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From the Archives: Gus Kyle Explains the Winning Formula

Long before there was Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins, there was a Boston sextet in the early 1950's that was big and sometimes "bad"; but not "bad" enough to suit one of the Beantown defensemen.
Gus Kyle

Long before there was Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins, there was a Boston sextet in the early 1950's that was big and sometimes "bad"; but not "bad" enough to suit one of the Beantown defensemen.

The only thing "bad" about the Bruins during the 1951-52 season was their record against the defending Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs when they played in Toronto. The Bruins simply could not win.

This unfortunate bit of business infuriated Bruins defenseman Walter (Gus) Kyle, one of the most talkative toughies on coach Lynn Patrick's squad. A former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Kyle decided to do something about his abused beleaguered Bruins on nights when they were visiting Maple Leaf Gardens.

I found out about it one day when my issue of the Toronto Globe and Mail arrived in my mailbox. It was an intriguing bit of hockey propaganda that caught my eye.

Gus decided to make some noise and, in those Original Six Days, one of the best platforms happened to be the newspapers of which Boston had many. The visiting Bruins – in Toronto at the time – were followed by a flock of New England newshounds. In fact, Kyle made sure that the Leafs beat reporters also were around when he sounded off; and they also wanted to hear Gus's harangue.

The Globe's headline, which I found in my 1951-52 scrapbook, told the story: GUS KYLE EXPLAINS WINNING FORMULA TO BOSTON SCRIBES. The subhead added: HOW TO BEAT LEAFS.

Covering Kyle's filibuster for The Globe was veteran newsman Gord Walker. After listening to the Kyle lecture, Walker was more amused than awed by the ex-Mountie's musings.

"Kyle has informed the newspapers that the way to beat the Leafs is to beat them from side to side," Walker wrote, "then end to end and then to reverse the procedure until they lie down and die.

"What Walter didn't mention was that's a pretty good way to beat any team."

The puzzling part of Kyle's harangue was the fact that Boston's sextet was overloaded with toughies. They included ex-Toronto ruffian Wild Bill Ezinnicki, captain Milt Schmidt and heavyweight Adam Brown, just to name a few. Although any one of those bears would be favored in a one-on-one bout, those proper Bostonians seemed to favor a "Peace in our time" theme, Gus or no Gus.

Reporter Walker further punctured holes in Kyle's call to arms by pointing out the failed result of the Bruins last charge at the Leafs barricades a week earlier.

"They belted the Leafs from side to side," Walker reminded Kyle, "but the Leafs did the end-to-end belting." 

And, once again, Toronto won over Boston.

What made Kyle's pleas so ironic was the fact that one of the most famous fighting themes in NHL history was rooted in Maple Leaf Gardens and uttered by Toronto hockey chief Conn Smythe.

"If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice."

Smythe, himself, has claimed that his notorious line had been distorted over the years.

In other words, he wasn't encouraging mass brawls or anything of the kind. He made that point clear in his autobiography which, appropriately is titled, "If You Can't Beat 'Em In The Alley."

Smythe: "I've tried to explain a hundred times what I meant when I said, 'If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice.' I did not mean that you scare the other guy, but that you show him there is no fear in you."

Perhaps Gus Kyle would have been better off had he read Smythe's book instead of reading the riot act to his teammates via the newspapers.

In the end, his harangue may have made headlines but it didn't make his Bruins a better team. They finished under .500 (25-29-66) in fourth place. By contrast, Toronto wound up in third place (29-25-74), eight points ahead of the Beantowners.

There must be a moral there somewhere; perhaps: If you can't beat 'em in the papers, you can't beat 'em in the race!

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