• Brian McFarlane

Doraty Ends Torrid Grind

On April Fools’ Day, 1933, a record crowd filled Maple Leaf Gardens for the fifth and deciding game of the semifinal playoff series between Boston and Toronto. Every inch of space in the building was packed with spectators. In the standing-room areas, some brought folding camp chairs to stand on. Others rented soft-drink crates. A few “borrowed” cuspidors from the men’s rooms, turned them upside down and stood on them. Anything to elevate them a few inches in order to see over the heads of others and watch the thrilling action below. When the attendance was announced — 14,539 — many said a larger crowd would never see a hockey game in Toronto.

At the end of the amazing marathon, no one could complain they hadn’t got their money’s worth; the spine-tingling struggle entered the record books as an epic, a playoff game like no other ever witnessed.

The Toronto Star, in bold print, offered a concise synopsis of the action:

Ken Doraty Comes through with Lone Goal after Record Crowd Sits through 164.46 Minutes of Scoreless Hockey

— Fans in a Frenzy as Toronto Team Triumphs in Nerve-Wracking Playoff Game —

— Players Troop off Ice in State of Exhaustion —

— Winners En Route to Meet Rangers in Stanley Cup Finals —

— Andy Blair Combines With Syracuse Rookie for Million-Dollar Tally —

— Struggle Will Go Down as Greatest in History of Professional Hockey —

— Conquerors Proved Themselves Men of Mettle —

At exactly 8:30 p.m., referees Daigneault and Cleghorn brought the teams to center ice for the opening face-off. At 1:48 the next morning, in the sixth period of overtime, the fans’ cheers rocked Conn Smythe’s new ice palace to its very foundations as little Ken Doraty whipped the puck past Bruins netminder Tiny Thompson for the only goal of the game. Until that moment, Thompson had been sensational and had faced 114 shots. His counterpart in the Toronto goal, Lorne Chabot, had faced 93 shots and stopped them all.

Blair and Doraty were two unlikely heroes. Doraty, one of the smallest players in hockey at 124 pounds, had recently been called up from Syracuse. In a previous trial, it was said that he lacked endurance and simply wouldn’t make the grade in the NHL. Blair, it was reported after a recent injury, was at the end of his career.

For 164 minutes and 46 seconds the teams, comprising some of the greatest hockey players in the world, battled each other into a state of exhaustion. After the fifth overtime period had been played, some players wanted to stop; but a conference with NHL President Frank Calder resulted in the decree: “Play to a finish!”

Someone had suggested that a coin be flipped to determine a winner. “Let’s play without goalies” was another proposal. Calder vetoed both suggestions. It’s a wonder that no one proposed a shootout, similar to the tiebreakers that are employed in modern-day hockey.

The goat of the contest turned out to be Bruins immortal Eddie Shore, the highest-paid and most feared defenseman in hockey. Blair intercepted Shore’s cross-ice pass. He threw the puck over to Doraty, who took a couple of choppy strides toward Thompson, fired the puck and scored!

Hats flew out on the ice. Programs fluttered down. The crowd was delirious with delight. Before his mates could leap on Doraty’s toothpick-slim frame, he dove into the net and retrieved the puck, a souvenir of the greatest athletic feat he would ever achieve. His mates hugged and kissed him and dragged him back to the bench. One Leaf, Harold Cotton, skated around the ice kicking hats into the air. He fell down, got up and did an Irish jig. He pulled a battered derby over his head and made comical faces at the fans.

Boston coach Art Ross took the devastating loss like a champion. He embraced Leafs defenseman King Clancy and planted a kiss on his cheek. Earlier in the season, during a dispute in Boston, a snarling Ross tried to plant another kind of kiss on Clancy — using his knuckles.

The following day, Lou Marsh, the esteemed sports editor of the Toronto Star, wrote of Doraty’s delightful deed and was widely criticized by his readers for his comments.

The gink who breaks up these epic hockey matches is always some meek and lowly punk … some comparative non-entity who comes from behind the barrel to carve his name on the tablets of athletic fame.

The gent with the ready roscoe who broke up last night’s titanic struggle was the midget of the team — Ken Doraty … little undersized runt as far as big league hockey players go … lightest and smallest player on the roster … the kid who hauls down the thinnest envelope … last sub on the relief corps … the tool the master-mind uses when all others are blunted. Now get me right — I don’t intend to insinuate that Ken Doraty, who played the hero’s role last night, is literally a punk. He is a gallant and game young man, but he is just plain lucky to be on the Leaf payroll!

For the next few weeks, Marsh fended off fans and harsh letters. His critics objected to his use of the words “punk” and “undersized runt” to describe the 27-year-old Doraty. Many of them described themselves as “not much bigger than Doraty myself. And nobody calls me a runt!”

Ken Doraty ended the longest game ever played at Maple Leaf Gardens. Three years later, the marathon would be eclipsed by one in Montreal between the Red Wings and Maroons that would last a dozen or so minutes longer.

Doraty stayed with Toronto for the next two seasons and scored another 10 goals in 45 games. During the next season, he established a record that can never be broken. When Toronto met Ottawa on January 16, 1934, the game was tied 4–4 at the end of regulation time. The overtime rule in that era required a full 10 minutes of extra play — no sudden-death endings. Doraty rattled in three goals in the overtime frame and the Leafs won the contest 7–4. He thus became the only NHL player ever to score a hat trick in overtime.