CANADA - DECEMBER 23: Stafford Smythe in the Navy. The fine looking young fellow on the RIGHT of the picture is Ordinary Seaman Stafford Smythe; son of Major Conn Smythe; 30th Battery; LEFT. The lad is a chip off the old block. Craving action he signed on the dotted line and says; There's nothing like the life of a sailor. (Photo by Toronto Star Archives/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

On the two occasions last century when world war broke out, prominent Canadian hockey players answered the call to arms, trading in their sticks and skates for guns and boots, and putting their careers on hold in order to help Britain in her fight against the mighty German armies.

World War I

It stands to reason that the sport hockey – which sometimes resembles armed conflict on ice – would produce so many soldiers, pilots and seaman. This fact was noted by James T. Sutherland, president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, and captain of the 146th Overseas Battalion. In 1915, Sutherland issued a recruiting message that called on hockey players to join the war effort.

"It takes nerve and gameness to play the game of hockey. The same qualities are necessary in the greater game that is now being played in France and on the other fighting fronts." 

Many people connected with the game responded to Sutherland's message, including Toronto Maple Leaf owner Conn Smythe, who joined the air force and was shot down over Germany, spending over two years in a Prisoner of War camp.

Perhaps the most famous hockey player to serve overseas in World War I was the legendary Frank McGee, one of the game's pre-NHL greats, who won the Stanley Cup four times while playing for the Ottawa Silver Seven. (He famously scored 14 goals against the Dawson City Nuggets in a Stanley Cup-winning game.)

After his career, McGee sought glory on the battlefield, joining the 43rd Regiment – despite the fact he only had one eye. He was killed during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the huge numbers lost in the Somme Offensive. Along with over 11,000 of his fellow Canadians, McGee's body was never recovered.


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