Born on August 13, 1893 in Selkirk, Bullet Joe Simpson came out of the Selkirk Fishermen Junior program and excelled on the world stage as a member of the Western Canadian Hockey League’s Edmonton Eskimos and later as a star with the National Hockey League’s New York Americans. And on Tuesday, it was announced that he was being inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
It’s somewhat remarkable that it has taken so long considering he’s already an honored member of both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. He was a great player who spent six seasons in the Western pro league and six more in the NHL.
Bullet Joe Simpson, Edmonton Eskimos.
After graduating from the Fishermen, he went on to play senior amateur hockey with the Winnipeg Victorias. He later joined Winnipeg’s 61st Battalion team and helped them to the 1916 Allan Cup championship.
He spent the next two years as a member of the 43rd Cameron Highlanders fighting in World War 1. When he returned to Canada as a decorated war hero, he continued to play senior amateur hockey and then, at age 27, he got his big break.
Legend has it that one cold November day in 1920, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounde right-handed shooting defenseman was playing billiards in a popular Winnipeg pool hall when Ken MacKenzie of the Big 4’s Edmonton Eskimos offered Bullet $3,000 to turn pro and join the Eskies. It has been reported by many sources that when he heard the offer, he chalked his cue, looked MacKenzie in the eye and said, “If you can sell the deal to my father, Edmonton will have itself a hockey player.” MacKenzie got the job done with Mr. Simpson Sr. and on Nov. 4, 1920, young Joe went off to join the 1920 Eskimos.
It was a reporter (as it usually was) who nicknamed him “Bullet Joe,” because of his on-ice speed and his heroic military background. He was, after all, a Canadian hero in Belgium during World War I where he was wounded twice and received the Military Medal.
Bullet Joe with the New York Americans
After playing six seasons with the Eskimos, the owner of the New York Americans, the legendary bootlegger Bill Dwyer, convinced Simpson to leave the Eskimos and head to the bright lights of New York City to play in the still new and developing National Hockey League. Simpson, along with New York City product Billy Burch, was one of the first true gate attractions in the league, and thus somewhat responsible for making New York the hockey hotbed that it is today.
Simpson played six seasons in New York, scoring 21 goals and 40 points in his career. Those were pretty good numbers for a defenseman back then. Of course, you had to love New York City in 20s. The Americans publicity machine told the city that Simpson was trap-liner from 450 miles north of Edmonton who travelled to New York City by dog sled and toboggan and was guarded along the route by friendly Indians.
Bill Corum, a columnist with the New York Journal-American, described Simpson as, “a rollicking, rocking man, flashing down the rink with the puck on the end of his stick.” Hockey Hall of Fame legend Newsy Lalonde once declared Simpson, “the greatest living hockey player.”
Simpson retired in 1931 and coached the New Haven Eagles minor pro team and later managed the Americans until 1935. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962 and died ob Christmas Day, 1973, at age 80.
The 61st Overseas Battalion Team that won the Allan Cup in 1916. Bullet Joe is second from left in the middle row.
Simpson will be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame at Sport Manitoba’s Night of Champions on Tuesday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Sport Manitoba is searching for any relatives of Bullet Joe in order to accept his induction award on behalf of Simpson.
(With files from the Hockey Hall of Fame)