I was saddened to hear of the passing of 82-year-old Armand ‘Bep’ Guidolin this week. We all know his claim to fame as the youngest NHL player ever, but he also struck me as a lonely vestige from the days when rules and regulations were more relaxed in the world of hockey.
How else do you explain Guidolin making his NHL debut at 16 years, 11 months? The watchdogs of the hockey establishment today would snuff that out before it’s even discussed.
Guidolin rose to NHL fame in 1942 when the Boston Bruins were starved for players because of regulars going off to serve in the Second World War. He started with the Oshawa Generals as a 15-year-old, then got the big-league call the following season when the ‘Kraut Line’ of Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.
My only conversation with Guidolin lasted about an hour and was full of fond memories. We talked of his first game, his last game, some of the interesting incidents in between and a lot about his coaching days when league guidelines and protocol were less important than standing up for what he believed in.
There was the time in 1976 when Guidolin, coach of the World Hockey Association’s Edmonton Oilers, got into a fight with Winnipeg Jets coach Bobby Kromm. Guidolin didn’t like the fact Kromm kept complaining about the officiating and Edmonton’s rough style of play. It wasn’t just a verbal battle or a pushing match between the two. Guidolin, then 50, landed a haymaker on Kromm, 47, in the area between the benches. Kromm tried to get back at Guidolin, but both coaches were restrained.
An incident like that would be viewed as a disaster by today’s standards, but Edmonton fans cheered every second of Guidolin’s actions.
Two years prior to that, when Guidolin was coaching the expansion Kansas City Scouts, he launched into a tirade against rival California Golden Seals coach Marshall Johnston and GM Billy McCreary. The Golden Seals were glum after a 4-4 tie with the winless Scouts and talked about it like the world was ending.
“Any guy (Johnston) that makes statements like that has to have rocks in his head,” Guidolin told The Hockey News in 1974. “They haven’t been able to get their team up for seven years. That franchise has been putting people to sleep all over the NHL. I remember when they came to Boston last year, they used to put the whole Gardens to sleep. Now they’re talking like they’re Mr. Hockey or something. They’re just as bad off as we are.”
Had Gary Bettman been commissioner back then, he would have been quick to put a Brian Burke/Kevin Lowe gag order on Guidolin.
‘Bep’ also coached in Boston and Colorado, Philadelphia in the American League, London in the Ontario Hockey Association and Brantford in the Ontario League. In the AHL, he was once fined $300 for making obscene gestures at the game officials. Nothing like anti-establishment ‘Bep.’
Guidolin played 10 years in the NHL, which sounds like a nice career, but he was out by the age of 26, with still lots of speed and energy in his legs. There was a fraction of hockey followers at the time who believed Guidolin was blackballed from the NHL because he was an activist in the early attempt to form a players’ union. He did continue playing for nine years in the minors before turning to coaching.
Nicknamed ‘Bep’ by his Italian-speaking mother who pronounced it beppy rather than baby, Guidolin shot from the hip both on the ice and behind the bench.
Hockey needs more straight-shooters like that.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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