As the Stanley Cup playoffs head into their final games, we take a look back at the state of professional ice hockey as described in the article “Blood on the Ice,” from the December 31, 1938, issue of the Post.
Any modern article about injuries in sports — particularly injuries related to player-on-player violence — would be presented with sober statistics and grim warnings. But this was 1938, and this was ice hockey, where helmets were optional and sticks (and fists) flew. A modern reader might expect the paragraphs of gleefully recounted fights to be broken up with the occasional finger wagging, but no. Instead, the writers spin from one breathless account of a stick in the ribs to another of how many stitches were required before the player skated back on the ice. Just in case the title didn’t give it away, the article relishes the rough and tumble of the game.
Eventually, even ice hockey came around (somewhat begrudgingly) to implementing safety measures. Helmets started to appear after the Bailey-Shore incident that the authors recount in this article, but perceptions didn’t really change until after Minnesota North Stars player Bill Masterson died after a hard hit in a 1968 NHL game. Helmets didn’t become mandatory for players until 1979, and that applied just to the new guys. Players who signed their contract before June 1979 weren’t obligated to wear one. The last holdout was Craig MacTavish, who retired from playing hockey in 1997.