Overtime or not?
That was the question when the Lords of Hockey convened at Manhattan’s Park Lane Hotel on December 11th, 1952. And it was an important issue; especially to teams in Boston, New York and Chicago.
It was special for me as well. I had been 10-years-old when OT was abolished and I very much wanted to see it again. We all had expected that it would have been revived with the end of World War II in 1945 but it didn’t happen. Frankly, I was a very frustrated hockey fan at the time and aware of the problems.
By 1952, television had become a big hit in a big hurry. Hockey fans, who previously had been filling NHL arenas after World War II, now were staying home to watch Milton Berle on the “Texaco Star Theater” and other new, popular tv shows.
The NHL was in trouble and some owners understood the issues. Changes were needed to bring back the crowds. NHL governors such as General John Reed Kilpatrick, President of the Rangers, lobbied for a resumption of overtime.
Kilpatrick was around when the extra session originally had been abandoned by the NHL on November 21, 1942 during the Second World War. Railroad schedules, previously relied upon by NHL teams, had been disrupted by military priorities in Canada and the United States. At the time, it was a logical excuse to say N.G. to OT.
Now the “Progressive” elements in the league believed that overtime – an “extra added attraction” – would help woo spectators back to the rinks. NHL President Clarence Campbell presided over the arguments. Now, as a 20-year-old fan, I was keenly interested in the result, hoping, of course, that OT would return.
The issue was considered important enough for the Toronto Globe and Mail to dispatch reporter Gord Walker to New York where he covered the NHL meetings and the disappointing result. The headline over his story answered the question: OVERTIME, SPLIT GATE BOTH VETOED BY NHL.
“There were three teams (Boston, New York, Chicago) lined up in favor of overtime,” Campbell told reporters, “and three against it. But after a discussion, the decision was unanimously in favor of continuing without overtime.”
As it happened, overtime was not restored to NHL play until June 23, 1983 and officially was in use starting with the 1983-84 NHL season, a good – or, bad, as the case may be – 41 years after the league deleted the bonus period.
But overtime was not the only contentious segment of the NHL owners’ agenda. No less important to the American teams, which claimed to be losing money, was the “Split Gate” issue which would allow visiting teams a cut of home team revenues. This time the Maple Leafs and Canadiens were staunchly opposed.
“The subsidy question is against our Constitution,” Campbell asserted. He added that a change could be made, but it would require a unanimous vote. Both the Leafs and Habs would vote it down had Campbell requested a count during the four-hour meeting.
As noted on the Globe’s full sports page, hockey dominated the news. And since I then was a diehard Leafs fan, I got a kick out of the photo. Toronto’s (left to right) Danny Lewicki, Ted Kennedy, Tod Sloan and Fern Flaman were celebrating Captain Ted’s 26th birthday.
The other headline – BENTLEY UNLIKELY TO REJOIN HAWKS – was all about Chicago veteran and future Hall of Famer Doug Bentley. He chose to retire from NHL play and become player-coach for the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Quakers. At the time, Doug’s kid brother, Max, still was a stalwart center on the Leafs.
That Globe and Mail sports page made me sad. I had hoped that overtime would be restored. As for Doug Bentley, I had been a longtime admirer of his clean, creative play. I hated to see him leave.