"Hap" Day was a Hall of Fame hockey player, coach and general manager as well as a life-long Toronto Maple Leaf.
Clarence “Hap” Day, other than other Conn Smythe and King Clancy, is perhaps the one person who dominated the first twenty-five years of Maple Leafs hockey more than any other person.
“Hap” Day started his career with Maple Leafs as a defenseman. But, before he retired the world of hockey he had served as the team’s captain, and coach. Day’s presence with the Leafs was even extended to the general manager’s office. Although he was never officially named the general manager, from 1955 through 1957 he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team.
Day was born in Owen Sound, Ontario on June 1, 1901. As a youngster his family moved to Midland area on the southern shore of Georgian Bay. He played amateur hockey for the Midland Juniors before moving on to play OHA Senior “A” for the Hamilton Tigers.
He was not just a great athlete, but also an outstanding student. He combined sports and academics by studying pharmacy and chemistry at the University of Toronto.
In 1924 “Hap” signed to play for the Toronto St. Pats. In 1927 he became a Maple Leaf when Conn Smythe purchased the team and changed its name to the Maple Leafs. The Leaf owner made Day the first captain of the Leafs.
The all-star defenseman patrolled the Leaf’s blueline until he was traded to the New York Americans in 1937.
When he signed with the St. Pats, Day received the incredible sum of $5,000 for the season. Although this does not seem like much money when compared to the salaries of today's professional hockey players, his contract was higher than any previous Toronto hockey player had received.
He was an outstanding defenseman and many, including his former team mate, "Ace" Bailey, considered “Hap” Day to be the best defenseman ever to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His skills and leadership were so highly regarded that he was chosen captain of Maple Leafs over such legendary team mates as "Ace" Bailey, Red Horner and Charlie Conacher.
While playing in Toronto, the entrepreneurial Day convinced the owners of the Maple Leafs to allow him to practice as pharmacist in a pharmacy which he set up in Maple Leaf Gardens. However, according to columnist George Hayes, pharmacist Day "sold more sandwiches and milkshakes than he did pills".
After playing the 1937-38 season for the New York Americans "Hap" Day retired as a player. For the next two seasons he worked as a National Hockey League referee. In 1940 Day threw away his referee's whistle and stepped behind the bench and became the coach of the Maple Leafs.
During his N.H.L. career he scored 86 goals and recorded 116 assists. These numbers are considerable considering that most defensemen in that era played a purely defensive game and seldom rushed into the opponent’s end of the ice like the great defensemen such as Doug Harvey and Bobby Orr of later eras.
In 1933 Day captained the Maple Leafs to their first Stanley Cup. Winning the Stanley Cup would become a habit for "Hap" as a coach. He coached the Maple Leafs from 1940 until 1950 and during that time the Toronto team captured five Stanley Cups. Perhaps Day's coaching abilities are best remembered for the exploits of his team in the 1941-42 Stanley Cup playoffs. That year the Red Wings won the first three games of the finals. However, Coach Day regrouped his troops and under his leadership the Maple Leafs won the next four games and the Stanley Cup! This is a feat that has never been duplicated in the National Hockey League!
After leaving the coaching ranks he was twice offered the presidency of the American Hockey League. But instead "Hap" retired to St. Thomas, Ontario where he owned Elgin Handles until he sold his interests in 1977.
Writer Al Nickleson wrote of Clarence "Hap" Day in the 1950-51 Maple Leafs program:
He's a living example of a truly great athlete, who never smoked or drank and who, as a kid, trudged a total of 10 miles in bitter cold so that he might practise hockey at a rink in Owen Sound.
His dedication to the game and his strict principles led more than one of his players to state that Coach Day's training camps were more like prison camps. His loathing of players wasting their time on road trips drinking alcohol led to some interesting attempts to evade the scrutiny of the disciplinarian coach. Rex MacLeod wrote in the Toronto Star in 1983 that:
"Players who liked to slake their thirst on road trips discovered it was prudent to hide out in dark saloons, far off the beaten path and even then it was advisable to post a lookout. Teetotaller Day somehow had an incredible instinct for homing in on the players' favourite watering holes."
Clarence “Hap” Day player, captain, and coach, not to mention de facto general manager probably more than anyone else typifies the first twenty five years of Maple Leafs hockey!
SIDEBAR: Little is known about Clarence "Hap" Day's hockey exploits during his youth in the Owen Sound area. However, Day told a gathering in 1948 honouring himself and two other Owen Sound hockey legends, "Butch" Keeling and Harry Lumley, that because his family did not have enough money to buy a sweater he could not play for his school team. "The sweaters", he said, "cost $2.75 and at the time the Day’s, individually and collectively, didn't have it!"
A version of this article first appeared in my Local Sports History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.
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