air show, 1948: goldbound, via slushy ice and snowballs

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“When the decisions went against the Swiss in the vital game with Canada, a chorus of shrill whistles echoed through the Alps and a barrage of snowballs came down from the hillside.”

• Jack Sullivan reporting for Canadian Press, February 9, 1948

It wasn’t easy, but they did it: on this day 69 years ago, the RCAF Flyers won gold in St. Moritz at the V Winter Olympics Games. That’s them above, flanked by the silvery Czechs and bronze-winning Swiss. Capping off a tournament that didn’t lack for drama — it was very nearly downgraded to an exhibition event — the Canadians beat the host Swiss on the final day in what seems to have been a decidedly bad-tempered contest.

The Canadian view: the plucky Canadians overcame terrible ice and biased refereeing to win 3-0. “We played eight men —“the Swiss players and the referees — and still beat ’em,” Corporal George McFaul, RCAF trainer, crowed after the game.

Here’s Jack Sullivan again:

The ice conditions and the refereeing were so bad that at times the game threatened to develop into a farce. The officials, Eric De Marcwicz of Britain and Van Reyshoot of Belgium, were pointedly in favour of Switzerland, some of the latter’s decisions being almost unbelievable.

[Wally] Halder tried to check a Swiss player at one point but fell flat. The Swiss player also went down. Halder was thumbed off for five minutes by Van Reyshoot — “for tripping and interference.”

Later, Heinrich Boller, Swiss defenceman, cross-checked Thomas (Red) Hibbard, who fell heavily to the ice. Both players were sent to the penalty box. Near the end of the game during a scramble in front of the Canadian goal Boller punched [goaltender Murray] Dowey in the face but was given only a two-minte penalty.

During the second and third periods, the partisan Swiss crowd, taking exception to some of the referee’s decisions, hurled snowballs at the Flyers.

(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-22-2-E)

ron wicks, 1940—2016

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Long-serving NHL referee Ron Wicks, who died on Friday in Brampton, Ontario, at the age of 75, got his big-league officiating start in the fall of 1960, not long after his 20th birthday. NHL refereeing supremo Carl Voss had invited him to audition that year, and in his memoir, A Referee’s Life (2010), he tells of catching the train from Sudbury and spending $3.50 for a night in Toronto at the King Edward Hotel. His novitiate at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp in Peterborough, included a stint on the lines of a Leaf exhibition against the Black Hawks in which his duties included untangling a fight between Toronto’s Tim Horton and Chicago’s Moose Vasko. Hired as a linesman, he worked his first regular-season game on October 5, Rangers and Bruins at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Frank Udvari was the referee that night,  George Hayes the other linesman. “League president Clarence Campbell at this opener,” Wicks would later write, “and said I missed an offside by 20 feet.” He went on to work 79 games that year, for which he was paid $3,300. By the time he retired in the spring of 1986, he’d patrolled the ice for 1,800 professional games, including 1,072 as an NHL referee. This is one of those, above: on February 12, 1982, Wicks seeks refuge as Bob Lorimer of the Colorado Rockies clashes with Quebec’s Marc Tardif as Colorado’s Steve Tambellini goes for the puck in the foreground.

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Ed Powers Hawks-Leafs, slammed into baorad, “After three minutes of rest, Powers was able to continue.” Nov 11 1959

Horizontal Stripes: Slammed into the boards by (alleged) accident during a 1959 Leafs and Black Hawks game in Chicago, Eddie Powers took a moment. “After three minutes of rest,” a correspondent reported from the scene, “Powers was able to continue.”

Nobody said it was easy, the life of a hockey referee. Russell Bowie was one of the best players to play the game before the NHL got started, winning a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Victorias in 1898. After he hung up his stick, he quite naturally took up a whistle, though that didn’t last too long. In 1911, mid-season, he quit. “The continual nagging of the players all through the season has bothered me a lot,” is what he told reporters. “I have decided that there is nothing in it for me. I have had enough hockey refereeing to last for the rest of my natural life.”

It’s not just the carping, either, that officials have to endure. “A referee has to be fast on his skates,” confided Cooper Smeaton, who wielded a whistle in the early days of the NHL. “He may at any moment be forced to hurdle sticks, climb on the fence, or instantly reverse his direction in order to get out of the way of a play. At that, we get plenty of cracks on the shins — perhaps not all of them strictly accidental.”

Fast isn’t always fast enough, of course, as referee Eddie Powers (above) learned in November of 1959 in a game at the Chicago Stadium between the hometown Black Hawks and the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. In what we’ll call an unfortunate mishap, he found himself “slammed” into the boards by players fighting for a puck. “After three minutes of rest,” the papers reported next day, “Powers was able to continue.”

Four years and a few months later he was in Montreal. February. At 45, he was a veteran by then of seven NHL campaigns. He walked into NHL headquarters in the Sun Life building where he called Carl Voss, chief referee, out of a meeting to tell him, “I quit as of now.” He didn’t stay to see NHL president Clarence Campbell. According to Voss, Powers left after saying that the two secretaries present could serve as witnesses of his resignation.

Voss was surprised. Campbell regretted the loss — Powers was one of the most experienced referees in the league. “But we’ll get along without him.”

Powers had refereed a game on the last day of January, Toronto at Montreal. That was the start of it. The Maple Leafs shot down the Canadiens, 6-3 (Red Burnett’s view, in The Toronto Daily Star), or else erased a 2-0 Montreal lead and ran away with the game on four third-period scores (Pat Curran in the hometown Gazette). Either way, the Leafs’ Red Kelly scored a hattrick. He was playing centre; also, as widely reported, as an opposition Liberal MP for the riding of Toronto West, he was missing a tumultuous day in Parliament as Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s government tottered on the edge of dissolution over its nuclear arms policy and what the United States thought about it.

Red Kelly, MP and centre-iceman

Red Kelly, MP and centre-iceman

In Montreal, the Canadiens were close to detonation by force of sheer disgruntlement. Kelly’s second goal, they thought, was scored while the Leafs’ Bob Nevin was in the crease. Montreal goaltender Jacques Plante chased after referee Powers to remonstrate and, eventually, to demonstrate how to smash a goalstick to flinders.

The Gazette reported that the Habs thought that Nevin had kicked the puck into the net. Coach Toe Blake screamed so much that Powers gave him a bench minor.

That was in the second period. The third was no calmer. Powers doled out misconducts to Montreal’s Bernie Geoffrion and Toronto’s Carl Brewer followed by a game misconduct for Geoffrion, along with a $75 fine (Brewer’s was $25). Montreal’s Bill Hicke was also charged with a $25 misconduct for (as Red Burnett wrote it) “questioning linesman Ron Wicks’ eyesight and ancestry.”

There was a penalty shot, too, for Red Kelly. That’s how he completed his hattrick. There was the Montreal crowd, stirred to a frenzy (the Gazette said), chanting “We Want Storey.”

Common decency prevented Pat Curran from printing much of what Toe Blake had to say after the game. Red Burnett quoted directly on what he thought of Powers. “He’s too inconsistent. Some of his calls were bad and he missed so many that you have to say his work was putrid. The whole league is getting bush all around.”

Montreal-Matin had Blake saying that the NHL should investigate the officials because they gave the impression of having bet on the outcome of the game. “Don’t tell me he’s not working against us,” The Montreal Star contributed to vituperative quote-quilt. “He let’s everything go and then he calls a chippy penalty against us.”

La Presse checked in with Montreal’s PR director, Frank Selke, Jr.: “I don’t know how much referees get for each game, but if he got more than $10 for tonight’s game he was overpaid.”

Blake wasn’t pleased with his players, either. “Our guys quit like dogs after they tied it up,” he said. “Maybe I used the wrong tactics in blaming the referee. That gave them an excuse and they folded.”

NHL president Clarence Campbell weighed in, of course. He was going to check with Blake; if he admitted to saying what he was supposed to have said, the fine could run to $1,000. Continue reading

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Thumb Up: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was named winner yesterday of the 2015 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s topmost athlete. He’s the ninth hockey player to be so recognized since the award was first given in 1936, and the only goaltender. Those who’ve gone before: Sidney Crosby (twice), Wayne Gretzky (four times), Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, and Maurice Richard. Above, Lou Marsh himself takes the air high up in Toronto, wearing his NHL reffing get-up circa the late 1920s. When he wasn’t whistling at hockey games, Marsh was a beloved Toronto Star sports columnist and editor who also made his mark on the football field, as a sprinter, and as an arbiter of boxers and wrestlers.

(Photo: City of Toronto Archives,  Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3610)

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Clarence Campbell was an old referee in 1946, as in erstwhile — it had been almost ten years since he’d worn the whistle in the NHL. He had a new job now: that September, the league’s board of governors elected him president during their semi-annual meeting at Montreal’s Windsor Hotel. It was an office he’d keep for 31 years. That first day, in a statement, Campbell had nice things to say about his predecessor, Red Dutton, and also this: “I have unbounded confidence in the future of hockey, not only in Canada and the United States, but throughout the whole world. As Canada’s national sport I believe it has made tremendous strides in the past 30 years and in my opinion there is no limit to its expansion not only on this continent but in Europe.”

A month later, Campbell was in Detroit for the start of the new season. That’s where he met, above, with a bevy of officials to read to them from the rulebook. From the left, that’s linesman Doug Young; referee Bill Chadwick; Campbell; linesmen Norval Fitzgerald; and Stan McCabe.

Campbell told reporters on that same visit that his directive to referees going into the season was to hold their noise. “There will be a full 60 minutes of action,” he said. “I’ve instructed all officials to keep the game moving and to lay off the whistle unless it’s absolutely necessary.” The Leafs and Red Wings didn’t make it easy for Chadwick, who ended up calling 12 penalties in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie. For the Leafs, the miscreants included Bill Ezinicki and Gus Mortson. For the Wings, Adam Brown somehow picked up the game’s lone fighting major, while a rookie making his NHL debut took two minors. Gordon Howe was his name, 18 years old. He scored his first goal, too.

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Judge of Play: Toronto-born artist Jeff Molloy lives and works on Gabriola Island, B.C. To see more of his brilliant work, visit http://molloy.ca/jeff/. "I create multi-dimensional, multi-sensory works," he says there, "that explore historical and contemporary culture through the use of humour, stereotypes, traits and artifacts." This portrait of Sir John A. is one Molloy painted in tandem with several works depicting Louis Riel. "As an artist I use hockey as a metaphor," Molloy say. "Macdonald was the ref and Louis was the player sent to the penalty box."

Judge of Play: Toronto-born artist Jeff Molloy lives and works on Gabriola Island, B.C. To see more of his brilliant work, visit http://molloy.ca/jeff/. “I create multi-dimensional, multi-sensory works,” he says there, “that explore historical and contemporary culture through the use of humour, stereotypes, traits and artifacts.” This portrait of Sir John A. is one Molloy painted in tandem with several works depicting Louis Riel. “As an artist I use hockey as a metaphor,” Molloy say. “Macdonald was the ref and Louis was the player sent to the penalty box.”

balls and strikes and stanley cups

bill stewartOn the Tuesday, he coached the underdog Chicago Black Hawks to their second Stanley Cup win, and his players carried him on their shoulders — by Saturday, he was just another major-league umpire calling strikes on the grass at Boston’s Fenway Park.

That’s how it went for 43-year-old Bill Stewart, pictured above in April of 1938, at the busy end of his first and only full season as an NHL coach. Thursday he left Chicago with a smile on his face. “My contract with the Hawks runs another year,” he told the newspapermen, “and we’ll be out to repeat again next year.”

No-one had expected the Black Hawks to prevail that year. Here’s the Daily Boston Globe summing up the situation:

Accorded little chances of entering the playoffs, the Hawks, with an odd assortment of rookies and old-timers, responded to Stewart’s fiery leadership to upset one favored club after the other, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, champions of the National Hockey League.

The miracle man of hockey, Montreal’s Gazette called him. Some other adjectives that the newspapermen of the day applied to Stewart: chunky (Montreal Gazette); plumpish, partly bald (The Day); bald-headed pilot (Boston Globe); big-time ice pilot (ibid.); pudgy, bald sports veteran (ibid.); the Little General (Boston Globe); bald-headed William (Gazette); ordinarily soft-spoken little man (ibid.).

It wasn’t true, what was sometimes said of him: that he’d never coached a hockey team before he was hired by Chicago owner Major Frederic McLaughlin. In fact, though he’d only ever played the game on shinny rinks, he had coached high-school hockey in his hometown, Boston, going on to steer the hockey team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for seven seasons. He’d played some serious ball, too, including stints with the Montreal Royals and the Chicago White Sox.

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He started his umpiring in 1930, graduating to the majors in 1933. By the time he retired in 1955, be was considered the dean of National League arbiters. He took part in four All-Star games and five World Series.

Starting in 1928, he also served as an NHL referee. His reviews there were, predictably enough, good and bad. In 1936, The Ottawa Citizen deemed him undoubtedly high class: “He knows the hockey code and rules accordingly in a fearless manner.” Then again, in 1931, a player from the New York Americans, possibly Bill Brydge, saw fit to write a mid-season letter to the Toronto Star declaring Stewart’s “special wretchedness.” It was a long missive, with specific complaints, but we can boil it down to a single extract: “He is absolutely rank.”

Stewart did, memorably, forfeit a game in Boston’s favour in 1933 after one of Stewart’s predecessors as Chicago coach, Tommy Gorman, (1) punched him and (2) took his team off the ice to protest a tying Bruin goal.

In 1935, Stewart brought (as Montreal’s Gazette put it) “his methods of authority on the diamond into the Forum.” The Leafs were in town and ended up routing the Canadiens by a score of 10-3. In the first period, when Stewart got into an argument with Montreal coach Léo Dandurand, he did what came naturally: tossed his antagonist out of the game. When Dandurand wouldn’t go, the referee sought a policemen to enforce his order. There was a delay. The Gazette:

No officer of the law appeared, however, and Stewart returned to the Canadien bench and after a heated dispute with Dandurand, the latter finally rose from his seat, went behind the bench and stood there, continuing to direct his team without any undue inconvenience. And at the start of the second period Leo was back on the bench and stayed there for the rest of the game.

That’s the first I’ve heard of NHL coaches sharing the players’ seating, but I guess that’s how it worked then. (Is there enough evidence here to credit Stewart with the innovation of upright, ambulatory coaches? I don’t suppose so.) Also worth a mention: this wasn’t the first time Stewart had ejected a coach in the Forum: earlier that year, he’d tossed Chicago’s Clem Loughlin — the man he’d eventually succeed as coach of the Black Hawks.

Hockey refereeing was harder than baseball umpiring, Stewart said in 1937. In the latter, “it’s either a strike or a ball,” while hockey involved monitoring not only the puck but the behaviour of 12 speeding men. A referee’s most important function on the ice? Watching the blueline for offsides.

“If you miss a trip or a bit of scragging or interference,” he said, “you can depend on the players to even it up among themselves, but if you miss a blue line offside and a goal results you can’t call back that goal, and it may mean the game. But no matter what you do, you can’t be right in everybody’s opinion.” Continue reading