Sprague Cleghorn

Sprague Cleghorn is one of the game's all time best defensemen, but also one of the most aggressive. Perhaps too aggressive.

A monster with a short fuse, Cleghorn was also incredibly skilled. He emulated Cyclone Taylor, once scoring 5 goals in one game. In 17 years, including NHA totals, he scored 163 goals. He also helped the 1920 and 1921 Ottawa Senators and the 1924 Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.

But his on ice greatness has been forever overshadowed by his on ice antics. He played the game with vigilante vigor

Cleghorn started out as property of the Montreal Wanderers before joining the Senators. The Wanderers folded only 6 games into their inaugural NHL season after their arena burned down. The Wanderers' players were dispersed across the league. Despite a broken leg and domestic problems with his wife, Cleghorn was given a chance to prove he wasn't washed up, like many people were claiming.

Cleghorn would go on to be the star and the early day Ottawa Senators. Teamed with names like Cy Denneny, Jack Darragh, Punch Broadbent, Frank Nighbor and Clint Benedict, the great skating Cleghorn anchored the Senators defense to Stanley Cup victories in 1920 and 1921.

Sprague was never popular in Ottawa, even when he played there. In one game against Montreal Cleghorn viciously attacked Newsy Lalonde with his stick, reportedly drawing the ire of police although no charges were ever drawn.

Whenever he played against former Ottawa teammates, Cleghonr often instigated brawls and cheap shots as if he seemed to have a personal vendetta against certain players. In fact, in one playoff game, after Cleghorn viciously cross checked Lionel Hitchmen, his own team fined and suspended him for the rest of the playoffs. The decision was even handed down before the NHL had time to rule on it.

Tired of Cleghorn's ruthlessness and undisciplined play, the Senators decided on releasing the most feared man in hockey in 1921. The league assigned him to the Hamilton Tigers but the Montreal Canadiens desperately wanted the local native as a drawing card for home games. They executed one of the first trades in league history, as Montreal sent Harry Mummery, Cully Wilson and Amos Arbour for Cleghorn and defenseman Bill Couture.

Cleghorn was very upset with Ottawa for letting him go, and was determined to get revenge the only way he knew how. In one of the first clashes between Cleghorn's new team versus his old, reports claimed prior to the game that Sprague would settle the score once and for all with Ottawa for dropping him after he helped them win the 1920 Stanley Cup. He would go on to viciously injure 4 Senator players - Cy Denneny, Frank Nighbor, Tommy Gorman and Eddie Gerard. Cleghorn's disgraceful conduct in resulted police action and even league movement to ban him from the NHL for life. Reportedly two teams would not agree to the ban.

Despite such actions, Cleghorn continually produced results, including helping the Habs win their first Stanley Cup as a member of the National Hockey League.

After a stint with the Boston Bruins, Cleghorn, once described by an NHL official as "a disgrace," retired in 1928. His numbers were unarguably great - 84 goals and 123 points in 256 games as a defenseman. His PIMs total was 489.

Sprague Cleghorn died in Montreal in 1956. Two years later, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Derek 2:03 PM  
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Derek 6:44 PM  

After another year of research he was probably not better BUT he was like Shore in that he was tough as nails. Cleghorn soon got weeded out in Boston by the younger Hitchman and Shore. Although it has been said that Hitchman was the Bruins' first captain - I do have evidence that Cleghorn was in fact the first.

Derek 3:12 PM  

Sprague Cleghorn brought instant credibility to the Bruins when he arrived for the 1925-1926 season. He was the tough enforcer that worked well alongside Lionel Hitchman. A former star with the Montreal Canadiens, Cleghorn was the first Bruin captain and worked with the young Dit Clapper and other future Bruin stars in a coaching role. He was one of the best defensemen in the game and despite being past his prime when he arrived with the Bruins he helped shape the inexperienced team into a contending club. After leaving the Bruins he coached in a number of leagues, including a stint in the NHL with the Maroons in 1931-32. Cleghorn was hit by a car in June 1956 and died of his injuries in a Montreal hospital the following month. He was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. His brother, Odie, was found dead in his bed just hours before the funeral, as a result of heart failure, perhaps induced by the stress of the loss of his brother.

Derek 3:18 PM  

“Hard-Rock Great of Early Hockey – Sprague Cleghorn Dies in Montreal”
Sprague Cleghorn, the hard-rock great of the gory and glamorous first days of professional hockey, will be buried here Friday.
Cleghorn, whose hockey career stretched over almost 20 years died in hospital of injuries received more than two weeks ago when he was hit by a car. He was 66.
Cleghorn was never happier than when engaged in a hockey free-for-all and he was in plenty of them during his career with the Renfrew Millionaires, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Toronto St. Pats.
It was in Renfrew that he and brother Odie, who survives, broke into hockey in 1910. But it was in Ottawa that many of the legends grew around the rugged defense star.
The stories about the Cleghorn brothers could fill a book.
King Clancy, now an executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs, recalls the time when as a rookie he was playing against Sprague.
Banged His Stick
Sprague, then playing for the Canadiens, was skating in on the Ottawa defence, when Clancy skated up beside him, banged his stick on the ice and yelled:
“Here, Sprague, here.”
Sprague passed the puck without looking and Clancy sped back into the Canadiens’ end and scored.
“At the end of the period when I was leaving the ice somebody behind me said ‘Hey, Clancy, King Recalls, “I looked around just in time to get a punch on the chin that knocked me flat.”
“Casey Dolan, our trainer, helped me into the dressing room and said: You pulled that trick on the wrong guy.”
Never Backed Up
Sprague backed up from no one either on or off the ice. Once big Lionel Hitchman, a rugged Ottawa player, was hammering Odie. Sprague invited Hitchman to try to carry the puck his way the next time.
Hitchman, who never backed off either, did. He was carried from the ice on a stretcher.
Old-time hockey stars and executives joined Thursday in paying tribute to Cleghorn:

Derek 3:22 PM  

Newsy Lalonde, who once engaged in such a bloody brawl with Cleghorn in Toronto that both were arrested, said: “He was one of the best. He could shoot like the dickens and skate like the dickens. We had our little tiffs on the ice like all hockey players, but we soon got over them.”

Frank Selke, managing director of the Montreal Canadiens, said: “He typified the old-time, driving hockey player, of which there are too few in the game today.”

It was the game of hockey that Sprague, a 60-minute man, loved – not the money – and he was never happier than when the game showed spirit aplenty.
Sprague and Odie, a forward, played with Montreal Wanderers the night that professional hockey was introduced in Toronto at the old Mutual Street Arena in an exhibition game. Newsy Lalonde was playing with the opposing Canadiens.
Tempers flared and Newsy hit Odie, knocking him cold. Sprague hurtled across the rink and engaged Newsy in a gory battle, ending with Sprague unconscious.
Thought He was Dead
“The crowd thought he was dead,” Odie recalled Thursday night, “but he was fine in a little while. They were both arrested but we hired a good lawyer and got them off.”
Said Odie: “He was my brother and I don’t like to boast, but I never saw a tougher or better defenceman than Sprague.”
Sprague was married three times. His first two marriages ended in divorce and his third wife predeceased him.

If you weren’t around in the era when Sprague Cleghorn was one of hockey’s most colorful figures, it’s worth listening to Tommy Gorman, who managed Ottawa Senators when Cleghorn played here.
“I’d have to list him with the late Lionel Conacher as one of the greatest defencemen I’ve ever had under me. They were the sort of policemen every successful pro team must have. They were leaders.”
“He played a leading role in the championships we won in those years, because he was fearless and a terrific two-way performer. He was ice-cold and the slugger type. He gave the younger fellows on the club all the confidence in the world because he went out of his way to protect any fellow playing on his side.
“I might also add,” laughs Gorman, “that Sprague didn’t need any excuse or reason to knock down or hurt an opponent. He liked trouble on the ice, reveled in the heavy going.”
“Sprague was the original Iron-Man of hockey. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he was in a class by himself when it came to going the route and doing the iron man stunt. He’d go 60 minutes some nights, as he often did, and I’d kid him when he came off the ice. ‘Didn’t see you out there at all’, I’d laugh, and Sprague just grinned back ‘I was around, all right, Tommy, ask some of the fellows on the other team.
“Now athletes have to take time out with bruised ankles and other minor ailments, but Sprague wouldn’t think of missing a game unless one of his arms or legs was broken and dangling loose. He didn’t know what it meant to rest up.”
“He gave us a lot of trouble off the ice. He was always trying some practical joke on someone, but he more than made up for it on the ice. And, off the ice, he was a great fellow. I liked him.”
Gorman feels Sprague was such a great star because he was a terrific scorer.
“Man,” sighs Mr. Gorman, “they don’t make hockey players like that these days.”

Sprague was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame two years after his death.

Sprague played 98, of his 251 NHL games, with Boston

GP G A Pts
98 15 8 23

Derek 3:23 PM  

Interviews of Sprague's brother were published in newspapers after Sprague's death - seemingly well he was found dead in his bed on the day of Sprague's funeral.

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