Hockey's Historic Highlights

"Stop Thief!"

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand

"Stop Thief!"

Posted May 19, 2018

Viewed 4076 times

TinTin saving the Stanley Cup as imagined by artist Kevin Sylvester
TinTin saving the Stanley Cup as imagined by artist Kevin Sylvester Source

   Thieves will steal anything! From all over this continent come current reports of the strangest behaviour by robbers. 93 pounds of ladies’ unmentionables were snatched from a host of different laundry rooms; a dentist gasped when several cavity fillings were missing; a church found that 200 frozen turkey dinners, slated for a fund-raiser sale, had disappeared; 300 manhole covers, and cemetery flowers, lead the list. It brings to mind the words of the song: “I’ll steal anything just as long as it’s collectible!”

   What is true of the general public is equally true of hockey buffs—when it comes to souvenirs and memorabilia. Scanning shinny’s archives confirms that. But one needn’t backtrack very far for a first-hand demonstration. On March 18 of this year, Paul Kariya’s 1993 World Juniors Championship ring, as well as his 1994 World Hockey Championship ring were removed from a display case at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    Just over a year ago the community of Asquith Saskatchewan found themselves without a treasure they had prepared to raffle to raise money for their arena. An autographed Gordie Howe sweater was snatched from them. Go figure!

   A copycat caper took place in September 2015 in Ottawa. Jerseys signed by Chicago’s Cory Crawford and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, which were crucial in a charity auction, went missing from the Rexall Store in the Capital City’s Carlingwood mall. The bidding had already reached $1100. when the dastardly deed took place. 

    Such bizarre pilfering is not new! Down through the years both individual pucksters and teams have been ripped off in several different ways.

  Back in the early 30’s, on two separate occasions, Maple Leaf team members discovered that Toronto the good wasn’t so good after all. “Gentleman Joe” Primeau was standing outside his hotel with several Christmas gifts. He stepped inside momentarily, and when he came back out they were all gone. Around the same time “Flash” Hollett parked his car on a Queen City street with his packed suitcase inside. Upon returning he discovered his vehicle still there—but the valise was gone!

  The Stanley Cup has been a favourite target of burglars on several different occasions. On April 13, 1940, the New York Rangers squeaked out an overtime win against the Leafs to take the series, and the coveted silver chalice, 4 games to 2. Even though it was the middle of the month better known for “showers”, a late season snowstorm crippled the city and left the Blueshirts stranded. But they celebrated anyway. In the Royal York Hotel they whooped it up as they enjoyed their championship victory. 

  Originally the gathering involved only about 35 people—players and members of the press. The problem was that dancers from an adjoining ballroom kept filtering into the private party, greatly swelling the numbers. The next morning Manager Lester Patrick received a bill for $3,700. But it was almost exceedingly more costly, since one of the uninvited “guests” tried to sneak the famous trophy out of the room under his coat.

    Possibly the most infamous incident involving the game’s ultimate prize took place in the Chicago Stadium on March 29, 1962. The Canadiens were visitors in the Windy City for the first round of the playoffs against the Blackhawks. The coveted old mug was on display for the public to view. A devoted Habs follower, Ken Kilander, bribed the security officer who was guarding it with $250, picked the lock on the case and headed for the exit with his souvenir, announcing that he was taking it back to Montreal where it belonged. As it turns out this was the result of a dare by some of the Mount Royal City’s reporters, which was later to be revealed as an “April Fools” joke. The local gendarmes were not laughing—and Kilander was arrested and fined for his trouble.    

   In 1969, when the Hockey Hall of Fame was still at the CNE grounds, purloiners broke in, smashed the glass of the cases which housed the Calder, Hart, and Conn Smythe trophies, and absconded with them. There were some very nervous hockey people for a while, since the awards were worth some $10,000 at the time. Two days later they were found behind a vacant house in Toronto in a large green garbage bag. Some rubbish!

   Just two years later, on Christmas Day no less, the Stanley Cup, plus a number of other trophies, disappeared while the Hall of Fame curator was on vacation. He couldn’t figure out how the bandits managed to pull it off. When “Lefty” Reid was interviewed, he said the alarm system was so sensitive that a mouse had recently set it off. 

   Game-worn sweaters are hot items when it comes to shinny memorabilia, and some fans have no scruples when it comes to procuring them. Late in 1965, four members of Blackhawks had their jerseys stolen after a game at the Montreal Forum. Stan Mikita, Chico Maki, Dennis Hull, and Al MacNeil all had to wear different numbers the next night when they took on the Bruins in Beantown. When Mikita turned out in an unfamiliar digit (number 8), one balcony spectator jibed: “What’s he trying to do—disguise himself?”

   Almost a year to the day later, the Detroit Red Wings had two sets of sweaters pirated away—again at the Montreal Forum. Fifty were taken in all. Twenty five red shirts had been used in an old timer’s game against Quebec the night before; and 25 whites which were needed for the January 22nd match against the Canadiens. To prevent that evening’s contest turning into a “shirts and skins” deal, they had to borrow a set from their Hamilton Juniors. It took some scampering to get them from the Steel City in time for the first face-off in Montreal.

   “Mr. Hockey”, Gordie Howe, was the victim of sneak thieves on two different occasions. In 1968 some University of Michigan students managed to slip in and out of the Wings’ locker room at old Olympia arena and snatch his jersey. One of them ended up wearing it at the school’s winter carnival—hardly what one would call “skating incognito”. 

   The next time, the team was in Los Angeles, and once more a robber was able to break into the visitors’ dressing room and take his famous number nine. The first time since he was a rookie he was forced to switch numerals. This time it was number eleven, Gary Monahan’s I.D.—because it was the only sweater big enough to fit the muscular winger.

  Two adult and two children’s-sized sweaters autographed by Trevor Linden represent one of the most recent robberies of this kind. The thief, who was caught on video camera, also took the Sedin twins’ shirts, plus those of Alex Burrows and Roberto Luongo. For good measure he snatched a laptop as well. Police appealed to him to return the loot anonymously—which he did—leaving them in an elevator.

  Doubtless the strangest incident of this kind took place in March 1989. Realizing that on-ice officials are hardly as popular as players, this theft seems bizarre. On March 1st the Rangers were hosting the Leafs at Madison Square Garden. Just before it was time to suit up referee Bob Hall and linesman Kevin Collins went to their vehicle to retrieve their sweaters and found the window smashed and their striped shirts gone. Fortunately, Crosby Sporting Goods, just across the street, came to the rescue. 

    Money belonging to NHL’ers has never been a forgotten commodity. Back in 1947, Chicago’s one-time stickhandler deluxe, and then bench boss, Johnny Gottselig, came home to find his apartment had been ransacked. Items valued at $4,000, including two of Mrs. Gottselig’s fur coats, were nowhere to be found.

  One of the most embarrassing scenarios involved the belligerent John Ferguson Sr. He found himself in hospital in Chicago suffering from a wounded hand, broken on Chico Maki’s head in a punch out. He turned the $130 which he had with him over to the hospital—but someone stole it. Since he had a receipt, the medical facility had to make good the cash. But since the USA dollar was worth less than the Canadian counterpart at that time, he received only $125 in return.

   In June 1971, goalie Denis DeJordy and his wife had their vacation ruined by a thief. They were passing through New Mexico, when someone managed to break into their car and make off with most of their belongings.  

   In March 1972, the Buffalo Sabres were having their team photo taken, when the concessions manager was robbed of $24,000 as he was leaving the basement on his way to the bank.

    Personal belongings are also popular targets. “Toe” Blake was one of a number of NHL’ers whose wheels went into the police files as “stolen property”. In January 1961 the coach of the Canadiens walked out the Forum expecting to hop into his 1956 sedan and head for home, as he had done many times before. But it was nowhere to be found. When the press reported the skullduggery, a week after it disappeared, it had yet to be recovered.

   On December 7, 1968, Jim Dorey’s shin pads and elbow pads; Norm Ullman’s skates; and Murray Oliver’s gauntlets disappeared from the Toronto dressing room in Pittsburgh—along with several jerseys and sticks.

   Early in the 1968/69 season, after blowing a 3-0 lead, and losing 7-5, an irate Montreal Canadiens player groaned: ”The Bruins stole the game from us, and now we get robbed on the bus!” During the game, the Habs’ team bus was rifled and nine of the skaters plus five other people, including two journalists, lost their luggage. Jacques Laperriere’s valuable contact lenses were taken.

   In 1981, Frank Mahovlich, who had just been inducted into the Hall of Fame, found himself $20,000 poorer. That was the estimated value of total of the cash, plus a Stanley Cup ring appraised at $3,000.  

    One of the oddest thefts took place in the days of the “Original 6”. It involved the Blackhawks’ team flag that hung in the Stadium. For weeks it went missing, leaving the 5 opposition team pennants waving in the rafters. But the day the Bruins eliminated Chicago from the playoffs, the missing banner was unfurled from the second balcony!

  In December 1988, Dr. Murray Howe, son of Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, took one of his dad’s old sticks to a game in Joe Lewis Arena to give to Wayne Gretzsky as a wedding present.  It was a blade from the 1950 playoffs and so was quite valuable. He placed it under his feet where he felt it would be safe. But when he stood up after the final buzzer to make his delivery—behold it was gone! “I can’t believe it happened!”, said Howe. “They must have been slick!”

  Goalie Brian Hayward will never forget his visit to St. Justine’s Children’s Hospital in December of 1999. He had gone with several of his teammates to cheer up some kids. When he exited the place, he discovered that someone had taken off with his 4-wheel drive vehicle.

  In 1990, while Brett Hull was with the St. Louis Blues, the team lost track of him during the early summer. The team’s Publicist, Susie Matthieu, was trying to locate him about a personal matter, when a local TV station called saying they needed confirmation about a report that the “Golden Brett” had been in a car accident. When he finally touched base with her, she was panic stricken. It all became clear when he explained that the license plate from his car had been stolen in Duluth—only that, not he or his vehicle had had any mishap.    

   Roberto Luongo could made a joke of it when some low-down bandit took all of the wheels off his Mercedes SUV while it was parked at his Florida home in March of 2103. He said: “Well! At least they left me my car!” Only millionaire pucksters can make light of a $9,000. robbery.

   The most unique item to be swiped in shinny circles was “Archie”, a stuffed gorilla which had come to be a good luck charm to the 1989 New York Rangers in February. After its arrival at Madison Square Garden the Blueshirts started to win. “He” became a favourite with both the players and office staff. When he was ape-napped the team began to lose more regularly. It was hoped he could be recovered by playoff time.

  It has been said: “Where there’s property, there’s theft!”  Hockey’s archives affirm that—over and over again!

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