Hockey DaySpence Tatchell a Lloydminster hockey treasure
By Tim Wharnsby
Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 | 09:32 AMBack to accessibility links
Henry Spencer Tatchell is one of 340 athletes to play exactly one game in the NHL. (New York Rovers/EHL)
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Beginning of Story ContentBefore Garnet (Ace) Bailey, Wade Redden, Lance Ward, Scott Hartnell, Colby Armstrong, Braden Holtby and others from both sides of the Saskatchewan/Alberta border in Lloydminster played in the NHL, there was Henry Spencer (Spence) Tatchell.
Tatchell, who passed away at the age of 82 seven years ago, truly authored a unique hockey story. He is one of 340 athletes to play exactly one game in the NHL.
Born on the Saskatchewan side of Lloydminster, Tatchell was an all-around athlete. He not only excelled as a defenceman on the ice, but was a star on the baseball diamond and tennis court as well.
After his time in Lloydminster, Tatchell skated his way to prominence in Winnipeg. In junior, he won a Memorial Cup with the 1940-41 Winnipeg Rangers, and before he knew it he found his way to New York to play for the NHL Rangers' farm team, the New York Rovers.
At age 18, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Tatchell was promoted to the NHL after Rangers defenceman Dudley (Red) Garrett suffered a broken leg. Wearing No. 17, Tatchell played his only NHL game on Feb. 20, 1943 in Montreal. He idolized Maurice Richard, but the Rocket was injured and did not play against Tatchell.
His NHL career ended after the game in Montreal. He was returned to the Rovers and later that year enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Service as War World II heated up. In the Canadian Navy, Tatchell kept his hockey skills sharp with the Cornwallis Navy team for two years.
"He served as an ASDIC operator aboard the HMCS Trillium, chasing German U-boats across the Atlantic," wrote his daughter Sandra in a thoughtful e-book about her father, entitled I Don't Know Your Name But I Know I Love You that chronicles her father's life.
"Despite the obvious dangers lurking below the water, it was a bad storm that nearly claimed his life when a rogue wave slammed against his ship and tossed him overboard. Dad believed it was sheer luck that his hand caught hold of the slippery railing as he flew through the air.
"Somehow he found the strength to hang on as his feet dangled above the turbulent water and managed to pull himself back to the ship's deck before his mates even noticed him missing."
During his time with the Royal Canadian Navy, Tatchell met up with the man he once replaced in the Rangers lineup, Garrett. He played with Garrett in the Navy, and recalled the last time he saw him in Halifax. What a story that was (see below in his short memoir that he wrote to his seven children before Alzheimer's completely engulfed his memory).
It should be noted that, to this day, the AHL rookie of the year award is named after Garrett. The long list of winners includes Terry Sawchuk, Roger Crozier, Rick Middleton, Darryl Sutter, Ron Hextall, Brett Hull, Felix Potvin and Cory Conacher.
When Tatchell's tour of duty concluded, he returned home and wanted to start a life with his wife, Dorothy. They had met in Winnipeg at a tennis club and the couple had designs on starting a family.
They moved to British Columbia. He had his sights set on playing semi-pro senior hockey and landing a government job. But when he went to meet his new boss for the first time, there was a phone call. The Rangers had traded Tatchell's rights to Montreal while he was in the war. The Canadiens wanted him to report to their farm team in Buffalo for a salary of $2,400. Tatchell turned them down. He wanted the security of a government job.
He wound up playing nine seasons in B.C., with the Nelson Maple Leafs and Kimberley Dynamiters, but more importantly he and his wife raised seven wonderful children in Brian, Greg, Janice, Garth, Sandra, Stephen and Michael.
"He was a man of many talents, but above all, he was an amazing father. The best," Janice said. "The name of [Sandra's book] is I Don't Know Your Name But I Know I Love You. Those were the words he used to greet his family when he could no longer remember our names. It's nice to think we might have been worth him giving up his dream to play in the NHL so many years ago."
As mentioned, Tatchell suffered from Alzheimer's disease in the last several years of his life. But before the illness totally stripped him of his memory, at the request of his children he penned the following memoir to the seven of them and Dorothy, who passed away a year ago at age 86.
I find with time on my hands, that I "navel gaze," or in other words get wrapped up in myself and go over past conquests and cetera. Mike helped me along one day when he phoned to say there is a thick book just published about the NHL -- 1878 pages, they call it "Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League - Total Hockey." He said there was an entry under my name with the statistics of every game I played, starting in junior. They divided this huge book into six sections, one of which was "The Original Six, 1942 - 1967, a quarter of a century." That's where I belonged.
Well, it seems impossible and most unlikely that I was in there with only one game in the NHL, but that's all anyone needed to be shown as an "also ran." With one NHL game they somehow cover the nation for senior and semi-pro games. Nelson, Kimberley and Trail were senior, both Kimberley and Trail won World Cups in the late '30s, and ex-pros were on both those teams, and Nelson had a few through the years.
Senior hockey paid their players. In Nelson I made as much each month as my government pay. In Kimberley it was $25 per game and they drove to Cranbrook to pick me up. At about 10 games per month it was a great help in those post-war years.
I couldn't have continued my government job without the hockey money. (No income tax either.) We had Greg and Brian in Nelson, then added Janice and Garth while in Cranbrook.
Then our transfer to Merritt in '54 gave me a salary we could live on.
The fact I had never seen the statistics before (now in the book) has had the effect of "clarifying my life" during the period shown, kind of exciting for an old geezer.
You might notice that a Bill Sweeney won a Red' Garrett award (shown at the bottom of his stats). It brings up my memory of the time Red Garrett played for the NY Rangers, when I was a Rover.
One morning in New York Lester Patrick phoned me to come to the "Gardens." He wanted to talk to me. My first thought, they were sending me back to "Peg."Actually, Red'Garrett had broken his leg the night before and he wanted me to go with the Rangers to Montreal that night because Garrett wasn't available. He coerced me to sign a "C" form tying me to the New York Rangers. I signed, knowing I shouldn't have, but I wanted to play in Montreal. I somehow knew that could be my only chance.
The trip was grand, a train ride, my train room was shared with Lynn Patrick. Next day I found Bill Gooden had been brought to Montreal to also play that night. Two Kildonanites. We lost 6-1, I assisted on the only goal, but even though we told the referee it was my assist, it went to a Bob Kilpatrick. That one assist would have looked so good on my stats!
On to the Navy in Cornwallis, I tried out for the hockey team there, and traveled all over the Maritimes and we won the trophy in that league. Red Garrett was playing for us, the guy who broke his leg so I could get a game in the NHL!
Bill Allum, Remi Vandasle, Bill Heindle, the Bells, Joe and Gordon, Joey Johns, Wally Stephenew and some other Toronto players were on this team.
One evening in Halifax, Garrett and I were walking back to our ships, not too far apart. As we walked, a black cat ran across the road in front of us. He became alarmed, and said he'd have to avoid the cat's path. We said, "Good night, good luck." Red's ship sailed early the next morning, and was torpedoed, all hands lost, so we heard later. I guess I was the last one to see him, other than his shipmates. I'm glad the cat's bad luck didn't hit me, but it gave me one more reason to hate our enemy.
I can't resist telling you another tale that was a big turning point in our lives. At the precise time (9:00 am. on Sept. 16/46) that I started work with the government in Nelson, Mr. Hamilton the G.A. took me into his office because there was a phone call for me from Buffalo, N.Y. He left, closing the door. I'm trying to remember his name, but he told me I had been traded from N.Y. to Buffalo during the war and after a report from the guy that had scouted me in the spring of '46, he wanted me to play for them, salary $2,400. Good for then, but I decided on the spot that I had a good shot at a career job for life with the government. He was nice (a Wpg'er) and said to call him if I changed my mind. The thing that seems so "magic'"for us was the timing -- to the second.
Another little story I'll mention is also related to timing. This Buffalo scout who scouted a playoff game in Nelson in the spring of '46 came into our dressing room during the time between the second and third periods. He sat down beside me and commented on my play, gave me some hints, one of which was "you're slowing down when you near the defence, and pass it off. That's the time you should be skating at full speed," a good point even though I was playing defence. Anyway, soon after the start, the coach hit me and said "Get out there!" I flew out the door, picked up the puck in our end, took off up-ice and was flying (after the coach's swat), remembering what the scout said. I breezed by the defencemen and backhanded the puck into the goal. I couldn't believe it but it was a good lesson.
I think I'll photocopy these pages, because I'll never have the desire to go through it all.
Thanks for listening. Hope it's not too boring.
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