One hundred years ago, a lanky, square-jawed lad honed his hockey skills on Newmarket's Fairy Lake. One year his team from St John's Separate School counted 56 goals. Herb Cain netted every one of them.
Cain's future as an NHL great was foreshadowed in 1931 playing for the Newmarket Redmen, a Junior A team. Just 19, he scored 11 goals in six playoff games.
As a 22-year-old NHL rookie, he scored 20 goals in 44 games with the Montreal Maroons and the same year helped them win the Stanley Cup. He earned his second Stanley Cup ring with Boston in 1941.
Growing up in Newmarket in the 1950s and '60s, we knew Herbie Cain as a coach, friend and inspiration. Entering Victor's Shoe Repair to have our skates sharpened, we marvelled at the cartoon on display of Cain edging out other hockey greats to win the NHL scoring championship in 1943-44.
To know Herb Cain was to admire his high moral standards. He toasted the new year with a glass of milk. The closest he came to swearing was “Holy Sailor”. And in 1936, he donated a statue of the Virgin Mary to the church that he frequented throughout his life, Newmarket's St. John Chrysostom.
He could have been bitter when just two years after he led the NHL in scoring, his contract was sold to the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League by Art Ross, Boston’s coach. The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks inquired about acquiring his rights but a condition of his sale did not allow him to play for another NHL team.
If he had played another year he would have qualified for the NHL pension. In his book, The Bruins, Brian McFarlane explains that Cain was blackballed by general manager Art Ross because he asked for a raise.
Cain accepted the demotion and helped Hershey win their first AHL championship. And in four seasons, he scored 92 goals.Near the end of his fourth season he broke his leg. Driving home to Newmarket from Pennsylvania at the end of the season with his leg in a cast, he decided to retire from professional hockey at age 35.
Always a family man, he devoted himself to his community and his life with Shirley and their children, Terry and Colleen, who claims she was skating at two. Herb coached the Junior C team, the Newmarket Smokies and they won the Ontario championship in 1956, '58 and '59. He coached other teams and I treasure a memory of Cain skating beside me at hockey practice, his skates ripping through the ice, encouraging me to skate faster.
We were shocked in 1964 when Herb Cain was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital invited him to try chemotherapy, an experimental drug at the time used on rats. He was expected to die but lived another 17 years.
“When he was so sick” explains Herb’s daughter, Colleen, “his buddies at Aurora Highlands Golf Course honoured him with a tournament, the Herb Cain Memorial,” but after his chemo treatments, Colleen explains, “ he got a second life and two years later won his own tourney.”
In 1943-44, Cain set an NHL scoring record with 82 points in 48 games. Gordie Howe seven years later set a new record counting 86 points, but it took Mr. Hockey 22 additional games (70) to do it.
In later years, Cain’s 1.67 point per game average from 1943-44, was often not equalled by NHL scoring champions like Guy LaFleur, Stan Makita, Gordie Howe, Jean Belliveau and others. Phil Esposito finally scored more points per game, 1.70 — 25 years after Cain established the record. As late as 1977-78, when Guy LaFleur won the scoring championship in the NHL, his points per game were 1.67, the same as Herb Cain’s in 1943-44.
Every NHL scoring champion from 1918 to 1988 and beyond is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, except Herb Cain.
Switching to career average points per game, Herb Cain’s average is .70, and several Hall of Famers including George Armstrong, Ace Bailey and others who are less well-known are in the Hall but do not meet Herb Cain’s career average points a game.
Armstrong, Bailey and others deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But where does that leave Herb Cain?
Cain was a prolific goal scorer and only the 13th player in NHL history to score 200.
As Canada's dean of hockey commentary, Brian McFarlane, author of 90 hockey books, says about Herb Cain, “I find it odd that he’s the only NHL scoring champ not in the Hall.”Brooke Broadbent grew up in Newmarket, where his family had a bakery. Herb Cain was one of his hockey coaches. Brooke is the author of several books and many articles. He currently lives in Ottawa, has four grandchildren and his main activity these days, at 75, is perfecting his Spanish.You can reach him at email@example.com.