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Trevor always had a party on New Year’s Eve. 2002 was no different. Guests started straggling in around 9-ish, and the various rooms of his home began to fill. He normally greeted people personally as they arrived, but sometimes, if he was otherwise occupied, a friend filled in for him. And, so it was that a knock came at the door, and a man no one recognized was given the usual warm welcome. He sat down and joined in the conversation and made himself right at home. Finally, after about an hour, Trevor, somewhat embarrassed, apologized for not being able to call him by name.
“Oh!” He explained. “I was not invited. I just came to ask you if some of your guests could move their cars. They are blocking my driveway. My wife is waiting in the car until we are able to get out and go to our own party!
Well. Almost anything can happen at New Year’s — and usually does. And that has been true in world of hockey as well.
**In the game’s terms it was 1917-18 — the first year the NHL was in operation. The exit of the 228th Battalion to overseas service, plus the withdrawal of the Toronto, had left the NHA in dire straits.
The shenanigans of Eddie Livingstone put the Queen City franchise in turmoil—resulting in the threat of Ottawa, Canadiens, Quebec, and Wanderers to form a new league. In brief, the NHA annual meeting on November 26th saw the NHA dissolved with a new circuit, the National Hockey League, being formed. When the smoke had cleared, Ottawa, Canadiens, Toronto, and Wanderers were charter members. Quebec determined not to participate. By the time the first match was scheduled for December 19th, it was questionable if the Wanderers could form a team. They did play four games, all under protest — threatening to pull out if the league did not help them in providing a legitimate line-up.
To the astonishment of all concerned — and the general public — the dilemma was solved for them. On January 2, 1918, their arena burned to the ground. Both the Habs and the Redbands lost $1000.00 worth of equipment, and the arena loss amounted to $150.000. While the city of Hamilton offered to accommodate them for the rest of the season, owner Sam Lichtenhein simply withdrew from the loop. This nearly sank the new league’s ship. As the Toronto Star’s Charles Queerie noted, the future of pro hockey was gravely in doubt.
**On January 1, 1925, the Hamilton Tigers moved into first slot in the NHL race by whipping the Canadiens 4-2. At that time the Steele City’s tabbies were a hot commodity, and hundreds of fans clamoured for admittance to the arena. It was a rough game — typical of pay-for-play shinny during that era. But the strangest rule violation saw the fleet-footed Aurel Joliet break the rules in the most unusual way.
“Shorty” Green had split the Hab’s defense and was moving in on goal, when the “Mighty Mite” threw his stick, dislodging the puck from the Hamilton player’s control. There was no opportunity for a power-play—this was an automatic goal—one that put the home team in the lead.
**For several of their years in the world’s premier hockey circuit, the New York Americans had cricks in their necks from looking up at the rest of the clubs from the basement position. But 1930-31 saw them better than, or equal to, four other clubs in the 10-team loop. But they had stumbled in their matches against Toronto’s Leafs. In two earlier contests they had failed to score—two 0-0 results had gone into the books. On the first day of 1931, once again, they were firing blanks, being shut-out 2-0.
But it was not the score which made headlines. It was described as “a game as rough as ever seen!” Late in the first frame, and into the second, things got out of hand. “Red” Dutton was the catalyst, with his slashing and a variety of other illegal tactics. Eventually it deteriorated into a free-for-all—a brawl to end all brawls. Only the Amerc’s goalie, Roy Worters, was not in the slug fest. He casually leaned on his net and watched proceedings. The only light-hearted relief came from one of New York’s pugilists sitting on King Clancy’s head, while his feet thrashed wildly in an attempt to get free. Unanimously every press report blamed the officials for not clamping down when the dirty play started.
**There are a number of offensive elements in the otherwise positive side of side of Canada’s National Sport. Hits from behind; shoulders to the head; and spearing, are some of them. But particularly distressing is watching opponents seemingly bent on decapitating one another in stick-swinging duels.
The “Rocket” Richard-Hal Laycoe debacle in 1955 comes to mind. That incident was further accentuated by Richard’s attack on linesman George Hayes, and his subsequent suspicion. That led to the infamous riot in Montreal.
In 1969 the Chico Maki-Ted Green clash resulted in the latter with a steel plate in his head and a special helmet constructed for protection in the future.
But possibly the most publicized of all such occurrences was climaxed at New Year’s in 1949. That battle, involving Ken Reardon and Cal Gardner, was intensified by the fact that it was not a single incident; but a conflict evidenced in two stages.
On January 1, 1949, the floodgates opened wide. Gardiner was then a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The melee which followed was triggered by Reardon’s clash with Bill Ezinicki. He then moved to challenge Gardner.
Jim Vipond of the Globe & Mail wrote that “they slashed at each other (with sticks) with brutal force!” Eventually, the rugged centre connected, breaking his shillelagh over Reardon’s shoulder. After that they continued with their fists for several minutes. When the smoke had cleared both were tossed from the game — with Reardon given an extra two minutes for starting the affair.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. The bitter feud held back expression for several matches between the two clubs. This time it was a hit and run incident, with Gardner coming out the worse for wear. On November 10, in Montreal, Reardon targeted Gardner with a vicious check. The result was a broken jaw for the latter. Interviewed by the Hockey News while he lay in the Wellesley Hospital, he looked like the recipient of plastic surgery—all bandaged about this head — his jaws wired shut for six weeks.
The former Ranger claimed that Reardon had smashed him with this elbow. His assailant insisted it was his shoulder that did the damage. His “proof” was that the fibre was torn off the shoulder pad. If it was, Kenny must have thrown his whole weight behind the check to damage his equipment in such a manner. NHL President Clarence Campbell demanded a $1000.00 bond from the Montreal roughneck — a pledge he would keep the peace in the future.
**Mr. Campbell was involved at the beginning of 1955—but in a totally different way. He was in attendance at the Forum on January 1, when the Canadiens hosted the Detroit Red Wings. Out of the blue the league C.E.O. left his seat and moved to stand behind the Red Wing bench, intending to speak to Coach Jimmy Skinner. He approached him about the foul language emanating from the Detroit players.
Skinner’s reaction was anything but polite. In effect, he told Campbell to “Go and sit down! It was none of his business”. It was, of course, a ridiculous jibe. Campbell was right when he countered with: “This is league business. And what is league business is my business!” He was responding to several complaints from paying customers who were finding the profanity offensive which emanated from the vicinity of players benches in many arenas.
**One year later President Campbell contributed a quotable quote once more. This time he opined that he would like to see the penalty rule revised so as to permit a penalized player to return after a goal is scored, even though his time had not expired. Unlike his treatment by Jimmy Skinner, there was a response of respect for his incite—and the rule did take the form he suggested.
Obviously, having access to game reports, he had become aware of how the Canadien’s power-play was making mincemeat out of the chances to win when a team was unfortunate enough to be a man short against Montreal. Perhaps the crowning example was recorded on November 5, 1955. At 0:16 of the second frame against the Bruins, Boston’s Hal Laycoe was called for an infraction. The Power Play of Beliveau, Geoffrion, Richard, Olmstead, Harvey, and Tom Johnson went to work. In 44 seconds, “Le Gros Bill” has put the puck behind Sawchuk three times. The score went from Bruins 2-0 to 3-2 for the Habs. He added another in the third period for a 4-2 victory.
Sure enough, at the June 4 league meeting, the regulation proposed by Campbell was put into effect. Interestingly, his concern about profanity easily heard by spectators in the player’s bench areas, was also addressed. He was instructed to write to all six teams expressing concern.
**An entire decade passed before another noteworthy occurrence went into history at New Year’s. The 1960s almost matched the 1940s for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They claimed Lord Stanley’s old mug four times—including a triple crown effort early in that ten-year span. Needless to say, it also included a downer—their last hurrah — in 1967.
But on New Years Day 1966, the Buds doubled the score on Boston 6-3, running their unbeaten streak to 10 games. The first of that run began with an 8-3 pounding of those same Beantowners. In light of some modern records for winning streaks — like Pittsburgh’s 17 in the 1990s, and the Blue Jackets’ 16 in the New Millennium, ten undefeated (which included two ties) doesn’t seem that significant. But during the “Original 6” era it was quite a feat indeed. A club called the Canadiens, with seven first place finishes in the 1960s, kept getting in the way of consecutive victories.
**By January 1, 1974, for the most part, in the Dominion, there was generally a bad taste in the mouth when it came to International hockey. The last Canadian team to win the World Championship had been the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1961. Typically they were Senior Hockey’s Allan Cup Champions in 1960. The Galt Terriers came in second on 1962—but it was downhill from then. Third and fourth-place finishes, including in Olympic competition, was the best the Dominion’s representatives could manage. Meanwhile the USSR had carted off top honours every year but one.
Every patriotic Canadian hockey enthusiast held a single mindset — to beat the Russians. The milestone reached in the 1972 Summit Series had made that dream a reality. But to continue at that pace was the number one priority for the future.
So it was a red letter day on New Years day in 1974, when the Toronto Marlborough Juniors outplayed the visiting Soviet Wings—the team leading Soviet Union’s major shinny fraternity — to the tune of 5-4. Two smallish players were the heroes! Mike “The Popcorn Kid” Palmateer kept them out, while Bruce Boudreau popped them in — earning a hat trick no less.
While both made outstanding contributions, it was Palmateer who got the nod as the one who turned the tide. He was outshot 40-20, but brilliantly stemmed the tide of the swarming Wings. Frank Orr’s column in the Toronto Star sang his praises: “The tougher and more important the game, the better he performs!”
He dotted his report with adjectives like “superlative, unbelievable, extraordinary—and merely great!” The visitor’s skill level was displayed in their swift and agile skating, and great passing. They buzzed around in a way which prompted the young backstop to say “they almost made me dizzy”.
But they also displayed meanness with kicking, spearing, and spitting. And they proved they were not merely robots either. When they became frustrated at the failure to penetrate the kid’s armour, they reacted to an uncalled penalty by slamming linesman Blair Graham into the boards. That resulted in game misconducts for Sharlimov, Markov, and Repnyov.
**Harold Ballard’s eccentricity was often the topic of conversation in the hockey world. But few were ready for his headline hunting as 1988 came along. The print could not have been bolder: “HAROLD BALLARD TO LEAVE GARDENS TO CHARITY!”
He was tight-lipped about details, summing up by saying whatever he did with his team was his own business. He did make it plain that his daughter, Mary Elizabeth, and sons Bill and Harold, would not be stepping in to take over the “house that Conn built”. “It just wouldn’t work!”, he affirmed. He added that they had no affection for him — they didn’t need him and he didn’t need them. As for his long-time companion, Yolanda Macmillan, he hinted he had made arrangements for her.
**There was never anything humdrum about the life of Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Doug Gilmour. On the ice he was a whirling dervish, full of pep and vinegar. His rugged approach to the game earned him the nickname “Killer”.
Controversy seemed to follow him around. It all started after he had been with the St. Louis Blues for five seasons. Although the alleged scenario was never reported to the authorities, the father of a 14-year girl approached the team about recompense for “keeping quiet about Gilmour’s” sexual activities with their daughter, for whom he sometimes babysat. The accusations had their foundations in the girl’s diary. Fortunately for him, the grand jury did not indict him. But the team thought discretion was the better part of valour and had already traded him to Calgary by then.
He did not leave his second NHL club quietly either. Half way through his fourth campaign the Flames fans’ favourite suddenly walked off the team. It happened to be New Year’s 1992.The issue was money. His relationship with Manager Doug Risebrough had been strained over the issue for some time; and when the former Hab forward offered Gilmour $400,000, he countered with $700,000. An arbitrator decided on $625,000. When no decision was forthcoming, the Kingston native told some of his teammates during the December 31 match that if “they didn’t see him tomorrow, they’d know he was gone!”
He approached Risebrough the next day, and was told that if he walked, he would be traded. Adios Saddledome — welcome to Maple Leaf Gardens.
**The old saying has it that “All’s well that ends well”. This missive does not end well. After being a part of three Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens, in 1979 Bill Nyrop dropped out of the game the enter private business. However, the Minnesota North Stars coaxed him out of retirement to join them for the 1981-82 campaign.
After only one season he hung up his equipment again to enter law school. Upon graduation he set up practice in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Sadly, on New Year’s Eve of 1996, he made a permanent exit, passing away as a result of liver and lung cancer. He was only 43 years old.
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