Lionel Hitchman Boston Bruins 1926
From the Boston Bruins 1926-27 Team-Signed Media Guide
Frederick Lionel Hitchman - Born November 3, 1901 in Toronto, Ontario – January 12, 1969 in Glens Falls, New York was a Canadian professional ice Hockey defenceman.
Hitchman played his junior Hockey with the Toronto Aura Lee club of the Ontario Hockey Association, appearing sporadically in four games in the 1920 season and three the following year.
Subsequently serving in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, he had shown enough to be invited to join the Ottawa New Edinburghs of the senior Ottawa City Hockey League, for whom he played in 24 games over the 1922 and 1923 seasons. Scoring seven goals, Hitchman gained greater notoriety as a hardrock defenceman, amassing 52 penalty minutes, and was named to the league All-Star Team both seasons. He also saw action with the RCMP team in the Civil Service League.
After the end of the New Edinburghs' playoffs that season, Hitchman was signed by the Ottawa Senators in 1923, first appearing in a victory against the Hamilton Tigers on February 28. His first playoff game for the Senators was tumultuous, a match against the Montreal Canadiens on March 7 in which future teammate Sprague Cleghorn - with whom he had been sparring all evening - crosschecked Hitchman in the face, knocking out the some of Hitch's teeth and breaking his nose and knocking him out. Cleghorn received a match penalty for the act, which provoked a near-riot from the home crowd and an assault on the referee. Cleghorn was also suspended by his own team for the final game of the series. The Senators would win the series.
While too injured to play in the first Stanley Cup semifinal match against the Vancouver Maroons of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, Hitchman played in the three remaining matches. In the best-of-three finals against the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League, Hitchman starred in a decimated Senators' defence, scoring the tying goal which sent the first game into overtime, won by the Senators en route to their tenth Cup victory.
With the retirement of star defenceman Eddie Gerard, Hitchman became a regular for the Senators thereafter, a starter on the 1924 regular season champion team.
The following season, with the Senators in a losing streak - and Hitchman thought to be expendable due to the play of long-time amateur and newcomer Ed Gorman - he requested a trade to the expansion Boston Bruins in January 1925. He was subsequently loaned to the Bruins for the remainder of the season, subject to him coming to contract terms with the club.
His first season for the floundering Boston team not otherwise notable, due to being traded mid-season to a team which had played fewer games than the Senators, Hitchman set the NHL record for games played in a single season with 31, in a season scheduled for 30 games.
Matters improved in the 1925-26 season with the acquisition of Doc Stewart in goal and Hitchman's old nemesis Sprague Cleghorn, with whom he was teamed on defense. The Bruins finished the season with a 13-3-1 run, missing by a single point overtaking the Pittsburgh Pirates for a playoff berth. Hitchman finished third in team scoring, logging seven goals and eleven points, his career high in both categories. Under Cleghorn's veteran tutelage, Hitchman adopted a much scrappier style - if without Cleghorn's habitual dirty play - and his penalty minutes more than tripled.
The 1926-27 season, with the dissolution of the Western Hockey League, saw ex-Edmonton superstar Eddie Shore sign with the Bruins. Shore replaced the fading Cleghorn as Hitchman's defence partner, and was quickly recognized as the league's preeminent defence pairing. The two would team up for the rest of Hitchman's career, with Shore's rushing style paired with Hitchman's stay-at-home play. The Bruins fell to the Senators in the 1927 Stanley Cup Finals, and Hitchman's play was sufficient to receive a $1,400 bonus from the team, the second highest awarded.
In the 1927-28 season, Boston would finish first in the American Division -- the club's first first-place finish. Although the Bruins had players with far more name recognition, Hitchman was named the first captain in the club's modern history that season, as former captain Cleghorn retired after the 1928 season.
Everything fell into place in 1928-29. Hitchman had a unremarkable offensive season -- one goal, no assists in 38 games, during which he logged 64 penalty minutes --but he led a defense that was virtually impenetrable. The Bruins surrendered only 52 goals over 44 games, then gave up only three more in five playoff games. After a three-game sweep of Montreal in the first playoff round, Hitchman and the Bruins allowed just one goal in the two-game sweep in best of 3 final with the New York Rangers and claimed the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
At the Bruins' victory banquet, manager Art Ross singled out his captain for praise, calling Hitchman "a cornerstone of the franchise."
The toughness of Hitchman was proven the following campaign when, in a March 1, 1929, game against Ottawa, his jaw was broken by a Shore clearing pass; he stayed in the match, playing the rest of the game without relief.
Hitchman would become one of the first Hockey players to wear a helmet, donning a leather helmet designed by Bruins' coach Art Ross to protect the jaw after sitting out for two weeks to recover. The helmet was credited with saving Hitchman from serious injury when he was slashed in the head by Montreal Maroons forward Hooley Smith in a subsequent match.
Hitchman resigned the captaincy in George Owen's favor in 1932, but remained well-regarded enough as a leader to substitute for Ross as player-coach when Ross took ill in January 1933. Hitchman's interim stint was marred by a January 24 match against the Canadiens which included stick battles and the referee being knocked unconscious. The match provoked a league investigation and a furor played out in the press, ultimately leading to the resignation of Bruins' owner Charles Adams as a league governor.
This was the last season in which Hitchman served as Shore's defence partner. The 1934 season proved his last, and slowed by injuries, he retired mid-season. His last match was February 22 against Hitchman's old Senators team, The Senators would spoil Lionel Hitchman Night on Feb. 22, 1934, scoring twice in overtime -- you're better not knowing early rules -- for a 3-1 victory.
But the Bruins stalwart didn't leave the building empty-handed, carrying two checks of $500 each, one from team management, the other from fans, and a variety of gifts. The defenseman's stick and jersey were presented to his parents, who had travelled from Ottawa for the occasion. After the game, the Bruins announced that his #3 jersey would be permanently retired, the second professional sports team to do so, after the Toronto Maple Leafs retired Ace Bailey's #6.
Hitchman played a handful of games at the end of the 1934 season for the minor league Boston Cubs, after which he hung up his skates for good.
During his 10 seasons on Boston's blue line, the Bruins finished first in the American Division five times (four years in a row between 1928 and 1931) and played in three Cup finals. He played in 377 games as a Bruin, collecting 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points and 466 penalty minutes. His post-season career included 31 games, three goals, four points and 52 PIMs.
Hitchman retired with 28 goals and 34 assists in 417 career NHL games, adding 534 penalty minutes. Although often overlooked by contemporaries in favor of defencemen with gaudier offensive numbers, Hitchman was regarded as the premier defensive defencemen of his day.
Despite reports that he would succeed Ross as Bruins' coach and would not be asked to serve in the minor leagues, Hitchman went on to coach the Bruins' Boston Cubs farm for two seasons; the Cubs folded thereafter, and he was named Ross' assistant coach for the Bruins the following year.
Hitchman went on to coach the Springfield Indians in 1939, although he missed half the season with a leg injury that kept him off the bench.
Frederick Lionel Hitchman should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was constantly credited with being the greatest defensive defenseman in the game, and was good enough to have his number retired by his Boston Bruins, becoming the second player in NHL history to have his jersey retired.