Phantom Joe Malone

A prolific scorer before the NHL was formed in 1917, Joe Malone is perhaps the game's least heralded superstars. His modesty contributes to that, according to old time journalists. There is, however, no disputing his extraordinary scoring ability. Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, the Hulls, and Bossy are among the games most prolific, but none can claim to have averaged two goals a game. Only "The Phantom" can claim that.

Malone turned professional at the age of nineteen with the Quebec Bulldogs of the Eastern Canada Hockey Association in the 1909 season, scoring eight goals in twelve games. The next season the NHA, forerunner to the NHL, was formed, but Quebec was left out of the loop, so he played for Waterloo in the Ontario Professional Hockey League. Rejoining Quebec, who now joined the NHA, in 1911, he was named the team captain and so served for the Bulldogs' seven NHA seasons. Centering linemates such as Eddie Oatman and Tommy Marks, he led the Bulldogs to Stanley Cups in 1912 and 1913 -- rampaging for a career best nine goals in a Cup match against Sydney -- while recording remarkable scoring marks of 43 goals in twenty games in 1913 and 41 goals in 19 games in 1917.

When the National Hockey League was officially formed for the 1917-18 season, the league needed a scoring superstar to grab the headlines. Enter Joe Malone, who joined the Montreal Canadiens.

Malone stepped up and set goal scoring standards in the NHL's opening night as the Habs battled the Senators in Ottawa. Malone scored 5 goals that night, which to this day remains a Montreal record for most goals in a road game.

But Malone was not a one night sensation. Malone would register two more 5-goal games that season. No player in NHL history has scored 5 goals in a game more than once in a single season.

Playing much of the season on a line with the great Newsy Lalonde and the speedy Didier Pitre, Malone's magical season ended with an amazing 44 goals in the short 20 game season. That's an average of 2.20 goals a game, by far the best mark in NHL history. The modern record for goals per game ratio is Wayne Gretzky's 1.18 when he scored 87 in 74 games in 1983-84.

Malone's 44 goals bettered Ottawa's Cy Denneny's 36 to capture the inaugural NHL scoring championship. There was no Hart Trophy as league MVP until 1924, but it is safe to say Malone would have been the likely recipient.

Hockey was significantly different back then. An article by Vern Degeer in the March 18, 1961 issue of The Hockey News suggests just how different it was back then.

"There's no denying the defensive tactic of the gladiators of the Malone era were far removed from the smooth precision of the ultra moderns," wrote DeGeer. "Rinks had poorer lighting. The pace was slower and squads smaller. And about the only time a regular campaigner like Joe hit the sidelines was to get a fresh cudgel."

"We had a lot of ice time," Malone told DeGeer, "but I'll tell you we didn't go up and down the rink like they do today. We'd hustle when opportunities presented and then we'd loaf. At least I did. It was the only way you could go the 60 minutes and a lot of players had to do that."

What about the goaltending?

"Well it's tough comparing hockey of those days from any position. Today's game is speed and that exciting slap shot. The goalies have a tougher time. But we thought we had some pretty fair goaltenders in our time. You can't say fellows like Clint Benedict, Georges Vezina, Hughie Lehman, John Ross Roach, Hap Holmes, Paddy Moran were human sieves."

Malone, remembered as a tricky stickhandler, described his own style of play.

"I didn't have the hardest shot in the world," he said "but I knew where it was going most of the time. You can't say as much for the slap shot. With the old wrist shot you looked where you were shooting, trying to pick your spots. With the slap the player has to keep his eye on the puck, like in golf, or you're liable to fan the shot entirely. I've seen that done. It's an exciting play, but I wouldn't want to be the goaltender. You never know where the puck's going. Seems to me that's why so many goalies get hurt."

Another major area of difference was the money paid out to the game's greatest players. To prove major league hockey was very much still in its' infancy, Malone, a 4 time scoring champion and 2 time Stanley Cup champion and the NHL's first superstar, only participated in just 8 games in 1918-19, in which he scored 7 goals.

"I had hooked on to a good job in Quebec City which promised a secure future, something hockey in those days couldn't."

Hockey was not a good way to earn a living.

"I guess you could say that I was firing blanks. I didn't get any trophy or any bonus. In fact I was in pro hockey two or three years before I picked up $1,000 for a whole season. And I started with Waterloo in the old Trolley League for $50 a week, and a mighty short season in those days."

But the magical "Phantom" reappeared in 1919-20, rejoining his Quebec Bulldogs, the newest addition to the NHL. He never missed a beat. Though Quebec won only 4 of 24 games, Malone scored 39 goals and 10 official assists to narrowly edge out his old center Newsy Lalonde and capture his second NHL scoring championship.

No night was more spectacular than January 31st, 1920. In a 10-6 Quebec victory over the Toronto St. Pats, He scored an unbelievable 7 goals in a single game, and had an 8th goal disallowed. Malone broke Lalonde's record, set just 3 weeks earlier, of 6 goals.

The Phantom struck again a little over a month later on March 10th, scoring 6 goals in a 10-4 win over Ottawa.

Only two NHL players in the post-World War II modern era have scored 6 goals in a single game - St. Louis' Red Berenson in 1968 (on the road, no less) and Toronto's Darryl Sittler in 1976. It is safe to say Joe Malone's NHL record that so far has, and almost always likely will stand.

In 1920-21 the struggling Quebec franchise transferred to Hamilton, Ontario and became known as the Tigers. Malone would make the trip too, scoring 55 goals in 44 games over the next two seasons, but the franchise struggled mightily in the standings.

Les Canadiens reacquired Malone in 1922, but at the age of 33 his skills were now vanishing and was struggling with an illness. He struggled to score a lone goal in 29 games over the next two years.

Malone knew it was time to retire when he literally saw the future of hockey in Montreal.

"I took a look at a new kid in our training camp at Grimsby, Ontario and knew right then I was ready for the easy chair. He was Howie Morenz. In practice he moved past me so fast I thought I was standing still. I knew it was time to quit. Besides I was bothered by a throat ailment. I didn't want to grow old on the Canadiens' bench. I had a good job as a tool maker. So I said goodbye. I didn't stay long enough in 1923-24 to get a goal. Morenz had taken over."

In his eight greatest seasons (including pre-NHL days) he collected 280 goals in 172 games. You can't laugh that off in any language. In his top six seasons he had 230 goals in 128 games. His exploits were legendary and often led to comparisons for other young scoring stars in the province of Quebec, at least until Rocket Richard arrived.

Nowadays the unassuming Malone is all but forgotten, a victim of time. But until his record of 7 goals in a single NHL game is broken, he will always be a legend in history.


Anonymous,  9:43 AM  

What number did he wear?

Anonymous,  9:49 AM  

He wore number 9.

Quebec Bulldogs 8:27 AM  

He wore number 4 with Quebec.

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