There is a loneliness beyond that of the fabled long-distance runner about a big-league hockey referee—as this picture of former National Hockey League Referee Eddie Powers may attest. No matter how big the crowd, nor how furious the play, he is at all times alone on the ice. It is his inescapable lot to be hated, resented, reviled and excoriated by almost everyone concerned for doing his unpleasant but necessary job night after night. He should not, however, be subjected to physical attack, either by players or spectators. Nor should his fitness to serve be the public gossip of coaches and managers. The fact that such physical and spiritual assaults have become commonplace is the growing disgrace of big-league hockey.
The season just concluded was a rough one for officials, as even League President Clarence Campbell cautiously admitted. "We have had," he said, "a considerable number of injuries among the officials—especially the young ones." In Detroit the tempestuous Red Wing, Howie Young, threw a glove at Referee Frank Udvari. In the same city two weeks later, Montreal's Boom-Boom Geoffrion threw both of his gloves plus his hockey stick at Referee Vern Buffey. In Boston only a few weeks ago Buffey was set upon by an irate Bruin, Guy Gendron. In mid-February, long before this occurred, Eddie Powers, generally considered one of the best hockey referees, had quit his job in disgust, not over thrown punches or even thrown tomatoes but because of what he called the failure of the NHL top brass to give him and other officials succor and comfort in their hours of trial.
"I quit the National Hockey League," he says, "because, in my opinion, Clarence Campbell, the president of that league, made a weak show of defending my integrity. The pressure of making split-second decisions on the ice is bad enough without the added strain of knowing you will get no support from the top in a showdown after the game."
According to those who worked with him, Powers' indignation had been a long time simmering. The thing that finally brought it to a boil was a published remark by Canadien Coach Hector (Toe) Blake after a Montreal- Toronto game in which Powers officiated. Blake was talking to newsmen (though he later claimed that he was really just talking to himself) about an investigation league officers were making of a player who had been thrown out of the league years before for gambling and wanted reinstatement. Instead of discussing that, Blake was reported as saying (in the French-language Montreal Matin), "They'd be better off investigating the conduct of officials who handle themselves in such a way you'd think they bet on the outcome of the game."
Powers, who felt his honor had been impugned, promptly complained about it to Campbell, and two weeks later the league president fined Blake $200. But this, as Powers likes to point out, was only four times what Campbell had fined Linesman George Hayes a month before for working a game without a proper shave. In Powers' view this seemed to show that a referee's honesty is worth only four trips to the barbershop. Moreover, there is a clear-cut bylaw stating that any manager publicly criticizing a referee is subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
"When I heard about that fine," says Powers, "I was disgusted. I was due to attend a referees' meeting the following day in Montreal, so when I got there, I went straight to the league office and told Referee in Chief Carl Voss, 'I'm quitting.' Then I walked out, determined never again to work for either Voss or his boss, Clarence Campbell."
In quitting the NHL, Eddie Powers was following the lead of another official, Red Storey, also highly rated in his time. During the 1959 Stanley Cup playoffs, Clarence Campbell was quoted as saying that Storey "froze" on some important decisions during a game at Chicago. Three days later Storey turned in his resignation and told the newspapers: "I'm quitting this game because the league president did not back me up. This thing is like a three-ring circus and the officials are being made the clowns."
Whether or not such criticisms as Storey's or Powers' are justified is a question still open to argument. Frank Udvari, who shares with Powers and Storey the reputation of being a first-class official, wants no part of them. "Hell," he says, " Campbell saved my job for me. I was going to quit once after a game in Montreal. Frank Selke wanted to get me fired, but Campbell stood up for me. Powers had troubles in a few games but he's never had the trouble I had."
What is not open to argument is the fact that to make any criticisms at all an official is virtually forced to quit the league. In the handbook for the guidance of NHL officials, Referee in Chief Carl Voss states bluntly that referees and linesmen alike "must refrain from public criticism of the league, its officers, its policies, fellow officials and linesmen and players, or the officials of league teams." This is not exactly an invitation to make an open forum of discontent.
"Unless Mr. Campbell clears it, I have no business giving information to the press or even talking to the press," said Linesman Matt Pavelich last week when he was asked to comment on a charge that the referee in chief had once rebuked him in front of a team manager.