Monday, July 14, 2014

Larry Zeidel: Sticking it to the Opposition

Three moments from Larry Zeidel's hockey career surfaced when I read about his recent passing.

As a rookie defenceman with the Detroit Red Wings in 1951-52, Zeidel skated in 19 regular season contests and 5 playoff matches. Detroit swept Montreal in the Stanley Cup final with game four being played on April 15, 1952. There can be no greater moment, for a freshman or veteran, than winning Lord Stanley's mug.

  Zeidel paid his dues before landing a spot on the Wings roster and getting his named engraved on the Cup.

Following his final year in junior with the Barrie Flyers, Zeidel's career took him to the Quebec Senior Hockey League. In 1947-48 he joined the Quebec Aces. He stayed with the Aces for three campaigns and the time spent in his native Province helped define him as a player. As Zeidel once stated, "there were a lot of rugged guys in the league at that time, too, so maybe it was partly a matter of survival."

In his final year with Quebec, Zeidel led the league in penalty-minutes. He spent a total of 176-minutes in the sin-bin.

After winning the Cup in the Motor City, Zeidel spent most of the following year with the Edmonton Flyers in the WHL.

Zeidel rode hockey's version of a roller coaster, when his rights were traded by the high-flying Red Wings to  the bottom-dwelling Chicago Black Hawks.

Subsequent to his one term (1953-54) in the Windy City, Zeidel wouldn' return to the National Hockey League until expansion took place in 1967.

When he departed from the big-show, Zeidel bounced between the American Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.

This brings us to Zeidel's second moment of notoriety.

It happened on October 2, 1958, when Zeidel was a member of the Hershey Bears. In an exhibition match-up between the New York Rangers and the Bears held at The Stamford Arena in Niagara Falls, an  incident occurred which made the news the following day.

Under a sprawling headline - "3 Hockey Players Jailed As Riot Breaks Out In Arena" - the hockey world was made aware of an event which started one of the most ugly and malicious feuds the game has ever witnessed.

In the story, Hershey GM, Baz Bastein, is quoted on how the trouble started. "It started from a stick-swinging duel between Shack (of the NYRs) and Zeidel. They were thrown out of the game and after they got dressed they met and went at it again near the players' bench."

When the police intervened to break-up the ruckus, Zeidel lost his cool.

"Someone pulled me off Zeidel and he got up and punched me in the mouth," said police officer William Gillies when he testified later in court.

Zeidel was charged with assaulting  a police officer and causing a disturbance. His teammate, Obie O'Brien, also got involved in the altercation. He was accused of shoving Gillies and another officer away from Zeidel. He was charged with obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duties.

O'Brien and Zeidel appeared before Magistrate Johnstone Roberts to plead their cases. Zeidel took a tactical approach to his defense. He entered a not guilty plea to the assault charge and guilty to the lesser offense of creating a disturbance.

The Magistrate didn't but into Zeidel's reasoning or explanation for his actions. Zeidel's attorney told the court his client was concussed and thus didn't act appropriately. The Hershey rearguard suffered two cuts on his head which required 10 stitches. Turning a blind-eye to Zeidel's account of how things went down, the Magistrate found him guilty of assault and gave him a suspended sentence on the disturbance charge. As result, he was fined $200.

Obie O'Brien won his case and was absolved of any wrong-doing.

Eddie Shack, out on bail (set at $100), had a later court date on the charge of disturbance by fighting. His case was dismissed.

Throughout hockey, Zeidel was gaining a reputation for letting his stick do his talking.

While playing for Edmonton in the WHL, Zeidel and Jack Evans teed-off on each other. "Evans and Zeidel stood off about four feet and started swinging at each other," Lorne Davis (Edmonton Flyers '54-'55) told the Hockey News in 1958. "Finally they broke the sticks over one another's head. Then they started to spear each other with the jagged ends. Both caught about 19 stitches. The ice was covered in blood. It was terrible."

The Zeidel-Shack saw-off in 1958 was the ugly portion of their feud. The malicious part would come 10-years later in a moment near the end of Zeidel's time on the ice. And the nastiness emerged on two fronts.

On the night of March 7, 1968, Philadelphia and Boston tangled in a regular season tilt at Maple Leaf Gardens. The location of the game was moved to Toronto when the Philadelphia Spectrum closed due to roof damage.

At the mid-point of period one, Zeidel and Shack renewed their hostilities. Their weapons of choice, like in '58, were their sticks. Photographs in newspapers the next day revealed how vicious the stick-battle got. They showed blood trickling down from the head of both combatants. The lumber they gripped fully extended and within range of their unprotected areas. Their gloves remained on, a clear indication that punches wouldn't be thrown.

Afterwards, one question was being asked - why? Why did this happen, again?

There appears to be two theories concerning the cause. The first, being a cross-check Zeidel applied to Shack as he attempted to enter Philadelphia's zone. Normally, this would be a common play which occurs on a regular basis. Certainly, it wouldn't cause either Shack or Zeidel to turn their sticks into tomahawks.

The second notion carries a lot more weight in establishing grounds for a cause and why one of them reacted in the extreme.

Alleged comments made by the Boston Bruins were identified by Zeidel as the reason he blew a gasket. "Nearly the whole Boston team tried to intimidate me about being the only Jewish player in the league," Zeidel told reporter Ed Conrad. "They said they wouldn't be satisfied until they put me in a gas chamber."

An investigation by NHL president Clarence Campbell revealed, "it was not denied that Zeidel had been called 'Jew' or 'Jewish', combined with a variety of abusive terms." However, Campbell stated there was no evidence to support Zeidel's claim of references to Nazi actions in World War Two.

Although Zeidel made some early comments, a code of silence was quickly adapted. The National Hockey League would do the talking and have the final word on this matter.

When Campbell handed down his verdict, Zeidel was suspended for four games and Shack had to sit out three. Also, both were fined $300 for their misdeeds.

Zeidel would put in one more season with the Flyers before hanging-up his skates. In 158 NHL games he scored 3 goals and 16 assists. In 12 playoff dates, he recorded a lone assist.

Larry "The Rock" Zeidel was born on June 1, 1928, in Montreal Quebec. He passed away on June 17, 2014. at Pennsylvania Hospital

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