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In suspending Trognitz for life, Beagan said, "As the conscience of this league, I'm supposed to try to determine its course. Suppose a guy walks down the street carrying a stick 53 inches long, weighing 23 ounces, and clobbers another man with it. I think he'd be charged with criminal assault. You have to think of the societal aspects of hockey in communities. Suspension was the only deterrent in a case of this character."
Four days after Trognitz was suspended, his name came up in a lunch conversation between Bill DeWitt Jr., the executive vice-president of the Stingers, and Lefty McFadden, DeWitt's assistant and a longtime IHL coach and general manager. The Stingers had high expectations for a big season, but at the time they were 1-8, in last place and drawing poorly. "We have a small, skating team and were getting pushed around," says DeWitt. "We had been trying to find someone to protect our Robbie Ftoreks." Ftorek, who weighs only 150 pounds, had been involved in two of the Stingers' three fights this season, including one with Winnipeg's Kim Clackson, perhaps the WHA's best brawler.
Dayton owner Savill, who also owns the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, well recognizes the value of an enforcer such as Trognitz. Three weeks ago Savill's Penguins paid a heavy price to acquire tough guy Dave (Hammer) Schultz from the Los Angeles Kings. "If we hadn't gotten Schultz, we'd have given Trognitz a chance in Pittsburgh," says Savill. "Believe me, not only can't you win without an enforcer, it's hard to put people in your building if you don't have one."
So the Stingers contacted Bartoli and Trognitz. A deal—$150 a game for 10 games—was worked out, and Bartoli gave Stinger personnel director Jerry Rafter a number where he could reach Trognitz in Dayton. "The voice at the other end answered 'Pioneer Lounge,' " says Rafter. "I thought, 'Oh, God, what are we doing?' " The WHA asked the same thing, and put Wild Willie on probation for 30 days. The league also forced Cincinnati to post a $25,000 bond that would be forfeited "should Trognitz seriously violate any WHA rules."
And the Stinger players? "When we heard about it, we all thought it was ridiculous," says Dudley. "When he walked in, we all kind of stared at him. I expected some seed who couldn't talk. Then I noticed he was carrying a backgammon board. So I went up to him, and it turns out he's just a nice kid with a wife and a daughter who'll do anything to play hockey."
In Wild Willie's first WHA game, Cincinnati played host to Birmingham, a team that features 215-pound Gilles (Bad News) Bilodeau, and the Stingers drew a crowd of 8,118, including some 1,500 fans who drove the 50 miles from Dayton. "Let's face it, the goons are back," says Cincinnati All-Star Center Richie Leduc. "I'm not knocking Willie. He's a nice kid who works incredibly hard, but apparently hockey people have decided they want goons. It makes me wonder where the game is going."
Trognitz did not fight Bilodeau or any of the other Bulls in his WHA debut, and halfway through his 10-game trial he still had not thrown his first punch. Penalties? Only one, a two-minute assessment for tripping. Cincinnati Coach Jacques Demers has used Trognitz strictly as a policeman, spotting him against the opposition's chief hatchetman. When Birmingham put Bilodeau on the ice, Demers waved Trognitz into the game. When Quebec sent out Curt Bracken-bury, Demers countered with Trognitz. "Nobody pushed us around," said Demers, "and we won both games."
In Edmonton on Wednesday, the Stingers lost 6-4 and Trognitz played eight shifts, most of them against 200-pound Oiler rookie Dave Semenko. He also took some grief. "Hey, don't take yourself seriously," screamed Edmonton Coach Glen Sather. "You're still a cement head."
"Bleep you, come out here," said Wild Willie.
He was on the ice for one Stinger goal and later got a shot—a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckler—on Edmonton Goalie Dave Dryden. But Wild Willie skates as if he's carrying a trunk through an airport, and he handles the puck as if it were a basketball, so Demers kept him out of Friday night's game that Cincinnati lost to Edmonton 4-3 in overtime.