Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Bun Cook
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One on One with Bun Cook

22 MAY 2006
Frederick Joseph Cook, known as 'Bun' during his hockey career, was born in Kingston, Ontario on September 18, 1903. There were three hockey-playing brothers in the Cook family: Bill, born in 1895, Bun and a younger brother, Bud, who was born in 1907. "When we were kids, we'd play by the bridge down here in Kingston. We used to play shinny down there," recalled Bun. All three Cook boys went on to careers in the National Hockey League.

Throughout his entire career, Bun followed his older brother Bill, eight years his senior, to hockey's outposts. Bill joined the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association in 1920-21, and Bun followed a year later. Bun spent three seasons with the Greyhounds, winning the Allan Cup as the Canadian senior amateur champions in 1923-24. By that time, Bill had moved to Saskatchewan after having been recruited by Saskatoon of the professional Western Canada Hockey League. Bun followed his older brother out west and joined the Saskatoon Crescents for the 1924-25 season. "Bill had played four years and I played two years with Saskatoon," Bun explained. "When we were playing in Saskatoon, we lived at Bill's place."

When Conn Smythe was hired by Madison Square Garden vice-president Tex Rickard, the arena's boxing promoter, to assemble the inaugural line-up of the New York Rangers (Tex's Rangers), he secured the services of Bill and Fred Cook. "Conn Smythe originally got in touch with us," Cook explained. "The reason Conn knew us was from the old Soo Greyhound days. We had played in Toronto against Hooley Smith and the Olympic team. The Toronto Granites put us out of the race at that time. Conn was very closely connected all the way through there. The Ottawa Senators were after Bill at that time. They were going back and forth until Conn appeared in Winnipeg and had us meet him in Winnipeg. He had taken the coaching-managing job of the Rangers. Conn was the one who signed us."

With Bill and Fred Cook signed for the upcoming season, the Cooks both tried to convince Smythe to obtain the professional rights to centre Frank Boucher. "That was Bill mostly, but I was a good seconder," smiled the younger Cook. "We had played against Frank and knew his playmaking from out west. We thought he was one of the great hockey centres. He was a likeable chap." Smythe signed Boucher, then was promptly replaced by Lester Patrick.

The Cook brothers made their NHL debuts with the Rangers in 1926-27, the inaugural season for the team. It was while with New York that Fred picked up his nickname. A journalist wrote that he was 'quick as a bunny.' Bunny Cook was soon shortened to 'Bun.'

It was an era of great lines in the National Hockey League. Each team bragged of their own dominant trio — Toronto had the Kid Line of Charlie Conacher, Busher Jackson and Joe Primeau. The Canadiens had Howie Morenz, Aurele Joliat and Johnny 'Black Cat' Gagnon. The Montreal Maroons boasted of the S Line — Nels Stewart, Hooley Smith and Babe Siebert. Chicago trotted out Mush March, Johnny Gottselig and Paul Thompson. The pride of Boston was Dit Clapper, Dutch Gainor and Cooney Weiland while Larry Aurie, Marty Barry and Herbie Lewis tore up the icelanes for the Red Wings.

The Rangers had their line, too. The Bread Line is remembered for being one of the best lines of the era. Frank Boucher was the gentlemanly, swift-skating centre. Bill Cook is regarded as one of the finest rightwingers of all time. And Bun Cook was a defensive specialist who could skate shoot and score. The Bread Line, backed by Taffy Abel and Ching Johnson on defense, made the Rangers a formidable opponent every night.

"I remember in the early thirties, when the banks started to go over, Ching withdrew his money because he heard that his bank was going under. So there he was, walking around with $5,000 in his pockets," laughed Bun. "Ching was rawboned and about 220 (pounds). Taffy Abel was the other defenseman. They used to call them the 'sultan of suet' and the 'mountain of mutton.' Taffy was about 235. Ching had a firm jaw on him. He'd always be playing with a smile. When he handed out a body check, you were really shook up. When they ran into Taffy, they bounced off him like a rubber ball."

"Men who would know credit Bunny Cook with the introduction of the passing attack," wrote Frank Selke. "The Cook-Boucher line introduced a style of attack completely their own — each member kept working into an open spot, passing the puck carefully and adequately and frequently pushing the puck into the open net after confusing the defensive force of the opposition. This was a repetition of lacrosse as played by the great Indian teams."

"We had a lot of time to get used to each other. We had lots of idle time," suggested Bun. "We had to practice up in the Garden rink — it was a skating rink for figure skating. We traveled by coach (train) so there was a lot of time to get acquainted and we were together, about seven or eight of us, for eight or nine years. There weren't many changes. We were so successful because we had played as a line for about eight years straight."

Bun is also credited with being the innovator of the drop pass. "I had a dream about the drop pass one night and at our next practice, I told Frank and Bill about it," explained Bun. "They thought I was crazy, but they decided to humour me. By gosh, it worked! I'd cross over from left wing to centre as I moved in on defense. I'd fake a shot and leave the puck behind and skate away from it, with frank or Bill picking it up. We got a lot of goals off the crisscross and drop pass."

Bun was always tinkering with elements of the game. He was an early proponent of the slapshot, and occasionally took a rolling puck up on the blade of his stick and carried it through the bewildered opposing team.

"When Bun Cook is hot, he is one of the most amazing players in hockey," wrote Ed Sullivan (yes, the same one) in the New York Graphic. "At such moments, he attempts plays that stagger the imagination. At his peak, there is no player so enjoyable to watch." In his rookie season, Bun Cook was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team in 1926-27. The New York Rangers, playing an exciting and successful brand of hockey, became the toast of the town in New York. "Babe Ruth would be there. For some reason, Lou Gehrig took a liking to me. I never did get to see them (the Yankees) play although Bill went to see them," stated Bun.

In 1927-28, in just the second season of operation for the Rangers, the team won the Stanley Cup. "We took the Stanley Cup down to City Hall. Great memories," beamed Bun. With essentially the same line-up, the Rangers took the Stanley Cup championship again in 1932-33.

Cook faced some of the finest players ever to play the game, but lists two defensemen as his toughest to play against. "I had skated against Eddie Shore and then I played with him. After coming down the wing for nine years, you were pretty well acquainted." Continuing, Bun added, "Red Dutton wasn't the smartest but he was a tough one. He laid them out."

Bun Cook was named to the Second All-Star Team again in 1930-31. Although overshadowed by the exploits of his linemates, Bun Cook proved to be every much their hockey peer. During the ten seasons he played with the Rangers (1926 to 1936), Bun outscored Frank Boucher (154 to 141) and earned more assists than his brother Bill (139 to 138).

Then, a throat infection and arthritic condition forced Bun out of the Rangers line-up during the 1935-36 season. In September 1936, Bun was traded to the Boston Bruins and recovered enough to play one final season as playing-coach for Boston. Bun shrugged, "Art Ross took a liking to me." A reoccurrence of the septic throat forced him into retirement as a player following the 1936-37 season.

Through his NHL career, Bun Cook played 473 regular season NHL contests, scoring 158 goals, 144 assists and 302 points. During playoff competition, Bun added 15 goals and 3 assists in 46 post-season games. "Although we didn't get paid much, it was a lot of fun. We played with intensity," Cook stated. "All in all, hockey has been real good to me."

Bun coached the Providence Reds from 1937-38 until 1942-43, winning the AHL's Eastern Division title three times and the Calder Cup twice (1938 and 1940). He then joined the Cleveland Barons between 1943-44 and 1955-56, coaching the team to seven divisional titles and five Calder Cup championships.

He coached in the Eastern Professional Hockey League for two seasons before retiring in 1958.

"Bill was always the leader and they followed him along pretty well," Bun stated admiringly. "He was determined. He had been up, he had finished the war. He got back and he set his mind on homesteading out west. He took his clothes and left. I followed him. Then my mother was widowed and he took care of her, too. I was farming out west with Bill. We had a farm out there. The war broke out and all three (Cook) boys went overseas."

On March 19, 1988, Fred 'Bun' Cook died in his hometown. In 1995, he was inducted posthumously into the Hockey Hall of Fame, elected in the Veterans' Category. There, Cook joined his linemates — brother Bill was inducted in 1952 and Frank Boucher elected in 1958.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and On-Line Features at the Hockey Hall of Fame.