By the afternoon of March 17 a growing battalion was pacing the sidewalks around the ancient Montreal Forum, where the Canadiens were scheduled to play the Detroit Red Wings that night. VIVE RICHARD and A BAS CAMPBELL proclaimed the signs.
Suspense was heightened by uncertainty over Campbell's personal plans. Nobody really expected the president to attend the game, but then again he had never declared that he wouldn't show up. "If he does turn up," warned a police inspector at the No. 10 station near the Forum, "there'll be trouble."
Late in the afternoon Campbell declared that he had no intention of missing the game. The tall, graying president explained his position quietly and with apparent logic. "I'm a season ticket-holder," he said, "and a regular attendant, and I have a right to go. I feel that the police can protect me. I haven't consulted them, and they haven't advised me not to attend."
Mayor Jean Drapeau later challenged Campbell's version. The mayor insisted that a police official suggested that Campbell remain home, but when Campbell insisted upon going to the game the officer urged him to drive his car to a garage two blocks east of the Forum. Unlike Campbell, Maurice Richard was hesitant about making an appearance, but when his wife said she wanted to see the game the Rocket felt obliged to go along with her.
The opening face-off was scheduled for 8:30 p.m., and by that time more than 600 militant demonstrators had gathered on St. Catherine Street West, in front of the Forum, and on Atwater and Closse Streets, which bound the side entrances. Unobtrusively, the Rocket pushed his way through the crowd and camped in a seat near the goal judge's chair at the end of the rink. Campbell, who had dined at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association with his secretary and her sister, was delayed by the meal and arrived at the garage later than he had anticipated.
Just what happened in the following critical moments is uncertain. Officials of the Forum insist that they had instructed Campbell's party to wait until the police arrived to escort them to the rink. But it was Campbell's impression that the officials meant the trio to proceed and enter by the back door. In any case, the police in front of the Forum had their hands full containing the crowd that was growing increasingly more belligerent.
Campbell found a policeman and asked to be escorted to his seat. The constable summoned a police inspector, who escorted the Campbell party to the referee's room, where Campbell hung his coat. He then walked to his box at the south end of the rink with the two women, and they took their seats.
The fans already were unhappy about the game itself. Detroit had taken a 2-1 lead before Campbell arrived, and the Canadiens appeared disorganized without the Rocket. As soon as Campbell took his seat a thunderous roar cascaded off the roof of the Forum: "Va-t'en, Va-t'en!" The more the fans chanted the worse the Canadiens performed. By the end of the first period the local heroes were behind 4-1 and it was obvious that Campbell was in trouble.
As the intermission approached a torrent of debris poured down upon the NHL president and his guests. Miss King's white hat was knocked off her head by a tossed overshoe. Assorted fruit splattered Campbell's dark-green fedora. Since most of the missiles were flying wide of their target, an obliging fan rose six seats behind Campbell to serve as a spotter and direct the fire of those above him.
When a soda-pop bottle struck a woman nearby, several fans implored Campbell to leave, but the implacable president remained seated and even managed to force a smile. "I tried to avoid doing anything that would provoke the crowd," he said later. But his slightest movement was enough to spur an attack. A youngster swooped down from the aisle above and pretended to shake hands with Campbell. As the president reached forward, the youth hurled several punches in Campbell's face. The police chased the boy and grabbed him.