Harry Wilfred "Billy" Burch - Born November 20, 1900 in Yonkers, New York – Died November 30, 1950 in Toronto, Ontario was an American-born, Canadian ice Hockey centre.
Burch came to Canada at an early age and honed his Hockey skills while playing at the Aura Lee rink, Jesse Ketchum Park, and at Cottingham Square neighbourhoods of Toronto.
Burch learned to play Hockey with friends Lionel Conacher and Ray Worters, a trio that would later play on numerous teams.
Burch started his junior Hockey career with the Toronto Aura Lee in 1917, He then played with the Parkdale Canoe Club of Toronto in 1918 and was spotted by legendary coach Dick Carroll who was hand picking a star team for the Toronto Canoe Club Paddlers. Carroll also picked Burch's teammates Conacher and Worters.
Burch was named captain of the Toronto Canoe Club Hockey team, and would lead them in the 1920 Ontario Hockey Association / OHA playoffs, as records show him scoring 42 goals, 12 assists in just 12 games, as the Toronto Canoe Club beat the Stratford Midgets for the 1920 J. Ross Robertson Cup Championship, then the Quebec-champion Loyola College of Montreal and the Fort William Beavers, before winning the 1920 Memorial Cup championship vs the Selkirk Fisherman Juniors in a 2 game series.
Burch and Conacher then joined the Carroll coached Toronto Aura Lee Hockey Club, winning the 1921 S.P.A. / Sportsmen's Patriotic Association Tournament Championship. Burch played for the Aura Lee until 1922.
Burch then signed to play for the the New Haven Westminsters of the United States Amateur Hockey Association / USAHA for the 1922-23 season, but was signed by the NHL Hamilton Tigers on January 30, 1923, playing in their final 10 games of the season. Burch made his NHL debut on January 31 vs the Montreal Canadiens, scoring his first NHL goal at 16:10 of the 3rd period against Georges Vezina. Burch also assisted on Leo Reise's goal at 19:50 of the 3rd in a 5-4 Montreal victory. This game was the 1st first penalty-free game in NHL history.
Burch would lead the Tigers in scoring during the 1923-24 season, finishing 6th in NHL scoring for the year, but the Tigers would finish last in the 4 team league.
Burch was named captain of the Tigers for the 1924-25 season, leading them to 1st place in the NHL during the regular season. The NHL now had 6 teams, as the Montreal Maroons and Boston Bruins, the Bruins becoming the first American NHL team, joined the league. Burch would lead the Tigers in scoring again with 20 goals and 24 points to finish seventh in NHL points, and was voted the winner of the 1925 Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.
Burch was involved in another NHL 1st this season, as the Tigers and the Ottawa Senators played the first ever scoreless tie in a regular season game in NHL history on December 17, 1924.
The Tigers never participated in the 1925 NHL playoffs, as players demanded to their owner, Percy Thompson, that they would not participate in the NHL championship series unless they received an additional $200 each for the extra six games played that year. Under their contracts, the Tigers players were to receive the same amount of money no matter how many games they played from December 1, 1924, to March 31, 1925 (even though the season started on November 29, 1924). NHL President Frank Calder was not amused, stating that the players would be fined or suspended if they did not play in the final series, but the players stated that they would rather retire than advantage be taken of them. The day of the final game of the Semi-Final, Tiger Shorty Green met with Calder to try to reach an agreement, but to no avail. The players were all suspended and fined $200 each, therefore eliminating themselves from the playoffs. Thus began the first players' strike in NHL history.
Soon after, a New York bootlegger, Big Bill Dwyer, decided to buy the Tigers. Working with organized crime figures based in Hamilton, Dwyer used armoured speedboats to import illegal liquor across Lake Ontario. A small portion of those profits covered the $75,000 price tag for the rights to the players. At the NHL league meeting of April 17, 1925, Dwyer was granted an expansion franchise for New York city.
Dwyer, with the help of W. J. Macbeth, a Canadian-born sportswriter for The New York Herald-Tribune, persuaded Tex Rickard to install cooling pipes for an ice rink in the floor of the new Madison Square Garden that Rickard was building. They wanted Hockey to join boxing and the circus as the Garden’s main attractions. Although Dwyer was ostensibly the owner, due to his underworld ties he was not publicly named by the NHL at the meeting announcing the team. Instead, Colonel Hammond of Madison Square Garden, Thomas Duggan, and former Ottawa manager Tommy Gorman were announced as the officers.
Dwyer announced the team would be known as the New York Americans. Their original jerseys were covered with stars and stripes, patterned after the American flag. Although he acquired the Tigers' players on September 25, 1925, Dwyer did not acquire the franchise; it was expelled from the league. As a result, the NHL does not consider the Americans to be a continuation of the Tigers.
Burch was named the captain of the Americans (a position he would hold until 1932) and then set a career high with 22 goals (3 assists) during his first season in New York, also scoring the very first NHL goal in New York history on December 2, 1925, at 6:12 of the 2nd period on his old friend Ray Worters, in a 2–1 OT victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Duquesne Garden.
The fans in New York knew Burch was born in nearby Yonkers, and he was dubbed "Yonkers" Billy Burch, "the Babe Ruth of Hockey" while playing for the Americans.
Burch finished eighth in NHL scoring, with 27 points during 1926–27 season and was voted the winner of the 1927 Lady Byng Trophy, awarded for his "effectiveness and a true sporting spirit. He was only the second player to win both the Hart and Lady Byng Trophies, Frank Nighbor being the first. Only five others - Buddy O'Connor, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull - have been so honoured in the history of the NHL.
Burch would play five more seasons with the Americans, highlighted by 14 goals in 1930-31 season (22 points) and another 22 points (7 goals) in 1932.
Burch was traded to the Boston Bruins for cash, April 13, 1932, playing in just 23 games (3 goals), before being traded to the Chicago Black Hawks for Vic Ripley, January 17, 1933.
Burch then played in the 1st afternoon Hockey game in NHL history on March 19, 1933 - Black Hawks vs the Detroit Red Wings in a 4-2 loss. The game started at 3:30pm and would be the last game Burch would play in, as he received a compound fracture of the left leg after he went into the boards with Detroit winger Frank Carson. The injury ended his playing career.
Burch later became a referee in the minor Can-Am League, starting in the 1933-34 season.
Burch played in 390 regular season NHL games, scoring 137 goals, 61 assists and just 2 NHL playoff games, with 0 points.
Billy Burch was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974.