The NAHL: Alphonse Albert “Frenchy” LaCroix

   When Alphonse Albert “Frenchy” LaCroix decided to grow up, he walked away from hockey for the forests of Maine. From 1914 until 1947, LaCroix rarely missed playing in a season of hockey. His youthful face and few public comments hinted at a jovial, prankster personality.  Yet, his accomplishments demonstrated a rare skill on the ice.

   Although born in Newton, Massachusetts, LaCroix’s parents immigrated from Quebec, Canada. Young Lacroix would be baptized as Alphonsum Aldine Lacroix on 22 October 1897 at Our Lady Help of Christians, a Catholic parish. His Father was one of the more well-known French residents in Newton. Thus, the Young Lacroix earned the “Frenchy” or “Frenchie” nickname. He still performed as the top goalie for three years at Newton High School. In 1915, 1916, and 1917, The Boston Daily Globe named him to their interscholastic first team. America had just entered into World War I when LaCroix graduated from high school.

   In December 1917, LaCroix enlisted in the Navy Reserve. George V. Brown, the First Naval District Athletic Director, immediately pulled LaCroix onto his hockey team. From there, LaCroix made a lifelong ally. After the war, LaCroix played for Brown’s Boston Athletic Association Unicorns.  Additionally, he played the goalie for the 1924 U.S. Men’s Silver-medal winning team. However, he continued to achieve greater heights.

   In November 1925, he stepped into the Montreal Canadiens goal for an ailing Georges Vézina. Vezina suffered from tuberculosis and could not finish the game. LaCroix manned the net for two periods and another four games until the Canadiens signed Herb Rheaume. Afterwards, Lacroix remained as the Canadiens back-up goalie until the end of the 1926/27 season. The five games between 28 November and 15 December 1925 would be his only NHL games.

Although some accounts stated was an NHL emergency goalie, he was always retained by Les Canadiens, and used at Leo Dandurand’s discretion. In January 1926, they called for him to substitute for the Ottawa Senators’ goalie, who got knocked out. After a short rest, Connell decided to stick out the game. LaCroix did not play. In February, the Pittsburgh Pirates requested Lacroix’s services against the Canadiens on 23 February. Dandurand denied the request citing bad precedent. However, it is just as likely Dandurand did not want to face a good goalie. Pittsburgh won the match with their coach, Odie Cleghorn, in the net.

He played in three exhibition games. First, a 4 February 1926 game against the Montreal Yannigans, a Maroons feeder team. Second, He played for the Providence Reds on 8 April 1927. At the end of the 2nd period, the puck struck the Reds’ goalie square in the chin.  His final game with the Canadiens was a post-season match against the Providence Reds on 12 April 1927. The following season, Lacroix found himself with the Reds.

   Stating with the 1927/28 season, Lacroix served the rest of his time in minor or senior amateur leagues. From 1927/28 until 1929/30, he bounced between the Reds and the Lewiston (Maine) St. Doms. At the start of the 1930/31 season, the Boston Tigers attempted to use Lacroix to salvage their standings. He was let go after just four games. The final time he would be paid-to-play.

   During the 30s, he assisted George Owen Jr. in coaching the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Engineers. When World War II curtailed hockey at MIT, he co-established a team for an amateur industrial league with Owen. In the down time, he worked for an insurance broker. After the war, Lacroix packed up his skates and moved back to Lewiston.

   On ice accomplishments hid private hardships. In October 1912, LaCroix’s dad died leaving his mom and three young sons. The oldest, Elyre, was about 7. Just after WWI, He married Anna Champagne in 1920. They had two children, Janet/Jeanette and Armand. Oddly, Armand disappeared from public record by 1940. By 1948, they divorced. Anna and Janet remained in Massachusetts while he left for Maine. There, he married Eva Fournier, née Malo. They had a daughter, Suzanne. Finally, he decided to settle down. Another private man with a public face. He passed away on 12 April 1973 from cancer. Eva joined him in rest in 2009. He is survived by Suzanne.

   Frenchy Lacroix was the first American-born NHL goalie and, potentially the third American-born in the NHL. Across 13 seasons of play, he attained a 2.18 goals against average (GAA) in the regular season. Prior to his season with the Montreal Canadiens, he maintained a 1.82 GAA over 7 seasons. Plus, he won the silver with the 1924 U.S. Men’s Olympic Ice hockey team. His youthfulness continued to show through until the late-40s by being an assistant coach and team organizer for a war time industrial league. After the war, the game finally surpassed him. He headed to Maine’s woods to settle down.

NOTE: Over the years, LaCroix’s name took many variations. “LaCroix” was the definitive variant. However, La Croix and Lacroix were also seen. The later oft seen in newspaper articles. Rarely, his middle name, “Albert” appeared. On his WWII draft card, the registrar wrote “Aldéi” for his middle name.

THE NAHL: LT Jesse K. Park Jr.

Jesse K. Park Jr. rose from obscurity helped by one man, George V. Brown. Little is known of Park’s background or future after World War I. What is known is that he was in the right place at the right time for the Navy Yard hockey team. I doubt if history will ever be able to discern if he genuinely wanted to help the Navy Yard team or was a pawn of George Brown.

Born in 1886, Jesse K. Park Jr’s family moved from New Haven, Connecticut to Newton, Massachusetts by 1910. His skill in high school sports did not capture the imagination of newspapers of the time. Thus, his sudden rise in hockey appears to come from nowhere.

In the pre-war years, little exists of Park’s college or young adult years. A rare mention exists of a family vacation to New Haven, Connecticut in 1908. He clearly went to college, but where was unknown. When the war started, Park commissioned in the National Naval Volunteers. By December 1917, he attained the rank of Lt. J.G. and was in charge of aviation examinations. He screened potential applicants for the US Navy’s new aviation branch.

I can imagine George Brown approaching Park with the offer of a lifetime. As every good salesman knows, fame is everything and free publicity is worth dollars. Park helped several of the Navy hockey team members to become Naval and Marine Corps aviators. In return, he got his free publicity.

After the war, Park seemed to fade away to the ordinary life. Little is known of Park after the war. He ran an automobile dealership at least through the 20s. He married Katherine McGillen in 1923. They didn’t seem to have children. In August 1965, Catherine passed away. Park passed away in February 1975. How they lived, survived, and loved has been lost. Still, his contribution to those that played on the Navy Yard team cannot be overlooked.

Sources:
Newton (MA) Newsletter 1908
Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy
Jesse K. Park Jr. Obit
Katherine M. Park Obit

The NAHL: George V. Brown

In late 1917, George V. Brown added a new role to his accomplished list, Athletic Director of the First Naval District. Prior to this, he held the same position of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). With the BAA, he started every Boston Marathon except for the first two. During his era, BAA teams won championships. He promoted sports whenever he got the chance. George was such a fixture in the BAA and Boston sports that the BAA suspended or refocused operations during 1918.

It is hard to tell who used whom. The U.S. Navy leveraged George’s sports promotions to increase its popularity. Quite possibly, the First Naval District hoped to gain an advantage in the regular sports competitions against Second Naval District (Newport, Rhode Island) and others. For George, he became responsible for Navy sports across most of New England.

Following the war, George returned the BAA back to its normal sports operations. A long time member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, George built the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team for the first Winter Olympics in 1924. (NOTE: Cornelius Fellowes created the first Olympic men’s hockey team in 1920.) It was a silver medal team consisting of Herb Drury and Alphonse La Croix.

George also experienced change in hockey from the amateur to the professional. While George supported professional hockey, George believed in the amateur spirit. He tried several times to establish a new amateur league in the Boston after the break up of the US Amateur Hockey Association. In 1932, the Boston Globe commented about George’s efforts to “breathe new life into the amateur hockey corpse.” Despite a potentially 150 registered clubs with the Amateur Athletics Union (AAU), amateur hockey would never regain a prominent role.

Fri, Dec 23, 1932 – 16 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Sources:
1. https://www.baa.org/
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_V._Brown
3. Boston Globe, December 23, 1932, courtesy of newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/31905965/
4. Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1931, courtesy of newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/29383315/