The National Hockey League broke for a Christmas recess today, delaying investigation into Sunday night's ugly brawl between members of the Boston Bruins and several Madison Square Garden spectators. Four fans were arrested.
The 10-minute brawl, the worst of its kind in the 11-year history of the new Garden, erupted following Boston's come-from-behind, 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers. After the final buzzer, Ranger goaltender John Davidson skated the length of the ice trying to get at Boston's Al Secord, whom Davidson felt "suckered" Ulf Nilsson as the game ended.
Players from both teams milled around in front of the Boston net, with several altercations shaping up. All of a sudden, Terry O'Reilly noticed teammate Stan Jonathan, whose stick had been grabbed by a spectator, had been cut by a fan and -- hurdling the glass -- led a charge into the stands. Garden security men tried to get things under control and did manage to get everyone out without serious injury.
As the Ranger players watched from the ice, one Bruin got hold of a spectator's shoe and beat him with it. The shoe was later tossed out of the stands and sat innocently at center ice.
"Things could have been a lot worse. I give the security people a lot of credit," said Boston's Mike Milbury, who returned from the dressing-room runway and only had to run up the stairs to join in the fracas. "Everyone was very fortunate that there weren't any serious injuries."
NHL President John Ziegler and his staff were unavailable for comment today but Ron Andrews, the NHL director of information, said Ziegler "probably wouldn't have a comment to make yet anyway."
"It is under investigation," said Andrews, who admitted the incident was "quite exceptional". "If John were available (he's said to be home for the holidays), I'm sure he would tell you that under normal circumstances the NHL doesn't comment on that kind of thing until the investigation is complete.
"I'm sure the league will have some thing to say about it when the investigation is complete."
The four fans arrested were later identified by one of the four as John Kaptain, 30, of Montgomery, N.J., his brother James, 26, his father Imanuel, 54, and Jack Gutenplan, 31, of Wayside, N.J.
John Kaptain admitted hitting one of the Bruins, but said he did so because his brother had already been struck by one of the players.
After the game, several hundred angry fans surrounded the Bruins' empty bus outside the building and began rocking it before the vehicle was driven into the Garden.
Frank Torpey, the NHL's director of security, said he had convinced the Bruins not to file assault charges against the fans (they were charged with disorderly conduct.) But Anthony Avallone, vice-president in charge of operations at the Garden, said he hoped Jonathan would file charges against the fan who struck him.
And after the brawl, William Jennings, the president of the Garden could be heard shouting at Torpey: "Are police arresting the Bruins? Nineteen years ago when we were in Boston three of our guys were thrown in jail. Now they get nothing. That's the way the NHL runs things."