Thursday, 8 December 2011

James Stewart, Point

Having already looked at 19th Century Montreal AAA goaltender Tom Paton, we now move one position out to discuss their great point man, James Stewart. Stewart is a name that has basically lost to time, and the internet only knows that he played for the Winged Wheelers. First, let's attach a face to the name:

I don't know about you, but he reminds me of Rance Mulliniks, the unassuming Blue Jays third baseman who looked more like a schoolteacher than an athlete. You don't need to be a muscle-bound brute to be an effective hockey player, of course.

Ultimate Hockey recognizes Stewart as "Best Shot-Blocker" of the 19th Century, saying he "was Allan Cameron's defensive conscience and the first in modern terms, to act as a second goalie. He held the point position as like a rock on those celebrated Montreal AAA squads..." I'd say this is overly simplistic. For one thing, as we'll see when we look at Allan Cameron, that man did not need a defensive conscience (unlike, perhaps, their Montreal Vics contemporary Jack Campbell).

For another, if you read the game reports for the Winged Wheelers, it's rare to see Stewart singled out for his performance. Praise directed his way was almost always in conjunction with Cameron, for example in the January 14, 1888 edition of the Montreal Gazette which stated "...the Crystals tried to reduce the odds against them, but owing to the grand defence of Cameron and Stewart their efforts were unavailing." 

Indeed, in the February 16, 1888 edition of that paper, a writer admonished that "Stewart should not forget that his position is point, he has a disposition to get too far away from his place, he should keep further back to give the goalkeeper a little more assistance." In due time I'm going to make an argument that this comment has more to do with the defensive style of the mighty Winged Wheelers, than with a failing on Stewart's part, who played a very important defensive position for some exceptionally good defensive teams.

I'd also suggest that Stewart's relative lack of fanfare also has to do with the nature of the point position. Mike Grant, the Hall of Fame Vics cover-point, described the position's responsibilities in Arthur Farrell's Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game:

The point and cover-point should play as if they were one man in two positions. The position of the point should be determined by that of the cover-point. If the cover-point is on one side, the point should be on the other to such an extent only, though, that each may have an equally good view of the play, and that a forward who advances towards their goals will have two distinct men to pass, instead of two men, one directly and close, behind the other.

When two forwards approach their goals, the cover-point should devote his attention to the man who has the puck and block him as well as he may, and the point should advance slightly to meet the other, and, incidentally, to intercept any pass that may be attempted.

The position of the point man is essentially defensive. The distance between him and the goaler is determined by the proximity of the play. He should not stray too far from his place, because oftentimes he is practically a second goal-minder, able, through the practice that his position gives him, to stop almost equally well as the latter, but although he should remain close to his goal-keeper, he should never obstruct that man's view of the puck. Whenever it becomes necessary for the goaler to leave his place, it is the duty of the point man immediately to fill it, and remain there until the latter returns.

So according to Grant, a point man is basically a second cover-point and a second goaltender, without having a real identity of his own. Stewart played an "in-between" position, having characteristics of two other positions, but none all to its own. It is therefore no wonder that he would be less praised than his two better-known teammates; he was less of a defender than Cameron, and less of a goaltender than Paton. But perhaps he was their better on the whole. That's something we'll explore in the future, but I'm getting ahead of myself now. As ever, stay tuned for more on the 19th Century AAAs.

Do kids still say "stay tuned" these days?

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