Howie William Morenz was a Canadian ice hockey player who played in the NHL in the 20s and 30s. H played for the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, and New York Rangers. During his early days he played for the Ontario Hockey Association as well as the NHL. In the national Hockey league he set several scoring records for the time and was one of the most dramatic and dominant players in the game. He was a very strong skater and was often referred to as "Mitchell Meteor" or "Stratford Streak."
He is considered one of the first real stars in the NHL and he won the Stanley Cup three times with the Montreal Canadiens. He was in the top 10 in scoring 10 times and for seven straight seasons he led the Canadiens in both goals and points. Morenz was named to the All-Star team three times.
On September 21, 1902 Howie Morenz was born in Mitchell Ontario to Rose Pauli and Fredrick Morenz. He had two brothers and three sisters. He learned to play hockey on the frozen Thames River. As a boy he played as a goalie for a while but his coaches saw that he had more speed and he was switched to a forward. He helped the Mitchell ice hockey team win the Western Ontario junior championship during the 1916-17 hockey season. His family moved to Stratford a neighbouring community and he tried to enlist in the army in 1915 but he was denied since he was only 15 at the time. At 18 he worked at the Canadian National Railways as an apprentice and when he was not playing hockey he bet on horse races and played the ukulele.
Early Hockey Career
Morenz joined the Stratford Midgets in 1920 which was for the under 20 year olds and he led the OHA or Ontario Hockey Association in points and assists in the 1920-1921 season. In the playoffs he led in assists and goals. The Midgets played memorial Cup against the Winnipeg Falcons in 1921 and Morenz scored three goals in the second game of that series although the Midgets did lose the series to the Falcons.
In the 1921-1922 season, he played for the Stratford Indians a senior league team and continued to play junior as well. In both leagues he ended up leading in gaols, assists, and in points. In the 1922-1923 season he played exclusively in the senior league and led in several categories including penalty minutes.
In December 1922 in a tournament he scored nine goals in a game. A friend of Léo Dandurand, who was the owner of the Montreal Canadiens an NHL team referred the game and told Dandurand how good Morenz was. On July 7th 1923, Morenz signed a three-year contract with the Canadiens for $3,500 per year and he received a $1,000 signing bonus.
NHL and the Canadiens
Initially Morenz didn’t want to join the Canadiens because he was too attached to his other teams. He flew down to Montreal to meet with Dandurand and he reluctantly decided to join after Dandurand said he would never play professional hockey again if he didn’t join the Canadiens.
Morenz joined the Canadiens training camp on December 3rd 1923. On December 26th 1923 he made his debut against the Ottawa Senators and had a goal. At the end of the season he had 13 goals and 2 assists after 24 games of play. The Canadiens faced the senators in the playoffs for the NHL championship and the Canadiens won. They then defeated the Vancouver Maroons and faced off against the Calgary Tigers where Morenz scored a hat-trick in the first game of the series. The Canadiens went on to their Second Stanley Cup championship and the first for Morenz.
The next season Morenz scored 28 goals and had 11 assists and placed 2nd on the team in scoring and 4th in the entire NHL. He scored 7 goals in the playoffs although the Canadiens lost the Stanley Cup to the Victoria Cougars. In the 1925-26 season he tied fellow line mate Aurèle Joliat with 26 points and finished 5th is league scoring.
The 1927-28 season was a great one for Morenz as he tied the NHL record for assists with 18 and he was the first person to score 50 points in a season. He was the league leader in goals with 33 as well as points and assists. He also received the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. During the 1929-30 season the NHL changed the rules of the game to open it up for more scoring. Morenz finished 7th in the league with 50 points but tallied 40 goals. During a game against the New York Americans on March 18, 1930, he scored 5 goals in the game. In the playoffs he added 3 goals as well as the game winning goal for the Stanley Cup as the Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins. In the 1930-31 season he won the Hart Trophy for the second time and was named to the NHL All-Star team. In the playoffs the Canadiens beat the Chicago Blackhawks and Morenz won his 3rd Stanley Cup.
Decline and Trade
In the 1931-32 season he won the hart Trophy for the 3rd time and placed 3rd in league scoring. During the next year he suffered a few injuries and his point totals went down and he ended up 10th in league scoring. The next year saw his totals all some more and he managed 8 goals and 21 points. On December 23, 1933 he notched his 249th goals and became the NHL leader for career goals. On January 2, 1934 he bruised a bone in his knee and he tore ligaments. This was his first serious injury and he couldn’t play for a month. Since he couldn’t play at his regular level the Canadiens fans turned on him.
Trade rumors began swirling in Montreal newspapers and Léo Dandurand confirmed that several teams were interested in Morenz. After the playoffs Morenz stated that he would only play for the Canadiens but the management of the Canadiens knew he had a passion for hockey and would play elsewhere. During the 1934 summer Morenz worried that he would in fact be traded away from Montreal.
On October 3rd 1934 he was in fact traded to the Chicago Blackhawks along with defenseman Marty Burke and goalie Lorne Chabot for the forwards Lionel Conacher, Leroy Goldsworthy, and defenseman Roger Jenkins
Chicago, New York and Return to Montreal
In the 1934–35 season Morenz played all 48 games for the Blackhawks. He scored 8 goals and tallied 34 points as the Blackhawks made the playoffs. The next season wasn’t as good for Morenz and he didn’t really feel comfortable in Chicago. He was benched a lot and didn’t get the ice time he was so used to. He played another 23 games for the Blackhawks but was then traded to the New York Rangers on January 26th, 1936. He played 19 games for the Rangers and scored 2 goals. In the summer of 1936 the Canadiens re-hired Coach Cecil Hart and one of his conditions of being hired was that the team bring back Morenz. On September 1st 1936 Morenz was once again a Montreal Canadien. For the 1936-37 season Morenz displayed the speed he was known for and By January he had 4 goals and 20 points.
Final Game and Death
On January 28, 1937 the Montreal Canadiens played the Chicago Blackhawks in Montreal. During the first period Morenz chased the puck into the Chicago end and lost his balance as he crashed into the boards. He caught left skate in the siding of the boards and another player ended up right on top of him. The resulting impact broke his leg and he was taken off the ice to Hôpital St-Luc where it was discovered that his leg was broken in four places.
The accident kept Morenz bedridden but his teammates went to visit home and sent cards. The guys on the team also brought drinks to improve the spirits of Morenz. Although he had plenty of visitors he was soften alone for long periods in his bed. He read the latest news on the Canadiens season. Thinking he would never play hockey again Morenz became depressed as he watched the Canadiens slip in the standings due to his absence.
In February it was determined that Morenz had a nervous breakdown and no one was permitted to see him except his family. His wife and children visited him often. On March 8th he complained of chest pains which the doctors attributed to a heart attack. The Canadiens coach Cecil Hart and Howie’s wife Mary Morenz were called to the hospital. Shortly before they arrived Morenz tried to get out of bed to use the bathroom but collapsed on the floor. He was dead before the two of them got to the hospital.
A game between the Canadiens and the Montreal maroon was scheduled for that night and the NHL offered to cancel the game. His wife Mary said the game should go on because Morenz would have wanted it to. Prior to the start of the game there was two minute of silence for Morenz. On March 10th a funeral was held for Morenz at the Montreal forum. Fans were allowed to view the casket, laid at center ice. Over 50,000 paid their respects to Morenz. The service was broadcast on the radio and he was buried at Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.
On November 2nd 1937 the jersey number 7 was retired at the Montreal Forum. This was the first time a team honored a player this way. During his days in the NHL Morenz was one of the most skilled players. He tied an NHL record for most career points with 472. In 1945 when the Hockey Hall of Fame was established he was one of the first inductees.
Morenz helped to grow the popularity of the NHL and bring the sport to the United States. He helped the NHL come to Boston as well as New York. His daughter married Bernie Geoffrion who played for the Canadiens as well as the Rangers and was also inducted into the Hall of Fame. When Geoffrion died in 2006, the banner for Morenz was lowered half way and the two jerseys numbers were raised together.