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

The NAHL: Joseph Wallace McCormick

The adventurous Joseph “Joe” Wallace McCormick chased achievement with a principled determination that resulted in multiple hockey championships and an Olympic Silver. Unlike previous players discussed, Joe captained the Pittsburgh All-stars, who were the Navy’s biggest rivals in the National Amateur Hockey League (NAHL). But, Joe was not satisfied with playing top tier amateur hockey. He sought a career in hockey, and something else.

The middle child, Joe sprouted forth on August 12th, 1894 in Buckingham, Quebec. A small town near Ottawa, which is now incorporated into Gatineau. In 1914/15, Joe played for the Buckingham Seniors prior to a move to Cleveland. Joe did not stay long in Cleveland. By the 1915/16 season, Joe established himself in Pittsburgh and became well familiar with Roy Schooley. Like Chippie Gaw, Joe pursued higher education goals while playing hockey. He achieved that goal, a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, after the 1920 Olympics. When Joe arrived in Pittsburgh, I doubt he believed a World War would interrupt those studies.

From 1915/16 until 1921/22 season, Joe stayed amateur and remained a student in Pittsburgh. During this time, Joe is at the height of his playing career. The Pittsburgh All-stars, or Yellow Jackets, exert dominance over the local hockey and, then, at the national level in the newly formed US Amateur Hockey Association. In 1918 , Joe and three others from the Pittsburgh All-stars join the U.S. Army. Although they never go farther east than Philadelphia, the Army lacks a top tier hockey team. After the war, he captained the 1920 Men’s US Olympic hockey team in Antwerp to a Silver medal. Despite these successes, Joe refused to be content.

Over the course of the next decade, Joe sought an elusive goal. First, he spent a season with the St. Paul Saints in Minnesota. Then, he traveled west. He played with the Edmonton Eskimos (Western Canada Hockey League) and the resurgent Portland Rosebuds (Western Hockey League). Both of these teams and leagues roiled in scandal and financial turmoil until collapse in 1926. On these teams, Joe still sought something that was not available to amateur hockey.

In 1926, Joe moved back to St. Paul to play for the Saints. By this time, the USAHA and amateur hockey collapsed from prominence in the United States. St. Paul and several other teams created a minor professional league, the American Hockey Association (AHA). Joe spent only one season with St. Paul before moving to the Kansas City Pla-mors. The AHA stirred controversy that impacted many players lives. In a challenge to the NHL, the AHA attempted to create a team in Buffalo. Frank Calder declared the AHA to be an unsanctioned league and barred their players from joining the NHL. While several AHA player applications were rejected, Joe possibly did not apply or try-out for an NHL team.

Joe retired after the 1931/32 season. By 1934, he and his wife moved to Sudbury, Ontario. Although Joe traveled and explored, he never left Buckingham until he moved to Sudbury. He lived in Pittsburgh. He became a U.S. citizen. He played hockey on the West Coast. But, he never left Buckingham. On the 1929 marriage certificate, he listed Buckingham as his place of residence, and not Kansas City. For all his adventures, I think he always wanted a single place to call home.

When it came to marriage, Joe refused to settle for less. Joe married Ann Margaret McArthur on November 6, 1929. Ann Margaret was the daughter of James Joseph McArthur, the famous Canadian explorer. Additionally, they faithfully practiced Catholicism. On the surface, he found someone just as daring yet rooted as himself. After moving to Sudbury, they had two children, D’arcy and Lawrence James. Joe passed away in 1958. While I’m sure that Joe settled, I’m not sure if Joe ever achieved that elusive goal.

Wed, Dec 31, 1924 – 14 · Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.com

Sources:
1. Joe McCormick, SIHR database. https://www.sihrhockey.org/member_player_sheet.cfm?player_id=21779. (Note: Requires Paid Account.)
2. James Joseph McArthur. Wikipedia.
3. University of Pittsburgh. Wikipedia.
4. Multiple newspapers, (Nanaimo, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, etc.) courtesy of newspapers.com