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Elimination of the Rover?

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01-13-2012, 10:25 AM
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Shootmaster_44
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Elimination of the Rover?

When exactly did hockey of all sorts eliminate the rover? Also, why was this move made?

For those unaware until the 1920s some professional hockey was played 6 vs. 6 with goalies. There were three forwards and three defencemen and the third defenceman was known as the rover. He was more or less like the centreman of the defensive line. Not having seen games from that era I am unaware whether the defence played a basketball style zone defence where the rover and the other two defencemen kept to their sides of the ice or what.

I know the WCHL and PCHA played with a rover until their demise, but was that the end of the rover or did it live on in Europe or youth hockey longer than that?

On this note, does anyone know whether this caused any outrage by eliminating the position? Since the rover seemed to be a Western Canadian thing, I could see this being seen as an attempt to be more like Toronto (or Ontario or whatever the derisive term for the "East" was at the time) and eliminate the unique aspects of the "Western" game. Much like how Canadian football fans bristle whenever an American football fan suggests the CFL adopt American rules.

Who was the last player who was regularly a rover in the NHL? What I mean is when the NHL eliminated the rover (which I think came with the transformation from the NHA to the NHL), what player who was a rover ended up playing the longest after that change? Did most rovers end up becoming defencemen or did they transform into forwards instead?

The whole 6 on 6 plus a goalie game has intrigued me for awhile. It would have been interesting to see how the game would have developed if the rover hadn't been eliminated. I'd think scoring wouldn't have been as high simply because there was another defender on the ice. Granted that could also mean since there were two extra bodies on the ice, the likelihood of the goalie being screened is much higher also. Interesting things to ponder though.

Is hockey the only sport to have undergone such a radical change in the number of players? Other than Harvard rules in football reducing from 12 to 11 in the early days of football (at such a point where nothing was really codified yet), I can't think of any other sport that changed the number of participants so far into its development. By that point hockey had been played as hockey for around 50 years. 50 years in, in the development of baseball, it had basically solidified their rules. Yes they added the Designated Hitter in 1972, but it wasn't on both the offensive and defensive side of play that this made a difference. So I don't really count that, if the DH became a 4th Outfielder than that would count. Basketball I believe also was entrenched at 5 players 50 years after development. The list could gone on and on, but hockey decided that it needed to reduce the number of players.

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01-13-2012, 11:17 AM
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TheDevilMadeMe
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This doesn't quite answer your question, but I found a game recap of the game when Sprague Cleghorn made his famous attack on Newsy Lalonde. It was supposed to be an exhibition of the virtues of six-men hockey (meaning no rover).

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Originally Posted by Note and Comment
Hockey of the pro. six-a-side variety was tried Saturday night in the Arena and was not found wanting. This style will be the vogue the first part of the championship season, which opens up Wednesday night, Canadiens v. Tecumsehs

The exhibition incident was in real earnest, both sides doing their level best, and the big crowd was evidently well satisfied with everything, except the unprovoked attack on Newsy Lalonde by Sprague Cleghorn.

Those connected with the Arena and the two local clubs were pleased with the game, believing that the public will never miss the seventh man. In fact, they may still insist on the sextet the second part of the season, when according to agreement, they are to play seven-a-side.

It might be argued that the fewer numbers would please the owners for economic reasons. However, with six to a team, the game is more individually tougher, necessitating more frequent change of players and a greater number of substitutes.
The Toronto World, Dec 23, 1912

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01-13-2012, 01:39 PM
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Iain Fyffe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
When exactly did hockey of all sorts eliminate the rover? Also, why was this move made?
Around 1912 for professional eastern hockey, 1920s for western hockey. Eastern amateur hockey held on to the position for a number of years before eliminating it.

It was done to open up the ice. Some cynics suggest the NHA owners did it to require one less player on the payroll, but the fact is they generally just used one additional sub per game, so they kept the same number of players around.

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Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
For those unaware until the 1920s some professional hockey was played 6 vs. 6 with goalies. There were three forwards and three defencemen and the third defenceman was known as the rover. He was more or less like the centreman of the defensive line. Not having seen games from that era I am unaware whether the defence played a basketball style zone defence where the rover and the other two defencemen kept to their sides of the ice or what.
Until very late in its existence, the rover was a fourth forward, not a third defenceman, and was generally the player most responsible for a team's offence. This article might interest you.

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Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
I know the WCHL and PCHA played with a rover until their demise, but was that the end of the rover or did it live on in Europe or youth hockey longer than that?
I believe that the western pro league was the last holdout in terms of eliminating the position.

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Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
On this note, does anyone know whether this caused any outrage by eliminating the position? Since the rover seemed to be a Western Canadian thing, I could see this being seen as an attempt to be more like Toronto (or Ontario or whatever the derisive term for the "East" was at the time) and eliminate the unique aspects of the "Western" game. Much like how Canadian football fans bristle whenever an American football fan suggests the CFL adopt American rules.
I doubt very much it was seen as a western thing, since the position (and the game) originated in the east. I'm sure there were protests (as there are to any change), but given that every league ultimately followed suit, it seems to have been accepted as a positive change.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
Who was the last player who was regularly a rover in the NHL? What I mean is when the NHL eliminated the rover (which I think came with the transformation from the NHA to the NHL), what player who was a rover ended up playing the longest after that change? Did most rovers end up becoming defencemen or did they transform into forwards instead?
The rover was long gone before the NHL arrived in 1917. But this is an interesting question, and I'll have a look at my records and get back to you.

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Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
Is hockey the only sport to have undergone such a radical change in the number of players? Other than Harvard rules in football reducing from 12 to 11 in the early days of football (at such a point where nothing was really codified yet), I can't think of any other sport that changed the number of participants so far into its development. By that point hockey had been played as hockey for around 50 years.
Well, they had only standardized the number of skaters to six for the first Montreal Winter Carnival in 1883. In the famous McGill game in 1875, for example, they used nine men a side.

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01-13-2012, 04:50 PM
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Iain Fyffe
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1910/11 was the last full season that the NHA used a rover. The rovers that season were Newsy Lalonde and Didier Pitre for the Canadiens, Pud Glass for the Wanderers, Jack Darragh for Ottawa, Ken Mallen for Quebec, and Steve Vair for Renfrew. These are all career forwards, although both Lalonde and (especially) Pitre played a not-insignificant amount of cover-point in their careers.

1921/22 was the last season that the PCHA used a rover; the following season they played an interlocking schedule with the WCHL, which did not use the position. Rovers in this final season were Jack Walker for Seattle, Mickey MacKay for Vancouver, and Harry Meeking for Victoria. Again, these are all career forwards, even though the rover was more of a defensive position near its end. These are all forwards with excellent defensive reputations (Walker in particular), but forwards nonetheless.

The Ontario Hockey Association used the rover until 1915/16 - it's possible that wartime player shortages contributed to their decision to decrease roster sizes. I believe they were the last eastern league to keep the rover, but I might be mistaken there.

The Manitoba league dropped the position after 1917/18, and the Alberta league after 1919/20. Just like the game itself in the 1880s and 1890s, it seems the five-skater game worked its way westward across the country.

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