Some IAC Stars
On the Icelandic Athletic Club's teams of that time one recalls 'Old Faithful' John Eggertson, goalie; Minty Stephenson who later starred on the Monarch defence; Connie Benson, the second of this strong rear guard (he turned professional with Phoenix, Rossland and later starred with Portland); and Billy Benson, a colourful rover. On the forward line there was Baldur Olson (since a noted physician), Alf Albert, and rounding it out, the clever Steve Finnson.
Chris Olafson, Allan Johannesson, who starred at centre, and Emil Goodman were another great trio. Manny Johnson, he of the powerful shot, Gales Johnson and his brother John brought this name well before the public at that time. The genial Stony Stone played a strong game, while Leifur Oddson was also seen with the IAC in the nets as well as John Eggertson, the old timer.
Both IACs and Vikings had practice sessions on the old Brydon and McIntyre rinks while the youngsters played on outdoor surfaces, generally in the neighbourhood of the General Hospital or at Ellice near Sherbrook for the South-enders. At that time there was undulating prairie and baseball in summer, and lacrosse most of the time, with hockey in winter and all took place in the great sports area. Little did the curious knots of spectators realize that some half dozen of the boys were going through a period of development from boyhood to the component parts of the greatest hockey machine of the time, and one of the really outstanding teams in the history of amateur sport in Canada.
It was here and then that Frank Fredrickson came onto the hockey horizon. A pretty small fellow but with a determined chin, and an able ability to concentrate and go home and practice what he had seen the elders doing in the hockey games of that time. Frank from the very beginning was a 'winner,' and the rink that his father built for him and the lads of the neighbourhood was one of the strongest factors in his early hockey education.
The Icelanders Combine
In 1909 Winnipeg was beginning to shake off its small town feelings and was rapidly blossoming into a big city. It was then that the Icelandic boys decided to bury the hatchet and combine to wage a joint war against the other leagues and teams in the city that were rapidly coming into being. So the Falcon Hockey Club, a combination of both older clubs, came into being at a meeting held in the home of Big Sam Johnson on Portage Avenue West. Emil Goodman, veteran of many a hockey battle himself, was the sponsor of the name 'Falcon.' In 1910-11 along with the Monarchs, Winnipegs, Kenora and Brandon the Falcons formed the Manitoba Independent League and played Intermediate hockey.
The First Falcon Line-Up
The original Falcons found George Johannesson in the nets, Connie Benson and Steve Dalman in front at point and cover-point; Bill Halderson, rover; and Ole Erickson, Allan Johannesson and Steve Finnson on the forward line rounding out a team which finished the season tied with the famous Monarchs. Hopes for entering the City League by virtue of a play-off were rudely shattered when the Monarchs were promoted into the City Senior League.
Disappointed, but undaunted, the Falcons aided in maintaining an Independent League comprised of themselves, Portage La Prairie, Selkirk and the Winnipeg A.A.A.. In this manner the Icelandic Club pioneered senior hockey embracing teams from outside the city and continued in this attitude through-out the next several years, always with the ultimate aim of gaining entry into the (Winnipeg) City League.
The 1911-12 season was finished with the Falcons 'out of the money.' It was about this time that 'Big Minty' Stephenson, Cully Wilson and Connie Benson became members of the Monarchs.
New 'Stars' Gleaming
With the 1912-13 season, some of the other players retiring necessitated recruiting from the younger ranks, and in that year's team were found two of the coming 'world's champions,' Konnie Johannesson and Frank Fredrickson. Harvey Benson was player, organizer and manager for some years, while 'Buster' Thorsteinson made his advent on the scene, as also did the pugnacious Johnny Jonasson. That year, with the inclusion of new blood, the Falcons turned out a winner.
Selkirk was the other team in this league and they had Stan Jackson in goal, and Rod Smith, along with Joe Simpson, on defence. As forwards Jocko Anderson, Johnny Mitchell, Alf Morrison and Neville were exceptional.
A smooth combination of young Falcons of 1913-14 together with some veteran experience, consisted of: goal, George Johannesson; defence, Bobby and Harvey Benson; rover, Buster Thorsteinson; centre, Frank Fredrickson; right wing, Fred Thordarson; left wing, John Jonasson; and forward, Konnie Johannesson. The Honourable Thomas H. Johnson, honorary president of the Falcon Hockey Club, was never far away, while Skuli Hanson and Hebbie Axford acted in executive capacities with Jack Baldwin as manager.
Falcons Win Independent Title
In 1914-15 Wally Byron assumed goal tending duties and the Falcons won the Manitoba Independent League title. The club had also added to its roster at this time, Percy Walker, Bill Borland and (Dr.) Joe Olson. In the play-off against the Monarchs an exciting series resulted with the Monarchs winning. The latter team boasted of such stars as Dick Irwin, Del Irvine, Clem Loughlin, Tommy Murray, Alex Irwin, Stan Marples and Frank Cadham.
The following year the Falcons gained their objective and were admitted to the 'B' Section of the Winnipeg Senior League with the Victorias and the Winnipegs, while the 'A' Section was made up of the Monarchs, 61st Battalion and the All Stars. The 61st went on to win the division, the league and the Allan Cup. Chris Fridfinnson was a new Falcon addition that year.
The following season of 1916-17 found the whole Falcon body in the 223rd Battalion hockey team in the Winnipeg Patriotic League. With more serious duties of military pursuits calling, their performance did not reach great peaks that year.
Here we might pause to pay tribute to the memory of one hockey player whom team-mates and adversaries alike admired and respected the popular Olie Turnbull of the Winnipegs. His death was a great loss for he was one of those quiet, lovable fellows with a broad vein of humour in his make-up. He was 'all man.'
Another to pass into the great beyond was Buster Thorsteinson who made the supreme sacrifice for his nation in Flanders on the very eve of the Armistice, just after his last letter to his loved ones in Winnipeg telling them of his joy in being able to get a few days of leave back of the lines. Buster was the iron man type of player, a clever stick handler and an ideal rover. Naturally quiet and reserved, he was a little man but very sturdily built. It was his disposition and lovable nature which made him stand out among his club mates and he had one of those rare personalities which kindled a warm glow in human hearts and brightened the lives of others.
Buster's pal, the curly-headed George Cumbers, also laid down his life for his country over there. There was a big gap in the ranks and an ache in the hearts of the Falcons themselves as they sought to gather up the strands of three years of war service years of turmoil, heroism, heartbreak and victory but ever at work were the laws of nature, man building, strengthening and surmounting every contingency carrying on.
The Falcons Return
The fall of 1919 saw the first gathering into a group of the members of the 1920 Olympic Champions. Overseas, the boys had developed into sturdy manhood, and at least two of them were veritable young giants upon their return. This assisted in offsetting the lack of opportunity for playing during the nearly three year absence from hockey.
In the meantime, a number of very promising juniors were making rapid strides towards stardom, among them, on the Young Men's Lutheran Club team of the Manitoba Junior Champions, were Mike Goodman, Eddie Stephenson, Huck Woodman and Slim Halderson. The veteran seniors, combined with the new material from the junior ranks, formed a likely looking aggregation. Speed was their outstanding characteristic and the true spirit of the Falcons began to make itself felt. The team was comprised of goal, Wally Byron; defence, Konnie Johannesson and Bobby Benson; centre, Frank Fredrickson; left wing, Mike Goodman; right wing, Slim Halderson; and substitutes, Huck Woodman, Chris Fridfinnson, Ed Stephenson, Harvey Benson, Connie Neil and Babe Elliott. The manager was Steamer Maxwell; Honorary President, Hon. Thomas H. Johnson; President, Hebbie Axford; Vice-President, Col. H. Marino Hannesson; secretary, Bill Fridfinnson; and the executive committee consisted of Bob Forrest, John Davidson and Fred Thordarson.
In the first place the boys were in superb physical condition. None of them smoked or drank during the hockey season. Good living and strict training is, of course, absolutely essential if any exceptional proficiency in the game of hockey is to be reached and held. Equipped as they were with sound bodies and keen minds, the thing of still greater importance was the dynamic force which was engendered by the spirit which prevailed among the members of the club. There was harmony; the club had a sufficiently large roster of players to make two teams and a large slate of executive officers and officials; yet there was never any dissension. Each one did what he could for the club in the most unselfish manner. In addition to harmony they had perseverance and a fighting spirit.
It was with the utmost difficulty that the Club obtained admittance to Senior company at the commencement of the 1919-1920 season, having been turned down repeatedly. League officials did not consider the team qualified for senior standing. Finally, after a great deal of publicity in connection with the Club's continued fight for admission (Col. H.M. Hannesson's efforts in this regard deserving a great deal of praise), the Falcons were placed in a new section of equal standing with the old combine which held fast. This new section included Selkirk, Brandon and the Falcons, and what a league it turned out to be!
Now that they were in the league it was up to the boys to prove their merit and they went about their pre-season preparations and training quietly and modestly, not boasting of what they could do when they came up against the redoubtable Selkirk team and the strong outfit from Brandon. Another quality they had was poise, and in the Club's dressing room there was order and quiet, no rowdyism or loud boisterous talk. This may seem to be a matter of minor importance, but in reality it is the opposite. The atmosphere in the club room has an important bearing on the players' serenity and balance when they take to the ice. Discord or rowdyism may affect a team's play in a most detrimental manner. Even one loud-mouthed man in a club room may so affect some of the players as to preclude their playing a game they would be capable of were they undisturbed by any jarring note. The whole club must be a cohesive, understanding combination, with a very fine sense of the fitness of things. In the Falcons' dressing room before a game quiet reigned; most of the time you could almost hear a pin drop as the boys went about the business of preparing for the contest. An occasional jocular remark quietly passed just friendly kidding, not overly serious yet restrained and controlled. Talk of winning the championship was not heard. Confident but not too much so, the boys seemed to avoid talk of winning the championship lest the charm be dispelled and their instinct was, in the long run, correct. For thinking too much ahead to the goalthe 'championship' or prize has more often than not put a team off their game, when by quietly and steadily going about the business of 'doing their stuff,' they would achieve the best results. A man does not score a goal by thinking of it; in fact, the less he thinks of the goal itself the better he can apply himself to getting within shooting distance. Then again, a feeling that one always has something in reserve adds to confidence and gives a sense of being in command of the situation, whereas over-anxiety and over-straining precludes one's doing himself justice. This 'something in reserve' the Falcons seemed to possess.
Now to this harmonious group with latent ability not even guessed at by their supporters was, by good fortune, added the coaching and managerial genius of Fred 'Steamer' Maxwell. The club's first practice was ragged, but under his masterly guidance they achieved cohesion and good team play. Later, a system of play evolved by Steamer was both new and effective. Always very apt in his remarks, though caustic at times, Steamer worked with an admirable, unselfish spirit in moulding the team into an effective hockey machine. He would illustrate the plays with matches representing the different players until the boys got the idea so clearly that their execution on the ice was greatly simplified.
Each member of the regular team had some outstanding qualifications which characterised his style of play, and the system evolved was designed to bring into play, and used to the best advantage, the particular department in which each individual excelled. That great speed merchant, Mike Goodman, excelled in overhauling opponents after they had apparently got clean away. Mike therefore was instructed to back check, if necessary, on the opposite side of the rink to his position. He was not to allow any man to get away clean without being back checked and could that boy catch them!
Frank Fredrickson's skating and stick handling and especially his shooting skills were utilized to the best advantage. Frank, therefore, was up with every rush.
Slim Halderson was a great puck carrier. He could weave his way down the right wing with uncanny control over the puck. Slim, who was six foot two inches tall, travelled down the ice at a much faster clip than the actions of his long limbs indicated. A few long strides and he'd be down to the other end of the rink before the opposition expected. Incidentally, one is reminded of a little by-play which occurred at one of the earlier practices of that great season. Steamer was impressing upon the forwards the necessity of staying in their position. Slim had a slight habit of rushing down the right wing and, as he neared the goal area, weaving over to centre ice and finally ending up in the opposite corner. At this particular practice Steamer was so emphatic about the matter that he instructed forwards to keep to their 'third' of their ice surface, dividing the ice into three sections separately by imaginary lines. Slim had the misfortune to bump his head quite sharply on the ice when he collided with another player. It caused him to become slightly dazed but nevertheless just a minute or two later, he grabbed the puck and was off on another rush on the ice. His old habit asserted itself; he veered over into the centre ice and was headed for the opposite corner when Steamer by fast skating caught up to him. He was furious and administered a resounding 'whack' on Slim's seat to stop him and inquired in a most aggrieved tone, "what the devil are you doing over here?" "I don't know, Steamer. It must have been the bump on the head," replied the nonplussed Slim. But the same Slim, with his great puck carrying ability, his tenacity of purpose and his unselfishness when he saw a chance to pass, together with Frank Fredrickson with his speed, weight and exceptional ability in shooting these two whose thoughts and actions were as one, made a great combination on the attacking line. Add to this Mike Goodman's sensational skating proclivities (he was at the time Canadian speed skating champion) and one need not wonder at the power of their attack and their superb defensive play.
Big Konnie Johannesson with his long reach and his uncanny ability to divine the intention of onrushing opponents and little Bobby Benson, sturdily built, with his quick aggressiveness, composed a wonderful defence. Bobby's 'Herculean' antics tickled the fans beyond measure. No man was too big for little Bobby to hop onto. They called him the 'jumping jack.' This contrasting pair formed an effective defence their understanding of each other's play being remarkable. It is said that the defence was not once 'split' during the entire season's play. Behind this bulwark was keen-eyed Wally Byron. His marvellous agility and intuition and his all-round masterly work in the nets made him a prime favourite with the fans who packed the Amphitheatre to the rafters for game after game.
The plucky, crafty Huck Woodman; that pugnacious, hard-working, colourful and crowd-pleasing Eddie Stephenson; the light, elusive Chris Fridfinnson; the diminutive, wiry veteran, Harvey Benson and occasionally Connie Neil of the beautiful skating style upheld the substitute duties in superb fashion. Babe Elliott the faithful sub-goalie attended every practice which was later to prove its value, and the sturdy Babs Dunlop was also always on hand.
When a man started off on a rush he and his team-mates knew which player was to go down with him, and 'speed' was their watch-word as was it that of their host of supporters. Speed! Speed! Speed! And yet more speed, was the cry of the crowd that jammed the rink. Enthusiasm was raised to a pitch such as had never before and has never since been witnessed at athletic exhibitions in the City. There was colour; there was speed to burn; there was rivalry between evenly matched clubs. The strenuous encounters with the famous Selkirk team were epics of the great winter sport. Even years later the remark was frequently heard, "Don't think we'll ever see hockey like the old Selkirk-Falcon games again."
In the first game of the season the Falcons were not conceded much of a chance with the great Selkirk aggregation which included that hockey wonder, Joe Simpson (who later, in his debut with the New York Americans was nicknamed 'BulletJoe') one of the finest players who ever stepped on local ice; Harry Oliver, an Icelander (who, by the way, became a star with Boston Bruins), Crutchey Morrison, Reddy Smith, Alex Morrison, Jocko Anderson, Pete Mitchell and many other stars. The Falcons stepped out and exceeded their own expectations and surprised the hockey fans of the town by taking a most thrilling set-to by a 7-2 score.
They started off carefully, with a three-man defence with Slim Halderson or Huck Woodman usually the pivot third man. That was the first time this style of defence had been adopted here and the Selkirks were baffled. They threw attack after attack at the Falcon bulwark, but were consistently stopped or eased towards the boards from where an angle shot with no player obscuring the line of flight of the puck was just to Wally Byron's liking. And how he could kick those sizzling shots out! Wally was a fine ball player and this stood him in good stead in his goal-keeping. He had a great pair of hands and used them to the best advantage. The Goodman-Fredrickson-Halderson combination was working like a charm. The pace was a withering one and no let-up on either side was permissible or the results would have been disastrous. Jocko Anderson and Harry Oliver, and the fleet Crutchy Morrison strove desperately to penetrate the Falcon defence. Joe Simpson, the wonder man, who always put all he had into his weaving corkscrew rushes and packed a terrific shot, went down time and again. They sent down three and four-men rushes, storming the Falcon defensive territory in a desperate bombardment and sometimes succeeded in stirring the conflict into a regular melee in and about the goal mouth; the fans meanwhile raising a deafening roar of approval in anticipation of a score. The Falcons adhered to their prearranged plan of two-man rushes with rapier-like thrusts deep into the Selkirk defensive zone and their shots were trained on openings. They steadily added to their count while Selkirk strove to solve the Falcon system, trying, as the game wore on, to play the Falcons at their own game. This had not been their practiced way and the new methods of the Falcons upset the calculations of the great Selkirk team.
The final score stood, as said before, Falcons 7, Selkirk 2. The fans, wending their way slowly out of the rink, were in a jubilant mood. Later, after obtaining a taste of this high-speed hockey, many fans would stand all night in line at the rink waiting for the box office to open up for the sale of tickets for the next game. The queue formed would sometimes reach a good city block back from' the entrance of the rink.
The Selkirk team took the next game from Falcons, 5-4. They fought desperately and Joe Simpson's redoubtable brigade finished on the long end of the score in the closest, most scintillating hockey imaginable, with twenty minutes of torrid overtime play. The winning goal came from a wild scramble in front of the Falcon goal with several players sprawled on the ice. Jocko Anderson, lying flat on his stomach, was just able to reach the puck with the end of his stick and poke it into the Falcon net.
The Falcons took another game from Selkirk when they tied the score with only fifteen seconds to go and went on to win in overtime, 3-2. Fredrickson went right through the Selkirk team to score while off balance, Brandow having stepped into his path. This picture of the flying hockeyist carrying through to score after having been knocked clean off balance, both his feet flying outward from under him, has remained vividly impressed upon my memory as a highlight of hockey at its best; coordination of hockey sense and physical power requiring no pre-meditation accomplished the seemingly impossible.