General Articles


A referee’s got to take it, says King Clancy, who handed out plenty in 16 madcap playing years

ED FITKIN March 15 1948
General Articles


A referee’s got to take it, says King Clancy, who handed out plenty in 16 madcap playing years

ED FITKIN March 15 1948


A referee’s got to take it, says King Clancy, who handed out plenty in 16 madcap playing years


THE lights in Madison Square Garden dimmed. Hockey players of two NHL teams and Referee Frank (King) Clancy stood to attention as the spectators rose to their feet for the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The last strains of the anthem died away. The crowded arena was hushed while a firing squad prepared to fire a volley in a pregame patriotic observance. Not a rustle as rifles were snapped smartly to shoulder height. The solemnity of the moment was impressive ; ; ; until a leatherlunged fan, high up in the gallery, bellowed:

“When you get through—SHOOT CLANCY! Clancy, hockey’s most colorful referee, considers that story one of the best involving him. And, m 26 years of professional hockey, the King has been involved in many unusual ones.

One night in Toronto during the 1944-45 Stanley Cup play-offs the Maple Leafs were leading Detroit Red Wings, 1 to 0, when Clancy penalized a Toronto player early in the third period.

The Wings immediately applied offensive pressure and during the height of one of their ganging attacks, Referee Clancy was bodied heavily by Babe Pratt, then a Toronto defenseman and now with the Hershey B’ars. The King glared at the

towering defenseman. ¡ i . ,

“You big lug !” he snapped. “I’d like to be playm

against y ou tonight !” ?

“Well,” asked Pratt, innocently, “aren t you.

Insult In Braille

CLANCY likes nothing better than a practical joke, or failing this, to sit around with a group of former hockey cronies and reminisce.

He was the same way as a player. Off the ice, that is. On the ice the King was a serious workman, who played fearlessly, asked no quarter, gave none in return. Though he stood only five feet seven inches and seldom weighed more than 150 pounds, often finishing a hockey campaign at 134 soaking wet, Clancy shone for 16 seasons in the NHL, played on four Stanley Cup champions and was named to the annual all-star team four times.

Today, in his eighth season as a referee, the King is still the same colorful, cocky and capable Clancy . Professional hockey men will tell you that he hasn a peer as an official.

“I stand for a lot more than I should,” he admits, “especially from the players. But I’ve been through the mill myself and I know that a lot of them say things they don’t mean—they’re so tensioned up. But,” he adds with a wide grin, “I only let them call me certain things once.”

Clancy referees with his head, never thinks ot the rule book unless it is drawn to his reluctant attention. “When I was playing,” he says, “I was always figuring out the angles, how to fool the referee. Now that I’m on the other end of the skate, I’m watching out for the sly guys who are trying to do the things I used to do and get away with.

Clancy believes that hockey fans are the same everywhere. “They all want to see the home team win,” he says. “But I figure a guy who pays Ins way into a rink has a right to bpo. They give me the raspberry all over the circuit. I’m used to it now. It rolls off me thick Irish skin.”

After a heated argument during a game at Toronto, Hap Day, one of Clancy s defense mates in the early 30’s and now coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, took time out to mail him a rule book. Day, a former referee, too, and an encyclopedia on hockey legislation, scrawled across the front: “This is a rule book—READ IT !”

Some time later, King confesses, he received another rule book—this time in Braille ! I m not sure who sent it,” he says. “But I kinda suspect Day.”

For one as fun-loving and companionable as Clancy, the life of a referee was a hardship at first. In the NHL, referees are not permitted to travel

in the same coaches as hockey teams, nor are they booked for the same hotels.

“That really hit me hard,” King says, “goin’ around by myself, eatin’ by myself, livin’ by myself. I felt like a social outcast. But now I do most of my travelling by plane—and I don’t mind it so much.

A Good Tongue-handler

ON AND off the ice, no man in hockey could surpass King Clancy in that indefinable quality the sports writers call color. His greatest fame came as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1930’s. Those were the days of

the Leafs” Kid Line—Chuck Conacher, Joe Primeau and Busher Jackson; of Red Horner, Hap Day, Andy Blair, Ace Bailey, Harold (Baldy) Cotton.

The King in a hockey game was a terrier on skates, often a terror. He never backed down from thé biggest of men, although his mates of those days say that King never won a fight in his life. Usually he was the spalpeen who started the fireworks, then yelled for his heavyweight mates, Conacher and Jackson and Horner, to rush to his rescue.

One of Clancy’s notable pugilistic errors was made in Chicago when Continued on, page 36

"Shoot Clancy"

Continued from page 17

he picked a fight with large and bulky Earl Seibert, Black Hawk defenseman. Figuring Conacher or Horner would be there to help him, Clancy took a leaping punch at Seibert’s jaw. Big Earl closed in quickly and Clancy, looking around wildly for assistance, discovered that play had transferred to the other end of the ice—he was all alone.

“I had to face the music,” Clancy wryly recalls.

The irrepressible Clancy once actually talked the Bruins into elimination during the 1936 Stanley Cup play-offs.

In those days, Stanley Cup semifinals were conducted on a two-game, total-goal basis. When the Boston team won the first play-off at home, 3 to 0, no one gave the Leafs a chance. Not when the Bruins had a goalie like Tiny Thompson and a defense that featured the one and only Eddie Shore and the late Babe Siebert.

The Bruins whacked in the first goal of the second game, played in Toronto, to take a 4-0 lead on the round. But the path to victory had a detour, a detour marked Clancy.

The King stepped into the picture shortly after Red Horner had scored Toronto’s first goal, a goal that was heatedly protested by the Bruins. A few minutes later Eddie Shore got a tripping penalty from Referee Odie Cleghorn. Already incensed by the ruling on Toronto’s first goal, Shore argued briskly with Cleghorn, then skated toward the penalty box. Clancy skated up to him. “That was a pretty lousy penalty, Eddie. A cheap one. You’re not going to let Cleghorn get away with that kind of refereeing in a play-off game, are you?”

Shore hesitated, then went back to argue with Cleghorn and finally became so enraged that he shot the puck at the referee, hitting him in an unmentionable part of the anatomy.

“Now,” roared Cleghorn, “you’ve got a 10-minute misconduct as well!”

Thanks to the subtle sagacity of Clancy, Shore was out of the way for 12 minutes, and no team could afford to have a play-off performer like Shore sidelined for that length of time in a championship game. Quickly the Leafs caught fire and, paced by Conacher who scored three goals, they won the game 8-3 and the round 8-6.

Maple Leaf High Jinks

Nothing could be more typical of the Toronto players of that era. They were unpredictable—even to Dick Irvin, who coached them then and is now pilot of the Montreal Canadiens.

In Chicago one night Irvin ordered the Leafs to play cosy, close-to-thevest hockey in the first period. With Irvin out of earshot, Conacher snorted: “Let’s go out and get a couple of quick ones. Then we can relax.”

So, from the first face-off, the Leafs swarmed to the attack, five men up. Irvin’s eyes almost popped out of his head. Quicker than you can spell D n iep ro pe tro vsk, the Hawks had retaliated and the puck was nestled behind unprotected Lome Chabot.

Irvin started to scream imprecations but his expletives fell on deaf ears. Away went the Leafs again—every man up. And, as before, back came the Hawks for another soft goal.

Chabot put an end to the shenanigans. “Either you guys stay back here,” he yelled, “or else I’m coming up there with you.” As it turned out, the Leafs rallied to win, 3-2.

Mischievous as they were on the ice, the Leafs of the early 1930’s were even

more rambunctious off the ice. Ringleaders in the horseplay were Clancy, Conacher and Day. “I was the guy who usually got the blame,” Clancy sighs.

At training camp one season, the Leafs were invited to a Halloween Party. All went along except Joe Primeau, who wasn’t feeling well and went to bed early.

When the partying Leafs returned to their hotel rooms, they discovered that every bed sheet had been twisted and knotted like so many pretzels.

Suspicion naturally centred on Primeau, so swearing vengeance, the Leafs, goaded by Clancy, shoved the emergency fire hose through Primeau’s transom and turned on the faucet—full force.

The spluttering Primeau yanked open the door. His eyes were wild.

“When he saw us standing there, he blew his top, wanted to know what was goin’ on.” Clancy grins. “We told him.”

Primeau protested his innocence, quite convincingly.

“The rest of the guys figured out later that I was the culprit,” Clancy laughs. “So they threw me in the shower—with all my clothes on. They didn’t touch Hap Day—and it was all Hap’s idea.”

Another of their quaint gags had Harold (Baldy) Cotton in the role of victim. On the afternoon prior to an overnight train hop to New York, Clancy, Conacher and Day happened to notice Cotton in a hat shop buying a new bowler. Right away inspiration hit Clancy between the eyes.

“Chuck,” he said to Conacher, “if you can lay your hands on an old benny, bring it to the train tonight.”

When Cotton, attired in his new bowler, got aboard the train, the three plotters exchanged meaningful glances and grinned as Baldy lovingly placed his hat in a safe place and proceeded to organize a game of bridge.

The bridge game was well under way when Conacher suddenly popped into sight wearing Cotton’s new bowler. Baldy glanced up, saw his hat and grinned.

“On you that looks good, Chuck,” he said.

Other players chimed in with flattering remarks, then Conacher moved away. The game resumed, although not for long.

A few minutes later Clancy hove in sight with the old bowler rakishly planted on his head. Cotton, concentrating on his game, gave King and the bowler only a cursory glance and muttered: “Be careful of that hat,

King. I just paid 15 bucks for it.”

“Fifteen bucks!” echoed Conacher, catching the cue. “Say—I wonder if it’s worth it!”

He grabbed the brim of the bowler and ripped it cleanly from the crown and down below Clancy’s chin.

Conacher stepped back with a snort. “A good hat!” he mocked. “No good hat rips that easily ! ”

Cotton, raging mad and almost in tears, started to swear.

“He didn’t stop all night,” Clancy laughingly recalls. “We didn’t tell him until we got to New York that we had switched bowlers.”

Montreal Out of Bounds

Even before those rollicking days and nights with the Leafs, King Clancy had been well versed in the extracurricular antics of pro hockey players as a member of the Ottawa .Senators of the early 1920’s. The Senators were a roistering, hell-for-leather gang, great in their day. There was Frank Nighbor, the immortal centre with the perfect poke check; Eddie Gerrard, Clint

Benedict, Punch Broad bent, Buck Boucher, Lionel Hitchman, Harry Helman, Cy Dennenny, Jack Darragh; all talented, all rugged, 60-minute men. Clancy crashed this star-studded setup when he was still 18, weighed only 125 pounds and looked like a Singer midget on skates.

The hard-bitten veterans on the Ottawa team took a liking to the cocky little Irish kid because he didn’t back down from any of them. In time their interest in him became almost paternal, particularly on out-of-town trips.

For example, Montreal was one city considered “too worldly” for King’s innocent eyes to see. And for two seasons Clancy was kept under cover on trips to Montreal. All he saw of the city, in that time, were the streets from the railway station to the hotel, from the hotel to the rink, and from the rink back to the station. He spent the rest of his time in the hotel room—locked in.

It was during this period that Clancy outfoxed Sprague Cleghorn—and paid. Cleghorn was playing a tremendous two-way game for Canadiens one night when he suddenly broke clear from an Ottawa attack and headed down the ice with only one man between him and the goalie.

Hard on his heels was Clancy. As Cleghorn reached the lone defenseman, King yelled for a pass. Without a glance, Sprague passed the puck to Clancy, who promptly shot it out of the danger zone.

Cleghorn’s face reddened as the crowd roared with laughter. When the period ended and the players of each team were leaving the ice via the same gate, Clancy heard someone call: “Oh, King.”

He turned—and socko! Every light in the rink suddenly went out.

His Friends Patted Hard

Cleghorn later insisted: “All I said to King was, ‘Nice going, kid. You’re going to be a great hockey player.’ And then I gave him a friendly pat on the head.”

To which Clancy retorted: “That’s the first pat on the head I ever got that required a bucket of water to revive me!”

In King’s second season with the Senators they won the NHL championship and with that honor came a trip to Western Canada for the Stanley Cup play-offs. The Ottawa team’s Pullman, on its departure for the West, was literally a brewery on wheels.

The Senators managed to win the Stanley Cup despite their cross-country spree. They defeated Vancouver first,

3 games to 1, and then trimmed Edmonton in the cup finals in two straight games.

Clancy’s great thrill of the trip came in the final game with Edmonton. With Ottawa leading by one goal, Clancy was sent out to “rag” the puck as long as possible in the final period to kill time.

“I guess I had the puck for 15 minutes,” he says. “1 had those Edmonton guys crazy.”

He considers that the greatest performance of his career. Not only did it help win the first of three Stanley Cup championships in which Clancy had a share during his eight seasons with the Senators, but it convinced the Ottawa management that young King was ready for stardom. From the 1923-24 season on, he earned recognition as one of the greatest rushing defensemen in the game.

In Toronto, energetic Conn Smythe, who was building up the Maple Leafs, eyed Clancy covetously. “He’s the one

man we need to make the Leafs a championship team,” he insisted.

By 1930, interest in hockey had waned in Ottawa and the Senators’ management found it necessary to enforce a retrenchment policy. Clancy could be had, they told Smythe, but the price was $50,000—a sum unheard of in hockey history

Money was none too plentiful in the Toronto setup at that time, either, and had it not been for a gallant filly by the name of Rare Jewel, Clancy probably would have remained beyond financial reach.

Temper Pays Off

Smythe, owner of a string of horses at the time, considered Rare Jewel, a 2-year-old filly, one of his better racing prospects. But Rare Jewel couldn’t win, had lost five straight, finishing last each time. On a hunch Smythe entered her in the 1930 Coronation Stakes at Woodbine Park in Toronto. No one gave Rare Jewel a tumble as the day of the race approached. As far as the race track regulars were concerned, there were only two horses in the race: Froth-

blower and Spherette.

Smythe agreed. For sentimental reasons he placed a few wagers on Rare Jewel. As post time neared, he went to the mutuels intent on placing a sizeable across-the-board bet on Frothblower.

Waiting to place his wager, Smythe was accosted by a man whom he had fired a few weeks previously. “Better put your money on Frothblower,” the man sneered. “That thing you’ve got entered in the race hasn’t a chance.”

Smythe’s Irish temper flared. He slapped his money down and snapped: “Give me 60 across the board on Rare Jewel!”

Rare Jewel beat Frothblower by a neck. Smythe couldn’t believe his eyes when the pay-off on Rare Jewel read: $214.40, $46.75, $19.95.

Rare Jewel’s victory that day netted Smythe $14,500$11,000 of which he had won on bets. The next day he took $10,000 of that money to make a down payment on Clancy. The actual cash outlay to complete the purchase of Clancy was $35,000 but two Toronto players, valued at $15,000, were included in the transaction.

The King was a tremendous favorite through the six full seasons he starred for the Leafs. He started his 17th professional season in the fall of 1936, signing a contract for $7,200, but after two games King realized that his legs had lost their drive. “Smythe advised me to retire,” he says. “But he paid me in tull for the season. I must have been the world’s highest-paid hockey player —at $3,600 per game!”

The next fall he signed as coach of Montreal Maroons, handled the team for one month and then resigned. He became a linesman in the NHL after that, spent the 1938 season as a referee in the old International League and then graduated to the NHL refereeing staff in 1939.

Why Clancys Are Kings

His love for hockey is almost an obsession. He considers it the greatest game in the world and an ideal profession for a young man with a sound business head. In his 16 years as a player he estimates he earned more than $75,000. He handled his money wisely and thus is not a referee by necessity. He and two uncles, Pat and Mike O’Leary, operate a thriving construction company in Ottawa; King has a lovely home in the capital, a grand wife and four mischievous

youngsters, two girls and two boys. The two boys, he quite confidently expects, will be athletes and probably one will be nicknamed King by the sports writers.

That’s how Francis Michael Clancy, born at Ottawa, Feb. 25, 1902, acquired the name.

The original King Clancy was his father, Thomas Clancy, who died in 1938. Clancy, Sr., was a giant of a man, well over six feet and weighing more than 200 pounds, and a tremendous footballer in the Gay 90’s.

In those days, “heeling” the ball from scrimmage set play in motion in Canadian football and so proficient was Clancy, Sr., that rival teams protested that he was “heeling” before the ball touched the ground. A lawyer was appointed to settle the argument. Lying flat on the gridiron between the lines of scrimmage, the lawyer watched Clancy, Sr., in action and not only exonerated him of illegal tactics but publicly proclaimed him “The King of the Heelers.” Thus was born the name King Clancy.

“Maybe I shouldn’t disclose that information,” King grins. “Hockey fans might start calling me the King of the Heels.”

King’s father never learned to skate and he was amazed almost beyond

words when King was offered a pro hockey contract.

“He thought I was too small—but he let me make up my own mind about my hockey future,” King says. “He did insist on one thing—though—he made me promise not to drink until I was 25 I did better than that—I still haven’t had a drink.”

Clancy, Jr’s., first pro contract netted him $800. Today NHL rookies l'eceive more than that as a bonus for signing. “Hockey certainly has progressed,” King says. “Everything has improved. The game is more spectacular to the fans than ever before. Why, if the people today could see the way we used to play back in the ’20’s, they’d laugh us off the ice.”

A great many things have changed in hockey in 25 years but Clancy is still Clancy. The years have piled up to 46, the lines are growing deeper around his twinkling blue eyes, his hair is receding slowly but not alarmingly. It may take him a little longer to condition himself for each hockey season, but the King tackles each strenuous campaign with a wide and happy grin.

“Maybe it’ll be murder,” he says. “But I’m just as eager as the youngest rookie to get back on the ice. It’s the same every year.” ★