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A Pullman Washroom in the middle of the night is a wonderful place for conversation. On this particular occasion, on the midnight express to Boston, the room was crowded with hockey players in various stages of undress. A joke went out through the heavy cigar smoke directed at a veteran forward with a fanciful taste for loud underwear. A defenseman, half naked and hairy, pulled an egg sandwich out of a crumpled brown paper bag and munched on it slowly. He had said nothing and wasn't about to. A laugh went around the room and another player said as he looked at the sandwich eater, "Look at him, will you—always the same, never says anything. Like Alan Ladd, in one of those westerns!"
"Yeah," said another voice, "we call him Shane. Hey! How about that, Shane? Pretty good, huh?"
The man they had nicknamed Shane said nothing. He smiled faintly and kept on munching. A figure appeared at the door and the general laughter subsided. James Dickinson Irvin, coach of the Chicago Black Hawks, and at 63 the senior coach of the National Hockey League, moved toward the window seat and sat down. He looked around and smiled. In 30 years of playing and coaching, Dick Irvin had seen many a happy washroom crowd—and many a gloomy one. "See them," he said with slow deliberation. "In hockey the goal is the thing. Look at a team that has won and see how they act. A hockey player who has scored a goal is the happiest man alive. If we hadn't beaten the Rangers tonight the boys would have been in bed by now. But, no, tonight they win, so what do they do? They sit up too late puffing on their cigars and trying to get a rise out of Shane."
Everyone looked at the sandwich eater and Irvin went on speaking. "Oh, his name isn't really Shane, you know. It's actually Frank Martin, and he can play a pretty good game on defense when he wants to. But, here, let me introduce some of the others."
The coach stood up, then propped himself against a washbasin. He is not a big man; with his silver hair and thinning face he seems almost frail, But he has a distinguished look about him. He stands 5 feet, 10� inches and weighs 165 pounds. His voice is quiet and his penetrating eyes are gray. There is an inch-long scar on his right cheek. When he talks, he conveys authority and automatically commands respect.
He began pointing a long arm around the crowded room.
"There," he said, "on the end there is Nick Mickoski. You saw him turn in a good game tonight. Next to him, over there, is Al Dewsbury, then Tony Leswick. There's our captain, Gus Mortson, then comes Lee Fogolin. This tall fella here, next to Shane, is Eddie Litzenberger and the last two are Glen Skov and Benny Woit."
The members of the hockey team acknowledged the introductions. Soon after, by the time the train had reached New Haven, the happy cigar smokers had drifted off to their berths, leaving Dick Irvin slumped pensively against the window staring with noticeable disgust at the last heavy clouds of smoke as they curled slowly out into the corridor. He stood up, finally, and unlimbered himself in a long stretch. "I suppose all of us are tired after a game. But me, I never get to sleep early on a train. I sit up talking or just thinking—talking about what happened in the last game or thinking about what we can do in the next one.
"The coach in the National Hockey League is different from a coach in any other sport. Now, take your baseball manager. It is taken for granted that under certain conditions he will play the percentages. Whether his move works for him or fails him, it is accepted as a perfectly legitimate method of eliminating himself from personal blame. Look at your football coach. He has maybe 10 games a season. All right, but he has a week between games—a whole week to get his injured players back in shape, a whole week to think up new plays, devise new strategy, rebuild morale and confidence within his club. A whole week, mind you, seven days and seven nights. Then, what happens in the game? The football coach, when he sees things going against him, has a time-out to reorganize his team."
A vague smile spread across the coach's face. "Ah, and wouldn't I just love to yell for a time-out once in a while when I see a Rocket Richard or a Gordie Howe coming down on my nets! Sure I would. So would every other hockey coach. But hockey isn't like that. It's the roughest game in the world—on the players, yes, but on the coach too. In the National Hockey League we play 70 games—half of them on the road. It means about three games a week, sometimes as many as four games in five nights. The coach has the job of devising different patterns of play to use against each of his five league opponents. He's got to see that his players can make this switch quickly—from night to night. To succeed he's got to know how to handle men, know when to give them the bull whip or feed them sugar."