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Referee Frank Udvari was known for hoisting himself off the ice by grabbing onto the top of the glass above the boards. (Alain Brouillard/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Referee Frank Udvari was known for hoisting himself off the ice by grabbing onto the top of the glass above the boards. (Alain Brouillard/Hockey Hall of Fame)


Frank Udvari: A stern judge of ‘the world’s fastest sport’ Add to ...

The feud would carry on to the NHL, where Mr. Pilous coached the Black Hawks.

Mr. Udvari made his NHL debut in 1951, a rookie with a part-time role in a fraternity whose members could be counted on one hand.

After Georges Gravel underwent gallbladder surgery, Mr. Udvari took his place in a rotation that included Red Storey (a former football star and Grey Cup winner), Jack Mehlenbacher (a harness racer by day and referee by night), and one-eyed Bill Chadwick, a legendary official whose hand signals for calling penalties were officially adopted by the NHL in 1956.

The refs wore white dress shirts with black neckties and a V-necked sweater with the NHL crest on the left breast.

Then, briefly, they wore orange sweaters, which were confusing in games featuring teams with red sweaters (Detroit, Chicago, Montreal) and, besides, showed up black on television, an entertainment growing in popularity.

The league adopted the familiar black-and-white zebra sweaters for referees at a meeting in December, 1955.

In a game in Boston during his first season, Mr. Udvari blew his whistle to halt play, though it turned out the goalie was not holding the puck. Just then, Milt Schmidt of the hometown Bruins knocked the loose puck into the net. The Bruins player skated over to the rookie referee, engaging in a spirited conversation that excited the Boston partisans.

“The fans littered the ice with all kinds of garbage, figuring he was giving me hell,” Mr. Udvari told sports writer Jeff Hicks three years ago.

Instead, the player was animatedly inquiring as to the well-being of mutual friends back home in Ontario, deliberately rousing the crowd without incurring the referee’s wrath.

In a game on Dec. 9, 1953, Bud MacPherson of the Canadiens tussled with Eric Nesterenko of the Maple Leafs just as a Toronto line change was taking place late in the game.

To even out the numbers, a quantity of Montreal players left the bench, causing the full Toronto bench to enter the melee. The penalty box was full by the time Mr. Udvari cleared the docket. He called a record 36 penalties, including four majors for fighting and 17 misconducts.

A total of $375 in fines was also assessed. (Oh, and Toronto beat Montreal, 3-0.) Mr. Udvari later described the brawl as the War of 1812 because the fighting began at 18:12 of the third period.

After a decade in the league, the referee looked back on his early days and shuddered at the errors he made.

“It’s a marvel I kept my job,” he said. “I was always in trouble. It was strictly my own fault. I irritated players by giving them penalties sort of triumphantly. I sensed hostility the minute I stepped on the ice. I worried all the time – had two X-rays for ulcers.”

In a game at Boston Garden on March 13, 1955, Boston defenceman Hal Laycoe clipped a streaking Rocket Richard with his stick.

“Rocket was going down the right wing and Hal went to hook him on the shoulder,” Mr. Udvari recalled on the 40th anniversary of one of the most notorious incidents in hockey history.

“His stick came up and cut the Rocket just above the eye. Rocket kept on going, firing a backhand shot that hit the goal post behind Sugar Jim Henry.

“Rocket went around the net. I had my hand up for a penalty [on Laycoe] when Rocket showed me the blood. I said, ‘I got it.’ But he went right after Hal.”

The defenceman had dropped his stick to prepare for a fistfight, but instead Mr. Richard chopped at his adversary with a two-handed swing. The stick nicked Mr. Laycoe’s ear before splintering on his shoulder. Unsatisfied, Mr. Richard grabbed another stick and slashed again. As the two men grappled, linesman Cliff Thompson, a burly part-time undertaker who had played six games for the Bruins before being called away to war, tried to separate Mr. Richard from his quarry.

The official took two punches to the face.

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