With the National Hockey League on a 3-day break because of tonight’s All-star game in Toronto, the attention of the hockey world has been focused on the tragic passing of Minnesota North Stars forward Bill Masterton.
Today we focus on those reactions and some follow-up news on the incident.
Hockey World Reacts to NHL’s First Fatality
Players, coaches, managers and even league officials all expressed their thoughts on the news of the first fatality in NHL history this past weekend. Minnesota North Stars forward Bill Masterton, 29, succumbed early yesterday morning to injuries he suffered in a game Saturday evening in Minneapolis between the North Stars and Oakland Seals.
With the highest-profile players in the league, plus members of most teams’ managements on hand for the NHL All-star game in Toronto, there was ample opportunity for reporters to gather comments and reaction.
Blair: Masterton Complained of Headaches
North Stars general manager-coach Wren Blair isn’t so sure that Masterton wasn’t already suffering from a previous injury when he was injured Saturday night. This is what he told the Toronto Globe and Mail:
“You’ve heard of people getting killed in car accidents. At first the cause of death is reported to be because of the accident. But sometimes they later find out he suffered a heart attack.
“I’m not saying this is what happened here. But who knows what goes on inside a person’s body? To me, he looked hurt before he hit the ice.
“He had been complaining of headaches to the guys for a few weeks now but he didn’t say anything to me. We’ve had so much flu going around the team I guess nobody thought anything of it. He looked okay to me.”
Blair said that Masterton has received “quite a knock” in a game against Boston on December 30, but he seemed all right afterwards.
Blair also recounted that he was talking to a player at the moment the collision occurred:
“I looked up and it looked like he collided with Ronnie Harris and then rolled off Larry Cahan before he hit the ice.
“I didn’t see it but some of the guys said they saw blood before his head hit the ice.”
Campbell: “A Normal Hazard of Our Business”
NHL president Clarence Campbell says that injuries like the one that killed Bill Masterton are just something that comes with the territory of being a big-league hockey player.
Campbell was reacting to the question of whether the league would hold a benefit game for Masterton’s family:
“There has never been a benefit game since I came into the league. I think a benefit game is asking the public to pay for a normal hazard of our business. It is our own responsibility to pay indemnification whenever it is necessary.
“You can’t compensate for a man’s death no matter what you do. This is just a built-in hazard of our business.”
Campbell also addressed the issue of making helmets compulsory for players:
“There have always been some people who want helmets. The very best ones money can buy are made available by the teams if players want them. It’s an optional thing.
“It was tried at one time in 1933 to make it compulsory to wear them but it was a dismal failure. Some players just won’t wear them.”
Most players linked Masterton’s death to the issue of wearing helmets. There are varying opinions on whether the league should mandate headgear for all players.
Dave Balon of the North Stars, the left winger on Masterton’s line will be putting a helmet on:
“I told my wife when I was drafted by the North Stars in the expansion division that I was going to wear a helmet. Then forgot about it.
“Bill’s death brings home the fact that we should all wear helmets and I’m going to get one. I didn’t see the accident but I got to him as he lay on the ice. He came to for a moment and muttered ‘Never again.’ It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Another Masterton team mate, Minnesota goalie Cesare Maniago likens the helmet issue to that of facial protection for goalkeepers:
“Wearing a helmet is kind of like a goalie wearing a mask. I tried one and didn’t like it. It’s got to be up to the individual, but if they make it compulsory, that’s another story. Maybe they will.”
Right wing Bobby Rousseau of the Montreal Canadiens thinks that helmets should be made mandatory for all NHL players. Rousseau wore headgear himself last season. He donned a helmet after team mate J.C. Tremblay suffered a head injury. Ironically, he discarded it just last month on December 10 when Canadiens played the Rangers in New York.
“It should be a rule. That’s the only way everybody will wear them. It is no good if one or two players wear them or one team.”
Rousseau removed his helmet after he got off to a slow start this season. He said he took it off because he felt he was out of the play:
“It’s a long story and a difficult thing to explain, but with a helmet on you sometimes are unable to sense things behind you. I know I talked about it with Red Kelly. He used to wear a helmet and he said that when he took it off he had a different conception of what was going on around him. I felt the same way.
“In 10 years I think everybody in the NHL will be wearing helmets. The kids nowadays in the peewee and bantam leagues wear them. Pretty soon all hockey players will be accustomed to wearing them.”
When Rousseau removed his helmet in December, he had 14 points in 27 games. Since then he has amassed 21 points in 14 games, a significant turnaround.
When asked if he would wear a helmet again Rousseau just shrugged his shoulders and said, “No I don’t think so.”
J.C. Tremblay still wears a helmet. He doesn’t buy the excuse that helmets adversely affect a player’s performance:
“If I play a bad game, it is, not my sideburns or helmet. Sure, I perspire and have to wipe it out of my eyes once in a while, but that’s a small matter.”
Ron Ellis of the Maple Leafs wore a helmet during his rookie season when he suffered a concussion. He later discarded it as well. Ellis said he wore the helmet because he was advised to do so by doctors. After about a year, he took it off and his play seemed to improve. He says the improvement was strictly coincidental.
New York Rangers all-star rearguard Harry Howell says that the wearing of a helmet should be a player’s personal choice:
“It’s up to the individual. I’ve never worn one. I can’t see how they can make it compulsory.”
Another veteran blue liner, Bobby Baun, now captain of the Oakland Seals says he is indifferent to the notion of protective headgear for players. Baun recently missed a few games with a neck injury. He doesn’t believe players should be compelled to wear them:
“Coaches of kids’ teams tell me that players with helmets are more careless with their sticks.”
Baun suggested that if all players wore helmets, incidents of stick swinging would be more frequent.
Bobby Orr, the Bruins young superstar says he has worn a helmet in the past but didn’t like it. However, Masterton’s death may cause him to re-examine his position:
“I don’t like them but when something like this happens, it makes you think.”
Bobby Hull, the superstar left winger of the Chicago Black Hawks says he will consider a helmet now:
“It’s unfortunate that it takes something like this to start you thinking about helmets. We wear about 25 pounds of protective equipment on other parts of our bodies and leave the most vulnerable spot unprotected. I’m thinking seriously of using a helmet.”
Hull’s team mate, centre Stan Mikita, did wear a helmet for a short period of time and the discarded it. He put it on again after he recently suffered a severe laceration to an ear:
“I put it back on when I had my ear cut. You can bet your life I’m going to wear one from now on.”
Yet another one of the NHL’s big names, Gordie Howe, is a member of the club who once wore a helmet then discarded it. Howe sustained a severe head injury in the playoffs in 1950 and spent considerable time in the hospital afterwards.
“I wore a helmet for a year and a half after the accident then discarded it. Don’t ask me why. Now I make my sons wear their helmets for workouts and games.”
Canadiens coach Toe Blake was actually an early pioneer of protective headgear. He recalled that back in 1933 when Toronto forward Ace Bailey nearly lost his life due to a head injury when checked by the Bruins Eddie Shore, many NHL players donned the helmet:
“I wore one for a year and a half. I think I was the last of that era to take it off.”
Blake was asked if it bothered him or affected his play:
“Hell, no – I scored three goals in a game in Chicago while wearing it. I just got the feeling that the other guys regarded me as a chicken.”
Terry Gray, a forward with the Los Angeles Kings, put forth his opinion on why players refuse to wear helmets”
“A helmet probably would have saved his life. We were talking about it this morning. I think the majority of players would wear them but it’s their pride. They think the guy next to them may laugh – the old sissy bit.
“This doctor friend of mine back home says it’s stupid. We protect everything but the most important part. I guess he’s right.”
Gray was a member of the Quebec Aces team in the American Hockey League that made helmets mandatory for all their players a couple of years ago.
“When I played at Quebec we had about four guys in a row that got concussions. Frank Carlin, the general manager made us all wear helmets. That lasted for about a month and just died out.”
The reason it “died out” was simply because several veteran players simply refused to go along with Carlin’s edict. The leader of the group who refused was all-time great defenceman Doug Harvey. Carlin wasn’t about to tangle with a player who will eventually be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kings coach Red Kelly, who wore a helmet for the last few years of his playing career, agrees with Gray’s doctor friend:
“The head’s the most vital part of the body. Why wouldn’t you protect it?
“I had two concussions. I was cross-checked from behind and dove into the boards. I had another one when I hit the ice. The doctor advised me to wear a helmet, so I wore one.
“I have nothing against any of my players wearing helmets. But like any other new piuece of equipment, it’s tough to get used to.
“You see, when you’re going into the boards and the guy’s right behind you, you have to watch the puck. You don’t have eyes in the back of your head, so you sort of develop a sense – you can feel him, whether he’s coming on the right side or the left. A helmet takes that away.
- Pittsburgh Penguins have sent forward Gene Ubriaco to their AHL farm club Baltimore Clippers. Coach Red Sullivan says Ubriaco will spend a couple of weeks with the Clippers to “sharpen his scoring eye.”
- Detroit Red Wings have called up forward Gary Marsh from the Fort Worth Wings of the Central Professional Hockey League. Marsh will take the place of veteran left wing Dean Prentice, who underwent a minor surgical procedure on his nose.
- Interesting television programming note from Los Angeles. Sunday evening at 9 p.m. during prime time, KCOP-TV, channel 13, showed what they called “Canadian Hockey.” Turns out the game shown was a taped Ontario Hockey Association Junior A contest between the Toronto Marlboros and Hamilton Red Wings. The games will be shown every Sunday night for the next 13 weeks in the 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot.