Thursday, December 23, 2010
On this date in 1979, the Boston Bruins had just completed a 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York and were in the process of heading off to the locker room to celebrate and begin a brief Christmas break in the schedule on a winning note. Some of the players had actually made their way off the ice while a scrum formed in the left corner of the rink between some of the Bruins and Rangers players after the Ranges goaltender John Davidson skated the length of the ice to confront the Bruins' Al Secord and John Wensink. Davidson was in a foul mood, having given up three third period goals and was unhappy with Secord for the sucker punch he hit Swede Ulf Nilsson with after the game ended among other things.
The rest of the Rangers players entered the area seeing Davidson confronting Secord and the Rangers Frank "Never" Beaton eventually began to confront Secord which moved the scrum over towards the stands. Once by the glass, the Bruins Stan Jonathan got hit in the face - not by a Ranger player, but by a Ranger fan who had reached over the then much lower glass used back then and clouted Jonathan with a rolled up program, drawing blood from under Jonathan's eye.
Jonathan was later quoted as saying he raised his stick to protect himself, only to have the fan rip the stick put of Jonathan's hands!
"He just reached over the glass and whacked me with it," Jonathan said. "I put my stick up to protect myself, and he just took it, and I can't be hitting no fan with a stick, really, eh, so I just let him take it."
Perhaps the "gentlemanly" Jonathan wasn't actually trying to whack the belligerent fan with his stick as some reported, but either way, it was now in possession of the fan which caused the Bruins Terry O'Reilly to become possessed.
With the fuse now lit, O'Reilly set off the explosion when he immediately scaled the boards and launched himself into the stands and began to wrestle with the attacking fan.
O'Reilly hurtles over the glass, setting off chaos in the stands
"I went into the stands because somebody, who had no right to, punched Stanley," said O'Reilly. "It's none of the fans' business. We don't interfere with them if they leave us alone. When I got in there it was pretty bad. I regret it, but I don't think I had a choice. There was no way he was going to strike one of my teammates and steal his stick, wield it like a weapon and then disappear into the crowd and go to a local bar with a souvenir and a great story. A soon as I got him into a bearhug, I felt like I was being pummeled by multiple people. All I could do was cover up."
Seeing O'Reilly enter the stands, where he was going to obviously be heavily outnumbered, several other Bruins didn't hesitate when the brother of the fan O'Reilly had gone after started hitting O'Reilly and the Bruins poured over the glass into the seats.
Brad McCrimmon, Bob Miller, Wensink and Secord all scaled the glass while Peter McNab, who was not known as a thug in any way, having totaled just four penalty minutes the previous season, went after the brother of the fan who had clearly been hitting O'Reilly and threw him down onto the seats.
"Peter was usually the guy who'd pick up our gloves for us after a fight," Jonathan said.
While Craig McTavish held back another fan from joining in McNab's confrontation, most of the Bruins actually showed a level of restraint by not throwing punches. The ugliest part of the incident, separate from O'Reilly entering the stands in the first place, was when Mike Milbury ripped a shoe off of the fan McNab had pinned, who Milbury claimed had kicked him while flailing under McNab, and hit him with it before it was pulled out of his hand before he could get in a second shot.
Milbury in the eye of the storm
Milbury was already off the ice when the fight in the stands broke out. "I went from happy and content, and ready to go home for Christmas, to full combat mode in about 20 seconds," he recalled.
The entire confrontation lasted roughly 40 seconds from the time O'Reilly started to scale the glass and Milbury was calmed down. He later added to the fan's indignity by throwing his shoe onto the ice.
"Things could have been a lot worse. I give the security people a lot of credit," said Milbury. "Everyone was very fortunate that there weren't any serious injuries."
During the entire affair the Rangers' players stood on the ice and watched the episode unfolding in the seats. Four fans were charged with disorderly conduct with the charges eventually being dropped. O'Reilly was suspended for eight games, while McNab and Milbury each had to sit out six games. All 18 of the Bruins who entered the stands were fined the princely sum of $500 each.
Here is a link to an an interview with Milbury 29 years after he entered the stands in Madison Square Garden to join the melee. Brawl at MSG: 29 years later
Today's featured jersey is a 1979-80 Boston Bruins Terry O'Reilly jersey as worn during the infamous brawl when O'Reilly entered the stands at Madison Square Garden in New York to confront a fan who hit Bruins teammate Stan Jonathan.
O'Reilly would spend his entire 14 year NHL career with the Boston and was the Bruins captain for the final two seasons of his career. Although widely regarded as a tough guy who had over 200 penalty minutes in five consecutive seasons, unlike today's fighting specialists, O'Reilly was a more complete player who scored over 20 goals four times with a high of 29 in 1977-78 when he totaled 90 points to go with his 211 penalty minutes that season. His number 24 was retired by the Bruins in 2002.
Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1979-80 Boston Bruins Mike Milbury jersey, as worn while he was caught on video beating a Rangers fan with his own shoe during his part in the Bruins invasion of the stands in New York.
Milbury was a 12 year member of the Bruins defensive corps and racked up 149 minutes or more in penalty minutes seven times, including over 200 twice. He followed his playing career by becoming head coach for the Bruins for two years and later the New York Islanders as well as their general manager. He is now known of his television and radio commentary work.
Here is the live broadcast of the end of the game, followed by Davidson confronting the Bruins and the subsequent escalation as O'Reilly enters the stands.
This interview is with the Rangers' Phil Esposito in the aftermath, discussing his desire for higher glass to prevent any repeats of the incident.
In this interview, Milbury recounts his involvement in the fracas. It's very similar to the one linked to above, but we felt worth posting.