Hockey has always been a game that is played with emotion. Within a moment in any game, you can see tension, excitement, joy, despair, relief, frustration, anger. And sadly, sometimes, the frustration and anger can lead to gruesome results. This is a story of the latter.
Over the last sixty years, it's difficult to think of an episode more gruesome and vicious than what happened at the Ottawa Civic Centre on a warm September evening in 1969. For those of a certain age, you undoubtedly already know what it is that I am referring to. If you aren't aware of it, please be warned, what happened on the ice that night is something you will never forget. From the time of World War II until the end of the 1966-67 season, the NHL had been a six-team league. The Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Black Hawks made up the league. After the Leafs won the Cup in the spring of 1967, the NHL went through with their plans to expand the size of the league. They added six new teams by putting franchises in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Bloomington, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Oakland, California. These six teams were assembled together into one division – the West Division. (Yes, I know. Geographically, that makes no sense. But what it did for the league was ensure that one team from these new cities would emerge as one of the finalists for the Stanley Cup, thus encouraging the fans in these new places to feel engaged from the start.) Very quickly, the St. Louis Blues stood above the other six teams, coming out of the West as the finalist for the Cup. They lost the final series in both 1967-68 and 1968-69 to the Montreal Canadiens. The Boston Bruins had come from the ash heap of the Original Six. After they drafted Bobby Orr in the summer of 1966, they began a steady rise up the standings after they finished last in the 1966-67 season. They wound up in third place out of six in the new East Division in 1967-68. They moved up one spot in 1968-69 and were poised to begin making a big move in 1969-70. Back in the early days of the twelve-team NHL, teams would have their training camps in cities that were different from where they actually played their games. The Bruins held their camp in London, Ontario. The Blues held theirs in Ottawa. The Civic Centre was their home rink for that four-week period until the season started and hockey fans in the nation’s capital treated the Blues like they were their own team. Training camps for NHL teams opened on or about September 11, 1969 and all the groups had been skating and working out for about ten days or so by the time the Bruins made the trip to Ottawa for their pre-season game with the Blues. There are people who call these games “meaningless”, but for many players, they are anything but that.
For young players who are trying to make an impression on the coaches, these games mean everything. For players joining the team after playing for other teams, these games offer a chance to get to know their new teammates and garner respect. For the older players who are just trying to hang on, these games are an opportunity to show they still belong. So a lot of guys have something to prove during these “exhibition” games.
On September 21, the Bruins and Blues faced off at the Civic Centre. The first half of the first period was fairly uneventful. But about thirteen minutes in, Blues’ forward Wayne Maki – a player who had been on the Chicago roster playing with his brother Ron “Chico” Maki the previous year – dumped the puck deep into the Bruins’ zone. Defenseman Ted Green went back into the corner to play it. Maki chased him and hammered Green into the boards from behind. There are numerous accounts of what happened next and everything happened very quickly, but here is where they all seem to correspond. Green took exception to the hit and shoved Maki to the ice. The referee, Ken Bodendistel, raised his arm to call a penalty on Green. Maki, angry and down, speared Green in the genitals. Green swung his stick like a baseball bat and hit Maki on the arm. That swing knocked Maki to the ice again. Green then turned away to go to the penalty box. Maki had gotten up and swung his stick and with the heel of his stick, struck Green on the right temple. It wasn’t quite evident right away, but that blow had crushed part of his skull and left Green partially paralyzed and immediately caused his speech to be slurred. Green, while his body was convulsing, tried to get up but was unable to do so. Right away, Bobby Orr leapt off the bench and tried to get at Maki. Meanwhile other Bruins players were trying to carry Green to the dressing room. Orr did his best to make contact with Maki and some reports say that Orr was pummelling him while others indicate that Orr tried to take a swing at Maki but was pulled away. Keep in mind, this all happened very suddenly and very quickly. Dan Kelly was the Blues’ play-by-play man and he described the incident as “one of the most horrifying, most violent exchanges I’ve ever seen in hockey”. “I could see right away that Green was badly hurt,” Kelly told legendary hockey broadcaster Brian MacFarlane years afterward. “When he tried to get up, his face was contorted and his legs began to buckle under him. It was dreadful. I almost became physically ill watching him struggle because I knew this was very, very serious. I remember it like it happened yesterday.”
Incredibly, the game continued after Green was taken off the ice and as he was being rushed to the Ottawa General Hospital. Since it was a Blues’ home game and Ottawa had treated the Blues like they were their team, the crowd booed Orr, who had gone after Maki after the incident. They had cheered him every time he had touched the puck prior to the incident. Green was rushed into surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. But, even while being wheeled into the Emergency Room, he was trying to tell whoever would listen that he wanted to get at Maki. The Ottawa Citizen wrote, “As attendants stripped away his hockey uniform in preparation for his operation for a depressed skull fracture, the defenseman kept moaning ‘This is Maki’s first and last year in this league...’” At the hospital, doctors managed to reduce the pressure on his brain, but he did suffer some brain damage apparently. He missed the rest of the 1969-70 season but he did return for 1970-71. He played two more years for the Bruins, and jumped to the new rival World Hockey Association before the 1972-73 season. He played three years with the New England Whalers and four years with the Winnipeg Jets. He worked as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers, under his former teammate Glen Sather, from 1980 to 1991. He became head coach of the Oilers in 1991and, although he got the team to the Conference Final in 1992, they missed the playoffs in 1993 and Green was let go after 24 games of the 1993-94 season. Green and Maki were both charged with assault by Ottawa Police but both were acquitted. The incident took its toll on Maki. He didn’t manage to stick with the Blues that season. He remained in the organization, but was left exposed for the 1970 expansion draft and was claimed by the new Vancouver Canucks. He played well on the West Coast and managed to place himself as one of the top scorers for the team the first two years he played there. Sadly, in December of 1972, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He passed away on May 12, 1974. Maki wore number 11 while with the Canucks. After his death, the team took the number out of circulation. The only other player to wear the number for the Canucks since then was Mark Messier when he played there in the 1997-98 season. No Canucks player has worn the number since Messier left Vancouver. One side note.....Immediately after the incident in Ottawa, Bruins General Manager Milt Schmidt ordered all Bruins’ players to don helmets. He took twenty helmets down to practice soon after that game and emphatically told the Bruins players that if they didn’t want to wear the helmets, they could leave the ice right away. The players, not knowing what to do, looked over at Bobby Orr to see what his reaction was. Orr was slowly skating off the ice. The other players followed suit. Schmidt never pressed the issue again. Oh, one more thing. At the end of the 1969-70 season, the Bruins finished in second place in the East. The Blues finished first in the West. Boston won their series against New York and Chicago to get to the Stanley Cup Final. St. Louis knocked off Minnesota and Pittsburgh on their way to the Cup Final. The Bruins swept the Blues in the series with Bobby Orr scoring that iconic goal in overtime at the end of Game 4. Cheers, folks. Have fun and stay safe!
In researching this column, Howie lists the following websites as reference: ottawacitizen-com.cdn.ampproject lostmediaarchive.fandom.com hockey-reference.com icehockey.fandom.com greatesthockeylegends.com