Growing up in New Brunswick, Ron Vender naturally gravitated toward hockey and the Montreal Canadiens. His favorite player was Habs goalie Ken Dryden, “an educated guy” who fit his ideal as a hockey idol, since Vender didn’t have time to play the game.
“I was too busy studying,” he said.
But after reading “Howie Morenz: Hockey’s First Superstar,” Dean Robinson’s 1982 biography of the Canadiens’ legend, Vender found a new hero — and a collecting obsession.
Howie Morenz: The Man, The Memorabilia
This month, Vender, who has lived in Ontario for the last 25 years, created a website dedicated to his collection of Howie Morenz memorabilia. Vender, a 55-year-old who works in the medical field, began collecting items of the “Stratford Streak” on September 21, 1994. He owns 131 different Morenz items, including 40 graded, hard-to-find cards. And that number is expected to rise soon, as Vender has negotiated a deal to buy a 1926 “Anonymous” card that has the hockey star’s name misspelled as “Morentz.”
Those who spell Morenz’s name properly also refer to him as the Babe Ruth of hockey. He was a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1945, and in 1950 was named the greatest player of the half century by Canadian Press. In the regular season, the 5-foot-9 center scored 271 goals and had 201 assists in a career — and life — that was tragically cut short after a freakish on-ice injury in 1937.
Those numbers may not seem impressive, except that for much of Morenz’s 14-year career, forward passing was illegal. End-to-end rushes were an offensive staple, and Morenz used his speed and puck-handling ability to lead the NHL in points twice. He led the league in three categories in 1927-28, with his 1927-28 season (33 goals, 18 assists and 51 points). He was a three-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy and played on three Stanley Cup championship teams in Montreal.
He was box office for the Canadiens and for the NHL. For businesses, too. An advertisement in the December 18, 1926, edition of the Montreal Gazette sported an ad by the Bancroft Co., “the store for sporting equipment.” Patrons could purchase “The Famous Howie Morenz Skate” for $7.50 (Canadian), complete with hockey boots and ankle straps.
Vender’s website — with logos created by his 20-year-old son, Reid — is certainly a shrine to Morenz. Vender’s site includes links to his collection, which includes graded cards; graded autographs; buttons and ribbons; books, magazines and guides; mini-sticks; newspaper clippings; photographs; pucks; cut signatures; and family items — plus, items he is seeking.
“I like to have a challenge, and Morenz being the Babe Ruth of hockey makes the challenge even greater,” Vender said. “The (Robinson) book really spring boarded me.
The fact that Morenz also played golf in the offseason was a source of bonding for Vender.
“There’s sort of that connection,” he said.
The circumstances surrounding Morenz’s death were odd. On January 28, 1937, against the Chicago Blackhawks, Morenz was tripped in the corner of the rink and the blade of his skate became lodged into the boards. Chicago defenseman Earl Seibert accidentally fell over Morenz, fracturing his leg in four places. That effectively ended Morenz’s career.
“He was heartbroken that he couldn’t play,” Vender said.
It was Morenz’s first major injury on the ice. But on May 24, 1932, he was cut and bruised when hit over the head with the butt of a revolver while grappling with a man who invaded his mother-in-law’s home.
The leg injury proved to be much more deadly. Morenz died less than six weeks after the collision with Seibert after a blood clot formed in his leg and moved to his lungs. He was 34. His funeral at the Montreal Forum attracted thousands of grieving fans; an Associated Press obituary referred to him as “the idol of every French-Canadian hockey fan.” The Canadiens would retire his No. 7 jersey eight months later.
Vender said finding Morenz items are difficult, but he does have some interesting pieces in his collection.
“He didn’t endorse a lot of items, so there’s not a lot out there,” Vender said.
“It’s a very, very tough piece,” he said. “It was signed in pencil.”
Another interesting piece of Morenz memorabilia is a hockey mini-stick, which measured 15 inches in length and was sponsored by Vicker’s London Dry Gin, which was distilled in the United Kingdom. Vender also owns a 1923 Patterson V-145 rookie card of Morenz. This card comes from a 40-card set put out by a chocolate company.
“They came one to a pack,” Vender said. “If you sent in the whole set, you got a pair of skates.
Since Vender has been able to work a deal for the 1924 “Morentz” card, he would love to obtain the 1932 advertising card from the Stoodleigh Restaurant, a Toronto establishment that opened in 1904 and closed in the 1970s. But then again, “a game-used hockey stick would be amazing,” he said.
Morenz’s pedigree extended several decades after his death. His daughter Marlene married another famous Canadiens player — Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, whose No. 5 was retired next to Morenz’s on the day that “the inventor of the slap shot” died. It also was 69 years to the day after Morenz’s funeral was held at the Montreal Forum.
Morenz’s son, Howie Jr., played some junior hockey but never achieved his father’s success. When he died last October at age 88, Morenz Jr.’s obituary noted that he served as an ambassador and surrogate for his late father. Morenz’s grandson, Howie Morenz III, is still alive.
“I would like to meet him,” Vender said.
If they do get together, the youngest Howie is sure to be impressed by Vender’s collection, which might be the best group of Morenz collectibles around.
“I think so. It’s certainly documented the most,” Vender said.
In addition to his son Reid, Vender said his younger son, 18-year-old Ross, collects Montreal Canadiens pucks. Some are signed, some aren’t. “He has a thousand different pucks,” Vender said.
Sounds like another Vender website in the making.