The William Tobin - Sprague Cleghorn Story
One of the incredible things about this collection of documents from the Ken MacKenzie collection is the stories that are found within the documents. Of special significance were the culmination of two telegrams and an affidavit that tells the story of how William Tobin got involved with Sprague Cleghorn of the NHL Ottawa Senators and the firestorm that ensued.
The following is an overview of the documents:
- Telegram Sept 17, 1921 to K. McKenzie from "Billie" (William Tobin). Tobin is seeking Sprague Cleghorn as Cleghorn states he is a free agent. Gorman of Ottawa offers "Bruce" if Tobin leave Cleghorn alone
- Telegram Sept 20, 1921 to K. C. McKenzie from W. Tobin RE: Gorman threatens to report Tobin. Claiming Cleghorn is Ottawa property.
- Affidavit - October 11, 1921. Re: Sprague Cleghorn of Ottawa Professional Hockey Team. Affidavit of William John Tobin. McCullogh & Adams Barristers etc. 101 Purvis Block, Edmonton, Alberta
Tobin provides details pertaining to his discussions with Sprague Cleghorn and his claim that he is a free agent. Signed by William Tobin and lawyer, McCullogh.
Background on Bill "William" Tobin
- Born in Ottawa, Ontario, May 20, 1895. Died, May 8, 1963 (Age 67)
- Was a professional goaltender playing for the Edmonton Eskimos from 1919-1925 in mainly a backup role.
- The collapse of the Big 4 Hockey League 1921 was the result of Calgary protesting the League Championship vs Edmonton due to Tobin's eligibility.
- He was a Senior Executive with the Chicago Blackhawks fro the team's first 36 years of existence in the NHL. Also served as coach for parts of 1929/30 and 1931/32.
- Tobin helped found the new Chicago Blackhawks organization. He was made Head of Hockey Operations in 1926. Was Gm of the Blackhawks from 1930-1939 (except one year when Dick Irvin took over).
- His name is on the Stanley Cup for their first victory of 1938.
- He was promoted to Team President in 1939
- After the founder of the Blackhawks, Sir Frederick McLoughlin's death, Tobin nominally headed a syndicate that bought the Blackhawks from the McLoughlin estate. However it was an open secret in NHL circles that Tobin was a stand in for Detroit Red Wings owner James E. Norris, who helped Tobin buy the Blackhawks. Norris had been the Blackhawks' landlord since 1936 when he bought Chicago Stadium. While NHL rules prohibited the ownership of multiple teams by one owner, the arrangement effectively allowed Norris to control the two teams.
- In 1950 Tobin sold his share in the Blackhawks to James D. Norris and Arthur Wirtz.
- He remained Vice President and Head of Hockey Operations until 1954 when Tommy Ivan became GM.
- He retained the title of Vice President of the team until his death in 1963.
These documents tell an incredible story of a young man, who goes from playing as a back up goaltender of the Edmonton Eskimos to becoming a major part of the growth of the NHL Chicago Blackhawks. When the WCHL collapsed in 1926 and the Chicago Blackhawk organization was started by Frederick McLoughlin, William Tobin went directly to McLoughlin and offered his services with the club. He quickly climbed the ladder. His willingness to get right in the trenches is evident in these early documents that show him travelling to Ottawa in the off season of 1921 and trying to secure the services of Sprague Cleghorn and doing battle with one of the biggest figures in hockey at that time, Tommy Gorman.
I have attached images of Sprague Cleghorn while with the Montreal Canadiens 1921-25 and William Tobin with the Edmonton Eskimos circa 1921-25.