The Reverse Masterton

For a player who had toiled in the minors for many years, it’s great to see that Matt Carkner’s perseverence eventually helped him get to hockey’s highest level of competition. So it must be pretty rewarding for Carkner to find out that his dedication has been acknowledged by the writers of the Sun, Citizen and Le Droit as this year’s Senators nominee for the Masterton Trophy.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is an annual award under the trusteeship of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and is given to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The winner is selected in a poll of all chapters of the PHWA at the end of the regular season.

A grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers’ Association in 1968 to commemorate the late William Masterton, a player for the Minnesota North Stars, who exhibited, to a high degree, the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Masterton died on Jan. 15, 1968, after an injury sustained during a hockey game. ~ NHL.com
I was perusing James Mirtle’s list of recently revealed Masterton nominees over at The Globe & Mail to gauge Carkner’s competition. As hard as I tried to get excited about Chris Drury’s hard work and dedication despite commanding a $7.1 million cap hit, I couldn’t help but wonder why someone hasn’t created a reverse Masterton Trophy of sorts to the individual who best exemplifies the characteristics of selfishness, sore losing and general douchebaggery.
In all honesty, it makes for much more entertaining water cooler talk. The only problem is, my reverse Masteron Trophy needs a name.
Since the Masterton was awarded to the late William Masterton for his exemplary qualities, the reverse Masterton should be aptly named after someone who truly deserves it. I needed some due diligence. So I hit the Interwebs and within 10 seconds of research, I came upon a thread on the HFboards entitled Dirtiest player in NHL history. After a quick scan, I noticed that the obvious names like Bobby Clarke, Ulf Samuelsson, Claude Lemieux were getting thrown around.
Sure, each was a dirty player in their own respect but each one is too modern, too easily recognized and ultimately, too lame to have such a distinct honour  bestowed upon them. (Ed. note: Case in point, Claude Lemieux’s participation on Battle of the Blades. )
Just as I was beginning to lose faith in the thread and start anew using Google, one name leapt off the page and it wasn’t just because of his fantastic hockey name.
According to the user with the handle Darryl Shilling,
Sprague Cleghorn makes Ulf Samuelsson look like a choir boy. :)

Cleghorn was the filthiest player ever. Kneeing, butt-ends, high sticks to the face, purposeful cutting with skate blades, ramming guys faces into the boards. He beat up Lionel Hitchman so viciously that Cleghorn’s OWN manager suspended him over it. One night he beat the snot out of Newsy Lalonde (no pushover himself) so badly that people in attendance thought that Lalonde was dead, laying on the ice. This is a guy that had to be snuck into arenas to avoid angry mobs.

Cleghorn even beat his own wife with his crutches after he broke his leg in 1918. THAT’s dirty. Samuelsson was well known for low hits, but didn’t go nearly as a far as Cleghorn enjoyed going.

If there’s any good side to a nutjob like Cleghorn, it’s that he was a phenomenal offensive player. Most people have never heard of him, but he was truly great, though violent.

Success! Cleghorn exemplified piece of shit characteristics on and off the ice. Now that I had a name, I needed to learn as much as I could about him.
Here’s what a Google image search revealed:
(Ed. note: In the above picture, Cleghorn’s picture is on the bottom right.)
And here’s what some guy who edited Wikipedia had to say about Cleghorn:

Born in the upscale Westmount area of Montreal, Cleghorn had a hall of fame career but was regarded as one of the dirtiest players of his era. He played on Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1920, 1921 and 1924.

In 1909–10, Cleghorn began his career with the New York Wanderers, becoming a professional with Renfrew of the National Hockey Association (NHA) the next season. He then played for the Montreal Wanderers for six seasons. In the NHL, he played defence for the Ottawa Senators from 1918 to 1920. In an attempt at league parity, the NHL transferred him to the Hamilton Tigers in December 1920, but Cleghorn refused to report. The Senators asked that he be allowed to return to their team. George Kennedy, owner of the Montreal Canadiens, threatened to have Ottawa thrown out of the league. Cleghorn eventually signed with Toronto, but was released in March after the St. Pats lost their play-off and he signed with Ottawa during the playoffs in time to be a member of the 1921 Stanley Cup-winning team.

The league transferred Cleghorn to Hamilton in 1921, and again he refused to go. Just before the start of the 1921–22 NHL season, Sprague was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Harry Mummery and Amos Arbour. He played four seasons in Montreal and after the 1924–25 NHL season, was purchased by the Boston Bruins for $5,000. Sprague played his final three seasons in the NHL with Boston (1925 to 1928). He then moved to the minor-league Newark Bulldogs (1928–29) as a player-coach. Later, he coached the CAHL Providence RedsMontreal Maroons (1931–32). He later coached the Pittsburgh Shamrocks of the International Hockey League (1935–36) and the Cornwall Cougars of the Quebec league (1947–48). (1930–31) and NHL

Even in an era of rough play, Cleghorn was notorious for being among the dirtiest of the lot, and ranked amongst the league leaders in penalty minutes for nine of the first ten seasons of the NHL’s history. In 1923, Cleghorn hit Ottawa Senators player Lionel Hitchman in the head with his stick. Charged with aggravated assault, Cleghorn was found guilty and fined $50.

Hold on, it’s time to consult the checklist here:

  • Charged with aggravated assault stemming from an on-ice incident. Bad on-ice behaviour. Check.
  • Hit wife with his crutches and refused to be transferred to other teams. Douchebag off of the ice. Check.
  • A Hockey Hall of Famer who predates most dirtiest player ever conversations. Check.

I think we have a winner for the reverse Masterton name rights and as a bonus, he played for the Ottawa Senators. Armed with this knowledge, I had to consult what possibly is the worst book ever written about the Ottawa Senators — The Ottawa Senators: The Best Players and the Greatest Games authored by J. Alexander Poulton — to see if there is any mention of Cleghorn. (Ed. note: This book can be purchased at Chapters for under $10. Upon completion, it should be used with kindling to start a fire.)

Fortunately, a few paragraphs were devoted to Cleghorn:

The 1921-22 regular season … was a fairly uneventful season for the Senators, except for the brief reunion with Sprague Cleghorn. After the 1921 Cup victory, the Ottawa Senators unceremoniously dropped Cleghorn from their roster, preferring to go with younger talent such as King Clancy. A natural force on the ice, Cleghorn did not have to wait long before being picked up by the Montreal Canadiens where he was teamed up with his brother Odie, but Cleghorn still held a grudge against his former team. Cleghorn declared war on the Senators, and when they met again for the first time on February 1, 1922, he was out for blood.

Cleghorn did little to hide his contempt for his former club after the puck was dropped. He started by viciously checking Senators captain Eddie Gerard and then slashing him on the head, opening up a cut above Gerard’s eye that required five stitches to close. A short while later, Cleghorn set his sights on Ottawa’s top scorer, Cy Denneny, and gave him a nasty cut above the eye that spurted blood all over the ice. Not yet satisfied, Cleghorn set his sights on the Sens’ Frank Nighbor. Cleghorn got his chance when Nighbor had the puck in the corner with his back to the play. Cleghorn rushed into the corner and slammed Nighbor down to the ice, landing on his elbow hard enough that Nighbor couldn’t play the rest of the game. Cleghorn had single-handedly removed three of the Senators’ best players from the match. Ottawa police on hand that night offered to arrest Cleghorn and make him spend the night in jail for his obvious assault on the Senators players, but the referees persuaded the police to let the NHL handle its own discipline. For his offences, Sprague Cleghorn received a match penalty, a warning from the league president Frank Calder and a $15 fine.

A match penalty, a warning and a $15 fine? Apparently the NHL’s discipline committee hasn’t changed much in the past 90 seasons.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Sprague Cleghorn Trophy, your reverse Masterton. Can I get some nominees please?

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