52 Ancestors: The Road To The NHL – John Osborne ‘Jack’ Filkin

When last we left our intrepid hero, Jack Filkin had finished the 1927-1928 hockey season on a high note as a member of the York Bible Class hockey team that won the city of Toronto championship. (click here to read Part 1)

Based on an assemblage of newspaper clippings, collected by one of Jack’s brothers, it is recorded that for the 1928-1929 hockey season, the now 23-year old Jack found a place on the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company team in the old Toronto Mercantile Senior League, a tough industry based league of teams representing a number of companies from around the city. 

Jack’s skating ability, stick handling, and even a deft scoring ability did not go unnoticed.

Lester Patrick, the legendary coach and general manager of the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League came calling. So, according to border crossing records, on October 23, 1929, Jack was off to Springfield, Massachusetts and the training camp of the New York Rangers, then a fairly new NHL franchise.

Jack toiled for coach Lester Patrick (inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947) and played with Frank Boucher (inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958) and Earl Siebert (inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963) along with other hockey greats of the era.

Ultimately, Jack Filkin did not make the New York Rangers team (and is listed on the New York Rangers team website as having “missed the cut”) but was sent to the team’s Canadian-American Hockey League professional farm team, the Springfield (Massachusetts) Indians. The team is said to have derived its name from the Indian Motorcycle Company that manufactured the famous motorcycle in Springfield.

Back home in Orillia, Ontario, Jack’s hockey success did not go unnoticed and in an undated newspaper clipping probably from the Orillia area, the following headline and article appeared,

Jack Filkins Playing Professional Hockey in Springfield, Mass.

Was Popular Player With Orillia Intermediates.

“Jack Filkins once the idol of the Longford team that captured the trophy in the OWL league, and later a popular star on the Orillia Intermediate team, is now playing the professional game with Springfield, Mass. Jack was a chemist at the Longford Standard Chemical Co., and made a great hit with the fans during 1925-26-27. In 1928 and 1929 he played for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Toronto, in the Mercantile league. He plays a good brand of hockey and the fans are not at all surprised to see him crashing the professional ranks.

There is no doubt but that Jack will make good. He has a world of speed, is a clever stick-handler and has one of the most terrific shots ever seen on local ice. Playing hockey, as he has, from his earliest days, he has developed a pair of wrists that are the envy of all those who like to get verve into their shots on goal. His sense of direction is acute and very few of his shots go wide of the mark.”


Jack Filkin in his playing days, abt. 1930 (Original photo privately held)
One family story held that Jack did play in one NHL game but that does not appear to be true. Rather, Jack did play one game against an NHL team!

Before training camp broke for the New York Rangers and their farm team the Springfield Indians, the two teams faced off against each other. On a night in early November 1929, the game, according to sports reporter Victor N. Wall, offered “Springfield hockey fans their first peep at the young hockey stars imported from Canada to play with the Indians, their first glance at the New York Rangers, one of the outstanding clubs in the big league, and their first chance to see the changes in the rules.” One of the most significant rule changes made in hockey was introduced that year, the ability to make a forward pass.

The Spingfield Indians were coached by Frank Carroll who told reporter Wall, “I want to give Springfield fans every chance to see these youngsters and that’s why I am placing an entirely new team on the ice at the start. To show that I want this to be a really new team I am sending Filkin, a left handed shot, in at right wing.” Of course, what Frank Carroll didn’t mentioned was that his right winger Jack Filkin had an unusual talent, the ability to shoot both left handed and right handed. In an era of straight hockey sticks, with no curve or warp in the stick blade, this was an effectively deceptive weapon.

The 1929-30 hockey season was not great for Jack and his Springfield Indians team. At that time, professional hockey teams played a season consisting of only about half the number of games currently seen in the pro leagues. Springfield amassed a losing record of 14 wins, 23 losses and 2 ties, finishing 5th in the standings and out of the playoffs. 

Jack Filkin scored one goal, assisted on one other, and accumulated 30 penalty minutes while playing in 34 of the team’s 39 regular season games. It is likely that Jack, a regular on the team, missed five games due to injuries.

Following his less than stellar pro rookie season, Jack’s career was to be influenced by two great events: the Great Depression and Jack got married (not that getting married and the Great Depression should be viewed as being related to each other).

In the next post, Jack becomes a Millionaire!

52 Ancestors: Living The Dream – John Osborne ‘Jack’ Filkin (Part 1)

Sure, I’m retired and could say “I’m living the dream” but this isn’t about me. No, this is about Uncle Johnny, or more accurately Ellen’s uncle John Osborne Filkin.

When I was growing up, I had only one season of sports, serious sports – hockey season. It lasted twelve months each year. I played in organized leagues during the Fall, Winter, and Spring. I played ‘road hockey’ using a tennis ball in place of a puck before school, during recesses, at lunch time and, after school until the street lights came on and I was begrudgingly required to call it a day.  Sure, I played some baseball in the summer and some football in the Fall but life really revolved around hockey, hockey, and more hockey.

I knew every player in the National Hockey League (NHL), as for most of the years when I was young, there were only six teams. More than anything else, I dreamed of developing my skills and being good enough to one day play hockey professionally, especially to be in the NHL.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com
Recently, I took a second, closer look at a border crossing card from 1930 for Ellen’s Uncle Johnny. The card stated that his reason for entering the United States (he crossed the border from Sarnia, Ontario to Port Huron, Michigan) was to play hockey in Los Angeles, California. Playing hockey in California? Many, many decades ago? That, to say the least, piqued my curiosity!

It turns out there are many records, some of which are found in obscure non-genealogically oriented databases, that provide evidence of Uncle Johnny’s hockey career. And then the ‘honey hole’ was presented to me by Ellen’s cousin and Uncle Johnny’s daughter, Jule. An old family scrapbook collection, assembled by one of Uncle Johnny’s brothers, containing all the press clippings they were able to gather eighty years ago pertaining to Uncle Johnny’s hockey career.

So this is the story of John Osborne Filkin. He was known widely by the name ‘Jack’ but my wife knew him only as ‘Uncle Johnny.’

John Osborne Filkin was born April 25, 1905 in the tiny hamlet of Irondale, Ontario, Canada. Irondale is located on Salerno Lake in a rural, heavily-wooded part of Ontario, far from, well, almost everything. John’s father was William Mark Filkin, a chemical engineer who about twenty years earlier had immigrated to Canada from his native Birmingham, England. John’s mother was Alma Maud Armstrong who had been born in the small town of Minden, Ontario.

Summers during Jack’s childhood would offer, as they do today, opportunities for water sports – swimming, fishing, and canoeing. The Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons meant attending school and no doubt for Jack, a chance to skate and play hockey on the frozen ponds and rivers that were plentiful in his part of the province. Jack’s teen years meant chances to work in a local sawmill but he always found time for hockey. Jack probably played hockey whenever and wherever he could, just like I did years later. But he was different. He was truly dedicated to the game and very talented.

In 1927, Jack climbed the joined the amateur hockey ranks eventually joining team of the York Bible Class, a young men’s organization established a few years earlier by Denton Massey, a member of one of Canada’s more famous families. That year his hockey team won the championship of the city of Toronto.

In Part 2, a look at the Road to the NHL.