Sunday, March 16, 2008

Red Dutton

Mervyn Dutton, forever known as Red thanks to his flaming hair, was a mean, no nonsense defender in the days between the two World Wars. Though long forgotten, he still ranks among the all the best.

His career almost never happened, and perhaps should not have. Red's hockey career was almost ended before he even started. Serving in World War I, Dutton was severely injured during the battle of Vimy Ridge. A huge piece of shrapnel ripped open his thigh and calf, seriously injuring one of his legs. At one point doctors considered amputating, but Dutton was able to survive the horrifying ordeal.

After 20 months on the front lines of the war, Dutton was returned to Canada where he rehabilitated his injured leg. While most people would be thrilled just to walk again, Dutton had every intention of returning to the game he loved. He practiced seven hours a day for weeks at a time in order to strengthen his leg to the point where he could successfully play hockey.

Born in Russell, Manitoba, Dutton was the son of a very successful construction magnate. He grew up playing hockey, while also building his strength while working on one of his father's railway contracts. Soon he was the talk of Manitoba. But he would lie about his age, and at 18 he entered the war two years too young.

Dutton returned to Manitoba in 1919, and it took a full three years to get back to the top of his game. In 1922 the Calgary Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League signed him, and for the next four years he would star on the Calgary blue line. Make no mistake, the WCHL was a top league at that time. Eddie Shore, Frank Boucher and Bill and Bun Cook all starred in the league as well.

The league ultimately would fold by 1926, as the NHL monopolized top level professional hockey. Dutton would join the Montreal Maroons in 1926, and patrol the rear zone for four seasons.

Naturally, the Montreal Maroons were the cross-city arch rivals of the Montreal Canadiens, and Dutton certainly was front and center in the rivalry over his time there, clashing with the infamous Sprague Cleghorn on a few occasions. One night famed reporter Trent Frayne said that in the battle between the two of them "blood flowed like wine."

In another contest the opening face off was delayed because the referee could not find a puck to play with. The truculent Dutton clearly had other things than scoring goals on his mind, as he supposedly became frustrated and shouted "Never mind the damn puck! Let's start the game!"

After what he went through during the war, I guess you can not blame him too much for being so irritable! He once set a NHL record with 139 PIMs in a season, back when the schedule only featured 44 games.

When Maroons coach Eddie Gerard was named general manager of the New York Americans, one of the first players he sought out was his old favorite defender. Dutton joined the Amerks in 1930, and quickly established himself as one of the most popular athletes in all of New York city. He would play until 1936.

Not only did Dutton play, but he ended up owning the team. The Amerks, owned by notorious bootlegger Bill Dwyer, ran into great financial difficulty during the Great Depression. Dutton, thanks to his father's money, was able to keep the franchise afloat, loaning Dwyer money that he never got back. Instead he ended up with possession of the NHL franchise. Dutton decided as owner he had to leave the ice, but he became the team's coach.

World War II effectively killed the New York Americans, who played their last season as the Brooklyn Americans. Players leaving the team for the war effectively decimated the team to the point where Dutton was forced to close up shop in 1942. But he would remain high in power in the NHL, taking over from the deceased Frank Calder as the NHL's president.

Dutton's presidency only lasted until 1946. He opted to get out of hockey and exploit the very successful family construction business. Dutton returned to Western Canada and retired in Calgary.

Elected as a player to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958, Dutton stayed in the game by serving as a Stanley Cup trustee for more than 3 and 1/2 decades beginning in 1950. He was also recognized for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States when he was posthumously awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1993.

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