City to honour lo­cal ref with his own arena

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

Ev­ery re­spectable hockey fan can quote the scene from Slap Shot in which the Han­son broth­ers wrap their knuck­les in tin foil be­fore a game to pre­pare for a fight. It’s just part of the game’s ver­nac­u­lar. English ma­jors have Shake­spearean so­lil­o­quies, the shinny crowd has this.

The fact that peo­ple are still laugh­ing at the in­san­ity of the piece 40 years af­ter the still-hi­lar­i­ous movie came out tells you just how good a piece of writ­ing it was. The wild imag­i­na­tion it would take to come up with some­thing so out­ra­geous and so ob­vi­ously fic­tional is more than …

“I had guys that put tin foil on their hands,” in­ter­jects leg­endary Hamilton ref­eree Bill Fri­day. Wait, it’s not fake? Nope. One of the real-life foil­ers was a guy named Curt Brack­en­bury, who was a mem­ber of the World Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion’s Min­nesota Fight­ing Saints back in the 1970s. A team that in­cluded Jack, Jeff and Steve Carl­son, who were the in­spi­ra­tion for the Han­sons.

“He showed it to me,” Fri­day says. “I said, ‘If you get in a fight I’m go­ing to throw you out.’ He said, ‘I know but the coach is mak­ing me do it.’”

That story alone cer­tainly isn’t the rea­son city coun­cil voted Wed­nes­day night to push along a mo­tion to re­name Law­field Arena af­ter the vet­eran of more than 1,400 games in the NHL and WHA. But it helps ex­plain part of the rea­son Fri­day is so unique. The guy’s seen ev­ery­thing and done ev­ery­thing.

The mem­ber of Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame’s in­au­gu­ral class is the only of­fi­cial to work both the Stan­ley Cup fi­nals and the Avco Cup fi­nals, he’s the only ref­eree in the WHA Hall of Fame, and his jump to the up­start league af­ter 12 years in the NHL helped lend the new loop se­ri­ous cred­i­bil­ity.

“He was revered,” says Coun. Tom Jack­son, who pro­posed the mo­tion. “The stature he had. He al­ways seemed to call a fair game.”

Grow­ing up in Hamilton, Fri­day spent much of his sport­ing youth play­ing hockey and base­ball with Harry How­ell. How­ell, of course, went on to a hall of fame ca­reer with the New York Rangers.

Fri­day was a de­cent player him­self, but, af­ter get­ting mar­ried quite young, he de­cided to re­tire from the game and make some money. One of the ways he did that was of­fi­ci­at­ing as many as six games a night for the Hamilton Po­lice Mi­nor sys­tem for a buck a game.

He be­came good enough to be no­ticed by one-time NHL ref­eree Hugh McLean — fa­mous for toss­ing Mau­rice Richard out of a game at the Mon­treal Fo­rum and then end­ing up in a skir­mish with the Habs’ star in the lobby of a ho­tel the next night in New York — who took the young of­fi­cial un­der his wing. Soon, Fri­day and McLean were do­ing games to­gether.

When McLean was as­signed to work hockey at the 1960 Squaw Val­ley Olympics, Fri­day in­her­ited his higher-level gigs back home. Jr. A games led to play­off games which led to Memo­rial Cup games which led to an in­vi­ta­tion to try out for the NHL.

That fall, he did his first bigleague game. Mon­treal against Detroit at the Fo­rum.

“I don’t even re­mem­ber who won,” he says. “I was scared to death.”

Af­ter a dozen years work­ing for not a lot of money on one-year deals, he jumped to the startup WHA. His ar­rival helped le­git­imize that new league in the eyes of fans. De­spite some of the al­most un­be­liev­able char­ac­ters he found him­self whistling for penal­ties.

The fact is, there are few of­fi­cials in any sport with a re­sume like his. So hav­ing his name on an arena in his home­town makes plenty of sense, even though nam­ing a rink af­ter some­one in stripes is un­ortho­dox. The fact that coun­cil is try­ing to get it done by early April when Rogers Home­town Hockey hosts its na­tional broad­cast from Hamilton is even more un­usual.

One could fairly ask how this mo­tion could be mov­ing for­ward so quickly when plans to re­name some­thing af­ter lo­cal foot­ball leg­end Russ Jack­son con­tinue to drag along — ap­par­ently there will be some news in the next few weeks, though see­ing is be­liev­ing at this point — but no­body’s com­plain­ing. It’s ter­rific some­body has taken up the fight for Fri­day, and that there seems to be unan­i­mous sup­port on coun­cil for the idea. We need more of th­ese hon­ours, not fewer.

As for the former ref­eree, who’d not been told the idea was be­ing pre­sented prior to Wed­nes­day night even though work on the plan has qui­etly been go­ing on for a few months, hear­ing about the move was rather stun­ning.

“Holy smokes,” he said qui­etly. “That’s quite an honour.”

Sure is. But well earned.

HAMILTON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO

The Law­field Arena will be re­named in honour of NHL and WHA ref­eree Bill Fri­day.

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