Hall of Fame referee Frank Udvari, who officiated the game that eventually led to the Richard Riots in Montreal, reportedly passed away at the age of 90 on Thursday. But he had a much bigger impact on hockey than just that game.
NHL referees and linesmen aren’t always remembered or recognized. But then again, some of them are fan favorites who hold a big place in the game’s history. Ray “Scampy” Scapinello, was a small, quick linesman who had the longest career of any official. Paul Stewart, the boisterous American, was known for his old-school attitude, being blunt and to the point. He
shares some his his fascinating stories today. Kerry Fraser is as much remembered for his perfectly placed hair as he is reviled for the missed high stick call on Wayne Gretzky (by Toronto fans anyway). And there are many others who fans have some sort of attachment to or memory of, for better or worse. Frank Udvari was an NHL referee in the 1950s and ’60s who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973. According to Josh Brown of the Waterloo Region Record, Udvari passed away at the age of 90 on Thursday.
Udvari is perhaps best known for being the referee in charge of the infamous game that eventually led to the Richard Riots in Montreal. On March 13, 1955, the Montreal Canadiens played the rival Boston Bruins on the road. During play, Bruins defenseman Hal Laycoe caught Richard with a high-stick by the eye and Udvari put his arm in the air to call a penalty. But Richard was ready to take the situation into his own hands.
“I told him, ‘I got it, Rock. I got it,’ ” Udvari said when he
recalled the incident years later. Of course, that didn’t stop The Rocket. Richard swung his stick at Laycoe, striking him in the head and shoulders and punched linesman Cliff Thompson when he tried to intervene. Three days later, the NHL convened a hearing with Richard, Laycoe, referee in chief Carl Voss and representatives from both of the teams involved, where it was decided Richard would sit out the remainder of the season. “(Richard) didn’t talk to me for 30 years,” Udvari said. On March 17, 1955, the Canadiens were hosting the Detroit Red Wings without Richard in the lineup and NHL president Clarence Campbell decided to attend. Fans were not happy with the ruling, so security was tighter than usual that night. Still, food was thrown at Campbell, one fan got close enough to slap him and, when a tear gas bomb went off, the
Forum was evacuated and a riot spread to the streets. But Udvari was about much more than just that game. He was a committed, quality NHL referee for a number of years. Over his career, Udvari missed only two assignments – both due to family illnesses. After his retirement from on-ice officiating, he became the NHL’s supervisor of officials and conducted officiating schools across the continent. There, Udvari discovered future NHL ref, Kerry Fraser. And in 1978, Udvari was forced back into NHL action, if only briefly, and he didn’t miss a step.
From the Hockey Hall of Fame:
Already an Honoured Member in the Hockey Hall of Fame and having been retired for twelve years, Udvari was overseeing a game between the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames on December 30, 1978 when referee Dave Newell was cut badly. Frank sprung into action, wearing Newell’s striped sweater and borrowing an extra pair of skates from the Islanders’ Bryan Trottier and took to the ice to complete the game. Ironically, at one point, he waved off a goal scored by the man who loaned him his skates! Udvari is also right in the middle of one of my own favorite hockey photos, which you can see at the top of this post. There’s Udvari, trying his best to get the heck out of the way of a Gordie Howe bodycheck. (Looks like a penalty.) Rest in peace.
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