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From the Archives: A Clamor for Three Referees in the NHL

The NHL moved to a double-referee system for 1998-99, but it wasn't the first time such a change was considered. Stan Fischler looks back at an idea thrown around back in 1952.

The National Hockey League advanced from a one-referee system to double-zebras at the start of the 1998-99 season for a very logical reason: four eyes to detect infractions were better than two.

After all, the fastest game on earth had become too speedy for one on-ice official to accurately handle.

However, this was not the first time such a change was considered. As a matter of fact, 71 years ago, the sports editor of Canada's national newspaper urged league moguls to have what would have amounted to three refs for games.

The Globe and Mail's Jim Vipond wrote on March 27, 1952 that two linesmen be given added responsibility. They could whistle players to the sin bin or, at the very least, point out penalties that the ref might have missed.

An aroused Vipond got on his soapbox after witnessing the turbulent first game of the '52 Toronto-Detroit semi-final playoff at Olympia Stadium. (The Wings won, 3-0.)

Like so many rivalries, the simmering Leafs-Wings war inspired heated prose. "It's hate hockey time again," wrote Vipond. "The (first) game was splashed with a dash of venom."

Nobody knew that better than the game's referee Bill Chadwick. "I handled the 1942 Cup final between these guys," said the official known as The Big Whistle. "And that one got nasty and went seven games."

Nasty was an understatement. At the end of Game Four ('42) in Detroit, the irate-with-the-officiating Wings manager-coach Jack Adams punched referee Mel Harwood and was suspended for the rest of the Final round.

Toronto and Detroit had another seven-game uprising three years later and once again the Leafs won. "Adams wasn't too happy about that series either," said Chadwick who handled 42 Final series games including 13 Cup-winners.

But, as The Big Whistle attested, Detroit-Toronto inter-city animosity persisted into the early 1950s and the players agreed. "I hated the Leafs so much I'd play them for nothing," seethed Red Wings left wing Ted Lindsay.

Naturally, both Adams and his Toronto opposite, Conn Smythe, blamed each other for the '52 first game fury. Smythe specifically questioned Chadwick's interpretation of an interference penalty.

Vipond: "The Toronto hockey boss admitted that it (interference) was a tough rule to call, although expressing the opinion that what was ruled interference by (Leafs) defenseman Fern Flaman was apparently considered a legitimate check when perpetrated by (Detroit center) Sid Abel."

When I checked my '51-52 scrapbook for Smythe's beef about Chadwick, I found the Globe and Mail's headline was right to the point. REF RESPONSIBILITY SHOULD BE EASED.

Vipond envisioned an amendment to NHL rules whereby linesmen either could call penalties or advise the night's referee of an infraction that the zebra might have missed.

"As it is now." the columnist explained, "the referee does all the work while the linesmen merely blow offsides and step between enraged opponents. Why not consider them (the linesmen) in the light of field judges as in football.

"There were several instances of holding and clipping behind his (Chadwick's) back. The linesmen broke up several of them ... but they should inform the chief official who could act on information received as they do in football."

The Lords of the NHL eventually got the message. Now the NHL Rule Book provides expanded roles for linesmen as aides to the referees.

Perhaps they should call them "The Jim Vipond Rules!"


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