Until the night of Oct. 29, Raymond William (Wild Willie) Trognitz was just another guy banging out a living as a 10-grand-a-year minor league hockey bad man for the Dayton Owls. On that night in Port Huron, Mich., Trognitz banged his hockey stick over the head of an opponent named Archie Henderson. Five days later Wild Willie was "permanently suspended," banned for life from the International League, the lowest rung on the professional hockey ladder, by President William Beagan.
Unbelievably, just four days after that, the World Hockey Association's Cincinnati Stingers, in dire need of an on-ice policeman to protect their fancy skaters, asked the "permanently suspended" Trognitz to come play in the big leagues for them. And so there was Trognitz last week, relaxing in an Edmonton tavern with his new Cincinnati teammates, chasing down a big steak with a beer and reflecting on the events that had so changed his life.
"They'll never believe this story back in Thunder Bay," Trognitz said.
"Willie," said Cincinnati Captain Rick Dudley, "they wouldn't believe your story anywhere."
L'affaire Trognitz has rocked a hockey world still reeling from government investigations into violence as well as a battery of lawsuits and prosecutions by district attorneys for alleged crimes on the ice. Outrageous seemed to be the only word for it. Here hockey is purportedly trying to clean up its act, and a big league team hires an admitted tough guy who has been suspended for life.
As Trognitz went to work for the Stingers, Beagan seemed to be softening his stand. The "permanent suspension," Beagan indicated, really was an "expulsion subject to future review." Beagan was also preparing for a Dec. 1 hearing on Trognitz' appeal of the lifetime ban. And he has been threatened with a lawsuit by Dayton owner Al Savill and has been characterized as a "name-seeking egomaniac" by Dayton General Manager Moe Bartoli.
Bending an elbow at Lucifer's in Edmonton, Trognitz seemed amused by the furor he had created. "Hockey's a game that condones fighting," he said. "Strange, isn't it? Beagan tries to change that, and here I am smoking a buck-twenty-five cigar in the bigs."
The Trognitz-Henderson skirmish had erupted at the conclusion of a game-ending, bench-clearing brawl between the Dayton and Port Huron players that produced 229 minutes in penalties. As the game ended, with Port Huron winning 4-1, Dayton's Rick Dorman and the Flags' Gary Rissling resumed an earlier fight. Trognitz, who was leaving the penalty box, rushed to join the fight along with players from both benches, and in quick order there was a battle royal. Henderson, a 6'6", 218-pound right wing, grabbed Dayton's John Flesch by the shirt. Wild Willie, a left wing, who is 6 feet tall and weighs almost 215 pounds, skated to Flesch's defense, jumping Henderson from behind and landing five or six punches to the face—one of which apparently broke Henderson's nose.
Henderson, Flesch and Trognitz went down in a heap, and along came Port Huron's Gary McMonagle to pull Trognitz off Henderson. Trognitz responded by pounding McMonagle several times. After that Trognitz skated to the Dayton bench and was talking with Coach Nick Polano as the officials, general managers and police tried to get the two teams to their dressing rooms.
At that point Henderson put down his gloves and stick, broke away from a linesman and charged around the rink and up the boards toward Trognitz.