A Brief History of “Abuse of an Official” Suspensions in the NHL

Feb 8, 2016 by @Chris_Beardy

Dennis Wideman’s 20 game suspension for abuse of an official has been of the most widely discussed topics for the NHL in the past week. It is a complex situation as news has come to light that Dennis Wideman was concussed shortly before he delivered a cross check to the back of linesman Don Henderson.

I would like to take a look back through the league’s history regarding the rules and other incidents relating to “abuse of an official.” I intend to describe at least a single incident in every decade of the NHL’s history and I will add in videos whenever possible. My hope is that the recounting of the league’s past will help open up discussion on Wideman’s case even further. I believe there are some interesting parallels between the Wideman incident and some of the other incidents below.

January 14, 1919

The earliest case of disciplinary action for “abuse of an official” I could find was a report that Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman Ken Randall was fined $10 by the NHL. He reportedly called referee Steve Vair a “son of a bitch.” Randall had a reputation during his playing years and was one of the most penalized, fined, and suspended players of his days, both because of his play as a tough guy and his use of foul language.

April 13,1927

To date, Billy Coutu has been the only player in NHL history to receive a lifetime ban. While playing for Boston in Game 4 of the 1927 Stanley Cup Final against the Ottawa Senators, defenseman Billy Coutu began a bench-clearing brawl between the two teams by punching referee Jerry LaFlamme and tackling assistant referee Billy Bell. It’s reported that Bruins coach Art Ross instructed Coutu to attack the officials but Ross was never disciplined.

The suspension was lifted on October 8, 1929, so that Coutu could play in affiliated minor leagues and he was ultimately reinstated by the league in 1932 after lobbying by Leo Dandurand, owner and coach of the Montreal Canadiens at the time, but Coutu never played in the NHL again.

Summer 1938

It was just prior to the 1938-39 season that the league officially added Rule 40– Physical Abuse of Officials – to the league rule book. (Note: The rule used to be #41 and #76 before becoming #40 as it is today.)

April 12, 1942

Jack Adams, coach for the Detroit Red Wings, was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs, after attacking referee Mel Hardwood. The Red Wings were up 3-0 in the series at the time of the incident and would go on to lose the series in a reverse sweep to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

January 23, 1946

Technically, I shouldn’t have this incident on the list, but I found it too interesting to omit. Former player and future Hall of Famer King Clancy was refereeing a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Black Hawks when he was stabbed by a woman in the crowd. In those days, the boards had chicken wire instead of plexiglass so this woman was able to spear Clancy with her hatpin while he was up against the boards. At the next stoppage of play, Clancy refused to resume the game until the woman had been ejected from the arena.

March 13, 1955

Perhaps the most notorious case of “abuse of an official” occurred near the end of the 1954-55 season when Maurice Richard punched a referee. Richard had been high-sticked by Boston Bruins defenseman Hal Laycoe, causing a gash that later required five stitches to close. Richard reportedly skated at Laycoe with his stick, striking the Bruins player in the shoulder. Linesman Cliff Thompson attempted to restrain Richard, which caused Richard to turn around and punch Thompson in the head, knocking him unconscious. Richard was thrown out of the game and nearly arrested. Bruins’ management dissuaded the police from handcuffing Richard, instead allowing Richard to go to the hospital.

Perhaps the most interesting note is that in addition to his head wound, Richard suffered from headaches and stomach pain following the high-stick, which suggest he may have been concussed prior to his attack. This outburst was Richard’s second incident with an on-ice official that season, having slapped a linesman in the face only three months prior. He was fined $250 for that.

The suspension in part sparked the Richard Riots in Montreal. The Richard Riots have much more complicated roots than just the perceived unfair treatment of Richard by the league so I will leave this as some extra reading for those interested. And while video of the game exists, it seems that Richard’s actions were not caught on film. So below is a re-enactment of what reportedly happened.

Summer of 1966

The league added what is now Rule 40.4 to the official rules. Rule 40.4 declares that a player found to be deliberately applying physical force to an on-ice official will receive a game misconduct and automatic three game suspension.

February 8, 1967

In a game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, each team had a player deliberately strike a referee, leading to a three game suspension for each player. Rangers’ forward Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion was suspended for cross-checking linesman Walter Atanas and then shooting an empty beer can at him while leaving the playing surface. Then Habs enforcer John Ferguson was suspended for punching linesman Brent Caselman. During that same game, Habs defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot was fined $100 for “revolting language” used towards the officials.

April 2, 1969

My first actual video is of the incident that earned Forbes Kennedy a 4 game suspension, which served as the bookend to his career. Over the course of only a few minutes, the Toronto center goes after Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers near the end of an embarrassing 10-0 playoff loss to the Bruins. Forbes punches an official, knocking him to the ground, is hit by no less than three Boston fans reaching over the glass while trying to fight Cheevers, and lands a headbutt on John MacKenzie in his finishing bout. Kennedy’s retirement following this incident was ultimately due to knee injuries. He never served his suspension.

 April 25, 1982

Terry O’Reilly of the Boston Bruins was suspended for 10 games after he struck a referee Andy van Hellemond who had intervened in a fight he was having. O’Reilly already had a 3 game suspension in 1977 for throwing his gloves at and bumping into referee Dennis Morel. He also received an 8 game suspension for being the first player into the stands in the infamous game where Mike Milbury beat a fan with the fan’s own shoe. Below is a video of the 1982 incident.

Summer of 1982

The NHL added what are now Rules 40.2 and 40.3, which create harsher penalties for more deliberate and injurious cases of “physical abuse of an official.” Rule 40.2 is the one by which Wideman has been suspended for 20 games while Rule 40.3 is the rule that carries an automatic 10 game suspension. This was the last major revision to this set of rules.

October 30, 1983

During a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Hartford Whalers, Chicago centerman Tom Lysiak attacked referee Ron Foyt, earned an automatic 20 game suspension. Lysiak had become increasingly frustrated at being thrown out of the face off circle during the game. He retaliated against Foyt by jabbing him in the back of the knee with his stick during a face off. Lysiak and the NHLPA appealed the suspension to the NHL Board of Governors unsuccessfully.

November 12, 1991

Los Angeles Kings head coach Tom Webster was ejected from a game for throwing a stick onto the ice and hitting referee Kerry Fraser in the skates. The league decided that Webster, after four ejections in only two seasons, would serve a 12 game suspension for his actions. At the time, it was the longest a coach had ever been suspended by the league.

January 26, 1992

Perennial youngster Jaromir Jagr, then with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was suspended for 10 games after intentionally skating into referee Ron Hoggarth from behind during a tense game against Washington. Mario Lemieux and Kevin Stevens were also tossed out of the game in the final minutes although neither committed actions requiring suspensions. Unfortunately, the video below does not capture Jagr skating into the official, but it shows all of these guys getting thrown out.

September 19, 2000

Gordie Dwyer of the Tampa Bay Lightning received one of the league’s longest suspensions to date, 23 games, after a game against the Capitals. Dwyer had left the penalty box looking for a fight in what ended up becoming a bench-clearing brawl. Dwyer verbally and physically abused officials while being restrained and had left the penalty box to do so. Those infractions carried 3 game, 10 game, and 10 game suspensions, respectively.

April 1, 2002; February 11, 2003; February 2007

Andre Roy was a hothead who was suspended for abuse of an official on three separate occasions. Each of his suspensions were just 3 games in length, but his 2002 incident also carried an automatic 10 game suspension for leaving the penalty box. Below is his 2003 incident.

January 7, 2011

Jesse Boulerice, while playing in the AHL for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, was handed a 10 game suspension for intentionally charging into a referee after the referee got in his way during play. Boulerice may be better known for his stick attack against Andrew Long when the two were playing in the OHL or his stick attack against Ryan Kesler on October 10, 2007. The former attack was a baseball swing to the head that resulted in Boulerice being charged with assault. The latter cross-check to the face earned Boulerice a 25-game suspension from the NHL. Both caused considerable damage to the victim.

May 22, 2014

During the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, Danny Carcillo of the New York Rangers elbowed the linesman restraining him twice, resulting in a 10-game suspension. Carcillo had this suspension reduced down to six games upon appeal to league commissioner, Gary Bettman.

I tried to summarize at least one major incident from every decade without going overboard. There is a surprise number of short suspensions and fines for “abuse of an official” through the NHL’s history. Are there any major incidents you think I missed? Please let me know.


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