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From the Archives: The Brawl in the Hall

Stan Fischler looks at a crazy night between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers in 1949 that saw massive fights break out between periods.
brawl hall

If You Can't Beat 'Em In The Alley, You Can't Beat 'Em On The Ice!

That was the Maple Leafs' theme created by Toronto's Lord of Hockey, Conn Smythe.

One night, however, during the 1949-50 season Smythe's team took the theme inside. In a game against the Rangers the message, literally, became:

"If You Can't Beat "em In The (Gardens) Corridor, You Can't Beat 'Em On The Ice."

And this is no joke. I read all about the hallway headhunting when my edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail arrived at my house. I actually did a double-take when I read the headline: LEAFS AND RANGERS ERUPT IN BETWEEN PERIODS BATTLE.

This subhead followed: LYNN PATRICK IS CASUALTY; HAND GASHED

Perhaps most surprising to me was the fact that the Rangers -- managed by multi-Lady Byng Trophy-winner Frank Boucher -- generally proved to be a non-belligerent team. By contrast, the Leafs lineup was littered with Sluggos.

According to most observers, the spark that ignited the fireworks was a fight in front of the Rangers net guarded by goalie Chuck (Bonnie Prince Charlie) Rayner near the end of the first period. Leafs excitable right wing Howie Meeker clashed with Rayner and -- as the song goes -- "Al The Cats Joined In." Or, as the Globe and Mail's Jim Vipond put it:

"Toronto players said that Rayner, Gus Kyle, Edgar Laprade and Frankie Eddolls all high-sticked (the Leafs) Ted Kennedy at the same time. Meeker retaliated by charging at Rayner and drew the lone penalty of the fray."

Rayner's explanation was that he was tired of getting high-sticked in every game. "I guess our tempers were a little hot," Rayner allowed in his post-game explanation.

But the real eruption took place as the players of both teams walked side by side down the corridor to their respective dressing rooms. Rayner and Toronto defenseman Jim Thomson suddenly began jawing at each other and a fight was inevitable..

"Players of both teams filled the narrow space, muttering imprecations, and only crowded conditions kept punch-swinging at a minimum," Vipond explained. "However, several telling blows were struck."

The night's fight card opened after an intense yelling scrum. The bouts were many and varied at all weight levels. The following are the combatants:

1. JIM THOMSON VS. CHUCK RAYNER: Following a nasty yelling match between the Leafs defenseman and Rangers goalie, they dropped their sticks and began swinging away. .Suddenly, Thomson's defense partner Gus Mortson moved in to help his buddy but was intercepted by the Rangers coach, burly Lynn Patrick.

2. LYNN PATRICK VS. GUS MORTSON: Patrick opened by punching the Toronto defenseman in the mouth.The blow cut Mortson's lower lip on the inside. Mortson counterattacked with four solid blows . Patrick later would require six stitches in the back of his head to close the wounds.

3. HOWIE MEEKER VS. PATRICK: Meeker mistakenly thought he could be the mediator by grabbing Patrick to stop the fight. Instead Patrick cuffed Howie in the head. "Boy," Meeker later commented, "that Patrick can throw a punch. He knocked me back into the Rangers dressing room."

4. HAP DAY VS. GUS KYLE: Leaf coach Day charged into the swinging players, hoping to separate them. For all Hap's good intentions, Kyle responded by lifting his stick over his head and yellig, "Damn homers! Damn homers." Gardens' usher Alex Greenway quickly pushed Kyle away from Day and into the Rangers room.

The madness turned to chaos, according to reporter Vipond:

"A scene of wild confusion existed for a few minutes as exited players, spectators on their way out for the usual between periods relaxation and ushers and police pressed back and forth. Finally usher Greenway -- striding down the corridor -- restored order separating players and ordering them to their dressing rooms."

By this time police reinforcements were called. At the end of the second period as well as after the game, the teams walked from the ice through a line of blue clad cops. A photo accompanying the Globe story shows the police gauntlet separating the coaches and one Leaf player.

Smythe wasn't directly involved but he loved a fracas like that one any time and said a good brawl always helps sell tickets. As for Conn's "You can't beat 'em in the alley" remark, he later explained:

"I did not mean that you scare the other guy, but that you show him that there is no fear in you."

As for who won "The Brawl In The Hall," the Leafs took that clash six stitches to none!

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