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About the Author
Lloyd Freeberg grew up in hockey-crazed Minnesota with a dream to someday be in the NHL. Well, he finally made it–not as a player, but as an Off-Ice Official assigned to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. After nearly a half century of experience as a player, coach, and ardent fan, he found himself in a front row seat to the "coolest game on earth." Unfortunately he had to share that seat with some of the NHL's most volatile bad boys. Trained as a lawyer, but not as a warden, he risks life and limb to record moments of humor and drama in the hardest hitting sport of all.
Read an Excerpt
In the Bin
Reckless and Rude Stories from the Penalty Boxes of the NHL
By Lloyd Freeberg
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2001 Lloyd Freeberg and Triumph Books
All rights reserved.
Section One: Let the Games Begin
Before Play: First Hollywood, Then the NHL
On December 9, 1992, the National Hockey League granted conditional approval for a franchise to be established in Orange County, California, by the Walt Disney Company. On March 1, 1993, it was announced that the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim would begin play in the 1993 — 94 season. But before the first puck could be dropped, a staggering amount of organizational work had to be done in record time. To accomplish this, Disney forged a management team of professionals whose charter was not only to get the team up and skating, but to present a quality, entertaining sports package for fans both new and experienced.
Disney chairman Michael Eisner sought an executive to lead this effort who had management principles similar to his own: set high standards, make a total commitment, lead by example. Tony Tavares was a natural choice to be the president of the newly formed Disney Sports Enterprises (DSE). His training as an accountant, his knowledge of the sports industry, and his proven management skills developed while CEO of Spectator (a major facilities management company) would be absolutely essential to any successful venture of this magnitude. What Tavares also brought to the table was a personal dedication to success that permeated the entire project. And beginning June 7, 1993, Tavares would need every bit of that dedication.
On that day, a press conference was held to confirm the new name of the team to be the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and to unveil the team logo and team colors of purple, jade, silver, and white. The announcement was greeted by a resounding groan from hockey purists, who had already reacted unfavorably to the team name, and were now certain this new look would never fly. Complaining the colors and logo were demeaning to the macho image of hockey, some predicted players would refuse to be dressed up in outfits that looked more like movie costumes than sports uniforms.
Before the first game had even been played, the Ducks had become the laughingstock of the league and material for standup routines everywhere. Forgetting that another National Hockey League team named after a bird (and one that couldn't fly, at that) had its name on the Stanley Cup, critics predicted certain failure. They apparently also forgot who was doing the marketing. The imagineers who endeared mice and mermaids to the world set about doing the same thing with puck-passing ducks.
When the doors to what became known as the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim opened on October 8, 1993, for the first National Hockey League game in Mighty Ducks history, it was clear that Disney's marketing talent had risen to the task. Not only were all 17,174 seats filled with cheering fans, but most of them were wearing the once-ridiculed team colors. In fact, Mighty Ducks merchandise had quickly surged to number one in worldwide sales of such items, leaving the previous sales-leading San Jose Sharks in its wake. The press box and press lounge were filled beyond capacity. Working members of the media were far outnumbered by Disney guests and staff, local community leaders and politicos, and National Hockey League officials. Wearing the official NHL blazer and tie, I was still amazed that I was one of them.
My credentials for being an off-ice official were somewhat sparse. Certainly, hockey was a tradition in my family growing up in Minnesota. My grandfather and father had each played on state senior championship teams, and I had been a member of a national championship junior team. However, I had only officiated one hockey game ever, which was way less than successful. When a referee failed to show up at a Pee Wee game, I was reluctantly pressed into service. Being in high school at the time, and just slightly older than the players, I decided to call only the most obvious penalties. Unfortunately, by the time I had the nerve to call a penalty, someone else needed to call the Red Cross. As I whistled a player for a blatant trip, his father, who looked big enough to pick up a cement truck, yelled, "I'm gonna come out there and show you what a real trip is like." Sometime during the melee that followed, I became a staunch advocate for arming officials.
Remembering this incident as if it happened yesterday (rather than 35 years ago), I hesitantly applied for a position as an off-ice official assigned to the Mighty Ducks venue. The off-ice officials crew consists of a supervisor, an assistant supervisor, an official scorer, a video goal judge, two goal judges, a penalty timekeeper, a penalty box attendant, and two statisticians. The responsibility for selecting the crew was given to Tony Guanci, who was designated by the league as crew supervisor. Together with assistant crew supervisor Steve Bashe, Tony conducted the screening and interviewing of nearly 90 applicants. I began to feel more comfortable when Tony and Steve explained the duties of the penalty box attendant: open and close a door; count backwards out loud from five; hand the linesman replacement pucks. Hey, no problem I thought. As long as some big guy doesn't threaten to demonstrate the penalties on me, this would be a walk in the park. What could be simpler?
"Oh, and there will be rubber gloves and a medical waste bag with you in the penalty box for the bloodied items."
Reality came back in a heartbeat, and with it came the image of the penalty box people at the Spectrum in Philadelphia ... wearing helmets. Helmets? Is this job safe? Is it possible I would be one of the bloodied items Tony was referring to?
A friend of mine has a collection of hockey fights ... 3,500 hockey fights ... and if you watch them for any length of time, it becomes immediately apparent that hockey fights are the real deal. Here are two strong, fit, professional athletes trying to knock each other into next week, and then are eventually shoved into the penalty box where they continue to create all kinds of havoc. I began to realize I wouldn't simply be the host, I'd be the warden. While everyone else would be watching the game with friends or loved ones, I'd be locked in a box with raging bulls. Forget a helmet. I'm thinking body armor and an automatic.
"Well, Lloyd, do you want to be a member of our off-ice officials crew?"
How could I? I'm sure my health insurance policy has a paragraph under coverage exemptions entitled "hazardous activities." And I'm not getting any younger. I knew what the right answer was, but before I could say no, I said yes. Whatever the potential hazards, there was no way I was going to miss being this close to the game I've loved since I was a little kid skating on our backyard rink. A total of 10 individuals were selected for the crew with final approval coming from the National Hockey League supervisor of officials. A diverse group consisting of pilots, entrepreneurs, computer experts, lawyers, even an appellate court justice, we all shared a common characteristic: an intense passion for the "coolest game on earth."
As opening night approached, we all felt an unparalleled excitement at not only officiating our first National Hockey League game, but also the first game in the history of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Adding to the excitement was the fact that the Ducks' first opponent would be the Detroit Red Wings — one of the original six teams, and possibly the strongest team in the league. But while most prepared for a thrilling offensive show by the likes of Fedorov, Coffey, and Yzerman, I was aware that chances were good I would be spending considerable time with hockey's bad boy, Bob Probert. The uppermost question in my mind was not who would win the game, but rather: would I survive it?CHAPTER 2
Opening Night Glitters: Fireworks, Dancers, and a Giant Duck
Opening night came amidst great expectations. This was Disney, after all, and rumor had it they had spent more on the opening night show than on any one Mighty Ducks player. Walking onto the ice heading to the penalty box, I couldn't help being overwhelmed with excitement. This was only the seventh time in the history of the National Hockey League that expansion had occurred, and if anyone could make it a success, Disney could.
But to do so, this multibillion-dollar media and entertainment giant would have to apply all of its considerable talent and resources. For one thing, just a few miles up the Interstate was the home of the Los Angeles Kings — so close, in fact, that Disney had to pay them an indemnity for infringing on their turf. This raised the question of whether the Mighty Ducks could compete with them for what was thought to be a limited fan base. The Kings, in the National Hockey League since 1967, now had solid fan support, a talented and popular team that had just come within a curved stick blade of the Stanley Cup, and Wayne Gretzky, the No. 1 marquee player in the universe.
Looking around the arena, I found myself comparing it with the Great Western Forum, where I had trekked with my son for several years as a Kings season-ticket holder. Once referred to as the "Fabulous Forum," it had been built in 1966 and was definitely showing its age. Situated in neither a convenient nor desirable area, lacking revenue-generating luxury suites, and having limited seating all spelled impending doom. By contrast, the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim was a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility more closely resembling a large estate than a public arena. Using over 250,000 square feet of marble on the interior, it accommodates 17,174 hockey fans in theater-style seating or in one of the 82 amenity-laden luxury boxes. And on this night, there wasn't an empty seat in the house.
As I got to the penalty box, the referee and linesmen skated onto the ice, bringing an uncharacteristic cheer from the fans. As the house lights began to dim, signaling the much anticipated debut of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the officials joined me in the box for a ringside view of the opening night festivities. Fittingly, the first game would be officiated by Ron Hoggarth, a senior National Hockey League referee who, until that night, thought he had seen everything. As he sat back for the show I wondered how he would react to Disney's marketing of the game he loved. I wouldn't have long to wait before I found out.
First came the ice dancers twirling and spinning onto the ice wearing brightly colored tutus, leotards, and scarves. Then came the female ice dancers to join them. Despite the music and the noise from the crowd, I thought I could actually hear Hoaggy's eyes rolling back in his head. Pointing at one of the ice dancers, I turned to him and said,
"Amazing, isn't it? Bob Probert dancin' around out there like that just to pick up a lousy hundred bucks."
Having already seen the bizarre, his eyes widened as if maybe it really was Probie in the chiffon, but he quickly realized not even the Walt Disney Company had enough money to make Probert do that.
We all jumped in unison when fireworks, cleverly hidden near us, went off in a series of loud explosions. Smoke and artificial fog filled the arena as the music tempo and volume increased to ear -splitting levels. Suddenly, out of the Zamboni entrance roared an off-road quad ridden by a crazed figure dressed in a rhinestone body suit and waving an electric guitar that was emitting a deafening sound not unlike that of a chain saw. This was the "Iceman" Disney had spent six months auditioning. Looking for a person who was an accomplished musician and skater, they found many who could do one or the other, but not both. We pretty much figured out this guy was not a skater when he began running around the ice in sneakers. But as we found out later, he apparently was a better skater than musician.
The Iceman was soon joined by the team mascot, a giant, all-white duck who skated around the ice in imitation hockey gear, alternately entertaining and terrorizing fans by hurling himself on the glass at great speed. By now, I was hoping there were smelling salts somewhere in the penalty box for Hoggarth, who was groaning out loud at each new spectacle on the ice.
From the Zamboni entrance, nearly one hundred kids involved in local youth hockey programs skated in a serpentine pattern onto the ice, and stopped to form a funnel through which the players would be introduced. I strained to see my son, Logan, who was part of the program, but the fog bank seemed to be settling in for the night.
One by one, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were introduced as they skated through fog thick enough to stop traffic, many of them looking sheepish as they peered out of the haze toward their cheering, but as yet indistinguishable fans. I leaned over to Hoggarth and said,
"I wonder what the old-time fans in Canada would do if they saw this show?" His only comment was a loud snort. Soon enough the pregame show was over, and the Detroit Red Wings show began.
Midway through the game, with great fanfare, the Iceman was reintroduced, this time as he stood in the stands. The spotlight came on him, and he began furiously banging on his guitar and singing. Alas, due to technical difficulties, not a sound could be heard. The crowd, boisterous moments before, was now eerily silent as everyone strained to hear, but to no avail. There he stood, as if in a silent movie, gesturing wildly, the only sound to be heard a rising, then deafening chorus of boos. The spotlight was turned off, and as quickly as the Iceman had cometh, he wenteth, never to be seen again. Many months later, as I made my way to the video goal judge's area high over the arena, I spotted his guitar partially hidden up in the catwalks. For all we know, he may still be up there, silently crying for help.
As the game progressed Detroit made known its intention to spoil the Mighty Ducks' debut with a barrage of goals. But as the referee blew his whistle and signaled a Detroit penalty, I knew my own show was about to begin.CHAPTER 3
My Near Death Experience: "Buddy-buddy" with Bob Probert
Not surprisingly, my first official guest in the penalty box was Bob Probert, then of the Detroit Red Wings. Reigning heavyweight champion of the National Hockey League, Probert had fought and beaten every pretender to his throne since joining the league in 1985–86. As he skated towards the visitor's penalty box, I could see why he won a whole lot more than he lost. Though imposing enough at 6'3" and 225 pounds, it was the look on his face that was pure intimidation: a scowl punctuated by scar tissue that would cause those who cross his path to immediately begin handing over their wallets. Then known, along with tough Joey Kocur, as one of Detroit's "Bruise Brothers," Probert's reputation as a brawler simply could not be exaggerated. Being roughly the size of his shin pads, I started to think that retirement on my first night was better than being confined in a 5' x 14' area alone with Bob Probert.
It was late in the game when Probert picked up a fighting major for using an opponent as a speed bag. We were soon joined by his teammate Ray Sheppard, who was assessed a minor penalty with just three minutes left in the game. As I stood at the other end of the bench monitoring the penalty clock, I soon became aware of the two of them arguing. "You take them. It was your idea," Sheppard was saying. "I don't have any place to put them. You take them," Probert would counter. And on it went, back and forth. Curiosity getting the better of me, I looked over to see what the reason for this bickering was, and discovered that Probert was holding six of the opening night commemorative game pucks he had removed from the ice bucket. He was trying to find a way to sneak the pucks from the penalty box to the players' bench on the other side of the rink, and Sheppard was being of little help. "I can't take them. I've got to go back on the ice before you. Just stick them in your gloves." But Probert kept insisting: "They won't all fit, man, and I've got no other place to put them."
Excerpted from In the Bin by Lloyd Freeberg. Copyright © 2001 Lloyd Freeberg and Triumph Books. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Section One: Let the Games Begin,
Before Play: First Hollywood, Then the NHL,
Opening Night Glitters: Fireworks, Dancers, and a Giant Duck,
My Near Death Experience: "Buddy-buddy" with Bob Probert,
Duck Tales: If You Think Pro Hockey Is Tough, Try Being the Mascot,
Section Two: Guest List,
Icing: Caring for Penalty Box Guests,
Guilt by Association: Cleansing the Soul and Helping with the Paperwork,
Fiery Flame: Dynamite Comes in Small Sizes,
Profane Wayne: Turning Lady Byng's Face Red,
The Big O: It's Much Better to Give than to Receive,
Marty Mac: The Prime Sinister of Hockey,
Fighting Your Way Out of the NHL: Playing with Heart,
Slamnesia: A Forgettable Main Event,
Hands Off!: Getting a Gameworn Jersey the Hard Way,
Counting by Threes: A Trio of Buffalo Take the Ice,
A Nice Place to Visit, but ...: All Penalty Boxes Look Alike,
Hey, LeClair! Where's My Puck?: Acknowledging My First NHL Point,
Section Three: Job Rotation,
Time on My Hands: Without a Degree from MIT,
You Be the Judge: Just Sit There,
Optical Delusion: "There Is No Goal. Repeat. No Goal.",
Away Games: A Phone-Booth View for the Playoffs,
The Phantom Strikes Again: A Legitimate Goal?,
Picture This: Nothing Above the Neck,
Section Four: Stranger than Fiction,
Code of Honor: The Misconduct Motto,
Knock, Knock. Who's There?: It's a Hall of Famer!,
Goalie Dances: Game Day Rituals,
Masked Men: "In-Your-Face" Protection,
Goalie Save: One for the Zebras,
Zebras: The Workhorses of the NHL,
Fellow Travelers: The Banger Shuffle,
Say What?: Learning the Game Is Easy; It's Understanding It That Takes Time,
Cheap Skate: The Brothers Mironov,
Trade Talk: Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe, a Scorer's Touch or a Brawler's Blow,
Rubber Gems: Using Your Head to Get an Official Game Puck,
The Grate Comeback: Defensive Play in the Penalty Box,
What Not to Say to Mario! A Lost Invitation to Fan Appreciation Night,
Between Periods: Not in the Highlight Reels,
Speak to Us: A Front-Row Seat at the Soapbox,
Kicking the Bucket: Bringing the Fight off the Ice and into the Penalty Box,
Battered Up!: It's the "Grim Reaper" on Deck,
And the Hits Just Keep on Comin': Vitaly Vishevski, New Duck on the Pond,
Hey, LeClair, Thanks for the Puck: A Postscript,