Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Harry Smith - "Only" a Goal-Scorer

Continuing on a theme of early 1900s hockey mercenaries, we now have the case of Harry Smith. Less known than his two Hall-of-Fame brothers Alf and Tommy, Harry (younger than Alf but older than Harry) was a hockey star in his own right.


Smith was perhaps the ultimate hockey nomad. After an amateur career covering four teams in four seasons, he joined his older brother Alf on the powerful Ottawa Senators for the 1905/06 season, and immediately led the best league in the world in goals scored with 31, despite missing two games of the schedule. He outscored immortals Russell Bowie and Frank McGee, and several other Hall-of-Famers. Harry scored 15 goals in five Stanley Cup matches that season, as Ottawa won their first two challenges against Queen's University and Smith's Falls, then lost to the equally mighty Montreal Wanderers.

Smith fell to fourth in ECAHA scoring in 1906/07, the only season that he, Alf and Tommy played on the same team in senior hockey. His wandering period began in 1907/08, when he went to Pittsburgh to play for the Bankers, leading the league with 44 goals, ahead of brother Tommy's 32 markers. His 1908/09 season was perhaps the ultimate hockey mercenary year: he played for the Bankers, Haileybury of the Temiskaming league, Toronto of the Ontario pro league and the Montreal Wanderers, who he was with when they won the Stanley Cup against Edmonton in 1906. Because different leagues played their schedules at slightly different times, Harry was able to lead the Temiskaming league (which featured many future NHA players) in goals, despite playing for several other teams.

He spent the 1909/10 season in the NHA, splitting time between Haileybury and Cobalt, tying Ernie Russell for second in league goals behind Newsy Lalonde. For Waterloo of the Ontario pro loop in 1910/11, Smith was fourth in goals, but second on a per-game basis. In 1911/12, he led the New Ontario Hockey League (named for the area called at the time New Ontario, not for the fact that it was the most recent hockey league in Ontario) with 32 goals in only 13 games. Back in the NHA for the 1912/13 season, he played for the Toronto Tecumsehs, then played three games for Ottawa in 1913/14 before wrapping up his pro career in the Maritime league the same year.

Smith had undeniable talent, though he was at times criticized for his lack of conditioning. But everywhere he went, he scored goals but the bucketload. Like his brothers, he was also prone to losing his temper, but his calling card was most certainly his goal-scoring. He is not fondly remembered, largely because of this. Just like today, players who "only" score goals are seen as playing selfishly, while defence-first muckers who can't score to save their lives are seen as hard-working, team-oriented players. This is silly, of course. Players who score goals contribute an awful lot to their team's success, because you need to score goals to win hockey games. You have to consider a player's defence as well, of course, to get a full picture of his contributions to his team's efforts. But players like Harry Smith, who are so exceptional at goal-getting, simply cannot be so bad defensively as to eliminate the value produced by his offence.

At some point I'll be using historical Point Allocation results to argue that Harry Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame with his brothers. He may have been "only" a goal-scorer, but he was one hell of a goal-scorer. Nothing else he did or didn't do can't take away from the fact that he was a historically gifted offensive player, and put it to good use, playing on several championship teams.

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