Norman Alexander "Red" Dutton C.M. - Born July 23, 1897 in Russell, Manitoba – Died March 15, 1987 in Calgary, Alberta was a Canadian ice Hockey defenceman, coach, manager, NHL president and Stanley Cup trustee.
Named Norman Alexander at birth, his first two names were quickly ignored. A family friend of the Duttons refused to call him Norman as the name had a negative connotation for her, so she instead called him "Mervyn", a name that stuck. His friends /teammates called him "Red" after the colour of his hair, and to most, he was known as Mervyn "Red" Dutton.
Dutton attended school at St. John's College in Winnipeg. He sneaked away from home / school and on May 14, 1915 enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in World War I and served with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. He lied about his birth date on his CEF enlistment papers as he was not yet 18, and served for four years. Private Norman Alexander (Mervyn) Dutton fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, and on April 9th went on a final patrol at Farbus Wood, when they were hit by a bomb shell which flattened six other Patricias. He lay in a chalk pit for more than three days and it was eight days from the time that he received his first emergency dressing till his second dressings were applied in base hospital. Dutton suffered a shrapnel wound to his right leg and hip, serious enough that doctors pressed for amputation. Despite the risk of infection he insisted on keeping the leg, which he later recovered full use of.
The leg on which Dutton limped out of hospital wouldn’t have won any beauty prizes but it was equipped with a foot and a knee and a few of the essential tendons and muscles. Red had determined to be a Hockey player and when he returned to Winnipeg after the Armistice and began a strenuous training program. He took a job as a timekeeper on one of his father’s railway construction jobs in Saskatchewan in the summer of 1919. To strengthen his legs he ran countless times daily from gang to gang, checking the progress of the work. With the freeze-up he returned to Winnipeg and skated from early morning until late at night. That winter he played in seven separate Winnipeg Hockey leagues, frequently playing in two games in the same night. Staying at the rink well after midnight, Dutton was "determined to be a Hockey player again if I died in the attempt," he would later write.
Dutton was back at construction work the next summer, and back at Hockey the following winter, when he was met by the owner of the Calgary Canadians who had sought him out. Dutton was offered $2,500 to play Hockey in the Big-4 League. He scored only 5 goals in his first season. The Canadians became the Calgary Tigers for the 1921-22 season, joining the Western Canada Hockey League / WCHL, playing the first professional Hockey game in Calgary on December 19, 1921, defeating the Regina Capitals 3–2 before a crowd of 3,000 fans. Dutton scored a career high 16 goals (5 assists) as a professional during his first year with the Tigers.
Dutton was named to the 1922 and 1923 WCHL First All-Star teams, and in the 1923–24 season, Dutton and the Tigers won the WCHL championship. He assisted on the championship winning goal in a 2–0 victory over the Regina Capitals by carrying the puck the length of the ice before passing to Cully Wilson who scored.
The Tigers would then play the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. Montreal had to play both the Pacific Coast Hockey Association / PCHA champion Vancouver Maroons and the WCHL champion Tigers to win the championship. Calgary and Vancouver decided to play a 3 game series to raise money for the trip to Montreal (and Ottawa), where the 1924 Stanley Cup finals would be played. The series were played in Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg, with the Tigers coming back from a Game 1 loss to win the next two. Montreal would win the 1924 Stanley Cup championship. Dutton scored 1 goal, 1 assist in 7 playoff games for Calgary.
Dutton played five seasons for the Tigers. Known for his aggressive and bruising charges, his gallant stands and his amazing elbows, with which he could knock a man flat as a pancake, he led the team in penalty minutes in each of those five years, and the WCHL in 1921–22 and 1923–24.
Financial pressures forced the WCHL to sell its interests to the NHL following the 1925–26 season. Dutton had a few NHL teams interested in his playing rights, but it was Eddie Gerard of the Montreal Maroons who met with him first. They met in a Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan hotel room and Gerard offered him $5,000 to sign a Maroons contract plus $5,000 a year for three years. Dutton was stunned by the thought of receiving so much money for playing a game he loved. To gather his wits he leaned forward momentarily and buried his face in his hands.
Mistaking the gesture for one of disgust, Gerard, who was no quibbler, said quickly: “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Red - I’ll give you $6,000 to sign a contract and I’ll pay you $6,000 a year for three years.”
Dutton made his NHL debut on November 20, 1926 against the Montreal Canadiens. He played some very physical games for the Maroons, and his rivals goaded him into senseless penalties. He finished 4th in penalty minutes (108 PIM) on the team during his first year in Montreal. Dutton settled down a bit the next season with 94 PIM's, and scored a NHL career high 7 goals (6 assists) in the regular season. He scored 1 goal in the playoffs, helping the Maroons reach the 1928 Stanley Cup finals.
Dutton returned to his physical ways the next season, leading the Maroons and the NHL in penalties with 141 PIM. He scored just 1 goal during the season. Dutton played 1 more season in Montreal before they sold him to the New York Americans along with Mike Neville, Hap Emms and Frank Carson for $35,000.
Dutton was broken-hearted, but gave the Americans the same reckless and enthusiastic playing style that he had given in Calgary and Montreal, and quickly adapted to playing in New York. He was assigned to room with Roy Worters, the sardonic, undersized goalie. So you’re the great Dutton,” Worters greeted him with mock humility. ‘ ‘They say that you’ve been in the league for four years but this is the first time I’ve ever seen you. I guess you never managed to get up to my end of the ice.”
Spluttering indignantly, Dutton was on the verge of committing mayhem. Then he took another peek at Worters who, at all times, wears an expression of bland childlike innocence. That was the beginning of a firm friendship which grew with the years.
Worters remembered one night in a hotel room they shared on a road trip to Chicago. Red was chuckling to himself in his bed after they had switched off the lights.
“You know,” said Dutton, “these club owners are fools to be paying us thousands of dollars a year to play Hockey.”
“What d’you mean,” yelped Worters, fearing for the sanity of his roommate.
“Well, you know damn well that we’d play for nothing,” laughed Dutton.
And, while Worters lay there, staring through the darkness at the ceiling, Dutton chuckled himself to sleep.
Dutton maintained his aggressive style of play with the Americans, again leading the league in penalties in 1931–32. Despite his fiery temper, Dutton became one of the most popular players in New York amongst both the fans and his fellow players. He was not able to turn the Americans' fortunes on the ice around, however, as the team failed to qualify for the playoffs in his first five seasons with the team. Dutton was also selected to play in the NHL's Ace Bailey Benefit Game in 1934.
The Americans were owned by legendary bootlegger Bill Dwyer, and with the repeal of prohibition spelled the doom of the Americans. Dwyer’s business fell away to nothing, his fortunes dwindled and he lost control of the American Hockey Club which became the property of the National Hockey League. Dutton had been named the coach of the Americans for the 1935–36 NHL season, and in doing so became the second player-coach in NHL history. Under his leadership, the Americans finished third in the Canadian Division with a 16–25–7 record and qualified for the postseason. Then, in the spring of 1936, he received the chance that he had been waiting for, a chance to manage a professional Hockey team. Frank Calder, president of the NHL and custodian of the New York Americans franchise, tapped him to be manager-coach of the club.
Though the ownerless team was written off by the press and labeled as being "orphans", Dutton built an Americans team in 1937–38 that finished with a 19–18–11 record. It was only the third time in the team's 13-year history they finished with a winning record. It was also only the third time the Americans qualified for the playoffs. They faced, and defeated, their rival New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Chicago Black Hawks in the league semi-final.
Dutton pioneered the use of air travel as the Americans became the first Hockey team to fly between games in 1938.
Dutton imbued his players with his own fierce desire to win. His slogan was “Keep Punching” and he chalked it on the blackboard in the Americans dressing room and there it remained until the league disbanded the club in 1942. "By 'punching' I mean the trick of keeping on the offensive all the time," Dutton wrote. "You've got to make the other guy hustle, and you can only do this by hustling yourself. Keep punching!"
Dutton once said of himself, "I wasn't a good Hockey player, but I was a good competitor."
The Americans continued to defy expectations in the 1938-39 season. They again qualified for the playoffs, losing to Toronto in the first round, while Dutton was named an NHL Second-Team All-Star as coach. He led them to the playoffs again in 1939-40, but the loss of players due to World War II took its toll on the franchise.
As it turned out, war was not done with Dutton. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, two of his sons did as he had done - they enlisted. Red Dutton had escaped being a name on a Canadian War Memorial. His sons did not. Both Joseph and Alex died while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Dutton was still bogged down by lingering debt from the Dwyer era. This debt, combined with the depletion of talent and wartime travel restrictions, forced Dutton to sell off his best players for cash. The "Amerks" were clearly living on borrowed time; it was only a matter of when, not if, they would fold.
And so, on Oct. 24, 1941, when the NHL's governors convened for a special meeting at Toronto's Royal York Hotel, Dutton pitched the idea of moving the Americans into the burgeoning sports scene of Brooklyn, whose major league baseball team had just reached the World Series and whose NFL team had finished second in its division. He envisioned denting the Rangers' standing as the city's "common law" champions and forever changing the Amerks' status as the "little girl in the nursery rhyme." The Americans would have an identity of their own. Dutton then changed the name of the club to the “Brooklyn Americans” for the 1941-42 season. He intended to move the team to Brooklyn, but there was no arena in that borough suitable enough even for temporary use. As result, they continued to play their home games in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden while practicing at the Brooklyn Ice Palace on Atlantic Avenue. They barely survived the season, finishing dead last for the second year in a row with a record of 16–29–3.
On May 15, 1942, the NHL's governors again gathered at the Royal York Hotel, where Dutton had presented his plan for Brooklyn with such hope. This time they began the slow process of dissolving the Americans. "The truth is," Calder said, "that the Americans have not made the money they were expected to make." Their debt, he reported, now totaled $185,000; "relatively little" had been paid. And since the league had usurped ownership from Dwyer, its active teams were responsible for covering the losses. Again the league turned to Dutton, offering him the option to purchase the club. Though the price hadn't been set, Dutton said he would buy the team if the terms were "attractive." He also inquired about moving the team to Buffalo. But these were futile efforts. The NHL would eventually suspend the Americans for the 1942-43 season. Left behind were the Rangers, Bruins, Canadiens, Black Hawks, Maple Leafs and Red Wings - the group that would make up the NHL for the next quarter century. The Americans' exit had reduced the Original Seven to Six. Dutton left the Royal York still confident about his team's future. Provided he could find the resources and location for a new rink, he planned to rebrand his team as the Brooklyn Dodgers and further pit it against the Rangers, much like the baseball team of the same name and the New York Giants. "I can assure you," he once wrote to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "that as soon as we are through with Hitler and the Japs, the Amerks will be back in business, and it won't be in Madison Square Garden, but right in Brooklyn."
Back home in Calgary, Alberta, released from the financial burdens of Hockey, Dutton thrived. But behind the scenes the Americans' demise coincided with a period of tremendous personal tragedy for Dutton. In June 1942, Joseph went missing while conducting his 16th bombing mission in Germany. Dutton learned of this later than he should have, because an initial notification from the RCAF was mailed to him at an address that no longer existed: c/o Brooklyn American Hockey Club. Then, the following March, Alex and his crew departed on a mine-laying mission over enemy waters. Another RCAF official wrote to Red in Calgary: "Unfortunately the aircraft never returned, and we have heard nothing from it or any member of the crew since time of take-off." Neither Joseph's nor Alex's body was ever found.
On Feb. 4, 1943, NHL President Calder died from complications of two heart attacks, and the NHL asked Dutton to serve as acting president of the league. The owners wanted Dutton in the post both because he was popular with the players, and they felt they could control him. Dutton agreed to take the presidency on the promise that the league would reinstate the Americans following the war. He resigned the position after one year, citing the fact that the role took too much time away from his business interests in Calgary, but reversed his decision on the understanding that he would not always be available to serve the NHL post. Despite this agreement, he again attempted to resign in December 1944, and again had to be persuaded to complete the season.
In spite of his earlier reluctance to retain the presidency, Dutton signed a five-year agreement to remain as NHL president in 1945. He continued to make inquiries on the status of his team, but found in 1946 that the owners had reneged on their promise and canceled the franchise (NHL records list the Amerks as having "retired" from the league in 1942). Dutton had arranged $7 million in financing for a new arena in Brooklyn. When the owners told him during a league meeting that they weren't interested, Dutton resigned as NHL president, handing power to Clarence Campbell, his assistant and preappointed successor. Dutton stood up, collected his papers and headed for the door. He hurled a haymaker on his way out. "Gentlemen," he said he told the room, "you can stick your franchise up your ass."
Dutton felt that the Rangers were responsible for the league's refusal to allow the Americans to resume operations, and in a fit of pique, swore that the Rangers would never win another Stanley Cup in his lifetime. His vow became known as "Dutton's Curse". Additionally, he never set foot in an NHL arena again until October 9, 1980 when, as the last surviving Calgary Tiger, he was asked to drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff prior to the first game in Calgary Flames' history. Dutton's 34-year separation from the NHL was attributed to the betrayal of the league's owners. After the Flames opener he seemed to appreciate the decision in hindsight, telling the Calgary Herald, "People think that I still bear a grudge against NHL governors because they didn't give me back my New York team. The truth is that they did me a big favor. They sent me back here to work ... in a business which has brought joy and success...."
In spite of his ill feelings, Dutton accepted a nomination in 1950 to become one of two Stanley Cup trustees, a position he held until his death in 1987. He was also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame's selection committee for 15 years.
While playing, coaching and managing Hockey in New York, Dutton had partnered with Reg Jennings and his brother Jack to form the Standard Gravel and Surfacing Company in Calgary. The company proved immensely successful during World War II, building 18 airports within western Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan as well as completing highways in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Another company Dutton was part of - Burns and Dutton, in 1949 started constructing an $800,000 tourist resort for the federal Government at Radium, B.C. (Radium Hot Springs). Dutton was also a partner in 4 large drive-in movie theatres.
Dutton remained active in the sporting world as well. When the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League / CFL found themselves in financial trouble in 1955, Dutton led a group of local businessmen in purchasing the team. Named the president of the team, he worked to increase the team's revenues and to force a greater level of professionalism amongst his peers in Canadian football. He served as team president until 1959.
Dutton's company built the Chinook Centre shopping mall, and in 1960, was contracted to build McMahon Stadium as the new home of the Stampeders. Also in 1960, Dutton was named president of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede on a two-year term. He had been a Stampede director for ten-years previous to his appointment.
Through his work and community spirit, Dutton played a major role in helping Calgary and the surrounding area shed its rural image in the 25 years following World War II.
Dutton's legacy endures in the city that embraced him when he felt Hockey had not. Thirty minutes west of downtown Calgary local teams compete at Red Dutton Arena, opened in 1970. The best defenseman in Canada West University Hockey annually receives the Mervyn "Red" Dutton Trophy. In the concourse of the old Corral one framed picture shows Dutton standing with the Stanley Cup, surrounded by fellow executives such as Ross, Smythe and King Clancy.
Across the street at Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Flames moved in 1983, fans can visit a sports bar named Dutton's Lounge.
Red Dutton was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, in the Player category, in 1958.
Mr. Mervyn Dutton, C.M. is a Member of the Order of Canada, invested on April 8, 1981.
In 1993, the NHL posthumously named him one of four recipients of the Lester Patrick Trophy in recognition of his contributions to Hockey in the United States.
Mervyn "Red" Dutton was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
Mervyn "Red" Dutton was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 2005.