Hockey's Historic Highlights

Second Thoughts on Penalties

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


Second Thoughts on Penalties

Posted April 14, 2019

Viewed 851 times

Billy Coutu, who earned many penalties with his rough play and was banned for life, also appears to be the first NHL player to have a call rescinded by an official.
Billy Coutu, who earned many penalties with his rough play and was banned for life, also appears to be the first NHL player to have a call rescinded by an official.  

  Charles Schultz, the creator of the famous “Peanuts” comic strip, once said: “I never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once; but I was wrong!”

  Over the years that has been the normal attitude of hockey referees. Even if they admitted later than they had blown it; when it came to their decision on the ice—it stood—right or wrong. Arguing until a face took on a blue tinge made no difference. In fact, the normal result was a misconduct penalty.

  That stance has changed somewhat it recent years. It is mainly because of video replays—often displayed on giant screens in arenas—in living colour for all and sundry to see.

  On February 15, 2015, Sidney Crosby frowned and grumbled all the way to the sin-bin, after being called for tripping Johnny Oduya during the Pittsburgh/Chicago contest. He was already seated, still fuming, in the box, when the officials concluded a huddle—and he was told the call had been cancelled.

   On March 28, 2017, the Leafs’ Roman Polak was whistled down for high-sticking Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau in the face. Initially, even the replay showed Polak’s stick lifted near his opponent’s kisser. The four powers-that-be conferred to discuss the alleged violation, and announced publicly that a review confirmed the penalty. As Roman ground his molars in the pokey, suddenly there was a rumbling throughout the stands. The Jumbotron had shown the play from a different angle revealing that it was the puck which did the damage—not a stick—and the Toronto rearguard was released from this prison.

   These incidents refer to reversed penalties—cancelled on the spot. Rescinded penalties involve erasing the statistical chalkboard at a later time. They have already been entered into the records — having been served as they were handed out. But they have been removed for future reference.

   On April 17, 2015 the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks clashed in a playoff contest. During that game there was a “puck-drop line brawl”, according to the local press. Deryk Engelland tangled with two opponents, Dan Hamhuis and Derek Dorsett. The former was handed two fighting majors, three game misconducts, and an instigator penalty. But the league withdrew one of the game misconducts so he would not be suspended for Game 3 of the series.

   On December 18, later that year, the Capitals’ Tom Wilson was ejected from the game against Tampa Bay for a hit to the head. The next day Washington’s powers-that-be appealed to the league to rescind the sentence in order that he could play in the next game two nights later. For some reason the NHL capitulated.

   As already stated, with the advent of video replays, that kind of judgmental U-turn has not been uncommon.

  But the cancellation of paying the price for on-ice misdemeanours is not new. There are examples in shinny lore going back more than a century.

  Right from the beginning, hockey at the major league level was fraught with brutality. Throughout the duration of the AHAC in 1886, the CAHL, the ECAHA, the NHA, and even the early seasons of the NHL, dirty play was the order of the day. 

  In one 1907 newspaper report, an older puckster claimed that a match between Ottawa and the Montreal Wanderers was “the worst exhibition of butchery he ever saw”.

  Details of that clash included these observations: “Three major assaults occurred. Baldy Spittal tried to split (Cecil) Blachford’s skull by bringing this hockey stick down with his force using two hands. Alf Smith hit Hod Stuart across the temple with his stick, laying him out like a corpse. Harry Smith was credited with cracking Ernie Johnson across the face with his stick, breaking his nose!”

   The typical attitude toward such behaviour was revealed when, at a special league meeting about the mayhem, the motion to have the guilty parties suspended failed to carry. The current league President, Mr. McRobie, resigned his position in protest.

   This affluence, as a matter of course, was confirmed in a 1914 dustup. When Joe Hall retaliated for an earlier beheading attempt by Newsy Lalonde, he “bounced Lalonde in to the boards for ten stitches. He continued rough play when he attacked little Harry Hyland (a week later)….President (Emmett) Quinn took no action.”

   This wishy-washy administration was further demonstrated when that same Quinn “fined Cleghorne $50, and suspended him for four weeks. However the suspicion did not stick”. He was back in the line-up after missing a single game.

  However, some sentences did prevail, albeit for a short duration. As the result of a Skene Ronan and Con Corbeau abandoning their OPHL Toronto team to join the Temeskaming League they were “expelled for life”. But the latter skated for Berlin two seasons later.

  Some punishments were apparently removed—though seemingly in an informal fashion. In February 1916, Ken Randall (the “Pepper Kid”) was “suspended indefinitely”—but was back in regular spot the next game. In 1917, a duplicate conviction and pardon involving the same Randall went into the game’s archives.

  While there seemed to be a decrease in roughness with the NHA morphing into the NHL, partly due to President Calder’s diligent hand of discipline, it by no means vanished. On April 13, 1927, the feathers hit the fan in a big way. It was a violent game, generally speaking. Near the end of the match tempers flared and several fights broke out. One newspaper called it a “rowdy free-for-all which imitated gang warfare at its worst”.

   The coup-de-grace was Boston’s Billy Coutu’s all-out war on the game’s officials. He initially tripped referee Laflamme; then chased him down the corridor and floored him. He then attacked his assistant, Billy Bell. Frank Calder was on the scene shortly and made a quick assessment of the situation.

  Coutu (sometimes called Couture) had “a resume dotted with altercations”. One writer offered: “No tactic was too underhanded or brutal for him….” In one game he bumped the official and was fined $10. By the time the contest had finished he added nine more infractions—or $100 worth of mischief. 

   Frank Calder expelled him from the NHL for life. At a league meeting later his ban was upheld by the governors. Some two years later Calder lifted the ban—but he never played in the NHL again,

  The next significant erasure was published in the Montreal Gazette on February 19, 1935. “A blot on Frank Boucher’s clean playing record was removed here last night with announcement by President Frank Calder, of the National Hockey League. That the clever centre has not served any penalty this year. In the lists of the past week or two Boucher was credited with two minutes in the penalty box in 37 games, but Calder stated it was a scorers’ (sic) error and the leading assist-maker in the league and perennial winner of the Lady Byng Trophy still has a clean slate”.

  Twelve years later another gentlemanly pivot received the same reprieve from a new league C.E.O. On February 26, 1947, President Clarence Campbell officially erased the misconduct penalty which had been assessed Syl Apps during the February 23rd game. He stated that he “would like to see the 10 minutes scratched! Referee George Hayes erred in imposing the sentence in the light of App’s reputation for clean play”. At the time, teammate Murph Chamberlain, playing the role of Job’s comforter snickered: “There goes the Lady Byng, Syl old boy!”

   Apparently “all was quiet on the Western front” in this regard, until the Hockey News reported a change of heart concerning a game misconduct called against Calgary’s Joe Nieuwendyk during the November 67, 1988 match against Hartford. Brian O’Neill, the league’s executive vice-president ruled referee Paul Stewart erred in identifying Nieuwendyk as the player who accidentally high-sticked left-winger Jody Hull. The replay showed Rob Ramage’s stick was the one which clipped Hull. The 15 minutes was deducted from Nieuwendyk’s totals.

  It will soon become apparent that not all chastisements were mistakenly assessed to members of the shinny “Mr. Clean” club—thus prompting second look. On March 2, 1993, Marty McSorley was given a major penalty for cross-checking Theo Fleury in the final seconds of the Kings/Flames tilt. That violation would have cost the belligerent enforcer a three-game suspension. Los Angeles sent a video tape of the confrontation to the NHL, which showed that he actually punched the Calgary speedster, while holding the stick with his other hand. It pays to be truly innocent regardless of seeming wrong-doing.

 Alexei Kovalev was chosen as an All Star during this stay in the world’s premier hockey circuit; but he was never in the running for the Lady Byng Trophy. At 6’1” and 224 lbs, he utilized his size in intimidation as well as his soft hands in scoring. During the 1993-94 campaign, he totalled 154 P.I.M in the sin bin. It was on March 18 of that schedule when he tried to add Chris Chelios as an ad on the dasher. He ran him into the boards hard enough to incur a major penalty, which called for a one-game suspension. For an unstated reason the league wiped that castigation from his stats.

  Another hefty competitor was Shane Churla. When he was finished his NHL career, he had racked up 2301 minutes in the hoosegow. It was said that he was both fearsome and feared—and for good reason. During his stay with Dallas, in 1995-96, his time on the fence was considerably less that his 333 P.I.M two seasons earlier — at only 168. But he must have had at least one horseshoe hanging over his stall in the dressing room, when the league powers-that-be lifted the pending two-game suspension, the automatic spanking for a fourth game misconduct. On March 31 he had been in fight with Todd Bertuzzi of the Islanders, and the referee assessed an instigator tag and game misconduct.

   On March 26, 1997, in the midst of action against the San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers’ Bryan Marchment made a beeline for Andrei Nazarov, crashing into his knee, and leaving him a heap along the boards. Like a flash, the Russian winger launched an attempted retaliation for what he considered a dirty hit. He had barely thrown a couple of punches, when the linesmen intervened. Andrei was not about to be denied his revenge. In the midst of the melee he shoved the official and kept punching. Eventually he battled both linesmen and referee Kerry Fraser as well, before he was finally brought under control.

The “abuse of officials” earned him an automatic 10-game vacation without pay. But his persistence cost him an extra three, giving him a total of 13 games absence with leave. In early April NHL Commissioner Bettman reduced the sentence to six games.

   When Jason Marshall got into a scrum on January 14, 1998, it was hardly a surprise. It was one of his five incidents of fisticuffs for the Anaheim blueliner that season. In fact, his shinny biography records 53 fights during his 10 seasons in the Big Time. On that occasion he started the dust-up — his third instigator move that year. It carried a sentence of a two-game suspension. When the league followed up on the clash, they concluded that he was reacting to a sucker punch by another angel with no wings — one Claude Lemieux. So that significant discipline was overturned.

   The fat was out of the fire for Eric Lindros when a December 26, 1998 mix-up was reviewed by the NHL powers-that-be. The giant forward was originally given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for what appeared to be a slash on Chicago’s Chris Chelios. Again, a video replay to the rescue. The clip revealed that the two had crashed together along the boards. The misconduct was rescinded. 

   Once more, a skater known for his roughhousing tactics was given the benefit of the doubt twice in February 2000. The incident which made headlines involving Peter Worrell was a game against the Montreal Canadiens on February 14th. The conflict earned him a game misconduct. When all the evidence was collected, it revealed that he was the one driven into the boards. That punishment was cancelled. Following a similar mistaken call by rookie referee Mike Leggo on February 23, he was also exonerated. His “elbowing” infraction against the Capital’s Richard Zednik was later proven to be a legitimate shoulder hit. He was cleared of wrongdoing—but that penalty cost the Panthers a 4-3 loss.

   The best is saved until the last. Everyone’s favourite “Goody-Two Shoes” is, of course, the gentlemanly Rob Ray of the Buffalo Sabres. On January 1, 2001, Buffalo faced off against the Boston Bruins. When the Beantowners scored with just seconds left in the second frame, Mr. Ray charged referee Don Van Massenhoven, and had to be retrained by one of the linesmen. He was assessed a misconduct and a game misconduct—but couldn’t leave it at that. As he left the ice he threw his stick in the direction of the pin-stripers. That resulted in an additional requital—a 10 game suspension. After he had served five of those games, President Bettman reduced the banishment to seven—since he said he had not physically touched any of the officials.

   Because of easy accessibility to the information highway, it is superfluous to continue focusing on instances of these “on again-off again” disciplinary actions, recorded in the New Millennium.

  However, a question remains: “Was justice served in every one of these reversals”? It is possible to make judgments at the executive level with total objectivity? It has been said that one (or a committee) must “use the kind of objectivity that makes one forget everything heard, clear the table, and do a factual study!”

  Was there bias, based on sentiment, when Frank Calder and Clarence Campbell wiped clean the misdemeanours of Frank Boucher and Sly Apps — because of their gentlemanly reputations? Was there a mathematical glitz involved when Andrei Nazarov was assessed 13 games for abuse of officials, while that same campaign Matt Johnson was only banished for four—when he actually threw a linesman to the ice? Was Rob Ray granted the “mercy rule” simply because the stick he threw at the officials didn’t connect?

   As long as the human element is present, as someone has observed: “Perfect objectivity is an impossible goal…”

Scotty Bowman, by example, seems to indicate that objectivity is not the major issue — but pragmatism is. In a case involving his St. Louis Blues, when Bob Plager was suspended for five games for bumping an official, he complained to his bench boss that it was really Al Arbour who had been guilty of the crime. When he threatened to appeal, Bowman nixed it: “No way! I’d rather lose you for five games than Al!”

Viewed 851 times

Go to top
Archives

Second Thoughts on Penalties
Posted April 14, 2019

His Night to Howell
Posted March 30, 2019

Firing Blanks
Posted March 18, 2019

Humour - A Way to Catch Your Balance
Posted March 03, 2019

The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 2
Posted February 15, 2019

The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 1
Posted February 01, 2019

The Rise and Fall of Sweater Number 9
Posted January 23, 2019

Penalty-Free NHL Games
Posted January 09, 2019

The Greatest of These is Charity
Posted December 22, 2018

Minor League 'Davids' Defeating Major League 'Goliaths'
Posted December 07, 2018

The Shadow Knows
Posted November 25, 2018

Lying Down on the Job
Posted November 04, 2018

The Perils and Pleasures of Water
Posted October 19, 2018

Hockey's Cinderella Teams
Posted October 07, 2018

"Stop Thief!"
Posted May 19, 2018

Hockey's Classic Embarrassing Moments
Posted May 10, 2018

Playing in a Fog
Posted April 21, 2018

Media Goofs
Posted April 08, 2018

First Game, First Shift, First Goal!
Posted March 26, 2018

Always a Bridgroom
Posted March 12, 2018

The Year the Canadiens Almost Died
Posted February 24, 2018

Tangled With the Law and the Lawless - Part 2
Posted February 17, 2018

Tangled With the Law and the Lawless
Posted January 28, 2018

Lucky Black Cats and Number 13
Posted January 17, 2018

Concussions in Hockey Nothing New
Posted December 30, 2017

The Best Christmas I Remember
Posted December 18, 2017

Filling the Gap
Posted December 01, 2017

Off Duty Injuries; mishaps away from the rink
Posted November 13, 2017

The Most Cruel Bird of All
Posted October 26, 2017

Las Vegas — NHL's 31st Team — Knights or Knaves?
Posted October 13, 2017

Playing Under the Influence - of Pain
Posted May 29, 2017

In Tune Pucksters
Posted May 14, 2017

Laughter - The Best Medicine
Posted April 29, 2017

The Last Straw
Posted April 15, 2017

Whose Side Are You On Anyway?
Posted March 30, 2017

Ferreting Out Phantom Hockey Stars
Posted March 17, 2017

A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 2)
Posted March 08, 2017

A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 1)
Posted February 19, 2017

Tales From the Sin Bin!
Posted February 04, 2017

Happy 100th Birthday N.H.L
Posted January 25, 2017

New Year's Resolutions that Might Have Been
Posted January 06, 2017

It Happened on December 25th
Posted December 21, 2016

The Best of Hockey's One-Liners
Posted December 10, 2016

The Price of Stardom
Posted November 18, 2016

Is There a Doctor in the House?
Posted November 03, 2016

Auston Matthews: Liberator or Lemon?
Posted October 14, 2016

Hockey's Multi-Generation Families
Posted June 16, 2016

Picture Perfect - A Dozen Classic Hockey Photos
Posted June 08, 2016

Anatomy of the Penalty Shot
Posted May 17, 2016

Hockey's Honourary Indian Chiefs
Posted May 04, 2016

Goaltender's Idiosyncrasies
Posted April 17, 2016

Records That Will Never Be Broken
Posted March 31, 2016

Right Church — Wrong Pew
Posted March 23, 2016

Does "Captain" Mean Much Anymore?
Posted March 02, 2016

I Quit!
Posted February 21, 2016

Now That's Not Pun-ny!
Posted February 07, 2016

A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 2
Posted January 26, 2016

A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 1
Posted January 06, 2016

Christmas Babies
Posted December 29, 2015

Practice Can Be Precarious
Posted December 11, 2015

How Much is a Body Worth?
Posted November 25, 2015

Brooklyn Bridge is Falling Down...
Posted November 15, 2015

Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part Two)
Posted November 01, 2015

Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part One)
Posted October 16, 2015

From Champs to Chumps
Posted June 07, 2015

CLEAN PLAY……CLEAN PLAYERS….TRUE SPORTS
Posted May 11, 2015

Putting the Bite on the Opposition
Posted April 24, 2015

One Eyed Wonders
Posted April 12, 2015

Captain Cage Cop
Posted March 26, 2015

Trade Deadline Deals — Blockbuster or Bluster?
Posted March 17, 2015

Fun In the Snow
Posted February 27, 2015

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated
Posted February 16, 2015

It's not what they said - it's what they meant!
Posted January 31, 2015

Funny Fights
Posted January 18, 2015

Hockey's New Years Babies
Posted January 03, 2015

Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise
Posted December 20, 2014

Two Dozen + 1 Wacky Wonders
Posted December 06, 2014

The Last of a Long Line of...
Posted November 24, 2014

A Compendium of Referee Non-Calls
Posted November 09, 2014

40th Anniversary of the 1974 Summit Series
Posted October 25, 2014

The Many Faces of Training Camp
Posted October 13, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Playoff Heroes
Posted May 30, 2014

Boston Bruins Celebrate 90 Years
Posted May 17, 2014

A Curse Upon Ye!
Posted May 01, 2014

For the Birds
Posted April 20, 2014

They Were Not Fooled By Their Birthdates
Posted April 08, 2014

Bitten By The Hand That Feeds
Posted March 22, 2014

Tongue in Check
Posted March 08, 2014

A Few L.A.F.F.S. to Relieve your S.A.D.
Posted February 21, 2014

The Ultimate Valentine - A Kiss
Posted February 08, 2014

Hats Off to Hockey
Posted January 25, 2014

Horsing Around
Posted January 11, 2014

New Year's Revelations
Posted December 30, 2013

Christmas Specials
Posted December 23, 2013

Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith
Posted November 30, 2013

Just Dying to Play Hockey
Posted November 17, 2013

What's In 50 Years
Posted November 02, 2013

The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!
Posted October 20, 2013