal long before the tally came. The one that broke the contest was luck-tinged, but fans did not cavil at it. It came as a welcome relief.
- O’Meara, The Star
Mud Bruneteau, a Winnipeg grain-commissions clerk for Montreal-born Red Wings owner James Norris, died April 15, 1982. He is exclusively celebrated for the historic overtime goal he scored in his first-ever playoff game, which while understandable is also a disservice to his contribution to hockey.
Bruneteau played 11 seasons for Detroit, scoring 162 goals in 488 games. He went down to the Red Wings’ farm club in Omaha in 1946-47 and retired to coach the Knights in 1948-49, handpicked by Jack Adams to nurture the next generation of Wings. That season he became the first professional coach of Terry Sawchuk, one of the greatest goalies of all time.
A gifted, patient communicator, Bruneteau taught the young Sawchuk the finer points of the position, and Sawchuk, a future Hall of Famer, frequently credited his coach for his development.
Mud Bruneteau scored once more in the playoff season of 1935-36, and his name is engraved on the Stanley Cup three times.
But when the Red Wings and Montreal Maroons met for Game 2 that March 26, a tidy, quick 3-0 Detroit victory, there was at least one fan not on the Forum’s rush-end benches.
“Most probably,” Phil Caddell says, “I simply couldn’t afford the ticket.”
Below: Detroit hero Mud Bruneteau