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Russian leader Vladimir Putin after he slipped and fell during an exhibition hockey game in Sochi in May of 2016 (Getty Images) Source
From 1983 through 1986 one of the most popular programmes on television was the “Life’s Most Embarrassing Moments” series of specials. Its first instalment was hosted by John Ritter of the famed “Three’s Company” sitcom. Essentially it focused on bloopers by celebrities from the entertainment industry, politics, and the sports world. One segment zeroed in on Ritter himself forgetting his lines; President Ronald Reagan putting his proverbial foot in his mouth; and Phil Esposito bringing the house down in Moscow, as he stepped on a flower on the ice, when he was being introduced and fell onto the seat of his pants.
Canada’s National Sport is custom made for embarrassing incidents. Fast action demanding split-second decisions; an intensely slippery surface on which the action takes place; and inherent human weakness to blow it at crucial moments, have, and do, invite red-faced competitors to step in it, on it, or out of it without advance notice. The era, the age of the victim, the advantage of, or lack of, experience, matters not.
Probably the three most common missteps involve accidently scoring on one’s own goalie; falling down despite typical skating skills; or being caught with some item of apparel out of place.
But a variety of other boo boos have been etched for posterity in shinny’s archives. In the first decade of the 20th Century two incidents which involved teams rather than individuals were etched into the records—which had some highly-regarded pucksters looking down their noses in shame.
Previous to the founding of the Ontario Pro League in 1908, the Montreal Wanderers stopped for an exhibition tilt in Berlin (Kitchener) against the local OHA contingent. The Mount Royal Seven more or less toyed with the amateurs, easily scoring often enough to always keep themselves one goal ahead.
But suddenly the Redbands were down two men short. The Berliners tied the score and went ahead by one during that time. Naturally the ECAHA champions felt they could just put on the pressure and regain the lead. But the locals set up a defensive wall—which stood fast until the final whistle had blown. Final score: Berlin 9 Wanderers 8.
When George Kennedy purchased the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, he determined to promote the team in the townships east of the city. So he arranged exhibition matches in the small towns in that area—one of them being Chicoutimi.
They easily outplayed the local club. But as they swept in on the slender young man between the uprights, they were thwarted at every attempt to bulge the twine behind him. He deflected many of the shots with his stick, flinging the disc to the corners out of harm’s way. Far into the third frame the Habs has still not penetrated his armour. While out of the blue a local skater broke free to score on Riley Hern. When the game ended, the professionals had not found a way to get the puck past Georges Vezina. And were their collective faces red.
One of the most common faux pas seemed to revolve around harsh unscheduled meetings with the ice surface. In fact, there seems to be no parameters, time-wise, on unintentionally falling down on the job. Frank Patrick was President of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, which had its beginnings in 1912. On February 12, 1915, this playing manager, coach, and defenseman for the Vancouver Millionaires took to the ice after returning from an injury, promptly taking a graceful swam dive sur la glace (much to the delight of the crowd). Like many who would imitate him in the ensuing years, he forgot to remove his skate guards.
Johnny “Goose” MacCormack perfectly imitated this hockey icon when he made his debut with the Maple Leafs in 1948. Leaving the dressing room it was evident that he experienced what they called the “first-day panic” in the old days. He strode down the runway, unbolted the gate, took one stride and made a three-point landing on his derriere. He too had neglected to remove his leather skate guards.
Phil Maloney added a touch of pizzazz to this acrobatic move in 1948 in Providence, while apprenticing with the Hershey Bears of the AHL for a spot on the Boston Bruins. Just previous to the opening faceoff he and other Beantown prospects were informed that Art Ross and Weston Adams of the big club were in attendance to scout the Hershey hopefuls. Being a trifle nervous Maloney stepped onto the ice, and fell flat on his face. In his haste, he also failed to remove his blade protectors. In seeking to remedy the problem, he removed only one guard, and promptly paid unexpected homage to the crowd once more.
There are countless examples of that precise faux pas—but variations of the same unintentional contact with the ice are recorded as well. For instance, on March 2, 1939, “Old Hardrock”, Murph Chamberlain, charged off the Maple Leaf bench and landed right on his chin. He was in such a rush to get into the action that he didn’t fully discard the blanket which was keeping him warm, He brought it with him, wrapped around his feet—and the above collision was the result.
Alex Faulkner, the first NHL’er to boast Newfoundland as his home, demonstrated another variation of this “sliding into home base”. In 1961 he was skating with Toronto’s farm team in Rochester. Happily, he was called up to the big club for a look-see, while “Punch” Imlach ran the Blue and White show. At last his big chance came. He jumped on the ice and immediately stepped on his skate lace. Down he went—crawled back to the bench—where he sat for the rest of the match. His total ice time? Ten Seconds. That was his only NHL game that season.
Even referees are not immune to this blunder. Vern Buffy tells this own version of his sudden meeting with the playing surface.
“In the BostonGarden the officials used to dress in the NBA Celtics old room—which was located near centre ice. Coming out of the dressing room we entered a big hallway, climbed down several steps, then walked down a ramp to the ice. To this day I am convinced that linesman “Red” Shelter noticed I still had my skate guards on. I did my little hop and sailed out on the ice, as if I had parachuted into a field of banana peels laid over an oil slick. I did a complete somersault and ended up somewhere around centre ice, with one skate guard on and the other in my hand—and laughed my head off!”
During the 1978-79 season Tony McKegney was the victim of one of the strange ways rookies are “welcomed” to the Big Time. Before the home crowd in Buffalo each player was introduced individually before the game commenced. His grand entry was foiled by a prank credited to Rick Martin. He had put tape along the bottom of his skate blades. The result was obvious!
One more usual spin on this scenario requires a leap into the mid 1980’s. Neil Sheehy tells of being checked hard into the boards, which resulted in one of his skate blades breaking right off. All the way to the bench—which seemed like a mile—he was skating on one foot and running on the other.
In the early 1990’s former Pittsburgh Penguin, Jim McGeough was running the gamut of minor league teams. In 1994 he was skating with the Dallas Freeze of the Central loop. One night, following a night on the town, his coach determined to teach him a lesson regarding his free and easy ways. He was, as they say, “nailed to the bench” that night. Realizing, as the contest progressed, that he would likely remain there, he loosened his skates where he sat on his perch. Without warning his bench boss tapped him on the shoulder signaling him to take a shift. He catapulted over the boards, landing in his sock feet, while the whole bench collapsed in laughter.
Apparently some skaters needed no help from skateguards, blankets, or laces. They just simply hit the deck! “Hap” Day, for instance, made his debut with the Queen City Six on Dec. 13, 1924. It was nothing fancy. He just stepped on the ice, tripped, and ended up on the seat of his pants.
In 1956, Bruin farmhand, George Ranieri, was apprenticing with the Victoria Cougars of the WHL. During an unusually long lull in the action, while waiting for a faceoff, he tried Ken Dryden’s future famous pose, leaning on his stick. But suddenly, the lumber broke, and he went sprawling onto the ice.
Enter the black and white contingent again. In 1987, new linesman Pat Dapuzzo experienced what he called “his worst blunder in years”. Play had stopped at the Meadowlands Arena in front of 18,000 spectators. Even though no one was near him, as he bent down to pick up the puck, he fell on his rear end. He proceeded to slide into the boards before he could get stopped.
A couple of years later, Murray Baron, apprenticing in the AHL, decided to help clean up the hats thrown on the ice after a Springfield player recorded a hat trick. But one of the chapeaus turned out to be a wool toque--which was stuck to the ice. He gave it a yank—then another—but it still was glued to the playing surface. In putting forth that extra effort, he tripped on the thing and fell on his butt.
Goalie Rick Wamsley let his passion affect his balance on one occasion as well. While a member of the Blues, in a game against Hartford, he charged out of his crease to argue a call—and awkwardly fell flat.
Damaged or altered apparel has also caused a blush or two on the part of those ice warriors who regularly face the risk of losing life and limb.
On Christmas Eve 1939, Toronto’s prized freshman, Wally Stanowski collided with the Rangers’ Art Coulter. The result was that his hockey trousers were virtually sliced in half.
A naturally fast skater, he set records for his retreat to the safety of the bench and locker room, while the New York fans cheered him lustily.
Almost exactly a decade later, in December of 1949, the Leafs’ Gus Mortson stretched in an unusual manner and his hockey pants tore from stem to stern—causing both he and several fans some consternation. In fact, Milt Dunnell, the jovial sports editor of the Toronto Star, made a mock appeal to NHL authorities to set a strict dress code for players while they are on the ice. “In this league”, he deadpanned, “They don’t seem to enforce the rule about players being properly dressed.”
With the help of some stout string, Gus managed a temporary repair to last through that period.
Phil Esposito once shared a red-faced experience with Tim Moriarty, experience that took place during the 1967 post-season. Still a member of the Blackhawks, he got into a jousting match with the Leaf’s Tim Horton. As usual, Horton ignored any punching and simply picked the Chicago winger up and squeezed him. In the process a skate ripped open the most southern part of Espo’s hockey pants. He suddenly felt a draught—about the same time the spectators began to laugh. Bobby Hull confirmed it by warning that his underwear was showing prominently. The officials allowed him to go to the dressing and change. But when he returned the fans were still giggling.
They called Al Iafrate “the Wild Thing”, because he marched to the beat of a different drummer. He was unconventional in several different ways. He joined the Washington Caps in 1991, and continued his devil-may-care approach to the game and his off the ice lifestyle. During a game in Philadelphia the Flyers’ Claude Boivin nailed him behind the net, sending him into the dasher. Immediately he got up and made a bee-line for his attacker. But it soon became apparent that the force of the check had broken Al’s belt which held up his hockey pants. As he skated toward Boivin, he soon was tackled around the legs by his own trousers. The newspaper report declared that he treated the area to an extremely rare “indoor full moon”!
Even as Vern Buffy represented the whistle tooters regarding skate guard issues, George Hayes would not be left out in the ragged pants matter. During the March 15, 1961 playoff tilt between Toronto and Detroit, the former lost their game in the MotorCity, while the big linesman lot his dignity. The game was held up for a while, while he retired to the sidelines to replace his torn trousers.
They called Mike Palmateer “The Popcorn Kid”. Like Iafrate he set his own nonconformist pace of life. One night he demonstrated more than one oddity during the course of the half of the game he played. At that time he was a smoker. He had some of his “makings” tucked in his equipment; and when he made his first save, the matches went flying. A moment later he was on the ice to cover loose puck, and some of the oranges he had tucked in his pads went for a roll. Between the second and third periods he went to the washroom, and forgot to do up his suspenders. To say the least, he was an excellent example of “droopy draws’ that last 20 minutes.
In 1980, Paul Coffey’s rookie campaign in the NHL, he quickly discovered that veteran players are not likely to take steps to help prevent a generous helping of egg on the face. Typical of pro competitors, to help cool off, sweaters and shoulder pads are doffed during between-period rests. When the warning announcement sounded—“Five minutes onto the ice!”—he began to dress again as all his mates did. But he put his sweater on backwards—with “Coffey” and “7” on the front, and the Oilers crest on the back. It was not until the team skated back on the ice that the entire hockey club cracked up at his faux pas.
Crimson countenances have lit up the ice in countless ways courtesy of victims of memory lapses and clumsy moves, which don’t fall under any particular category.
Scoring on one’s own goalie is an extremely common blooper—so much so it is hardly worth reviewing the kind of misstep mentioned in our Media Goofs column—namely, Steve Smith’s unforgettable gaffe which sealed his Oiler’s doom in 1986.
But there are variations of that boo boo as well. Back in the 1950’s Leo Labine happily won the faceoff in the opposition end, only to glance back to see the puck slide the length of his own team’s net, vacant due to six-man attack. Pat Verbeek managed a duplicate move in recent days, causing a triumph to quickly translate into a tragedy.
Still another spin on this scenario took place on December 27, 1947—a game in which Toronto defeated Boston 2-1. The Beantown’s only marker came late in period three, with the Leafs on a power play. With five of the Blue and White inside the Bruins’ blueline, the puck came back to Jimmy Thompson—but bounced over his stick. It skidded back toward the QueenCity end, with Pete Babando in hot pursuit. He snagged the old boot heel and outmaneuvered Turk Broda for the tally.
Some embarrassing moments do not fall under any particular category. Back in the 1920’s, during his amateur days, Eddie Rodden took possession of the puck right from the face off and headed up ice. He skated through the defense, broke in on goal, and shot. But the netminder didn’t bother to move. Failing to notice that he had been poke checked at the blueline, what he thought was the puck was a piece of black tape protruding from the end of his stick.
That era saw another dilly or two. Shortly after the St. Patricks became the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens were the visitors at the old Mutual Street Arena. In preparation for that tilt Conn Smythe warned his troop about Howie Morenz and his tremendous speed and scoring ability. Bert Corbeau, a burly 200-pounder, assured his chief that he should “Leave Morenz to me. I’ll see he doesn’t score any goals tonight!”
As the game progressed Corbeau faced his first test, with the “Stratford Streak” barreling down his side of the ice. Just as the two were about to tangle the Toronto rearguard crosschecked Howie right across the pit of his stomach and held him in that position, while Morenz teetered on the stick like a boy leaning over a fence.
Bert looked toward the bench and smiled at Smythe, indicating, “See! I stopped him for you!”
But there was no return smile. Just as he hit him, Howie had let the puck go and scored!
Cal Gardner was just a rookie with the Rangers back in 1945-46. One night at a team party he was trying out one of those handshake buzzers on everyone with whom he came in contact. Not being very selective brought him face to face with the team’s chief cook-and-bottle washer, General Kilpatrick. He realized it too late—buzzing him like everyone else. That belongs in the “where’s a hole I can crawl into?” department.
When George Hayes began officiating in the NHL is 1946, money was not plentiful for a fledgling linesman. So, on road trips he often packed his own lunch—some canned meat, a loaf of bread, and soft drinks. On one occasion he realized only too late—after he tossed the can in the trash—that the meat he had spread was dog food. He had hoped that no one noticed. But “Red” Story, his superior, had indeed spied the mistake. He said he wouldn’t tell—but he lied—with a big smile on his face. By the time they skated on the ice the hometown Red Wings had got wind of the blunder.
He was greeted with “Arf! Arf! Bark! Bark!” They even tagged him with the nickname “Pard” (a brand of dog food).
Bill Head became the Montreal Forum physiotherapist in the mid 1940’s. He recalls that when he started dealing with hockey teams he didn’t know a stick from a puck. When his first opportunity came to ply his trade in the role of “trainer”, he leaped onto the ice to tend to a fallen skater. But he didn’t have rubbers on his shoes, and he went down for the count. When his head cleared he felt extremely foolish—the player he went to rescue was helping him off the ice.
One of the prize goofs of the duration must be reserved for “Terrible Ted” Lindsay. On October 11, 1950, President Clarence Campbell presented the rugged left winger with the Art Ross Trophy, emblematic of the NHL’s scoring championship. The shiny new cup slipped out of his hands and crashed to the ice of the Olympia Stadium, making a dent in it. That evening the one known as “Old Scarface” was recognized more for his red face than his creased countenance!
That was almost duplicated 54 years later. This time another member of the whistle-tooters brigade almost ended up with egg on his face. Rob Schick shared about a night in Calgary when he was skating around chatting with Kjell Samuelsson before the game started. A red carpet, at the end of which sat the Molson Cup on a table, was still in place. He tripped over it and sent the trophy flying. Only Doug Crossman’s quick hands spared a disaster—he caught it before it hit the ice.
Following the rule of thumb—leaving the best ‘til the last—we go back to the early days of the New York Rangers. One of the original Blueshirts was Ivan “Ching” Johnson a smiling, but burly rearguard. The reporter who first posted this incident wrote: “ (he)….blushed to the roots of his scanty head of hair as he was registering at a hotel here (Toronto) today.”
“Ching”, a sweet feminine voice called. “Here, Ching!”
“Do you mean me, Ma’am?” queried the veteran Johnson hastening up to the owner of the voice.
“No! I meant Ching!” she answered. “Oh there he is now—come, darling Ching!”—and a fluffy Pekingese waddled out from under a stuffed chair!
Ivan "Ching" Johnson
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