Red Storey Ends his Career
Throughout the 1950s, Red Storey, a former football star who once scored three touchdowns for the Toronto Argonauts in a Grey Cup game, established himself as one of the most colourful, popular and highly-respected referees in the NHL. But his illustrious career came to a shocking end during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1959.
On April 4, 1959, the Montreal Canadiens, pitted against the Chicago Blackhawks in game six of a best-of-seven semi final series at the cavernous Chicago Stadium, held a three games to two lead. Storey’s work over the first two periods of a spectacular see-saw game drew nods of approval from Chicago coach Billy Reay and Montreal’s bench boss, Toe Blake. Earlier in the series, Reay had pleaded with referee-in-chief Carl Voss to assign the unflappable Storey to referee game six. Before the third period was over, Reay would regret making that request.
It was an emotional match that was tied 3-3 in the third period. At one point Storey stopped by the boards and turned to see a fan pointing a gun at him. “I’m going to blow your brains out,” the man threatened, before two cops moved in and tossed the gun-toter from the rink.
With seven minutes left in the third period, Ed Litzenberger, Chicago’s leading scorer, went sprawling after he stepped on Marcel Bonin’s stickblade. No whistle, no penalty to Bonin. The Chicago fans, anticipating a power play, were stunned. They howled in frustration. Moments later, they howled even louder when the Habs scored on Glen Hall to take a 4-3 lead..The boos rained down on Storey. With two minutes to play, and the score tied 4-4, Bobby Hull, in his second season, was flattened by a hip check thrown by Junior Langlois. It may have been a legal check but not a soul in the Chicago Stadium thought so. Again, Storey’s whistle remained silent.
While the enraged fans screamed at Storey, Montreal’s Claude Provost scored the go-ahead goal.
Bottles, cans, coins, programs rained down on the ice–all of the debris aimed at Storey’s balding head. Suddenly, a fan vaulted over the boards and ran at Storey, throwing a cupful of beer in his face. Before Storey could react, Montreal’s all-star defenseman Doug Harvey skated over and punched the intruder—hard.
“Doug saw I had hauled my fist back and he yelled at me. ‘Red, don’t hit him. You can’t hit him. But I can.’ With that Harvey drilled the guy, not once but twice. Was I glad to see Harvey standing next to me that night.
“From another direction, a second fan skidded across the ice and leaped on my back. I used a move from my pro football days and flipped him high in the air. Almost gleefully, Harvey used his stick this time, lashing out and cutting the fan for about 18 stitches. Thanks to Harvey’s lance work, other fans began to have second thoughts about coming out to beat me up. There was a long delay while the ice was cleared. The game continued and Montreal won by a goal–5-4.”
In the corridor after the game, Storey grabbed a hockey stick to defend himself from the irate fans and at least one player. The Hawks’ fiery Ted Lindsay threatened to decapitate him.
Storey and his two linesmen required a police escort to get back to their hotel long after the game was over. There, in the bar and nursing a couple of beers, Storey heard the bartender shout out, “Keep your eyes open, Red. There was a guy in here a few minutes ago. He had a gun and said he was going to murder you.”
Storey didn’t relax until he was out of town, bound for Boston and the first game of the final series.
On the following day, he picked up a Boston paper and got the shock of his life. NHL president Clarence Campbell had told an Ottawa reporter that “Storey choked in Chicago. He missed the tripping call on Litzenberger and the penalty that should have gone to Langlois.”
Storey demanded an explanation. Campbell tried to explain that his remarks had been “off the record and taken out of context” but Storey had had enough. He resigned on the spot. He refused to speak to Campbell for years and he called referee-in-chief Voss “the weakest man I’ve ever met.”
Hockey lost a great referee when it lost Red Storey.
I worked with Storey often on Hockey Night in Canada where he served as a guest analyst for several seasons. He was a great storyteller. He told me once he was accosted by Boston Bruins stalwart Fern Flaman who was incensed over one of Storey’s calls.
“Flaman stood in front of me nose to nose. I expected a tirade but Flaman said nothing. He just fumed and glared at me. I could feel his hot breath on my face. Finally I said, ‘Fernie, why are standing there like that? What’s the matter with you?’
“He snarled, ‘Red, I’ve got the lousiest cold in Boston and I’m standing here until you catch it!’ I almost laughed but I caught myself. Then I told him, ‘Fernie, that’s the same cold I had last week when I was here. I’m glad it was you who caught it.’ “