Knights vs. 67's: The 'bloodbath' of '72

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:12 PM ET

The latest round of London-Ottawa major junior hockey playoffs will not bear any resemblance to their ugly playoff riot -- known as the Bloodbath on Good Friday -- in 1972.

Although older fans may remember the wonderful league final between the Knights and 67's in 1977, few would want to recall the teams of five years earlier in one of the ugliest, most infamous incidents in junior hockey history.

It happened on Friday, March 31, in the Ottawa Civic Centre in Game 3 of the fight-filled Ontario Hockey Association Junior A quarter-final series. Ottawa eventually won the series in seven games.

On the horrible night that former owner Howard Darwin remembers as "the Bloodbath on Good Friday,'' a post-game riot between the Knights and the 67's ended only when 100 police officers arrived at the rink and 50 of them escorted the Knights' bus for 18 kilometres to the Ottawa Airport.

The players on the bus packed the windows with equipment bags for protection before exiting the inside of the arena. They were followed to the airport by dozens of angry Ottawa fans.

Darwin, who owned both teams, was in the Bahamas that night.

But he still lives with the awful memories of a blemish on the sport he loves.

"London had a helluva time getting out of town,'' recalled Darwin, now retired and still living in Ottawa. "I don't know if it was the good old days, but every time they met it was like the Second World War.''

The OHA then-commissioner Clarence (Tubby) Schmalz deemed London responsible for touching off the riot.

He singled out London player Jay Babcock as instigator of a fight with Ottawa's star forward Blake Dunlop, which led to a 15-minute brawl involving players, police and fans.

Hundreds of fans poured onto the ice.

Police seized game film to assist in their investigation.

In the aftermath, London defenceman Dave Hutchison was charged with assault causing bodily harm for a fight with Ottawa's Ray Antilla. Antilla was carried off the ice unconscious with a broken nose and fractured jaw.

The conduct of London coach Bronco Horvath and Ottawa coach Bill Long was criticized by the commissioner. Both were fined $1,000.

Members of the London team included John Held, now a London firefighter, Hutchison, who is a real estate salesperson in London, Darryl Sittler, Dennis Ververgaert, Lou Nistico and London native Paul Nicholson.

Denis Potvin was a member of the 67's along with Sarnia native Wayne Merrick.

Darwin will be watching his two former teams play in the Ontario Hockey League final.

He's also considering a trip to London to see the series and the John Labatt Centre, the rink he never had. When Darwin owned the Knights, they played at the London Gardens on Wellington Road south of Highway 401.

"We couldn't even get the city to run buses out to the Gardens,'' Darwin said.


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