In professional hockey, enforcers are often as popular with fans as the stars who cash the big paycheques. Called upon to duke it out with a fellow troublemaker, or to shadow (and bruise) an opponent’s top scorer, these men get the crowds out of their seats, the sports-radio shows buzzing, and the TV audience spilling their beers in excitement. Don’t Call Me Goon gives the mayhem-makers their due by sharing their overlooked stories and contributions to the game. Drawing on a wealth of knowledge, research, and interviews, Oliver and Kamchen highlight the players who have perfected the art of on-ice enforcing from old timers like Joe Hall and Red Horner; to legendary heavy-hitters like Tiger Williams, Stu Grimson, and Bob Probert; to fan favourites like Tie Domi and Georges Laraque; and contemporaries like Arron Asham and Brian McGrattan. Don’t Call Me Goon also explores the issues that plague the NHL’s bad boys suspensions, concussions, controversy and looks ahead to the future of tough guys in the fastest game on ice.
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About the Author
Greg Oliver is the author of Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes and Icons, Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Tag Teams, and Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels. He lives in Toronto. Richard Kamchen is a freelance writer living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Don't Call me Goon
Hockey's Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad Boys
By Greg Oliver, Richard Kamchen
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2013 Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen
All rights reserved.
PIONEERS OF MAYHEM
HOCKEY'S FOUNDING BRUISERS have more in common with Western outlaws than they do with today's comparatively mild-mannered unionized brotherhood of skaters.
Those behind the uproar that followed Marty McSorley striking fellow enforcer Donald Brashear in February 2000 probably knew little about "old-time hockey," when helmetless players routinely parted each other's hair with their sticks. McSorley's own stick swing to Brashear's head resulted in a conviction for assault with a weapon and 18 months probation; he avoided jail time. Compare that to the actions of two players of the early 20th century who stood trial for manslaughter for vicious and fatal attacks on opposing players; they were acquitted.
Whenever multiple fights break out in a modern-day game, the media is quick to bring up the brawl-filled 1970s of the Big Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bullies. While the action then could be vicious, it wasn't the at-times murderous game that existed in pro hockey's early days.
JOE HALL When "Bad" Joe Hall arrived in Montreal after carving out a name — and reputation — for himself in Manitoba, he wanted to show that his nickname was not fitting. "I have been reinstated," Hall said in 1906, "and I am going to show the Montreal people that I am not half as bad as I have been painted in the matter of rough play. I had two tickets waiting for me from Pittsburgh, but I thought I would rather stay in Canada, and take a hand in the struggle in this part of the country."
Hall balanced out the violent incidents that made headlines over the next 12 seasons (such as cutting up a referee's pants, driving "Newsy" Lalonde's head into the fence at the end of the rink, and being charged by police for disorderly conduct for an on-ice fight in Toronto) with three Stanley Cups with the Kenora Thistles (1907) and Quebec Bulldogs (1911 — 12, 1912 — 13) and a Hall of Fame — worthy career. His sudden death on April 5, 1919, during the Stanley Cup Final in Seattle from influenza only helped to grow his legend. Yet Hall always felt there was a target on his back, and the newsmen of the day tended to agree. "The whole trouble is that no referee thinks he is doing his duty unless he registers a major or a minor against the Brandon man," reads one lament. "There are far dirtier players in the NHA [National Hockey Association] today but they get away with it, though the referees know that they are handing out the rough stuff, even though the crowd does not always tumble to it right away."
Joseph Henry "Joe" Hall was born on May 3, 1881, in Milwich, England, and moved to Winnipeg in 1884. Having served his junior years in Winnipeg, Hall headed to Brandon in 1900 to play senior hockey, and he would later suit up for the Rat Portage/Kenora Thistles and the Winnipeg Rowing Club. Before leaving for his first pro club, in Houghton, Michigan, friends and fans gathered at the Brandon CPR station to say farewell. "A number of boys lifted him shoulder high and bounced him about in the air, during which proceeding Joe blushed and smiled," reads the recap, going on to praise Hall's contributions: "He has always been a valuable member of the local puck-chasing septette, a straight, honest hockeyist, who played the game with a vigor that sometimes laid him open to criticism. But when the season gets into swing, it is pretty safe to predict that Houghton will show no more valuable defenceman on its line-up than Joe Hall."
Going east was a big deal for the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Hall. While he signed with the Montreal Hockey Club for a "fairly good contract," it was said that the other squads in town, the Shamrocks and the Wanderers, had been after him as well. Seeing Hall accompanied by his wife, the newspaper admitted that Hall "does not look at all like the terrible hockey ruffian which the Western papers tried to make him out; and, according to his own story, he was more sinned against than sinning. He showed one or two marks which certainly went far towards corroborating that theory."
Art Ross, who had played with Hall in Brandon and against him as well, encouraged Hall to head east in 1907, pleading Hall's case after a suspension:
He is a fast, clever player, and all right when he is left alone. Unfortunately for himself, he has earned the reputation of being rough, and when he steps on the ice for a game he is a marked man for every player on the other side. I have heard 'Dirty Hall' called out by a crowd for a piece of work which happened at the other end of the rink from where Hall was at the moment. His temper, I suppose, gave under repeated provocations in the Winnipeg match, but to show you that he put up with a lot himself, I can say that he came out of the game with two cuts on his head, each of which required four stitches. He was told by Winnipeg players that they would get to him. He is a gentlemanly fellow off the ice, and he played good, clean hockey against us in our two matches. I would like to see him playing in the east, and I am sure it would not take long for him to wipe out the impression that he is a rough player, and to build up a reputation for what he is, a fast and a clever one!
That reputation would stay with Hall, right until his final season. In the seven-position game, Hall played rover and switched to defence when the game trimmed down, allowing him more room to roam — and roar. In short seasons, he piled up the penalty minutes: 98 PIM in 20 games in 1905 — 06; 78 PIM in 18 games in 1912 — 13; 100 PIM in 21 games in 1917 — 18; and 135 PIM in 16 games in 1918 — 19. Hall could score too, netting 15 and 13 goals during seasons in Quebec. "On the defence Joe Hall is an artist. He is not a heavy defenceman as they go but [he] has the knack," reads one story. "He knows to the full how to make the best use of himself and he makes the best use of his knowledge."
The most famous clash involving Hall came on January 22, 1910, when, as a member of the Montreal Shamrocks, he slashed a hole in the pants of referee Roddy Kennedy. Perturbed that he had been skewered continuously by Frank Patrick of Renfrew without any penalty, Hall had lost it on the ref as well as his opponent. "Every time I went down the ice I received the stick on the head from F. Patrick," Hall said in the dressing room about the affair, which included a bloody fight between Patrick and Hall. "After receiving this continual punishment for a certain length of time I could not stand it any longer, nor could any man with any sort of heart. F. Patrick fairly drove me to hit him, and I do not consider it my fault that the scrap occurred."
It had looked like Hall would be fined $100 and suspended, perhaps for life, but his genuine good nature prevailed. He went to visit Kennedy, who forgave him and gave him a bill for mending the hole in the trousers. When Hall died, Patrick praised his foe: "Off the ice he was one of the jolliest, best-hearted, most popular men who ever played."
The Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of Hall, who was also a gun enthusiast and a champion trap-shooter, is perhaps best demonstrated by his feud with Newsy Lalonde. As a playmaker, Lalonde of the Canadiens would have to brave Hall's position on the Quebec Bulldogs blue line to make any attempt on the goal. In 1913, Hall was given a match penalty for charging Lalonde and knocking him so that his head came in contact with the fence at the end of the rink. Emmett Quinn, the boss of the National Hockey Association, addressed the attack. "According to the report of the referees, Hall charged Lalonde deliberately from behind. While a bodycheck in front is allowed, Hall's actions constituted a serious foul," said Quinn, who also proposed modifying the rinks. "I think that a change in the arena fence would aid in preventing at least such accidents as last night. The place where Lalonde struck is a very dangerous corner."
"I never really had anything against Newsy," Hall said in 1916. "He began the whole thing by keeping up a running fire of insulting and sarcastic remarks to me once during a game. I became sore and always handed back the same line of conversation. I bodied him hard on every occasion and literally goaded him on to hitting me — and I struck back."
Despite the on-ice animosity, Hall's son, J.C. Hall, said that his father had a heart: "After giving Newsy a real going over, he learned Mrs. Lalonde had given birth to a daughter that morning. Father went with Newsy to the hospital and apologized to his wife for cutting him up. That's the sort of guy he was," J.C. Hall told Bob Pennington of the Toronto Telegram in 1969, adding, "When Dad moved to Montreal somebody thought it would be fun to make them roommates. They finished up the best of friends and it was Newsy who gave me my first hockey stick."
Lalonde and Hall were key members of the 1918 — 19 Canadiens squad that travelled west to Seattle, Washington, to take on the Pacific Coast Hockey Association — champion Metropolitans in a five-game Stanley Cup Final. With the series tied at two games apiece, health officials were forced to cancel the deciding game because of an influenza epidemic, which had hospitalized players on both teams.
All recovered but Hall, who died in the Columbus Sanitarium in Seattle of pneumonia. He was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver, BC, with Lester Patrick, Cyclone Taylor, Si Griffis, Billy "Beaver" Couture, Louis Berlinquette, and Lalonde as pallbearers.
Tributes poured in for the man whom so many had feared.
"Hall was one of the few professional athletes who saved his money. He worked on the railroad during the summer months, and this, with his hockey earnings, enabled him to purchase property in Brandon, which will leave his wife and three children, two sons and a daughter, in comfortable circumstances," reported the Toronto World. "Hall played the game for all there was in it, and, although he checked hard and close, he was never known to take a mean advantage of a weaker opponent. He was popular with his clubmates, and had many friends in the cities in which he played hockey."
Hall was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, perhaps the ultimate approval that his style of play was more the norm than the exception during his era.
SPRAGUE CLEGHORN With a stick to the head of Newsy Lalonde, blood on the ice, and a handful of stitches, Sprague Cleghorn of the Wanderers officially opened Toronto's new Mutual Street Arena on December 19, 1912, with a pre-season exhibition game, introducing the city to six-on-six professional hockey. Shortly thereafter, Toronto's police force opened a file on Cleghorn.
But what if it was all part of the show? An attempt to market the expanding National Hockey Association, which was about to admit a Toronto franchise. On the passing of Cleghorn on July 12, 1956, Hockey News columnist Baz O'Meara wrote that Lalonde and Cleghorn conspired to make a memorable moment. Odie Cleghorn, Sprague's younger brother by a year (who died in his sleep on the day of his brother's funeral), was also in on it. According to O'Meara, Lalonde had cross-checked Odie, and Sprague "rushed up at full speed and swung his stick at Lalonde's head from behind. Fortunately for the integrity of the famous lacrosse-hockeyist's top-not, Cleghorn changed his mind as he swung, checked the blow, and turned the blade. At that the flat of the blade struck Lalonde a resounding smack on the side of the head and sent him back to the ice with a gashed scalp, which took ten stitches to sew up."
The affair itself went unpenalized but resulted in $75 in fines immediately for Cleghorn and a month's suspension. Police entered the dressing room, determined to drag the heralded defenceman off, but were convinced to wait before pressing an assault charge.
According to O'Meara, "The story goes that they had agreed to put a little pepper into the proceedings, as they were both good friends. Newsy rasped Odie Cleghorn. Sprague proceeded to rap him over the head. A police case ensued, but both were acquitted. Sprague's straight faced explanation was that the episode was all the result of a spirit of good clean fun."
On the morning of Friday, December 27th, Cleghorn was before Magistrate Denison, charged with committing aggravated assault on Lalonde. Both players appeared in court. Cleghorn, electing to be tried by a jury, pleaded not guilty. Detective George Guthrie, who was present at the game and swore out the information, was the only witness called. "I saw Lalonde check Odie Cleghorn, brother of the defendant," said Guthrie, "both men went down on the ice. While Lalonde was down, Sprague Cleghorn skated over and struck him on the head with his stick."
"Struck him on the head!" exclaimed Magistrate Denison. "Did he want to kill him?"
"I don't think so. He was just taking the law in his own hands," replied Guthrie.
The following day, Lalonde made a strong plea for leniency for Cleghorn through his counsel, and the magistrate slapped Cleghorn with a mere $50 fine and the charge was reduced from aggravated to common assault.
It was hardly the only blotch on Sprague Cleghorn's rap sheet during his remarkable Hall of Fame career — one during which he was traded for train fare. "He was truly one of the great hockey players of all time. Sprague was a tremendous competitor and few players would run the risk of taking liberties with him," said Frank Selke when Sprague died. "He typified the old time, driving player."
Sprague Horace Cleghorn was born on March 11, 1890, in Montreal, and Odie (short for Ogilvie) followed in September 1891. The brothers both broke into pro hockey with the Renfrew Millionaires in 1910, where coach Al Smith converted Sprague from left wing to defence. For the next 16 years, with a season off with injury, Sprague banged out a reputation with the Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto St. Pats, Montreal Canadiens, and Boston Bruins. He won Stanley Cups with Ottawa in 1920 and with the Canadiens in 1924.
The story of how he ended up in Ottawa bears repeating. Cleghorn, a member of the Wanderers, had broken his ankle following the 1918 season, and, while walking down a Montreal street during his recuperation, fell and broke his other one. With no one expecting him to return, Sprague rang his old friend T.P. (Tommy) Gorman, who was running the Senators and part-owner. "He called me up and said he would be in good shape by the fall. We took a chance on him," Gorman once said. "Do you know what he cost us? The price of a railway ticket from Montreal." He'd play nine more top-level seasons after healing (and he sued the City of Montreal for not clearing the ice).
Cleghorn was durable as well as double tough. He once played 75 straight games, which was a record at the time. "He was my brother, and I don't like to boast, but I never saw a tougher or better man," said Odie upon Sprague's death.
There is a story that was oft-told by Irvin "Ace" Bailey, who played with the Maple Leafs against Sprague in his rookie year. Toronto was winning against the Bruins, and Cleghorn was arguing with the referee. "I butted in, making some wise-guy remark and, not even looking at me, bang! his fist came from nowhere, caught me right on the nose, and knocked me down," Bailey recounted. "I started to scramble up but our defenceman, Bill Brydge, pushed me back. 'Don't get up,' Bill said matter-of-factly. 'He'll kill you.'"
Yet that story, from 1926, is relatively tame for "Peg" Cleghorn stories, a man Jack Adams once labelled an "unwashed surgeon" for his stick work and to whom Trent Frayne devotes an entire chapter in his 1974 book, The Mad Men of Hockey.
Playing for the Canadiens in the 1923 playoffs, Sprague assaulted Lionel Hitchman of Ottawa with a vicious cross-check that got him tossed from the game, suspended for the following game, and a $200 fine — from his own manager.
"Jesus, he was mean," said Red Dutton once. "If you fell in front of Cleg he'd kick your balls in."
The lives of the Cleghorn brothers — the first brothers to both be NHL captains — were so intertwined, it perhaps was not a surprise that Odie died just hours before his brother's funeral. Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald wrote that the brothers "were vastly different in personality."
"Odie was serious about hockey, about business," wrote Ferguson. "There was nothing of the playboy about Odie. In his playing days, he was known as the Beau Brummell of hockey. He was always impeccably garbed, debonair to a degree. As a player, he was a great stick-handler and superior goal scorer."
Oddly, both ended up coaching. Odie was manager and coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets in 1924 and 1925, and he is credited with introducing the three-line system of forward combinations. He later became an NHL referee.
Sprague's greatest pupil may have been Eddie Shore. The 36-year-old Cleghorn skated with the Bruins and took Shore under his wing. "I broke Shore into the big time and I claim some credit for making him the standout defenceman he became," Cleghorn is quoted in Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey. "He had a lot of stuff when he joined us, but there were still things he needed to learn and I taught him those things."
Excerpted from Don't Call me Goon by Greg Oliver, Richard Kamchen. Copyright © 2013 Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Pioneers of Mayhem 16
Joe Hail 17
Sprague Cleghorn 21
Jean Pusie: The Great Entertainer 26
Red Horner 27
Coutu Was King of Suspensions 31
Chapter 2 The Original Six 36
Gus Mortson 36
Lou Fontinato 40
Reggie Fleming 45
Hockey Movie Mayhem 50
Orland Kurtenbach 51
John Ferguson 55
Chapter 3 Expansion 61
St. Louis Blues 61
The Broad Street Bullies 66
The Big Bad Bruins and Don Cherry's Lunch Pail Gang 73
Chapter 4 Heavies 79
Bob Probert Joey Kocur, Detroit Red Wings 80
Tony-Twist Kelly Chase, St. Louis Blues 90
Jay Miller Lyndon Byers, Boston Bruins 98
Tiger Williams Dan Maloney, Toronto Maple Leafs 107
Stu Grimson Todd Ewen, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 120
Clark Gillies 132
Wilf Paiement 137
Jimmy Mann 144
Kevin McClelland 150
Larry Playfair 155
Bob Gassoff 160
Dave Richter 163
Dave Manson 167
Bob McGill 173
Brad Maxwell 178
Ken Daneyko 184
Paul Laus 188
Watch Your Mouth 194
Eddie Shack 196
Tie Domi 202
Dennis Polonich 208
Georges Laraque 215
When Goalies Fight 220
The Real Live Wires
John Wensink 222
Dave Semenko 228
Dave Brown 233
Chapter 5 Modern-Day Warriors
Steve MacIntyre 240
Brian McGrattan 247
Arron Asham 250
Derek Dorsett 253
Chapter 6 Today's Game 257
The Rise of the Rats 257
Keep Your Head Up 264
Requiem for a Gunslinger 273