Jim Schoenfeld: "Have Another Donut," the 1988 NHL Playoffs That Changed Hockey

levinakl@levinaklCorrespondent IIIFebruary 9, 2009

May 6, 1988.  A day that will live in infamy for the National Hockey League.  Disagree?  Maybe you don't remember the black eye moment that took place after Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals.  The New Jersey Devils had just lost to the Boston Bruins 6 to 1 when things really turned ugly. 

New Jersey Head Coach Jim Schoenfeld confronted referee Don Koharski after the game.  (Remember, in those days, hockey games had only one referee).  Thanks to the video footage, some of the unknowns of that event have been cleared up. 

There was never any doubt about Schoenfeld confronting Koharski, or that he verbally assaulted him.  However, the video appears to show that Schoenfeld didn't actually bump Koharski. 

It appears Koharski may have misstepped and his skate blade gave out.  Now, if you want to say Koharski was blocked by Schoenfeld, that argument is certainly something you can make. 

Known hockey writer Stan Fischler had the back and forth war of words as the following:

"Oh, you're gone now! You're gone. You won't coach another..." shouted Koharski. Schoenfeld shot back, "You fell and you know it. You know you fell. I didn't touch you." Koharski: "You're gone. You're gone. And I hope it's on tape." Schoenfeld: "Good, 'cause you fell you fat pig. Have another doughnut."  

All that being said, as ugly as this heated exchange was,  the true "black eye" for the league came two nights later, when the teams got together for Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals.  Schoenfeld had been suspended for a game by the league without a proper hearing.  Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger gives the best account of what took place: 

[NHL Vice President Bryan] O'Neill announced at 12:32 p.m. Sunday, just hours before Game four was to be played at Meadowlands Arena, that Schoenfeld was suspended for at least one game pending further investigation.  

Lamoriello, not yet an influential figure with the league, had a plan. He called Judge John A. Conte in an effort to get a temporary restraining order against the NHL that would allow Schoenfeld to coach that night's game. Conte, a Devils fan who often housed the team's young players at his Mahwah home, put the Devils in touch with the New Jersey Superior Court judge on call. It was Mother's Day and Bergen County Judge James F. Madden agreed to hear the case at his apartment in Cliffside Park.

"Lou drove," says Conte, 71, who recalls going along with attorney Patrick Gilmartin. "My wife, Lucille, and one of my daughters, Jennifer, had typed up all the papers."

The Devils announced that they had a court order at 7:20 p.m., after the pregame skate and 25 minutes before the game was scheduled to start.

When the Devils got the court injunction, Referee Dave Newell and linesmen Ray Scapinello and Grod Broseker refused to work the game.  Backup referee Denis Morel also refused to take the ice.  A sellout crowd (myself included) was forced to wait over an hour as all of this mess unfolded itself behind the scenes. 

Remember, this was before the Internet and cell phones were prevalent, and everyone really was in a state of confusion around the arena.  NHL Commissioner John Ziegler was unable to be found. 

In the end, the game was played by scab officials.  Paul McInnis, a manager of a skating rink in Yonkers, NY at the time took the helm at referee.  The linesmen were Vin Godelski and Jim Sullivan, neither of whom were confused to be normal linesmen.

It all ended up being not only one of the funnier moments I've ever witnessed in professional sports, but it certainly was the most bizarre. 

(Author's note: Without getting too technical I didn't witness the "Donut"  incident first hand, nor was I in the bowels of the arena seeing everything unfold.  I was in the arena, was only 13 years old at the time, but have always read up on the incident whenever i've seen anything written)

For prosperity sake, the Devils went on to take Game Four of the series by the score of 3 to 1.  After a proper hearing was held for Coach Schoenfeld, he was indeed suspended for Game Five of the series, which was the Head Coaching Debut for Lou Lamoriello. 

The Bruins won Game Five 7 to 1 to take command of the series.  The Devils won Game Six 6 to 3, but faltered 6 to 2 in Game Seven.  The Bruins went on to lose in four straight games to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals.


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