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On This Date in Sports March 8, 1937: The Tragedy of Howie Morenz

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The NHL and Montreal Canadiens are rocked as Howie Morenz dies in a hospital six weeks after suffering a broken leg in a game against the Chicago Black Hawks. Morenz had returned to the Canadiens at the start of the season, after spending the last two seasons with the Black Hawks and New York Rangers. Morenz broke his leg in a game on January 28th. While in the hospital, he became depressed and suffered a nervous breakdown. Howie Morenz died as a result of coronary embolism caused by blood clots. He was 34. 

Howie Morenz was born in Mitchell, Ontario, on September 21, 1902. In 1917, Morenz attempted to enlist in the Canadian Army for World War I but was turned away due to being only 15. After playing with the Stratford Indians of the Ontario Hockey League, Howie Morenz joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1923. The Canadiens won the NHL championship in each of his first two seasons while taking the Stanley Cup in his rookie season in 1924. Morenz was one of the fastest players in the NHL and soon became one of the NHL’s most prominent players as it assumed sole possession of the Stanley Cup. Howie Morenz won the scoring title in 1928 and 1931 and was the first three-time winner (1928, 1931, and 1932) of the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s MVP.

After 12 seasons with the Canadiens, Howie Morenz was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1934. Morenz would spend one and half seasons in Chicago before, finishing the 1935/36 season with the New York Rangers. After struggling in Chicago and New York, Morenz returned to the Canadiens in 1936 and having a solid season with four goals and 16 assists in 30 games. On January 28, 1938, in a game in Montreal against the Black Hawks, Morenz lost his balance while chasing down the puck against Earl Seibert and crashed into the board. Upon falling, his skate blade was caught in the wooden boards as Seibert fell on top of him. A large audible snap was heard in the Montreal Forum as the Canadiens star had broken his leg in four places.

While recovering at a local hospital, Howie Morenz suffered a nervous breakdown, as the injury ended his hockey career with 271 goals and 201 assists. Suffering from depression, Morenz had visits limited to family and team officials. On March 8th, days away from getting a chance to leave the hospital, Howie Morenz began complaining of chest pains and collapsed. It was determined that he suffered a fatal coronary embolism caused by blood clots in his damaged leg. Three days later, a funeral was held at the Montreal Forum with his casket at center ice, next to a floral arraignment, with his number 7.

The city of Montreal was in mourning for a month, as the Canadiens won the Canadian Division with a record of 24-18-6. The Canadiens would lose a five-game series to the Detroit Red Wings in the semifinals. The Canadiens honored Howie Morenz in November, making his #7 the first to be retired by the club. The Canadiens and Montreal Maroons would also organize an All-Star Game against the rest of the NHL, with the proceeds going to Morenz's family.