Sunday

Lionel Hitchman


Lionel Hitchman was steady, aggressive and defensive-minded defenseman who was often paired with Eddie Shore to form one of the greatest defense tandems in hockey history. Hitchman's flawless defensive play allowed Shore more freedom to play an offensive game, a rarity among rearguards in the early days of hockey. The duo formed a feared one-two defensive punch, with their favorite target being Montreal's Howie Morenz.

Because of his defensive role, Hitchman was an unheralded player. The Toronto-born Hitchman never made an All-Star team and never scored more than 11 points in a season but was integral to the success of the Boston Bruins and prior to that the Ottawa Senators.

"Hitch" started his professional career with the Senators in 1922-23, arriving just in time to play with the legendary Eddie Gerard en route to the playoffs. He played his typical quiet style and even helped the Sens win the Stanley Cup that season.

Though he was a NHL rookie, he played with great composure and dignity. That was never more so evident than in a playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens. Noted goon/superstar Sprague Cleghorn of the Habs cross-checked the lanky Hitchman in the face, knocking out the some of Hitch's teeth and breaking his nose. The foul was so flagrant that not only did the dirty Cleghorn earn a match penalty on the play, but he was suspended by his own team for the final game of the series. Hitch kept on playing, with plaster on his nose, helping the Sens win the NHL title.

The Senators then had to travel west for the Stanley Cup finals where they defeated Vancouver and Edmonton. Frank Patrick, PCHA president, called this year's Senators team the greatest team he had ever seen.

Hitchman was already a player of some notoriety in the Ottawa area before he signed on with the Senators. He had played amateur hockey with the Ottawa New Edinburghs for two seasons while also working as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

But it wasn't until he joined the Boston Bruins that he got some recognition of his own. The Bruins, who had long admired his heart and physicality, acquired Hitchman in the 1924-25 season. It seems Ottawa somehow found Hitchman expendable, probably due to the arrival of highly touted local amateur Ed Gorman (who never really amounted to much in the NHL).

Hitchman, who interestingly would become teammates in Boston with his old nemesis Cleghorn, went on to help Boston to its first Stanley Cup final (the B's fell in two games to Hitchman's old Ottawa teammates) with a solid, 3-6-9 campaign in 1926-27. Late in the final loss to Ottawa Hitchman became involved in a brutal fight with former teammate Buck Boucher, drawing a match penalty and $50 fine.


He then added five goals, eight points and a career-high 87 penalty minutes to the cause as Boston finished first in the American Division -- the club's first first-place finish -- in 1927-28. Although the Bruins had players with far more name recognition, Hitchman was named the first captain in the club's modern history that season.

Everything fell into place in 1928-29. Hitchman had a unremarkable offensive season -- one goal, no assists in 38 games, during which he logged 64 penalty minutes --but he led a defense that was virtually impenetrable. The Bruins surrendered only 52 goals over 44 games, then gave up only three more in five playoff games. After a three-game sweep of Montreal in the first playoff round, Hitchman and the B's allowed just one goal in the two-game final with the New York Rangers and claimed the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Hitchman matched his regular-season scoring output during the playoffs, contributing the only assist of his post-season career.

Hitchman continued to play the same steady, physical brand of defense through 1933-34, even playing with a broken jaw for part of the 1929-30 campaign. During his 10 seasons on Boston's blue line, the Bruins finished first in the American Division five times (four years in a row between 1928 and 1931) and played in three Cup finals. He played in 377 games as a Bruin, collecting 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points and 466 penalty minutes. His post-season career included 31 games, three goals, four points and 52 PIMs.

Today fans attending Boston Bruins games will notice Hitchman's number three hanging high in the rafters along side much more familiar hockey legends like Shore, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr and Cam Neely. Hitchman may be all but forgotten by history, but know this: Hitchman was so good in his day that he became only the second player in NHL history to have his jersey retired.

The late Frank Frederickson would agree Hitchman was one of the all time greats. Frederickson, the Canadian Olympic hero turned Hockey Hall of Famer, once compared Hitchman and his partner Eddie Shore:

"To me, Shore was a country boy who had made good; he was a good skater and puck carrier but was not an exceptional defenseman like his teammate Lionel Hitchman who was better because he could get them coming and going."

13 comments:

Jaclyn 10:14 AM  

I am Fred Hitchman's Great Granddaughter. Thank you for writting this wonderful article.

Jaclyn Eisenmann

Anonymous,  4:52 PM  

Hi Jaclyn - Contact me - I have some things on Fred. This is a wonderful article.

Anonymous,  4:55 PM  

Hi Jaclyn - Contact me - I have some things on Fred. This is a wonderful article. I have his first 178 games with Boston transcribed. This is the 2nd time that I heard about an oldtimer discrediting Shore - Dick Irvin also said Shore was not great defensively -- Many Power Play goals were scored while Shore was in the box also.

heritagelover23@hotmail.com

Anonymous,  4:56 PM  

heritagelover23@hotmail.com

Anonymous,  5:25 PM  

Hi Jaclyn, i have some large pics of Fred standing on a dock with a woman holding a 27 lb Alantic Salmon.I have a certificate showing the competion that he was in.Believe it or not I have the actual fish that is mounted,on my camp wall. I would like to give it and the pics,to his family.please contact me and I will send you some pics showing these items. I am in Maine, emerydl@comcast.net

Anonymous,  11:04 AM  

Not to be snotty but who is Fred?

Anonymous,  5:32 PM  

Jaclyn, I have some pictures that you may be interested in , please contact me @ emerydl@comcast.net

Dave Carignan 3:36 PM  

Just wanted to say this was an awesome article on Hitchman. I write a weekly column for Stanley Cup of Chowder on the history of the Bruins. This week it was on Hitchman and wanted to thank you for some of the information which I read on here. Just wanted to show my appreciation.

Derek 2:06 PM  

Anonymous at 11:04 - His full name was Frederick Lionel Hitchman. Hitch is the best player not in the HHOF.

Derek 4:45 AM  

Of all the early stars Lionel Hitchman should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was constantly credited with being the greatest defenseive defenseman in the game, and was good enough to have his number retired by his Bruins. He appeared in over 400 NHL hockey games, often logging 60 minutes, from 1922 to 1934.

The Windsor Daily Star, October 10th 1936:
Too often in professional sport, the so called “worth” of a performer is measured in terms of his figure showing. In hockey, for example, there are dozens of instances where players have been heralded as great defensemen because of spectacular puck carrying ability and scoring facilities. In fact, the average customer and often the press box observer, has found a “great” tag for a defenseman because of his offensive class. His blocking and his body-checking, his ability to swing dangerous puck-carriers into the corners, are frequently overlooked. If the average defenseman cannot carry a puck successfully, or deliver a spectacular goal on occasion, he is regarded as a poor workman. Lionel Hitchman, who becomes coach of the Boston Bruins this winter, was an exception. Hitchman had a tough time lugging a puck past centre ice. Realizing it himself, he stayed back where he was being paid to play. It took the repeated opinions of Art Ross, Hitchman’s mates, and rival snipers who tried to pass him, to convince the general public that “Hitch” really was a “great” defenseman.

Acolades:
In 1939 Marty Burke was asked to name the 6 greatest players in his time in the NHL:
Goal – Hainsworth
Defense – Shore and Hitchman
Center – Howie Morenz
Right Wing – Bill Cook
Left Wing – Aurel Joliat
He rated Hitchman as a greater defenseman than the famous Eddie Shore although he willingly conceded that Shore was more versatile and much more colorful.

1940:
Eddie Shore says the hardest hitting defenseman, who really hurt when he hit, was Lionel Hitchman.

In 1943 Bobby Bauer chose his all-time Bruin squad and included Hitchman with Shore.

In 1947 King Clancy said that Sprague Cleghorn was the toughest defenseman he had ever seen and that Lionel Hitchman was the best defensive blue-line patrolman.

Dick Irvin Sr. once said: “Shore was an exciting player to watch, especially when he was carrying the puck. But he often wound up nowhere. Defensively, the guy he was teamed up with, Lionel Hitchman, was better.”

Derek 5:54 AM  

Vern Degeer lauds Lionel Hitchman, stellar Boston Bruins defense player, in the following paragraph in the Border Cities Star (Windsor):
"Aspiring major professional hockey defensemen might well pattern their work after the style of Lionel Hitchman of the Boston Bruins, one of the greatest rear-guards in the history of the game. To many qualified hockey judges Hitchman rates ahead of Ivan "Ching" Johnson of the New York Rangers, and Johnson has been regarded as one of the best in the business for several years. You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Hitchman goes rushing up the ice. The average cash customer, itching for the thrills of flying skates and neatly executed goals, usually overlooks Hitchman in the excitement. Yet he's the type of defenseman that keeps a job year after year while the more spectacular rearguard is dodging from one club to the other, back to the minors and finaly out of hockey altogether. Hitchman is the lone survivor of a club that has harbored more hockey players over a stretch of eight years than any other professional unit in the history of the game.

Derek 5:59 AM  

As Joe points out this was 77 years ago yesterday. February 22nd 1935.

J Armon Bartlett 8:46 AM  

I do not understand how, year after year, Frederick Lionel Hitchman is left out of the HHOF!
He was runner up to the hart in 29/30' season. Winner of two stanley cups! Known as one of the best stay at home defenceman of all time!
I believe it is time for Hitchman to go into the Hall of Fame!

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