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Hockey player Bill Ezinicki died in Massachusetts on Oct. 11 at the age of 88. (HANDOUT)
Hockey player Bill Ezinicki died in Massachusetts on Oct. 11 at the age of 88. (HANDOUT)

‘WILD’ BILL EZINICKI SPORTSMAN, 88

Feared for ferocious on-ice checks, he was equally successful in the more genteel world of golf Add to ...

On Nov. 8, 1947, Ezinicki’s crushing bodycheck left Laprade unconscious and sprawled on the ice. Rangers teammate Grant Warwick retaliated by slashing Ezinicki, who needed eight stitches for the gash on his chin.

An incensed Frank Boucher, the Rangers coach and general manager, sent a telegram to NHL president Clarence Campbell: “Laprade in hospital with concussion from charge by Ezinicki after whistle on an offside play. Referee Gravelle claims he did not see the offense. How much longer is Ezinicki going to get away with elbowing, high sticking and deliberate injuries to opponents?”

Campbell interviewed the referee and two linesmen, while film provided by the Maple Leafs led to an exoneration of the player. The movie showed Ezinicki gliding from the opposite wing to meet an unchecked Laprade at the blue line, striking him with hip and shoulder. Ezinicki’s elbow and stick were held low. The punishing blow, which sent Laprade to the hospital for two days, was entirely legal.

Ezinicki continued his hard-charging ways after being traded to the Boston Bruins in 1950. The stick-swinging fight with Lindsay happened during a game at the Olympia in Detroit in 1951. Terrible Ted got cut for five stitches and suffered seriously bruised knuckles; Wild Bill lost a tooth, suffered a broken nose, and needed 19 stitches to close a gash to his head. He also got two black eyes. Both players were fined $300 and suspended three games. Gone unremarked was that they had been teammates on the Memorial Cup-winning squad seven years earlier.

After Ezinicki was traded, Meeker made a point of noting his whereabouts whenever he stepped on the ice. “You didn’t want Ezzie to hit you,” Meeker said. “I knew where he was every second. My mind was 80 per cent on hockey and 20 per cent on protecting my ass.”

Ezinicki’s play enraged some fans. He was in the penalty box when assaulted by a female fan who swung her purse at him. She was the wife of a player he had just fought on the ice. In another incident, a female fan stabbed at his backside with a hatpin.

It was said Ezinicki carried an insurance policy for which he earned $5 for every stitch endured.

He ended his NHL career with a brief stint with the Rangers. Over eight seasons, he scored 79 goals and 105 assists in 368 NHL games. He also skated for the minor league Pittsburgh Hornets, Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks.

He took up golf full-time after retiring as a hockey player, enjoying success on the Professional Golfers Association Tour. A broken left thumb from his hockey days forced him to change his grip from overlapping to interlocking.

He twice won the New England championship and, in 1960, he won the Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts Open tournaments.

Ezinicki qualified for the U.S. Open nine times. He is joined by San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie and New York Yankees outfielder Sam Byrd as the only three athletes from a professional sport team to qualify for the annual major championship tournament.

When not in competition, Ezinicki was the long-time head professional at the International at Bolton, Mass., the region’s premier golf club, which included what was at the time the world’s longest golf course.

He displayed little of the ferocity of a hockey player when on the golf course, although he did once memorably lose his cool. Seeking to qualify for the U.S. Open in 1954, he drove out of bounds on the No. 13 hole at the Colonial Golf Club in Lynnfield, Mass. This so angered him that he broke his putter and wound up using a No. 2 iron on the greens for the remainder of his round.

Ezinicki died on Oct. 11 at Addison Gilbert Hospital at Gloucester, Mass. He leaves daughters Claudia Ezinicki of Lancaster, Mass., and Julie Zammuto of Crescent Spur, B.C. He also leaves a sister, Carolyn Hamilton, of Winnipeg. He was predeceased by his wife of 52 years, Jane (née McPherson), who died in 2003, age 75, and by a son, William, a pilot who died after a long illness in 1996, age 41. He was also predeceased by two brothers and two sisters.

Ezinicki was enshrined in the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (2004), the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame (1986), and the New England Section of the PGA Hall of Fame (1997).

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