the reffing tongue

1951-52 Parkies #3 Butch BouchardWithout piling on Ron MacLean for his thoughts on Quebec referees taking charge of Montreal games — he’s since backed up and apologized — is it worth recalling Clarence Campbell’s intervention into language politics when he was president of the NHL? The sourcing on this is slim, which is to say I’ve only been able to find a single archival mention, and that with a strong anecdotal air to it. Still, as originally included in a 2012 biographical sketch of Montreal defenceman Butch Bouchard, here goes:

Bouchard was talking to referee George Gravel one game, in French. This was — I don’t have a date. Some time between 1946 and 1952, because Montreal was playing Detroit when Sid Abel was captain.

Abel wanted to know what they were saying.

Bouchard: “If you want to know, why don’t you learn to speak French?”

Abel was miffed enough to mention it to his GM, Jack Adams, who duly lodged an official complaint to the NHL, which was when President Clarence Campbell mandated to his officials that all on-ice discussions going forward had to be conducted in English.

The next time Gravel refereed a Canadiens game, when Bouchard tried to speak to him in French, he’s supposed to have skated away.