The Game of Hockey transcends political borders and boundaries. It brings old friends together and forges new and lasting relationships as a result of a common bond.
NHL players, past & present, are typically the greatest ambassadors and role models of any professional sport. Whenever they gather, animosity or grudges that might have existed in the arena of battle, are long since forgotten.
Hockey is the Greatest Game on Earth played by the Greatest Athletes...
'The King' Borje Salming (HHOF 1996) &
'The Professor' Igor Larionov (HHOF 2008)
Dear HHOF Diary (continued):
The last I left you was hanging and schmoozing at the 'Hall-of-a-Nite' with the Hanson Brothers who were throwing Gordie Howe elbows over the head of Chiefs goalie Denis Lemieux. Following the event my wife Kathy and I grabbed a taxi back to the Delta Hotel. Since I had been working the event in the Great Hall I had not eaten dinner or had anything to drink. (Do you know that it is 'Just Cause' for termination under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement if an Official was ever found guilty of drinking alcohol on the day of a game.)
I was hungry and thirsty so we decided to head into the restaurant/bar just off the lobby to refuel and quench my thirst with a Steam Whistle craft brew. Kathy and I were seated at a table for two down the way from Lanny and Ardell McDonald and Tiger and Brenda Williams. Tiger was busy telling a story so we slipped past unnoticed. Dino Ciccarelli, his wife and guests sat at high-top table across from us whom we acknowledged with a pleasant wave. It was just like old times with hockey people hanging out after game.
A little later in the eveningTiger sped past our table on an obvious bathroom visit so I thought it best not to detain him. On the way back however I called out to the NHL All-Time Penalty Leader and he turned and gave me a piercing momentary stare from beneath the brim of his Leafs hat; following which hugs and an introduction to my wife were exchanged. Tiger said, "Don't leave because we're going to join you for a beer." I took it more as an order and not necessarily a request.
Lanny and his wife Ardell stopped by to say hello on the way to their room as Tiger asked the random guy seated on the bench seat beside me to move down the row in a manner that only Tiger Williams could get away with. The space was vacated, Williams bought the stranger a beer and Tiger and Brenda joined Kathy and I.
We had an absolute blast together over a couple of beers and telling stories. Our wives got along wonderfully and Kathy asked to me share a story from my book with Brenda that involved Tiger when he was playing for the Vancouver Canucks in a game against the Washington Capitals in Landover, Maryland. It was a non-televised game on March 23, 1983 (no video footage) that Tiger used to his advantage and mount the best defence I've ever heard in a discipline hearing to avoid a suspension. It was classic Tiger.
Capitals defenceman Randy Holt was neck and neck with Tiger for the league lead in penalty minutes. Early in the game with the score tied 1-1, Holt started a fight with skilled rookie Patrik Sundstrom in the corner. Holt was pounding away on the Swede and I hoped the linesmen would jump in quickly, but as I turned to look out toward the blue line I saw they still had some distance to travel before they arrived. Williams, on the other hand, had less distance to cover.
Tiger was charging like the wild jungle cat he was nicknamed after; his stick was out in front of him in a cross-check position, aimed perfectly at the back of Holt's helmetless head. Tiger was still 20 feet away but closing fast when it occurred to me that if a zebra were to step into his path, he would discontinue his charge. I held my line in this game of chicken for as long as possible, but Williams was looking right through my stripes and wasn't stopping for anything, least of all a referee. At the last second, I stepped aside and watched as Tiger shattered his wooden hockey stick on the back of Holt's head. The impact drove Holt's face into the glass, cutting his lip, but to both Tiger's and my amazement, Randy remained on his feet.
The attack hardly fazed Holt, but it did get his attention. The two started trading punches, but Mike Gartner of the Capitals jumped on Williams. Everyone else followed suit and ended up in a heap on the ice. Rod Langway emerged from the pile with a nasty gash over his eye and needed repairs. I ejected Holt with a major and game misconduct, while Williams got a 10-minute match penalty for deliberate injury, plus a game misconduct for being the third man in an altercation. The match penalty would require a hearing, and I expected Tiger would sit out the remaining games of the regular season.
I figured Tiger would throw himself on the mercy of Brian O'Neill after I read his post-game admission in the Washington Post. Tiger confessed that he was coming to the aid of Sundstrom. "I had no choice but to help my teammate," he said. "In the same situation, I'd do it again. The kid has never dropped his gloves to fight in his life and here all three refs are standing there allowing the second-most penalized guy in the league to hit him five or six times."
An emergency meeting was held in the NHL's Toronto office the next afternoon. Tiger and I greeted each other cordially as we went into the board room for the hearing with O'Neill. Brian read my report, which laid out the facts without any embellishment of details other than to say that Tiger's stick broke on the back of Holt's head from the force of the blow. O'Neill then asked Tiger for his version and whether he had anything to say in his defence.
For the next 15 minutes, Tiger talked about hunting grizzly bears with a bow and arrow. He was very detailed in describing the size and weight of these huge wild animals he had bagged and turned into rugs. Tiger made it clear that, when one of those beast charges, you need to make sure you have the equipment to knock it down and stop it dead in its tracks. He said the only way to kill one of those monsters when they charged was with an aluminum arrow. I was fascinated to see where Tiger was going with all this, and then he set the hook. Leaning forward in his chair a little, toward Mr. O'Neill, he looked the vice-president right in the eye and said, "Brian, that's why I use a wooden hockey stick and not aluminum, because if I hit Holt with an aluminum stick, even with the slightest amount of force, he wouldn't have gotten up--Randy Holt would have been dead just like grizz."
I couldn't believe this crap, but Tiger kept on going, driving it home. He spoke with such confidence and deliberation, even though it didn't make any sense to me. "Brian, my wooden stick just splintered like a twig. They break easy--that's why I use them."
Tiger and I walked out of the hearing room together, and I said, "Tiger, that is the biggest load of horseshit I have ever seen shoveled at one time." With a big grin on his face, he replied, "You know something? I think he went for it. I couldn't believe Holt didn't go down, because I really hammered him." They only punishment Tiger Williams drew was the automatic two-game suspension that came with accumulating game misconducts. What a salesman, what a character, and what a big-game hunter!
Brenda Williams had a great laugh as I told the story, but one that I'm sure didn't really surprise her. After all who would know the Tiger better than his wife?
Before we called it a night, I told Tiger that I just might call a penalty on him in the Alumni Game the next day just for old-time sake. Tiger's facial expression turned sour and said, "If you call a penalty on me I'll spear you right in the balls!"
If that were to happen I just hope he would still be using a wooden stick because as Randy
Holt, Brian O'Neill and I learned many years ago, they break easily.
What a great way to end our first evening at the Hockey Hall of Fame weekend.
In tomorrow's blog I will complete my Diary of A Hall of Fame Experience with the Alumni Game and the Induction Ceremonies. Don't miss it. Here's a sneak preview from inside the dressing room.