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A new adventure


MONTREAL | May 5th, 2009
A new adventure
Some fifty hockey players, a boat bound for Europe and the end of the
season; those ingredients set the table for a trip like none other.

The NHL’s head honchos had been contemplating playing a game overseas for several years, seeing it as a way to promote the game, especially in Europe. In the spring of 1938, the idea became a reality. The Canadiens and Red Wings were set to cross the Atlantic for a nine-game exhibition series to be held in England and France.

On April 11, 1938, the two squads boarded the RMS Ausonia from Halifax and set sail for the land of fish’n’chips, tea and crumpets, and double-decker buses. After a longer than expected nine-day journey, lone Great Britain native Wilf Cude – who hailed from Wales – set foot in his homeland.

Despite the series’ exhibition status, the NHL clubs offered a show beyond expectations. The first tilt took place in the London suburb of Earl’s Court, with a crowd of 8,500 on hand to see the Canadiens pull out a 5-4 win.

British fans witnessed North American hockey at its best. In an excerpt from the La Patrie newspaper published on April 22, 1938, it was written that the game featured “minor skirmishes, discussions, hits, penalty shots, an extra period and even a five-minute misconduct handed out to Hec Kilrea, who candidly pleaded his innocence.”

Prior to the game, Red Wings General Manager Jack Adams took the microphone to explain the subtle differences between amateur hockey – the level they were used to watching – and the professional game. Excited by what was about to be presented, the cheering began, including cries of “Let’s go Canada!” in favor of the Habs. The edge of support tipped in the Canadiens’ direction was likely due to Cude guarding the Montreal crease.

One other game would be played in Brighton, England before both teams crossed the Channel into Paris, where they would play three games at the Palais des Sports. The Canadiens won two of the three, but it was their first triumph that would be the most memorable. Trailing 8-5 with 10 minutes left to play, the Habs exploded for five goals to escape with a 10-8 win.  According to a newspaper report, the French enjoyed the show they had been treated to.

“The game, which was quick and devoid of brutishness, excited the French fans, who were watching their first professional hockey match,” it was written.

After a brief sojourn in France, the Canadiens and Red Wings returned to England to face off four more times before returning home.  It would be an even draw in those contests, both sides earning a pair of victories.