Winnipeg Jewish hockey players of yesteryear

Max/Lou Labovitch

The following article is taken from the February 13, 1986 issue of The Jewish Post and was written by the late Leible Hershfield, the Jewish Athlete of the Half Century. In our Dec. 22 issue we ran two memoriams for Labovitch brothers, Irvin and Max. The Labovitch brothers, of whom there were four, were all terrific athletes. Leible’s article mentions two of them: Max and Lou.

Jewish boys took part in all types of games, and were usually top-notch players. One game that attracted very few boys was hockey. The first Jewish player to gain recognition was a tall, rugged lad named Max Cotton, who later owned the Occidental Hotel at Logan and Main St.
(Ed. note: Years ago historian Henry Trachtenberg informed me that the Occidental actually used to have a kosher restaurant!)
After a short time, the Zionist Athletic Club earned the championship of the East-West Winnipeg leagues in 1902 and 1903.
During the early part of the 1900s hockey was played on outside rinks that were flooded and stayed frozen all winter.
There was not a rink with artificial ice until the Fort Garry rinks were built. The Amphitheatre was on the site of the Great West Life parking lot on Colony Street.
Two other prominent hockey players at that time were Jerry Abromovitch, a member of the Winnipeg Senior team, and Ken “Pokey” Finkelstein, who starred for the Monarchs, Allan Cup champions of Canada in1918.
An all-star hockey team chosen from the four-team league that played at the Olympic rink in 1928 defeated a strong Eatons’ team (Ed. note: Eatons was spelled without an apostrophe. I remember the late Maxine Zimmerman, my Grade 7 teacher, pointing that out to our class.) in an exhibition charity game by a score of 3-1.
Teams in this league were Monarchs, Winnipegs, Canadians, and Rangers. The Winnipegs captured the Y shield, finishing the season with only two losses.
One man stood head and shoulders above all in the exhibition games, and reporters in the local press box praised the work of Mickey Isman, the speed artist of the Y, as follows: “He was a hockey player of no mean ability, and to see him fly down the ice and letting a bullet-like drive fly towards the net was a treat to watch. He was easily the outstanding player on the ice.” Other players to shine were Allen Foster, Rube Ludwick and Mesho Triller, superb in goal.
Winnipeg produced three professional hockey players. Max Labovitch played with New Haven and the Hershey Bears in the American League in the 1938-39 seasons. He later was promoted to play for the New York Rangers.
The following item appeared in the Madison Square Garden’s hockey and program magazine: “Just as John McGraw always sought a Jewish star for his baseball team, so did Lester Patrick, the leader of the New York Rangers, who has been on the trail of a hockey player of Jewish blood.
“ This season he has hopes that young Max Labovitch will fill the bill. According to the coach of the Rangers, Max knows his way around the rink and has a wide reputation in his home town of Winnipeg for prowess in baseball, soccer, and golf.”
Sam Lavitt, of the Lavitt athletic family, skated for the Monarchs junior hockey team, and was the all-star high school quarterback in 1940. He played for the Detroit Red Wings in 1942 and 1943. Alex Levinsky from eastern Canada starred for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks.
Lou Labovitch, a brother of Max, played professional hockey in the Central American League.