Published on line with the Westmount Examiner, and also in the Sunday, April 6, 2008 edition of the Montreal Gazette.
Much has been said of the recent dust-up between two highly competitive Quebec Major Junior League hockey teams which ultimately led to the seemingly rather light suspension of goal tender Jonathan Roy and his always contentious father, Patrick. However, as unpleasant as the entire episode was, it pales in comparison to the manner in which the sport was practised a century ago. With comparatively little equipment (no helmets), players were vulnerable to all sorts of serious injuries or even death, more often than not the result of uncalled for assaults from players of the opposing team.
For instance, in a game played in Westmount on Saturday, January 12, 1907 between an earlier version of the Ottawa Senators (popularly known as the “Ottawas”) and the Montreal Wanderers (winners of the 1906 Stanley Cup), no fewer than three unprovoked, savage attacks were committed on players of the Montreal team. “Butchery, Not Hockey, at the Arena Saturday Night,” headlined one Montreal newspaper. Another asserted “They Should Each Get Six Months in Jail” for their actions.
What exactly took place in the Westmount Arena which was filled to capacity (7,000) that cold winter evening? Trailing 4 – 2 early in the second period (there were two thirty minute periods at the time), several Ottawa players decided to switch tactics. According to newspaper reports of the time, one Senator player “brought down his hockey stick on the head of the Wanderers’ Cecil Blatchford with all the force his two hands could command.” The Montreal athlete was carried from the ice “senseless, the blood which dripped down in his wake marking the progress of his body to the dressing room.”
Somewhat later, another Ottawa player, Alf Smith skated from one side of the rink to the other, with the Montreal point man Hod Stuart in his sight, in order to deliver a crushing “lateral blow with his stick across the temple, laying him out, and sneering at the prostrate man afterwards.”
The third assault, again with the hockey stick, was equally vicious and directed to the face of a Montreal left-winger by the name of Johnson who also fell to the ice in a heap. All three players were taken to a nearby city hospital. Fortunately, none of them died but that was not always the case.
Nevertheless, in that particular contest, the violence was of such a ferocity that one American visitor commented: ”It was the first game of hockey that I had ever seen between what are called first class Canadian teams. It was the first and I don’t care if it is also the last. It was without exception the most brutal and unsportsmanlike exhibition I ever saw. I expected to see a clean, fast game, a good exhibition of the national Canadian sport, but instead it was simply butchery.”
Montreal’s Recorder of the day, Mr. Justice Weir, is reported to have stated that “had I been present at the game I would have assuredly, in my capacity of magistrate, ordered the arrest of the offenders. It seems to me that the municipality in which these things are carried on should vindicate the public law, and should another such occurrence be witnessed in the city limits, I do not think that the Chief of Police will be slow to act.”
All that was a hundred years ago and we are still waiting for the Chief of Police to act, or any other legally constituted authority, for that matter.