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The NHL / Jerry Crowe : They Weren't Fans of Campbell

November 04, 1987|Jerry Crowe

Philadelphia Flyers fans, who gave Dave Brown a prolonged ovation Sunday night when he scored a first-period goal against the Kings, obviously don't agree with the 15-game suspension levied against Brown Monday by the National Hockey League.

But, as was pointed out in a story this week by Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer, they will have to sink to new depths to match the incendiary reaction of Montreal fans to the suspension more than 32 years ago of the Canadiens' legendary Maurice (Rocket) Richard.

Richard, who scored 50 goals in the first 50 games of the 1944-45 season, was an immensely popular player in Montreal, but was given to emotional outbursts.

In 1950, he attacked a referee in the lobby of a New York hotel the day after they had tangled on the ice, pinning him to the floor and putting his hands around the man's neck before being pulled off.

Four years later, he struck another referee and, in a column he wrote for a Montreal newspaper, he called NHL President Clarence Campbell a "dictator." He later wrote that Campbell was prejudiced against French Canadians, of which Richard was one.

When Richard swung his stick at the head of Boston's Hal Laycoe on March 15, 1955, then punched linesman Cliff Thompson, Campbell had had enough.

He suspended Richard for the final week of the regular season and the playoffs.

Then, ignoring the advice of Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau, he announced that he would attend the Canadiens' game March 17 at the Montreal Forum against the Detroit Red Wings.

"The hate and ugliness in that crowd was a frightening thing," Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette told Fitzpatrick. "By the time the game began, the tension was as thick as L.A. smog."

Soon after taking his seat, Campbell was pelted with stones, drinks and rotten fruit. A fan approached as if to shake his hand, then reared back and punched him. Then, near the end of the first period, a tear-gas bomb exploded in the aisle next to Campbell's seat.

Campbell, still wearing his hat and overcoat and holding a handkerchief to his face, was escorted from the arena by police. The fire commissioner ordered the building cleared. The Red Wings, holding a 4-0 lead at the time, were awarded a forfeit victory.

"The fans spilled out into the street and joined up with the mob that had been there all day," said Fisher, who attended the game. "Soon, there were cars burning and storefronts being smashed. Someone fired a bullet through a window at the Forum."

By morning, 60 arrests had been made, and nearby streets were littered with broken glass.

In an effort to restore calm, league, city and national officials pleaded with Richard to make a public statement.

"My dear friends," he said in an address that was televised throughout Canada, "because I always try so hard to win and had my trouble at Boston I was suspended. . . . I will take my punishment and come back even stronger next year."

Richard did, indeed, return, leading the Canadiens to five straight Stanley Cup championships before retiring in 1960.

Not surprisingly, the length of Brown's suspension was not well received by the New York Rangers. It was the Rangers' Tomas Sandstrom who was cross-checked Oct. 26 by Brown, leading to the 15-game suspension.

General Manager Phil Esposito called the length of the suspension a "travesty" and said he was "outraged."

"This decision does not provide enough of a deterrent, nor enough of a message, to prevent a recurrence of such behavior, and for that I am worried about the future of hockey," Esposito said.

The NHL apparently drew on precedent in determining the length of Brown's suspension.

In 1933, Hall of Fame defenseman Eddie Shore was suspended for only 16 games after ending the career of Hall of Fame forward Ace Bailey with a devastating and deliberate blind-side hit that necessitated two brain operations for the Toronto star.

"After that," wrote columnist Joe Gergen of Newsday, "anything less than an ax murder at mid-ice was not going to be punishable for a longer period."

Said Marcel Dionne of the Rangers, who scored his 700th career goal with 33 seconds left last Saturday in an 8-2 loss to the New York Islanders: "It's not a great feeling. It's nothing to be thrilled about. We got blown out."

Funny, he often said the same thing in Los Angeles.

Add Dionne: Last March, after being traded to the Rangers, he said: "My heart's with the Kings, but my body's with the Rangers."

Apparently, the former King center no longer feels that way.

Last week, he told Helene Elliott of Newsday: "You come to play in Los Angeles and there's maybe 6,000 or 7,000 people. No cheering. Nothing. The intensity level is so much higher here.

"The key to success is caring for everybody. In Los Angeles, you get up in the morning and (the desire) isn't there. How many guys can you help? You lose games and there's not that togetherness.

"Every year, you hope and say it's going to get better, but it's not. Here, everything and everyone is positive. And they've got a lot of emotion, which carries you a lot of the time. I see a good feeling here."

Even before they lost three times during a four-game swing through the East last week, the Edmonton Oilers were concerned about empty seats at the Northlands Coliseum.

When they drew 15,841 for a game against the Kings two weeks ago, it was their smallest home crowd since the arena was expanded six years ago.

"There's been complacency," Oiler owner Peter Pocklington told the Edmonton Journal. "Things aren't the same. When we came into the NHL, we sold out in four days. Winning three Stanley Cups does that. That's the price of success."

Pocklington, though, dismissed the poor turnout against the Kings, pointing out that the game was on television, as was the fourth game of the World Series.

"Also, it was L.A.," he said.

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