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Dit Clapper of the Boston Bruins

Biography Shines Spotlight on a Neglected NHL Star

By

Dit Clapper and team mates with the Stanley Cup in April, 1941.

Boston Bruins team mates Johnny Crawford, Dit Clapper, and Bill Cowley (L-R) with the Stanley Cup in April of 1941

Many NHL fans have never heard of Aubrey "Dit" Clapper, a key member of the Boston Bruins from 1927 to 1947.

Dit Clapper remains the only player named an NHL All-Star as a forward and a defenseman.

He won three Stanley Cups, and served as Bruins' captain for the better part of two decades.

But his relatively unknown compared to other Bruins stars of the era, like defenseman Eddie Shore, coach and GM Art Ross, and the legendary "Kraut Line" of Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, and Woody Dumart.

Stewart Richardson and Richard LeBlanc shine a spotlight on the man once called the "Lou Gehrig of hockey" in their book, Dit: Dit Clapper and the Rise of the Boston Bruins.

I talked to them about one of the under-rated stars of the NHL's early days.

People probably think of Eddie Shore and Milt Schmidt as the key personalities in the the "rise of the Boston Bruins." Why did you decide to focus on Dit Clapper?

Richard LeBlanc: Dit came from Stewart's home town of Hastings, Ontario. Dit had become increasingly a distant memory even in his home town.

He was a key piece of the Bruins, but totally different than Eddie the Entertainer. Dit was dependable, steady, and totally a team guy. Eddie was spectacular, the most exciting player in the league for much of his career.

Richard Johnston of the Boston Sports Museum compares Eddie to Babe Ruth, and Dit to the quiet Lou Gehrig. One demanded the spotlight, and one didn't enjoy it all that much.

Actually, in interviewing people, there were stories to the effect that Dit and the Babe were friends to some degree, and that when Babe was failing, Dit came to visit him in the hospital. We could never substantiate that.

Clapper began his NHL career in 1927. Your book reveals it as an era when hockey was still a relatively new game, with basic rules and strategy still evolving. How is that reflected in Dit Clapper's career?

RL: The rule changes, particularly the forward pass, were a godsend to speedy young forwards like the Dynamite Line, as witnessed by their explosive point production in 1929-30. The rule changes were ideally suited for Dit's skill set.

Unfortunately, for several of his years as a forward he didn't really click with his line mates. In a 1937 letter he lamented to his wife about being stuck with the lumbering Nels Stewart as his center versus Cooney Weilland or the up and coming Bill Cowley. At that point Dit said to his wife that he was ready for a trade, but there is no indication he ever said anything like that publicly.

Tell us about what kind of player he was.

Stewart Richarson: I would consider him the first power forward, and he was tough. He was 6' 2" and 200-plus pounds at a time when the average player was much smaller. As one of the very few to play forward and defense, you can imagine how good a skater and how smart he was.

RL: Dit was very much a team man. Art Ross adored Dit, and they had very much a father-son relationship. As Dit became older, Ross instructed Dit to look after the younger players, which he did very thoroughly - most notably the Krauts - but a lot of young players came under Dit's watch, both as veteran player and coach.

Is there a current or recent NHL player you would compare him to?

SR: I am not sure who you would compare him to today. As a forward, I would think he would be like one of the Staal brothers, and as a defenseman I see a lot of Brent Seabrook, but with more of an edge.

He retired in 1947, so most of the people who remember seeing him play are gone. Is there much archival film of Clapper and others of his generation?

RL: There is a little archival footage. One SIHR member specializes in old film, and he has a little. Dit is head and shoulders above most of the players, we see him skating up and down the wing. Nothing too memorable.

Also some footage post-retirement, as an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada. The first televised NHL game didn't take place until the 1950s.

Do we have a good sense of what the game looked like back then, compared to hockey as we know it today?

RL: Obviously players were smaller, with less padding. The rink seemed larger. Players went into the corner with one arm out and head up.

There was more mayhem, because officiating was really inconsistent, and a lack of crowd control. Games and fans on occasion got out of control, requiring police to restore order. Heck, we even had Conn Smythe and Art Ross coming to blows during Leaf-Bruins games.

SR: I did not have a good sense of the game until we really started doing the research. The players were more skilled and tougher than I would have ever imagined.

You're both members of the Society for International Hockey Research. Tell us about the Society and what it does.

RL: The S.I.H.R. is dedicated to the history of the game, with members from around the world. The span of interest is hockey at all levels, played anywhere. One area of expertise is with respect to claims of origin, to when and where hockey was played first.

SR: Members meet twice a year and present papers on all sorts of hockey-related subjects. Good people who are extremely supportive.

Stewart Richardson and Richard LeBlanc are the authors of "Dit: Dit Clapper and the Rise of the Boston Bruins." Buy it here

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