(Photo: Zeidel and Shack as found on Newspapers.com)
If you look closely at the players during a hockey game, you can make out that they are talking to one another. Of course, unless the station does a “Mic’d Up” episode, you may never know what they are saying, and generally what gets aired is the tamer of the taunts and comments.
On March 7, 1968, the taunts hurled toward Philadelphia Flyers Larry Zeidel were anything but tame. Zeidel, who was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1928, was the grandson of Romania Jews who did not make it out of the Holocaust. According to Zeidel they were burned in the concentration camps. From 1951 to 1954, he played with the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks before then playing with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL during the 1966-67 season.
When the first expansion took place to go from the Original Six teams to a league of twelve, he created a 10-page pamphlet “A Resume with References and Testimonials of Larry Zeidel, Professional Hockey Player, Sales Promotion and Public Relations Executive” and sent it to each of the new teams. It worked and he ended up with the Flyers, which is how he came to be playing on March 7, against the Boston Bruins club.
Though it was a home game for the Flyers, some issues with the Philadelphia Spectrum arena’s roof forced the teams to play at the Maple Leaf Gardens that fateful night.
“Nearly the whole Boston team tried to intimidate me about being the only Jewish player in the league. They said they wouldn’t be satisfied until they put me in a gas chamber,” Zeidel said. “Boston started pulling this kind of stuff when we played them earlier in the season. I didn’t let it get to me even though it hurt me to hear it. It was bad on my part to try and ignore it then, because things only got worse and they really got bad just before the start of our last game in Boston Garden [January 20, 1968]. That bit about me being a ‘Jew boy’ is music to my ears, but when they brought up the business of the gas chamber and extermination, well, I didn’t buy it.”
With the taunts increasing, Zeidel finally decided to deal with it on the ice, cross-checking the Bruins’ Eddie Shack during the first period of the game in Toronto that set off a “nasty stick-swinging incident.” While the two had a history that dated back to their days in the AHL, it was said that Shack had not made the comments and he just had the misfortune to be the one who made physical contact with Zeidel.
“TORONTO – Boston Bruins defeated Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 here last night in a National Hockey League game which was marred by wild stick-swinging duel between Bruins’ Eddie Shack and Larry Zeidel. Shack and Zeidel were each given match penalties in the first period after exchanging a series of wild swings after colliding at the Philadelphia blue line. The match penalties an automatic $100 fine and possible suspension,” reported The Gazette.
However, according to fellow Flyer Andre Lacroix, Shack wasn’t as innocent as the reports made him out to be.
“From my perspective, it was Shack saying something like ‘I’m going to get you, you [bleeping] Jew.’ With all of the reporters around, you would think that somebody would have found out who said it.”
As was later reported in The Windsor Star, “Zeidel, one of two Jewish players in the NHL, and his wife Maria said in published statements that the Boston bench had been riding the defenceman because of his religion. However, both exonerated Shack of this charge.”
On March 9, National Hockey League president Clarence Campbell suspended Zeidel, who as the instigator of the stick-swinging, received a four-game suspension while Shack received just three games. They were also each fined $300. And ended up with quite a few stitches each. Campbell wanted to send a message.
“This was undoubtedly the most vicious stick-swinging episode the league has experienced in many years and both of the principals are very fortunate that their injuries were of a minor nature. The force of any one of the blows could have easily have produced a disaster. This conduct is absolutely intolerable. A very realistic effort will be made to stamp out such conduct in the future. This incident was so vicious, the fines were not sufficient and thus the suspensions.”
But what of the taunts that may have been the real cause of Zeidel’s going after Shack?
“Campbell said today [March 13] he is currently attempting to get an authentic claim that the brawl was precipitated by anti-Semitic remarks hurled at Zeidel by Boston players. ‘I must first ascertain that these remarks were made and by whom,’ Campbell said,” The Windsor Star reported.
Campbell went on to suggest that if it was true that it paralleled similar experiences faced by French-speaking players of the Montreal Canadiens over the years in various arenas.
“I think this type of baiting is contemptible and there is no place in the game for it. However, every small town in the U.S. now has an anti-defamation league and it gains attention,” Campbell said. “I think it curious that this has being <sic> going on since the 20th of January and Zeidel has said nothing about it.”
Interestingly enough on Friday, March 15, Edward M. Snider, chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Flyers, and himself Jewish, said “he was satisfied that the stick fight between Zeidel … and Shack … was triggered by ‘rough hard-hitting hockey play,’ and not be anti-Semitic remarks,” reported the Star-Phoenix of Saskatoon.
“It appears that in the heat of battle during an important game, Larry might have struck the first blow,” Snider said. “Shack had nothing to do with any vicious name-calling and reports of competitive baiting were blown far out of proportion.”
However, at least two attendees of the game, Mary Patterson who was sitting near the Boston players’ bench, and Mike Meade and his wife, who were sitting near the ice, sent their statements of what they heard to NHL president Clarence Campbell.
“The remarks were uncalled for and ignorant. When they were putting Zeidel off the ice, he was called over and over again a ‘. . . Jewish . . .’” stated Patterson.
“After the fight, involving Zeidel, I heard one Boston player shout to him ‘you Jewish . . . you Jewish . . .’” said Meade’s statement, though in the statement he not only included the actual obscenities, he also named the Boston player, which was not reported in the Star-Phoenix.
Regardless of the witness statements, Campbell came out and agreed with Snider that it was all the result of hard hits in the game.
As can be seen today, ethnic and other slurs unfortunately still occur occasionally on the ice at many different levels of hockey. Additionally some of them come from the fans in the stands. And when the players do use them against an opponent, in some instances they may find that the players unite in solidarity with their teammate, such as has most recently been seen when Divyne Apollon II experienced them and his Metro Maple Leafs rallied around him.
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 115, 123-126.
- Brian McFarlane, Brian McFarlane’s History of Hockey (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing Inc., c1997), 104.
- The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), Friday, March 8, 1968, p. 23.
- The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario), Wednesday, March 13, 1968, p. B2.
- Star-Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), Friday, March 15, 1968, p. 20.
- Star-Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), Monday, March 11, 1968, p. 12.