hockey players in hospital beds: phil esposito

Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a Friday of this very date in 1942, Phil Esposito is 80 today: many happy returns of the day to him. Here he is in April of 1973, when he was 31 and a main motor of Boston’s mighty Bruins … only to be knocked out of the Bruins’ defence of their 1972 Stanley Cup championship in the second game of the an opening round playoff series that they would lose to the New York Rangers in five games.

Esposito, the Art Trophy-winner again that season, was felled by a hip check from Rangers’ defenceman Ron Harris. “I carried the puck across the blueline,” Esposito narrated the next day for reporters as he lay in Room 509 of Phillips House at the Massachusetts General Hospital, “and then I saw Harris coming at me. I tried to cut, but I had nowhere to go. I was brushed by somebody or stumbled and lost my footing. My right foot swung around and that’s when Harris hit me. I knew Harris would come in low and I tried to duck, but I couldn’t. It was a clean check. I’m sure there’s no way that Ronnie tried to injure me.”

Dr. Carter Rowe performed the surgery that Esposito was still awaiting when these photos were taken. It was Esposito’s right knee that Dr. Rowe repaired, a tear of the medial lateral ligament. (Three times he’d already performed similar operations on Bobby Orr, by then.)

The fact that Esposito was laid up in a cast for eight weeks didn’t mean that he missed out on the Bruins’ last supper. In mid-April, after having been eliminated by the Rangers, the team gathered to say their farewells at a Boston steakhouse, the Branding Iron, not far from where Esposito lay abed at Mass General. A Bruins’ raiding party that included Orr, Wayne Cashman, and Dallas Smith soon had Esposito busted out of recovery, across the plaza, into the restaurant — in the very hospital bed pictured here. They got him back again, his teammates, after a couple of hours of revelry.

As Esposito told Evan Weiner in 2009, his recuperation was strictly policed after that. “In that hospital that year, I was the only guy they told me ever in the history of Mass General — and they had Katherine Hepburn in there, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor — that was ever locked in his room. They locked me in my room, I was in there three-and-a-half, four weeks, and it was nuts.”

Come the fall, Esposito was back on the ice to launch what turned into yet another Art Ross-worthy campaign, his fourth in a row. He finished the 1973-74 season with even better numbers than the previous year, netting 68 goals and 145 points to top the scoring table ahead of teammates Orr, Ken Hodge, and Cashman.

fred stanfield, 1944—2021

Saddened to hear the news that former Boston Bruins centreman Fred Stanfield has died at the age of 77. Born in Toronto in 1944, he broke into the NHL with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1964 before he was traded (along with Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge) to the Bruins in 1967 in exchange for Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte, and Jack Norris. In Boston, he often lined up with Johnnys Mackenzie and Bucyk, and in so doing, piled up six successive 20-goal seasons, aiding in a pair of Bruin Stanley Cup championships, in 1970 and ’72. He played two seasons with the Minnesota North Stars and parts of four others with the Sabres in Buffalo before he stowed his skates in 1978.

change ’em up

Shifty: “The figures caught in a split second, seemingly in defiance of gravity as they float through the air with a grace not customarily associated with hockey.” That’s art dealer Alan Klinkhoff describing the scene depicted in “Changing Lines, A Self-Portrait, 1960-1970” by the renowned painter (like Klinkoff, also a Montrealer) Philip Surrey (1910-90). Surrey’s oil-on-canvas portrait of the Boston Bruins doing battle with Canadiens dates to 1970, a Stanley-Cup-winning year for Boston. The painting featured in the Klinkoff Galley’s 2016 exhibition “Fine Art and Hockey: A Point of View.” It’s Klinkhoff’s thinking that this is the Bruins’ vaunted powerplay taking the ice, Phil Esposito (7, with a fanciful helmet) leading out Johnny Bucyk (9) and Fred Stanfield (17). Johnny McKenzie, Klinkhoff notes, usually played on a line with Bucyk and Stanfield, with Esposito working between Ken Hodge and Wayne Cashman. But with a man advantage, McKenzie often made room for Esposito by dropping back to the blueline to partner with Bobby Orr. This pairing, we’re assuming, are already out on the ice, ready to take to the attack. (Image: Alan and Helen Klinkhoff collection)

down and out in madison square

Flat Out: New York Rangers goaltender Ed Giacomin takes a first-period moment in January of 1968 after taking a shot to the knee from Boston’s Gary Doak. He was soon up and back at it, helping the Rangers to beat the Bruins by a score of 2-1. Jean Ratelle scored both New York goals; Ken Hodge beat Giacomin for the Bruins. That’s Harry Howell looking on here, veteran defenceman and, that season, the incumbent Norris Trophy winner. It was his 1,002nd game in the NHL, and the Rangers celebrated before the puck dropped by lavishing Howell and his family with gifts. Also that nigh: a 20-year-old Ranger rookie named Walt Tkaczuk made his NHL debut. TAY-chuck is how you pronounce it, The New York Times advised next day, noting that he played a total of two minutes, administering three hits on three different Bruins. The Times: “He didn’t know their names, he admitted later.”

hanged, fired

Ottawrath: Senators' fan Kevin Fabian puts a flame to an effigy of Alexei Yashin in Arnprior, Ontario, in October of 1999. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward)

Ottawrath: Senators’ fan Kevin Fabian puts a flame to an effigy of Alexei Yashin in Arnprior, Ontario, in October of 1999. (Image: Jonathan Hayward)

Chicago fans went to the trouble of noosing up a fake Frank Mahovlich in 1962 in order to … intimidate the visiting Leafs? Disturb the sleep of one of their rival’s prominent scoring forwards? Show how much they loved their Black Hawks? Subtly state a nuanced position on capital punishment? Hard to say what exactly might have been in the hearts and/or heads of those zealous executioners, but it wasn’t the first time that hockey’s faithful had rigged up an effigy to punish in public, and it wouldn’t be the last. Herewith, several other instances of hockey fans with rough justice in mind:

 1955

Fans hurled abuse and vegetables at NHL president Clarence Campbell after he suspended Montreal’s Maurice Richard that year for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, too, and they threw a city-wrecking riot in his honour, too — not to have organized a ceremonial lynching would have just seemed lazy. As Rex MacLeod wrote in The Globe and Mail, Campbell was indeed “hanged in effigy and some lawless elements were even determined to improve on that.”

1962

The Boston Bruins had missed the playoffs for three years running and things weren’t exactly looking up: after starting the 1962-63 season with a win over Montreal, the team ran up a 13-game winless streak. In November they lost at home on a Sunday night to Detroit and that’s when fans at the Garden strung up coach Phil Watson in effigy. GM Lynn Patrick soon took their point, firing Watson and replacing him with Milt Schmidt — the man he’d succeeded a year and a half earlier.

Watson was philosophical. “It’s the old story,” he told Jack Kinsella from The Ottawa Citizen. “You can’t blame the players, or the ice, or anything else for losing. So you blame the coach. But I don’t blame management too much. After all, they’re in a business, and when the fan starts demanding action, something has to be done.

The team had offered him a front-office job, he said, but he wanted to coach. What about with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens of the Eastern Professional Hockey League? They were in need. Kinsella pressed: would Watson be interested?

“You’re darn tootin I would,” said Watson. “Besides, I haven’t heard of an Ottawa coach hanged in effigy yet.”

1969

As a hard-cored Leafs defenceman, Pat Quinn earned the wrath of Boston fans in the spring of the year by persecuting their beloved number 4. As was plentifully noted at the time, last month, of Quinn’s death, over the course of a couple of games in March and April, he crosschecked Orr into a goalpost; punched him; kicked him; flattened him with an elbow; knocked him unconscious; left him concussed. Newspaper accounts from the time describe shoes hurled at Quinn and punches thrown, death threats, too; I haven’t come across any contemporary mentions of noosed effigies. But Milt Dunnell says there were those, too, hanging from the galleries at the Garden, so we’ll say it was so.

1974

Another spring, another Leafs-Bruins playoff match-up. The Bruins won this one with dispatch, offing Toronto in four straight games, the last of which was a 4-3 overtime win at Maple Leaf Garden. Boston right wing Ken Hodge scored two goals, including the winner, while fans dangled a dummy in his likeness overhead. He’d been playing dirty, they apparently thought, though Hodge himself was perplexed. “I can’t understand why the fans in Toronto think I’m vicious,” he said after the game. “In Boston, the fans boo me because they wish I was even tougher.”

1988

When Edmonton Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington decided to trade/sell Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in August, fans keened and wailed. Edmonton’s mayor was shocked — letting Gretzky leave, he said, was like removing all the city’s bridges. There was talk of cancelling season’s tickets, of boycotting the team. And in front of city hall that week, a small group of disgruntled fans burned Pocklington in effigy.

1996

Florida beat Philadelphia in the Prince of Wales Conference semi-finals that spring, but the Flyers didn’t go down easily, winning two of the first three games. Eric Lindros scored game-winning goals in both of those victories which, I guess, you know, is a capital offence in Florida. The Associated Press:

During the [third] game, fans sang anti-Lindros chants, threw objects at the Philadelphia bench and hung the center in effigy from the upper deck of the Miami Arena.

“I don’t know if I feed off the crowd,” said Lindros. “It’s not something I’ve not been through before. I could care less.”

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