On Dec. 23, 1979, the Boston Bruins waded into the stands to do battle with rowdy fans at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. The brouhaha ensued at the end of an NHL game officiated by Gregg Madill.
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 20, 2011
A hockey referee is judge and jury, witness and prosecutor. A verdict is delivered on the spot, the penalty pronounced forthwith.
Such frontier justice does not make popular those who don the black-and-white sweater. (In the sporting world, the jurists, not the convicted, wear stripes.) Their uniform leads to the jocular appellation of referees as zebras. More often, they are thought of as asses.
Gregg Madill, who has died, aged 67, generated an inordinate amount of criticism even for his profession.
Players questioned his calls. Coaches questioned his motives.
“The refereeing, as usual, was a joke,” Ken (The Rat) Linseman of the Edmonton Oilers said after one 1983 game officiated by Madill. The ref assessed 164 minutes in penalties, most of those coming after a bench-clearing brawl.
After a 1980 loss, New York Rangers coach Fred Shero complained to the New York Times: “He was doing funny things for both teams and the players found it hard to concentrate.”
“You can’t cry about officiating,” defenceman Barry Beck added, “but you sure can lose some games the way he called them tonight.”
Even in victory, players found reason to whine.
Montreal’s Jacques Lemaire, fresh from scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory, moaned about an ignored infraction that impeded a streaking Canadiens player. “Madill was doing a bad thing for hockey when he didn’t call a penalty on (Andre) St. Laurent for hooking,” Lemaire said. “He broke the rhythm of the game. People come to see exciting plays like a breakaway.”
Montreal’s Steve Shutt was once so incensed by the referee that he deliberately bumped into him with an elbow, earning a three-game suspension from the league office.
Sports writers piled on.
After one frustrating game, Steve Simmons informed readers of the Calgary Herald that Madill “upheld his well-deserved reputation for being the worst referee in the modern-day National Hockey League.”
Perhaps the most devastating assessment came from Sports Illustrated. The American magazine evaluated all 12 NHL referees, ranking Madill at the bottom of the class.
“A cut below the rest,” the report stated. “Can get flustered and lose control of a game.”
A year later, he was dismissed by the NHL, though he did not give up refereeing, soon after patrolling junior games for the Ontario Hockey League.
Madill’s career coincided with an era of goon hockey, during which brawls, melees and donnybrooks were as common as an everyday slash.
He once ejected nine players from a game for fighting.
The most notorious incident in Madill’s career came at the end of a game at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Dec. 23, 1979. After the final whistle, players from both teams milled on the ice in a scrum that grew more heated as players argued. A fan then reached over the glass surrounding the rink to sock Boston’s Stan Jonathan in the nose, drawing blood.
The Bruins, skates still on their feet, climbed the glass to fight with the fans.Mike Milbury wrestled one fan over a row of seats, ripping a shoe off his feet before beating him with it.
As police broke up the battle in the stands, Rangers captain Dave Maloney had a heated argument on the ice with Madill before smashing his stick on the ice. The ref assessed him a game misconduct even though the match had long since ended. Later, Maloney complained to reporters that Madill had sworn at him and accused New York’s Swedish players of deliberately falling down so as to incur penalties on their opponents, an unsportsmanlike behaviour known as diving.
League president John Ziegler suspended three and fined 18 of the Bruins. He took no action against the Rangers, or the referee, though Sports Illustrated blamed Madill for ignoring a trip and a retaliation that led to the scrum after the final whistle.
(The brawl remains a staple of sports highlight programs, somewhat to the embarrassment of Milbury, whose current appeal to machismo as a hockey broadcaster is diminished by his ridiculous use of a shoe as a weapon.
(Earlier this week, Milbury was charged with assault of a 12-year-old pee-wee hockey player in Massachusetts. News accounts indicated the boy had made reference to the shoe beating.)
One of the odder incidents in Madill’s career occurred during a game in Denver, when he banished goal judge Rod Lippman after the off-ice official lit the red lamp signaling a goal even though the puck had hit a goal post. It was the goal judge’s third disputed call of the night.
Though criticized as an NHL referee, Madill had worked his way up to the league after stints in minor professional circuits. He earned praise for his handling of international hockey games, including a successful assignment as an official at the world championships in Moscow in 1979.
Richard Gregg Madill was born in Toronto on July 15, 1944. He died on Dec. 5 at his winter home at Kissimmee, Fla. He also had a residence in the village of Apsley within the township of North Kawartha, Ont. He has been a residential building contractor.
He leaves his wife, Judy; two sons; a stepdaughter; and, six grandchildren. One of his sons, Jeff Madill, a right-winger, played 14 games with the New Jersey Devils of the NHL and had a long career in the minors.
Last year, an online auction house sold one of Madill’s NHL sweaters. The “spectacular set of stripes,” the listing noted, showed “some light staining that appears to be blood.”
This article originally misspelled Ken Linseman's family name. As Linesman. Which is the guy who works with a referee. Which would have been clever had it been intentional and not a typo. It has been changed. Linseman's nickname has also been added to the text.