May 01, 2013

Great Moments In Hockey History: Towel Power


The Chicago Blackhawks and  Vancouver Canucks met up in a physical grudge match in the Campbell Conference Finals way back in 1982. The Canucks won handily, 4 games to 1 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time.

Besides the fights, the most memorable part of this series was Roger Nielson's motion of surrender: the birth of towel power.

The Canucks travelled to Chicago to play the first two games in old Chicago Stadium. The Canucks won the opening game, in overtime. Game two was a different story, a 4-1 Chicago victory, thanks in large apart, at least in the minds of the Canucks, to bad officiating. Referee Bob Myers gave the Canucks four consecutive penalties in an era where referees were known to keep their whistles in their pockets.

Roger Nielson was so fed up with officiating that he sent not-so-subtle messages of mock surrender, raising a white towel high with a hockey stick. Soon other players, notably Tiger Williams, joined in.

With that proverbial surrender by white flag, a Vancouver hockey tradition was born. When the Canucks returned to Vancouver for game three, people in the streets, even the airplane taxi staff at YVR and of course every fan in attendance were waving these white towels. It was an amazing scene to see, and one that continues every spring in Vancouver and copied around the world in other sports and events.

Here's the YouTube footage of Nielson's iconic moment:



It has been debated if the Canucks started the sporting tradition of waving towels. It is generally regarded that NFL fans of the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers were actually the first.

It is also interesting to know the story of Butts Girard, a local Vancouver wrestler turned t-shirt entrepreneur. It was Girard who cashed in nicely by coming up with the idea of outfitting Canucks fans with the towels.
It was early in the morning and Butts was beside himself with excitement. He told me he was going to find as many white towels as he could and was going to silkscreen sponsors' names (and his own company logo, of course) all over them. Then he was going to distribute them outside the Pacific Coliseum the following night at the Canucks' next game against the Blackhawks.
Here's the full story of Butts Girard.

Also here's a few more visual memories of the Canucks/Blackhawks series from 1982:



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