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December 24, 1912|
Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
February 23, 1982 (aged 69)|
Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
|Height||5 ft 11 in (180 cm)|
|Weight||165 lb (75 kg; 11 st 11 lb)|
Herbert James Cain (December 24, 1912 - February 23, 1982) was a Canadian professional ice hockey left winger who played 13 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Montreal Maroons, Montreal Canadiens, and Boston Bruins.
Cain was born in Newmarket, Ontario to John (Jack) and Elizabeth "Eliza" Cain (née Currier). He started to develop his skills on "the pond" now known as Fairy Lake, with Liberty Magazines for shin guards. One year his team from St John's Separate School counted 56 goals. Herb Cain netted every one of them.
He played Junior A hockey in Newmarket and Hamilton. Cain's future as an NHL great was foreshadowed in 1931 playing for the Newmarket Redman. Just turned 20, he scored 11 goals in six playoff games.
Cain launched his NHL career with the Montreal Maroons for part of the 1933-34 season. One version of how he became a Maroon from Boston sportswriter Bill Grimes is that the Maroon scout had gone to Windsor  to evaluate the play of Toe Blake, but he picked Herb Cain over Blake, who remained a live-long friend of Cain. Another version from Cain's family is that the scout picked both of them. (This story highlights the challenge of putting together the history of a hockey player when the newspaper reports conflict with the narrative told by players' family members. Based on various overlapping sources, it appears that the family story, in the Herb Cain case is more accurate. At the end of Cain's NHL career, and dealing specifically with Cain's demotion to the AHL, my hunch is that Art Ross was able to have his story reflected in press reports since he viewed the media as serving his better interests, not the better interests of his players. When Ross buried Herb Cain in the AHL he wanted the Bruin fans to believe that Cain can no longer perform at the NHL. Cain's goal scoring prowess in Hershey when he was demoted is adequate proof that he had not lost his scoring touch.)
Back to the beginning of Cain's NHL career. As a member of the Maroons, Cain played on a line with Gus Marker and Bob Gracie. They were dubbed the "Green Line" and their combined offensive skills led to the teams' second Stanley Cup Championship in 1934-35. In his first full season, as a 22-year-old NHL rookie, Cain scored a team leading 20 goals in 44 games. This placed him 8th in NHL goal scoring for 1934-35--as a rookie.
After the Montreal Maroons folded during the Great Depression, Cain was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in the fall of 1938. In his one season with the Habs, or the "French" as some Boston sportswriters called them, Cain stood second in goal scoring (13) behind Toe Blake (24). This was before Montreal became a powerhouse and in 1938-39, they finished 6th of 7 teams in season play. Montreal notching only 39 points that year against Boston's 74; eventually Boston won the Stanley Cup.
At the beginning of the 1939-40 season, it has been reported that Cain was a holdout in the Montreal Canadians' training camp, bargaining for a better salary. As a result, the story goes, Montreal traded him to the Boston Bruins for Charlie Sands and Ray Getliffe. Cain played his first game for the Bruins in Toronto on November 4, without ever practicing with his new team. The Bruins lost that first game of their season 5-0 but finished first in the league on the season. That year Schmidt and Dumart led the Bruin's goal scoring with 22 goals each. Cain was third in Bruin's goal scoring with 21, tied with Bobby Bauer and Cain fired seven game winners, Cain's 21 goals in 1939-40, also tied him with Hall of Fame inductee Gordie Drillon for 4th place in goal scoring in the entire league. Remarkably, that year only 5 players scored 20 goals or more. Four wore bold Bs on their sweaters. Clearly, Cain had joined a winning organization, crafted by Art Ross  who has hammered together America's first team, the Boston Bruins in 1924. (Milt Schmidt explains in a video about the history of the Bruins that without the disruption created by WWII, the Bruins would have won two more Stanley Cups in the 1940s. That is perhaps rose coloured-glasses wishful thinking but it cannot be denied that the Bruins were a powerhouse in the later 40s but in the 50s they were not competitive until a young fellow from Parry Sound slipped into a Boston Jersey in 1966.)
With WWII heating up in 1941, Canadian authorities threatened to prohibit single men between the ages of 21 and 25 from working (playing hockey in our story) in the US and almost all "American" hockey players were Canadians. Cain turned 29 in 1941 and he was married so he was free to make his living in the USA but the younger Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart got the nod for Canadian military service, potentially breaking up the Bruins' famous Kraut Line of Schmidt, Dumart and Bauer. These lads, hockey-buddies since adolescence, from Kitchener, Ontario were fan favorites, leading Stanley Cup victories in 1939 and 1941 and finishing one-two-three in NHL scoring in 1939-40, Schmidt with 52 points and Bauer and Dumart tied with 43 points.
In spite of their initial military call-up, the Krauts played the entire 1940-41 season but their future with the Bruins and even the Bruin's future was uncertain. Cain who was injured, missed nine games and finished the 1940-41 season with just 8 goals and 10 assists. In the playoffs, however, with 2 goals and 3 assists, he was 6th in Bruin scoring and helped to win the Stanley Cup in 1941.
In 1941-42, Cain again notched 8 goals and 10 assists when he missed 15 games due to injuries. In 1942, more hockey players were joining the war effort. In all 10 eventual Hall of Fame forwards from Herb Cain's era, players Cain faced-off against, served in WWII. Boston lost its entire first line when the Krauts enlisted. In an iconic story, on February 10, 1942, captured on video, Montreal Canadiens and Boston players, arch enemies during the match, hoisted the "Krauts" to their shoulders and skated them around the Boston Garden celebrating, for they were doing their patriotic duty, which in large part meant being physical education instructors and playing hockey for military teams. The new air force recruits served at Station Rockcliffe near Ottawa, laced up skates for the RCAF team and not surprisingly their team won the Allen Cup as Canada's top senior amateur team. When they did go overseas they served in England with No. 6 Group, part of Bomber Command and played hockey on opposing teams.
With the Kraut Line out of the NHL, left-winger Herb Cain, centre Bill Crowley and right wingers, including Art Jackson, became Boston's first line. In 1942-43, Cain missed 5 games due to injuries but managed to score 18 goals and add 18 assists. During the season Cain was 5th in Bruin's goal scoring, well behind Bill Crowley's 27 markers. Also, Cain was 22nd in the league in goal scoring, tied with future Hall of Fame inductees Sid Abel and Elmer Lach. In the playoffs, Cain was second in Boston goal scoring with 4 in 7 games, behind Art Jackson who had 6 markers in 9 games.
In 1943-44, Cain had his most productive year of his hockey career playing on a line with future Hall of Fame inductee Bill Cowley, and often with Art Jackson, brother of Busher Jackson, a hall of famer. Sometimes Cain played on a line with right-winger Buzz Boll, who said of him, "He's so fast that he beats me to all of those loose pucks in front of the cage."  Cain won the NHL scoring title in 1943-44 with 82 points, in 49 games, thereby setting a record for points in a season. This new record was 9 more than the old one held by Doug Bentley (1943) and Cooney Weiland (1930). In 1944 Cain was also selected as a Second Team All-Star at left wing, and with only 4 minutes in penalties he was runner up to Clint Smith of the Chicago Black Hawks, who also served 4 minutes in penalties, for the Lady Byng Trophy.
Herbie Cain's scoring record of 82 points stood until Gordie Howe scored 86 in 1950-51. Howe set the new record--of just four more points--in a 70-game season--21 more games than Cain played in 1943-44.
It has been said that Herb Cain won the scoring championship in 1943-44, because Bill Cowley, a smooth play maker and some say the best hockey player of his time, feathered passes to Cain. Game box scores reveal that this is far from the complete story:
1943-44, with 82 points, was Herb Cain's banner year. The year before, his best to date, he notched 36 points. The year after, his record year, 1944-45, he collected 45 points. However, Cain counted 32 goals in 1944-45, and led the league with 2 short-handed goals and one wonders if penalty-killing had not become one of his main assignments in 1944-45. From first in scoring in 1943-44, in 1944- 45 he fell to 13th place in overall scoring although he was second in goals to Rocket Richard who blasted 50. In the playoffs in 1945, Cain led his team in scoring with 5 goals and 2 assists in 7 games. The next season, 1945-46, Cain's scoring dipped to 17 goals, and 12 assists, still placing him 18th in goal scoring, ahead of Edgar LaParade, Harry Watson, Elmer Lach, Milt Schmidt, Sweeney Shriner and even Bill Cowley and several others, all, who eventually joined the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1945-46, the NHL had implemented a one assist rule and although it was not always followed assiduously, assists were down 30% in the league over the previous year and this might account in part for Cain's low assist total; although throughout his 13-year NHL career, he counted more goals than assists four times.
A series of factors, working synergistically, produced a record-breaking year for Herb Cain in 1943-44.
|Average NHL goal scoring per game 1938-1948|
|Year||Goals for per game||Goals against per game||Total goals per game|
In spite of some of the factors above in 1943-44, which contributed to Cain's success and over which he exercised no control, Herb Cain was a hockey superstar:
In 1946-47 Cain was sent to the Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). In four seasons, he scored 92 goals, and helped the Bears win their first Calder Cup. Near the end of his fourth season he had a serious injury. Driving home to Newmarket from Pennsylvania at the end of the season with his leg in a cast, he decided to retire from professional hockey at age 35.
We'll never know for sure why the winner of the NHL scoring championship in 1943-44 was demoted to the American Hockey League in 1946. Herb Cain claims he was blackballed by Art Ross the fiery manager of the Bruins because he asked for a raise. This seems to be the prevailing narrative but it's not clear in which year he asked for the raise. And as we saw in1939, when he asked for a raise, Montreal traded him to Boston for two players. In other words, Montreal in 1939 and Boston in 1946 had an asset, a player who some called "a pure goal scorer". Why sell his contract to a minor league team where he, one assumes, fetched less value? In Brian McFarlane's book, The Bruins, Cain is quoted as saying that in 1946 the New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks were eager to acquire his services. Cain's daughter Colleen corroborates McFarlane's reporting.
And is there a relationship between Cain being banished to the baby Bruins in Hershey by Art Ross and Cain not being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame? In other words, was Art Ross so angry with Herb Cain that he closed the door on his entry into the Hall? The Bruin manager is known for tyrannical acts and for fanning the flames of discontent with Bruin stars, Eddie Shore, Bill Cowley, Cooney Weiland and other but they ended up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Eric Zweig, the biographer of Art Ross, thinks it's unlikely that Art Ross kept Cain out of the Hockey Hall of Fame. But, like other hockey historian Brian McFarlane, he feels there is something odd with the way that Cain's career ended in Boston.
Reviewing Boston newspapers provides hints at seismic change in the Bruin organization in the late 40s, part of an extensive rebuild by the zealous Art Ross. At the beginning of the 1944-45 season, the Globe reported that only six members of last year's team have returned and two of them were coach Dit Clapper, and Assistant Coach John Crawford, as well as Captain Bill Crowley, Pat Egan, Art Jackson and Herb Cain. So Herbie had made the first cut. But in July, 1946 the Boston Globe reported that both Cowley and Cain no longer fit into the Bruins' plans. "A trade for Cowley is in the offing either with Toronto or the Rangers. Nobody, however, nobody wants Cain, so in all probability he'll end up in the minors if he chooses to play next Fall." The next step in Cain's exile appears on November 14, 1946. At the opening of training camp in 1946, the Boston Globe reports, "Herb Cain's name is listed, among those who will report, but it's almost certain that the veteran left winger won't be with the club when the season gets underway. Is this the whole story, the leading league scorer from three seasons prior was not NHL material? Or had Art Ross turned against him and out of spite seeded a story in local media about Cain being past his best before date. Or was Ross simply convinced that he needed to continue with the surgery he started in 1944, and completely rebuild his team?
For Cain's part he did not speak badly about the Bruins and remained loyal to them, perhaps especially to the fans, the Gallery Gods. As a star hockey player from Newmarket who Cain coached and later encouraged to play college hockey in Boston explains, "Herb maintained a loyalty to the Boston Bruins all his life even though the organization prevented him from making a good wage and receiving the accolades he deserved.
Some HHoF inductions are contentious. Cain is not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, although many wonder why he is not. Selecting players for the HHoF is not an easy task, and as a result Cain is not the only superstar who is not in the Hall.
Several articles have been published extolling Cain's hockey virtuoso. Most support his candidacy for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Cain, however seems to lie in the shadow of Bill Cowley although, Cain's skill in scoring goals no doubt contributes to Cowley's assist total. Cain, for example is not mentioned at all or mentioned in passing in articles about Bill Cowley.
Cain's scoring feat of 1.67 point per game average in 1943-44 is significant. His points per game was often not equalled by NHL scoring champions like Guy LaFleur, Stan Makita, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and others when they won the scoring championship. Phil Esposito finally scored more points per game, 1.70 - 25 years after Cain established the record. As late as 1977-78, when Guy LaFleur won the scoring championship in the NHL, his points per game were 1.67, the same as Herb Cain's in 1943-44.
Switching to career average points per game, Herb Cain's average is .70, and several Hall of Famers including George Armstrong, Ace Bailey and others who are less well-known are in the Hall but do not meet Herb Cain's career average points a game.
There may be a general consensus that Armstrong, Bailey and others deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But where does that leave Herb Cain?
The reason Herb Cain is not in the Hall of Fame is known only to board members who considered or did not consider his eligibility. In 2007, Red Fisher, a sports writer for the Montreal Gazette and long time member of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee is quoted as saying that Cain's name never came up, although when a benefit was held for Cain in the Legion Hall in Newmarket, Ontario on December 16, 1964  when Herb was recovering from cancer, he received a telegram including the following. "CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR NOMINATION TO THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME. NHL OLD TIMERS HOCKEY TEAM."  And fittingly, Herb Cain's friends on the Hockey Old Timers played in the Newmarket Memorial Area that afternoon.
In 1988, the HHoF establish a separate veteran player category in order to "provide an opportunity for overlooked players to gain entry into the Hall. Cain would have been a good candidate, especially when he is compared to the inductees who entered via that process: Buddy O'Connor, Herbie Lewis, Fern Flaman, Clint Smith, Woody Dumart, Edgar Laprade, Lionel Conacher, Harry Watson, Fred "Bun" Cook, Bobby Bauer, and Roy Conacher. These players did not have Cain's scoring touch, nor did they win the scoring championship. In 2000 the board of directors eliminated the veterans category so Herb Cain must now compete with more recent players who have better equipment to protect them from injury, more comprehensive training, and better ice, to mention only three factors. A list of all other Hockey Hall of Fame inductees is available online. But don't look there for Herb Cain at least at the time of writing this article. Nor should you look for Paul Henderson who scored the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history. But Henderson says he is at peace with the decision of the Hall. We don't know if Cain accepted his exclusion before he died in 1982.
Over the years, there have been many rule changes in the NHL influencing players' statistics. At one time one assist was granted, at another two and at another, even three as normal operating protocol. In the late 1920s, looking for ways to encourage offense, the league allowed forward passes in the defensive zone as well as the neutral zone. In 1943, with the introduction of the two line pass, scoring patterns changed again.
These changes make it difficult to compare the achievements of players from different eras. Nevertheless, comparing Herb Cain's achievements to those of 33 forwards whose careers overlapped with his, who are in the NHL Hall of Fame reveals:
Brian McFarlane, the hockey commentator and author of 90 books about hockey, who played on the Old Timers Hockey Team with Cain's contemporaries, gets the last words. "I find it odd that he's the only NHL scoring champ not in the Hall."
To know Herb Cain was to admire his high moral standards. He toasted the new year with a glass of milk. The closest he came to swearing was "Holy Sailor". And in 1936, after becoming an established NHL player, he donated a statue of Our Lady to the church that he frequented throughout his life, Newmarket's St. John Chrysostom.
After 13 seasons in the NHL, many as a superstar, Cain's contract was sold to the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League. Very few NHL players retire to join the AHL, it normally words the other way with young players inching their way from the AHL to the NHL. But in Cain's case he joined the NHL at 21 years old, after one year of senior hockey, Perhaps he joined the Hersey Bears because he loved playing hockey, or maybe he had a fat, NHL pay-scale contract or maybe he knew he could still perform at the NHL level and he had faith that something would go is way and he would end up in the big time again. One source says he refused to sign an AHL contract, another claims that his contract forbid him from playing in the NHL again. Clearly, the NHL, along with some other major sports leagues, violated antitrust and other legislation with their restrictions on labour mobility through the reserve clauses. Cain and other acquiesced.
Always a family man and a community builder, he devoted himself to Newmarket his wife Shirley and their children, Terry and Colleen, who claims she was skating at two. Herb coached the Junior C team, the Newmarket Smokies and they won the Ontario championship in 1956, '58 and '59.
Newmarket was shocked in 1964 when Herb Cain was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Doctors at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital prescribed chemotherapy. He was expected to die but lived another 17 years. "When he was so sick" explains Herb's daughter, Colleen, "his buddies at Aurora Highlands Golf Course honoured him with a tournament, the Herb Cain Memorial," but after his chemo treatments, Colleen explains, " he got a second life and two years later won his own tourney."
On skates, finessing a hockey stick and puck, Herb Cain was a magician. He loved to play hockey full out and score goals. He was a large, gentle man but he won the Lady Byng award, normally the purview of smaller players. He was a world class athlete and human being.
Two mysteries feed the Herb Cain story. Why was he demoted to the American Hockey League? Why has he not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame? Answers to these questions are conflicting. We have two stories about his demotion. The Boston newspapers intimate that he was a veteran who at 33 was beyond his prime. Cain, his family and authors who believe what Cain is reputed to have said, insist that his demotion was a vindictive act by Art Ross in response to Cain asking for a raise.
As for his exclusion from the HHoF, some blog postings and social media postings point out that Bill Cowley was the playmaker, Cain was the opportunistic beneficiary. So Cain therefore does not warrant entry. For many, the Herb Cain narrative pictures Cain's scoring championship as an oddity. He was a good hockey player, yes, but his dominance of the league for one year does not warrant the keys to the Hockey Hall of Fame. On the other hand, Cain family members see his exclusion as an oversight, a result of unspecified HHoF politics.
Where is the truth? Why was Cain demoted? Why is he not in the HHoF?
As we have seen in the text above and especially in the footnotes, sources are available to help us decipher the Cain conundrum. These include newspaper reports, Cain family stories and archives and box score statistics readily available online. There could be additional sources, for example, anecdotal reports from board meetings or even written reports from board meetings but they have not surfaced, and one wonders if they exist. One board member is reported as saying that Cain's name did not come up in Hall deliberations.
Each of our possible sources of information to help us craft answers to our two mystery questions has its strengths and weaknesses. Newspaper reports are terse and readily available online. For those reasons it is tempting to rely on them. But the press, fed by club management, is not a source of objective details. Unless there was some truly investigative reporting and there does not appear to be any, then press reports help to understand the big picture but they are not going to answer our two mysteries. Family stories are colorful but can be shaped by a drive, unconscious or otherwise, to support family members. Box score statistics are something to sink our teeth into but they do not reveal the rule changes and the on ice context that shapes them.
Being a hockey historian is part art, part science. The art is looking at the different stories from various sources, and constructing a believable tale. The science of hockey history is collecting the hard data to paint a background story, while placing, in this case, Herb Cain, in that context.
For an historian context is everything. But looking back seventy-five years and putting our finger on the pulse of the Boston Bruins context is challenging. However, we do know, for example, that authoritarian leaders started wars in Europe and Asia. Individual liberties were curtailed in Canada and the US in support of the war effort. The Boston press often called the Bruins hockey team, the Rossmen, after their hard-nosed (not to say authoritarian) manager Art Ross. In general, players bargained for salary individually with management. There was not an NHL players' association for collective bargaining. The current context of hockey does not resemble the WWII years when Herb Cain was king. And when we look back at wartime hockey we need to look at it through the wartime lens. And it's hard today to build a wartime lense.
This brings us to statistics. Hard numbers are hard to deny. In Herb's playing days, the wartime context, a 20-goal season was a big deal and he had four of them. A 30-goal season was exceptional and he had two of them. But statistics like everything else have to be seen in context. To do this, in the body of this article, we pulled back the curtain and investigated Cain's contributions compared to his contemporary forwards who are in the hallowed Hall. The results are compelling. Cain's numbers shine in comparison to those of many of his contemporaries who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
1943-44 - Set NHL record for most points in a season with 82
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