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Lionel Conacher

Lionel Conacher
Born May 24, 1900(1900-05-24),
Toronto, ON, CAN
Died May 26, 1954 (aged 54),
Ottawa, ON, CAN
6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
195 lb (88 kg; 13 st 13 lb)
Position Defence
Shot Left
Played for NHL
Pittsburgh Pirates
New York Americans
Montreal Maroons
Chicago Black Hawks
Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets
Playing career 1923'1937
Hall of Fame, 1994

Lionel Pretoria Conacher, MP (May 24, 1900 ' May 26, 1954), nicknamed "The Big Train", was Canada's top all-around athlete in the 1920s, excelling in Canadian football, ice hockey, lacrosse, baseball, boxing and wrestling. He later became a politician and was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the Canadian House of Commons.


[edit] Early life

Conacher was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1900. He grew up in poverty and was one of ten children. His father was a Toronto teamster. Lionel quit school after the 8th grade to help support his family. He soon realized that sports offered a way out of poverty. He then pursued athletic success.[1]

[edit] Football career

Date of birth: May 24, 1900(1900-05-24)
Place of birth: Toronto, Ontario
Date of death: May 26, 1954 (aged 54)
Place of death: Ottawa, Ontario
Career information
Position(s): Halfback
College: Duquesne University
 As player:
Toronto Capitals (ORFU)
Toronto Rugby Union
Toronto Argonauts
Toronto Crosse and Blackwell Chefs
Wrigley Aromints
Career highlights and awards
Awards: 1921 Grey Cup
Honors: Organized the first professional football league in Canada
Canadian Football Hall of Fame, 1963

[edit] Junior football and rugby

Lionel first played organized football from 1912'1916 with a Toronto junior team, the Capitals, where he played middle wing (offensive tackle). Canadian football was different then from what it is today. There were fourteen players a side and a touchdown was worth only five points (as it had been in the U. S. before 1912). The Capitals won the city championship each year Conacher was a member of the team. In 1919 he played halfback on the Ontario Rugby Football Union's (ORFU) Capitals. In 1920 Conacher joined the Toronto Rugby Club in the senior division of the ORFU.[2]

[edit] Toronto Argonauts

Conacher went on to play for the Toronto Argonauts, and was part of the 1921 Grey Cup winning team. This was the first Grey Cup game ever played between the eastern and western champions. Lionel scored two touchdowns for the Argonauts.[3] The very next season Lionel was named as team captain of the Argonauts. The team went undefeated again, with one tied game. Conacher rushed for 950 yards, in six regular-season games, including 215 yards on eight carries against Ottawa. Conacher only played two season with the Argonauts. While he played for them, the team was 15-1-1 in regular-season and play-off competition, winning one Grey Cup. He also set a season record by scoring 33 singles, including eight on 25 punts in another game versus Ottawa. This record still holds today, even though Canadian teams now play sixteen games instead of six.[2]

[edit] Football in the USA

In 1923 Conacher moved to the United States and enrolled in Bellefonte Academy, a prep school just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enrolled here because he had some academic deficiencies to make up before he could apply to a university. However, he was eligible for the football team, and did play. In 1924 he played for Duquesne University, also located in Pittsburgh. In 1927 he became an assistant football coach at Rutgers University.[2]

[edit] Canadian Pro Football

By 1932, Conacher was now a professional in four sports and ineligible to play Canadian football, which was still exclusively amateur. Therefore in 1933, he organized the first professional football league in Canada. He played halfback and captained the Toronto Crosse and Blackwell Chefs. The team was named for its sponsor, a food products company. The Chefs played teams from Rochester and Buffalo. In 1934 Conacher's team was called the Wrigley Aromints, because of a change of sponsors, this year marked his last year in football.[2]

In 1963 Lionel Conacher was chosen as one of the charter members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.[2] However while football was Lionel's favorite sport, it did not pay well in the 1920s and '30s. However hockey did pay well and Conacher began to play more hockey games.[1]

[edit] Hockey career

From 1925 to 1937, Conacher played in the National Hockey League with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, Chicago Black Hawks, and Montreal Maroons. Winning the Stanley Cup in 1934 with the Chicago Black Hawks, and 1935 with the Montreal Maroons.[3]

[edit] Amateur hockey

Hockey was Conacher's weakest sport.[1] Conacher didn't start skating until he was 16 years old. However he quickly learned the skill while with the Toronto Century Rovers and the Aura Lee Athletic Club. He then joined the Toronto Canoe Club juniors in 1919-20. The club captured both the Ontario Hockey Associations junior crown and the Memorial Cup that season. Conacher then returned to the Aura Lees to play for their senior team for two years.[3]

In 1922, Conacher played hockey for the North Toronto Seniors and he was in the line-up on February 8, 1923, in the first hockey match ever broadcast on radio. At this stage, Conacher was so highly regarded that the Toronto St. Pats and Montreal Canadiens both invited him to play in the NHL. That year while still active in amateur baseball, hockey and lacrosse, Lionel turned down an offer by Montreal Canadians manager, Leo Dandurand, to turn pro. Dandurand is reported to have offered Conacher $5,000 plus help in setting up his own business.[2]

In late 1922, Conacher rejoined the Aura Lees. That season he and a teammate were accused of point shaving in a hockey game. The Ontario Amateur Athletic Union suspended his entire team. However the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union would later absolve the players of any wrong-doing.[2] In 1924 and 1925, Conacher then captained the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets as they won consecutive United States Amateur Hockey Association titles. The following year the Yellow Jackets became the expansion Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL. He was instrumental in keeping most of the Yellow Jackets together when the team went professional.[3]

[edit] Pittsburgh Pirates

Conacher on Opening Night 1925 with the Pittsburgh Pirates

Conacher went professional when he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925. He was soon named the team's captain and scored the first goal in franchise history, against the Boston Bruins on November 26.[3] On December 2, in front of 8,200 fans, Lionel also scored the Pirates first goal in Pittsburgh.[4]

[edit] New York Americans

1929 New York Americans: Conacher is fifth from left

In 1927 Conacher was traded to the New York Americans, where he played four seasons and played alongside defencemen Leo Reise and Bill Brydge. In 1929 until 1930, Conacher served as the Americans player-coach.[3] As a member of the bootlegger Bill Dwyer's Americans, Conacher became a heavy drinker and his play declined. After a last-place finish as playing-coach in 1929-30, he was traded to the Maroons for cash in 1930, and the trade changed him. After arriving in Montreal, Conacher phoned his wife, who was in the maternity ward in Toronto, and he promised to never drink again.[5]

[edit] Montreal Maroons and Chicago Black Hawks

Conacher joined the Montreal Maroons for the 1931 season. His time with the team included a career-best 28 points in 1932-33. He then joined the Chicago Black Hawks for the 1933 season, and was a key figure in the club's first-ever Stanley Cup victory that season. He finished second to the Canadiens' Aurel Joliat in the voting for the Hart Trophy and earned a spot on the NHL's First All-Star Team.[3]

The next season, Conacher returned to the Maroons, where he'd spend his last three NHL seasons and won his second Stanley Cup in 1935. He ended his hockey career after the Maroons were eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Rangers on April 23, 1937. That final year he was runner-up to Babe Siebert in the 1937 Hart Trophy voting and was placed on the NHL Second All-Star Team.[3]

[edit] Other sports

[edit] Baseball

In 1920, Lionel hit the game-winning home run to give his team the Toronto semipro baseball crown, then promptly took a taxi across the city and scored four goals for his lacrosse team, which was losing 3-0 when he arrived. In 1926, he played professional baseball as an outfielder for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. His team won the pennant and the Triple A championship.[2]

[edit] Boxing

In 1920 Lionel won the Canadian amateur light heavyweight boxing title. In 1921 Lionel boxed a four-round exhibition with Jack Dempsey.[2]

[edit] Lacrosse

Lionel also played lacrosse for the Toronto Maitlands, and helped guide that team to the Ontario Senior Lacrosse championship in 1922.[6] In 1931, Conacher became professional in a third sport when he played for the Montreal Maroons in the International Indoor Professional Lacrosse League.[2] In 1965, he was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

[edit] Wrestling

In 1916 Conacher won the amateur lightweight wrestling championship of Ontario in the 125 pound weight class at age 16 year old. After training with Ali Hassan, he made his pro debut in May 1932 for Toronto promoter Ivan Mickailoff. Conacher went 27-0 as a pro wrestler in Canada and the United States in 1933 and never lost a match in his career.[7]

[edit] Politics and death

Conacher was a Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for the Toronto riding of Bracondale, from October 6, 1937 until June 30, 1943. He was elected in the 1949 federal election as a Liberal Member of Parliament in the Toronto riding of Trinity and re-elected in the 1953 election.

In 1954, Lionel Conacher went to Ottawa to play in the annual softball game between MPs and members of the parliamentary press gallery. In the sixth inning, he hit a triple into left field and sprinted to third base. Then Conacher collapsed with a heart attack. Within twenty minutes, he was pronounced dead.[1] He is buried at St. Johns York Mills Anglican Church Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario.

He was named Canada's Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century (1950). In 1981 the Pro Football Researchers Association called Conacher, "Canada's Answer to Jim Thorpe".[2] He is a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (1955), the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1963), the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1966), and Hockey Hall of Fame (1994). The award for the Canadian Press Canadian male athlete of the year is called the Lionel Conacher Award.[3]

[edit] Family

Conacher's younger brothers, Charlie Conacher, and Roy Conacher, were also Hall of Fame hockey players. His namesake so, Lionel Jr., was the first draft pick in 1960 and played two seasons with the Canadian Football League team the Montreal Alouettes. His son, Brian Conacher, played for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League and won the Stanley Cup with them in 1966'67 NHL season. Pete Conacher, Lionel's nephew and the son of Charlie, also played in the NHL.

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

[edit] External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Pittsburgh Pirates captains
Succeeded by
Harold Cotton
Preceded by
Hooley Smith
Montreal Maroons captains
Succeeded by
Stewart Evans

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