prologue to a riot

Sticks swung in Boston: that was where it all started, near the end of the NHL’s regular season, when Maurice Richard was the first to strike — unless it was Hal Laycoe. When it comes to the riotous events in Montreal in 1955, it’s Thursday, March 17, fest of St. Patrick, that mostly resonates.

But it was the previous Sunday, March 13, where the violence that convulsed Montreal later in the week got started, 500 hundred kilometres to the south, in Boston’s cavernous Garden.

It was the last week of the NHL regular season. Montreal, battling the Detroit Red Wings for first place, had beaten Boston 2-1 at home on Saturday night. Sunday’s encounter had the Bruins leading 4-1 halfway through the third period when Bruins’ defenceman Warren Godfrey took a holding penalty. On another night Montreal coach Dick Irvin’s desperate gambit might have made more news: with six-and-a-half minutes to go, he pulled goaltender Jacques Plante to give his team a two-man advantage. That’s when the first moments of the Richard Riot began to play out.

The most comprehensive account of the whole affair is the one that Sidney Katz would publish in Maclean’s in September of 1955.

Here’s how he narrated what happened on Boston ice between Richard and Laycoe as the Montreal’s powerplay revved up:

Richard was skating across the Boston blue line past Boston defenseman Hal Laycoe when the latter put his stick up high and caught Richard on the left side of the head. It made a nasty gash which later required five stitches. Frank Udvari, the referee signaled a penalty to Laycoe for high-sticking but allowed the game to go on because Canadiens had the puck.

Richard skated behind the Boston net and had returned to the blue line when the whistle blew. He rubbed his head, then suddenly skated over to Laycoe who was a short distance away. Lifting his stick high over his head with both hands Richard pounded Laycoe over the face and shoulders with all his strength. Laycoe dropped his gloves and stick and motioned to Richard to come and fight with his fists.

An official, linesman Cliff Thompson, grabbed Richard and took his stick away from him. Richard broke away, picked up a loose stick on the ice and again slashed away at Laycoe, this time breaking the stick on him. Again Thompson got hold of Richard, but again Richard escaped and with another stick slashed at the man who had injured him. Thompson subdued Richard for the third time by forcing him down to the ice. With the help of a team mate, Richard regained his feet and sprang at Thompson, bruising his face and blackening his eye. Thompson finally got Richard under control and sent him to the first-aid room for medical attention.

Richard was penalized for the remainder of the game and fined $100. Laycoe, who suffered body bruises and face wounds, was penalized five minutes for high-sticking and was given a further ten-minute penalty for tossing a blood-stained towel at referee Udvari as he entered the penalty box.

Richard’s emotional and physical resistance were at a low ebb on the night of the Boston game. It was near the end of a long exhausting schedule. The Canadiens had played Boston only the previous night in Montreal. Richard had been hurled against a net and had injured his back. The back was so painful he hadn’t been able to sleep on the train trip to Boston in spite of the application of ice packs. On the morning of the game he confided to a reporter, “My back still hurts like the dickens. I feel beat.” He never considered sitting out the Boston game. There was too much at stake. With three scheduled games left, the Canadiens chances of finishing first in the league were bright. Furthermore, Richard was narrowly leading the league for individual high scoring. If he won, he would receive a cup, $1,000 from the league and another $1,000 from his club. He was still brooding over an incident that had threatened his winning the top-scoring award. In Toronto the previous Thursday, he had been in a perfect position to score when he was hooked by Hugh Bolton of the Maple Leafs. Bolton was penalized but it still meant that Richard was deprived of a goal he desperately wanted.

We have Richard’s own account, or at least a version thereof. In 1971, guided if not ghosted by Stan Fischler, he published an eight-chapter memoir of his career that was appended to Fischler’s The Flying Frenchmen: Hockey’s Greatest Dynasty.

Chapter Four is “The Riot.” Richard notes that Laycoe, one of hockey’s few bespectacled players, had once been a teammate of his with Canadiens. He says he wasn’t particularly rough or dirty, but nor was he entirely pacific.

In Richard’s version, he recalls hitting Laycoe, who went down. “As he fell he hit me in the eye with his stick, opening up a bleeding wound over my eye.”

The parties involved would subsequently be summoned for a hearing with NHL president Clarence Campbell at NHL HQ in Montreal — we’ll get to that tomorrow. For the moment we’ll skip ahead to his findings, which he released in a statement that ran to 1,200 words.

Richard, Campbell wrote, skated by and Laycoe high-sticked him on the side of the head.

That doesn’t quite rhyme with what Laycoe told Tom Fitzgerald of The Daily Boston Globe the day after the incident. “Richard and I were both going for the puck,” he said then. “I was hooking the puck away from him, and he brought his stick up over his shoulder hitting me over the bridge of the nose. I was stung and I acted automatically. I admit I brought my stick up then.” Continue reading

red alert

horner

If you were reading Maclean’s through the 1930s, mostly what you were seeing week by week on the covers of Canada’s National Magazine were portraits of happy women, most of them young, all of them white and serene-looking, confident, and free from cares. Sometimes they were packing suitcases (June, 1932) or clutching Christmas presents (December, 1933); they played a bit of ping-pong, too, (November, 1932) and also went after garden pests with malevolence and insecticide (May, 1936). They were aviatrixes, in at least four cases (including August, 1931 and May of ’32). A lot of the time, they sported bathing costumes (Julys and Augusts of 1932 + 1933; Augusts, 1935 + 1936; June, 1938; August, 1938).

That’s not to say that Maclean’s only covered young women in ’30s, but about 35 per cent of the time they did. Babies were also abundant (nine of them across 224 issues), along with young boys (usually up to no good) and golfing men (five). Not a lot of diversity there, either, which is to say, none whatever. In October of 1930, unfortunately, a group of happy kids dressed up for Halloween did include a boy in black face.

Hockey players? They were as abundant through the ’30s as Santa Claus, which is to say they fronted Maclean’s just four times that decade. Whether that’s a big distinction or kind of pitiful, well, I don’t know, guess it depends on your outlook. Hockey players did outnumber kings (just two of them made Maclean’s in the ’30s ) and football players and people playing tennis, so that’s … encouraging?

The hockey covers: first up was artist Joseph Farrelly’s impression, in 1933, of a handsome generic skater poised for action in what looks like Ottawa Senators garb, which is thoughtful, given that the original Senators would be folding within the year.

W.V. Chambers painted hockey’s next coverboy, in February of 1935. That’s it here, above: Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenceman Red Horner in a comical funk, cartoonishly fed-up at having been exiled, once again, to the penalty bench.

Hockey didn’t yet have goons in those years, what it had was bad men, among whom Horner was one of the baddest. For three years running he’d led the league in penalties, and the following year he’d do it again, amassing 167 minutes, which set a new single-season record that stood for 20 years, until Lou Fontinato barged his way to 202 in 1955-56.

macleans-aug1A colourful character, then, Horner. There were others, of course, playing in the NHL through the 1930s. If we’re only talking about players who were skating with Canadian teams, what about Charlie Conacher, King Clancy, Hooley Smith, Syl Apps, Lionel Conacher, Nels Stewart, Aurèle Joliat? Howie Morenz! If the life he led on the ice wasn’t worth Maclean’s coverage, then wouldn’t his sudden death in March of 1937 have been news, mourned by so many thousands across the hockey map? No, not even then. The week of Morenz’s death, Maclean’s went with a humorous illustration of a hotel lobby boy on its cover, with nary a mention within of the hockey star’s death. True, it was a different kind of a magazine in those years, heavy on fiction and issue-oriented features. Still, I don’t know how you explain what happened in the very next issue, dated April 1, 1937 (poultry on the cover): in a perky article on NHL players deserving of all-star honours, author Jim Hendy somehow neglected in a passing mention of Morenz to note that the poor man was no more.

It was good to be a Leaf if you hoping to see yourself on the cover of the (Toronto-based) magazine in the ’30s. Goaltender Turk Broda was next up after Horner, photographed for a February, 1938 issue. A year later, separated by covers featuring turkeys, lumberjacks, and no fewer than three swimsuited women, the Leafs’ Gordie Drillon got his turn.

While neither Broda nor Drillon rated articles within the editions they fronted, the same can’t be said for Red Horner in 1935.

Along some flippant racism in the editor’s notebook, the contents for that week features a helpful column suggesting that the stout man — i.e. overweight — stands a better chance of resisting disease than the thinner one. There’s a column, too, about the “coloured races” in France. Amid all the fiction (including a hockey story, “The Not-So-Yellow Kid” and a timeless tale of the theatre called “Gentlemen Don’t Spank”), Horner penetrates the inside pages of the magazine in a serious way, featuring not only in a feature editorial profile but, with his wife, Isabel, in a full-page advertisement touting stoves.

I gather that the new Moffats Electric Ranges were not only beautiful (“soft gleaming finish”) but “staunch and rugged.” Mrs. Horner loved hers, with its Therm-O-Matic Oven Control and Cook-Quik Element; it made her proud.

The Mr. Horner profile, is by Lou Marsh, Toronto Daily Star sports editor, former NHL referee, and all-round Toronto sporting personality. It is, let me say with respect, mostly puffery. A poem, supposing you were determined to extract one from Marsh’s paragraphs describing his subject, might look like this:

the large pleasant looking, red-headed young man
this fighting fireball
this curly-head wolf of the blue lines
a fellow who is just a bit headlong, a trifle strenuous
a heavy man
an excellent team player
a genuinely modest athlete.

 

one of hockey’s great unflappables  

dry 73Lanky law student was an epithet applied to Ken Dryden in 1971, the year he burst into the NHL by way of the Montreal net, helping the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. Phil Esposito was one prolific shooter he stymied that spring and he’s the one generally credited as the first to call the 6’4” Dryden an even-toed ungulate. Stan Fischler told the tale in Boys’ Life in 1972:

Somehow, Dryden managed to blunt Esposito’s best shots with his 42-inch arms or block them with his enormous chest. At one point the enraged Esposito crashed his stick against the protective glass, glared at Dryden and shouted: “You thieving, four-story giraffe!”

Born on this day in 1947, Dryden turns 69 today. That seems like reason enough to excerpt an interview he gave in 1976 to an unnamed writer for Maple Leaf Magazine, Toronto’ game-day program:

Q: Is there anything about hockey that is not so much fun?
A: Practices are not much fun. The least fun of all is being inactive. There is very little satisfaction in being a non-participant; those games I can do without. I watched a couple of games from the press box this year and I couldn’t stand it. Jeez, I felt like an idiot.

Q: Is that a comment about sportswriters, with their hot dogs and beer?
A: What I’m saying is that I felt uncomfortable, partly because I don’t enjoy sitting out hockey games and partly because the press box has got to be the worst place in the world to watch a hockey game. It is so far removed from the action. Very few customers, I think, would pay to sit there. You can’t blame the club owners for sticking the press way up at the top, back out of the way. You wouldn’t want all the press guys taking the expensive seats. But I have never yet seen an exciting game from the press box. You’re so far away that the game is slowed down to nothing. Cournoyer looks like a dump truck idling down the ice.

Q: You seem to be the original Cool Hand Luke, one of hockey’s great unflappables. Don’t you get just a little nervous down there, or are you good at hiding it?
A: Cool Hand Luke. You gotta be kidding me. He ate 50 hard-boiled eggs. Are you trying to say I’m one of hockey’s great egg-eaters? Or do you mean I play hockey with egg on my face?

Q: No, no. I was just trying to find out if you get nervous.
A: I rarely get nervous anymore. Very infrequently. Sometimes a bit nervous during the day of an important game. Most of the time I feel like I’m prepared, ready to play, without the physical elements such as butterflies or throwing up that are a part of being nervous. The most nervous I’ve ever been in my whole life was a few minutes before the end of Game Seven in Moscow in 1972. Paul Henderson had just scored the goal that had put us ahead of the Russians 4-3. I was watching from the stands. I already knew I had the starting assignment for Game Eight. The seconds ticked away. I realized that if we could hold on, Game Eight would be the decider. Were my knees jelly? Were my legs shaking? You bet they were. I had no idea what it was like, even though I’d already played in the Stanley Cup playoffs. From that point on and for the next two days I began to feel worse. My stomach started to churn. My legs got weaker by the hour. It stayed with me right up until game time.

(Maclean’s cover painting by Peter Swan)