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replay

Fifty years ago, some funny business with the big, bad Bruins

Bruins wingers Ken Hodge (center) and Wayne Cashman pile up with the Montreal Canadiens in a game from the 1970-71 season.
Bruins wingers Ken Hodge (center) and Wayne Cashman pile up with the Montreal Canadiens in a game from the 1970-71 season.Dan Goshtigian/Globe Staff

Editor’s note: The Globe is reaching into its archives to bring you “Replay,” articles from the past that highlight something interesting, timely, or revealing. This column by Harold Kaese about Bruins coach Tom Johnson’s complaints about officiating appeared on Sunday, Nov. 15, 1970, under the headline “Give Sam Silverman skates and let him ref Bruins games.” In the 1960s, Silverman and Abe Ford promoted boxing and wrestling, respectively, at Boston Garden.

Tom Johnson, the new Bruins coach, revealed an unexpected sense of humor this week, and if there is anything hockey can use, it is a little fun and laughter.

After the Bruins had bruised and beaten Les Canadiens in a riotous game a week ago, 6-1, Johnson complained about the refereeing. He said referees were letting other teams pick on Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito and actually get away with committing illegalities against them.

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This was funnier than any French-Canadian dialect story ever told by the funniest of all Bruins coaches — Art Ross. This was like Russia claiming it was pushed around by Finland, or the Pru Tower calling the Old North Church steeple too tall, or the Red Sox protesting Yankee Stadium because it is misshapen.

It was Dick Butkus complaining of rough football, Sal Maglie kicking about beanball pitching.

The Bruins had just slammed the Canadiens around like a lot of candlepins while referee John Ashley gaped like an admiring spectator. Once he forgot himself, giving a minor penalty after Don Awrey had steered Marc Tardif in the direction of a hospital with a concussion through what might generously be called a vicious board check.

He gave the penalty to Awrey, not Tardif, but that did not keep the Bruins — after Canadiens had pulled up to 1-2 — from charging their opponents into the boards as though they wanted to plaster them there permanently.

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If the bull gang is scraping something off the barrier at the East end before tonight’s game with Oakland, it could be someone like Phil Roberto or Guy Lapointe.

Bobby Orr checked the Blackhawks' Dennis Hull into the boards. This rough style of play was a key fixture of the 1970 Bruins.
Bobby Orr checked the Blackhawks' Dennis Hull into the boards. This rough style of play was a key fixture of the 1970 Bruins.NHLI via Getty Images/Getty

The Bruins strategy was apparent to anybody who knew the Bruins. Work 'em over and soften 'em up. It works every time. With anything-goes refereeing, the Bruins would never lose.

“The Canadiens don’t like to be hit,” was one Bruin’s explanation of the charge of the big brigade.

Who does? Hit a Bruin and you have a fight.

Weston Adams and Milt Schmidt had the right idea — draft, shanghai, and induct big, burly players who can skate. If they had to play in Switzerland according to Olympic rules, the Bruins might have some trouble, but playing in the NHL this year according to the rules in Clarence Campbell’s little joke book, they should finish first by 10 games.

It was Ashley’s non-recognition and inertia when the Bruins decided to go physical that resulted in the now-historic brawl near the end of the first period. Like an indecisive college president, he let tempers and tensions build up until he had a regular campus riot to his credit.

Ashley wasn’t a referee. He was a matchmaker who wound up with 16 bouts on his card, a number Sam Silverman has yet to achieve. Many punches were swung, a few landed, and nobody was hurt — not even a policeman.

As fighters, hockey players are good jersey-grabbers. They grab jerseys as embattled women grab hair. If they were better fighters, most of them would be hurt. Then there would be fewer flurries of fisticuffs. The authorities would more seriously try to curb them.

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Fighters would be suspended for several games. They would be put out of the games in which they fought, as is done in other games, including the rougher one of football.

Unfortunately for the NHL, the big difference between its rioters and Abe Ford’s is that the wrestlers are funny.

There’s little laughter at a hockey game, unless a linesman falls down, a referee is hit by a puck or a Red Kelley wears earmuffs to escape the St. Louis fans and organist.

A touch of comedy, as provided this past week by Tom Johnson, is therefore welcome. Pour it to 'em, Tom. Keep those referees on their toes. Insist that they make those rude and unmannerly opposing blackguards leave the Bruins alone and free to board, charge, and flatten anybody who gets in their way, even if it’s a harmless, inoffensive goaltender.