St. Boniface's First NHL Star

Hailing from the French-speaking St. Boniface neighbourhood of Winnipeg, Rosario "Lolo" Couture won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1934.

Rosario “Lolo” Couture was born in the St. Boniface district of Winnipeg near the Seine River on July 24, 1905, to French parents who ran an inn in their neighbourhood.

French was Rosario’s first language. And it would be the English-speaking guests at the hotel his parents ran that first taught him English.

The hotel had a Chinese cook that spoke English and Chinese, but no French. As a youngster usually grows hungry between meals, Couture would seek out the cook, point towards the bread and jam and utter “Lo.” If the food was not forthcoming immediately, he would deliver a couple of “Lo’s.” Between that and his ultimate efforts to speak English, the nickname of “Lolo” was hung on to the future hockey star.

When he was six years old, young Lolo received his first pair of skates and a hockey stick. Around this time, he began attending Provencher School. Though Lolo’s parents ran a hotel near the school, the Jesuit Fathers insisted that Lolo live at school. The school had two massive outdoor hockey rinks that were packed with hockey players every day during the winter months.

During his youth, Couture’s skating ability was first brought to light during speed-skating events on rivers and ponds. He started on a strict training schedule that was meant to better his speed and time at an early age.

His hockey career took off on the Cathedral City’s outdoor rinks, and he soon became a standout in juvenile and junior hockey as he got older and developed more into a young phenom on the ice.

Couture first started playing organized hockey as a right winger with the St. Boniface Canadiens Midget team at 14. In addition to hockey, Lolo also enjoyed playing tennis, baseball, golf, swimming and fishing. In 1922 at the Manitoba Tennis Club, he even took home the junior championship.

Towards the end of his junior days with St. Boniface and into senior play, Couture became quite the scoring sensation. With the Winnipeg Argonauts and Winnipeg Winnipegs, he scored at over a goal-per-game pace over five seasons.

In 1926-27, Couture’s Winnipeg Winnipegs lost to Fort William in the Allan Cup playdowns. Couture had scored 16 goals in eight games for the Winnipegs that season and it was evident that he had the game to play in the pro ranks.

While playing senior hockey, Couture attended St. Boniface College for four years. At this time, Couture also held a job working as a salesman for a local brewery. He was unsure whether to turn professional in the hockey world or continue selling for the brewery. But hockey held too much allure, and he eventually turned pro.

The 5’10’’, 158-pound Couture made the jump to turn pro in 1927-28 when he joined the Winnipeg Maroons of the American Hockey Association (AHA). The NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks purchased his services from the Maroons the following year, and Couture was given a one-way train ticket for the Windy City.

When Lolo made the NHL, he became the first player out of St. Boniface to crack a big-league roster. And for the next seven years, Couture made a name for himself in the Windy City as a speedy forward that could score and help his team win big games.

Playing on the team’s top line with Johnny Gottselig and Paul Thompson, Lolo was regarded by his teammates as one of the best stickhandlers in the league – and a defensive genius. When he put his head down and started after a puck-carrier, he was about as fast as anyone in the league.

Couture was one of the quieter players on the team, both on and off the ice. On the ice, you didn’t notice him much, but when he’s in the game, his flashier linemates are constantly finding the puck on the end of their sticks in front of the enemy goal. And while he’s on the ice, the opposing left winger doesn’t get many breaks.

Manager Tommy Gorman of the Black Hawks said, “They don’t appreciate him up there in the galleries, but that lad is one of the most valuable players on anybody’s hockey team. He’s in the game every minute, and it’s been darned few goals that have been scored at his expense this year. Couture has tremendous speed and has it where it counts – at the start. He’s lightning on the get-away. At backchecking, he has no equal in the game.”

Gorman was one of Couture’s biggest supporters. When Gorman moved on to the Montreal Maroons in 1934-35, he tried to acquire Couture. He offered $10,000 and three players for Couture but was met with refusal from Chicago’s brass.

Couture didn’t live too extravagantly or have as great a time at bars like some of his teammates off the ice. Instead, he was very focused on his hockey career as it was his career. He also had his wife with him in Chicago, who was a French girl from St. Boniface that Lolo married when he was 25.

“And that is one rule of my own that I have never violated,” Couture told a Chicago newspaper in 1932. “Sometimes it is difficult to refuse going out to parties and to cafes, but one has to make their choice in this game. It might be sport to some people, but it is work for me. And fun that is detrimental to my profession simply has to be eliminated.”

“I intend to play as long as I can fill the specifications of the game – until Father Time and old age come leering around the corner at me.”

Couture wasn’t anti-social by any means. He was a member of the St. Boniface Choir back home, and so during the season, he would try and teach his teammates some of the French songs he knew, including “Alouette.”

Couture’s best friends on the team were Johnny Gottselig and fellow Winnipegger Charlie Gardiner. Gottselig and Couture were the best of pals since being teammates with the Winnipeg Maroons in 1927-28. They were both sold to Chicago in the Fall of 1928. In Chicago, the pair lived two doors down from each other in their apartment complex.

Gottselig and Couture were both big movie buffs and enjoyed catching a flick together on their off days. In the offseason, Couture would sometimes go up to Lake Waldron near Gottselig’s home in Regina, Saskatchewan, for swimming and fishing with his pal.

The Chicago Black Hawks on the University of Notre Dame field for training camp, October 25, 1929, lending an ear to new coach Tom Shaughnessy. Lolo is fourth from the left in the bottom row.

As hockey salaries weren’t nearly as extravagant back then as they are today, Couture returned to the Winnipeg brewery as a salesman during the summer months.

The pinnacle of Couture’s career was winning the 1934 Stanley Cup with Chicago.

Shortly after winning the Stanley Cup, Couture’s teammate and friend Charlie Gardiner (Chicago’s goaltender) passed away due to a brain hemorrhage brought on by a tonsillar infection. It was very unfortunate as Gardiner was the best goaltender in hockey and at the peak of his career.

Couture was an active pallbearer at Chuck’s funeral in Winnipeg and served as an honour guard at the public viewing along with Frank Fredrickson, Baldy Northcott, Art Somers, and Ward McVey.

Strangely enough, just a few months later, another Chicago teammate Jack Leswick died after his lifeless body was pulled from the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg. His death was ruled either a suicide or accident by the police and coroner, although it has been widely speculated that foul play was involved since his gold watch was missing, his wallet, and his car was nowhere to be found. Nonetheless, Lolo Couture and Leroy Goldsworthy were the ones who identified the body.

Just months after winning the Stanley Cup, two of Lolo’s teammates had now perished tragically.

The following season, Chicago brought in the legendary Howie Morenz to bolster the team’s offence. When the season opened up, Couture found himself skating on the team’s top line with Morenz and Johnny Gottselig.

Unfortunately, Couture’s time in Chicago ended on a sour note after losing his cool during a critical moment. In the final game of their playoff series with the Montreal Maroons, Couture took a five-minute major penalty in the opening moments of overtime. He broke his heavy stick over the head of Maroons forward Dave Trottier, leaving him crumpled on the ice, bleeding badly and needing help off of the ice. Baldy Northcott scored on the ensuing power play to give the Maroons the win.

The Black Hawks were unhappy with the incident and swiftly traded Couture to the Cleveland Falcons of the IHL. The Montreal Canadiens then traded for his services at the start of the 1935-36 season, but it wasn’t a great fit as Couture ended up playing only ten games for the Habs before they released him.

Couture finished off the year playing in the minors with the Providence Reds and London Tecumsehs before retiring from hockey.

When it was all said and done, Couture had played eight seasons in the NHL, scoring 48 goals and 56 assists for 104 points in 329 games. He also scored six points in 23 Stanley Cup playoff games. His biggest goal coming when he opened the scoring in Game 2 of the 1934 Stanley Cup finals.

After retiring from hockey, Couture returned to Winnipeg and tried his hand at coaching with the junior St. Boniface Seals. It was short-lived, and after a season of coaching, Lolo ended up getting a job working with the Canadian National Railway. He later worked as a commissionaire at the gates of RCAF Station, Winnipeg.

In 1960, the St. Boniface Optimist Club held a night in Couture’s honour to celebrate his career. Some of the people in attendance that night included Jean Beliveau, Clarence Campbell, Red Storey and Bill Mosienko.

Unfortunately, Lolo’s wife passed away in 1964, and he ended up living as a lonely bachelor for the remainder of his life. He was quite poor and lived in a subsidized apartment.

“I remember Lolo from Christmas dinners,” recalled great-niece Monique Couture. “I was just little, but I remember feeling sad for him as he was a quiet man, and no one paid much attention to him. I wish now that I was older then and took the time to ask him about his life. The reason I say that is because I somehow knew that he was a bit of a hero and had a story to tell. But no one asked.”

Lolo Couture died at the age of 80 in Winnipeg on March 1, 1986. He is interned at St. Boniface Cathedral. He was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame posthumously in 1987.

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