hanged, fired

Ottawrath: Senators' fan Kevin Fabian puts a flame to an effigy of Alexei Yashin in Arnprior, Ontario, in October of 1999. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward)

Ottawrath: Senators’ fan Kevin Fabian puts a flame to an effigy of Alexei Yashin in Arnprior, Ontario, in October of 1999. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward)

Chicago fans went to the trouble of noosing up a fake Frank Mahovlich in 1962 in order to … intimidate the visiting Leafs? Disturb the sleep of one of their rival’s prominent scoring forwards? Show how much they loved their Black Hawks? Subtly state a nuanced position on capital punishment? Hard to say what exactly might have been in the hearts and/or heads of those zealous executioners, but it wasn’t the first time that hockey’s faithful had rigged up an effigy to punish in public, and it wouldn’t be the last. Herewith, several other instances of hockey fans with rough justice in mind:

 1955

Fans hurled abuse and vegetables at NHL president Clarence Campbell after he suspended Montreal’s Maurice Richard that year for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, too, and they threw a city-wrecking riot in his honour, too — not to have organized a ceremonial lynching would have just seemed lazy. As Rex MacLeod wrote in The Globe and Mail, Campbell was indeed “hanged in effigy and some lawless elements were even determined to improve on that.”

1962

The Boston Bruins had missed the playoffs for three years running and things weren’t exactly looking up: after starting the 1962-63 season with a win over Montreal, the team ran up a 13-game winless streak. In November they lost at home on a Sunday night to Detroit and that’s when fans at the Garden strung up coach Phil Watson in effigy. GM Lynn Patrick soon took their point, firing Watson and replacing him with Milt Schmidt — the man he’d succeeded a year and a half earlier.

Watson was philosophical. “It’s the old story,” he told Jack Kinsella from The Ottawa Citizen. “You can’t blame the players, or the ice, or anything else for losing. So you blame the coach. But I don’t blame management too much. After all, they’re in a business, and when the fan starts demanding action, something has to be done.

The team had offered him a front-office job, he said, but he wanted to coach. What about with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens of the Eastern Professional Hockey League? They were in need. Kinsella pressed: would Watson be interested?

“You’re darn tootin I would,” said Watson. “Besides, I haven’t heard of an Ottawa coach hanged in effigy yet.”

1969

As a hard-cored Leafs defenceman, Pat Quinn earned the wrath of Boston fans in the spring of the year by persecuting their beloved number 4. As was plentifully noted at the time, last month, of Quinn’s death, over the course of a couple of games in March and April, he crosschecked Orr into a goalpost; punched him; kicked him; flattened him with an elbow; knocked him unconscious; left him concussed. Newspaper accounts from the time describe shoes hurled at Quinn and punches thrown, death threats, too; I haven’t come across any contemporary mentions of noosed effigies. But Milt Dunnell says there were those, too, hanging from the galleries at the Garden, so we’ll say it was so.

1974

Another spring, another Leafs-Bruins playoff match-up. The Bruins won this one with dispatch, offing Toronto in four straight games, the last of which was a 4-3 overtime win at Maple Leaf Garden. Boston right wing Ken Hodge scored two goals, including the winner, while fans dangled a dummy in his likeness overhead. He’d been playing dirty, they apparently thought, though Hodge himself was perplexed. “I can’t understand why the fans in Toronto think I’m vicious,” he said after the game. “In Boston, the fans boo me because they wish I was even tougher.”

1988

When Edmonton Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington decided to trade/sell Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in August, fans keened and wailed. Edmonton’s mayor was shocked — letting Gretzky leave, he said, was like removing all the city’s bridges. There was talk of cancelling season’s tickets, of boycotting the team. And in front of city hall that week, a small group of disgruntled fans burned Pocklington in effigy.

1996

Florida beat Philadelphia in the Prince of Wales Conference semi-finals that spring, but the Flyers didn’t go down easily, winning two of the first three games. Eric Lindros scored game-winning goals in both of those victories which, I guess, you know, is a capital offence in Florida. The Associated Press:

During the [third] game, fans sang anti-Lindros chants, threw objects at the Philadelphia bench and hung the center in effigy from the upper deck of the Miami Arena.

“I don’t know if I feed off the crowd,” said Lindros. “It’s not something I’ve not been through before. I could care less.”

1997

In Overtime, the autobiography Chris Chelios published this fall with Kevin Allen’s help, the Hall-of-Fame defenceman says that Detroit’s Red Wings wasn’t a team that he ever thought he’d ever play for. But in 1999, of course, that’s where he went, traded by Chicago. Michael Farber told the tale, too, in Sports Illustrated:

On the day of the trade Chelios turned on the television in his Detroit hotel room and saw a four-month-old clip of himself saying he would never play for the Red Wings.

The notion of going to his despised Central Division rival seemed preposterous in December and was only slightly less so the first time he walked into the Red Wings dressing room last week. In Detroit, Chelios was basically a Toyota. Of course, the rugged Chelios is reviled in most NHL rinks, but Joe Louis Arena is the only one in which he has been hanged in effigy. He recalled three brawls with Detroit captain Steve Yzerman, passionate wars against grinders such as Draper, Martin Lapointe and Kirk Maltby, and the $500 fine the league slapped him with in 1994 after he slashed Sergei Fedorov. “Ah, I used to do everything to Sergei,”Chelios says. “Those were the old days when you could elbow a guy and not worry about getting suspended. I took advantage of that.”

Chelios sounds wistful. “I can’t believe I’m in the room. They can’t believe I’m in the room. But I think they’re happy about it, and maybe the fans will forgive me.”

The effigy in question had been executed two years earlier, when Detroit and Chicago met in the Western Conference Final, won by the Red Wings.

1997

Fans in Hartford didn’t take kindly to talk that their hometown Whalers might be leaving town for greener pastures that turned out, in the end, to lie in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here’s Elliott Pap from The Vancouver Sun on their reaction:

It seems there are a few hockey fans in Hartford disgusted with the Whalers’ impending move to Ohio, or wherever they may land. Last Saturday, the first Whaler home game following owner Peter Karmanos’ we’re-leaving announcement, fans hung Karmanos in effigy on the mall outside the arena. Dollar bills were stuffed into the eye sockets and pockets of the dummy and the unruly mob was about to light the bills on fire before mall security ended the proceedings.

1999

Who can forget Alexei Yashin’s unhappy stay in Ottawa? When for the third time in five years the Russian-born centreman demanded a new contract in 1999, the Senators said no. They said the same thing when Yashin asked for a trade. In the fall of the year, when he refused to report, the team took away his captaincy and suspended him for the season. When a bar in nearby Arnprior, Ontario, ran a contest to see which lucky fan would get to light a Yashin effigy on fire, a man named Kevin Fabian was the winner.

2014

Did a Montreal bar string up a big Zdeno Chara doll and hang him from the rafters? Greg Wyshinski at Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy looked into it and decided that, no, probably not, didn’t happen.