A hockey stick clubbed down on Ted Green’s unprotected head, cracking his skull and driving bone chips into his brain.
The defenceman crumpled to the ice, his head involuntarily thrashing from side to side. A grotesque indentation could be seen near his right temple. The left side of his body was partly paralyzed. His eyes were glassy and, as he tried to talk, only mumbling noises could be heard. His face was contorted into a frozen grimace.
At hospital in Ottawa that night, Mr. Green asked a Catholic priest to administer the last rites. For his part in a stick-swinging duel that ended with his injury, the National Hockey League suspended him for 13 games – to be served if he ever returned to action. He also faced a criminal charge from the incident. Even if he survived, it was thought his hockey career was over.
“Death gave me a little brush on the shoulder,” he said from his hospital bed while recuperating from emergency brain surgery.
Mr. Green, who lived with a protective acrylic plate in his head for a half-century before dying Oct. 8, at the age of 79, recovered from the devastating head injury to win two Stanley Cups as a player with the Boston Bruins and another five behind the bench as an assistant coach and co-coach with the Edmonton Oilers.
Terrible Teddy Green, as he was known, was a fearsome opponent, a rock-solid defenceman with a scofflaw’s disdain for the rule book and a street brawler’s willingness to engage in pugilism. He relied on instinct and intuition more than skill. Mr. Green was said to be the meanest person to wear Boston’s black-and-gold sweater since the retirement of the notorious Eddie Shore. At 5-foot-10 and 190-pounds, the player had a crooked nose, a boxer’s hard face and a smile that seemed more like the smirk of an ill-tempered drunk at the end of the bar.
Edward Joseph Green was born March 23, 1940, in Eriksdale, Man., a farming community about 120 kilometres north of Winnipeg. He was one of three sons born to Hortense Glemas, who had been placed in an orphanage at the age of 8, and John Joseph (Jack) Green, who worked for 30 years as a security guard and carman’s helper with the Canadian National Railway. As a teenager, young Teddy skated for the Norwood Falcons, whose outdoor rink was downwind from Winnipeg’s stockyards, under the tutelage of Mike Yaschuk, a former professional. He was taught to throw a hip-check by former NHL player Bill Juzda.
He played junior hockey for the St. Boniface Canadiens, leading the league in penalty minutes in his first full season. The tough defenceman won a Memorial Cup junior championship when added to the playoff roster of the Winnipeg Braves in 1959. He celebrated by filling the cup with champagne and pouring it over the heads of teammates.
The Montreal Canadiens invited him to training camp in the fall, only to release him to the Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. Boston claimed his NHL rights with the second pick in the 1960 intraleague draft.
He missed the start of the 1961-62 season with a broken knuckle on his left hand, suffered in a frantic melee in the crease during which he punched, in turn, Frank Mahovlich, Bob Nevin, a hapless lineman and an unyielding goal post in an exhibition game at Niagara Falls, Ont. He returned to action weeks later with a cast still protecting his injury.
The rugged rearguard became a favourite of the Boston Garden crowd early in his rookie campaign. In one December game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mr. Green waited all of two minutes after the puck dropped before engaging in a wild donnybrook, beating up Dick Duff and George Armstrong. The Boston Globe wrote approvingly the next day that the new player “punches with the rapidity of a machine-gun.” Mr. Green was assessed two fighting majors and an automatic 10-minute misconduct and, after serving his penalty time, spent the rest of the game on the Boston bench, even as the crowd chanted, “We want Green!”
The defenceman was assessed more than 100 minutes in penalties in each of his first five seasons. The hooligan shenanigans did little to help Boston climb out of the basement of the six-team league, but astute trades and the arrival of whiz-kid defenceman Bobby Orr, coinciding with the adoption of a robust, physical style of play, transformed the sad-sack squad into the Big Bad Bruins by the late 1960s.
After the 1968-69 season, Mr. Green was named to the NHL’s second all-star team, recognition he had developed into one of the league’s elite players.
The Bruins were preparing for the club’s first serious challenge for the championship in a quarter-century when Mr. Green suffered his severe injury. In a meaningless preseason exhibition game in Ottawa on Sept. 21, 1969, Mr. Green tussled with left-winger Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues.
“As I trapped the puck behind the net, the kid hit me from behind, and I got a little ticked off, as I always do when that happens,” Mr. Green recounted in his 1971 book, High Stick, written with Al Hirshberg. “But my first obligation was to clear the puck. I kicked it with my skate up to my stick and shot it out around the boards to our right wing. Then I turned to take care of the guy who hit me.”
Mr. Green shoved a gloved left hand in Mr. Maki’s face. The player retaliated by shoving the blade of his stick into the defenceman, a “filthy trick” known as spearing. The Boston player swung his stick, catching Mr. Maki on the bicep. Mr. Green would have no memory of what happened next.
Mr. Maki took a lumberjack’s swing, clubbing Mr. Green on the head at the point where the blade meets the shaft – the most unyielding part of the stick. As the defenceman later wrote, “nobody really knows what damage a hockey stick can cause until it happens.” The Bruins, led by Mr. Orr, charged off the bench with the intention of attacking Mr. Maki, who was ushered off the ice.
An emergency 2½-hour operation was performed that night by doctor Michael Richard. Days later, a buildup of blood and swelling of the brain made another emergency operation necessary. The player was left with partial paralysis on his left side.
Mr. Maki was suspended 30 games by the NHL. Both players faced a charge of assault causing bodily harm, believed to be the first instance of criminal charges laid as the result of action in an NHL game. Facing a two-year prison term if convicted, both players were acquitted in separate trials. (Mr. Maki later starred for the expansion Vancouver Canucks, scoring 25 goals in their inaugural NHL season. He died of a brain tumour in 1974, at the age of 29.)
Mr. Green missed the entire 1969-70 season, at the end of which the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Their recuperating teammate was voted a full share of bonus money and had his name engraved on the Cup. He returned to action the following season, wearing a bubble-style helmet to protect his injury. Still a rugged presence, Mr. Green engaged in fights less frequently.
He won a second Stanley Cup with Boston in 1972 before jumping to the rival World Hockey Association, where he won three Avco Cup championships with the New England Whalers and Winnipeg Jets over seven seasons. He needed five operations on his arthritic knees over his career before retiring as a player in 1979. He had scored 48 goals with 254 assists in 620 NHL games.
Three years later, he was hired as an assistant coach for the Edmonton Oilers, adding his name to the Stanley Cup five more times as the Wayne Gretzky-led team enjoyed a dynasty.
Mr. Green became the Oilers’ head coach before the 1991-92 season, by which time Mr. Gretzky had been traded and the Oilers were rebuilding. The coach was fired after recording just three wins and three ties after the first 24 games of the 1993-94 season. He continued working as an assistant coach before taking a similar post with the New York Rangers.
Away from the rink, Mr. Green pursued a business placing automated, skate-sharpening machines in Edmonton-area rinks, sporting-goods stores and Esso service stations. He was also a long-time volunteer at the Mustard Seed support centre in inner-city Edmonton. He suffered long-lasting physical ailments, as well as depression, from his head injury.
Mr. Green has been inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn., in 2010.
Mr. Green, who died after a long illness, leaves Pat, his wife of 56 years, and three adult children. A complete list of survivors was unavailable.
A fierce competitor on the ice, Mr. Green was treasured in hockey circles for his wise-cracking humour. He was coaching the Oilers when centreman Shaun Van Allen was knocked unconscious during a game in Washington. When informed the groggy player woke up not knowing who he was, the coach responded: “Tell him he’s Wayne Gretzky.”