Thursday, April 21, 2011
Following the conclusion of the 1937-38 NHL season, the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings became the first ever NHL teams to play in Europe when they travelled across the Atlantic for a series of nine games over a span of three and a half weeks.
The Red Wings pose for a photo during their Atlantic crossing
The first game was played on this date at Earl's Court in Central London, England. Montreal's Toe Blake scored the game winning goal in overtime to give the Canadiens a 5-4 win in front of 8,000 fans.
The two teams then traveled to the south coast of England for a game two nights later in Brighton, England. This time overtime did not settle the battle and the game ended tied at 5-5.
Following the game in Brighton, the clubs crossed the English Channel and made their way to Paris, France for a trio of games over the course of five days. While the Red Wings managed to score eight goals against Montreal, the Canadiens prevailed when they reached double digits to win the game 10-8.
The 1937-38 Montreal Canadiens
Two nights later, on April 27, Detroit came out on top for the first time on the tour when they defeated Montreal by a score of 4-3.
The final game in Paris took place on April 29, 1938, which went the way of the French Canadiens 7-5.
“The professional ice hockey players of the two teams in Paris are a fine lot of players. Next week the two teams are scheduled to play in London and the hockey enthusiasts of the big city will see the fastest competition game played by humans as it should be played. It is really thrilling to witness ice hockey such as we have seen played in Paris by the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.” wrote sportswriter Sparrow Robertson of New York Herald Tribune.
Following their game on the 29th, the teams took their time for some sightseeing, as they were not scheduled for another game until May 5th, six days later for a return engagement at Earl's Court in England. That contest proved to be the fourth win for Montreal in six games when they won the game by a three goal margin, 6-3.
The two teams then returned to Brighton on May 7th where Detroit won the game by the largest margin of the tour when the defeated Montreal by a score of 10-5.
The 1937-38 Detroit Red Wings
Oddly, the teams then returned to Earls Court for a third time on May 10th, won by Montreal 5-4 before traveling yet again to Brighton for a third game there, where Detroit closed out the tour with a 5-2 win rather than travel to a different, larger city in England, such as Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool.
It would be another 21 years before the NHL would return to Europe when the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers would visit England, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany and Austria on an epic 23 game, 26 day trek around the continent that would have today's modern player howling in protest at the mere suggestion of such a grueling schedule after the conclusion of the NHL regular season.
Perhaps the players in 1959 did protest vociferously, as the teams from the NHL would not play another game outside of North America until 1976 when the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts played four games in Japan, and they would not return to Europe until 1980 when the Capitals and Minnesota North Stars competed in a tournament against the Swedish clubs Djurgarden and AIK in Stockholm.
Other games would take place in Sweden in 1981, the Soviet Union in 1989 and 1990, Germany and Austria in 1990, a return to England in 1992 and 1993, the first NHL appearance in Finland in 1994 before the first NHL games to count in the regular season standings when the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Vancouver Canucks opened the season with a pair of games in Tokyo, Japan in 1997.
Exhibition games in Europe continued, as did the season openers in Japan on two more occasions in 1998 and 2000 prior to the opening games of the season taking place in Europe, which began in 2007 in London and is now an annual occurrence, mainly taking place in Sweden and Finland, but games have been scheduled for the Czech Republic and Germany as well.
Today's featured jersey is a 1937-38 Montreal Canadiens Toe Blake jersey as worn when Blake scored the game winning goal in overtime of the first game between NHL teams outside of North America on this date in 1959.
This jersey pre-dated the arrival of sleeve numbers on their sweaters, which did not arrive until 1958 with the advent of television.
Today's video is the from the return of the NHL to England for the 2007-08 season, the first ever regular season games held in Europe.