Much was changing around the world as the 1941-42 hockey season approached. Pearl Harbor was a few days away, and many players would be called to military duty, causing great turnover in rosters and shortages of professional hockey players in North America - and claiming some lives.
And for the Indianapolis Capitals, there was a bit of an overhaul, too, as the team tried to rebound from a disastrous 1940-41 season in which the team went 17-28-11 and finished last in the AHL West.
The most obvious new face when the Caps convened in Detroit for training camp was that of goaltender Joe Turner, a teenager out of Windsor, Ont. with a stellar amateur record. He replaced Jimmy Franks, who had been the Caps' netminder for most of their first two seasons.
Franks was available, but Turner quickly proved his services wouldn't be needed.
Another Cap defensive mainstay - Archie Wilder - was called into the army before the season. More would follow as the United States entered the war in December.
Those that stuck around would put something special together. With Turner leading the way, the Capitals rolled to the AHL West title, survived a hair-raising first-round series with Springfield - which the Caps won in OT of the deciding game - and then brought home the Calder Cup, giving Indianapolis its first-ever postseason hockey championship.
The future AHL champion Capitals began their season, fittingly, in the nation's capital, on Oct. 30. As important decisions were being made a few blocks away, the young rookie Turner turned some heads on the ice, turning away every Washington Lion shot in a 1-0 win. Adam Brown - whose son Andy would later play for the Indianapolis Racers - notched the only goal at 9:14 of the second period. Turner and Brown were big again two nights later, as Brown tallied two goals and an assist in a 5-1 victory.
A Scotsman, Brown was one of the Caps' key players, who would soon go to Detroit to stay, along with talented right wing Joe Carveth. Connie Brown - no relation - and Les Douglas would team to lead the Caps, under coach Herb Lewis. Brusiers Buck Jones and Dick Behling joined Hal Jackson in forming a nucleus on the blueline. Second-year Capital Judd McAtee teamed up with brother Norm to put up plenty of points. The lineup was built on speed, speed and more speed, fitting Lewis' personality. The coach was regarded as the NHL's fastest skater throughout the 1930s.
Turner would continue to shine as the Caps jumped out to an 11-3-2 start. Only once in that stretch did he allow more than three goals. He also had a shutout on Nov. 12 at Hershey (3-0) and three one-goal games in the stretch.
On Nov. 22, one of the season's uglier incidents took place, as a big brawl broke out on the ice, and spilled into the stands when some Pittsburgh fans tried to get at Caps' defenseman Buck Jones. The police were called in to intervene and restore order. The Capitals rallied to win 4-2 in overtime, getting the game-winner from Gerry Brown and adding a later insurance goal in the non-sudden death 10-minute extra session.
And on the one night where Turner had a bad period, the Caps rallied in front of him. On Dec. 4, the Providence Reds lit the Caps up for four first-period goals, taking a 4-0 lead into the intermission in front of 3,500 dejected fans at the Coliseum.
The Caps got one goal back in the second, and got a break when bruising Reds defenseman Eddie Bush was sent off for a double-minor midway through the period. Doug McCaig went end-to-end and scored on Mike Karakas to cut the deficit to 4-2 at 9:22. Later, Gerry Brown took a quick feed from Joe Carveth - who had recently been sent down by the parent Red Wings -- and one-timed it into the net at 11:39, and all of a sudden, it was 4-3. The already-delirious crowd was sent into a frenzy just 17 seconds later, when Brown got the puck off the draw and fed Carveth at the blueline for a long shot that got past Karakas and tied the game at 4-4.
Connie Brown provided the highlight-reel icing on the cake with 4:10 to go, batting the puck out of mid-air and under Karakas' shoulder to provide the difference in a 5-4 win.
The win, which gave the Caps an 11-3-2 mark, should've provided a springboard to the team's first long Eastern roadtrip. Instead, Turner sprained his thigh midway through the first game. Trainer Les Tooke took over for that, and gave up the game-winner to Johnny O'Flaherty as Springfield won 4-3. Floyd Perras came in for three games - giving up three goals in each, but losing all three - while Turner mended himself, and Turner dropped the final game, a 3-2 decision to Cleveland.
Back in Indianapolis and with a healthy goalie - as well as defenseman Sandy Ross, who was called up from Omaha -- the Caps entertained the Pittsburgh Hornets in front of 4,059 at the Coliseum. Pittsburgh scored in the second, but Carveth scored in the third to send the game into OT. There, Carveth teamed up with linemate McCaig to feed Jack Keating in front, who banged the game-winner home with 2:31 to go in the extra session, providing a 2-1 victory. Four nights later, Connie Brown had a hat trick in an 8-3 win over the New Haven Ramblers.
On New Year's Eve, with the Caps in a funk where they were playing .500 hockey and bouncing back and forth between second and third, Carveth and Adam Brown - both of whom had been playing well - got called up by the Wings. Bill Jennings came back down. Meanwhile, Ross broke his thumb and was out and the Caps started the new year 1-3-1, standing 17-13-1 after a 3-0 loss at New Haven on Jan. 15.
But there would be no fade like the year before.
On Jan. 17, the Caps traveled to Hershey and played the red-hot Bears in front of a sold-out house. Hershey had a 12-game unbeaten streak going - that is, until Red Keating scored late in the second period to give Indy a 3-1 lead. Turner allowed a third-period goal, but Indy answered to end Hershey's streak 4-2.
After that, the Caps began rolling - going an incredible 17-2-3 over the last 22 games, starting with a nine-game unbeaten streak.
Yes, Turner had a lot to do with it - he began a streak of 10 games of allowing three goals or less - but a rejuvenated offense had more. After the win at Hershey, the Caps returned home to beat Washington 3-2, and then started ripping off goals - getting two from Les Douglas in a 6-3 win over Buffalo which featured a huge third-period brawl - and a hat trick from Judd McAtee in another 6-3 win four nights later, this time over Springfield. After a 2-2 tie against Cleveland on Feb. 1, the Caps ripped off 5-2 wins over Eastern foes on back-to-back nights, scoring four times in the last 4:49 on Feb. 7 at Philadelphia - twice each by McAtee and Connie Brown - and then rallying again in the third period back home against New Haven the next night. Joe Fisher had two goals and Gerry Brown a goal and two assists against the Ramblers. Ken Kilrea - just back from Detroit - provided a goal and two assists in a 6-3 win at Pittsburgh and a 6-4 decision over Hershey on back-to-back nights. The latter took place in front of a packed Coliseum house and gave Indy a 25-15-5 record.
Ken Kilrea, Hec's younger brother, provided much spark after being sent down. He was fourth on the Caps with 44 points (on 15 goals and 29 assists) in just 27 games.
After their goal-scoring binge, the Caps went on another Eastern swing and went 2-2-1 over the next five games, scoring seven goals apiece in the two wins - a 7-4 decision at Providence - which featured four Connie Brown goals -- and a 7-5 win at Springfield in which Les Douglas had a hat trick. After returning home from the Eastern swing, the Caps seized first place with a 7-3 win over Philadelphia on March 1 went on to win their last eight and roll to first place in the tight AHL West. But they didn't clinch the Ted Oke Trophy and the division title until beating Cleveland 4-2 in the second-to-last game.
Bring on the IndiansThe Caps went into the playoffs against Eddie Shore's tough Springfield bunch, the AHL East champion. The league's playoff format - which would last for nearly every year the Caps were in the AHL -- called for the two division champs to face off in one series, with the winner playing for the Calder Cup. The second-and-third place teams from each division would play down to determine the other finalists.
The Indians won the playoff opener at the Coliseum by a 4-2 count, using two second-period goals to build a 3-1 edge and hold off the Caps over the final period. Jack Keating scored his second goal midway through the period for Indy, but Springfield goaltender Earl Robertson held off a late surge for the tying goal. Bill Summerhill had a hat trick for the Indians, capping it with an empty-netter with one second left.
Facing a near must-win in Game 2 at the Coliseum - or go to Springfield down 2-0 in a best-of-5 -- the Caps came out flying, lighting Robertson and the Indians up early and often. Things got started when Shore - one of the most rugged players hockey has ever seen - got whistled for interference midway through the first. Keating slipped the puck across the crease to Les Douglas for the first goal. Bill Jennings and Joe Fisher would beat Robertson before the first intermission, and Douglas made it 4-0 4:51 into the second, taking a behind-the-net feed from Keating, deking Robertson and burying the shot. Springfield showed some life two minutes later, when Johnny O'Flaherty scored, but Jennings quashed the Indians' momentum just 23 seconds later with his second goal.
Douglas finished the hat trick and added two assists in the third period. Keating scored twice and assisted on another - rolling his total to five points on the night - and Judd McAtee netted the exclamation point in the final minute.
It was by far the Caps' best playoff performance ever, impressing not just coach Herb Lewis, but league president Maurice Podoloff. But the Indians still had seized home-ice advantage, which they planned to use in Springfield. In Game 3, the Caps took a 3-2 lead into the second intermission, thanks to two goals from Fisher - both assisted by Ken Kilrea -- and another by Douglas. But early in the second period, with the Caps up 2-1, Robertson's head hit the ice hard and he left the game. Mike Karakas, the Providence Reds' goaltender, was called out of the stands to back him up. He gave up Fisher's second goal, but would get some support.
Early in the third period, Fred Thurrier tapped in a close-in shot that surprised Turner and tied the game. The Indians then clinched it with a three-goal blitz. Bob Dill took a feed from Norm Larson and scored at 10:38, Larson then clinched the game with another goal 52 seconds later, and Dill added the exclamation point at 13:25, and the Indians were just one game away from the Calder Cup Finals.
On March 24, over 6,000 raucous jammed into the Springfield Arena to celebrate the Indians' passage into the championship series. Meanwhile, Lewis was given two good-luck charms by Caps fans who had made the trip - one giving him a hand-knitted pair of socks to wear, the other a "lucky" pair of ladies' gloves. He also purchased a new topcoat that day to wear on the bench.
He needed anything to get an edge. Turner was stellar, and so was Karakas, as a classic back-and-forth playoff game developed. Eight minutes into the first period, Douglas beat Karakas, but nailed the left post. A minute later, Douglas flew in from the left side, took a feed out of the corner from Dick Behling in stride, and fired past Karakas to put Indy up 1-0. Fisher and Connie Brown had chances to increase the advantage, but Karakas turned them aside. At the 16:00 mark, Shore took advantage of an Indianapolis turnover, leading to the tying goal by O'Flaherty.
The Caps went up 2-1 on a shorthanded goal at 10:23 of the second period, as Douglas won a scrum in the corner and fed Keating flying down the middle for a shot that went under Karakas' arm. Keating had another chance, but hit the crossbar. And once again, the Indians dodged the bullet and O'Flaherty tied the game shortly after the 16:00 mark.
Early, it appeared the Indians were living on borrowed time, as the Caps had sent several golden opportunities off the goalpost. It looked as if Springfield would take advantage, getting the go-ahead goal 3:42 into the third period after a questionable no-call. Winger Pete Kelly took a feed down the left side that Lewis vehemently contended was off-side. With no whistle, Kelly kept skating and fired from the face-off circle. Turner made the first stop, but the puck came back to Kelly. Turner stopped the rebound, but Thurrier scooped it up and punched it to O'Flaherty, who redirected the puck into the net for the hat trick, a 3-2 lead and a life-support machine for the Capitals.
Indy survived, and the Caps' blazing speed began to take over. Doug McCaig went coast-to-coast and tied the game at 10:16. Moments later, Brown had a good chance at the game-tying goal, bouncing a shot of Karakas' shoulder that dribbled a few inches left of the net - another shot going agonizingly close.
Fifteen minutes in, the Indians got a golden opportunity when Hec Kilrea was sent to the penalty box for charging. Springfield leashed an offensive, but Turner turned every attempt aside - along with Behling and Jackson on defense. Douglas and Keating killed the first part of the penalty, and then were relieved by Ken Kilrea and Brown. They were successful, but the Springfield assault continued after Kilrea got out of the box. It got too heavy. Jennings was able to get control of the puck in a scramble, get the puck out of the zone and quickly feed Judd McAtee for a breakaway. He shot, but it, fittingly, hit one post - then the other. Gus Giesebrecht pounced on the rebound and jammed it into the net before Karakas could react. The Caps killed off the remaining 2:02 to cement their comeback and send the series back to the Circle City.
On March 26, over 8,000 fans filed into the Coliseum for the deciding game, which seemed much like the previous encounter, just with a different third period. The Indians took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, getting a goal from Jimmy Peters and stellar goaltending from Karakas, who turned aside 17 shots. Brown finally solved Karakas midway through the second, hammering in a Ken Kilrea rebound. Kilrea put Indy up 2-1 with 2:04 left in the period, shooting after a face-off scramble.
In the third period, Turner made one of his spectacular saves, diving to stop a shot by Thurrier. However, his biggest nemesis in the series - O'Flaherty - was waiting. He flicked the rebound into the net before Turner could get back to his feet, and it was 2-2.
As in a typical playoff game, referee Ag Smith swallowed his whistle, tipping the scales in favor of the more physical Indians as the game wore on - especially as the Capitals grew tired. Neither team scored in the third period, and the Indians began to take the offensive as overtime began. In AHL play, that started with a 10-minute regulation overtime, in which Turner was tested several times. He saw seven shots and turned away all seven - several in spectacular fashion. Karakas only saw two shots in the first OT, stopped them both, and the teams headed for sudden death.
The Indians continued their pace, using a deliberate, physical style to gain control and hammer away at Turner, who stopped shot after shot early in the session.
Nine minutes in, Springfield's Bob Dill tried to carry the puck out of the zone - a necessity in the pre two-line pass days (which wouldn't be instituted until 1943), in which a team couldn't pass the puck across its own blueline. Judd McAtee slipped between Dill and defense partner Hazen McAndrews and swiped the puck from Dill's stick.
McAndrews wheeled around and bumped McAtee, but the Capital was able to take two strides toward the goal. As they neared the crease, McAndrews grabbed McAtee around the waist from behind. Judd stumbled, sprawling head-first toward the ice as Karakas began to sprawl after the puck.
While falling, McAtee lightly nudged at the puck with his stick. It went past the sprawling Karakas and slid across the line. After 79:52 of hockey, the crowd went into delirium. The Caps celebrated their biggest win in history - claimed on one of the softest shots.
Bring on the BearsThe Capitals might have beaten the league's second-best team, but matched up very tightly with the Hershey Bears. Both teams liked to use their speed and outskate the other team. Both had big snipers - Les Douglas, Jack Keating, Connie Brown and Ken Kilrea with the Caps; Bob Gracie, Wally Hergeshimer and Wally Kilrea for the Bears. Both had outstanding goaltenders in Joe Turner and Nick Damore, and both were well-coached, with Herb Lewis piloting the Caps and Cooney Weiland the Bears.
Few series could be closer than the one the Caps just played with Springfield - which wasn't clinched until OT of the final game, and had four of the five contests decided in the third period. But this one would be just as close.
It lived up to every expectation. The first four games were decided by one goal - with one going to OT. Third-period comeback would be the norm. And it would come down to the fifth an deciding game.
The series began in the Coliseum on March 29, a Sunday night - which was Indy's hockey night the Capitals' entire 13-year tenure. Officials braced themselves for an overflow crowd of 10,000. They didn't get that number, but the 8,500 bodies that crammed into the Coliseum still constituted an overflow crowd.
The series started with a bang, as the two fast-skating teams showed plenty of adrenaline in the first period of Game 1 - which Lewis called the fastest 20 minutes of hockey ever played in the Coliseum to that date. The Indianapolis Star reported "there wasn't much of a lull at any time, and the action at the finish fairly sizzled." The red-hot line of Connie Brown, Joe Fisher and Ken Kilrea tallied first, as Fisher fought out of trouble along the boards and fed Kilrea for a shot. Damore stopped him, but couldn't get Brown's rebound at 5:07. The lead would quickly disappear, as Roger Jenkins scored twice and Wally Kilrea made it 3-1 in short order.
The Caps would rally - defenseman Hal Jackson made it 3-2 shortly before the first period horn, and Doug McCaig tied the game 1:21 into the second with a spectacular goal - in which he flew down the left side and eluded a defenseman to get the scoring chance. From there, he received a stiff check, yet slipped the puck - and himself - past Damore for the tying goal. Less than two minutes later, Brown scored on a rebound to give the Caps the lead. Jackson added the eventual game-winner at 11:35, flying in from his defense position to net a rebound from Roy Sawyer. The Bears scored early in the third to make it 5-4, but the Caps controlled most of the play and made life easy for Turner by outshooting the Bears 11-6 in the final period to preserve the 5-4 victory.
After the Caps' comeback win in Game 1, the teams convened two nights later in front of 7,500 fans for another close see-saw encounter.
But this time, the Capitals couldn't hold on, as Hershey rallied back from not one, but two separate two-goal deficits in the third, and got a little luck to tie the game.
Indy took a 2-1 lead into the final 20 minutes on goals by Brown and McCaig early in each frame. They were sandwiched around a Hershey tally in the first period, as Damore once again saw quite a bit more action than Turner.
Things looked bleak for the Bears when Bill Jennings scored at 7:52 to make it 3-1. Hergeshimer answered at 10:10 to draw Hershey close, but Douglas scored juts 25 seconds later to pop the Bears' balloon.
Or so it seemed. Wally Kilrea scored to make it 4-3 with 8:02 to play. Still, Hershey needed to get the equalizer. The puck was faced off toward the Bears' Gracie. Jackson came in, crowded the Hershey forward out of the play, but the loose puck popped into the air, where Wally Wilson swung at the disc in mid-air, getting enough to bat it into the net with 2:54 to play in regulation.
The game went to the 10-minute OT, where Sawyer got an early breakaway, but was stoned by Damore. Soon thereafter, the Bears got another fortunate bounce. Gord Pettinger was tied up along the boards in the Capital zone, but freed himself to center the puck. Jack Keating, skating full-speed, broke the play up, but his deflection went right to Hergeshimer, whose shot glanced off Turner's glove and into the net 2:58 into the extra session. Hershey held on for the next seven minutes and was headed home with an improbable overtime victory.
It was turning into the series of comebacks. But as the series headed to the Hershey Arena for Game 3, the Caps felt it was their turn to stun an overflow crowd. The two teams fought through a close-checking game in the first two periods - the Caps sent just 10 shots at Damore, while Turner saw 15 in the opening 40 minutes, but Wally Kilrea gave the hosts a 1-0 lead midway through the middle frame.
The Caps, who were a bit weary after their train arrived three hours late and looked sluggish early, summoned some momentum and got a good bounce. This time, Fisher took a shot that bounced off Bobby Kirk's skate and right to Connie Brown for the tying goal 63 seconds into the third period. Turner then saw plenty of action - making 14 final-period saves -- but he stopped every effort, including a breakaway from Wally Kilrea and dodged a bullet as Gracie put an open-net rebound chance a few inches wide.
Hershey appeared to have the upper hand when Jackson was sent off for cross-checking, and Weiland sent five forwards onto the ice. But Keating was able to intercept an errant pass into the zone and feed Douglas for a counter-rush. He carried into the zone up the left side, stopped along the boards and fed Keating at point-blank range for the tying goal. With Turner playing stellar, the Caps killed off the final six minutes, had a 2-1 win and were one game away from the Calder Cup.
They say the hardest game to win is the last one. Especially in the other team's building, with a full house on hand and in a close series. It proved true for the Caps, as Hershey made a statement in the first 96 seconds, when Jenkins put the Bears on the board on a counter-rush. Sawyer answered with 3:20 left in the period to knot it at 1-1. There was plenty of end-to-end action, as the intensity and speed matched that seen in Game 1. The Caps fell behind when Hergeshimer scored midway through the second, but the red-hot line of Keating, Douglas and Sawyer answered just 39 seconds later. Keating got the goal into an empty net on a rebound, sending the game into the third period tied 2-2 - meaning Game 4 would be the third straight in which the game-winner was scored in the third period or OT.
Hergeshimer got it, though, spoiling the celebration plans one night early. Pettinger got the puck behind the net, spotted Hergeshimer barreling full-speed down the slot. A weak pass turned into a powerful shot off Hergeshimer's stick that Turner couldn't handle. Indy couldn't answer - the Caps only fired three shots Damore's way the entire third period, and the teams were headed back to Indiana to play one game for the Calder Cup.
The Cup runneth overIf everything held true to form, this game would've been just like most of the Indianapolis-Hershey regular-season contests. Or even the series, which had featured four one-goal-games and three come-from-behind wins. After all, this was a match for the championship between two teams who couldn't be more evenly-matched.
It was never close.
Maurice Podoloff could've handed the Calder Cup to the Capitals in the second intermission, as the Indy sextet dominated the night and Turner put on a dazzling performance in an 8-3 victory, as a then-record Coliseum crowd of 8,867 roared throughout the night.
Everything was pretty much decided in less than one minute, started by who else but Keating, Douglas and Sawyer. Damore stopped the initial shot as the trio rushed into the zone. The rebound carried out to the face-off dot, where Keating circled, fired and scored at 8:33. Twenty-seven seconds later, Sawyer stripped a Bear in the attacking zone and fed defenseman Sandy Ross to make it 2-0. Fisher, Ken Kilrea and Brown - the No. 2 line in the playoffs - came on and kept things up, as Fisher scored out of a scramble in front of the net at 9:24.
Three goals, 51 seconds. Hershey would never recover. Indy kept the pressure on, firing 18 shots at Damore in the first period. Hershey's only whimper would come with one minute left in the first, when Wilson scored on a long shot. But the Caps would quash the rally early in the second. Judd McAtee made it 4-1 at 1:58. Dougas took a feed from Keating at 3:51 and made it 5-1. Jennings added a goal later in the period and it was pretty much over but the celebrating - which the Coliseum crowd was already doing.
Turner was magnificent in the game, making 36 saves. Two of the three goals against him were scored in the late stages - as the Caps were playing wide-open to build some individual stats.
Douglas and Keating each had a goal and an assist in the final period to give each a four-point night, with two goals and two assists. Sawyer had three helpers on the evening. The trio broke the old Calder Cup playoff record for points in a playoff. Keating (9G, 8A) and Douglas (8G, 9A) each set the new record with 17 points. Sawyer set the assists mark with 14 helpers in the playoffs. Add those to one goal, and the entire line broke the record of 12 points set by the Pittsburgh Hornets' Billy Taylor in 1940.
But the most impressive to all was Turner, who appeared to have a long, stellar professional career ahead. After the game, Weiland congratulated Lewis and said, ''Your boy Turner is good,'' expressing the sentiments of many. Al Bloemker wrote, ''Turner's work surpassed that of every other goalie during the regular season and he turned in one of his finest performances to hold the Bears in check while his mates rolled up a commanding lead. He stopped one shot with his face and finished the contest with a bloody patch on his chin after making a total of 36 saves against Hershey's relentless attack.''
As the fans stood and cheered after the final horn, Lewis grabbed the PA microphone and thanked them for their support, while expressing pleasure for bringing the Capitals their first AHL title - the first in a line of championships Indianapolis teams would win.
The Capitals divvied up a $7,500 prize fund and were presented the Calder Cup the next night during a reception at the Columbia Club. Owner Arthur Wirtz showed up, as did Podoloff, Gov. Henry Schricker, Lt. Gov. Charles Dawson and four members of the Bears who had missed their train, yet were given hearty ovations by the local crowd. Lewis said he was glad the Bears' players on hand were able to look at the Cup - which rested on the speaker's table - from a distance. The Caps were also presented the Ted Oke Trophy, symbolic of the West Division championship, that evening.
Lewis had trouble completing his remarks about each member of the team, as the fans loudly applauded each one. He never was able to say much about Hec Kilrea, the captain, as the ovation began as soon as Herbie said he was introducing someone with 17 years of experience. Turner also received a big ovation.
World War II was already in full swing, and was evident as the Capitals scattered, several joined the American and Canadian armies. Lewis headed straight for Mattoon, Ill., where he worked the summer in a munitions plant. Douglas and Turner, among others, joined the Army. Turner, the rookie star of the Caps' record-setting season with a bright future as a goaltender, was one of them. He would never return, as he was killed in action in Holland.
When the International Hockey League was founded a few years later for Detroit-Windsor-area hockey players coming back from the war, the league brass found a fitting name for its championship trophy, honoring a hockey player and a veteran just like many of the league's first players when it handed out the Joseph Turner Memorial Cup that spring. The Turner Cup became one of minor pro hockey's most prized and recognized trophies over the next five decades, as the IHL's best longed to hoist it each spring. The Turner Cup was retired in 2001 with the league's demise and absorption into the AHL - where Turner had starred 60 years earlier - and now resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame, where Joseph Turner will be forever remembered.