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There was no glass around the boards at the Gardens, or anywhere else for that matter!

We older hockey fans know that, in those "good old days" we like to talk about, there wasn’t always protective glass around the rink.

Instead of the nearly (though not always) unbreakable glass that well protects fans in modern hockey stadiums, through most of the 1950s, there was only a wire mesh of sorts in place behind the nets.

That’s it—wire mesh behind the nets and into the corners. (I’m guessing there would have been far fewer players experiencing concussions in those days, but perhaps acquiring a lot more stitches, as a result of players jostling for the puck near—or getting hammered against—the wire mesh, as opposed to what they use these days.)

But the thing I find really astounding, as I think back to those times (and am reminded when I look back and watch films of games) from the late 1950s, is this: in buildings like the old Montreal Forum, not only was there no glass, there was indeed barely any mesh. And it wasn’t just Montreal and Toronto. (See the game photos we’ve included from the old Chicago Stadium in the late 1950s which shows the wire fencing and the Detroit Olympia from the early 1960s, which shows fans sitting right along the unprotected boards, all the way down toward the corner of the rink.)

If you ever have the opportunity to watch one of the ‘classic’ games on the ESPN Classics or Leafs TV, for example, have a look. The protective ‘fencing’ covers the boards and seating behind the net, and into the corners. But, just as you move up from the corners of the rink, those who have “box” seats—that is, fans right there in the first row up against the boards—are literally sitting there, unprotected by anything. They’re just hanging over the boards, as players come skating by.

Anything—sticks held high, flying pucks, a player’s elbow—could cut someone or knock a fan out.

Now, I realize the game was not as fast back then and guys generally didn’t carry their sticks as high as they do now. Players, for the most part, definitely didn’t shoot as hard as they do today. But, some guys could. “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Andy Bathgate, Tim Horton and a young Bobby Hull could still blast the puck. Pucks were deflected and went out of play all the time.

And around the penalty box, at least at the Gardens in the mid-1950s- nothing. Just the timekeeper and penalty guy sitting there, not protected either. (Too, in those days, there was no barrier between opposing team players in the penalty box area. Players would have a big fight and then go sit right next to each other and also the guys in the penalty box area. I don’t know how much those off-ice officials were paid back then but it sure wasn’t enough.)

I guess all those “rink side” seats for the fans were the best ones in the house, but I can’t imagine wanting to sit that close to the action.

Things changed as years went by, of course. Maple Leaf Gardens was, I believe, the first to go “modern” in the late 1950s, with the nearly-unbreakable glass stretching up toward the blueline. Boston and others followed suit. Of course nowadays the protective glass goes all the way around the rinks, except for the players benches.

It’s just amazing to look back and see how different things really were.

1 comment:

  1. Got linked from one of your recent posts.

    I can't even imagine being that close to the action without any protection from the speed of the game. Not that I've had the opportunity to sit that close, unfortunately! With the pace they're playing at now, even a fight for the puck in the corners could end up injuring a few members of the audience!

    Makes me wonder how often people got hurt by accident just by being in the crowd.