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50 Forgotten Stories: The Punch That Started a Union

The post-game confrontation that shaped the future for NHL referees

by Sheng Peng @Sheng_Peng /

It was a different NHL, a league where a team executive could punch a referee and get an all-expenses paid trip to Europe out of it.

On October 13, 1968, in front of 2,668 at Oakland Coliseum Arena (now Oracle Arena), officials missed a late, blood-drawing Seals infraction. After the 4-4 tie, Kings General Manager Larry Regan confronted referee Bruce Hood.

"I was mad," admitted Regan. "[Hood] said, 'Who the hell are you?' and I said, 'You know damn well who I am,' and then I hit him." (Roberts, Rich. "King GM Breaks Hand on Referee." Independent, October 15, 1968.)

Regan, who suffered a broken hand, justified his rage by citing the 35+ stitches that five Kings had received just two games into the year, "Someone had to do something about officiating like that." (Garrity, Chuck. "Kings' Regan Admits Throwing Punches at Ref." Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1968.)

He promised a "blood bath" for the Kings' next tilt, their home opener against the "Big Bad Bruins."

"We will not be pushed around. And if our players allow this to continue, there will be some fines for them for not taking action. Those who don't fight may end up helping me pay my fine."

That fine was half the maximum allowed under existing NHL bylaws … $1,000.

President Clarence Campbell added, "It may have been that Hood's remarks or attitude were slightly provocative. He said, 'Who the hell are you?' or something to that effect." (Roberts, Rich. "GM Checks Czechs While Cooke Burns." Independent, October 30, 1968.)

Publicly, LA Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke chastised his employee, "I completely deplore his action."

The organization suspended Regan from "active participation" in its operation for two weeks.

"As part of the suspension, we have sent Regan to Czechoslovakia," revealed Cooke. Also part of the suspension: All expenses paid and no salary docked. "He left Sunday morning. We planned the trip, basically, Saturday night."

Hockey Hall of Famer Jiggs McDonald, the Kings' original play-by-play voice, remembers things differently, "I seem to recall that Larry was going to go to Europe anyway."

Regan, who had once coached in Austria, attended an amateur hockey tournament in Czechoslovakia. He also watched games in Finland, Sweden, and Austria, hiring a pair of European scouts along the way.

Something of a visionary on that front -- this was four years before the 1972 Summit Series, before North America truly realized how good the rest of the world was at hockey -- Regan asserted, "There's just no doubt that Europeans soon will be coming over here to play hockey … I think if we could get the best two or three Europeans each year, we could win championships." (Garrity, Chuck. "Regan Envisions Europeans in Competition for Stanley Cup." Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1968.)

As for Hood, whose lip was cut, he noted years later, in his memoir, Calling the Shots, that he hadn't even recognized the then-Kings general manager. But what he did recognize was that the league didn't respect the gravity of the situation.

The next year, sparked by Regan's fireworks, he helped form the NHL Officials Association to improve working conditions, salaries and other benefits for officials."

Hood also believed that Regan was motivated, in part, by a desire to drum up publicity for a team struggling at the gate.

"There's probably a lot of truth to that," chuckles McDonald today. "I don't know if it was pre-planned by any means. But Bruce wouldn't be entirely wrong."

There would be no Forum "blood bath," but 10,280 fans reveled in a 2-1 Los Angeles upset over Boston. Less than 1,500 tickets had been sold before Regan's attention-grabbing threat.

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Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for HockeyBuzz. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.

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