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Beacher won hockey gold – in 1924

Writing about hockey a while back, I mentioned one of the all-time greats who was raised in the Beach – Reginald Joseph “Hooley” Smith.

Hooley was one of the sports legends known throughout the Beach area. He was a hockey superstar of the games later designated as the first Winter Olympics, which took place in Chamonix, France in 1924.

Ninety years later Canada once again took the gold in men’s hockey, though there is great contrast in the calibre of players and teams of now and in 1924, when Canada really dominated the hockey competition.

In those days after the First World War, there was great agitation about setting up a Winter Olympics, especially for ice hockey. Europeans, Americans and Canadians had their differences about the setup. In 1920 a preliminary amateur league was organized, but it was not officially recognized until 1924.

Reginald Joseph “Hooley” Smith helped Canada’s men’s hockey team win gold in the first Winter Olympic games in 1924.

Reginald Joseph “Hooley” Smith helped Canada’s men’s hockey team win gold in the first Winter Olympic games in 1924.

Hooley was the youngest of 13 children to grow up at 75 Lee Ave. In this case, 13 was the lucky number. He was part of a tradition of great athletes in the 20th century and his accomplishments filled the hockey history books.

In his family, the Smith Brothers dominated any sport you can name. The family was rooted in Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church on Queen Street East. The boys played for Balmy Beach, St. Aidan’s and a dozen different organizations and religious teams.

Medals and competitions won by the Smiths are too numerous to mention. With the advent of the First World War, most of the boys went to fight for their country and the youngest brother, Hooley, inherited the family sports mantle.

Although he wasn’t a large person, Hooley and his 5’10”, 165 lb frame were blessed with natural ability in lacrosse, football and especially hockey.

There was a long, gruelling process of amateur teams playing for the right to play in the Olympics. In the end, the Toronto Granites topped the ranks, and were sent to play for Canada in 1924. On this team was the best of the Beach, Hooley Smith, who played centre.

He was known not only for his great hockey skills but also for his sense of humour. He was proud of his upbringing in the Beach while representing Canada at the first Winter Olympics.

In those days the teams didn’t have as many players as now. The Toronto Granites, or Team Canada, included goalies Jack Cameron and Ernie Collett, captain and defence Dunc Munro, Beattie Ramsay on defence, Hooley playing centre, left wingers Cyril Slater and Harry Watson, right wingers Bert McCaffrey and Harold McMunn, general manager William Hewitt and coach Frank Rankin.

There were nine players then – what a contrast to today’s teams. The team travelled to France by steamer, and had a great time on the ship and in Europe. They were wined and dined by Olympic officials, then got down to business.

And did they ever get down to business. Canada’s first game was a 30-0 win over Czechoslovakia, followed by a 22-0 win over Sweden and a 33-0 win over Switzerland. The team then beat Great Britain 19-2, and finally faced team USA for a 6-1 gold medal win. Those scores are quite a contrast to the games played this year in Sochi, where Canada beat out Sweden for the gold with a 3-0 win, and beat the US by only a goal at 1-0 in the quarterfinal.

Team Canada dominated this first series, but the Russians were not involved yet, and would become the country to beat.

Watson, from St. John’s, Newfoundland (not yet part of Canada) scored 37 goals, while McCaffrey netted 20. Hooley Smith scored 17. He was only 21 years old.

After the Olympics, Smith turned pro and joined the NHL, where he had an illustrious career. He played 101 games and scored 35 goals and 18 assists with the Ottawa Senators from 1924 to 1927. He then played for the Montreal Maroons from 1927 to 1936, playing in 387 games and scoring 130 goals and 151 assists.

Next was the Boston Bruins, where he played 44 games and scored eight goals and 10 assists from 1936 to 1937. His final stint was 183 games with the New York Americans, where he scored 26 goals and 36 assists.

Hooley’s total at the end of his NHL career was 751 games played, with 199 goals and 215 assists. He played in more than 50 playoff games, and helped his team win the Stanley Cup twice, first with Ottawa and later with Montreal.

Hooley was one of the first players to wear a hockey helmet, and was one of the best players in the NHL for the 18 years he played professionally.

Reginald Joseph “Hooley” Smith died in 1963, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.

In 1948 at the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, France, East Ender Murray Dowey represented Canada as one of the best goalies the country has seen. I will write more about him and the RCAF hockey team later.

One more note – though all eyes were on the men’s hockey team, equally if not more talented was the women’s team, who dominated their competition in nearly every aspect, while staying true to the spirit of fair play. We as Canadians should be very proud of our hockey teams, and look forward to the next Winter Olympics. Go Canada!

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