SIHR’s Behind the Boards

A Christmas Free-for-all

SIHR’s Behind the Boards

A Christmas Free-for-all

Paul Christman
Posted December 25, 2019

Viewed 305 times

Thursday, December 25, 1930 - Quakers 0 at Boston 8

A baseball fan who has heard of the St. Louis Browns knows, if nothing else, that the team once sent a midget in as a pinch hitter. And a hockey fan who has heard of the Philadelphia Quakers knows, if nothing else, that they paired off against the Bruins in one of hockey’s most colossal donnybrooks on a Christmas night. This tenth loss in a row for Philadelphia was a blowout, to be sure. But Boston Garden fans who left before the end of the game, perhaps catching an early North Station train back home, probably missed the main event. It had to have brought back many fond memories for Benny Leonard, the one-time boxing champ. In short, in the words of the New York Post, the Garden was the scene of “the dullest game of hockey and one of the best free-for-alls seen in years.”

This eight-goal defeat represented the largest margin that the Quakers would lose by all year. The Bruins, 6-1-1 in their last eight games, were showing little mercy. Philadelphia was virtually out of it at the end of the second period, when the Quakers trailed 3-0. A flurry of third-period Bruin goals ensured that the Quakers’ first visit to the Garden would wind up as yet another loss. Wilf Cude’s second start in goal was far rockier than his first one.

Toward the end of the third, a near war broke out. The exact time was not reported, but Boston was ahead 8-0. Undoubtedly, a good number of fans had left the Garden and were on their way home. Owen, depending on the source, (1) collided with, (2) checked, (3) heavily checked, or (4) decked Hib Milks near the Bruin net, preventing Hib from getting a shot on goal. (“Collided with” was how a 1930 Boston sportswriter termed it, “checked” comes from two other 1930 versions; “heavily checked” and “decked” are from contemporary books.)

A “still seething” Cooper Smeaton provided his take in a Philadelphia Inquirer interview a few days later: “The whole thing started with Weiland giving Milks the elbow. The blow sent Milks reeling into Owens [sic] and both men fell. While they were prone on the ice, Owens started sawing his stick across Milks’ neck.” Arthur Siegel of the Boston Herald was inclined to give Owen the benefit of a doubt. He wrote that “as Hib Milks came down the ice and met the defences of the Bruins, he was handed a handsome body check by George Owen. Harvard George is a peaceable fellow and very pleasant. Milks, however, wanted to get a shot at the goal and resented being blocked off. So he took a swipe at Owen with his hockey [sic] and George flattened him with a beautiful tackle.” LeRoy Atkinson, the boxing writer for the Boston Evening Transcript, gave Milks perhaps the worst write-up of all the scribes: “Forgetting, for a moment, the purpose of the game, Mr. Milks took both hands to his hockey bludgeon and belabored the Harvard graduate over the shoulders and back of the neck.” Owen, Atkinson, said, was on his knees, “warding off the wallops from the Milks stick.” 

At the onset of the Milks-Owen melee, Eddie Shore rushed in to help his teammate. Shore and Allen Shields crossed paths and exchanged blows. Rapidly, everyone on the ice took part in one of the largest fights in NHL history, except (rather uncharacteristically) Wilf Cude. Dit Clapper, who had scored a hat trick, knocked out Wally Kilrea with a cross to the chin. Smeaton, the ex-referee, summed it up this way: “Then it did become a general mixup, with everybody picking his opponent. Coulson, who was in the penalty box, pushed out on the ice when he saw Shore, with Clapper with him this time, against preparing to lace young Kilrea. Coulson came out on the short end of his expedition of succor. Before he reached the trenches, the police had collared the lads and were marching them off the ice. So all Coulson got for his trouble was a membership in the $15 club [the amount of a fine for each major penalty in 1930].”

And indeed, it was a case for Boston’s finest. The referees, Bill Shaver and Mickey Ion, were unable to restore peace. Two policemen climbed over the boards to help but were also beyond their depth. And, not wearing skates or rubbers, they unable to keep their balance very easily. A dozen cops were needed to finally calm things down, but not before they were so overwhelmed that they considered calling in Marines from the nearby Charlestown Navy Yard. After a long conference, the referees gave three Bruins (Owen, Shore, and Clapper) and three Quakers (Milks, Shields, and D’Arcy Coulson) major penalties and $15 fines for each major. Shore had already received a double major in the second period for arguing with Referee Ion, so he would have to dole out more pocket change than the rest.

It wasn’t over yet. The police were called on the ice once more when Gerry Lowrey and Marty Barry fought at mid-ice just before the end of the game. Lowrey, considered the instigator, got a major penalty; Barry got a minor. During this fight, the Boston Garden organist played “Silent Night,” perhaps thinking that this yuletide classic would bring peace among men. At least this is the story as it was related over half a century later in a history of the Bruins. A contemporary account placed the musical interlude earlier in the period. Atkinson wrote in the Evening Transcript that this organ serenade came just after the first melee with Shore et al. had ended: “Suddenly, from one side, Coony Weiland [sic] was seen to be swinging uppercuts, but it turned out that he was merely demonstrating to Captain Hitchman the neatness and dispatch with which he had scored a point or two in the battle royale. In the sudden quiet the burst of Christmas carols coming through the amplifiers was heard.”

Once Lowrey and Barry had skated their separate ways, sheer exhaustion, the final bell, or both took over. Peace on ice was restored.

The game’s penalty recap shows the ice heated up as the game progressed:


Philadelphia – McCalmon (tripping), Jarvis (roughing)
Boston – Shore (roughing)

Philadelphia – Coulson 2 (handling puck, tripping), Shields (roughing), McKinnon (anti-defense), Kilrea (interference)
Boston – Shore (talking back – double major, 10 mins.)

Philadelphia – Coulson (fighting, high stick, board check – major and two minors), Shields (fighting – major), Lowrey (fighting – major), Milks (fighting – major), McKinnon (roughing – minor)
Boston – Shore (fighting – major), Clapper (fighting – major), Owen 2 (fighting, interference – major, minor), Barry (roughing, fighting – two minors)

Shore spent 32 minutes of this game in the penalty box. He had company for much of the night.

Smeaton attempted to paint the game in rosy terms for the Inquirer: “We weren’t outplayed as bad as the score sounds. Cude played a wonderful game at goal for us. Boston didn’t score until 15 minutes of the first period were over. When they did register it was when we were shy a man.” The Toronto Star thought the game was one-sided when it came down to hockey, but fairly even when the fighting began: “In a hockey way, the Bruins didn’t have much difficulty subduing the Quakers, but when the match was turned into a fistic display in the closing minutes the Philadelphians were not so much outclassed, as Eddie Shore and George Owen will testify.”

The Boston Herald ran a headline for the game at the top of its first page the next morning (FREE-FOR-ALL AT GARDEN AS BRUINS WIN, 8-0). Granted the Herald’s other Christmas Day news was on the slow side, but still the level of attention the Herald gave this game was noteworthy. A secondary headline read: “Riot Among 11 Players Stopped as Police Rush on Ice.” The paper summed it up in its first sentence: “There may have been peace on earth, but there was none on the ice at the Boston Garden last night.” The Evening Transcript’sAtkinson was at the game purely by stroke of fate. The boxing writer declared the “general warfare between the hockey players” the best fight he had seen in Boston for some time. He devoted 12 paragraphs to the free-for-alls, providing almost a blow-by-blow description for his evening paper. Deadline pressures probably deterred scribes for the morning dailies from coming up with such detail. The “so-called Quakers,” as the Boston writers referred to what they saw as a feisty band of players, never had a larger press profile than on Boxing Day, 1930 – the day after the yuletide donnybrooks.


The Bruins players paid their fines to the NHL quickly. They were sure to make the playoffs and earn extra money anyway. The Quakers were not so fast to settle up. Several weeks later, the Philadelphia team with a 2-20-1 record composed a letter to NHL President Frank Calder. It read: “Please take out fines out of our share of the playoffs.” No response from the league’s high office was reported, so the Quakers presumably settled their accounts and moved on.

QUAKERS:    0 – 0 – 0  =  0
BRUINS:        2 – 1 – 5  =  8

Boston – Clapper (Weiland): 13:55
Boston – Barry (unassisted): 14:23
Penalties: McCalmon (tripping), Jarvis (roughing), Shore (roughing)

Boston – Clapper (unassisted): 13:52
Penalties: Coulson 2 (handling puck, tripping), Shields (roughing), McKinnon (anti-defense), Kilrea (interference), Shore (talking back – double major, 10 mins.)

Boston – Oliver (Beattie): 2:05
Boston – Barry (Beattie): 3:22
Boston – Clapper (Weiland): 5:06
Boston – Weiland (Owen): 15:08
Boston – Beattie (unassisted): 16:19
Penalties: Coulson (fighting, high stick, board check – major and two minors), Shields (fighting – major), Lowrey (fighting – major), Milks (fighting – major), McKinnon (roughing – minor), Shore (fighting – major), Clapper (fighting – major), Owen 2 (fighting, interference – major, minor), Barry (roughing, fighting – two minors)

Starters: Cude (G), Coulson (LD), Shields (RD), Howe (LW), Milks (C), Kilrea (RW)
Spares: Lowrey, Jarvis, Hutton, McCalmon, Barton, Lyons, Drury, McKinnon
Starters: Thompson (G), Owen (D), Shore (D), Harris (LW), Weiland (C), Clapper (RW)
Spares: Beattie, Oliver, Barry, Galbraith, Pratt, Chapman, Hitchman

Shots on goal:
Quakers:  5  –  6 – 10 = 21
Boston:  17 – 12 – 16 = 45

Penalties called against:
Quakers:          2 – 5 – 7 = 14  (including four majors)
Bruins:             1 – 2 – 6 = 9 (incl. five majors)

Referees: Mickey Ion, Bill Shaver    

Attendance (est.): 11,000

Quakers record:
W-L-T:            1-14-1
Pts:                  3
GF: 21             GA: 61

Bruins record: 10 – 4 – 2 (1st place, American Division)

The night’s other games:
Rangers 4, Ottawa 1 (at Ottawa)
Detroit 10, Toronto 1 (at Detroit)
Americans 2, Maroons 1 (at New York)

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