Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lloyd Gilmour, hockey referee (1927-2010)

Lloyd Gilmour signals a two-minute delay-of-game penalty to the Soviet Red Army team.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 16, 2010

Two instantaneous verdicts issued by hockey referee Lloyd Gilmour sparked an international incident during the Cold War.

Gilmour who has died, aged 82, was a seasoned National Hockey League official when assigned to handle an exhibition game on Jan. 11, 1976. The showdown pitted a skilled Soviet Red Army team against the thuggish Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers were populated by fearsome Canadians accustomed to intimidating rivals with a brand of hockey that earned them the nickname the Broad Street Bullies. The roster included players known as Bomber, Battleship, and The Hammer. The felonious lineup was not expected to show mercy to their communist opponents.

At the 11:21 mark of the first period, Ed Van Impe charged out of the penalty box to bowl over speedster Valeri Kharlamov. The Russian star collapsed to the ice. Gilmour gazed upon this sad scene and judged the check to be within hockey’s rule book. To the horror of the Soviet coach, who later decried such behaviour as “animal hockey,” the referee failed to call what to the visitors seemed a blatant infraction.

The Russian players sat atop the dasher in front of the bench, refusing to continue play. Mr. Gilmour called a minor penalty on the visitors for delay of game. They then abandoned the ice for the refuge of the locker room.

After 15 minutes of intense negotiations, they returned to resume a game they would go on to lose, 4-1.

Afterwards, the youth newspaper Komsomoskaya Pravda complained the game had been ruined by the Flyers’ crude tactics “with the connivance of the Canadian referee.”

It was not the only time Gilmour was alleged to have allowed nationalist sentiment to overrule his judgment. In the 1973 NHL playoffs, Chicago coach Billy Reay complained the referee allowed Montreal Canadiens checkers to harass his stars. “What we could use in this league is one good American referee once in a while,” he said.

Gilmour had a reputation as a ref who “let the players play,” which is to say he turned a blind eye to all but the most egregious offences. He also displayed an impressive fluency in the course slang favoured by hockey players, punctuating his authority on occasion with a tart command to desist in scofflaw behaviour.

This approach did not endear him to teams with a more lawful approach than the Flyers.

“He misses everything,” St. Louis Blues general manager Scotty Bowman once complained. “He’s hopeless.”

Gilmour later acknowledged a reluctance to administer justice during the playoffs, when a single penalty might determine a championship.

“You have to be more careful, but you’re still doing a job and you can’t go out there ... and put your whistle in your pocket,” he said in 1991.

In 1975, Sports Illustrated magazine pronounced him the NHL’s top official for his “cool disdain,” noting “he is virtually an invisible man on the ice.”

After hanging up his striped shirt, he became a noted restaurateur at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. His restaurant offered the venue for the professional debut, at age 15, of the jazz singer Diana Krall.

Lloyd Everett Gilmour was born on Aug. 19, 1927, at Cumberland, B.C., a mining village on Vancouver Island.

He showed some promise as a defenceman until he suffered grievous injuries from an accident while working in the woods as a logger. He spent six months in hospital recuperating from injuries to his hips, legs, back, and pelvis.

He attempted a comeback, but decided after two months he was no longer the skater he had once been.

He stayed in the game as an on-ice official, working as a linesman in a senior league in British Columbia’s Okanagan region. After two years, he became a referee in the Western Hockey League, later working in other minor professional leagues, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles in the 1950s and 1960s.

In those days, games often degenerated into bench-clearing brawls. A melee in 1962 led the referee to assess eight major penalties for fighting during which a female spectator was injured. Nor did the players always respect the official. Gilmour once assessed a misconduct and a game misconduct after being pushed by Eddie Dorohoy (obituary, Sept. 19, 2009). The skater later got punished by the league for his misbehaviour. The fine was $25.

Gilmour made his NHL debut in 1958, occasionally filling in as a referee, though mostly still working in the minors.

An expansion from six NHL teams to 12 for the 1967-68 season doubled the number of jobs for referees and linesmen in the world’s top hockey circuit.

A familiar fixture at NHL rinks, he was afforded several honours, including officiating the inaugural NHL home game of the Vancouver Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum.

During the 1975 Stanley Cup finals, balmy May weather in Buffalo caused a fog cloud to form over the ice. A dozen times during Game 3, Mr. Gilmour had members of the visiting Flyers and hometown Sabres skate around to dissipate a vapor that made it difficult to see the puck.

After hanging up his striped referee’s shirt, he operated an officiating school in summers at Banff, Alta., and took a turn in the broadcast booth, a nerve-racking debut more for his broadcast partner than for himself, as it was feared some of his salty language might foul the air.

His restaurant near the ferry terminal in Nanaimo was called Nanaimo Harbour Lights, a sneaky acronym designed to have his establishment associated with the NHL. The interior included much hockey memorabilia and it was a favourite watering hole for touring teams of old-time players.

Gilmour has been inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame and into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

A newspaper once printed an account of two fans discussing the qualifications of various referees. One suggested Gilmour was the best in the business. “Nuts!” replied the other. “Gilmour has the best unpaid seat in the house. He just lets them kill each other.”

Mr Gilmour, who died on Aug. 11, eight days before what would have been his 83rd birthday, leaves his wife, Trudy; two daughters; a son; a brother; nine grandchildren; and, seven great-grandchildren. One of his grandsons, Aaron Guiel, spent five seasons in baseball’s American League as an outfielder.