October 08, 2007

Rick Jodzio

During its eight year run, the World Hockey Association had a well-deserved reputation for toughness. In the league that inspired the Hanson Brothers and "Slap Shot," not even Bobby Hull’s hairpiece was considered sacred by enforcers. But despite that an otherwise nondescript goon among goons named Rick Jodzio placed himself firmly in hockey fight history on April 11, 1976 for arguably the most brutal hit – and ensuing brawl – in the history of the WHA or any other league.

That night, during a playoff quarterfinal game between the Calgary Cowboys and the heavily favored Quebec Nordiques at the Colisee de Quebec, Jodzio delivered a vicious shoulder-to-chest check on the Nords’ leading scorer, Marc Tardif. The hit sent Tardif flying into the boards and knocked him unconscious. "Tardif must've flown 10 feet in the air. Just took off – whooosh! – like a plane off a runway," Cowboys trainer Bearcat Murray recalled years later. There are other versions of the story, including one which accuses one of the Nordiques of accidentally kicking Tardif in the head while taking a swing at Jodzio. Regardless, Tardif had to be carried off the ice on a stretcher, lost to Quebec for the rest of the playoffs and doomed to recurring migraines for the rest of his career. Deprived of their main scoring threat, the Nords would go on to lose the series in five games.

The game was halted for a full hour and 25 minutes, not only to attend to Tardif, but also the melee on the ice between Jodzio, his teammates and enraged Nordiques players and fans alike. "I wound up knocking out three of them (fans) before some guy leaned over and kicked me in the head for 14 stitches. Two of their guys had Jodzio on our bench and were beating on him. Police everywhere," Murray said in a recent ESPN interview. Jodzio was later arraigned on assault charges in Quebec City as a direct result of the incident.

Jodzio’s numbers during a rather brief six-year playing career are typical of an enforcer: low on points, high on PIMs. Breaking into the WHA in 1974-75 with the Vancouver Blazers and later splitting his timebetween the Cowboys and various minor league clubs, in 357 WHA appearances he averaged 2.6 PIMs a game while only scoring 15 goals. In his only NHL season in 1977-78, split between the dreadful Colorado Rockies and the horrible Cleveland Barons, Jodzio scored 10 points and spent 71 minutes in the sin bin. After that, he quietly faded into the minors for good before retiring in 1980.

Had it not been for the WHA and the sometimes ill-advised expansion of the NHL in the 1970s, Jodzio would have probably never made it out of the minors. But in his short time in the big show he became forever remembered as central to one of the most visceral, unfortunate and downright bizarre moments in the game’s history.

1 comment:

paulnthefalls said...

I was a cabbie in San Diego in the fall of 1976. And I grew up in Buffalo and was (am) a hockey nut. Anyway, I picked up 2 guys for a fare from a bar and was told to go to a hotel in Pacific Beach. One tells the other as I drove past the San Diego Sports Arena, "the boards are real lively."
I knew the Calgary Cowboys were supposed to play the Mariners the next day so I said you guys must be Cowboys. They said yep. I asked who they were and the one guy said Lynn Powis. I said oh yeah, you used to play for the Hawks and KC. He was happy I knew who he was and I had quick images of a huge tip. Then I said, "that Jodzio is a real a--hole for what he did." It got real quiet in the cab. Oops. The other guy eventually mumbled something like, "That all got blown out of proportion." I did not get a tip.