Maurice Richard got to the Montreal Forum around three o’clock in the afternoon on this date in 1955, another Friday: he had a statement he wanted to make. Canadiens GM Frank Selke said he didn’t have any objection, so PR director Camille Desroches put the word out to the press. Two days earlier, on the Wednesday, NHL President Clarence Campbell had suspended Richard for the remainder of the regular season as well as the upcoming playoffs. Thursday, a Rocketless Montreal had been hosting the Detroit Red Wings — trying to — when a riot exploded in the Forum, ending the game and spilling out onto city streets in a four-hour frenzy of destruction.
Twenty-four hours later — and 67 years ago tonight — Richard sat in the Montreal dressing room, in front of all the microphones and the reporters, his number-nine sweater hung forlornly on a hanger, in his suit.
He smiled briefly, Gazette reporter Langevin Cote noted, but he appeared tense. “He rubbed his eyes, tugged at his tie, scratched his left ear.” A bell started to ring in the dressing room as he began to read his statement in French, so he had to start again. When he read it in English, He his voice was steady. “He appeared moved,” Cote wrote.
“I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and the younger players win the Cup,” he said. “Because I always try so hard to win and had my trouble at Boston I was suspended. At playoff time it hurts not to be in the game with the boys. However, I want to do what is good for the people of Montreal and my team. So that no further harm will be done, I would like to ask everyone to help the boys to win from Rangers and Detroit.”
The damage to businesses and property was still being calculated as Richard spoke: most estimates hovered around $100,000, a $1-million or so in 2022 terms. Thirty-seven men had been charged in the Thursday-night fracas, while a further 25 youths were awaiting trial in Montreal’s Social Welfare Court.
A Montreal city councillor named Adeopat Crompt, meanwhile, was seeking to have Campbell arrested for showing up at the Forum and provoking the mayhem. Mayor Jean Drapeau didn’t quite go that far, but he did ask Campbell to stay away from Sunday night’s regular-season finale at the Forum, when the Red Wings were back in town.
Campbell was duly outraged, but he did stay home. The game went ahead without civil unrest, though it didn’t turn out as the Canadiens would have hoped, with Detroit prevailing by a score of 6-0.
A month-and-a-half later, the Wings beat the Canadiens in the championship series, too, to raise their second Stanley Cup in succession. Maurice Richard did eventually live up to his word in that fraught dressing room: in April of 1956, the Rocket did help his club claim back the Cup in a five-game series win over Detroit.
Later, Clarence Campbell was asked what he would have done differently if he’d known a riot was in the offing. “I wasn’t frightened, if that’s what you mean,” was his response. “I think, in the interest of everybody, if I had known what was going to happen, the thing then to have done would have been to call the whole thing off.” As it was, let history show that on a Thursday of this date in 1955, Montreal’s game against the Detroit Red Wings went ahead a day after the NHL president suspended Canadiens’ superstar Maurice Richard for the end of the regular season and the playoffs to follow.
During the first period, unhappy Habs fans accosted Campbell in his Forum seat, yelling insults and bombarding him with (as Montreal GM Frank Selke remembered) According to Frank Selke: “bad fruit, eggs, and bags full of water.” Worse followed: Andre Robinson, 21, Rue St. Henri squeezed a tomato over Campbell’s head. (He was charged with assault.) Another young bravo held out his hand for a shake: when Campbell extended his hand, he got a slap in the face. At about that same time, someone tossed what Montreal police later described as “a U.S. Army type tear-gas bomb.” The Toronto Daily Star reported: “Campbell, after being punched in the face, was buried under an avalanche of rubbers, peanuts, programs, eggs, tomatoes, and pennies.” The Forum organist played “My Heart Cries For You.”
The game was called off soon after that, forfeited to Detroit, who’d been leading 4-1.
Recalling his service as a soldier with the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Campbell said, “I’ve seen lots of panics, but never anything like this.” Soon enough, of course, the riot spilled out into the streets of Montreal. Cars burned, looters sacked stores.
“Let us hope the outside world has been sufficiently distracted by the H-bomb and the Yalta papers, during the last couple of weeks,” the Star’s editorial page opined next day from Toronto, “to keep it from taking a close look at Canada. Otherwise the idea might have got abroad that this is a nation of hicks and hooligans.”
The hockey highlights were, if you’re wondering, few and far between: when the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs on a Thursday of this very date in 1955, the two old rivals ended up in what the Gazette’s Dink Carroll was only too irked to declare “that bane of hockey, the scoreless tie.”
The Leafs, to their credit, laid down a stifling defensive blanket over the powerful first-place Canadiens, gaining a point in the process and helping their own third-place cause. Toronto also, incidentally, set a new league record: their 22 ties were the most any team had accumulated in an NHL season. Not that any of this impressed the 14,332 fans on hand in Montreal on the night: their verdict was recorded in the volume of peanuts, programs, and newspapers flung on the ice at the end of the game. “One disgusted spectator tossed in a couple of pig’s feet,” Carroll noted.
Which brings us, however loopingly, to the point: no, not the fact that in another week’s time, the Forum would be filled with the ire, tear gas, and Clarence Campbell-antipathy that fed and fired up March 17’s Richard Riot.
That was a whole other Thursday. This one, March 10, we mark for the altogether less-ruinous reason that it saw the Canadian NHL debut of everybody’s favourite ice-resurfacer, the Zamboni.
It was in California that rink-owner Frank Zamboni spent most of the 1940s getting a prototype invented and built on the chassis of a U.S. Army jeep before he was ready to launch in 1949. The first one to arrive in Canada went to Quebec’s Laval College in 1954, and that same fall Boston Garden became the first NHL rink to put one into service. The Monster, the staff called that one. The Boston Globe reported that “Lelo Grasso, the pilot, is being urged to wear a crash helmet.”
A little ice-upkeep history seems in order here, duly dedicated (why not) to David Ayres. In the first few decades of the NHL, the ice was most often scraped and swept rather flooded during games. From the time the Forum opened in 1924, maintenance staff deployed their own distinctive 15-foot birch brooms, as highlighted here by NHL.com columnist Dave Stubbs:
These were still in use, apparently, in the late 1930s, bemusing visiting reporters like the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s George Currie:
Even the ice-scrapers are different up here. They sweep the snow off the ice with long, broomlike bunches of tree branches. Between the periods, the ice has more snow sweepers on it than hockey players during the actual play.
An important if undercelebrated moment in ice-cleaning history came in 1940, in September, when the NHL’s Board of Governors gathered in New York ahead of the new season. Among other new rules and procedures decreed there was one that insisted (as CP reported) “that the ice surface be sprayed between periods, instead of scraped or brushed, except when two teams have a mutual understanding that spraying is not necessary.”
Tommy Gorman was running the Canadiens that year, and when the games got going in November, the Gazette took note of the “new ice-making machines” he’d enlisted for duty between periods: “They’re sort of hot-water wagons dragging sacks behind, and they do a great job on the ice.”
More or less the same apparatus, that is, that was in operation at Toronto Maple Leafs Gardens well into the ’60s:
The Zamboni that made its debut 65 years ago tonight was a Model E, the 29th to roll off the company’s production line following the introduction of the one-and-only Model A in ’49.
“This gadget does everything but talk on an ice surface,” the inventor himself was saying a few days before that Montreal launch.
The man at the wheel of the $10,000-machine — about $97,000 in today’s money — was Forum superintendent Jim Hunter. In the days of the old brooms, he said, cleaning the ice was a job for eight to ten men. Now, he could do the work in six or seven minutes, he said. “The real beauty of the machine is that it takes only one man to operate. It also gives the ice a much smoother finish than a crew of men working with the present hot-water barrels.”
There’s a scene midway through Goalie, the new Terry Sawchuk biopic that opened across Canada this month, and it’s a key one in the story of our beleaguered hero’s unwinding. It’s early in his career in Detroit, and Sawchuk, as rendered by Mark O’Brien, is already starring for the Red Wings, though the cost is already starting to tell. The puck that lies tauntingly behind him in the Detroit net has passed him by with maximum malice, which we know because he’s down on his knees, spitting out his teeth, bleeding his blood.
But that’s only the start of it. In the nearby stands, out of the Olympia hubbub, a needling voice rises: “Sawchuk! Sawchuk!” He’s nothing new, this heckler, just an everyday loudmouth, but Sawchuk has had it, enough. When Marcel Pronovost points him out, Sawchuk charges. Downs stick and gloves, skates headlong for the fence, which he scales quick as a commando.
But before the goaltender can clamber his way up to the fourth or fifth row to tear his tormenter apart, the man flees in a panic. Sawchuk’s the taunter, now. “Yeah,” he jeers, “you better run.”
Realizing where he is, he also apologizes to the fans whose midst he’s invaded. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
That’s the movie. The history is that Terry Sawchuk did scale the wire at Detroit’s Olympia, in 1954, in pursuit of a vociferous fan, though it wasn’t really about him, the goaltender was really only acting in a supporting role, backing up teammates.
Credit where credit’s due: it was Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay who led the charge. Lindsay didn’t have to do any climbing, it might be noted: whereas Sawchuk was on the ice and saw fence-climbing as his only option to join the fray, Lindsay was already off the ice, on his way to the dressing room, when he identified his antagonist and went at him.
In the days since his death on March 4 at the age of 93, Lindsay has been praised as a hockey giant, which he was, no question. A dominant force on ice, Lindsay was a tenacious leader who could do it all, and did, mostly on his own terms. His dedication off the ice to the cause of players’ rights has been highlighted, as has the price he paid for not backing down in the face of lies and intimidation of the men who were running the NHL.
Here, for the moment, we’ll focus on a lesserly known episode from his career, a single season among the 17 Lindsay played. I’ll propose that it offers insights into his later battles with the NHL, and more: it also adds context to events that exploded this very March day, 64 years ago, in Montreal.
To do that, we’ll follow Ted Lindsay through the 1954-55 season, which means pursuing him into the crowd for what must (I think) count as his most cantankerous year as an NHLer — it might be one of the most cantankerous season any player played, ever.
Lindsay was in his eleventh season with the Wings, his third as team captain. He’d finished the previous season third-best in league scoring, and was elected to the 1st All-Star. His Wings were on a roll: the defending Stanley Cup champions had won three Cups in five years.
The NHL’s 38th season is and forever will be charred at the edges by Montreal’s season-ending Richard Riot. It’s with no intent to diminish the importance or damages inflicted by those ructions, nor with any disrespect to Richard, that I’m going to posit here that, when it comes to instigating uproar, Ted Lindsay’s ’54-55 is a remarkable one in its own (if mostly forgotten) right.
Also: imagine, if you would, a circumstance by which, in today’s NHL, one of the league’s marquee players, captaining the defending Stanley Cup champions, finds himself implicated in altercations with spectators, not once or twice, but on four separate occasions. It would be the story of the season — though not in ’54-55. Is it possible that this player would still be around to be to contribute to his team’s winning a second successive Cup? It is, and was — in ’54-55.
A bit of background is in order here. Early in November, 14 games into the season’s schedule, Detroit traded centre Metro Prystai to Chicago in exchange for a mostly untested right winger named Lorne Davis. A valuable cog in the Red Wings machine that won Stanley Cups in 1952 and again in ’54, Prystai was also a good friend and roommate of Lindsay’s and Gordie Howe’s at Ma Shaw’s rooming house. With Howe out with an injured shoulder, Prystai had moved in to take his place on Detroit’s top line, alongside Lindsay and Dutch Reibel.
For the defending champions, this wasn’t so much a hockey trade as a league-mandated equalization pay-out. Detroit didn’t pull the trigger so much as the NHL decided that the swap would help out Chicago, of the league’s perennially worst teams.
Conn Smythe, Toronto’s owner and martinet-in-chief, seems to have engineered the whole affair, chairing a meeting of league moguls in New York for the purpose of improving have-not teams like Chicago and Boston. “A unique professional sports move toward sharpening competitive balance,” is how Al Nickleson described it in The Globe and Mail; The Detroit Free Press dubbed it a hockey “Marshall Plan.”
Call it collusion, set it aside as an exhibit for some future (never-to-be-launched) anti-trust ligation — to the men in charge of NHL hockey, it was merely good business. Four players were involved upfront: Chicago got Prystai and Montreal’s Paul Masnick, while Boston landed Leo Boivin from Toronto. The Leafs got Joe Klukay; Detroit landed Davis; Montreal’s piece of the pie was to be named later.
“We’re trying to apply logical business sense here,” Smythe pleaded in the days before the redistribution went through. He only had the customer in mind, he would continue to insist. “What we want to do is present hockey at its highest calibre in every rink in the NHL.”
But Detroit was seething. “Is big-time hockey a legitimate sport or just a family syndicate?” Marshall Dann wondered in the local Free Press. Marguerite and Bruce Norris co-owned the Red Wings while another brother, James Norris, ran the Black Hawks. The word was that Red Wings’ GM Jack Adams didn’t know about the Prystai deal until it was already done, telling Prystai, “I’m sorry, they ganged up on us.” Adams accused Smythe of trying to break Detroit’s morale. No more would he serve on NHL committees, he said, and he vowed that he’d be boycotting Red Wings’ road trips to Toronto forthwith, as well.
The Wings had a home game the week of the Prystai trade, on the Thursday, against Smythe’s Leafs. Before the Wings hit the ice, Lindsay demanded that the Norrises, Marguerite and Bruce, meet with the players and explain to them why Prystai had been shipped out. In his 2016 memoir, Red Kelly says it was just Bruce who showed up, and that the players weren’t impressed by his explanation. They talked about sitting out the game to make clear their unhappiness. “We weren’t going to go on the ice that night, no way. The people were in the stands, but we didn’t care.”
Somehow, someone convinced them to play. They did so, let’s say, in a mood.
Ted Lindsay’s didn’t improve as the evening went on. In the second period, he unleashed on Leafs’ defenceman Jim Thomson, punching him in the face as they tangled near the Toronto bench. “They both went at it,” the Globe’s Al Nickleson wrote, “with no damage done.”
As order, or something like it, was being restored, Leaf coach King Clancy chimed in. “That’s the first time I ever saw you drop your stick in a fight, Lindsay,” is how Nickleson heard it. What he saw, next, was Lindsay throwing a glove at the coach. “The glove — it belong to Thomson — brushed Clancy and was lost in the crowd behind the bench.” Lindsay threw a punch at Clancy, too, but missed his mark.
Toronto won the game. Sid Smith scored the only goal and Leaf goaltender Harry Lumley, a former Wing celebrating his 28thbirthday, contributed a shutout. That can’t have lightened Lindsay’s temper, and when a fan spoke up as the Wings were headed off the ice, the Detroit captain decided to climb the wire and chase him down.
It’s from the scene that followed that director Adriana Maggs’ Goalie drew when she had her Terry Sawchuk climb into the crowd. Here’s Nickleson on Lindsay’s non-movie incursion:
He may have landed a blow or two — certainly he was swinging — although the action was partially hidden by fans, and by other Detroit players clambering over the high screening. Even Sawchuk, goal pads and all, made it with the help of a boost from a teammate.
Bernard Czeponis was the heckler. A blow of Lindsay’s that did land blackened his eye. He was only too happy to describe what happened to Marshall Dann from the Free Press. “I only asked Glen Skov if he wanted my crying towel,” Czeponis said. “He used foul language. Then Lindsay, instead of stopping it as a club captain should, came after me and hit me.”
A tale of hockey revenge told in 1955 … what could that possibly look like? Maybe it would resemble the one that played out in Boston in March of that year, when the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe high-sticked and cut Montreal’s Maurice Richard and the Rocket responded in kind, scything his stick at Laycoe’s head. NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended Richard, of course, for his reprisal, and a few days, the city of Montreal exploded into riot.
In “La Revanche de Terry,” published just four months later, Jean Graton opted for a less bloody and more wholesome telling of hockey payback. Published in Paris, with Hergé’s Belgian boy-detective as its starring act, Le Journal de Tintin was a weekly compendium of comics for young readers showcasing the work of some of Europe’s best graphic storytellers, including Albert Uderzo, and René Goscinny. Like them, Graton was French. In the later 1950s, a few years before Uderzo and Goscinny launched Astérix and his adventures, Graton settled into his signature Michel Vaillant motorsport series.
For his hockey fable, Graton settled on a — what else? — Quebecois setting. “Dans cette petite ville Canadienne,” there skates an amateur team, the Lions, and as the story opens, they’re welcoming the famous pros from Montreal to town for a much-anticipated exhibition game. Terry Kern is the local star, and the first thing he learns as the Montreal Giants arrive in town is that their star forward, Bill Thompson, is a bit of a preening idiot.
Out on the ice, the Lions are game, but they just can’t match the skill and technique of their pro rivals, who surge to a 3-1 lead. When Terry scores to make it 3-2, he makes Bill look like a bit of a fool, which leads to Bill hoodwinking the referee (in his white waiter’s jacket and snappy shorts) into sending Terry to the penalty bench on a bogus call: five minutes for interference.
It’s during his extended stay in the box — “le banc d’infamie” — that Terry realizes that he and Montreal’s devious star have met before, fifteen years earlier, when they were boys. By no real surprise, Bill was a preening idiot back then, too.
If you need a spoiler alert, this is it. Released from custody, Terry returns to the ice with vengeance on his mind, which he duly exacts by scoring two quick goals to ensure that the game ends in a 5-5 tie. That’s as good as a win, I guess, insofar as Bill … is humbled? I think that’s the moral here. Montreal management is so impressed by Terry’s performance that they sign him to a contract then and there. That’s the end, pretty much, if not quite: Jean Graton devotes the last three panels of the comic to a finale that in a 1955 Montreal context might qualify as a surprise ending: Bill and Terry share a laugh, make their peace. Revenge, I guess, can be sweet.
Sunday night, March 13 of 1955, after Boston beat Montreal 4-2, Canadiens caught a night train north.
“The big rhubarb in Boston Garden,” The Gazette’s Dink Carroll called what had gone on, specifically in the third period.
“Richard came off his hinges,” was one view, from a French-language paper.
Neither Maurice Richard nor Canadiens coach Dick Irvin slept on the journey home.
NHL president Clarence Campbell was in New York meeting league governors to discuss play-off dates. With Monday morning came the news that he would be convening a hearing at the league’s Montreal headquarters at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. Richard and Laycoe were to appear before Campbell and referee-in-chief Carl Voss, along with representatives from the respective clubs, and the three officials involved, referee Frank Udvari, linesmen Cliff Thompson and Sam Babcock.
Boston GM Lynn Patrick believed that Richard had to be suspended for the playoffs. “I don’t see how Campbell can stickhandle around that.”
“This is only the most recent episode in a string of violent incidents that have marked the 13-year career of Richard, the scoring genius who currently leads the league’s individual point standing.” That was Tom Fitzgerald in The Boston Daily Globe.
The Gazette sketched out the defendant’s record to date. Three times now he’d gone after officials. Earlier in the season, end of December, 1954, in Toronto, he’d slapped another linesman, George Hayes, in the face. He paid a $200 fine for that. And in New York in 1951, in a hotel lobby, he’d grabbed referee Hugh McLean by the neck. That cost him $500.
“The most heavily fined player in hockey history,” the United Press called Richard. All told, he’d paid some $2,500 in “automatic and special fines” for his various offences.
I’m not sure whether that tally includes the cheque he’d deposited with the NHL in January of 1954 as vow of good behaviour after he used his weekly column in Montreal’s Samedi-Dimanche to call Campbell “a dictator.”
“Should I fail to keep my promised this $1,000 is to be lost to me,” Richard’s letter of apology said. “If you find me worthy of your indulgence I trust it will be returned when I finish as a player.”
With three games left in the regular season, Montreal sat atop the NHL standings, leading the Detroit Red Wings by two points. The two teams would meet twice in the last week of the schedule. Monday morning also found Richard leading the NHL scoring race, with 74 points, ahead of teammates Bernie Geoffrion (72) and Jean Béliveau (71).
If he were to be suspended and thereby lose the scoring title, Richard would miss out on a pair of $1,000 bonuses, one each from the NHL and Canadiens.
If the team were to finish second to the Red Wings, Bert Souliere of Le Devoir wrote, Dick Irvin’s players would share in a sum $9,000 instead of $18,000. Should they fail to win the Stanley Cup, they would further miss out on the $20,000 bonus that went to the winners. All in all, he concluded, losing Richard could cost Canadiens close to $30,000.
Boston Record columnist Dave Egan advocated mercy. Let Richard be fined, maybe suspended for the first 20 games of the season following, but let him play in the playoffs.
Not that I am advocating the fracturing of skulls and defending the swinging of sticks and applauding attacks on officials, for no man in his right mind would do so. What I am saying is that Hal Laycoe’s first name is not spelled Halo, nor is there anything angelic about him. He plays needling hockey behind his eye-glasses. He hands out plenty of bumps, sometimes skating out of his way to do so. He has been in the league long enough to know that Richard erupts like Vesuvius. He knew what he was playing with, and it wasn’t a marshmallow. So the inevitable inevitably happened, and Hal Laycoe, I suppose, should be considered an accessory before the fact.
No man should be sent to Elba for offering his heart, his soul, his gizzards, and the very fibre of his being to a sport. That is what Laycoe does, and it is what Rocket does far more brilliantly. … Much must be forgiven a man like Rocket Richard, not because he is an immortal hockey star but because he is one of those few men whose value never can be measured by the amount of salary he receives. He is one of the remarkable ones who spends more in genius than he ever can get in money.
In The Toronto Daily Star, Milt Dunnell called Richard “the atom bomb that walks like a man.” His guess? Clarence Campbell (“who carries law books around inside of his head”) would suspend him for the remainder of the regular season.
Following Sunday’s game, Tom Fitzgerald went to ask Richard what happened.
Richard’s answer: “Ask Laycoe.”
Laycoe said that he’d had a brush with the Rocket in the first period. The Rocket was upended and Laycoe was given a penalty for charging. There was nothing further until
Dick Irvin pulled his goalkeeper off with six minutes of the final period left to play. …
Laycoe said he was skating alongside of the Rocket after a faceoff, following the puck, when all of a sudden the Rocket brought up his stick like a pitchfork. He said it was just as if Rocket was pitching hay. The stick hit him on the bridge of the nose. He says it stung him and he reacted by swinging his stick at the Rocket. He says he didn’t think about it and that it was an automatic reaction.
Laycoe dropped his stick, gloves and eye-glasses, and that’s when Cliff Thompson, the linesman grabbed the Rocket. The Rocket threw an uppercut that landed on Thompson’s face. Then he picked up his stick and went after Laycoe with it, though Laycoe hadn’t retrieved his and was making motions to the rocket to fight with his fists. The Rocket lost caste with Boston fans by refusing Laycoe’s challenge to fight with his fists. There was blood all over the Rocket and all over Laycoe and all over the joint. It was an awful mess and a lot of people were disgusted.
Tuesday morning when Richard showed at the Forum for practice, Dick Irvin called in the doctor.
“I noticed that the Rocket was pale and he looked tired,” Irvin said. “He confessed that he had a headache and that he hadn’t slept. He was suffering from headaches on his return from Boston on Monday morning, but he didn’t say a word to anyone.”
Irvin told reporters that Richard had lost at least a pint of blood during Sunday’s fracas.
Along with headache, and he was suffering stomach pains now. Canadiens club physician Dr. Gordon Young took him to Montreal’s Western Hospital for an x-ray and further tests. Reporters who followed him there weren’t allowed to see him. By evening he’d been moved to another room where they couldn’t disturb him.
There was talk that Wednesday’s hearing would be postponed. A Canadiens official: “Chances are Richard won’t be able to attend tomorrow’s hearing.”
Clarence Campbell said proceedings would definitely not be moved to Richard’s hospital room. Richard was not suspended, he said, too, which was why it was important that the hearing take place before Montreal’s Thursday game.
Dr. Young finally gave the okay: Richard would be there Wednesday.
Dick Irvin: “We don’t know the results of the examinations so far, but since Richard is able to be at the hearing we might as well get it over with. We want to know what the decision will be. We have a big game here Thursday night.”
A reporter asked Dr. Young if the cut on Richard’s head had been caused by Laycoe’s stick. He smiled. “The Rocket was certainly not injured in a railway accident,” he said.
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
The Boston Bruins’ 32-year-old defenceman Hal Laycoe (above left) hangs out with boxer Jimmy Carter, lightweight champion of the world, at Boston’s Ye Garden Café in May of 1955. Carter, 31, was gearing up to defend his title that spring: in June, he’d meet the challenger, Wallace “Bud” Smith at Boston Garden. He lost that bout in the late rounds — a stiff right in the 10th from the underdog Smith seems to have turned the tide, followed by a sweeping left to Carter’s eye. The two fighters met again that fall, in Cincinnati, but Carter couldn’t reclaim his crown.
And Laycoe? This day that same year (March 16 was a Wednesday in 1955, too), he caught an early plane in Boston and flew north to Montreal. “Shortly after arriving there,” wrote an anticipatory Tom Fitzgerald in The Boston Daily Globe’s, “Hal will appear before NHL Pres. Clarence Campbell to tell his version of the hectic happenings in the Garden Sunday night when Laycoe was involved in a brawl with Maurice Richard, the noted wood-chopper.”
The season was almost over; another week and the playoffs would be underway. Montreal was battling with Detroit for first place overall; the Rocket was duelling with teammate Boom-Boom Geoffrion for the league’s scoring lead.
In Boston what had happened was that Canadiens were losing 4-1 with about seven minutes left in the game. With Boston’s Warren Godfrey in the penalty box, Montreal coach Dick Irvin pulled his goaltender, Jacques Plante. What happened next was not, perhaps, what the coach (or anyone) had hoped for.
Richard carried the puck toward the Boston net. Laycoe’s raised stick caught him on the side of the head. Referee Frank Udvari called a high-sticking penalty. Fitzgerald:
Richard raised a hand to his head where Laycoe’s stick landed. When the hand came down crimson-covered, Rocket waved it at referee Udvari, then he went berserk.
“Richard rushed at Laycoe and swung his stick,” was The Associated Press version of it: “Laycoe parried the blow, dropped his stick, eye-glasses and gloves and went after Richard. Richard hit Laycoe on the shoulder with his stick.”
Fleming Mackell retrieved Laycoe’s stick for him. Linesman Sam Babcock tried to separate the belligerents, in vain. They wrestled and fell to the ice. A Richard uppercut cut Laycoe under the eye.
The other linesman, Cliff Thompson eventually pinned Richard to the boards. Richard hit him under the eye; Thompson tried to hit him back, but missed. Richard then got his stick back and, said the AP, “whacked Laycoe a solid blow on the head.”
After the game, Boston Police Lieutenant Frank Gannon was ready to arrest Richard — Dick Irvin, too, when he raised a fuss. Bruins’ president Walter Brown dissuaded him, though, and the policeman had to be satisfied with a stern warning: next time.
So it was up to Clarence Campbell to decide on punishments. The hearing was set for 10.30 a.m. on the Wednesday. Laycoe planned to say his piece and head straight back to the airport to catch a 1:15 flight back to Boston. I guess he wasn’t expecting a suspension: his aim was to get back in time for the Bruins’ game that night with the Red Wings.
(Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
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:
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Fifty-nine years ago tonight, Montreal exploded. NHL president Clarence Campbell had suspended the Canadiens’ Maurice Richard for the last three games of the 1954-55 season as well as the playoffs for his part in a violent incident on March 13 in a game against Boston. When Campbell attended Montreal’s next game, against Detroit at the Forum, mayhem ensued. With the game suspended at the end of the first period, the chaos moved out into the city. As thousands surged down St. Catherine Street, newsstands burned and dozens of businesses were looted. Police arrested more than 100 people. (The Hockey News recently posted Elmer Ferguson’s account of that wild night, to mark the anniversary.)
The next day, the Rocket took to radio and television to ask for calm. His statement, below, translated from the French; above, Montreal photographer Eric Constantineau’s Lego recreation of Richard’s fraught broadcast. For more of his work, visit his website at www.ericconstantineau.com.
My dear friends:
Because I always play so hard, and because I had trouble in Boston, I was suspended.
I’m really sorry to not be able to be with my mates on the Canadiens in the playoffs.
But I want to think above all of the Montreal fans and the Canadiens players, who are my best friends.
So I just ask fans not to cause trouble, and I also ask all supporters to encourage Canadiens so that they can win this weekend against the Rangers and Detroit.
We can still win the championship. I accept my punishment and I will be back next season to help my club and the young players of the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. Thank you.
Time magazine has named Vancouver’s Stanley Cup rioters as their Person of the Year for 2011, a considerable honour that comes as a bit of surprise: not even the crowds that ran amok down Robson and Granville on the night of June 15 can have looked for this. And on the very same day — coincidentally? — that the first of the (alleged) riotistas appeared in court in Vancouver.
It’s a shared honour: that’s worth saying. The editors at Time didn’t single out Vancouver’s dissidents in recognizing the universal Protester for the big prize — or indeed really mention them at all. Which is totally understandable, given the sheer numbers involved, globally. What do they say? Here: “Protests have now occurred in countries whose populations total at least 3 billion people.” And, after all, the masses in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya put their lives on their line when they took to the streets, and in doing so brought real change to their countries. In Syria the people continue to risk their lives as they stand up to the brutality of a regime whose lies and cruelty will soon bring it tumbling down. Throw in the crowds in Greece and Russia, and the global effort to Occupy Everywhere and … it’s not as if Time has room in its pages to mention every last upriser who stood up to be counted in a Canucks’ sweater and cried, out loud, with one voice, for all the world to hear, Chara sucks. As Time says, “The root of the word democracy is demos, ‘the people,’ and the meaning of democracy is ‘the people rule.’” In Vancouver as in Cairo and Benghazi, the people did, if only for that one night, on which Luongo and the Sedins didn’t.