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.