I have to be honest with you, today will be a bit of a shorter Throwback Thursday. I’m busy, you’re busy, but mostly I’m busy. House-hunting will do that do you.
This article comes from a bit of personal curiosity. I was reading a bit into the history of some trophies, which led me to the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy and the history of Bill Masterson – the only NHL player to die directly from injuries sustained during a game.
Masterson was playing for the Minnesota North Stars at the time, with the fateful game coming on January 13, 1968 against the Oakland Seals. He died two days later after doctors determined surgery was impossible. This was nearly 51 years ago now.
Are you interested as well?
Good, there are plenty of stories on Masterson for you to read. This isn’t one of them.
My somewhat morbid curiosity brought me to ask: “who was the first hockey player to die during a game?” That question brings with it this story: the story of Alcide Laurin.
Alcide Laurin was born on November 21, 1880 in Sainte-Marie, Quebec. If you read my last article, you know that I don’t care much for filling in the childhood blanks – so let’s skip that together shall we?
Laurin was 24 years old, living his best life, finishing another strong season with his local hockey club – the Alexandria Crescents.
Alexandria, Ontario, a predominantly French Catholic town, was about to face-off with another small-town rival, Maxville, Ontario and their predominantly English Protestant population. To get a good sense of the mood of the two cultures, I strongly suggest you watch the movie “The Rocket” based on the life of Maurice Richard. Keep in mind, that hate-filled atmosphere was decades after this fateful Maxville-Alexandria showdown.
To set the foreboding mood, our good friend and common villain from my first and second Throwback Thursdays, Ontario Hockey Association President John Ross Robertson, had this to say the year before the game at hand: “We must call a halt to slashing and slugging, and insist upon clean hockey…before we have to call in a coroner to visit our rinks.”
During that last game of the season on February 24, 1905, Laurin got into a skirmish in front of the net with Maxville’s Allan Loney. What happened next has been debated, but the consensus was that Laurin struck Loney with a blow that broke his nose. Laurin was then hit on the chin and then again on the left temple with a stick by Loney.
Laurin collapsed to the ice, dead.
Loney was charged with murder.
What followed would be a media circus and a defining case in sports law. One of the Crown prosecutors at the time said “Not only is the prisoner at the bar on trial. But the game of hockey itself is on trial.”
Loney argued that hockey was a brutal sport. His chief defense came in stating that earlier on the same day of the incident, a referee of the OHA championship game had witnessed players being “deliberately knocked out” and sent several players out of the game to prevent “the battle from becoming a massacre.”
There was a lot at stake, and jurors had to decide what to do with Loney. He was the man who killed another man, shattering a section of skull above Laurin’s left ear into 5 pieces and forcing some of those pieces into his brain. Loney was also defending himself after having his nose broken by Laurin. A guilty verdict would have meant the harshest punishment in Canadian law at the time:
Death by hanging.
Just over a month after Laurin’s death, on March 29, 1906, the verdict was read. After three days of testimony and cross-examination, the jury took approximately four hours of deliberation to deliver a verdict of not guilty.
James Vernall Teetzel, the judge of the case, said that Loney was lucky the jury had taken a merciful view of him, adding that he hoped “but to every other young man in this country, never to do violence to anyone.”
Thus ends the story of Alcide Laurin, Allan Loney, and the first recorded on-ice death in hockey history. In a funny turn of events after the holy wars and religious differences of the early 1900s, Alexandria and Maxville eventually amalgamated to become one, the township of North Glengarry, Ontario.
Let me leave you with a snippet of the poem “Hockey Players” by famous Canadian poet Al Purdy:
“And how do the players feel about it
this combination of ballet and murder?”