The NAHL: Michael “Mickey” Richard Roach

   Michael “Mickey” Richard Roach cultivated his natural hockey talent resulting in the most successful professional hockey career out of all the USNAHL players. Roach played for 21 seasons. Following that, he coached nearly 6 seasons of professional hockey and another 11 seasons of coaching Senior Amateur hockey. Roach’s coaching career focused on cultivating the talent in others rather than himself.

   Born on 1 May 1895, Mickey Roach, a second-generation Nova Scotian, left the Maritimes for Boston in time to start high school. He attended Boston English High School with tailored curriculum towards the trades. Even as early as the 1912/13 season, he played on two teams, English H.S. and the Boston Arena intramural Skate Boys. Listed as Roche, the Boston Globe named him to their All Interscholastic second team for hockey. For the 1913/14 season, Roach moved on from the Skate Boys to the Pilgrim Athletic Association team while still playing for English H.S. Once again, the Boson Globe named Roach, as “Roache”, to its Interscholastic team. But, placed him in the first team along with Frank Downing, Robert Paisley, and Percy Wanamaker. Roach’s skill and determination to develop that skill were evident.

   After graduating, Roach played on the Boston Arenas for two seasons, but was driven for more. Much like the English and Huntington school teams, the Boston Arenas were limited to local play. The Boston Athletic Association team played in the developing intercity amateur hockey league. Despite his preeminence in Boston hockey circles, he moved to New York City in time for the 1916/17 season.

   For the next two years, Roach played in the greater New York City league. First, he played with the Crescent during the 1916/17 season. In a four-team intercity league, the Crescents lost in the final match to the Boston Arenas. In 1917, World War I finally caught up to the United States. Amateur hockey greatly changed resulting in the creation of the U.S. National Amateur Hockey League (USNAHL). Roach, a clerk for the BonBright investment bank, played on Cornelius Fellowes’ New York Wanderers. In November 1918, the war also finally caught with Roach. He became a Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) cadet and traveled back to Toronto to start training.

   Always looking for hockey, Roach picked up the uniform and picked up the stick. On 14 December 1918, the R.A.F. played one exhibition game against the Dentals in Ontario Hockey Association’s (O.H.A.) Senior A division. The R.A.F. bowed out of the season. Roach and Thomas “Flash” McCarthy, who joined him from New York, joined the Hamilton Tigers for the remainder of the season. This move started Roach’s NHL playing career.

   Starting with the St. Pats in 1920, he played seven seasons in the newly formed NHL. He moved from the Toronto St. Pats to the Hamilton Tigers, who elevated from the amateur ranks. For the 1924/25, Roach moved with the Tigers. Bill Dwyer renamed the Tigers to the New York Americans, referred as the Amerks, and moved them to New York City. As a result, the Amerks and Roach were the first hockey team to play in Tex Rickard’s Madison Square Garden in December 1925. While Roach finished his NHL career in New York City, he continued to play on for three more seasons in the minor leagues.

    While playing with the St. Pats, Roach married Elsie Alida Tobey, an Ontario native, in March 1920. Even though Roach played in Ontario, he established his family back in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In April 1921, his first son, Clifford Roach, was born there. However, not all of his four children could claim a Nova Scotia start. On 8 November 1922, their second son, Warren, originated in Boston. Finally, Ontario was home to his two daughters, Elsie and Eleanor. Despite the numerous locales for key life events, they called Nova Scotia home.

   Roach’s last season as player was the 1929/30 season with the Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons participated in the International Hockey League after the dissolution of the Canadian Professional Hockey League. In 1930, Roach accepted a manager/coach position with the Buffalo Bisons. In this new role, he started developing players for the NHL. From 1930 until 1936, Roach coached the Bisons, Syracuse Stars and, very briefly, the Rochester Cardinals. Roach left as a consistent contender, but never a winner, among team financial troubles and politics.

   Retiring from professional coaching, he refused to let hockey go. Initially, he attempted to organize a Senior A team for O.H.A. Eventually, he received an appointment to coach the Niagara Falls Brights in Dec 1938. In Feb 1939, he resigned this position and moved back to Nova Scotia.

   The Cape Breton league challenged for the Allan Cup, which was familiar ground for Roach. For the 1939/40 season, he sought to win with the North Sydney Victorias. At the time, Maritime Senior A hockey teams desired to claim the Allan Cup from the Halifax Wolverines. In 1941/42, he coached the Sydney Millionaires on a strong Cup challenge but fell short.

   As war crept back in Roach’s life, he switched to coaching the Navy teams in the Cape Breton League. At the time, Cliff was playing his top game. Meanwhile, Warren joined the US Navy. By September 1953, Mickey Roach retired from hockey and settled into his Customs job. Although a few of his teams made strong challenges, he never coached an Allan Cup winning team.

   With the exception of the 1918/19 Hamilton Tigers, Mickey Roach finished second more times than not. Whether as a player or coach, most teams were strong contenders with his participation. In recognition of his playing skills, the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame honored him in their initial inductions. In addition to the playing and coaching careers, he raised two sons in the hockey tradition. Cliff played briefly for the Providence Reds in the AHL. As for his daughters, Elsie Corinne died shortly after birth and Eleanor probably lived a quiet life. In 1977, Mickey Roach’s passage received more attention in the States than in Canada. It is assumed his wife, Elsie, passed away some time after. When compared to Herb Drury, Frenchy LaCroix and other USNAHL players, Mickey Roach was the most successful hockeyist.

NOTE: Misspellings of his last name, especially in the Boston Globe, are Roache, Roark, and Roche. Elsie’s middle name also changes greatly from Alida, Ileeda, and Illita in government records.

Additional reading:
https://blog.thebackcheck.com/2016/05/11/mickey-roach/

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: Herbert “Herb” John Drury

Herbert “Herb” John Drury’s reality became about hockey leaving him rather than him leaving hockey. The Midland native became hockey greatness with an innate skill that challenged Hobey Baker for greatest American player of his day. However, time and injury slowed the hero. Although he attempted to become a referee, he failed to make the transitions necessary to remain attached to the sport. Despite an unceremonious end, Herb long remained the standard for comparing new players well after he passed.

The two-time Olympic Silver medalist skated into the world on March 2, 1896 in Midland, Ontario. After the 1915/16 season in Port Colbourne, he transitioned to St. Paul. However, he only briefly stayed. By the 1916/17, Roy Schooley convinced him to move to Pittsburgh.

For the next ten years, Herb dominated hockey. He played at the rover position in seven-man hockey. In seven-man hockey, all positions moved along fixed lines except the rover. The center is roughly an equivalent position in modern (six-man) hockey. The rover needed excellent skating skills to succeed. By all accounts, Herb darted around the enabling the wingers to score.

During next ten years, Herb starred on an all-star, all- Canadian team. They were called the Pittsburgh All-stars. Teammates included Joe and Larry McCormick and many others. They won three United States amateur hockey championships in seven seasons. When the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets turn professional, Herb went with them.

Despite an explosive inaugural seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates struggled in the NHL and they struggled financially. Additionally, Herb’s age started to show. He fell out of starting positions to Lionel Conacher and others. When the Pirates moved to Philadelphia, Herb moved with them. The Quakers struggled worse than in Pittsburgh. The Quakers unceremoniously and quietly dismissed Herb in mid-February 1931.

At the end of his playing career, Herb felt hockey owed him. However, that can be debated. He got at least one game as an NHL referee. He performed two years as a Pittsburgh area collegiate and amateur hockey referee. Finally, he participated in most of the Pittsburgh old-timers hockey games which gave exposure to his Oakmont restaurant.

While he attained glory on the ice, off-ice matters were more modest moderate. Herb worked as a mill wright prior to enlisting in WWI. After all the hockey and restaurant business matters, he returned to the steel industry. He eventually retired from U.S. Steel. In the late-20s, Herb married, but they divorced in the early-40s.  Herb’s address always seemed to be tied to another parent or relative. Additionally, Herb possibly suffered from concussions. All potential stressors on someone who just wanted to play hockey.

Herb died in a VA hospital on 30 July, 1965. When the press mocked his beer keg physique, he attempted to get back into shape. When hockey left him, he complained a bit and then moved on. However, they held him up as a standard to compare greatness. He never forgot them.

Research notes: Official US Government records and various databases attribute different middle names, birth, and death dates. An alternate middle name is Joseph. Common alternative birthdates include April 2, 1896, July 2, 1896, and even dates in years 1894 and 1895. Some of these dates are in official government documents indicating sloppy clerical work. The most common incorrect death date is July 1, 1965.

Thu, Feb 20, 1936 – 23 · “Old-Timers Game” · Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Sources:
1. Herb Druryhttps://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/blog/western-pennsylvania-history/olympics-ice-herb-drury
2. Philadelphia Quakers Release Herb Drury, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 24 February 1931. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/35539039/pittsburgh_postgazette/
3. Herb Drury Stats: https://www.sihrhockey.org/member_player_sheet.cfm?player_id=6887 (Note: Requires a paid account)
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_Yellow_Jackets
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_Pirates_(NHL)
6. Pittsburgh Post, Pittsburgh Gazette, Boston Globe, and other newspapers courtesy of newspapers.com

Interlude: The Army Plays as Pros

In Canada and the United States, several military units created hockey teams. Most of these either played in a special military league or affiliated with an amateur league for cross-league play. However, one unit, the Toronto 228th Battalion, applied for a National Hockey Association franchise. The 228th became the first, and possibly the last, military unit with a professional sports team.

The 228th applied for franchise in September 1916 for winter 1917. At the time, hockey seasons ran from late December until March. The 228th was granted status in the NHA for the 1916-1917 season. But, this wasn’t without controversy.

Many of the players for the 228th, Northern Fusiliers, came from another NHA entity, the Torontos, aka Toronto Blueshirts. The 228th, being based in Toronto, received many of the Torontos players when they enlisted. Even before the season started the Torontos’ owner, Eddie Livingstone, filed grievances with the NHA over players. The NHA ultimately decided in favor of the 228th.

The 228th had a star-studded cast of professionals. Some went on to serve bravely. George and Howard McNamara were known as the “Dynamite Twins”. While known as powerful men on the ice, they served in the Canadian Railway Troops (CRT) in France and rose to the rank of Major. George “Goldie” Prodgers rose to Company Sergeant Major with the 6th CRT. A few were embroiled in as much turmoil as the 228th.

Gordon Meeking and Eddie Oatman created as much controversy as the 228th entering into professional sports. Gordon Meeking was more unlucky than anything else. He entered with the 228th on September, 1916; only to be discharged on February 10, 1917. It wasn’t the end of his military career. He was drafted under the Military Service Act in late 1917. Finally, Meeking was discharged as medically unfit in 1918. During his brief break in service, the NHA and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) bickered over whether to allow Meeking and Oatman to play.

Unlike Meeking, Eddie Oatman caused his own trouble. He started by publicly claiming he never was in the 228th. Furthermore, he claimed that the 228th owed him $800, assuming CAD, as a professional hockey player. Additionally, Livingstone claimed to have proof that Oatman was never in the 228th. Thankfully, Oatman’s service record is available from the Library and Archives Canada. He signed his attestation papers on November 1. Subsequently, he was discharged on February 10, 1917 as “not likely to become an efficient soldier”. Therefore, It is not clear, at this time, what was presented to the NHA regarding Oatman’s time with the 228th.

Meeking and Oatman represent the most public cases of the hockey players turned soldiers who left behind. NHA chose not to ban them from hockey. They were playing with the PCHA by December. However, it is not clear if the ban would have been effective. The PCHA was a separate league. Second, the NHA was collapsing and about to be replaced by the NHL.

As it transitioned overseas, the 228th broke up. This was part of the odd system of reinforcement. The major hockey players seemed to have been assigned to the Railway Troops in theater. Unfortunately, time wasn’t available to verify the full team roster or player aftermath. The McNamaras lived a long life with George passing away in 1952. But, the 228th’s transition also was a portent of NHL’s tumultuous start.

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