Francis Michael "King" Clancy - Born February 25, 1903 in Ottawa, Ontario – Died November 10, 1986 in Toronto, Ontario was a Canadian professional ice Hockey player, referee, coach and executive.
"The first memory I have of playing Hockey was when I was a little gaffer growing up in Ottawa," King told Brian McFarlane in the book, 'CLANCY.' "I played for the fun of it and I really enjoyed myself going out on those cold winter days, walking four or five miles down to the river just to play shinny with the boys."
One of his first pairs of skates was handed down to the young lad from Eddie Gerard, a winger who played with the NHL's original Ottawa Senators between 1917 and 1923. Gerard was a friend of Clancy's father, Thomas. Ironically, when Clancy joined the Senators himself in 1921, Gerard was a teammate and Clancy was still wearing his colleague's hand-me-down skates.
Clancy played all his minor and junior Hockey in Ottawa, getting his first junior Hockey with the Ottawa Sandy Hill team in the Ottawa City Junior Hockey League, and then gained local attention by excelling with St. Joseph's High School and the city's Ottawa Munitions junior squad. In 1918-19 he began his first of three solid years with the senior Ottawa St. Brigids team, helping the team win the city championship in 1919.
Known as Frankie as a youngster, Clancy didn't assume the nickname 'King' until his teen years. And even then, he wasn't the first 'King Clancy.' "My dad was the first American import ever to come to Canada to play football," Clancy explained. "In those days (around 1896) of Canadian football, the ball wasn't snapped from centre as it is today. Instead, the centre would stand upright and from this position he would 'heel' it back to the quarterback. My dad was a master of this art and somewhere along the line, he picked up the nickname 'King of the Heelers.' In time, this was abbreviated to 'King' and so it was that my dad, Tom Clancy, became the original 'King Clancy'."
Clancy signed his first pro Hockey contract with the local Ottawa Senators in 1921, when Tommy Gorman, a family friend and sportswriter, who had been named secretary of the Ottawa Senators signed Clancy to a contract for $800 per season, plus a signing bonus of $100. "Clancy looked at Tommy Gorman and asked, 'Do you think I'm good enough to play for your Hockey team?' He just laughed. 'To tell you the truth, Frankie, I've never seen you play! But our coach, Petey Green, has looked you over a few times and thinks you might make a Hockey player.'"
On December 17, 1921, King Clancy debuted as the youngest player in the NHL to that date. He was seventeen years old and weighed 150-pounds. Clancy scored in this first game with the Senators, a 3-2 overtime win over the Hamilton Tigers. "It came back to me on the draw, and it looked like a big watermelon rolling my way," described King. "I slapped at it with my stick and stumbled on ahead with it before I let fly a pass across to Punch Broadbent. I kept going up the ice because I didn't have the sense to stay back on defense where I belonged. Then, whoops-a-daisy, I get the puck right back again but I was off at a poor angle on the wrong side of the net when I took this pass. There wasn't much I could do but wing a shot at the net. I let go a backhander and lo and behold, I look up to see the goal judge waving his handkerchief. I had scored." The goal was scored on Clancy' very first NHL shot and was the winning goal in a regular season, sudden-death overtime contest. "I guess that first goal in Hamilton impressed me much more than it did anybody else because I really didn't get too much chance to play when I turned pro. I was with the Senators for two seasons and filled in here and there as a general utility player."
"This was my introduction to the professional game," King continued. "I played with some wonderful fellows on that Ottawa team. And it's a funny thing, but although they were tough on me and gave me a rough ride when I first worked out with them, once I got to be a bona fide member of the team, I got more encouragement from the players on the Ottawa club than I ever thought was possible." Teammates included Hall of Famers Punch Broadbent, brothers Frank and Buck Boucher, Cy Denneny, Eddie Gerard, Frank Nighbor and netminder Clint Benedict.
The Ottawa Senators finished first that season, but lost in the Stanley Cup final. Then, in 1922-23, the Senators faced the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League, a team featuring 'Bullet' Joe Simpson and Duke Keats, for a shot at the Stanley Cup in 1923. The Senators collected two straight victories to win the best-of-three playoff and the Stanley Cup championship. During the March 31, 1923 Stanley Cup game against the Eskimos, Clancy became the first Hockey player to play all six positions during one game. In the third period, goaltender Clint Benedict was given a two-minute penalty. At the time, goalies served their own penalties. Not wanting to leave the net open, Clancy played goal for the two minutes Benedict was gone
"Capturing the Hockey championship of the world was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Clancy said in his autobiography. "After earning $800 for the season and then collecting another $750 in one shot for the playoffs, I was a rich man."
Between 1921-22 and 1929-30, the affable Irish-Canadian starred on the Senators and was a key component in the club's Stanley Cup triumphs in 1923 and 1927. He hit double figures in goals three times and was known for utilizing every trick in the book while defending his own zone. Although he weighed only 155 pounds, the feisty defender took on all comers and even challenged a few unruly fans along the way, losing most fights but never giving an inch or backing down. According to Brian McFarlane, it was said that King Clancy started a thousand fights and never won one.
Then, after nine seasons with the Senators, Clancy was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 11, 1930. "I talked to Mr. Smythe, who told me he polled some of the fans and newspapermen in Toronto to find out who they would like to see on his hockey team. Some of those he consulted had brought up my name," Clancy recalled. Smythe, who had purchased the Toronto franchise in early 1927, didn't have the money to secure Clancy at that time. But a day at the track changed the climate for his team. Smythe owned a racehorse named Rare Jewel, who ran at seemingly insurmountable odds. But astonishingly, Rare Jewel won its race with Smythe having bet a great deal of money on his horse. With odds at better than 200-to-one, Smythe collected more than $15,000 and, packaged with a further $20,000 from the team and Maple Leafs players Eric Pettinger and Art Smith, the Maple Leafs were able to secure King Clancy from the Ottawa Senators. "To this day, I'm surprised at the amount of money involved in the deal that brought me to the Leafs," Clancy admitted in 1968. "I heard how much money Mr. Smythe had handed over to Ottawa and I must confess, I thought he was a foolish man." Ottawa fans were disheartened to learn of the loss of their star. Toronto fans were ecstatic to hear that their nemesis would be joining their team. "I must stress that when Mr. Smythe bought my contract and brought me to Toronto, I never looked back on any aspect of my career. A few years after I left Ottawa, the Senators folded. By then, I was a member in good standing with the Toronto Maple Leaf organization."
In his first season with the Maple Leafs, King Clancy helped Toronto catapult 13 points in the final standings. But in spite of being named to the NHL's First All-Star Team, the addition of Clancy wasn't enough to propel the team to the Stanley Cup. By the autumn of 1931, the Maple Leafs had moved into a brand new arena, having outgrown the 9,000 seat Arena Gardens. During the 1931-32 season, the first for Toronto at the newly-built Maple Leaf Gardens, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. "We beat New York (Rangers) 6-4 in that final game and so won the Stanley Cup the first year we were in the Gardens. It was also the first time a team had won the Cup in three straight games." The Leafs beat the Rangers 6-4, 6-2 and 6-4.
Clancy, who had always been an offensive star from his defense position (in 1923-24, he finished in the NHL's top ten scorers and led the league with 8 assists) enjoyed his two best offensive seasons in 1932-33 (25 points) and 1933-34 (28 points). In 1933, King was a Second Team All-Star while he was selected to the First Team in 1934.
His productivity declined in 1935-36, with Clancy finishing with 15 points, the fewest of his NHL career since his day with Ottawa. Just six games into the 1936-37 campaign, King Clancy made the decision to conclude his playing career. "I was thirty-three and the highest-paid player in the NHL when I announced that I was hanging up my skates. I'll never forget the date — it was November 24, 1936. I was through as a player but not finished as far as the Toronto Maple Leaf organization was concerned. Mr. Smythe gave me a job as a goodwill ambassador and that kept me in touch with the game I loved."
Clancy came out of retirement to play in Howie Morenz Memorial Game, November 2, 1937.
King Clancy retired with a NHL record of 137 goals and 144 assists for a total of 281 points in 592 regular season NHL games. In 61 playoff contests, Clancy added 9 goals and 8 assists for 17 points.
Clancy was hired to coach the Montreal Maroons in 1937-38. "The team never got untracked in the one month I was there, and before I knew it, I was out of a job," King shrugged. The Maroons won six, lost eleven and tied one in the 18 games Clancy was employed by the Maroons.
"Early in 1938, (NHL president) Frank Calder asked me if I would be a linesman," continued Clancy. "I'd worked perhaps ten games when they asked me to go in and take a shot at refereeing in the International League." That minor league stint earned the hard-nosed Clancy a shot at refereeing in the National Hockey League.
Clancy was every bit as colourful in the white official's sweater as he was as a defenceman, and worked as an NHL official for eleven years before he decided to accept an offer coaching the Cincinnati Mohawks, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens for the 1949-50 season.
The team started well with Clancy commanding the bench. "I can tell you I was flabbergasted when I was named the American Hockey League's all-star coach in my first year in Cincinnati." Unfortunately, the Mohawks finished last in both seasons which Clancy coached them. In 1951-52, King was hired as head coach of the AHL's Pittsburgh Hornets. "It was a tremendous thrill to get back into the Maple Leaf organization again," he claimed in 'CLANCY.' "I was forty-eight years old and felt I was getting a new lease on life. I just reveled in the challenge I was facing and at being reunited with Mr. Smythe and my old sidekick, Hap Day." The Hornets finished in first place in 1951-52 and wet on to claim the Calder Cup as American Hockey League champions. "It was their first Calder Cup since the team's inception sixteen years earlier.
In 1953-54, Joe Primeau resigned as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Clancy was moved into the position as the new coach for Toronto. "I spent three seasons behind Toronto's bench, getting into the playoffs each year, but I didn't perform any coaching miracles," shrugged Clancy. "I never did coach a Stanley Cup winner. I wished I could have." At the conclusion of the 1955-56 season, Clancy was promoted to assistant general manager. Clancy remained in the front office when the team won four Stanley Cups in the 1960's and during the succeeding period when the club eventually declined under Harold Ballard's ownership.
During the difficult 1970s and '80s Clancy was one of the bombastic owner's few friends and even took over as an interim coach for 15 games in 1971-72 when head coach John McLellan recovered from a peptic ulcer.
By the mid-'80s, Clancy was a goodwill ambassador for the Maple Leafs, and remained in the Maple Leafs' front office for the rest of his life.
Awards and Honors
- Named to NHL First All-Star Team in 1931 and 1934.
- Named to NHL Second All-Star Team in 1932 and 1933.
- Stanley Cup champion (as a player) – 1923, 1927 (with Ottawa), 1932 (with Toronto)
- Stanley Cup champion (as an assistant manager) 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967 (with Toronto)
- Calder Cup (AHL Champions) (as a coach) – 1952 (Pittsburgh Hornets)
- Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame – 1958
- Inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame – 1975
- Inducted into Ontario Sports Hall of Fame – 1998
- Number 7 retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs
In 1998, he was ranked number 52 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
In January, 2017, Clancy was part of the first group of players to be named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history.
The King Clancy Memorial Trophy was named in his honour and is awarded annually to the NHL player who demonstrates leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made exceptional humanitarian contributions in the community.