Joseph Alexander Bell
Born: November 27, 1923 (Portage la Prairie, Manitoba)
Died: February 17, 2014 (Bothell, Washington)
Member: Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame
Joe Bell had two stints with the New York Rangers sandwiched around wartime service in the Canadian navy.
Though his NHL career was limited, as he lost three seasons to fight the Nazis instead of NHL rivals, Bell showed a terrific scoring touch in the minor professional leagues. He led two leagues in points and four leagues in goal scoring.
The left winger played junior hockey with the Portage (Man.) Terriers for three seasons, leading the league in goal scoring in 1941-42 with 38 goals in 18 games. His brother, Gordie, younger by 16 months, nicknamed Tinkle Bell, was the goalie and his father, army Staff Sgt. Addie Bell, was the coach. In 1941-42, the Terriers were a scoring powerhouse. Portage steamrolled the St. James Canadiens by 12-1, 9-6 and 5-4 in the first round of the Manitoba playoffs before dispatching the St. Boniface Athletics by 11-8 and 15-3 to claim the Ollie Turnbull Trophy as league champions.
The Terriers rode a 22-game winning streak into the Memorial Cup final series against the favoured Oshawa (Ont.) Generals. In four games played before packed houses at the Amphitheatre arena in Winnipeg, the Terriers won the best-of-five series by 5-1, 8-7, 4-8, 8-2.
In 12 playoff games in 1942, Bell scored an astounding 31 goals.
The New York Rangers signed the 18-year-old as a free agent on Oct. 30, 1942. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound left-winger made his debut at Maple Leafs Gardens in Toronto the following night. The Rangers lineup had been depleted by the demands of war and Bell skated on an all-rookie line with Terriers teammates Lin Bend and Bill Gooden. Bell assisted on a goal by Bend, as the defending Stanley Cup champions defeated the Rangers, 7-2.
Baby Face Bell only managed to play 15 games with the Blueshirts before receiving his callup notice from the Canadian army. He had scored two goals and added five assists before going off to fight the enemy.
Bell managed to enlist in the navy, his preferred service, and he skated for three different naval teams during the war — Winnipeg Navy, Cornwallis Navy, and St. John’s (Nfld.) Navy. He also saw service on the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic.
After the war, he played in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears and in New Haven with the Eagles and Ramblers before rejoining the NHL Rangers midway through the 1946-47 season. He scored six goals and recorded four assists in 47 games.
He later played minor pro hockey with the Buffalo Bisons, Dallas Texans, Louisville Blades, Cincinnati Mohawks and the Seattle Ironmen (later Bombers). With the Ironmen, he led the Pacific Coast Hockey League with 46 goals in 63 games in 1950-51.
In 1954-55, he was top scorer in the Western International Hockey League with 78 points in 38 games for the Nelson (B.C.) Maple Leafs.
Bell was predeceased by Jo Anne (née Ryan), his wife of 59 years, who died in Seattle in 2012, aged 79. He was also predeceased by a daughter, Julie Walters, and by his goaltending brother Gordon, who died in 1980, aged 55, after a long hockey career that included 10 NHL games with the Leafs and Rangers as well as an Allan Cup senior championship with the Belleville (Ont.) McFarlands in 1958.. He leaves a son, two daughters, and four grandchildren.