It’s one of the most iconic lines delivered by an American president: “December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy,” said by Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The NHL played three games that day, with the most stirring moment coming at Boston Garden. War had not yet been declared, so games went on. According to “Boston Bruins: Greatest Moments and Players,” written by Stan Fischler, the game between the Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks was delayed 28 minutes as players, fans and coaches listened to Roosevelt’s speech declaring war on Japan.
“Shortly thereafter several Bruins – including Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, Woody Dumart and Frank Brimsek – enlisted in the armed forces,” Fischler wrote.
An attack by a foreign country and declaration of war is something that defined the Greatest Generation. The only event this generation that compares is the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The parallels to the attack from 60 years earlier include hockey, as well.
It was Sept. 20, 2001 and the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers were playing an exhibition game when President George W. Bush’s address to congress began during the second intermission. The game in Philadelphia stopped as players sat on the bench, huddled around each other or kneeled on the ice to watch and listen.
“There’s not really many memories in my career that you clearly remember the moment,” former Flyers center Keith Primeau said in a phone interview Wednesday on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. “This was one of those memories that’s ingrained in your mind.”
Primeau said he didn’t even recall the score at the time (it was 2-2), but he remembers the speech starting while players were in the locker room and them coming out to watch on the arena’s video screens. The nation was attacked nine days earlier and, with fear still prevalent, Bush was updating everyone on the situation.
“You remember it because of the magnitude of the moment,” Primeau said. “What we were doing was so trivial in relation to what was happening on the world stage.”
Primeau recalled it being “so quiet” for the duration of the speech. The Flyers and Rangers didn’t even play the third period, instead shaking hands at center ice and calling it a tie.
“We all decided that in respect for what was happening it was just better for everybody to focus on what was going on,” Primeau said.
Of course that reaction was not the same as what NHL players did in 1941. This from NHL historian Jennifer Conway (@NHLHistoryGirl on Twitter):
“All in all, approximately 100 NHL and AHL players enlisted and served, as well as Conn Smythe. Surprisingly, there were only 2 casualties, and the interim NHL president lost his son in combat as well. Howie Meeker was injured so severely that it was feared he’d never walk normally again, let alone play, but he did return to the NHL in 1946.”
Here’s video of the Flyers and Rangers watching the speech: