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Hitch, Hockey's Unsung Hero – The Story of Boston Bruin Lionel Hitchman

  1. Pam Coburn
    About the book:

    Distinguished sportswriter Elmer Ferguson called him the “greatest defensive” defenseman of his day. The NHL’s revered chief referee Cooper Smeaton ranked him ahead of his defense partner, Eddie Shore. Legendary manager of the Boston Bruins, Art Ross, wouldn’t sell him “at any price.” And yet he goes unrecognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    Lionel Hitchman, or “Hitch,” played 12 seasons in the NHL—first with the 1923 Stanley Cup and World Champion Ottawa Senators, and then ten years with the Boston Bruins. As captain and the original Bruins “money player,” Hitch led his team to their first Stanley Cup championship and to the NHL’s best winning point percentage of all time.

    His hockey stats belie his real contribution to the growth of the Boston Bruins. Hitch was the last original Bruin and the first to have his sweater retired. After his playing career, he went on to coach in the Boston system for several years before parting with the franchise.

    Hitch, Hockey’s Unsung Hero, is the story of an unheralded “superstar,” the times he lived through and the fascinating people who helped shape his character and life choices. It is told through the “scribes” of the day with interjections by some notable people who knew him well. A few family tales are revealed, including one that helps explain Hitch’s absence from hockey’s highest shrine.

    Where to buy:

    Available in paperback and ebook at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

    The paperback is 368 pages, including 75 vintage images. The ebook includes everything in the paperback except the index.


    Excerpts from Chapter 11 — Greatest Team, Greatest Defenseman, pages 223-227 (after the Boston Bruins February 4, 1930 home game against the Detroit Cougars where Eddie Shore started an all-out brawl and wound up hitting Ref Mallinson in the jaw):

    “The Boston Globe reported that two days after the game, Art Ross was ‘ordered to take a two weeks’ vacation by Owner C. F. Adams. . . . During his absence Capt Lionel Hitchman and Mickey MacKay will be in charge of the teams. They will handle the men in the long siege of five games in eight days which starts Tuesday night when the Bruins will play Toronto at the Garden.’27

    “Ross and Shore were similar in many ways and fed off each other. As hockey players they played a similar style of game. Both thrived in the limelight. Ross may have been more calculating than Shore; he certainly was more restrained, the latter giving way to his immediate impulses. All the attention that Hitch had recently received likely did not go unnoticed by Shore, especially all the comparisons between the two. Shore was having a great year, but so was Hitch. The difference was that Hitch’s skills, not easily tabulated on a leaderboard and skills he did better than Shore, were getting wide appreciation. Maybe this bothered Shore, maybe not. In any event the Bruins were two-thirds through a spectacular season and their flashy defense star was acting out. The team manager, either egging him on or incapable of controlling him, was sent away on stress leave by the club president.

    “The third game without Art Ross at the helm started a whole new cycle of articles focused on Hitch. It was game 34 in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. Boston won 5-3 on February 15 under the guidance of Hitch, who also played, and Mickey MacKay, who didn’t. The coverage went as follows:
    . . .
    Toronto Telegraph:
    One reads much ballyhoo about the great Mr. Shore when studying the history of the championship hockey team from Boston this winter, but a howling mob of enthusiasts at Andy Taylor’s Arena Gardens Saturday night were ready to pin the ‘spark plug’ honors on Lionel Hitchman as the mighty Bruins staged a four-goal rally during the final 11 minutes of play, handing Maple Leafs a 5-3 setback.

    Enjoying himself in picking little pieces of dirt off the ice for the biggest part of the game, Captain Hitchman decided, as the third period was nearing the halfway mark, that it was about time to get going and add another win to the Bruins’ lengthy list. The clever Lionel stole the puck from Jackson and skated down the unprotected left side. The official scorer recorded the goal that resulted as Barry scoring from Hitchman, but to the press box aggregation it looked as if Hitchman had counted with a burning drive from the left side.

    Sensational work in Boston’s goal by ‘Tiny’ Thompson and Lionel Hitchman’s effective bodychecking on the defence held the battling Leafs to a single goal in the second period.

    Having sent George Owen home from Fort Erie with a bad charley-horse, Lionel Hitchman and Eddie Shore did nearly 60-minute service on the local defence. On two short occasions Clapper dropped back on the defence when Shore wanted a rest. The ‘Great One’ pulled all his Boston tricks, stopping the game for the water act and falling with that pained look when spilled, but it went over the heads of the local following who appreciate real hockey.

    Hitchman directed every play from his position and made what rushes he did execute count for goals or near-goals. Shore was easy to skate around, Jackson proving as he fooled the Bruin star with a perfect shift.29​
    . . .
    “Boston met the Montreal Maroons in the next game (#36) at home on February 18. Both teams were in first place in their respective divisions, Boston by 19 points and the Maroons by five. By this time Boston had already made the playoffs, the same for the Maroons, it just wasn’t clear if they would retain first place, thus sidestepping two preliminary rounds before the final. Boston won 3-2, and the Maroons moved on to play the Americans in New York. And that is where Elmer Ferguson penned his 1,329-word ‘Mr. Hitchman, the Unsung Hero’ article for the Montreal Herald on February 20, 1930:

    NEW YORK, Feb. 20. – It is high time, it seems to your correspondent, that someone with a good strong voice did some singing on behalf of the hitherto unsung heroes of hockey.
    . . .
    So far as this writer is aware at the present time, his ballot this season in the voting to decide who shall win the Dr. Hart Trophy which goes to the player adjudged the most useful to his team in the National Hockey League will go to Mr. Lionel Hitchman, the long, angular and extremely efficient left defence player of the amazing Boston Bruins. . . . The Boston club having achieved such amazing records in the current campaign, it must be that the team possesses some amazing athletes. That is obvious, even to a hockey expert. And it seems to me that the most consistent, steady and durable Bruin performer is the cool-eyed, fearless and polished ex-Mounted Police, Mr. Hitchman.
    . . .
    The Hardest Player in the League to Pass.
    But if you enquire of practically any hockey player he will tell you that the hardest player in the League to pass is not Mr. Shore, but Mr. Hitchman. . . .”​

    About the Author:

    Pam Coburn is Hitch’s granddaughter. Through the stories told to her and unveiled by her grandparents’ meticulous records; and the lens of a ten-year sports management career, she breathes life into this pivotal time in hockey’s history. See also: Pam Coburn | About

    Praise for Hitch, Hockey's Unsung Hero:

    “Coburn knows her sports, having been Executive Director and CEO of Skate Canada for nearly a decade. The retelling of the hockey side of Hitch's life is terrific, but it's the personal side that will be a particular reward to readers.” — Greg Oliver, Society for International Hockey Research

    “Pam Coburn's thoughtful look at Lionel Hitchman — her grandfather, Boston Bruins . . . 1st retired number and a man entirely worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame. . . My 2016 case for Hitch's induction: https://nhl.com/news/lionel-hitchman-worthy-of-hockey-hall-of-fame/c-279063520." — Dave Stubbs, Columnist, NHL.com

    “While Eddie Shore got most of the attention, those in the know understood that it was Hitchman who was key to the Boston defense. His offensive numbers don't look like much, but it was the steady play of Hitchman that gave Shore the freedom to join (and often lead) the Bruins attack, and also to pile up penalty minutes knowing that his partner was there to back him up. But Pam Coburn's biography of her grandfather does more than tell the story of a hockey player, it tells the story of the man that Lionel Hitchman was. Perhaps it will even be enough to finally bring this prototypical defensive defenseman his long overdue place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.” — Eric Zweig, Hockey Historian and Author of: Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins

    “A great read . . . Hitch should be a hockey Hall of Famer.” — Brian McFarlane, Hockey Historian and Author of: The Bruins, and many more.

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