January 12, 2009

Is Hockey Fixed?

There is a pretty interesting book out there called The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime.

It looks at how organized crime, particularly Asian gangs, has corrupted the world of soccer at it's highest levels, including European Champions League, Olympic and World Cup matches and tournaments.

Author Declan Hill explains the structure and mechanics of illegal gambling syndicates, what soccer players and referees do or not do to affect the outcome of their games, why relatively rich and high-status athletes would take money to fix games, and how they get referees on their side.

Absolutely amazing stuff. Even more mind-blowing: FIFA, soccer's governing body, does nothing about it, and may even be somehow in cahoots with the criminals. A Russian godfather claims to have been seen sitting in the FIFA president's luxury box during World Cup games.

After reading this book your faith in the purity soccer at every level is completely shaken. You might as well extend that to all of sports. The book also touches on basketball, tennis, cricket, even rowing.

And we all remember disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy's ties to gambling, even though the NBA has somehow kept that hushed. To me that is a far bigger deal than baseball's Pete Rose.

Could organized crime be trying to fix hockey matches too?

Do not kid yourself. If organized crime is match-fixing rowing competitions, they are likely interested in a slice of hockey's big money pie. There is corruption in all facets of life, so why would professional hockey be immune?

There has even been some suspicion about mobster involvement. If you are in Canada you may remember a investigative journalism piece about 9 years ago for CBC's The Fifth Estate that looked at how Russian players associating with known members of the Russian mafia, perhaps forced to do so because of mafia extortion attempts. That Fifth Estate documentary was done by, you guessed it, Declan Hill.

I could not find that documentary on YouTube, but I found this Declan Hill written article about the Russian mafia's interest in hockey.

Hill estimates as high as 80% of Russian players have had to deal with the mafia, including Oleg Tverdovsky who had his parents kidnapped and Alexei Zhitnik who was beaten severely. The Mafia also "introduces" themselves to promising junior players as young as 15 or 16, looking to befriend someone they can soon extort.

Their interest in hockey is not restricted to extorting rich NHL players, insists Hill. Extortion is for low level criminals. Game fixing is where the big boys play for big, big money. But beyond that obvious statement Hill offers nothing to suggest any hint of players being bribed to throw games.

Instead, he goes on to say the mafia tend to use sports stars to legitimize themselves in the public's eye. If they are seen chumming around with famous sports stars, that is great for business and reputation, particularly mainstream business.

The Russians, led by Pavel Bure's friend Anzor Kikalishvili, are the only organized criminals publicly associated with hockey, although with the money involved you would have to wonder about North American mobsters, too.

Historically though, mobsters and gambling have never been far from the NHL, especially at the owner level.

Most notable were the Norris family. James Norris Sr, long-time owner of the Detroit Red Wings, and his son Jim Norris, who owned the Chicago Blackhawks, had ties to some of the sleaziest swindlers. In the late 1950s the United States senate even investigated the Norris family's relationships with mafia king pins, most notably Frankie Carbo.

Then there was Big Bill Dwyer, one of biggest bootleggers and mobsters during the prohibition era. He used his illegal monies to buy the New York Americans way back in the 1920s.

Now let's remember these owners are guilty of suspicious association more than anything. We have absolutely no reason to believe these owner's conspired to fix games. They just had ties to the mob.

Even without the mob involved, when there is gambling involved there is a possibility of game fixing. And the NHL has had other owners/administrators who were noted gamblers.

Always quick to defend Jim Norris in particular was none other than Toronto Maple Leafs boss Conn Smythe, one of the most legendary figures in hockey history. He was never afraid to gamble his own money, especially at the race track. He built his empire, the Leafs and Maple Leafs Gardens on winnings.

His understudy, Frank Selke, also shared his hobbies. Selke of course went on to create the Montreal dynasty of the 1950s.

Speaking of the storied Montreal Canadiens, they were largely funded by gambling money from 1921 to 1936. Owners Leo Dandurand, Joe Cattarinch and Louis Letourneau operated a casino in Cleveland, Ohio and were also noted racetrack visitors.

Gambling has also been associated with a few players. Most notable are four players

1. Babe Pratt, Toronto's all star defenseman, gambled on NHL games back in the 1940s. He had his suspension eliminated after just 16 days as there was no proof he placed bets on games involving the Leafs.

2 and 3. Don Gallinger of Boston and Billy Taylor of New York teamed up to gamble on the outcomes of NHL games, including games they were participating in. Both were suspended for life, though they would be pardoned by the NHL some 20 years later.

4. Back in 2006 retired player/Phoenix assistant coach Rick Tocchet he played some role in a crooked New Jersey cop's small time betting scheme. Though taking bets on hockey never occured, Tocchet pled guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling charges.

And if you believe Dick Beddoes' book Greatest Hockey Stories, Hall of Famers Sweeney Schriner and Teeder Kennedy were also noted gamblers. And some upset fans accused the great Howie Morenz of taking a bribe after Morenz failed to score in a playoff series against the Montreal Maroons in 1928. The disbelieving fans, some of whom undoubtedly lost money on their own bets, could not believe Morenz did not play better.

Again, we have no reason to believe there has ever been any game fixing in hockey. But we also know mobsters have their own definition of power play.

12 comments:

Jamie Favreau said...

Isn't Jose Theodore's family associated with the Mob as well? I thought I heard that somewhere.

Cornelius Hardenbergh said...

If it was, would you really want to know?

Anonymous said...

what? you actually believe smith's goal in '86 was a blooper? ;)

Anonymous said...

I think the NHL is fixed.
Look at the current playoffs.
I think they are extending the playoff series for all second round teams to generate more TV revenue.
Lot's of obvious sluggish play.
And I bet the NHL is still losing money.

Chris said...

Well, with the way the refs have been calling the games in the playoffs this year, I have no doubt the NHL is fixed in some way. There's two referees, and the back referee should be able to see the entire play as it's happening, while the front ref is watching the play on the puck. It's impossible to think that they're missing that many calls because they're "human." I think the games are being fixed through the referees by the NHL big wigs, not so much the mob or other organized crime. However, I'm still watching because I love hockey...

Anonymous said...

I totaly agree hockey is fixed, ingame seven I couted at least 14 different penalty calls that were missed including the one were Talbot scored the second goal.

Anyone buying hockey tickets might aswell buy trade them for wrestling tickets at least you they are up front about it being fixed.

be bop a doop said...

June 5th 2004 Game 6 Stanley cup finals. Gelinas phantom goal, bam! Shoulda won right then and there, some mobster said no goal...wtf

jchi said...

Joe, I finally got around to reading Hill's book, and I'm glad I did.

Regarding that 1999 Fifth Estate documentary, the program also aired in the United States on PBS's Frontline and the PBS website has a complete transcript.

Anonymous said...

Is Hockey Fixed? No one can know for sure. However, consider this in the Pittsburgh vs Montreal game 7.

1) A borderline penalty called against Syd Crosby 10 seconds into the game.

2) Pittsburgh plays lax until Montreal is spotted 4 goals then reverts to playing like the Stanley Cup Champions they are and completely dominates for a good 15 minutes.

3) Gonchar leaves Travis Moen to go in on goal without so much as flinching to take him out. Fleury whiffs the shot and is brutal the entire game.

4) Pittsburgh is called for an obvious too many men with minutes left in the game. If you look at the reply it appears to be deliberate by the team. As a side note, take a look at all the too many men penalties in this year's playoffs - way, way above the season average.

I know there is no way of proviing any of this, but the way Pittsburgh, an experienced playoff team played in game 7, you have to wonder.

Chris Tasse said...

Nice to see some courage here, by one and all. Like John Cusack's character says to Gene Hackman's in that Jury/fixing movie, "Politics, Sports, Business--what isn't fixed?"


NBA ref said he wasn't some lone wolf, Commiss. Stern gave order (Sac. no beats L.A.), and that now retired, older ref bragged, "he was the guy", when a job had to be done. And much maligned Gary Bettman (odd, the pun/name), he was Stern's protege IN THE NBA. Couple of New Yorkey suits, if you will, not former athletes, MONEY GUYS, and most importantly, as one poster said, put there BY THE OWNERS. NBA for YEARS commonly thought to purposely extend series to 7 games, common practice of home team getting all the calls, SO EASY to fix. Pretty much felt the poor late foul on Bill Laimbeer was perfect cover, in game 7 vs. Lakers, Kareem's last year, and a THREE-PEAT, despite I.Thomas's heroic, one ankled fourth qtr MANY pts, before hobbled completely. Heck, if two years before the Pistons (who had been wiping the floor with the Celts, at home, narrowly losing on the road) had remembered someone needed to catch the inbound pass, post going up for what looked like a game 6 win, not allowed Byrd to swipe it, lay it up, and steal it back, they (if no fixey foul on Laimbeer the following year alluded to) could have FOUR-PEATED, but Detroit seldom gets the love.

Anonymous Penguin commenter; I will say THIS; In 2008, when the Wings beat Pitt, the officiating was SO BAD I told my girlfriend, "We should be sweeping them, we are THAT much better...instead, it is being kept close...if we lose, I will NEVER WATCH ANOTHER NHL GAME AGAIN". If Hossa's (a Pen then)last seconds shot across the red crease had gone or got tipped in, there would have been a game 7, and I BET YOU Bettman would've fixed THAT ONE.

The following year, despite injuries, Detroit was purposefully putting teams away early, except more skullduggery, even against feisty/hit you, wear you down Dallas (many disallowed goals, for instance, that playoff year)...more games, vs. sweep...then a COMPLETE TILTING OF THE ICE, in favor of PITT, who I dreaded if they made it, because NO WAY would the NEW FACE OF THE NHL, a CANADIAN, and the plan (NBA LEARNED) for parity be allowed to lose. The horrors were too many to list here (offsides, becoming goals, a full minute of too many men on the ice, i.e.free powerplay, NOT CALLED, except by national announcers, more negated/overturned goals, WAAAy more penalties for Pit at the right times, way too many for Det at the wrong--see with a minute left in a period, or sl. less, no rhythm, or several make up ones, in blow out wins, when it doesn't matter, to even the overall number again, vs. WAY more for Pit, those that helped them get the dreaded FIRST GOAL, or a two goal lead, or right before they were to pull a goalie, so TWO MAN advantage...to say naught of WAY to many 5 on 3's, for God's sake). Of COURSE 2009 WAS FIXED, by the LEAGUE, and the Wings STILL only lost in 7, by ONE GOAL, which is why I was so bitter (should have 5 Modern era Cups in 13 Years, 5/6 wins in 15 years, and 12 overall, ONE SHY OF TORONTO, just second to Montreal, all time, with their many "Maroons" Cups.

I instinctively went and bought some Ernest Hemingway books, a novel, short stories...read on the jacket, "Hemingway is always about lifes' epiphanies", and it hit me, why I instinctively sought him out, first time in YEARS and YEARS. They broke my last Cherry in 2009, the last Man's/Gentleman's sport, where they shake hands, and don't even chest thump and self aggrandize, like in Football, and ESPECIALLY hoops...and EVEN THAT is fixed. But that wasn't the worst of it--the worst was reading owner Ilitch say, "I think we'll be even better next year", no complaints. Ilitch, like these other fixers, and these other OWNERS, they HIRED BETTMAN, to do THEIR BIDDING. Not crazy, and I didn't complain a WHIT when Jersey swept my WIngs.

cavepiggy said...

I love this site Joe!

I will NEVER believe that hockey IS or ever was "fixed".It would have to include TOO many people and be integral that each one kept the secret til the day he or she died...impossible seeing how many people turn on each o0ther.

I do know for a fact that my Grandfather help thwart an attempted mob fix of N.H.L. games the year he won the Vezine with the Chiago Blackhawks.He(my Grampa Lorne Chabot)was ap[proached by an associate of Al Capone's and offered a substantial amount of money to whiff on a few shots and let the other team pull off an upset win(my Father told me it was the Montreal Canadiens)..My grampa was an officer in the R.C.M.P. prior to joining the N.H.L. and would have nothing to do with the scheme..he informed management right away and the situation was sorted out soon after!

anyway ..keep up the stellar work my friend..I read you daily!

Donny Chabot

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt there has been fixes...but the NHL does manage the game...by which I mean control to try and influence the outcome (close enough to call fix).

Such as giving advantage of the TV Markets, from suspensions to the ref calls. Pittsburgh Penguins lead this based on the fact the NHL was in debt to Mario and once he got the Franchise, eh got the draft lottery leading to Crosby.

Now...there has been several others as mentioned in this article, the Tocchet thing was cleaned up quickly based on the fact the "Great One' was in this and was marketing the sport in the US...Tocchet went on to coach when he shoudl have been put out like Pete ROse. Then Alex Burrows calls out a REF who admitted he was going to get him in a game that influenced the outcome...the NHL nearly ruined BUrrows reputation.

Ovechkin...Calling out the fix in game 6 to force game 7...of course, the NY Rangers is one of four teams who's market is influencial. They are begging for a NY-Pittsburgh final four match-up.

Torts calling out the fact they refs set up the outdoor game to go to OT to excite the large US audience.

The list goes on but it stinks and continues to stink.

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