Montreal Gazette

Cain has claim to Hall of Fame

SPOTLIGHT Ex-Bruins pooh-bah Art Ross accused of blackballi­ng two-time Stanley Cup champion

- DAVE STUBBS

From the Canadiens’ Joe Malone in 1917-18 through the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Mario Lemieux in 1996-97, there are 37 NHL scoring champions, deceased or alive, who are eligible for induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Thirty-six have been so honoured.

Solely not among them is the late Herb Cain, the former Montreal Maroon and Canadien and two-time Stanley Cup champion who won the league scoring title in 1943-44 with the Boston Bruins. And it’s been reasonably argued through the decades that the apparent blackballi­ng of Cain by former Bruins boss Art Ross – because Cain once held out for a pay raise – has played a role in his exclusion.

Cain scored 36 goals and had 46 assists in 48 games during his league-leading year. Yes, the war had diluted the NHL, but this was a record that stood for seven seasons, until Detroit’s Gordie Howe had 43 goals and 43 assists through 70 games in 1950-51.

A native of Newmarket, Ont., Cain played six NHL seasons in Montreal – five with the Maroons and then one with the Canadiens upon the Maroons’ folding, wearing the No. 9 of future legend Maurice Richard. He was dealt in fall 1939 to the Bruins for Charlie Sands and Ray Getliffe.

Cain had shown great promise as a schoolboy – he had every one of the 56 goals his St. John’s Separate School squad scored during his single season in their uniform.

He brought this same energy to the Maroons, and his unblinkere­d chase of the puck was his undoing during one practice.

Maroons coach Tommy Gorman, later the Canadiens’ GM, had grown weary of his players stalling behind their net to begin a rush. So before a practice, Gorman tied a rope to each goal post, attaching both to the side boards along the goal line. No player would skate behind the net on this day.

Regrettabl­y, no one told Cain or his teammates about the scheme, and Cain, first on the ice, took off toward a puck behind the goal. He never saw the rope, and was clotheslin­ed in full flight, practicall­y hanging himself before he cartwheele­d on his unhelmeted head and was knocked out cold.

Cain survived the mishap to win the Stanley Cup with the Maroons in his sophomore season of 1934-35, playing on Gorman’s so-called Green Line with Bob Gracie and Gus Marker. He won the Cup again with Boston in 1940-41, two seasons after having earned 27 points in 45 games with the Canadiens, picked up when the Maroons were dissolved.

With the Bruins, Cain became only the 13th NHLer since the league’s 1917 birth to score 200 career goals.

But he fell harshly out of favour at the end of the 1945-46 season with Bruins boss Ross, a once-bruising defenceman and 1949 Hall of Fame inductee who’d been an influentia­l, aggressive boardroom voice in pro hockey’s early days.

Curiously, Ross had fought vigorously for players’ rights in 1910 and 1915, his resistance to salary caps finally earning him banishment from the pre-NHL National Hockey Associatio­n.

The Bruins’ first vice-president, general manager and coach, Ross would earn fame as the man who designed the standard vulcanized puck and the so-called Ross goal net.

He introduced the striped red line as well, helping to differenti­ate it from the blue lines on black-and-white television.

While the circumstan­ces of Cain’s salary holdout are cloudy, what is clear is this: Ross demoted one of the Bruins’ most popular and productive players to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, instructin­g the minorleagu­e team that Cain could not be sold to another NHL club.

So Cain languished in Hershey for four more seasons, winning the Calder Cup, until he retired in 1950 – blackballe­d, bitter and a handful of NHL games short of pension eligibilit­y.

He won three Ontario championsh­ips coaching a junior team. But in 1955, Cain was given a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, the cancer that would strike fellow scoring champion Mario Lemieux nearly 40 years later. Cain lost 75 pounds and was told to enjoy his final few days.

Instead, Cain surrendere­d to experiment­al treatment in Ottawa, injected with a serum that had proven useful in animals. His health improved almost miraculous­ly, and he lived another three decades before he died 25 years ago last February at age 69.

Cain had 206 goals and 400 points in 571 NHL games, totals superior to many contempora­ries who have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

But The Gazette’s Red Fisher, a former long-time member of the Hall’s selection committee, says Cain’s name never came up for discussion, even during the years when a special veterans’ category sought to identify the sepia-tinged players who might have been overlooked.

Committee member Dick Irvin recalls Roy Conacher, the NHL scoring leader for Chicago with 68 points in 1948-49, being inducted this way.

Four years after Herb Cain led the NHL with a record 82 points, the league created a trophy in Art Ross’s name, an award that since 1947-48 has recognized its most prolific point-scorer.

Cain would see this trophy at hockey’s shrine only if he paid admission, a worthy Hall of Famer on the outside looking in then and still now.

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 ?? ERLE SCHNEIDMAN CANADIENSM­EMORABILIA.COM ?? Herb Cain is the only NHL scoring champion among 37 eligible players who is not in Hall of Fame.
ERLE SCHNEIDMAN CANADIENSM­EMORABILIA.COM Herb Cain is the only NHL scoring champion among 37 eligible players who is not in Hall of Fame.

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