Hockey's Historic Highlights

A Basic Hockey Ingredient — The Fans (Part Three)

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


A Basic Hockey Ingredient — The Fans (Part Three)

Posted December 26, 2020

Viewed 703 times

P.K. Subban is quoted as saying: “I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, and the energy in the building. I can’t wait to take it from them!”

  His initial comments are typical. Players know that the cheering, the hollering, and the spontaneous din create the proper atmosphere for a game. It gives the players a lift and sets the pace for ups and downs of the competition. Without all this it is like a joke that falls flat — with it, it resembles an audience in fits of laughter.

  But what is this “I can’t wait to take it from them!” It can simply be put down as another example of the All Star rearguard’s big mouth. But unintentionally he slobbered a bib full. The third classification of spectators — the UGLY — do not deserve the privilege of watching the highest level of spectator sports.

  The “Ugly” hockey fan ruins the proper spirit of competition. He insults every sense of sportsmanship which can, or already does, exist in the match. Often individual players are victims of his prejudice. Overall, he (or she) is a detriment to all the game stands for.

  Fans of this kind — who abuse players, or who simply give hockey a bad name by their conduct — have been active from the very beginning. Their presence ruins the game in every era. They come in all shapes and sizes; are representative of all ages; and may be either vocal or physical — or both. They have been called everything from animals to extremists — but they are as sure to be present as the action itself.

  A glance at the famous painting of one of the early indoor hockey game in history — two teams facing off in Montreal’s Victoria Skating rink in 1893 — activates the imagination.

In essence there were no “boards” surrounding the playing surface. The spectators stood on a platform about six inches about the ice, smack dab up against where the action was taking place.

  Picture a well-aimed foot shooting out in front of a speeding skater. Or, the fist on the end of an arm raised in cheering as an opponent passed by. Or a walking stick “accidentally” halting the puck on its journey.

  But that is mild interference with competitors compared with an uncouth practice which was common in the game’s fledgling years. Ivan “Ching” Johnson, who is best known for his value to the New York Rangers, skated in 1922-23 in the USAHA. One of their opponents was the American Soo septet. The competition was intense to put it mildly. It was not unusual for vegetables to be flung from the stands at a visiting player. But it didn’t stop there. “Ching” recalls one night when a piece of coal bounced off the head of a Soo team member. That prompted a barrage of the most uncouth habit which was normal in those primitive battles. Streams of chewing tobacco juice began to rain down from the rafters on the skaters from north of the border. It was so bad that the goalie never changed ends, lest the American supporters would drown him the disgusting liquid.

Normie Himes
Normie Himes

  Normie Himes joined the New York Americans in their second season in the NHL. When he arrived in Manhattan, he was taken immediately to Madison Square Garden where he would play. He must have been embarrassed to see a huge billboard with the invitation to “see the world’s greatest stickhandler” — because they informed him “that is YOU!”

  But he must also have been embarrassed at what he observed when seated in the stands for a match at an earlier time. Again, spitting tobacco juice at goalies was in vogue at the time. Spectators would expectorate through the railing at the helpless backstop. In this case, fans actually had a spot marked on the railing at the “right spot|” If one aimed over that it was a sure bulls-eye on the back of the netminder;s neck. If his sweater was white when he started the contest, it was brown by the time the game was over! UGLY!

  A cruel spin on that practice saw the great George Vezina victimized. Brian McFarlane mentions the use of pea shooters in one of his volumes. But with the famous trophy’s namesake, it was not peas — which stung sufficiently to throw a cage cop off his game — but small metal missiles which cut the back of his neck open when they hit, leaving him bloodied after each match. DIRTY!

  The bold-print headline on the January 13, 1947 Montreal Gazette sports page read: “LOWLY HAWKS WHIP HABS TWICE—3-1 and 2-1”

  Dink Carroll’s report went on to say that it was the third loss in a row for the “slipping Canadiens”, dropping them seven points behind the Leafs. “They appear to be in a slight slump!” was his summary. Even though the Mount Royal Six took Toronto to within two wins of the Stanley Cup that spring; at that point the “natives were getting restless”. Winning was the only accepted stance in the Flying Frenchmen’s town, and this had their biased followers stirring the pot of discontent. It climaxed when a disgruntled critic did what everyone does — if you can’t blame18 players, let the coach take the heat. He sent a “letter to the editor” threatening that if Dick Irvin coached one more game, he would burn the Forum down!

  While Irvin made light of it publicly — arranging for his skaters to each wear one of those promotional Texaco styrophoam fireman’s hats for the warm up of the next game, underneath it greatly upset him. He kept his children out of school for a few days for their safety sake. DIRTY POOL!

  One of the greatest mysteries connected to Canada’s National Sport is the love/hate attitude paying customers occasionally have with even the best of players. One minute he is a hero; the next he is a villain. One game he is a prince charming; the next he is a philanderer. There seems to be no reasonable explanation for it. It is spawned by sheer fickleness.

  One of the most confusing instances of this scenario takes us back to the late 1930’s. Note the NHL archives. You will find that Gordie Drillon was the leading scorer 1937-38. If it seems like forever since the Leafs have captured Lord Stanley’s silver chalice; it is even longer since a Toronto chattel won the scoring championship (hint: at the time, the Art Ross trophy did not even exist). Drillon also was voted to four All Star squads and earned the Lady Byng Trophy in 1938.

  In 1941 Gordie was still riding crest of success. But during the playoffs, the wheels fell off his ride of success. He suddenly lost his scoring touch. He was benched. That night, in protest, like a mob, fans stoned his apartment. From then on he was jeered every time he touched the puck. That was the end for the one who was once the Queen City favourite. He was traded to Montreal — played one season and quit the pro game. HEARTLESS!

  A decade and a half later, another superstar was given the same kind treatment. Even casual observers of the game cannot help but recall the riots in Montreal over the suspension of “Rocket” Richard in 1955. There were three games left in the regular schedule, and missing those contests would almost certainly spoil Maurice’s chance of winning the scoring crown. Teammate Bernie Geoffrion was right on his tale and would likely collect the spoils. But number 9 was an idol in Montreal, and the thought of Boom Boom being champion instead didn’t sit well in that city. He was booed without mercy during those games. He received several threatening phone calls, including the promise to burn down his house if he persisted in earning scoring points. Letters filled with warnings that he would be run out of town if he “stole” the points parade filled the mails. His life was actually in danger.

  He did collect the Art Ross Trophy honours by a single point. But the majority did not forgive him. He was criticized continually the following season for not allowing the “Rocket” to win the scoring championship because he was in dry dock. By the end of the campaign he had his fill and was ready to quit. He asked the club to sell his contract or trade him. CRUEL!

  Some readers may recall the November 17, 2013 Hockey’s Historic Highlights. Several examples of death threats made against NHL’ers were profiled—including those directed toward Terry Sawchuck Mike Bossy, and Wayne Gretzky. One which was excluded was the experience of Gordie Howe. It took place in February 1966. The Wings were playing against Boston, and previous to the match “Mr. Hockey” received an obscene letter from Brooklyn, New York, warning him about his very life. Howe was upset that the press made it known to the public throwing fear into his family. The FBI and a total of 26 Boston police and Pinkerton detectives cooperated; not only to drive him to the arena, but to patrol the Garden during the game. As irritated as he was, he took it all in stride and tallied his 20th goal of the campaign.

COWARDLY!

  Racist taunts are a subject all by themselves — but they certainly come under the category of player abuse of the most untoward kind. This was most recently drawn to attention, when the cameras focused on the action of black player, J.T. Brown. During the National Anthem in Tampa Bay, he raised his fist in protest against the widespread inequality involving minorities.

  One of King Clancy’s most unfavourite yarns has to do with his years as an NHL referee. He fails to mention the date or the location of the contest, but one situation he is sure of. In attempt to jump out of the way of the action, he leaped up onto the boards. As he landed he experienced a piercing pain in his derriere. As he hit the ice he turned to see a woman with a three-inch long hatpin still in her hand.

  “What do you think of that?”, she taunted.

  “I think you have just bought yourself a free exit from this rink!” he shouted.

  Which brings us to a rather surprising subject: the manly art of offense is not always limited to the male of the species.

  Modern stylists know little about that dual-purpose weapon. Look at a photo of a 1940’s NHL tilt in Maple Leaf Gardens, and you will observe a sea of feminine chapeaus — most of which required a pin to keep them from falling off — especially amidst the cheering of an exciting moment of the game.

  Back in 1942, big “Butch” Bouchard could testify to that first hand. Never a brawler, he still found it easy to knock opposition skaters on the seat of their pants. One night in Boston, he was on his way from the locker room to the ice after the between-period break. He had just come back to earth after being jabbed with one of those lethal needles, having yelled a response to that uninvited inoculation. He so startled the guilty woman that she started screaming. The policeman on hand thought he had threatened her, and he was taken down to the station for questioning. Fortunately the woman saw what was taking place, and made her way to the police headquarters, both to apologize and get Emile off the hook.

  At least three other incidents involve the fair sex and pucksters. Dave Hutchison’s experience was a great deal more serious. On one occasion when playing in Vancouver against the Canucks, he and his mates were strolling through a rather seedy part of the city. A hooker approached him offering him favours-which he refused. That apparently was an insult to her, and she slapped him in the face. He pushed her way, and proceeded to start across the street. She reached in her purse and pulled out a switchblade knife. ”I wanted to knife somebody tonight anyway!”, she threatened.

  He had wrapped his coat around his arm to ward off her attack, and kept kicking at her to disarm her. Before the battle was over, the knife was dislodged, but he was in an ambulance to get his wounded hand attended to. She hopped in a cab; but the team surrounded the vehicle so it couldn’t move until the police arrived.

  While some sort of goad seems to be the favourite feminine assault weapon, their tactics are not limited to that approach. Two incidents in the Ottawa Valley leagues can attest to that.

  Back in 1920—21, Dave Trottier was skating for his local Pembroke Juniors and had alread scored a hat trick against Arnprior. He was still in great form, and as he headed in the direction of the opposition goalie for another try, it became too much for a lady(?) spectator. She knocked him cold with a 2 x 4!

  Lengths of lumber are not easy to come by; but for women, a handbag is always at the ready. So, it happened in that same area in the late 1950’s that the Twin Rivers sextet and the St. John team had a lively tilt in progress. Suddenly a St. John forward captured a loose puck and he was off on a clean break-away. There was not a Twin Rivers skater near him. But a very frustrated woman who was sitting along the boards intervened. As he sped by she conked him on the noggin with her big purse. The player was lying semi-conscious just outside the blueline. So was a three pound jar of cold cream that had spilled out on the ice when the handle broke on her receptacle.

  One last peek at the bad manners of the descendants of Adam’s rib focuses on Jimmy Siebert who played in the Can Pro circuit from 1926 through 1929. He recalled how when they played in Galt there were a bunch of girls who sat by the boards, and used to grab him by the hair as he skated by! VERY UNLADYLIKE!

  It’s a very common sight and sound when a player gets injured, to hear cheers and the tapping of sticks when he is able to get up off the ice and skate to the bench. The extreme opposite of that has been demonstrated more than once in the past. In December of 1982 Chris Kotsopoulos was just a little more than peeved when the P.A. announced that he was badly cut in the mouth and would be through for the rest of the game — and the crowd cheered. What is worse, the game was in Hartford and he was wearing the Whalers’ colours. CRUEL.

  Another incident of the same ilk took place on January 26, 2001. But it has a strange twist to it — and a touch of justice as well. The Colorado Avalanche were playing in Chicago, and Peter Sullivan came out of an attempt to score with a cut face. In all the confusion a visiting player had high-sticked him.  As he was making his way for repairs a dim-witted fan sitting next to the glass mocked the injured winger — pantomiming the tragedy by imitating damage to the area of Sullivan’s fizzog. But, ironically, very shortly afterward, an errant shot went over the glass — and hit the tormentor right in the face. Talk about recompense! THOUGHTLESS.

  There’s that old quip about why a hockey arena warms up inside so much after the game is over. It’s because all the fans are gone. How much better it would be if all the UGLY ones would leave before it started.

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