Ever hear of an NHL coach calling a time-out in a game to sign autographs? Don Cherry did it on a night he coached the woeful Colorado Rockies to an upset victory over his former team, the Boston Bruins. It was December 2, 1979, and Cherry was itching for a win when he brought his Rockies into the Boston Garden for the first time since he was dismissed as the Bruins' coach in the off-season.
The Boston fans were quick to show Cherry he was missed and still loved, and rising to give him a standing ovation when he took his place behind the visiting team's bench. As usual the Rockies got off to a sluggish start and fell behind 2-0. Then someone said, "Come on, guys, let's dig in and win this for Grapes." And they did, squeezing out a 5-3 victory, with the last shot hitting the empty Boston net. The most talked-about moment in the game came in the third period when Cherry called a time-out. His player gathered at the bench, but he discussed no strategy, offered no words of encouragement. To their amazement, and to the delight of everyone in the building, he turned his back on them and started signing autographs.
"It was just somethin' that happened, " he told me later. "I didn't plan it. I wasn't tryin' to twist the knife in or nothin'. I was just tryin' to give my defensemen a rest. Then people started askin' me for my autograph, so I signed some things. You can bet my bosses in Colorado weren't too happy about that."
It's quite common for NHL teams to change goaltenders during a game, but at least once a team got away with employing two goaltenders at the same time. At the turn of the century, a coach of a team from Kenora (then known as Rat Portage) unveiled a unique strategy against the powerful Ottawa club in a Stanley Cup match. He benched one of his forwards and inserted a second goalie in his team's net. There was no rule against it at the time, and the coach thought two goalies would make scoring almost impossible.
He was wrong. The goalies stumbled into each other and left enough openings for the Ottawa boys to score and the strategy was quickly abandoned.
A rule was soon adopted preventing repetition of the ploy.
In 1968, one of the most popular players on the St. Louis Blues was defenseman Noel Picard. In an important game against Boston, Picard finished his shift and was headed for the bench. The problem was he headed to the Bruins' bench by mistake.
When Boston trainer Frosty Forrestal saw Picard approaching, he opened the gate and waived him in. Picard found a spot on the pine, sat down, and play resumed. Only when he looked around did he notice something strange - everyone around him was wearing Boston colors.
The players and fans were laughing at his predicament, while across the rink Blues coach Scotty Bowman was livid. Squirming with embarrassment, Picard decided to act. When the play went into the Bruins' zone, he leaped over the boards, dashed across the ice, and dived in among his teammates. He was praying nobody would notice his three-second sprint to the home team bench.
Out of the corner of his eye, the referee spotted Picard's jump and blew his whistle as the defenseman scrambled over the far side boards. "Too many men on the ice!" he barked. The Blues were penalized for two minutes, causing Bowman's blood pressure to soar even higher.
As for Picard, he put his head down like a whipped dog. He knew his gaffe would provide a million laughs for hockey people for decades to come.
Back in 1972, Derek Sanderson was the most highly paid athlete in the world. He jumped from the Boston Bruins and signed a contract, worth a reported $2.65 million over five years, with the Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA.
Blazer fans - more than 5,000 fans clutching free pucks given out before the game - were anxious to perform in their home opener. But Sanderson, who'd been named team captain, was injured in an exhibition game and unable to suit up for the contest.
Disappointed to begin with, the fans grew ugly when the Zamboni resurfacing the ice had a breakdown just before game time. It broke through the surface and was axel-deep in ice and slush. Arena officials deemed the ice unsuitable for hockey. To make matters worse, hundreds of fans arriving late for the game left their cars parked at all angles in the arena parking lot, creating a massive tangle there.
The team owner Jim Cooper along with Sanderson got on the microphone and announced the game was postponed. Upon learning of the bad news, hundreds of angry fans hurled their souvenir pucks at the playing surface. But just before running for his life, Sanderson couldn't resist giving the crowd a parting shot. "Folks, if you think you're mad now, wait'll you try to get your cars out of the parking lot. It's a real mess out there."
In 1902, the Winnipeg Victorias hosted the Toronto Wellingtons in the much-anticipated Stanley Cup match up.
The series was highlighted by some most unusual occurrences. Before each game, the Winnipeg players warmed up on the ice while wearing long gold dressing gowns over their uniforms. In an icing attempt, the puck became lodged in the rafters. Players gathered below and threw their sticks at the rafters until one of them knocked the disk free. He received a standing ovation and bowed to the crowd. At another point in this series, the puck split in two during the game. A Toronto player named Chummy Hill fired half the broken puck into the Winnipeg net and the referee ruled it a goal.
Brian McFarlane's newest sports books:
The Bruins (number 5 of his Original Six team histories) by Stoddart Publishing Company Limited.
Ultimate Hockey Quiz Books by Key Porter.
Stanley Cup Fever (updated) by Stoddart Publishing Company Limited.
The preceding is the second installment of condensed excerpts from Brian McFarlane's bestselling three-volume collection "It Happened In Hockey." Brian is a Hockey Hall of Fame Media Honouree (1995) and author of over 50 sports books, including the Peter Puck series.