Column

‘This leader of youth sent onto the ice his finest barbarians and bench warmers’

Allan Fotheringham September 17 1979
Column

‘This leader of youth sent onto the ice his finest barbarians and bench warmers’

Allan Fotheringham September 17 1979

‘This leader of youth sent onto the ice his finest barbarians and bench warmers’

Column

Allan Fotheringham

Punch McLean is a teacher of barbarians. He is, by all standards, a most successful teacher of barbarians. The junior hockey team that he coaches and partially owns has won the Memorial Cup the past two years. He has practised his particular brand of barbarism for 18 years, the first nine in the Saskatchewan town of Estevan, the past nine in New Westminster, a tired suburban stepsister just up the Fraser River from Vancouver. The New Westminster Bruins play in a shambling civic rink called the Queen’s Park Arena. Mayor Muni Evers is a Bruins fan and likes to watch. Fans from the adjacent sawmills struggle in from the beer parlor and set up rhythmic chants of “bullshit” and more pungent four-letterisms at the decisions of the referee with which they disagree. It is a scene most educational to anyone who wishes to understand Canada.

As a new hockey season opens, to display the skills £ of the sport we supposedly £ exported to the world, it is § useful to examine what has happened to our game. This is what has happened. On March 22, the New Westminster Bruins met the Portland Winter Hawks in Queen’s Park Arena. It was the final regular season game. A meaningless game, since both teams had qualified for the playoffs. There were only four seconds left and the Bruins had already lost the game 4-1. All that remained was a face-off in the Portland end.

Punch McLean, this leader of youth, sent onto the ice his finest barbarians, heavies and bench warmers playing out of position. As the puck was dropped, the Bruins discarded their gloves and sticks and attacked the Winter Hawks. McLean sent the entire Bruin team over the boards. Portland Coach Ken Hodge held his team back. That made it 16 Bruins on the ice against five Winter Hawks. The Bruins’ Boris Fistric made for a Portland player, Blake Wesley, who attempted to skate away. Fistric knocked him to the ice with a blow to his throat. Wesley attempted to cover up.

Fistric, who is 18 and the highly penalized “policeman” on the Bruins team, slugged him unmercifully and then kneed him in the head.

Bruins players Bill Hobbins, 19, and Rod Roflick, 17, then pinned Wesley’s arms to enable Bruce Howes, 19, to smash him repeatedly on the face and chest. When Wesley finally made it to the dressing room, one sportscaster said he was “almost unrecognizable.”

Fistric skated over to the Portland bench where Coach Hodge was restraining his players from going out

onto the ice. Fistric slugged him full in the face, sending his glasses flying and causing headaches that lasted for two days. Howes, at the dropping of the puck, knocked Portland’s Jim Dobson to the ice with a blow to his head. Terry Kirkham, 20, and Richard Amann, 18, came to assist Howes. The three of them proceeded to administer a beating to Dobson. In the words of a judge who would later try them, “two of the Bruins would hold Dobson’s arms while the third would hit him in the face and chest area. They would then switch positions, with one of the three doing the hitting as the other two held Dobson.”

Dobson’s head was also smashed several times into the Plexiglas above the boards. In a pitiful scene replayed for TV watchers with strong stomachs, a Portland player crawled desperately toward his bench, half-conscious, a crippled animal seeking shelter.

John Paul Kelly, the New Westminster captain, skated to the Portland bench, swung his stick like a scythe and

smashed Coach Hodge on his wrist, demolishing his wristwatch. In the dressing room the surviving Portland players were in tears. Their top player, Keith Brown, possibly the best-skating junior defenceman since Bobby Orr, was taken out late in the game because of the obvious intent of the McLean goons to cripple him for the playoffs. Their next best player, Perry Turnbull, was wiped out in the second period when Fistric high-sticked him into the boards and Turnbull swallowed his tongue. There were 191 penalty minutes in the game, 156 of them to New Westminster.

It all fits. This is the Punch McLean who boasts that he produced Dave Schultz. The Bruins perfected that ultimate Canadian art form: the brawls during warm-ups before the game. McLean was once suspended for 25 games for slugging a referee skating past his bench. When the Bruins, as Memorial Cup champs, were to go to Finland last year to the World Junior Championships, the Jockarina of Sports, Iona Campagnolo, laid on briefings from External Affairs types and as a last resort had Bobby Hull deliver a lecture on deportment abroad.

McLean’s barbarism of March 22, significantly, happened just weeks after this country’s sluggish skills were cruelly exposed by a 6-0 slaughter by the Soviets. Fistric and Kelly, typically, were the two Bruins selected in the NHL draft. Seven of the Bruins in the gangbeating were charged in B.C. provincial court and, strangely, were given conditional discharges. Judge J.K. Shaw, while barring the players from hockey until Dec. 1, ruled: “These young men are manipulated—apparently happily—by the owners and coaches to do exactly what they are told.” Coach McLean responded by saying: “That’s his opinion. My style of coaching is going to remain the same.”

At a recess during the trial, a smirking Boris Fistric proudly signed autographs for admiring young boys. Hooray for Canada.