John Flesch:


As told to: Rick Shanley

Willie Trognitz got thrown out of “The I” for hitting Archie Henderson over the head with his stick. We had a bench brawl; everybody grabbed somebody and Willie ended up fighting three different guys. Archie came out on the ice — he had some nose damage at the time — and it was like the O.K. Corral. Willie had spent all of his bullets, so he picked up a stick and politely hit it over Archie’s head.

Willie ended up playing in the WHA with the Cincinnati Stingers. He was one of the old warriors; he’d go to bat for anybody on the team. He started his career by being the muscle, and then went to being able to put the puck in the net by the end. He was a complete player. Neither Willie nor I were fleet of foot, but what we made up for it in other ways. Willie was one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known. He always paid his two bucks to dance.

They had to get Bill Goldthorpe out of jail to practice. He was playing for Thunder Bay in the junior leagues at the time. They had to get him out of jail to practice and then take him back, because by the time the playoffs came around he had to be in shape.

He was in Columbus by the time I got there. I’d read about him. When I landed in Columbus I thought, “God put all the goons in Columbus.” I remember looking across the ice and going, “Oh my God.” All of these guys had played in the IHL for years before me.  All of these guys knew I was coming. I was two days late. I already had a chip on my shoulder coming from the NHL.

They had to get Bill Goldthorpe out of jail to practice. They had to get him out of jail to practice and then take him back, because by the time the playoffs came around he had to be in shape.

In training camp, it was like going to war. Word was that if you landed in Columbus, you’d make it to The Apple.

Goldie and Willie were best friends. They’d played junior together in Thunder Bay. If Goldie was going off the deep end, Willie was the only one who could touch the nerve and bring him back. There were no nerves with Goldie, just “a nerve.”

We were playing Dayton. Willie didn’t make the trip. Goldie got in some altercations, did some time in the box, had a little bench brawl, but calm came back to the game. All of a sudden, the ref blew the whistle. We were sitting on our bench and the penalty box guy was out on the ice. Goldie was messing with the fans: half in the box, half out.

The refs get it all restored and throw Goldie out of the game.  I remember getting in the shower afterwards and Goldie was still in there. I said, “Goldie, what got you going again? How’d the timekeeper end up on the ice?” Turned out, Goldie was trying to make a long-distance call from the time box to Willie to explain what was going on. The time box guy tried telling him the line only went to the press box, but Goldie didn’t understand that and got pissed.

After practice we would go to a place called Charlie Brown’s for a team meeting. “Ogie” would walk in and go to the jukebox and put on a song called “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. He’d go to the bartender and ask him to put the plywood up; somebody in the bar was gonna dance with him. Back then, he was into nunchucks. I didn’t like the movie (“Slap Shot”). I had touched The Apple. It was an embarrassment to the game. We felt in The Apple that anybody who didn’t know hockey would get the wrong example of what really went on in the upper leagues. However, although it touched some far-off points, they weren’t that far off.


Rick Shanley

RICK SHANLEY is a former hockey writer for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette who covered the NHL, NCAA and an alphabet soup of minor leagues for more than a decade. He now lives in Charlotte, N.C., where he's one of the better rec league players simply by geographic default.


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