Penalty Box Mayhem
Greatest 'sin bin' twits of the 20th century

Penalty box mayhem is a hockey tradition. Hulking, sulking, testosterone-addled players with big sticks and sharp skates have never been easy to cage. Bad-boy antics have been known to escalate within the confines of that 5- by 14-foot prison, providing memorable moments when penalty box attendants like Anaheim's Lloyd Freeberg would compare their jobs to that of a "counselor at a home for delinquents."

See also...
... by Lucas Aykroyd
... in the Scope section
... from October 1, 1999

If you think the icemen were better behaved in the good old days, lose your Disney illusion. As this rap sheet of 20th century hockey's nastiest moments will attest, even NHL administrators sometimes took a "hands-on" approach to the game. As the curtain closes on the 1900s, here's some of the worst motherpuckin' miscreants the refs ever saw, from the 1990s on back to hockey's golden age of goonery, griping, demolition, antics, and nonsense -- much of it violent:

  • During a 1936-37 Montreal-Toronto game, one of the craziest old-time brawls broke out: Maple Leafs governor Conn Smythe leaped into the box and started screaming at Sylvio Mantha of the Canadiens. The referee skated over to tell Smythe to get out. Smythe grabbed an usher's hat and jammed it down over the referee's eyes. Then Toronto coach Dick Irvin rushed in and smacked Mantha. NHL president Frank Calder and Canadiens governor Ernest Savard intervened to break up the resulting dog pile in a style worthy of Jesse Ventura -- wrestling down their colleagues in front of the shocked audience.
  • Battles in the sin bin were rampant for many years because opposing players shared the same penalty box. One classic in the 1944-45 season saw French-Canadian star Maurice Richard incapacitate Bob "Killer" Dill of the New York Rangers with a volley of blows in the rink clink after Dill called him a "cowardly frog." The NHL finally introduced separate penalty boxes after Bob Pulford and Terry Harper pounded each other to a pulp inside their cozy quarters during an October 30, 1963 match between Montreal and Toronto.
  • Could brotherly love exist in hockey's early days? Nah. Brothers Barclay and Bob Plager, who played for the 1960's St. Louis Blues, once attacked each other with sticks to the mouth. After fighting on the ice, they pounded each other in the box, and the battle continued on the way back to the dressing rooms, where the fighting frères were promptly booted out of the arena.

In recent years, some of the wackiest hockey jail incidents have erupted not in the NHL, but in North American minor pro leagues. Disgruntled with not making NHL dollars, homesick for Canadian beer, and driven to madness by long Greyhound rides, the inmates apparently can't control themselves:

  • During a 1991 IHL game in San Diego, journeyman goon Enrico Ciccone of the Kalamazoo Wings got in a scuffle and ended up in the box. While barking at his foe, who was seated in the opposing penalty box, the 6' 4", 220-pound Ciccone spotted a nosey photographer behind him. He punched the zoom lens of the camera so hard it bloodied the photographer's face. Ciccone was arrested for assault and battery. It is not known whether Dennis Rodman sent his regards to Ciccone.
  • Theoren Fleury, a graduate of the IHL's Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, also mimicked Rodman's pro wrestling-style stunts. The midget New York Rangers star once got so angry about a 2-minute minor during his Calgary Flames days that he speared the penalty box official's metal folding chair with his stick and catapulted it against the wall, where it smashed to pieces. No casualties, no thanks to Fleury.
  • Bruce Shoebottom's kamikaze behavior on March 23, 1994 makes Ciccone and Fleury look like ballerinas. In a CHL playoff game with Shoebottom's Oklahoma City Blazers visiting the Tulsa Oilers, the 30-year-old former Boston Bruin mixed it up with Mike MacWilliam. Both players were penalized, but Shoebottom sat down in his box first. MacWilliam skated by and taunted Shoebottom, who was enraged and tried to bolt back onto the ice. The penalty box attendant restrained the 215-pound defenseman and got shoved aside like a rag doll. Tulsa police charged into the penalty box to protect the attendant, tackling Shoebottom from behind. He fought back and head-butted a cop. It took a chokehold and pepper spray to subdue Shoebottom, who went to the hospital with severe shoulder and neck injuries. All resulting charges and lawsuits were later dropped.
  • Meanwhile, the WCHL's Fresno Falcons and San Diego Gulls continued to enjoy a long tradition of unsportsmanlike rivalry. On January 29, 1997, Fresno captain Greg Spenrath tried to attack a Gulls fan from the penalty box, pulling the glass barrier and startled spectator down on top of himself simultaneously. In a 1997-98 match at Fresno, San Diego defenseman Jason Courtemanche received a game misconduct and was sent to the showers. When a brawl spilled off-ice, he rushed back in wearing only a towel. It fell off, but Courtemanche kept on fighting in the buff. This exhibition earned him a 20-game suspension.

Then there are players whose familiarity with the penalty box verges on indecency:

  • Bill Goldthorpe racked up hours in the rinkside pokey, and was the model for Ogie Oglethorpe in Slap Shot, a 1977 movie about minor league hockey goonery. In one of a slew of raucous incidents, Goldthorpe took a 10-minute misconduct for whacking the puck out of the linesman's hand. Goldthorpe didn't like that. First, he picked up the telephone in the penalty box and hurled it at the referee. Then he jumped out of the box and grabbed the linesman again. The referee held Goldthorpe's arms, but Goldthorpe snared the linesman's leg and took a chomp.
  • In eight pro seasons during the 1990's, minor league goon Andy Bezeau racked up 3,321 minutes -- over 55 hours -- in the cooler. On the NHL side, Terry O'Reilly of the Bruins was presented with the old Boston Garden penalty box after his retirement because he'd racked up 2,095 minutes in his 14-year career. He gave the box to a museum.

Perhaps that small act of philanthropy puts these crimes in perspective. They were, after all, committed by Canadians, who prefer their vices -- both in and out of the penalty box -- small-scale. Like Bob Probert, who was suspended ten years ago for importing cocaine. Or Guy Carbonneau, who reportedly dented the Stanley Cup by tossing it off a balcony into a pool during a party at the home of Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul. And just this past June, Bryan Fogarty was arrested for breaking and entering when he forced his way through the doors of a school kitchen and was discovered naked in a pool of cooking oil.

So far, the humble penalty box has not witnessed outrages quite so colorful or criminal as these. With the influx of mild-mannered Europeans into the North American pro leagues, it seems even more unlikely that penalty box mayhem will increase. Still -- if you'd rather not be reminded what "puck" rhymes with, don't sit near the penalty box at your next hockey game.

Lucas Aykroyd is a freelance journalist in Vancouver who covers hockey for EuroReport and His forthcoming novel, The War of Ice, is set amid the violent world of the pro pucksters.