this friday

Icy Crisis: The Philadelphia Blazers were set to make their debut this week in 1972 as the WHA kicked off its inaugural season, and they were oh so close to hosting the New England Whalers at the local Civic Center. But the Zamboni arrived late, and when it ventured out to do its work, the ice buckled. After officials conferred with referee Bill Friday (that’s him, above, on the cover a 1977 Houston Aeros program), the game was postposed, to the chagrin of 6,000 expectant fans, who tossed back the red WHA pucks they’d been given as they arrived. Blazers’ captain Derek Sanderson took to the PA to explain. “It would be very dangerous for the players,” he said. “Please come back, we need your support after they get this bloody ice fixed.” Not an auspicious start for the Blazers, who continued to falter. Sanderson departed after eight games, returning to the NHL Bruins. The Blazers themselves lasted just a single season in Philadelphia before upping stakes and relocating to Vancouver.

c’mon, ref

With NHL referees back on the job tonight in Las Vegas, here’s a handy guide to the calls they won’t be making throughout game five of the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup semi-final against the Montreal Canadiens. Kelly Sutherland and Eric Furlatt will be wearing the stripes tonight, taking over from Chris Lee and Dan O’Rourke, the much-maligned pairing whose handling of games three and four in the series stirred up so much Twitter ire and pundit pother. The illustration is Zzzzzzzzzap Hockey, a whimsical 1976 hockey miscellany for young readers. 

Below, that’s Scotty Morrison, the NHL’s referee-in-chief, in September of 1969, which is when 13 referees and 7 linesmen under his command went out on strike 24 hours before the league’s pre-season schedule was set to get underway. At issue: the officials, including refs Bruce Hood, Vern Buffey, and Bill Friday, had organized themselves into the NHL Referees’ and Linesmen’s Association only to have the league to recognize it. 

“I’ll referee myself,” Morrison declared in the face of the job action, though it didn’t quite come to that. Not all of the league’s officials had walked out on him: five senior officiants stayed on the job, working weekend exhibition games as planned. One game that was handled by a replacement referee was a notorious meeting in Ottawa between the Boston and St. Louis that featured a grisly stick-fight that ended up with the Blues’ Wayne Maki fracturing Ted Green’s skull. 

By the following Monday, the NHL and the officials had come to a seven-point agreement, covering pay and expenses and insurances, that put the men in stripes back on the ice.   

see?

Bob Nevin of the Toronto Maple Leafs lost a contact lens on the ice at Chicago Stadium in 1962, as you’ve maybe heard. Maybe not, though: in all the glorious tumult of the NHL’s hundred-year history, it’s not exactly a highlight. If the momentary mishap lives on at all, it’s because there’s this great photograph of the aftermath, when Leafs and Black Hawks and referees joined together and did their very best to spy Nevin’s lost lens.

Turns out it wasn’t the last one to go missing on Chicago ice. Almost three years later, in February of 1965, Boston Bruins’ right winger Tommy Williams lost one of his contacts on Stadium ice, leading to the search depicted above. Williams was a member of the 1960 U.S. team that won Olympic gold at Squaw Valley before he found his way to Boston the following year. He was touted, then, as the first American-born player to play regularly in the league since Frank Brimsek’s retirement in 1950. Williams later played for the Minnesota North Stars, the California Golden Seals, and the New England Whalers of the WHA, before a last stint in the NHL with the Washington Capitals.

In ’65, Chicago’s Eric Nesterenko was implicated in the second-period collision that separated Williams from his eyewear. Was the subsequent all-hands search successful? No, it was futile. That contact was good and gone. Other features of the game? In the third period, Boston’s Orland Kurtenbach swung his stick at Doug Mohns of Chicago, who swung back. Referee Bill Friday gave the two of them match penalties for attempting injury. Chicago won 7-0, with Stan Mikita scoring a pair of goals.

While we’re on this sight visit, let’s also add that the first NHLer to have donned glasses on the ice seems to have been Russ Blinco, when he was playing centre for the Montreal Maroons through the 1930s. His specs were, by one report, “made of shatterproof glass edged with a light steel netting and cost puh-lenty!”

First to deploy contact lenses regularly? That would seem to have been Montreal Canadiens’ left winger Tony Graboski in the early 1940s. He was an evangelist of sorts, too: when Dutch Hiller was working the Boston wing in 1942, he credited Graboski with convincing him to get fitted with contacts of his own.