Thursday, July 14, 2011

Breakout Past: Burch Beer (and Cigarettes)

Apologies up front for not using something directly related to Penn State this week, but this one was too good to let go.

Yep, it's a cigarette ad featuring an NHL player that I happened across in the February 10, 1928 issue of what was then called the Penn State Collegian while doing research. If you don't feel like clicking on it, here's the endorsement from New York Americans captain Billy Burch.
"Hockey is pretty strenuous - it takes all you've got to keep on top of the old puck. I can't afford to take any chances with my physical condition. That's why I stick to Luckies. In addition to the pleasure I get from their fine flavor, they have never cut my wind to any noticeable degree. Finally, I never suffer with sudden coughing, which might be very dangerous for me when there's a scramble on the ice."
Burch is a pretty interesting character in NHL history. For starters, although he grew up in Toronto, he was born in Yonkers, NY, making him one of the first U.S.-born players to ever play in the league. He scored the first NHL goal in Pittsburgh history. He's also a 1974 inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Here's part of his HHOF bio.
In 1925 Burch won the Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League's most valuable player, but he is best remembered that year as a member of the Hamilton Tigers hockey club that refused to play in the NHL's playoffs because of a contract dispute. Two years later he was named the winner of the Lady Byng Trophy after being runner-up to Frank Nighbor the previous season. He was only the second player to win both the Hart and Lady Byng Trophies, Nighbor was the first. Only five others -- Buddy O'Connor, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull -- have been so honoured in the history of the league.
Partially because of that strike (the exorbitant demand of the players was $200 in playoff pay), the Hamilton franchise was purchased by mobster/bootlegger Bill Dwyer and relocated to New York after those 1925 playoffs.
Burch, an excellent playmaker and stickhandler, was made captain. Since he was born in Yonkers he was quickly promoted as "the Babe Ruth of hockey" in order to drum up interest in hockey. A slick skater and playmaker, Burch kept the fans in the stands. Hockey became very popular in New York, partly due to Bill Burch's excellent play, and soon the NHL introduced a second New York team, the Rangers.
That's one account, anyway - Rangers fans have Burch to thank for the fact that they're not Islanders fans. It may have been a little different than that according to the other link above.
The ludicrous "Babe Ruth" nickname proved too much to live up to. Novice hockey fans would howl in protest whenever Burch passed the puck or took anything other than a direct route to the net. In subsequent seasons his productivity declined, although he remained among the top scorers on a poor team.
Whatever the case, in 1932, Burch was sold to the Boston Bruins, and played a season there before finishing out his career with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1932-1933 season. In his 390 career games from 1922-1933, he ended up with 137 goals and 61 assists. Burch was also a member of the 1920 Memorial Cup champion Toronto Canoe Club Paddlers and led the Memorial Cup playoffs in scoring.

Oh, and he died on November 30, 1950, ten days after his 50th birthday. While I don't know the cause of his death, he might want to re-think that whole thing about Lucky Strikes not cutting his wind.

No comments:

Post a Comment