Retro Rangers: A Day-Night Doubleheader at the Garden

Less than a month after the New Madison Square Garden opened in February of 1968 the building was the site of the rarest of rarities; a National Hockey League double header.

The twin bill was made necessary when high winds blew part of the roof off of the Spectrum in Philadelphia, the home of the Flyers. The problems started a few weeks earlier on February 17th during an afternoon performance of the Ice Capades. A sudden gust of wind ripped away a 50-by-100-foot section of the Spectrum’s roof and sent it crashing into the parking lot.  The building was closed while the damage was assessed and repairs were made.

But two weeks later on March 1st, the roof took flight again. This time Mayor James H.J. Tate, whose administration had been criticized for the sweetheart deal it awarded developer Jerry Wolman, shut down the building until a full investigation was made. Wolman had been one of the founding owners of the Flyers before selling his share to Ed Snider. He also owned Connie Mack Stadium and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL.

The Flyer’s co-tenants, the 76ers of the NBA moved their remaining games to the nearby Convention Hall and to the Palestra.  The Flyers though were not that lucky since neither of those building had ice making facilities.

So the Flyers were forced to hurriedly move their next home game against the Oakland Seals which was being televised nationally to Madison Square Garden.

Fans that had a ticket for that evening’s Rangers – Chicago match-up were admitted to the Flyer’s matinee game for free. 12,127 fans showed up for the Flyer 1-1 tie with the Seals. The Rangers then shut out Chicago 4-0 in the nightcap.

The Flyers lost their next “home” game 2-1 to the Boston Bruins which was played in Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The game featured a vicious stick swinging duel between Flyer defenseman Larry Zeidel and Eddie Shack of the Bruins. Shack later said that Zeidel speared him while Zeidel claimed that he was retaliating for anti-Semitic slurs coming from the Bruins bench, but not specifically from Shack.  Both players were badly bloodied and later suspended, Zeidel for four games and Shack for three. Both were also fined $300.

There had been bad blood between the two since the late 1950’s when both were playing in the American Hockey League, Shack with Springfield and Zeidel with Hershey. During a pre-season game Zeidel speared Shack multiple times and the pair got into a brawl and were ejected from the game. Later, while in their street clothes, they got into another fight outside the locker rooms. The police were called and both spent the night in jail.

Eddie Shack: “We were in training camp in Niagara Falls and they told us that if someone took a run at you, you had to stick up for yourself. So Larry Zeidel speared me and I told him ‘you spear me one more time and you’ll get this stick right over the head.’ And so he speared me again and I hit him over the head and he got cut and we got kicked out of the game.  So then I got dressed and went back out to watch the game because we always went out with the other players for a beer after the game. So I’m sitting there waiting for the game to end and Larry comes up to me and we get into a little spill and I sort of hit him with my elbow and knocked him down. That’s when the cops came and they put us both in jail.

So then when Philadelphia’s roof fell in and they had to play a home game in Toronto he speared me again and I hit him over the head again and that’s when I got suspended for three games. At the time I was going good, I was scoring and on a good line with Eddie Westfall and Derek Sanderson and then I had to sit out for three games and that puts you back a bit. But the last time he speared me I hit him over the head, so he didn’t learn his lesson real quick.”

The Flyers finally set up a base of operations at Le Colisee in Quebec City, the home of their top minor league team at the time.

In total, the Flyers played seven “home” games at neutral site locations posting a 3-2-2 record. They were permitted to return to the Spectrum by the opening round of the playoffs against the Blues on April 4th,

The story above is an excerpt from We Did Everything But Win: Former New York Rangers Remember the Emile Francis Era (1964-1976) to be published by Sports Publishing in September and will be available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.