May 06, 2008
"Have another doughnut, you fat pig!" has become the "Play it again, Sam" of the National Hockey League: Widely quoted, but actually not verbatim.
Twenty years ago tonight, New Jersey Devils Coach Jim Schoenfeld left his team's bench after a 6-1 Wales Conference Finals loss to the Boston Bruins, waiting for referee Don Koharski to come over. As Koharski skated off the Meadowlands ice, Schoenfeld blocked his path and began yelling in his face about the officiating in Game 3 of the series. Koharski loudly responded, waving his index finger at the coach as he finally worked by him. Schoenfeld walked next to him down the corridor to the locker rooms, and then it happened: Koharski fell to his right, but the actions of the incident were quickly eclipsed by the words that followed. Author Stan Fischler had the most detailed account in his book Pain and Progress, picking up after Koharski fell:
"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."
While it won't soon make anyone forget the Lincoln-Douglas debates, this postgame discourse became the biggest sports story in America; partly because then-Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose had just been suspended for 30 days after bumping an umpire. What happened in the following days elevated the incident to legendary status: A suspension, an injunction and some amateur referees embarrassing the NHL.
On the day of Game 4 (May 8), NHL vice president Bryan O'Neill announced that Schoenfeld would be suspended one game for his verbal abuse of Koharski and for impeding the ref's progress to the locker room. That decision was announced less than eight hours before face-off, without a hearing or a face-to-face meeting with Schoenfeld by the League.
Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote what may be the definitive story on the entire "have another doughnut" affair earlier this year, and breaks down the timeline before Game 4:
O'Neill announced at 12:32 p.m. Sunday, just hours before Game 4 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.
Of course, the officials working the game that night felt positively jobbed. So referee Dave Newell, linesmen Ray Scapinello and Gord Broseker, as well as backup ref Denis Morel all refused to work the game. A sellout crowd waited for an hour for the game to start, unaware of the backroom politics unfolding in the bowels of the arena. "The whole thing has taken on an air of ridiculousness," said Devils TV color man Peter McNab.
No one was quite prepared for just how ridiculous it was going to be when word came down that the pros would sit the game out ... and that the off-ice officials would take their place while Schoenfeld was on the Devils bench.
Referee Paul McInnis -- manager of a skating rink in Yonkers, NY, who hadn't worked a pro game in 10 years -- led the way out of the dressing room, dressed in a striped shirt with red-and-green Devils warm-up pants. In back of him were linesmen Vin Godleski and Jim Sullivan, both over 50 and looking every year of it, dressed in matching bright yellow warm-up jerseys that didn't exactly scream "authority figure."
"The one fella is just not even a ... and I'm not taking anything away from him, he's got great courage to come out here ... but he's not even a good skater," said McNab.
The Devils won the game, 3-1, but that didn't end the story. The League revisited the Schoenfeld situation and took action. Schoenfeld didn't receive official notice of his suspension from Game 5 until about 35 minutes prior to face-off. He also discovered that he had been hit with a $1,000 fine and the Devils with a $10,000 fine. The official officials returned, GM Lou Lamoriello stepped behind the bench for the first time in the NHL, and he watched his team lose 7-1 in Boston to go down 3-2 for the series. The Devils pushed it to a Game 7, but fell one win short of a Cinderella appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
At the end of Chere's story -- again, a must-read -- Koharski and Schoenfeld reflected on the matter:
[Koharski said that] "In the old building, whenever I went out there or a period was over, there absolutely were flashbacks. I was probably more disappointed and hurt because the situation boiled over from emotional to personal. I knew Jim and I know him now. That's just not his character."
Schoenfeld is now an assistant GM with the Rangers.
"If I could rewind the tape and redo it, I would," Schoenfeld said. "But you don't get any redos. It was wrong on a lot of levels. The worst thing is it was a personal remark in a professional disagreement. Don and I reconciled immediately, but it ended up being a fiasco."