The Chicago Black Hawks weren’t supposed to make the playoffs in 1938, and when they did, no-one really expected them to go far, let alone win the Stanley Cup, as they did later on that April.
Before they got around to upsetting the favoured Toronto Maple Leafs in the finals, Chicago first had to get by the New York Americans in a contentious semi-final. The teams had each won a game by the time they met to decide the series on April 3, 1938. Under the watch of some 16,000 spectators at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the underdog Hawks prevailed, 3-2.
The night didn’t pass without drama, of course. The Hawks’ Johnny Gottselig, for instance, felt that the bloody nose that New York’s Johnny Gallagher inflicted on him should have been punished with a penalty. When referee Ag Smith didn’t call one, Gottselig remonstrated so violently that (The Chicago Tribune reported) the dispute “threatened to produce open warfare.”
In the second period, Chicago centre Jack Shill skated in for a shot on New York goaltender Earl Robertson. He saved but the rebound fell to Chicago defenceman Alex Levinsky. Lots of contemporary accounts allude to his lack of scoring prowess: The Globe and Mail called him “one of the least potent marksmen in the league.” Nevertheless, he was quick to shoot. “The puck hit inside the top crossbar,” Joseph Nichols wrote in next morning’s The New York Times, “and bounced right out, causing Robertson to declare emphatically that it did not go in at all, but his argument went unheeded by the referee.”
Clearly, the argument wasn’t Robertson’s alone. That’s what we’re looking at here, above: the quarrelsome aftermath of Levinsky’s goal, which gave Chicago a 2-1 lead. If the principals aren’t front and centre in this photograph — you can just see referee Smith’s back, in behind the net; Robertson, all but hidden behind a teammate at left, obscures the poor beleaguered goal judge behind the screen — it’s as fine a visual exemplar of mid-century hockey brouhaha as you’re going to going to see today.
Harold Parrot penned a slightly less clinical account for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “If the Amergs’ [sic] swan song turned out to be a dirge,” he wrote, “their last gasp was a stream of invective aimed at the referees. It was the usual sort of squabble, involving astigmatic referees and a Black Hawk goal that never did hit the twine, according to the Amerks and the goal judge.”
Parrott named him as Dr. Albert Surpre, from Montreal. That’s not right, I think, or at least it’s only partly right: Montreal’s Gazette and others identified him as Dr. Albert Surprenant.
In any case, his part would seem to be a little nuanced than the local correspondent made it out. Parrott was, remember, on the Americans’ beat, and I don’t think I’m besmirching his name when I say that he may have tended to take their part over a rival’s. That’s not to say he wasn’t telling it like it was, just that other accounts varied significantly regarding the goal judge’s conduct. The one favoured by the Gazette was in line with this one, from the Associated Press, that The Chicago Tribune ran:
Levinsky picked up Shill’s rebound in a scramble around the Americans’ cage and lifted the puck home. The Americans protested, pointing out the goal judge’s light had not gone on, but it was discovered that two spectators had been holding the gentleman’s arm. The goal was approved and Chicago was in front to stay.
Harold Parrot’s telling is, once again, the more picturesque. When Dr. Surpre refused to light his lamp, “referee Ag Smith skated over angrily, and ordered him to.
He refused, later turned on the bulb.
“Then you’re overruling the goal judge?” asked Capt. Art Chapman of the A’s.
“I am,” said Smith.
The Globe went with the fan-interference version, quoting the goal judge himself. With sympathy, too. These officials were sorely tested at Madison Square, The Globe’s man noted, recalling an incident from the Americans’ first-round series with the Rangers:
A girl back of the Amerks’ net twice flashed the light when she thought the Rangers deserved a goal, and the fans and officials alike were bewildered. The ambitious young lady, you’ll recall, was escorted some five rows back.