Monday, January 24, 2011

Not Seeing Eye to Eye

On Friday, I wrote about the eye trouble James "Sugar Jim" Henry experienced in junior hockey. During the Original Six era, two individuals on the playing surface were particularly prone to criticism concerning their eyesight.

The first being a goalie who let in a soft goal. Many in the crowd would groan "he didn't even see it", while others would boo at the top of their lungs. The other position to be subjected to the wrath of the crowd were the on-ice officials - the referee and his linesmen. No matter what the problem was - a penalty to the home team, an off-side call or a disputed goal - the officials vision would be called into question. The organist would serenade the referee with the tune "Three Blind Mice" as he was being circled by anger players.

George Hayes
 During the 1964-65 season, NHL President Clarence Campbell decided to address this issue. In an attempt to prove that their was nothing wrong with the eyesight of his officiating staff, he ordered all concerned to the optometrist office for testing. There was one very large objection to this and it came from linesman George Hayes.

George Hayes would begin his career in officiating very early in life. As a minor league referee, he earned a dollar a game and would often work tripleheaders. In 1941 he joined the Ontario Hockey Association. During World War 11, Hayes got the call-up to the AHL, but returned to junior once the servicemen returned to their positions in the OHA. He would land in the National Hockey League in 1946. Initially, Hayes worked as a referee, however, after 1 1/2 years his assignment was changed to linesman.

In January of 1965, when he heard of Campbell's edict for eye examinations, Hayes issued an emphatic response.

"It's a rotten slap at the officials integrity. It's a man's work on the ice that counts, not what he does with a chart in the doctor's office. The first time I heard about these tests was three years ago. I told how how I felt and I haven't changed my opinion. I haven't been near a doctor in years. I find I stay healthier that way."

As a result of his protest, Hayes was placed under suspension by the league. In late January 1965, he was officially dismissed by President Campbell via registered mail. His termination date was February 14, 1965. During his suspension, Hayes retired to his small farm near Oxford County in Ontario.

Jan. 20, 1965
Clarence Campbell pointed out that the NHL delayed the Hayes firing for over 2 years. By going public, it was the leagues hope that Hayes would capitulate and be tested. At the time of his dismissal, Hayes was one of four NHL regular linesmen. He worked 90 to 100 games per year. A linesman earned $5000 to $6000 for working 80 games. Additional work was compensated on a per game basis.

Following his exit from the NHL, Hayes wrote a column for the Woodstock Daily Sentinel. Also, he worked the family farm. Ultimately, his body of work couldn't be denied - the first official to participate in 1000 games, a sleek skater, being a large man his presence on the ice had an authoritative nature to it - and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

George Hayes died on November 19, 1987. Right to the time of his passing, he remained true to his philosophy concerning medical practitioners. Hayes refused treatment while suffering from severe circulation problems in his legs. It was reported at the time of his death that an old friend was attempting to have him seek attention. However, even Red Storey, who travelled to the Hayes home, couldn't convince his friend to have the gangrene looked at by a doctor or go to the hospital for care.

George Hayes passed away at the age of 67.

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