Famous for the din of their allegiance to their beloved Black Hawks, fans who used to frequent Chicago’s old Stadium also, occasionally, got the team into trouble.
In April of 1944, for instance, when Chicago was vying with the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup. With Canadiens having won the opening game of the finals at the Forum, they took their show on the road, riding a Maurice Richard hat trick to secure a 3-1 game-two win in Chicago.
It wasn’t pretty. “It was an unruly crowd that held up the game for almost a quarter of an hour after Richard scored his final goal in the third period,” the Montreal Gazette reported the next morning. “It heaved everything — papers, pennies, compacts, decks of cards, and vegetables — down on the ice to show its displeasure over Referee Bill Chadwick’s refusal to call a penalty against Elmer Lach. It blew automobile horns and beat tin pans that it brought with it into the big rink. There were 16,003 fans in the crowd and they made a lot of noise.”
One of the quieter members of the audience was baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, sitting in the good seats and thereby, in the line of line. “It’s an unusual contest at the Stadium when hockey fans do not shower the rink with pennies, paper, hats, fruit, and other objects that endanger the safety of contestants,” Arch Ward noted in his Chicago Tribune column. On this night, he continued, a chair came sailing out of the upper balcony, narrowly missing Landis, “who promptly decided there were more enjoyable ways of spending an evening than watching a hockey game.”
For his part, NHL President Red Dutton was not best pleased by Chicago’s game-two enthusiasm. His statement ahead of game three went like this:
In response to a telegraphic vote which I requested from the board of governors of the National Hockey League resulting from a 20-minute delay in the third period in the Stanley Cup game in Chicago on Thursday, while the ice was being cleared of debris thrown by fans, I have been empowered to forfeit any future game to the visiting club if a repetition of this kind occurs in any of the forthcoming games, and I definitely intend to exercise my authority.
Game three hit the ice on a Sunday of this date. Fans arriving at the Stadium was subjected to searches. The Gazette:
The big throng of 17,694 spectators were frisked for missiles on the way in, particularly those who had seats in the top gallery, and the following is an inventory of articles collected: coat-hangers, nuts, steel bolts, smoked fish, bags of rice, bags of flour, lemons, oranges, limes, boxes of soap flakes, rolls of toilet paper, megaphones, candy, peanuts, beer and pop bottles, large and small bells, playing cards, pieces of steel, cartons, pennies in 25c rolls, 1,000 paper scooters, and several folding chairs.
Paper scooters, anyone? Airplanes is my guess. The good news, for Red Dutton and lovers of public order:
The denuded onlookers had nothing left to throw and there was no debris hurled on the ice.
Montreal won that game 3-2, with Phil Watson notching the deciding goal. They wrapped up the series in Montreal four nights later with a 5-4 overtime win (Toe Blake scored the winner), sweeping up their first Stanley Cup since 1931.
None of this implicates the two cacophonous Black Hawk fans depicted here: there’s no evidence that Mrs. Georgia De Larne (top) or Irving Birnbaum (below) ever partook in any missile-launching. Seen here in Chicago Stadium’s upper balcony during a Black Hawks game in 1941, these two seem to have been more committed to making a racket than a bad example. A contemporary newspaper described Mrs. De Larne as “one of the many noisemakers present in the galley.”
Born in Winnipeg on a Saturday of this same date in 1929, Terry Sawchuk was a four-time Stanley Cup champion and a four-time Vézina Trophy winner; he was elected to hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1971, the year after his death at the age of 40. Did any goaltender in NHL history wear his puck-stopping pre-eminence so painfully? Here’s Dick Beddoes writing in 1990, recalling a night in ’67, when a 37-year-old Sawchuk helped the Toronto Maple Leafs to a Cup.
His single most commanding performance occurred that spring, on April 15, in the fifth game of an engrossing Cup semi-final between the Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks. He replace a shaky Johnny Bower in the second period of the fifth game with the best-of-seven series tied 2-2 in games, and this pivotal game tied 2-2 in goals.
The Hawks, in the noisy three-tiered cavern of Chicago Stadium, pressed in the first two minutes of the second period, clamorous action boiling around Sawchuk. Bobby Hull pivoted 15 feet to Sawchuk’s left, almost parallel to the goal, an impossible angle from which to score. Hull shot, hard and high. The puck struck Sawchuk’s left shoulder like a crowbar and knocked him down. Other players skated around the Toronto net, circling, looking, needling.
Pierre Pilote, the Chicago captain, crafty, canny, aimed his barbs. “How’d you feel, Terry? Should’ve let it go, Terry. Might’ve been a goal.”
The scene was caught, pinned forever in a reporter’s memory. Bob Haggert, the Toronto trainer, skidded across the ice from the Toronto bench to Sawchuk. “Where’d you get it, Ukey?”
Sawchuk, on his knees, “On my bad shoulder.”
Haggert, leaning down, “Think you’re okay? Can you stay in the game?”
“I stopped the fucking shot, didn’t I?” Sawchuk struggled to regain his feet. “Help me up and I’ll stone those sons of bitches.” He groped for his stick and gloves and, defiant, went to work.
It is a 23-year-old story, a footnote in clutch exhibitions, how he went home again to glory, how he stopped 36 shots in Toronto’s 4-2 conquest, frustrated the most insatiable shooters in the game, shut them out with the remnants of the young Sawchuk: down the glove, out the arm, over the stick, up the glove, shutting off daylight the shooters thought they saw — all in a kind of desperate epileptic action. You were left wondering who choreographed the most stylish goaler in the galaxy.
Saddened to hear of Tony Esposito’s death today at the age of 78; the Chicago Blackhawks announced the news, here, this afternoon.
Earl Davis announced his findings in January of 1944.
“Hockey fans are the craziest people, of that I am sure,” was what years of experience had taught him. “They do not seem to know it is dangerous to throw things — that a player could break his leg on the junk they toss — and that we are breaking our backs picking it up. One night we scooped up 300 or 400 pennies, several dimes and nickels, and a couple of quarters.”
Davis, the long-suffering supervisor of the 12-man clean-up crew responsible for keeping the ice clear at Chicago Stadium, unburdened himself toAssociated Press correspondent Charles Chamberlin that winter.
Programs, tissue paper, poker chips, marbles, decks of cards, rice, navy beans were all on Davis’ list of items he and his team had retrieved through the past few wartime seasons. “Eggs — a dime a dozen. Oranges, apples, grapefruit, slices of bread — some day we’ll get the knives and forks. If it wasn’t for rationing …”
Chamberlain also inquired into the flying machines that filled the Stadium airspace night after night. “Made with painstaking care from programs by guys in the far, smoke-bound reaches of the upper gallery,” dozens of paper airplanes regularly went winging down from on high in these “stadium sweepstakes.”
Blackhawks president Bill Tobin described how it worked: “They choose a blueline or a circle on the ice and try to see who can sail their planes closest to the marks. They bet anything from five cents to five dollars on the accuracy of the flights.”
Tobin had his choice cut when it came to stories of flying food.
“The Hawks were in Boston when what should splash down on the ice but a big chunk of beef steak, uncooked. Taffy Abel, who was playing defence for us then, picked it up, made a bow towards the gallery, and carted it off. He said he fried and ate it after the game.”
Could have happened, I guess, just not in ’37: Abel played his last game in the NHL in 1934.
A month into the NHL’s second COVID-modified season: how’s that going? As of last night, 175 games of 210 scheduled games had been played, 35 postponed. Around the league, 108 players on 26 teams have spent time on the COVID protocol list, not all of whom have tested positive, with 52 players from 10 teams now cloistered, along with a couple of linesmen. Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and St. Louis are the teams that have, so far, avoided listing any players.
Time to be erring on the side of shutting it all down? Not according to the NHL. At least, there’s been no public suggestion of any hiatus in the interest of all-around health and safety. Must the show go on? Maybe not, but it will.
And maybe, soon, with more fans. The Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, and Dallas Stars have already been skating in front of diminished crowds, and now there’s word that both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping to be getting the public-health approval that will allow them to welcome a limited number of fans into their respective buildings, maybe in March.
All of which would seem to suggest that the time is right for a detour back through hockey history to a time when fans not only filled the seats of NHL arenas, but fulfilled their right to hurl whatever they might have in hand, or pocket, or on foot, onto the ice.
The throwing of stuff by fans at hockey games is, of course, as much of the history of the sport as the ice and/or referees that stuff has so often targeted. In a book I wrote about the culture of hockey (and vice-versa), I devoted six pages to the instinct fans have to throw stuff at hockey games; the variety of stuff thrown; and the dangers inherent in that stuff being on the ice — I could easily have filled a chapter of 20 pages.
Welcome, then, to a weekend’s series of posts focussing on Chicago’s old Stadium in the 1930s and ’40s.
Chicago is by no means the only NHL city with a history of dangerous debris: the annals of stuff flung include them all, every franchise, every rink. Black Hawks’ fans were notorious, especially those occupying the high gallery seats at the Madhouse on Madison, for inundating the ice in outrage, protest, joy, or … just because they could. The 1944 Stanley Cup Finals stand out in this regard — more about that here — but there were plenty of instances before that of games delayed by coins and shoes and playing cards raining down from on high, paper airplanes, novels, fruit, empty bottles.
The Blackhawks did their best to curtail the bombarding over the years, deploying ushers and policeman, issuing threats and pleas. The entreaty reproduced here, above, dates to January of 1935, when Chicago was defending the Stanley Cup they’d won in the spring of ’34.
The Associated Press reported on this flyer, which was distributed to fans that winter. “So bold have the customers at the Chicago Stadium been getting that it was decided to appeal to their better natures in an effort to halt the aerial onslaughts.”
Fans had been growing bolder, the AP noted, since earlier in the season when a bottle-tosser, arrested by police, had been released at the request of Stadium authorities.
“Officials of the club were inclined to believe their printed appeal was conducive to better behaviour,” the AP noted, “because there was a noticeable depreciation in the amount of debris scattered on the ice the first night it was tried.”
With the NHL preparing for the mid-January launch of a second COVID-era season, I’ve been reporting for The New York Times on how hockey fared in some past times of crisis and contingency. That’s on the page in today’s paper, as well as online over this way.
This part didn’t make it into the Times piece, but as I was charting back through the challenges the NHL faced during the Second World War, I was reminded of another echo of former times that 2020’s fraught hockey season awakened.
Back in far-off February of last year, the NHL got a first inkling of the disruptions that were to follow when two major suppliers of hockey sticks, Bauer and CCM, shut down manufacturing operations in China as the coronavirus continued its insidious spread. Equipment managers fretted, along with some prominent players. None of them, of course, imagined at the time that the entire league would be summarily shuttered — along with everything else — just a month later.
The Second World War tested hockey’s supply chains, too. It was a lack of manpower at North American sawmills and lumberyards that raised the spectre of a scarcity of sticks in 1946, not a global pandemic. “We’re still making a few,” a Spalding spokesman warned early that year, “but we have no reserve stocks of lumber on hand. When these are finished, there won’t be any more this year.”
CCM faced a similar predicament. Disaster seems to have been averted — hockey carried on — but several minor leagues did wonder whether they’d be able to play, and those with sticks in hand were advised to wield them with caution, to preserve what they had.
Wartime shook hockey to its core — specifically, the small, black one at the centre of every game. In 1941, with war in the Pacific limiting the supply of raw rubber even as military demand was increasing, news of North American shortages began to spread.
In December of the year, just a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Canada’s minister of Munitions and Supply, C.D. Howe, announced a ban on the sale of all rubber tires save those new vehicles. Two months later, one of Howe’s deputies, Alan Williamson, warned that Canadians didn’t understand just how dire the rubber situation was: it was “the gravest problem confronting” Canada and the Allies, he told the Canadian Hardware Convention and Exposition that February.
In another address, he upped the ante even higher, saying that he did not consider it “an exaggeration to say that anyone who uses rubber for any unnecessary purpose is committing an act of treason.”
For effect, Williamson enumerated some of the things for which rubber was no long being made available: “rubber soles, rubber heels, rubber bands, rubber bathing suits, garters, suspenders, foundation garments, tennis balls, flooring, rubber mats, shower curtains, tires for passenger cars, bathing caps.”
In January, the Canadian Press quoted Williamson as saying that while his department did not propose “to tell manufacturers of hockey pucks, tennis balls, and golf balls to stop making them, it would be ‘nothing short of a miracle’ if they were to get the rubber to do so in 1942.”
“New Composition Expected For Hockey Pucks,” an Ottawa Journal headline announced that winter, without offering any specifics: “the future of this staple article in Canada’s winter sports calendar is still obscure” was as far as the accompanying article was willing to go.
NHL teams were already doing their best to maintain their strategic puck reserves. The Chicago Black Hawks posted signs at the Stadium asking fans to return any puck that found a way into the crowd because, well, the very future of the league depended on it.
“This is a great national emergency,” a team spokesman reasoned. “Everything must be saved. Rubber is in great demand and we must conserve it. Pucks are made of rubber and we must conserve them, too. It would be a great shame to see a great sport and morale-building game like hockey go into the discard because of a shortage of pucks. That’s why we call upon our fans to throw back our pucks in the interest of sport and conservation of valuable defense material.”
Earnest as it was, this appeal didn’t convince everyone. When the Black Hawks hosted the Boston Bruins on Sunday, December 14, 1941, the only puck to leave the rink during the teams’ 3-3 tie was not returned, proving (as Edward Burns wrote in the Tribune) “a souvenir bug will cling to almost anything.”
Efforts were made at other rinks, too. Madison Square Garden was still home in 1941-42 to two NHL teams, the Rangers and the Brooklyn Americans. Games there began with advisories over the public address system emphasizing that that repatriating pucks that strayed was the “patriotic” thing to do.
Those who tossed them back, it was duly noted, were cheered lustily. Louis Schneider, a syndicated financial columnist, reported on the fate of the bold soul who tried to hang on to a puck in New York. “The hockey fan that grabs one and refuses to throw it back is all but mobbed by soldiers and sailors in addition to being booed by the crowd.”