Jan 102011

My friend in broadcasting, the late Dan Kelly, once referred to the 1969 stick-swinging battle between the Bruins’ Ted Green and the Blues’ Wayne Maki as “one of the most horrifying, most violent exchanges I’ve ever seen in hockey.”

It happened on September 21, 1969 during a pre-season game in Ottawa. Kelly was calling the play-by-play for a St. Louis radio station that night. Early in the game, Green and Maki collided in the Boston zone. Linesman Ron Finn, officiating in only his fourth NHL game, was close by when they bumped, close enough to feel the breeze when Green turned and swung his stick viciously at Maki, missing him by a few inches. Maki retaliated instantly with a stick swing of his own, catching Green flush on his unprotected head. Green dropped to the ice and lay there, barely conscious and groaning.

“I could see right away that Green was badly hurt,” Kelly told me. “When he tried to get up, his face was contorted and his legs began to buckle under him. It was dreadful. I almost became physically ill watching him struggle because I knew this was very, very serious. I remember it like it happened yesterday.”

Green fell back, unable to help himself. Finn and the other officials waved for the trainer and a doctor. They too, sensed that Green was in serious trouble. Boston’s toughest player was rushed to hospital where doctors diagnosed a depressed fracture of the skull near the right temple. Five hours of surgery and a follow-up operation were required to save his life.

Following the game, the three officials were interviewed by Ottawa police. Then assault charges were laid against Green and Maki. Meanwhile, the NHL took disciplinary action, suspending both players and fining each $300. In retrospect, the suspensions and fines appeared to be ludicrous, although a league official called them “the stiffest in league annals.” Maki was suspended for 30 days and Green for 13 games “if and when he returns to hockey.

The game had not been televised so there were no replays of the incident. And no professional photographs taken. However, a 12-year-old boy at rinkside snapped a photo at the moment Green was struck. Finn said, “I heard later the kid made enough money off that photo to put himself through college.”

Kelly recalled his feelings for Maki. “Some of the Bruins–Orr and Ace Bailey and others–leaped off the bench and attacked Maki, who stood there, looking bewildered and vulnerable. At that moment I really admired Maki because the kid had to stand up for himself. Perhaps he was as shocked at what had happened as everybody in the building. You see, Green was such a renowned tough guy. And for this kid to stand up to him was a revelation. I think he stood up to him because he was terrified, like he was trapped in a corner. Maki was a rookie trying to make the Blues and this guy Green was an established veteran, one of the toughest men in hockey. I certainly wish—and I know Maki wished until the day he died–that he’d never hit Green. But he did hit him, and I remember thinking at the time, well, this kid is in big trouble but he has a lot of guts.”

Weeks later, brought to trial, both players were exonerated in an Ottawa courtroom. Green’s injury, thought to be career-ending, kept him out of hockey for a year. In 1970-71 with a metal plate in his head, he made a stunning comeback with the Bruins. No longer the league’s toughest player, he was, however, a key performer in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup in 1970. He jumped to the WHA in 1972 and played for another seven years, retiring in 1979.

Wayne Maki’s NHL career was cut short by a brain tumor, discovered when he was a member of the Vancouver Canucks. He passed away from the disease in the spring of 1974.

Shortly after the Green-Maki incident, Boston coach Milt Schmidt purchased two dozen helmets and issued them to his players. When he showed up for practice the following day, none of the Bruins were wearing them. He ordered them to don the headgear or get off the ice. The players turned to look at Bobby Orr. Head down, Orr skated slowly off the ice, followed by his teammates. Schmidt decided not to make an issue of it and the helmets were stored away.

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