department of throwing stuff: somewhere else in the nhl

20160419_back

Throwdown: Yesterday’s Philadelphia Daily News leads with debris.

The Flyers started last night in Philadelphia with a heartfelt tribute to the team’s late owner, Ed Snider, followed by a quick goal for the home team. Game three of their opening-round series with the much-favoured Washington Capitals didn’t end so well. There was, in third period, the hit-from-behind by Flyers’ forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on Washington defenceman Dmitry Orlov that saw the former banished from the ice, and a testy display by fans who littered the ice with the bracelets they’d been given to help with a light-show to such an extent that the referee gave the Flyers a delay-of-game penalty. There was the final score, too: Capitals 6, Flyers 1.

They were warned, the fans, ahead of the penalty. Lou Nolan, the 70-year-old PA announcer at the Wells Fargo Centre, was hired originally in 1972 to be the voice of the old Spectrum. Has he ever sounded so vexed? After the brawl that ensued Bellemare’s hit, once fans had tossed at least 50 wristbands on the ice (Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Sam Carchidi did the estimating), Nolan told fans to “show class.”

He also felt that a reminder might do some good: “This,” he said, “is Philadelphia, not somewhere else in the NHL.”

He wasn’t finished. “The next one who does it will cause us a minor penalty. Do not do it.”

One did, of course. When Alexander Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game, more wristbands flew, and the promised penalty was duly called. Announcing it, Nolan added a message of his own: “Way to go.”

The history of throwing stuff at hockey games is long and — well, I don’t know that the word storied applies, since the story has always pretty much been the same, of disgruntled/mischief-making spectators flinging what’s at hand even though hockey authorities and/or policemen try to stop them from flinging. The stoppers have been largely if not entirely successful, over the years. I wrote about hockey stuff-throwing at some length in Puckstruck, the book, and if I didn’t go too deep into mechanics of the stoppage campaign, I was able to catalogue, I think, just how much it really was a part of the game for a long time while at the same time taking a certain joy in listing the rich variety of stuff that has been flung through the years.

“You look at those bracelets,” Washington coach Barry Trotz was saying this morning, “they’re white, the ice is white. All you need is for Claude Giroux to step on one and snap his leg in half.” That’s true — at least, that’s all you don’t need. The throwing of stuff is dangerous, and always was — I talk about that, too, in the book.

Philadelphia COO Sean Tilger condemned the flingers. “We will not condone or tolerate their behavior,” he said today. “They embarrassed the city and the majority of the fanbase that behaved the right way.”

What will the Flyers do to prevent a repeat performance when the two tams meet again tomorrow night? I’m sure they’ve got plans. For one thing, they won’t be handing out more wristbands. They’ve already promised that. Will they draft in extra ushers to police the aisles?

That was a big part of the anti-toss campaign mounted by the Chicago Black Hawks towards the end of the Second World War. Chicago’s old Stadium was one of the more notorious venues for debris in the old NHL days; it could be the very somewhere else that Lou Nolan was invoking last night when he tried to shame those wayward Flyers fans last night.

April, 1944. That spring, the Hawks met the Montreal Canadiens in the finals. Montreal had won the first game at home and in the second, at the Stadium, Maurice Richard scored a pair of goals in what would end as a 3-1 Canadiens victory. To try to contain him, Chicago coach Paul Thompson sent out winger George Allen to trail the Rocket with thoughts of nothing else. Here’s Dink Carroll of the Gazette to take up Allen’s tale:

Instead of obeying instructions, he tried to check Elmer Lach and the pair tangled near the mouth of the Chicago goal. Suddenly Allen came out of the scramble and made for Referee Bill Chadwick, claiming that Lach had been guilty of holding and demanding a penalty. Chadwick ignored him and play continued with Lach again scooping up the puck and passing out in front to Richard, who banged it into the net.

It was then that the greatest fusillade of missiles ever thrown at a hockey game started to rain down on the ice from the huge crowd. For 17 minutes this barrage held up the game, officials and players being completely helpless.

An inventory of the objects thrown lists a bottle, the back of a chair, a compact followed by a lipstick case, heavy wads of rolled-up newspapers, coins, mirrors, one bicycle horn, apples, orange peels — some with oranges in them — playing cards, chocolate cookies, hamburgers, and a few bolts and nuts. At one stage Elmer Lach, who had collected a deck of cards, sat down in centre ice and started a game of solitaire.

At least one novel descended to the ice: Dorsha Hayes’ 1943 barnburner Mrs. Heaton’s Daughter.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was at the game, the baseball commissioner, sitting directly behind the Montreal bench, where a folding chair, hurled from on high, almost hit him.

In The Chicago Tribune, Edward Prell put the crowd at 16,003 and rated their rumpus “the wildest demonstration in the west side arena’s hockey history.” To Carroll’s inventory he added, half-eaten hot dogs, paper airplanes, pennies. “Workmen feverishly swept, but just when the rink was almost cleared, fresh consignments of debris descended to the cheers of the wrought-up fans.”

The Hawks sent their star winger, 38-year-old Johnny Gottselig, to the PA to plead with the loyalists. “Let’s get on with the game,” he suggested. Carroll: “It was the signal for a fresh outburst from the crowd.”

Chicago president Bill Tobin couldn’t believe that the 50 ushers on duty that night hadn’t apprehended a single malefactor. “Somebody might have been hurt, or even killed.”

Black Hawks’ owner Major Frederic McLaughlin vowed that for the next game an extra 50 ushers would be on duty. It was his idea, too, that the home team should be penalized if debris on the ice forced a delay in the game.

Andy Frain was the man commanding the Stadium ushers come Sunday’s game. The Tribune’s list of items confiscated from ticket-holders at the rink’s entrance included:

coat hangers
walnuts and hickory nuts
steel bolts
marbles
bags of rice and flour
oranges and limes
megaphones
playing cards
pieces of steel
quart bottles of beer
rolls of pennies
a couple of folding chairs.

This plunder, and more, was handed over to the Warren Avenue police detachment. “As a result of the frisking,” the Tribune noted, “last night’s game set a model for decorum in the stands.”

Not that it helped the Hawk cause. They lost the game, 3-2, along with the next one, back in Montreal, where the score was 5-4. The Canadiens’ Cup-winning effort didn’t go without disruption, as Edward Prell logged in the next morning’s paper:

Earlier in the evening when things were going against their heroes, the Montreal spectators had demonstrated that Chicago’s fervent fans have no monopoly on the practice of using the rink for a rubbish heap. Their pet weapons were rubber overshoes, and a bottle or two descended on the ice, but the game never was delayed more than a few seconds.

debris chi

Ammo Dump: the game-three haul gathered by Stadium ushers, from Chicago’s Tribune, April 10, 1944.

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