It’s something you don’t see anymore: hockey lines that stick together for an extended period of time, like a season or several seasons. In today’s game coaches shuffle their forwards each game, each period, and even each shift on occasion. Of course, free agency plays a big part, also, because players don’t hang around long enough on one team. But prior to expansion in 1967, things were different. I found eight classic lines from that era, and, as it turned out, at least one from each of the Original Six teams.
The Bread Line (New York Rangers 1926-36)…
They were the toast of Broadway, and the first great NHL forward line. The name Bread referred to left winger Fred “Bun” Cook, although he actually received his nickname from hopping on his skates like a bunny rabbit. I realize it doesn’t sound too manly. But really, it’s true. Coming from the disbanded professional Western Hockey League Saskatoon Crescents, he along with brother and future team captain Bill Cook, the right winger on the line, combined with center Frank Boucher to win a Stanley Cup in their second season in 1927-28, then won a second Cup in 1932-33.
An excellent fit, the Cook brothers knew how to score and Boucher knew how to feed them the puck. In their span together, Bill led the league in goals three times and total points once, while Boucher led in assists three times. All three are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Kid Line (Toronto Maple Leafs 1929-36)…
Named for their youth, these darlings of Toronto were formed in 1929 by owner Conn Smythe: center Joe Primeau was 23, left winger Harvey “Busher” Jackson and right winger Charlie Conacher both only 18. All three were products of the Toronto junior farm system, with Jackson and Conacher coming off the Toronto Marlies 1929 Memorial Cup winners. This trio was instrumental in the Leafs first Stanley Cup in 1932 in which they helped sweep the New York Rangers. During the 48-game schedule in the regular season, Jackson finished first in scoring with 53 points, Primeau second with 50, and Conacher tied in fourth with 48.
The line skated together for four more Stanley Cup appearances over the next six years where during the regular seasons they continued to be scoring threats. All three are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Kraut Line (Boston Bruins 1936-42, 1945-47)
Calling someone a Kraut today would be racist. Center Milt Schmidt was the roughest of the boys and the most talented, someone who knew how to deal out body checks. Right winger Bobby Bauer was the gentleman in the group, while left winger Woody Dumart was somewhere in between. These three players of German descent did everything together. They grew up the best of buddies in the German community of Kitchener, Ontario. When they played for the Bruins, they roomed together in Boston. In 1942, they enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force, played hockey with them and after winning the Allan Cup, they were then sent overseas…together. Then they returned together in 1945.
On two Stanley Cup winners in 1938-39 and 1940-41, they were 1-2-3 in scoring in 1939-40, Schmidt with 52 points, Dumart and Bauer tied with 43. Over the course of 40 years, Schmidt was a lifetime Bruin: He captained them, coached them, then became their GM on two more Stanley Cups in the Bobby Orr era. Together, all three players are in the Hall of Fame. I’m think I’m beginning to see a pattern of Hall of Famers here. Hmmm.
The Pony Line (Chicago Black Hawks 1945-47)…
Although they didn’t win a Stanley Cup as teammates, they were still a great line for a short period of time. They were all of slight stature, one possible reason behind the pony reference: not one of them was more than 160 pounds soaking wet. But they had big hearts, a ton of talent, and were extremely fast. All three could hold their own. The Bentleys were from Saskatchewan: Max at center and Doug at left wing, along with Manitoba’s Bill Mosienko on the right. Together for two full seasons, where they were the highest scoring line overall, they made an impact stickhandling and shooting their way through the stunned opposition on a Black Hawk team that had a lot of offense but very little defense.
The trio broke up when the Hawks traded Max Bentley (the best all-around of the three) and another player to the Maple Leafs in November 1947 for six Leafs. Without a Stanley Cup in his six years as a Hawk, Bentley contributed to three championships over the next four seasons in Toronto. Again, all three line mates are in the Hall of Fame.
The Punch Line (Montreal Canadiens 1943-48)…
Put together by fiery coach Dick Irvin, the threesome composed of play-making center Elmer Lach, left winger and team captain Toe Blake, and right winger Maurice “The Rocket” Richard clicked immediately by helping the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in 1944 aided by Richard’s 12 playoff goals and 11 assists each by Lach and Blake. Then in 1944-45 in a 50-game schedule, they finished 1-2-3 in scoring, Lach with 80 points (a league-leading 54 assists), Richard with 73 points (a record-setting 50 goals in 50 games), and Blake with 67 points. All three represented the forward line on the NHL’s First All-Star team. They were the highest-scoring line at 220 points, a record that was finally broken 15 years later, taking a 70-game schedule to do it.
In 1945-46, with the Second World War over and the vets all back home, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup with all three Punch Liners in the league’s Top Ten scoring for the next two seasons. Blake later coached the Canadiens to five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-1960 on a team captained by the Rocket. Again, all three players are in the Hall of Fame.
The Production Line (Detroit Red Wings 1947-1957)…
Named after the Detroit’s Motor City tag, they were adored by their fans. The veteran Sid Abel centered the tough youngsters Ted “Terrible Ted” Lindsay on the left and Gordie Howe on the right. Detroit won a Stanley Cup in 1950 with the line 1-2-3 in league scoring with Lindsay leading the way with 78 points, and Abel and Howe right behind with 69 and 68, respectively. Lindsay’s 55 assists were 19 better than his nearest competitor. Lindsay and Howe were the most feared players in the game. An opposing player once said: “As soon as those guys step on the ice, we’re already down two goals.” Following another Stanley Cup win in 1952, in which the Red Wings were the first NHL team to sweep two straight best-of-seven series, Abel left for a player-coach position with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Alex Delvecchio took over at center and the Wings won two more championships in the next three seasons. By 1954, Howe had won four straight scoring titles. The line broke up when Ted Lindsay was traded to Chicago in the summer of 1957, his “punishment” for starting a Players’ Association. In the late-1960’s, the Production Line was revived for the third time when Frank Mahovlich (traded from Toronto) joined Delvecchio and Howe for a couple seasons.
So far, a clean sweep: six famous lines, 20 players, all immortalized in the Hall of Fame for their abilities.
The Uke Line (Boston Bruins 1957-61)…
Like the Kraut Line, another name with a racial tone in today’s politically correct world. This threesome were all of Ukrainian descent with prairie backgrounds. Ironically, all were Detroit property earlier, playing on the same line for the Edmonton Flyers of the Western Hockey League before making their way to the Bruins through trades. They were a grind line with speed and talent. Right winger Vic Stasiuk was the physical two-way player. Left winger Johnny Bucyk was the digger and consistent scorer, while Bronco Horvath was the playmaker and ultimate scorer who finished one point away from capturing the Art Ross Trophy for total points in 1959-60, beaten out by Bobby Hull whom he tied with at 39 goals.
At one time or another, Horvath was property of all six NHL Original Six teams, putting on the uniform of every squad except Detroit, the first team that owned his rights. The line broke up due to injuries and what some believed was average defensive play. The pattern is splintered here: Only Bucyk made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Million Dollar Line (Chicago Black Hawks 1959-62)…
The Chicago fans remember hearing “Hull to Hay to Balfour” on their radios and TVs. With Bobby Hull’s wicked slapshot from the left side, Bill “Red” Hay’s playmaking abilities, and Murry Balfour’s aggressive crash-and-bang style, this young line jelled from the start. They could stickhandle, pass and shoot in the blink of an eye. College graduate Bill Hay--he obtained a degree in geology that he used later in Alberta’s oil industry--quarterbacked the team’s devastating power play.
Hay and Balfour were Montreal Canadien castoffs who had played junior hockey together for the WCJHL Regina Pats in Fifties. During the Hawks run to their Stanley Cup championship in 1961, Balfour scored in the triple overtime third game to beat his old Montreal team. Tragedy hit Balfour only four years later when he died at the early age of 28 of a cancerous lung tumor. Bobby Hull and Bill Hay are enshrined in the HOF.
Eight lines from a bygone era. Back when it was fun.