Book Excerpt

Sample from “A Little Knock Won’t Hurt Ya”: My Life as a Hockey Enforcer authored by Allan Globensky, myself, and Terry Scott:

Globensky_Cover_Lit-1Chapter 5: Supplying the “Punch” for the Baby Habs

The names rolled off the tongue of the public address system announcer at the Montreal Forum… “Gilbert Perreault! Richard Martin! Bobby Lalonde! Allan Globensky!”

You don’t have to be a wizard to realize that one of those names was out of place. But odd man out or not, there I was inside the most venerable building in hockey, a member of the Junior Canadiens and bearing the familiar CH on my chest – a symbol of the mystique and majesty of our parent club that figured so prominently in our boyhood dreams.

There was just one problem: I still wanted to play football. Sure, I was delighted to have made the Baby Habs, but football was the sport I enjoyed the most. I was still on the roster of the South Shore Colts, and I had no intention of quitting. Phil Wimmer, the Junior Canadiens general manger, called me into his office and said the club would prefer that I forsake football.

“I’ll give it up if you’ll pay me more than the 52 dollars a week,” I said, to which he replied: “That isn’t gonna happen.”

So I continued playing with the Colts on Sundays throughout both of my years with the Junior Canadiens. It made for some interesting Monday mornings. It wasn’t unusual for me to show up for practice with cuts, scrapes, and even a broken nose. But the Junior Habs didn’t mind looking the other way as long as it didn’t affect my performance on the ice.

I figured I had the best of both worlds. I was 17 years old, a budding professional football player on weekends, and I had a spot on the most celebrated junior hockey team in the Montreal area, maybe even in Canada, the rest of the time – even if it was as an enforcer.

The parent Canadiens’ brass treated us like pros and they expected us to behave that way in public in return. When we went on the road, we did it in style, traveling in the train’s luxury cars. We wore suits and ties, just like the big boys, and we stayed in high-quality hotels. We felt like royalty. In some ways it was utopia, and many of the kids on the team in hockey-mad Montreal might feel like they were living in a dream.

Me? Sure, I was happy. But it was difficult to feel I belonged in the Junior Canadiens’ dressing room. I was keenly aware of my limited talent. My teammates were just so much better than me. I knew that my role was to be a fighter, and I accepted it. But I also felt that I could somehow develop my offensive skills, much like André “Moose” Dupont, who preceded me on the Junior Habs, had done by combining fisticuffs with some measure of finesse. I can’t say that I enjoyed fighting, but since my tenure on the team depended on me meting out on-ice “justice,” I was eager to make an impression.

One of my frequent fellow combatants in my first season was Toronto Marlboros defenseman Steve Durbano. We squared off maybe a dozen times, and we both won and lost our share of fights. The only clear winners (or losers, depending on one’s viewpoint) were the medical staffers of our respective teams who had to stitch us up after some of the scraps.

Over time, I started to generally experience the pressure on the enforcer to win – or at least, to look like he won – his fights. While it meant little on the scoreboard, fighting was the basis for a great deal of pride for the pugilists, but also for the fans who, by proxy, felt the jabs and uppercuts being exchanged.

One night I got into a tussle with Bob Kelly, who would go on to scare the bejeezus out of opponents when he policed the ice for the Philadelphia Flyers’ “Broad Street Bullies” in the 1970s – which would earn him the nickname “Mad Dog.” Kelly wasn’t a tall guy, but he was amazingly strong, and he administered probably my worst defeat in the junior ranks. He landed about a dozen punches while I connected with three or four. The home fans in Oshawa ate it up. There was nothing they liked better than seeing their cellar-dwelling team putting a hurt on one of the mighty Junior Canadiens.

As we headed to our respective penalty boxes, Kelly, showing some of the honour-among-thieves mentality of the fighting fraternity, said, “Hey, good fight.” That threw my game off. Now, instead of thinking that I wanted to come out of the box and rip Kelly’s head off in a rematch, I was thinking, “Hey, this Kelly kid’s a pretty nice guy.” In my 17-year-old mind, I led myself to think that Kelly was now a buddy, and that I couldn’t fight him.

The team and the Montreal fans in attendance looked upon this display of camaraderie rather negatively. They wanted to avenge the defeat. I thought I was being sportsmanlike, figuring the guy beat me fair and square, so there was no need to go out and get him again. Later, during the game, when we came together on the ice, I didn’t try to get him to drop his gloves.

Nothing will get you branded with the “pussy” tag faster than not answering the proverbial bell, even though in your own mind there might be no reason to fight. Fans and teammates are quick to judge, and slow to forget, when you lose. I came to realize that in the eyes of fans, teammates and coaches, a fighter is only as good as his last fight. An enforcer who doesn’t win can quickly lose his grip on a roster spot.

I never got my revenge on Kelly, but I did emerge from the game with the conviction that in the future I would not allow opposing players to get on my good side. I would have to work on putting aside my personal feelings throughout my career. Call me crazy, but I really didn’t like beating on people. I’d have to find a way to dislike my opponents, or at least be indifferent to them, for the 60-minute duration of a hockey game.

I was contributing to the Baby Habs’ success. Still, it was difficult knowing – and seeing daily – how much better my teammates were. Many of them were complete hockey players. I was a one-dimensional player, cracking into the line-up of this talent-laden group because of my ability to give and take a punch. I didn’t really have a sense of belonging, but this was due to my own insecurity. In actual fact, I was accepted by my teammates as part of the team and I fit in just fine.

The Junior Canadiens’ squad that I joined in the autumn of 1969 was a diverse group of guys. Some of them – Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin, Jocelyn Guevremont, Serge Lajeunesse and Bobby Lalonde – were holdovers from the club that had won the Memorial Cup the previous spring. Besides Perreault, that squad, which many people have described as the greatest junior hockey team of all time, included Marc Tardif and Réjean Houle.

The team that opened the 1969-70 season had some new faces – Hartland Monahan, Ian Turnbull, and Scott MacPhail among others. The diversity also extended along linguistic and cultural lines. The dressing-room banter was usually about hockey or sexual conquests, or just the plain machismo one would expect from testosterone-driven teenagers.

Nevertheless, relations on the team were not completely devoid of politically charged tension. Political turmoil in the province of Quebec was probably at an all-time high in the late 1960s. In 1968, the Parti Québécois, a political party promoting independence for Quebec, was founded. At the same time, a pro-separation group known as the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) was engaged in acts of terrorism to advance its cause. This included the bombing of mailboxes and places of business, such as the Montreal Stock Exchange, and eventually kidnappings.

In September 1969, the federal government of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a native Quebecer who had been the target of rocks and bottles thrown by rioting separatists during the annual Saint Jean Baptiste Day parade, adopted the Official Languages Act. This made Canada officially bilingual. It was a bold piece of legislation, but it also fueled the seemingly eternal language debate in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

It was also something that could have been an issue on a team composed of the so-called “two solitudes.” Locker-room divisions are not uncommon in sports, nor is it unusual for a volatile issue such as language and culture to bubble over in a diverse environment such as the dressing room.

Thankfully, for the most part, the ugly bickering that was going on in the public sphere at the time rarely surfaced within the confines of our locker room. This may have been due to the fact that we were all so young and simply interested in other things. While some of us were politically aware, for the most part these “real-world” problems were our parents’ concerns. Our main preoccupation was to win hockey games. That’s not to say that cultural differences and backgrounds were invisible. In my two years with Montreal, there were teammates I may have spoken to only once or twice. They weren’t keen on speaking English, and I didn’t make much of an attempt to converse in French.

The linguistic divide was manifested in the shape of our locker room. At one end you had Serge Lajeunesse and Jocelyn Guevremont who were staunch francophones and would only speak French. At the other end were Scott MacPhail, Hartland Monahan and Ian Turnbull, ribbing each other in English. These were tacit boundaries, and they were rarely crossed.

Sure, some of us English-speaking guys would try to prove our toughness at the expense of our French-speaking mates, and vice versa. Monahan and I would decide before a practice that we were going to run at some of the French guys. The idea was not to hurt anyone, but rather deliver some more physical pops than you’d normally see in an off-day skate, just to test how tough our French-language teammates were.

It would lead to some comical moments when I would try to give Gil Perreault, the best skater in the league, a little love tap. This happened when I momentarily forgot about the wide gulf in talent between us. Usually, Gil would see me coming and play possum, pretending he hadn’t noticed me, until I was about to make contact. Then, with that incomparable dexterity, he’d make a last-second, bow-legged stride, shifting out of the way and leaving me to smash face-first into the Plexiglas, crumpling in a heap. Monahan once said that I reminded him of a bird who had flown into a closed patio door.

Occasionally, Perreault would also show everyone he wasn’t just quick, but powerful, too. He’d make it obvious that he had seen me coming, and would simply ward me off with a combination of strength and balance. I’d try to hit him, but I would bounce off Gil’s tall and lanky but deceptively strong frame. It was Gil’s way of saying he wasn’t going to let an anglo kid (especially someone with as little hockey talent as me) get the best of him. It was a test of pride more than any bad blood between the two cultures. We left the true ill-will to the adults and the politicians.

My seat-mate in the locker room was Richard Martin, and there was no better person to bridge the gap between the two solitudes. Rick was bilingual, and he was the funniest guy you would ever want to meet. He knew there was an undercurrent of tension in our locker room, but whenever it seemed on the verge of escalating, Rick would crack a joke or pull off one of his many practical jokes. Both sides would laugh and forget what they were arguing about.

We had our share of locker-room tiffs, but as the 1969-70 Ontario Hockey Association season progressed, we bonded further as a team. The relationship was cemented by the trials and tribulations we went through together on the ice, especially in the rinks of opposing teams, where the aversion some people had for Quebecers – and the Junior Canadiens – was palpable.

Just past the midway point in the season, we had a road game in London against the Knights, a middle-of-the-pack team which boasted future hall-of-famer Darryl Sittler and hard-rock Dan Maloney. The latter would bloody noses in an NHL career with the Leafs and Blackhawks for over a decade. The Knights played in the London Gardens, an arena that was distinguished by its bombastic gold-and-green colours and its scoreboard – a relic from the 1940s that was transported to the new complex when it opened in the early 1960s.

Before each game, the teams would be introduced and the players skated to their respective blue lines. Then the house lights were darkened and a single spotlight illuminated the scoreboard (and the Canadian flag above it) for the playing of “O Canada.” The place would be pitch-black, and players wouldn’t even be able to see the teammate standing next to him.

Normally, this wasn’t a big deal. But on this trip to London, the darkness led to some confusion. During the anthem, I thought I heard things whizzing through the air. The darkness prevented me from being completely sure, but it just seemed like things were flying around inside the Gardens. When the anthem ended and the lights came on, I discovered it wasn’t my imagination. A quick glance on the ice revealed what had caused the whizzing sound: the rink was covered with hundreds of plastic frogs of all sizes. London fans must have emptied the shelves of every local five-and-dime store to purchase these artificial amphibians.

For anyone unfamiliar with the symbolism, “frog” is a derogatory term for a French person. Francophone hockey players in particular, and Quebec-based players in general, had long been the target of ethnic slurs uttered by narrow-minded fans. On this night the plastic frogs were just one of the disparaging gestures made by the fans. Once the anthem ended, a chorus of “ribbit, ribbit, ribbit” began to echo from the stands. It wasn’t long before the entire arena, which accommodated about 2,500 people, resonated with the sound of croaking frogs.

When the game started, I took a seat at the end of the bench. I had suited up for the game, but there was little chance I would be playing because I was still recovering from a broken nose I had sustained a week earlier. One of the problems I was having in the healing process was that blood collected inside my nose. In private I could get rid of the excess blood by spitting it into a sink or toilet. But sitting on the bench, I had two choices: suffer in silence or spit the blood residue onto the ice.

I chose the latter. This course of action did not please one of the “gentlemen” seated a few feet from the bench. During the first period he kept yelling at me to quit it. He grew more insistent, belligerent and seemingly more intoxicated in his pleas during the second period. Finally, he told me he was going to come over and kick my ass if I did it one more time. My response was to again shoot a big gob over the boards, but nothing happened.

The incensed fan continued to berate me well into the latter stages of the game. By this time we were comfortably ahead, and the guy was totally frustrated. I decided to needle him. When he again yelled at me to stop spitting, I hollered back: “What are you going to do about it? You’ve been on me the whole game. Why don’t you shut up?” And again I spat over the boards.

That did it. The fan stood up and started heading towards the bench area. I watched him closely. If he was coming at me, I wanted to make sure I had enough time, either to move out of the way or get a shot in first. As the fan lumbered toward our bench, I heard a voice say subtly, “Hit him, Al.” The voice belonged to Coach Bédard, who unbeknownst to me had been observing the exchange. Uncertain if his directive had registered, he said it again.

That was all I needed. I rose from my seat and tossed a punch that connected squarely on my tormentor’s nose. Naturally, this set the fans off. Some tried to get at me, while my teammates on the bench rushed over to join in the fracas. One of the fans was an elderly man who wanted in on the action without rushing the bench. In his rage, he threw his expensive leather wine sack in the direction of the bench. The sack hit me in the chest before falling to the floor. I picked it up and looked to see who had thrown it. Gramps clearly wanted his wine sack back, but there was no way that was going to happen. I sat on the boards with my feet on the bench, grinning at him and holding the wine sack over my head. Then, as he screamed at me, I opened the cap and dumped out what little wine was left. Using the blades of my skates, I tore the leather apart and tossed the wine sack aside. The anguished look on the guy’s face was priceless. Looking back, I should have drunk the wine. After all, even if it might not have been the good stuff, how many chances does one get to drink wine on a hockey bench? The police intervened and, eventually, the game resumed without further incident. At the end of the game we made it out of the arena with all our body parts.

We almost weren’t as lucky in St. Catharines, the Ontario borough that was home to the OHA’s Black Hawks. The plastic frogs in London were bad enough, but Black Hawks fans one-upped their Ontario counterparts by splattering us with raw eggs. A few of us moved to centre ice, figuring we were out of egg-tossing range, but the barrage continued. We could easily see the eggs coming, and Hartland Monahan and I held batting practice, using our sticks to knock the eggs out of the air.

We soon tired of doing this. I looked at Hartland. “Hey, we’re not out here for nothing.” Whereupon I grabbed a few pucks from the penalty bench and dropped them on the ice. Hartland and I then unleashed slap shots toward the 10-cent seats, where the egg-bombers were sitting. It certainly wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done. Apparently, one of the pucks bounced off the head of a female fan, which led to a full-scale riot.

The game was suspended and it never resumed. We reached the relative safety of the dressing room, but hordes of fans gathered outside, pounding on the door and threatening to break it down. The Ontario Provincial Police was dispatched to stand guard inside. When the fans realized they weren’t going to get at the players, they took out their frustration by setting fire to the team bus. We waited in the dressing room with our police bodyguards, while another bus was called. Police officers escorted us to the bus and provided us with a motorcade out of town.

This wasn’t our last unruly incident of the 1969-70 regular season. For the last game of the season we headed to Ottawa for a game against the 67s, the team we would be facing in the opening round of the playoffs, and the club against which we had had a raucous encounter three nights earlier. In that game Monahan, who would eventually play in the NHL for Los Angeles and Saint Louis among others, walloped a 67s player and put him in the hospital.

Arriving at the rink in Ottawa for the rematch, I met up with my former Saint Lambert coach Joe Forey and his son Connie who, as mentioned previously, was playing for the 67s. As he walked by me, Connie said, “You and Monahan better be careful tonight.” Actually, the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy long before the game began. Radio shows had been playing up the potential for bloodshed, retribution for the hurting we had put on the 67s three nights earlier.

As I glanced up at the stands during the pre-game warm-up, I saw what must have been 50 or 60 signs and banners with variations of “Kill Globensky,” or “We Want Monahan’s Blood!” I had lots of time to read the signs during the game because I spent most of the time on the bench. The fans had been riding me all night, but as the clock ticked down and we were winning handily, I simply grinned at them and pointed to the scoreboard.

It was all harmless stuff, except for this one fan who always brought a megaphone to the rink. He despised all the Montreal players, but he seemed to have a particular disdain for me. Most of his insults were of the “Your mother wears army boots” variety. (Trash talk has come a long way in the five decades since!) But what he lacked in creativity, he more than made up for in persistence.

By the end of the game, he had reached the breaking point. No longer content to just scream at me, he decided to hoist himself onto the Plexiglas. In his intoxicated state, he dropped his megaphone onto the ice. He clumsily lowered himself down onto the ice, not so much to retrieve his megaphone as to come and give me a piece of his mind close up. He was spouting venom about how he was going to kill me. I wasn’t sure what he planned to do once he reached me. I stood in place and when he got within striking distance, I decked him before he could toss a punch in my direction. Seeing this, many of the fans started throwing beer bottles and other objects that crashed onto the ice. All I could think was that this was the last thing we needed: a hockey team on the ice with a rabid mob using them for target practice.

The security personnel at the Ottawa Arena decided the best way to ward off an impending riot was to push the team back into the tunnel. As they were doing this, one of the rent-a-cops shoved Coach Bédard, knocking him down. Instinctively, I struck the security guy, and he dropped to the ground. The security staff was already overwhelmed. When this happened, they decided to let us fend for ourselves. We headed for the dressing room as quickly as we could and locked the door behind us.

We had hoped the situation would defuse itself, but word of what had unfolded spread to the people outside the building. Instead of heading home, many fans decided to wait for us in the parking lot. The Ontario Provincial Police, which had arrived on the scene, ordered us to stay in the dressing room until they had cleared the area. It was a futile effort, and the police resorted to Plan B. They walked us two-by-two to our bus, as if we were preparing to board Noah’s Ark, shielding us from the torrent of debris that the angry mob tossed at us.

While irate fans rocked the bus, our driver finally made his way out of the parking lot. A dozen OPP squad cars escorted us to the provincial border. The next day, Ottawa newspapers carried a photo of Mr Megaphone lying on the ice. The consensus was that he got what he deserved, and that any fan stupid enough to come onto the field of play was fair game. The league shared that opinion. I was never disciplined or even spoken to about the incident.

Looking back, it’s amazing to me that I wasn’t arrested. If something like that happened today, the player would be locked away and likely barred from playing hockey again. In 1970, while these sorts of incidents were uncommon, they were nevertheless accepted as part of the culture of the sport – at least in the minor and junior leagues. Not everyone frowned upon them, and a lot of fans looked forward to this type of mayhem. Some were disappointed when it failed to materialize. A hockey enforcer accepts the fact that he’s always living on the edge of lunacy, but on some nights the insanity went beyond the borderline.