Hockey's Historic Highlights

Putting the Bite on the Opposition

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand

Putting the Bite on the Opposition

Posted April 24, 2015

Viewed 3622 times

In a condensed version of Allan Stanley’s biography, the smart-thinking rearguard spoke of his introduction to the NHL. Acquired from Providence by the Rangers in December of 1948, he learned that life in the Big Time was different than in the AHL. In his debut against Detroit he charged into the corner to battle for the puck with Jim Enio. They collided and fell together, and, as he attempted to get up, he braced himself against the opposition forward’s chest with his arm—and was bitten for his trouble. He was amazed. Never before had that happened to him in hockey!

      In the fall of 2002 a paperback hockey book was released, entitled “Goon”. It was a ghostwritten autobiography of Doug Smith, who spent his short-lived hockey career in the East Coast League, the New Brunswick Senior League, and other assorted minor league circuits. He frankly admitted that, unlike some players who were funneled into the role of enforcer, his life-long ambition was to be known as a fighter. During the course of his promotional essay he stated that even hockey tough guys have an unwritten code of ethics which governs them when they tangle. “Sucker punches, biting, kicking, and head butting are looked upon as unacceptable.”

Doug "The Thug" Wilson
Doug "The Thug" Wilson

     However, it seems that every National Hockey League “enforcer” (call then “policemen” if you will) no more abides by these unwritten rules than the average player meticulously avoids tripping, holding, or interference. Former tough guy Tim Hunter once commented: “There is no code! I have been sucker punched a number of times, jumped from behind, had my eye nearly gouged out, and knee-kicked. Today’s players seem to be under greater pressure and stakes so high that they are reckless, and have no respect for the damage they can do. The day is coming where a player is going to be killed in a fight!”

     Perhaps that explains why, over the last several years, there have been so many instances of that which seems to be the most shabby tactic in confrontation—biting!

    One of the first recorded instances of “putting the bite on the opposition” took place

on February 25, 1950. Former Rookie-of-the-Year, Howie Meeker, gave up some 40 pounds in a bout with one-time RCMP officer, Gus Kyle. The crew-cut winger was pinned to the ice and couldn’t move, and he had no way to extricate himself from the bruising defenseman’s grip, except to “nip at his big thumb, which was right in front of my face!”

         During the 1951-52 NHL campaign a former Toronto Maple Leaf lightweight tried to even the size difference in the same way. This session involved Fern Flaman of the Maple Leafs and “Wild Bill” Ezinicki of the Boston Bruins. Interestingly, these players had been the pawns in a trade between the two teams early in the previous season. They had been foes previously, but now were in new venues, sporting the uniforms which they once despised. Early that campaign they clashed in the manner to which both were accustomed—with reckless abandon! Ezinicki, who never approached any kind of confrontation tempered by a sense fair play, made up for the twenty pound weight advantage Flaman held—by nearly biting off one of the defenseman’s thumb in the fracas!

    During the days when the NHL boasted only six teams, a 70-game schedule meant frequent meetings with the other five teams. Back to back games meant that feelings ran pretty high on occasion. Habitual losses to the opposition didn’t improve the mood of the vanquished either. On December 20, 1952, Chicago Blackhawks were still stinging from a 2-0 whitewash by the Maple Leafs just a couple of weeks earlier. Tied at the end of the second period, Toronto fired three in succession past Al Rollins, and another defeat was in the making. Half way through that final frame the WindyCity’s Gus Mortson and the Leaf’s rugged Leo Boivin locked horns. When the smoke had cleared both were given 10-minute misconducts. Boivin shared the gory details after the game. “First he combed me—then he clubbed me—next thing he bit me on my ear! I asked him: ‘Don’t they feed you guys in Chicago?’”

   Eleven years passed before the next biting incident came to light. Following the Dec. 7, 1963 tussle between those same Leafs and Hawks, sports page headlines read: “The Physical Wounds Are Negligible”. The article went on to explain that it was the bad name this hour of mayhem had given pro hockey which concerned the press on that occasion. A total of 25 minutes was wasted with pushing, shoving, wrestling, and a general atmosphere of assault and battery in the name of hockey. A total of 335 minutes in penalties, and nearly $1000. in fines (no small amount in those days) were levied for the disgraceful exhibition. But the axis around which the donnybrook revolved was the accusation by Chicago’s Murray Balfour that Toronto’s Carl Brewer bit him, opening a cut on his little finger.

    Even a casual follower of NHL hockey will remember the name, Dave “The Hammer” Schultz! He was the catalyst of Philadelphia’s reign of terror, courtesy of the “Broad Street Bullies” in the mid nineteen seventies. One fine evening he tangled with another pugilist, Dave “Tiger” Williams, then with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Weyburn, Saskatchewan hard-rock sought to even the physical odds by putting some teeth into the fray. “Tiger” maintained that Schultz was nothing but a bully whom he could never hurt with his fists. So, in his own words: “I bit him on the nose, because I was so darn mad at him at that particular moment!”  Even though “The Hammer” repented of his on-ice sins following his retirement, and now disdains the violence to which he contributed, William’s emphasis made little impression on him. He continued to set records for penalty minutes in the months that followed.

     Because of his sneaky cheap shots, there has seldom been a big league player more despised for his antics than Kenny “The Rat” Linseman. Gouging, high sticking, kicking, and mouthing off were part of his normal routine, making him one of the prime agitators of his time. But his antics during a run-in with Lee Fogolin in November of 1984, prompted sports columnist Dick Chubey to wonder out loud “if he had bitten off more than he could chew?”  During a confrontation with the Edmonton Oiler’s big rearguard, he took a hunk out of his sparring partner’s cheek. Fogolin took exception to Linseman crashing into Grant Fuhr, the Oiler’s goalie, and starting to punch him. The smaller Bruin forward tried to cut his antagonizer down to size by putting the bite on him. He admitted it later, saying, “When you’re in a fight you win any way you can!” When a spider, which had wormed its way into his hockey stocking, and bitten American Hockey League goalie Reinhard Divis, he required antibiotics. But the Fogolin-Linseman joustis almost certainly the only time an NHL’er ever had to get a tetanus shot as a result of a human being nibbling on him.

     During the 1989 Stanley Cup final between the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames, the Habs’ Claude Lemieux managed to earn the wrath of both friend and foe alike. He had already gotten in management’s doghouse during the regular season because he badly needed to polish his tarnished image. One report said that the team was no longer making exceptions for the unique sensitivities of the French-Canadien player, because he was causing problems away from the rink—but little else. In game one of the six-game set, he took a dive and feigned injury when Jamie Macoun’s stick grazed him. Coach Pat Burns didn’t even send the trainer out to check on him, but sat him out the next two matches. Always the kind of player whom opponents loved to hate, he capped off his popularity poll in an exchange with the Flames’ Jim Peplinski. He had already engaged in several heated arguments with other team members. But during this one he bit the co-captain on the finger, prompting the big forward to comment: “I didn’t know they allowed cannibalism in this league!”

   As we shall see, Dave Manson was a “repeated offender” in this fist food fest. His first violation of this sacred “code” came in 1987. He and Scott Stevens had squared off in a knock-down, drag-‘em-out clash. The latter had actually been suspended for allegedly gouging Manson in the eye. But the big Cap blueliner claimed, “I never touched him, but he bit my right hand!”

   In late November 1991, the Canucks and Flames met (and met head on) in a match which deteriorated into a melee. The game report referred to “Geoff Courtnall knocking Tim Hunter out with a stick to the face; Joel Otto felling Igor Larionov with a wicked elbow to the head; Gino Odjick spearing Al MacInnis; and Jim Kyte gouging and attempting to bite Jim Agnew during a fight!”

    On February 9, 1995 Vancouver and Winnipeg squared off in a boisterous match which featured no less than eleven fights. The number seven bout involved the Jet’s Tie Domi and the Canuck’s big Tim Hunter. While this scuffle was less dramatic than some of the other main events, in the process Domi gave Hunter a face rub, and his victim responded by biting the stocky aggressor through his glove. To say the least Tie was not amused! He proceeded to reach over the linesmen who were attempting to separate them, getting in a couple of well-aimed punches. Both were give 10-minute misconduct penalties.

    One of the more surprising examples of a hockey star nipping an opponent took place on November 20, 1997. During a losing effort against the San Jose Sharks, Philadelphia’s bruising center, Eric Lindros, bit enforcer Marty McSorley on the forehead as the two scuffled. Lindros insisted he did nothing wrong, even though the television replays seemed to confirm the infraction. Ironically, while McSorley was the apparent victim in a biting incident, his brother Chris had clearly been the aggressor a decade earlier. The career minor-leaguer was suspended for the remainder of the season for chomping the end off the nose of Marc Magnan of the International Hockey League’s Indianapolis Ice.

    Television replays reviewed a similar incident which occurred during a preseason tilt on September 20, 2000. Toronto defenseman, Dave Manson got into a squabble with the Red Wing’s Martin Lapointe. The Detroit rearguard accused Manson of biting him. But the bout was at such close quarters, video replays could neither confirm nor dismiss the claim.

      Although one-time Atlanta Thrashers forward, Marc Savard, is not particularly known as a brawler, this rule of thumb may not have occurred to him on November 27 of 2003. That evening he proved himself a rather poor host, as the Maple Leafs visited the Philips Centre in Georgia. By the time the Three Star selection had been made, young Savard had been banished from the game for munching on the glove-encased

finger of boisterous Darcy Tucker. In defense of himself, he claimed: “He was shoving his finger in my mouth. The guy was mauling me so I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know how to get out of a mouth hold!” In desperation, apparently, he determined that gnawing the intruding leather was the only defensive move he could make. However, the league judged that it was offensive, and he was subsequently suspended for one game. Tucker was questioned later about whether or not he would toss the gloves. “Nah”, he said. “I’ll just wash ‘em!”

    Perhaps because of that “greater pressure” to which Tim Hunter referred, such incidents are not disappearing from the pro hockey scene. A recently recorded occurrence involved a scrum between two newer NHL sextets, Nashville and Columbus. During the third period the Predator’s Jordan Tootoo was checked into the boards. Almost immediately several players piled in, with the result that Tootoo was being pushed over the railing. The Blue Jackets Tyler Wright was the opponent applying the necessary push, and the rookie forward grabbed at whatever was handy. It turned out to be the instigator’s face—and when the big glove closed over his mouth, he apparently bit down. As soon as the mayhem ceased, the victim quickly showed the teeth marks on his gauntlet to the official, claiming that his right pinky was the worse for wear. Once more, a league review could not draw any definite conclusion about the affair.

   So the passing of time did nothing to reduce the tendency, under certain circumstances, to resort to sinking one’s teeth into an opponent’s anatomy. If it were not such a serious matter, this 2009 instance would almost be amusing. Accused of gnawing on Andrew Peters’ hand, Jarkko Ruutu denied that it had happened. The problem was his victim’s glove was still in his mouth when he was first spotted.

  Candid photographic evidence of Vancouver’s Alex Burrows attack on the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron during the 2011 Stanley Cup final is still available on YouTube. In February 2013 Mikhail Grabovski found himself on the carpet before Brendan Shanahan, accused of chewing on Max Pacioretty.

  Just how serious do NHL’ers take this sneaky confrontation in the guise of fighting? Well, according to Derek Dorsett, hockey bites are equivalent to “not inhaling when you smoke.”

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