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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'Senseless acts' of hockey violence an issue in 1976 during controversial Northland Intermediate Hockey League playoff series between Chapleau Huskies and Timmins North Stars

Whenever the violence in hockey issue reaches a fever pitch as it has again recently with comments from Mario Lemieux, a star of the game and now owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, I go back to February 22, 1976, a Sunday afternoon at the McIntyre Arena in Timmins, where the Chapleau Intermediate 'A" Huskies were playing the Timmins North Stars in the Northland Intermediate Hockey League semi-finals.

The Huskies were in their first NIHL season, had squeaked into the fourth and last playoff position but were ahead of the North Stars, the first place finishers three games to one.

For those readers who will not remember those days, I was the coach and manager of the Huskies as well as serving as reeve of Chapleau.

At the opening faceoff I noticed that the North Stars were starting the game with five defencemen on the ice which for a moment seemed strange to me, I started with the line of Pat Swanson, David McMillan and Jamie Doyle who were leading the series in accumulated points. At the first stoppage of play I changed lines putting out George Swanson, Jean Claude Cyr and Raymond Larcher.

Then it began. George headed into the North Stars defensive zone where he received injuries that resulted in him leaving the game and being taken to hospital for treatment of a broken shoulder.

Within five minutes Dave McMillan took a high stick to the face, fell to the ice, was bleeding and was taken to the dressing room. No penalty was called and he did not return to play in that game.

It didn't take me long to figure out that the North Stars game plan was to intimidate us, although in a report on the game in the Timmins Daily Press, it was described as "aggressive tactics."

In the third period, Doug Prusky suffered a broken ankle after being attacked by a Timmins player who received a minor penalty for interference. Doug was taken to hospital. Richard Lacroix suffered a leg injury in the third period and insults were hurled at other players.

The Huskies lost the game 9-6 which resulted in a Daily Press headline "Stars Hammer Chapleau..." the understatement of all times.

I went to St. Mary's Hospital after the game and saw Doug and George.

I talked with Bill Moffat, the manager of the North Stars and advised him that I would consider the possibility of having criminal charges laid. Needless to say I was furious, but also deeply concerned about my players so I decided to stay in Timmins overnight and assess the options.

In due course I sent a night letter to the Attorney General of Ontario, Roy McMurtry, seeking advice on the possibility of undertaking criminal proceedings against a player or players of the Timmins North Stars as a result of the alleged incidents in the game.

I also advised James Aspin, secretary manager of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association and Donald Dewsbury, president of the NIHL, and returned to Chapleau, where the municipal council would address the matter before a sixth game was played at the Chapleau Memorial Community Arena.

After much debate, in which I did not participate, council agreed that the game could be played, but with a large police presence. That happened, and more than 1,400 fans packed the arena for the game.

Despite a truly valiant effort by the Huskies, we lost the series, and to this day, I have the utmost respect and admiration for each of those players who did their best to win it.

When we returned to Timmins for game seven, large banners greeted us, mostly focused on me.

Why did I take such action?

Here is what I said 36 years ago on February 26, 1976: "I believe I had no alternative. While I recognize that hockey is a physical contact sport, the point is reached when senseless acts of violence can no longer be tolerated without taking action.

"There are those who will dismiss the incidents as an aggressive brand of hockey, but when two players are hospitalized with serious injuries, and others forced to leave a game, and verbal abuse occurs, then I would submit that a most serious situation has developed."

William McMurtry, the brother of the attorney general, had written a report on violence in hockey in 1974. I have looked again at the major recommendations and don't think much has changed.

Three members of the North Stars were subsequently charged with assault but were found not guilty.

Notwithstanding the situation that developed at the end of the first year in the NIHL, the team held its first awards banquet with Doug Prusky as master of ceremonies, and honoured several players.

Goaltender David McAdam was named Most Valuable Player having played in all the 32 regular season games and the playoffs. In making the presentation, Keith "Buddy" Swanson said "every hockey team has a backbone and on this team it is David McAdam." He won the Wesmak Lumber Trophy.

Jamie Doyle, who was in his first year at Wilfrid Laurier University, and travelled home to play was named Most Valuable Player in the Playoffs. Jamie had 14 goals and 12 assists, including a league record six goals in a single game. Jim Young, the Timmins goaltender told me later, that "Jamie turned on the red light behind me so many times that I hada  sunburn on my neck."

Richard Lacroix, the team captain and leading scorer was named Rookie of the Year -- all players were eligible and rookies. Richard was another player who never missed a game all year. Ross Barlow and Steve Ward had donated a trophy. Richard also won the Leading Scorer award with 33 goals and 18 assists, the fourth highest in the league.

Ted Swanson, another player who also never missed a game was presented the Sportsman Hotel Trophy as Best Defenceman by Jack Houle.

Good luck to Mario Lemieux.
"plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," as Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Kar wrote in 1849. My email is mj.morris@live.ca


4 comments:

Liam said...

Great read Michael! Thanks for the hockey history lesson too. This blog makes one realize extreme violence has always been a part of our game (occasionally).

I think Mario Lemieux once called the NHL a "bush league" while he was still a player. That might be going too far, but in light of the recent Zdeno Chara incident, it's tough to dismiss that remark.

Perhaps there's a lot of truth to be had in the film 'Slap Shot' after all.

D'Arcy said...

Nice to hear from you again Mike. Great time and great hockey back in the day. Your friend Captain of the "Timmins Northstars" ALL ONTARIO CHAMPIONS and HARDY FINALISTS.
DARCY QUINN
ps. Timmins had some good players too not just tough guys.

Jeanette Wright said...

I remember going to a few of those games.Even the fans were brutal.not being a violent person my self,a few times my friends and I had to defend our selves from these very rude people.You handled things very well,something should have been done.I remeber that brutal game ,it was awful,there was no spotsman ship there just brutality.

Shane Kennedy said...

As a kid growing up in Timmins one of my greatest thrills was watching the Timmins Norths Stars with my dad and brother. Now that is what I call "old time hockey". It was pretty tough. I still have great memories even though I now live in Northern Ireland. As a child I remember Darcy Quinn being an excellent player and a very generous guy. On several occasions I begged him for sticks which he always surrendered with a smile. I have to admit these games now reminds me of Slap Shot the movie. I wouldn't change the movie or my memories of these games. They simply represented the energy of hard working mining folk in a pretty harsh enviroment.

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
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