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Many moons ago, not only did the Maple Leafs manage a win against the Canadiens, only their second victory in 17 games in that instance, but the evening was also highlighted by a weird and wacky incident in the stands. An over-enthusiastic spectator fell from the middle tier of seats into the lower bowl. Both he, and the unsuspecting fan on whom he fell, were taken out of the Bell Centre on stretchers and whisked off to hospital. Fortunately their injuries were described as “minor”.
On March 12, 1994 a fan doing a handstand in the upper tier of the Meadowlands Arena set a precedent by plummeting 20 ft to the lower tier below. He landed on one patron, then a female spectator; did a 360 and went down two more rows, hitting his head on a metal bar. All 3 were put in neck braces and hospitalized.
We are prone to think that such bizarre events must surely be isolated. Not really! While our National Sport cannot match the old FBI radio programme, which boasted “A thousand stories in the ‘Naked City’”, there is still a huge parcel of them. We will limit ourselves to two dozen this time.
Since people “up in the air” is till a fresh thought, we go to an April 4, 1953 newspaper story. A Blackhawk supporter climbed the 300-foot CBC tower in Toronto, and threatened to jump if Montreal beat Chicago on March 26th. The police were able to talk him down from his watch. It was a good thing too—the Habs were victorious 4-3!
In a totally difference venue, in November of 1967, Bruin’s forward Wayne Cashman pulled a fool stunt, when he tried to jump from one balcony to another. He fell 12 feet to the sidewalk. Few details were released—for obvious reasons.
Those who had opportunity to watch John Brophy’s antics when he was bench boss of the Maple Leafs, may not be surprised to hear about the way he handled a drunk heckler when he was coach of the Hampton Road Admirals of the ECHL. On February 14, 1996, he hurled a hacksaw at the loudmouth. He was suspended three games by the league, and a week later publicly apologized. On the Q.T. he maintained he merely handed the tool to the fan.
In January of 1970 “Red” Kelly was coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins. One night in St. Louis he surprised everyone by sporting earmuffs on the bench—and had provided a set for each of his players as well. Based on the abusive language the Missouri city’s fans directed at Wren Blair and his Minnesota North Stars, he was ahead of the game in utilizing this protection for himself and his team.
The innovative mentor did not limit his “props” to furry earplugs. His tactic with “pyramid power” was much publicized. But back in November of 1974, while piloting the Maple Leafs, he brought a 6-foot bullwhip to the bench. “There have been comments that I’m not ‘cracking the whip enough’—so I did it behind the bench tonight! It worked only in the first period.” They lost to New York, 4-1.
Speaking of earmuffs, the affable redhead was not the only shinny personality who can be identified with them. Even when he was an established left-winger with the Leafs in 1955, Sid Smith couldn’t shake the nickname “Muff”. When playing on outdoor rinks in Toronto he was almost never seen without these ear warmers. And, Tod Sloan, also a Blue & White forward of note, when, as a Juvenile, he played a post-season match in Maple Leaf Gardens, showed up sporting this headdress—not realizing that the “house that Smythe built” was heated.
Back in hockey’s fledgling years, and before the netting held them fast, goal posts were not imbedded in the ice. Hence, when a goalie would leave his post to switch to the other end, he would often give the pipes a good kick—thus widening them from the standard 6 feet—to as much a an extra 12 inches in width.
When Bronco Horvath was a member of the Boston Bruins, he took lessons from golf pro Sam Videtta of the Colonial Country Club. A big hockey fan, he rewarded the Beantown sniper with golf balls—two for one goal; six for a pair; and a dozen for a hat trick. Bronco potted 39 that season. He had a grand supply for the offseason.
A few years later, Boston’s GM, Harry Sinden, reversed the system. He started to fine players arriving late for practice in golf balls. In short order he had 20 dozen in the kitty.
Ottawa’s Boucher family produced four NHL’ers: George, Billy, Frank and Bobby, all of whom made their mark in the 1920’s. But there was another brother, Carroll by name, whose interest was in the circus, not shinny. He was so fascinated by the “big top” that one day when he wife sent him to the store for a loaf of bread, he disappeared with the travelling carnival, returning 7 years later—but with the bread!
The accounts of Henri Richard’s burst onto the pro shinny scene are well documented. Nobody could get the puck from him, so they had to sign him. But during that initial training camp, he and his brother Maurice collided. The “Rocket” took 14 stitches, and the “Pocket Rocket” took two.
Losing one’s temper in dealing with whistle tooters has never been a wise move. Back in 1936 referee Bill Stewart called a penalty on Detroit’s Ebbie Goodfellow. As he entered the sin bin he flung open the gate, hitting Stewart on the knee. The fine was $50.
It worked in 1948 anyway! The arena management in North Bay, Ontario had a method of curbing brawls on the ice. They immediately sounded the National Anthem over the P.A—and everyone stiffened to attention!
When Clelland “Keke” Mortson joined the Quebec Aces for the 1963-64 campaign, he decided he should learn to speak the language of La Belle Province. The first day he walked into class—and gave “an apple to the teacher”.
Mosquitoes are pesky critters. But for former Maple Leaf Kurt Walker a bite from one of them proved to be more than an annoyance. He contracted an infection and it almost cost him his leg.
In 1955 the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen won the Allan Cup (emblematic of Senior hockey supremacy in Canada). When the famed trophy was shipped from Port Arthur it arrived at the wrong location. It was addressed to “The Manager, Memorial Gardens, Kitchener”. However, it arrived at a CEMETERY office. “Memory Gardens” had a downtown location and the crate landed there!
When the Canadiens arrived in Toronto on January 18, 1950 to take on the Leafs, spectators and pucksters alike were startled to see red tape on several of the Hab’s player’s sticks, instead of the traditional black. Coach Irvin explained that in power play situations it made it easier, with a quick glance, to see teammate’s locations.
Although he was a capable twine-tender, goalie Gary Smith was eccentric. Between periods of hockey games he drank seven glasses of water. He also stripped off all his equipment and had a shower. When teammates first saw him do it, they thought he was quitting and “going away mad!”
During the “Original 6” era, All-Star games were played with equal passion of a regular-season tilt. During the initial match in 1947 Bill Mosienko broke his ankle. Lying on his bed in hospital he received a phone call from his cousin in Winnipeg, informing him that he was the father of a 7-lb. baby. His surprising response was: “And I’m in the hospital with a broken leg!”
Pete Muldoon was the first coach of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1926. Major McLaughlin, the team owner, often meddled in his mentoring. One day he criticized the squad’s hap-hazard workout. As a former polo pony player, he sought to compare the two sports in his criticism, especially relating to the errant performance of a right-winger. “You take a polo pony…..!”, he began. But he was interrupted by Muldoon who snapped, “You take him—and try to play him at right wing!”
Leo Labine, who skated for the Bruins 1951 through 1961 was a character of the first order, and was dubbed “Dennis the Menace”. In 1957, during an exhibition match between Boston and New York, fog made visibility difficult. When the Beantowners pulled their goalie in the last minute to seek to tie the game, Labine slipped off the bench, skated behind the net, and waited to stop any shots the Rangers might fire at the empty cage.
The innovative Jacques Plante, mainly because of his mask, was able to boast never having lost a tooth from flying pucks hitting him in the face. But, sadly, in 1959, he found public appearances can be even more dangerous. While appearing at a Walkathon in a French-Canadian community, he was singing into a microphone. Some airhead didn’t like the selection, grabbed the mike and shouted, “Don’t sing that song!”—and in the process banged the microphone against the goalie’s tooth—and broke it!
The Flyer’s Ross Lonsberry must surely have felt his Philadelphia teammates had a warped sense of humour. On his 30th birthday the Cherry Hill, N.J. police turned up at his door and arrested him on charges stemming from a minor traffic accident several years before. With the authorities cooperating with his buddies, he was hauled off to the interrogation room, and left to stew for three hours wondering what was up. When he was released he returned home to find a hearty shout of “surprise” awaiting him!
Back in 1948, Detroit defenseman Red Kelly accidentally let his stick slip out of his hands. It fell right in front of goalie Harry Lumley, just as Boston’s Ed Sandford sent a pass across the goal crease. Amazingly, the puck slid up the shaft, made a 45-degree turn along the blade, and slithered into to net.
Part way through the Los Angeles King’s second season, they tied the St. Louis Blues, 0-0. When the match ended, owner Jack Kent Cooke was still steaming because a goal by the hometown sextet had been disallowed. He was so incensed that none of his players argued the call, he fined each of them $100.
Stan Fischler wrote a book about several loose cannons in the NHL, entitled “The Flakes of Winter”. But, winter or summer, certainly Derek Sanderson qualifies to be included in any list of eccentric hockey players. He always maintained that “money was immaterial” to him—and he proved it over and over again. After having his 2.65 million dollar contract bought out by the Philadelphia Blazers, he moved to the Rangers. There he continued to live high on the hog, until he was informed he had lost everything. He answered: “How can that be? I can’t stay awake long enough to spend that much!”
But his treatment of moola indicates that he could, and did. On one occasion he burned not one, but two one hundred bills as a lark.
A decade ago the Hockey News ran a feature entitled “Retro Replay”. The April 11th issue showed a photo of the “Turk” spreading one thousand dollars in pennies and dollar bills on the dressing room floor—payment to Bobby Orr for a lost wager on who would get married first!
(One extra for the road) The New York Rangers Stanley Cup triumph in 1994 triggered at least two bizarre incidents which occurred at either end of the North American continent. In Vancouver police were scanning video tapes to discover those who interfered with a rescue of an injured man. He had fallen after attempting to walk on trolley wires, and the surging mob of up to 70,000 blocked the attempt to reach him.
In New York an unusual marriage proposal came to light. Ray Krueger published his 1990 promise to propose to his girlfriend of seven years, writer Vickie Contavespi, if the Rangers ever managed to win the Stanley Cup. In print he “lifted the curse”, announcing they had been blessed by the Broadway Blueshirts, and he was making it official; “Vicki will you marry me?” The response was not printed!
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