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Thursday December 16, 2010

Canadian referee had a liberal take on rule enforcement

Special to The Globe and Mail

VICTORIA -- Hockey referee Lloyd Gilmour sparked an international incident during the Cold War.

Gilmour was a seasoned NHL official when assigned to handle an exhibition game on Jan. 11, 1976. The showdown pitted a skilled Soviet Red Army team against the thuggish Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers were populated by fearsome Canadians accustomed to intimidating rivals with a brand of hockey that earned them the nickname the Broad Street Bullies. The roster included players known as Bomber, Battleship, and The Hammer.

At the 11:21 mark of the first period, Ed Van Impe charged out of the penalty box to bowl over speedster Valeri Kharlamov. The Russian star collapsed to the ice. Gilmour gazed upon this sad scene and judged the check to be within hockey's rule book. The horrified Soviet coach later decried such behaviour as "animal hockey."

The Russian players sat atop the dasher in front of the bench, refusing to continue play. Gilmour called a minor penalty on the visitors for delay of game. They then abandoned the ice for the locker room. After 15 minutes of negotiation, they returned to lose 4-1.

Afterward, the youth newspaper Komsomoskaya Pravda complained the game had been ruined by the Flyers' crude tactics "with the connivance of the Canadian referee."

It was not the only time Gilmour was alleged to have allowed nationalist sentiment to overrule his judgment. In the 1973 NHL playoffs, Chicago coach Billy Reay complained the referee allowed Montreal Canadiens checkers to harass his stars.

Gilmour had a reputation as a ref who "let the players play," which is to say he turned a blind eye to all but the most egregious offences. This approach did not endear him to teams with a more lawful approach than the Flyers.

"He misses everything," St. Louis Blues general manager Scotty Bowman once complained. "He's hopeless."

Gilmour later acknowledged a reluctance to administer justice during the playoffs, when a single penalty might determine a championship.

In 1975, Sports Illustrated magazine pronounced him the NHL's top official for his "cool disdain," noting "he is virtually an invisible man on the ice."

Lloyd Everett Gilmour was born on Aug. 19, 1927, in Cumberland, B.C., a mining village on Vancouver Island.

He showed some promise as a defenceman until he suffered grievous injuries from an accident while working as a logger. He spent six months in hospital recuperating from injuries to his hips, legs, back, and pelvis. He attempted a comeback, but decided after two months he was no longer the skater he once had been.

He stayed in the game as an on-ice official, working as a linesman in a senior league in British Columbia's Okanagan region. After two years, he became a referee in the Western Hockey League, later working in other minor professional leagues.

In those days, games often degenerated into bench-clearing brawls. A melee in 1962 led the referee to assess eight major penalties for fighting during which a female spectator was injured. Nor did the players always respect the official. Gilmour once assessed a misconduct and a game misconduct after being pushed by Eddie Dorohoy. The skater later got punished by the league for his misbehaviour. The fine was $25.

Gilmour made his NHL debut in 1958, occasionally filling in as a referee. Then an expansion from six NHL teams to 12 for the 1967-68 season doubled the number of jobs for referees and linesmen. A familiar fixture at NHL rinks, he was afforded several honours, including officiating the inaugural NHL home game of the Vancouver Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum.

After hanging up his striped referee's shirt, he operated an officiating school in summers in Banff, Alta., and took a turn in the broadcast booth.

He became a noted restaurateur in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. His restaurant was called Nanaimo Harbour Lights, a sneaky acronym designed to have his establishment associated with the NHL.

Gilmour was inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

A newspaper once printed an account of two fans discussing the qualifications of various referees. One suggested Gilmour was the best in the business. "Nuts!" replied the other. "Gilmour has the best unpaid seat in the house. He just lets them kill each other."

Gilmour, who died on Aug. 11, leaves his wife, Trudy, two daughters, a son, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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