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Big Whistle Keeps on Blowing

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers


By Joey Wahler

Courtesy of www.msgnetwork.com

The eyes and ears aren't what they used to be, Bill Chadwick says. Then again, whose are at 86? Yet his voice remains commanding, his memory sharp. Opinionated still? Come on, we are talking about "The Big Whistle."

From 1967-81, Chadwick was the Rangers husky-voiced, outspoken color commentator. He spent four years on radio with Marv Albert, and 11 on TV with Jim Gordon. Chadwick was hockey's Phil Rizzuto or Walt Frazier, a New York sports treasure who became as famous on the air as on the ice. It's a stretch to say The Big Whistle practically invented hockey officiating as we know it. In fact, he did invent it.

From 1939-55, Chadwick was the NHL's first American-born referee. To avoid keeping his hands in his pockets while officiating, he created hand signals when calling a penalty, like clasping his wrist for holding. They're the same signals used today. With his thick New York accent, Chadwick says he was the first NHL official to "holl-uh" on the ice, unlike the laid back Canadian officials.

"Look at the game today," Chadwick lamented. "It's too damned crowded out there. You got two linesmen, you got two referees. And they're not getting any better officiating. They're not getting any even officiating.

"No two men in the world think alike at the same time. And you get a game that's refereed tightly on one end, and loosely on the other. I just don't understand it," Chadwick said, clearly frustrated.

Chadwick was left centrally blind in his right eye after suffering a hockey injury playing in the minors in 1935. Nevertheless, his refereeing "car-ee-uh" landed him in the American Hockey and NHL Halls of Fame. In 1955, he retired from officiating at age 39, still tops at his craft.

"If you wait 'till they ask you to leave it's too late," Chadwick reasoned.

A native of 122nd St. and Second Ave., Chadwick was always a character. While responsible for the Stanley Cup's safekeeping in 1942, he used it to store poker chips during marathon card-playing sessions on overnight train journeys. Chadwick brought his no-holds-barred personality to broadcasting, earning the nickname The Big Whistle from Ranger statistician Arthur Friedman.

On-air, Chadwick once mentioned that Blueshirt center Gene Carr couldn't put the puck in the ocean. After Carr was traded to the California Golden Seals, he scored against New York on the West Coast.

"I thought you said Carr couldn't put the puck in the ocean," challenged Chadwick's broadcast partner Gordon on the telecast. "Well," Chadwick shot back, "it's a bigger ocean out here."

Chadwick broadcast for the Rangers of the early 1970s, led by Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, Rod Gilbert and Ed Giacomin. Despite their star power, those teams failed to win a Stanley Cup. Chadwick says they were done in by the Philadelphia Flyers rugged style of play.

"In those days, the Rangers proved they weren't tough enough," said Chadwick, ever candid. "And that's why they lost."

Later, Chadwick urged Ranger defenseman Barry Beck to shoot more. A staple of Channel 9's Ranger telecasts were Chadwick's shouts of "Shoot the puck, Barry! Shoot the puck!" Madison Square Garden fans began mimicking "Shoot the puck, Barry! Shoot the puck!"

His removal from the Ranger TV booth in 1981, Chadwick says, drew numerous complaint letters from fans and advertisers. Then-Garden head Sonny Werblin didn't like his honest, sometimes critical style, Chadwick says. Critical? The Big Whistle?

Aside from Gordie Howe, Chadwick says few players from his officiating era could play in the NHL now. Today's players are "big-uh and fast-uh" than ever, he observed. Chadwick frowns, however, upon the league possibly adapting the popular rules that created more wide-open play at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

"The game is a game of brawn and beauty," Chadwick said. "And if you take either ingredient out, you don't have hockey." A larger ice surface would strip hockey of its physicality, he says.

"You'd have a better chance of getting hurt on 42nd St.," Chadwick quips.

The current Rangers must stop seeking quick fixes, Chadwick says.

"Develop your own, get your farm system going," Chadwick said. He says general manager Glen Sather's hands are tied by too much corporate red tape.

"If you're the head of Madison Square Garden, you think you know everything," Chadwick snapped. "You don't know anything."

What Chadwick knows is that what initially appeared to be his misfortune became the most fortunate night of his life.

Playing for the New York Rovers, a Ranger farm team in 1937, Chadwick was sitting out a game at the Garden with an injury. He was called from the stands to replace an official because of a snowstorm. That was the big break for The Big Whistle.

Without his nickname, Chadwick said modestly, he wouldn't have become "as popular as I think I was. I owe everything I have to hockey. I had a lot of fun."

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