ask the ref


Is it written someplace that a puck has to be rendered in rubber? If so, is it “written in stone?” The only reason I ask is that I’ve got more left-over wicker than I know how to “shake a stick at.”

Mrs. Jim Shears,
Starla, Alberta.

To whom it may concern:

What can I tell you? You and your wicker deserve one another. Don’t let’s be in touch.


Dear Stripes:

I coach a team of shy seventeen-year-olds, bless most of their healthy hearts. We play Wednesdays up Montreal Street, in the old Nellie McClung Arena, under the big, frank Frida Kahlo murals that the Mothers’ Guild has in recent years so tenderly restored.

Anyway, if I may: we have a left winger, let’s call him Smokey, he’s the shyest of our forwards. We also have a back-up goalie, we’ll call him Doc, who’s actually more reserved — though in an aggressive way, everybody has to know about it — but, anyway, among the forwards, nobody’s as distant as Smokey. He’s a closed book. Let’s just put it that way. Then last week, out there on his own on the left-wing, waiting for a pass, a rebound, a how-do-you-do from an opposing defenceman, he grabbed the puck, picked it up, kissed it, and threw it up to a kid on crutches.

Frankly, I’m worried. I’ve tried everything to get him to talk about it. It’s no good. Any ideas?

Coach Ampersand,
Kingston, Ontario.

Dear Coach:

You say you’ve tried everything, but I wonder. Cajolery? Simple threats? The ancients had good success with ostracism. Having travelled a little, I can also tell you that in many countries they look on bribes as the cost of doing business. Still, before you go out and spend your money, you might want to face some facts. Shy wingers are a threat to the game’s gregarious roots. This Smokey – he sounds to me like the unhappy offspring of a bad influence and a boll weevil. I say lose him.


Dear Ref:

Is the penguino offside?

J. Umpteen,
Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

Hey, You:

This is either a typo or too technical a matter for a general-interest column such as this. Or else it’s a trick question. Could be a code, too. Practical joke. But sure, why not. Yes.


Dear Mr. Referee:

I’m what they call a finesse player, I have soft hands, flaxen palms, cerebral wrists — the whole lunchbox. You should see what I can do with a puck. Did I mention I can score at will? The problem is, there’s nothing I like better than knocking a goalie. It’s what I do. Just plain plough into him. Ass over fry-pan. To me, an upright goalie is a flapping red flag.

For years I played in the old East Coast Garlic League where bowling for goalies was pretty much the law of the, well, land. The goalies accepted it — expected it. Sometimes, when they’d been vertical for a while, you’d hear them hollering: “Knock me down.” Words to that effect. Sometimes they’d stand on one leg, flamingo-wise, to make the knocking-down all the easier.

Now that I’m playing in the Big League, though, the referees, fans, my coach, members of my immediate family, and the rules all seem to insist that I stay away from goalies. What I need is a loophole. Something to keep me from being punished for my belief that a goalie’s no good if he’s not lying on his fry-pan.

Suspended in Satchel, North Dakota.


If I were a referee — and I am — I’d be obliged to tell you a thing or two. First: you’re not in the Garlic League any more, boyo. Two: if I caught you jouncing a goaltender uninvited, I’d invoke Rule 163 so fast you’d be trading in your fry-pan for a griddle-cake. Are we on the same page?



Show a Canadian a breadth of ice and he sees the Somme, Queenston Heights, Batoche — a battlefield. Show a Russian the same ice and the music starts: violins, a harp, maybe some woodwinds, not to downplay the balalaika. That’s what my dad says. What I want to know is, where do you come down on the whole question of smoking a cigarette or cigarillo on the ice?

Vince Aziz,
Not Here, Newfoundland.

Dear Vince:

You’re probably too young to remember Truman Capote — I’m talking about the tough-guy left wing who won two Cups with the Rangers, not the kindhearted coach of the ’56 Sultans — but he’s the guy many smokers blame for turning the game against them. Can’t say I blame them, I guess. I mean, if you’re a kid who likes a pipe, a cigar, the odd cigarette, what’s hockey got to say to you? Not much, my friend — and all because of what Capote did one night way back when.

Big, cowardly, slow and lazy, he was a pack-an-hour man, brandy-tipped Viceroys, if I’m not dreaming. He may have been a thug, but ask anyone — he always made it seem like he was doing you a favour, intimidating you. Once in a while, he broke your nose, scratched a cornea — but you always knew it was gratuitous, nothing personal. Take that night in ’61. With Maple Leaf Gardens in the grip of a mysterious brown-out, the Blueshirts battled the Leafs aboard an old rustball laker anchored in the deep-water basin at the foot of Yonge Street. Under a Liberian flag of convenience, the two teams played a pretty quiet first period, no goals, just the two penalties. Then, in the second, in comes Dick Duff all alone on Capote. People will tell you that the defenceman’s dangling cigarette had nothing to do with the flash fire in Duff’s eyebrows, that spontaneous combustion has always been a part of the game. Maybe. But you can’t tell me that the fire that sparked up later on that period in the Leafs net wasn’t pure old-fashioned arson. I mean, do the math. You think it was coincidence, Capote suddenly tossing down all that kindling, the oily rags? That baby burned for a period and a half. A goal judge, the cook’s mate, and three longshoremen were treated for heat rash. The League had to come down on the guy. Had to.

Did I mention Zeus Munro, who wore number 28 for the Canadiens during all but the waning days of the Cuban Missile Crisis? They tried to hush it up, but for years he was doing a trade in appetizers during games, selling them right out of his hockey gloves. Carrot sticks. Celery. Cured olives. It was the once-legendary Skid Kluke who blew the whistle on him — even though the word was that Skid was just trying muscle in on Munro’s racket. In any case, since the 1964-65 season, smoking and/or selling vegetables during the course of a game has only been allowed if the presiding referee gives his written permission 36 hours in advance. Cigars and pipes are banned outright, as are most of the new-fangled vegetables. I myself don’t have any anything against the eggplant, the sundried tomato, the radicchio you hear about, but I also understand that a game as great as ours can’t afford to change for every whim and weather. It’s not like we’re running a supermarket here.