When the headlines read PLAYER REVOLT ROCKS HOCKEY late last year, the reaction of those who remembered was instant: it had to be Eddie Shore's team. For four decades or more when anything happened in pro hockey that was absolutely unbelievable, it had to concern Eddie—Edward William Shore, the balding, scar-faced 64-year-old owner of the Springfield Indians who as player, coach, owner and manager has been the most bizarre and incredible character in the game.
Between 1926 and 1942 Shore played in the National Hockey League, and brought to it a brand of rough-and-tumble that never has been equaled. He antagonized fans, fought opponents and stirred more controversy than any other man in the game. Opponents often teamed to cream him, owners sought to outlaw him and fans came to curse him. But when Shore played, the crowds came. And they saw him play superb, if wild, hockey. When his playing career ended, he had made the league All-Star team eight times and had assured himself a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Driving himself the way he drove his players later, Shore had also acquired more than 900 stitches in his face and body, several fractures in his back, hip, collarbone, nose and jaw, and a mouth minus every tooth.
In 1939, his body battered and his big-league career almost over, Shore put his bankroll back into the game he loved, bought the Springfield team in the American League, and promptly became the most unusual owner the sport has known. "Wild, offbeat, nutty, a kook, call him what you will," says Emile Francis, currently general manager of the New York Rangers. "Whatever the term, you're probably right."
Can anyone believe a man would open a training camp by ordering two dozen rugged hockey players to tap dance in the hotel lobby or execute delicate ballet steps on ice? Would any ordinary coach tape a player's hands to his stick? Or work out day after day with players despite four near-fatal heart attacks? Is it conceivable that a club owner would instruct players' wives to avoid relations with their husbands in the interest of a winning team? Is it conceivable, either, that a man would actually lock a referee out of his dressing room as punishment for "poor" officiating? Or order his players to make popcorn, blow up balloons and sell programs when they're not in the game?
"You better believe it," says Defense-man Don Johns, who has played both for and against Shore. "Once Eddie told me he knew why I wasn't a better hockey player. I'm always willing to learn. So I said, 'O.K., Ed, what's wrong with me?' Know what he says? 'You're not combing your hair right.' he says. He told mc to part it on the other side. That way it would help me, cause I'd have something to think about."
At the opening of training camp the year Johns joined the Indians, Shore beckoned to a rookie. The other players stopped to see what was up. "Eddie wanted the boy to skate with his legs closer," says Johns, "so he pulled out a piece of cord and tied the kid's legs together and told him to skate. Did you ever try to skate with your legs tied with rope?"
Once Johns himself was immobilized on a hospital bed, suffering a 40-stitch cut in his leg. The phone rang. It was Shore. "Mis-ter Johns," he said, "you ought to be ready to play pretty soon."
" 'But Eddie,' I told him, 'I can't even turn my leg....' " Next thing I know he hung up. For a minute I thought maybe I was babying myself. So I called the doc and told him to look at the leg. He did and told me I'd be crazy if I got out of bed in the next couple of days."
By the end of the week Johns was released from the hospital and reported to Shore, who occupied a modest office in the Eastern States Coliseum, the rink he leases in West Springfield, Mass.
"Mis-ter Johns," Shore ordered, "you're playing tonight."