How did a Superior Court Judge Get Involved In Whether a Hockey Coach Could Coach a Playoff Game?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about hockey and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the hockey urban legends featured so far.

HOCKEY URBAN LEGEND: A Superior Court Judge allowed a suspended coach to coach a playoff game.

In the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals (then called the “Wales Conference”), the New Jersey Devils were playing the Boston Bruins.

Tied at a game apiece going into Game 3, the Bruins defeated the Devils badly, by a score of 6-1.

Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld was none too pleased with the referee work during the game, especially a penalty that had given the Bruins a two-man advantage (which resulted in a goal for Boston).

So as the game ended, and referee Don Koharski was exiting the rink, Schoenfeld began berating him over the calls.

Here they are…

Well, soon after that photo above, Koharski fell down.

He claimed that Schoenfeld has pushed him. Schoenfeld, naturally, disagreed.

He screamed, “You’re full of (expletive). You’re crazy. You’re crazy. You fell, you fat pig. Have another doughnut! Have another doughnut!”

Due to the incident, the NHL suspended Schoenfeld for Game 4.

The Devils were outraged – the league’s investigation into the matter involved calling up both men and asking what happened, then asking some other eyewitnesses, then deciding that they believed Koharski.

The Devils could not believe that they did not even consult video tape footage of the incident.

So on Sunday, with the game on Monday, Devils President Lou Lamoriello wanted to appeal, but he was told only NHL President John Ziegler could overturn the suspension, and no one could locate him (which is utterly bizarre, right? No wonder Ziegler was gone as President within a few years).

Undaunted, the Devils found Judge J. F. Madden of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

Madden granted a stay on the suspension on Sunday night.

When the Devils showed up on Monday, Schoenfeld was the coach.

The referees for the game refused to work the game, and without Ziegler being in contact, the decision on what to do for the game ultimately fell at the feet of the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, of all people, William W. Wirtz, who was the head of the Board of Governors.

Wirtz authorized replacement referees, and a group of off-ice NHL officials suited up using other people’s skates and were the refs for the game.

The Devils won and tied the series at 2 games apiece.

Finally, the NHL further investigated and the suspension was upheld and Schoenfeld missed Game 5, which the Devils lost (they would win Game 6 to force a Game 7, but the Bruins would hold on to win the series in Game 7).

Pretty crazy stuff, huh?

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Thanks to Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger for the quotes (and the above photo, which is copyrighted by Ray Stubblebine of the Associated Press)!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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