Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Clarence Campbell
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One on One with Clarence Campbell

18 MARCH 2011
Clarence Campbell officiated for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association
Clarence Campbell officiated for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. (Le Studio du Hockey)
Clarence Campbell's enduring legacy to hockey is his 31-year career as the president of the National Hockey League, but his resume includes so many other facets of the game, collectively make him an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder category.

Clarence Sutherland Campbell was born in Fleming, Saskatchewan on July 9, 1905, one of six children born to George Alexander Campbell and his wife, the former Annie May Haw. While the town, situated close to the Manitoba border and about 240 kilometres due east of Regina, was never large, today, with a population of 75, it is officially the smallest town by population in Saskatchewan.

Clarence attended elementary school in nearby Macklin, Saskatchewan, and it is there that he garnered a love of both learning and hockey. An outstanding student, he attended Strathcona High School in Edmonton, Alberta, one of the first high schools in that province. On graduating, Campbell earned a law and arts degree at the University of Alberta in 1924 and continued his education and passion for hockey as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he was a member of the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club. The Oxford Blues trace their beginnings to 1885 and boast of being the second oldest ice hockey team, Montreal's McGill University establishing the first club. The distinguished alumni roster includes not only Clarence Campbell but also former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson and former Governor General Roland Michener among many others.


Clarence Campbell presents Jack Adams with his Honoured Members plaque after being inducted in 1959.
Clarence Campbell presents Jack Adams with his Honoured Members plaque after being inducted in 1959.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
When Campbell returned to Alberta to practise law with an Edmonton firm, he supplemented his income by refereeing games in the local Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA). His proficiency caught the attention of the NHL, and by 1936, Clarence had been hired by NHL president Frank Calder to officiate big league contests.

Campbell officiated several historic games, including the final game Howie Morenz ever played. That evening, January 28, 1937, the Montreal Canadiens played the Chicago Black Hawks in Montreal. In the first period, Morenz went after the puck in the Chicago end while chased by defenceman Earl Seibert. Morenz lost his balance and crashed into the boards, his left skate caught in the wooden siding. Seibert was unable to stop and landed on Morenz with his full weight and force. The impact snapped Morenz's left leg, creating a sickening noise heard throughout the rink. Morenz never played again and died soon afterwards.

Clarence S. Campbell served as president of the National Hockey League from 1946 until 1977.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
But while Campbell was fair, he was not without his detractors. In a playoff contest between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons, Boston's Dit Clapper used his stick to hit an opponent. Out of character, Campbell was so angry at Clapper's action that he used profanity on Clapper, which prompted the Bruins' defenceman to punch Campbell, knocking him to the ice surface. Campbell, aware that his profane language provoked Clapper, issued a report to NHL president Frank Calder that explained the action, and Calder issued Clapper a fine but no suspension.

In 1939, while refereeing a game involving the Toronto Maple Leafs, Red Horner was highsticked and cut. Campbell called a minor penalty, causing excitable Leafs' owner Conn Smythe to call for his resignation. Smythe lobbied his colleagues and NHL President Calder to not renew Campbell's contract, and was successful in ending the referee's NHL officiating career.

In all, Clarence Campbell refereed 155 regular season NHL games and another twelve in the playoffs.

In 1940 Clarence Campbell enlisted as a private in the Canadian Army.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
"The first Stanley Cup game I ever saw, I worked in as a referee," he recalled. "That was one of the games in the Detroit-Montreal semi-final. It was a strange kind of series. First, Detroit seemed to have it won, then Montreal, and it went that way right down to the very end in overtime of the last game. I remember during that overtime, Montreal's Johnny Gagnon --they called him 'The Cat,' came down the ice and had Normie Smith beat. He faked, and there was Smith stretched out on the ice, helpless. All 'The Cat' had to do was ram the puck by Smith. He could have scored easily and won the game. Gagnon was so sure he would score that he flipped it over Smith's body, but somehow, Smith got a foot on the puck and kicked it away. And a little later, Detroit scored to win the game and the series. Even when you're a good one like 'The Cat,' you can never be too sure."

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Campbell put both his law practice and his officiating on pause in order to serve his country. He enlisted in the Canadian Army as a private in 1940 and quickly rose through the ranks, earning the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1945, commanding the 4th Armoured Division. Following the armistice, Campbell was appointed as the prosecution lawyer for the Canadian War Crimes Commission at the Nuremberg trial of Kurt Meyer, a Nazi convicted of executing innocent Canadian prisoners of war. He was later awarded the Order of the British Empire and was made King's Counsel.

Clarence Campbell makes a presentation
to Ted Kennedy upon his retirement from
the National Hockey League.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
On his return to North America in 1946, Clarence was appointed assistant to NHL president Red Dutton, who had taken the position on the sudden death of Frank Calder. A few months later, during the NHL's semi-annual meeting, Dutton resigned and put forward his able assistant to succeed him.

Clarence Campbell served as the NHL's third president from 1946 to 1977. During his tenure, Campbell played a significant role in shaping the game. In 1947-48, the first official All-Star Game was played. He curbed gambling within the NHL, handing lifetime suspensions to Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger, former teammates with Boston, for gambling on NHL games, including their own.

Prior to the 1949-50 season, the league increased the number of games played from 60 to 70 games. To alleviate the talent challenges being experienced by Boston and Chicago, the NHL under Campbell instituted an Intra-League Draft in the early-1950's to better balance the talent league-wide.

Much later in his time as NHL president, Campbell oversaw NHL expansion, something he and the board of directors had resisted earlier. Prior to 1967-68, the league doubled in size, expanding from six to twelve teams. In 1970-71, two more teams were added. Two more teams were added for 1972-73. Another pair of teams was added for 1974-75. That meant that the NHL had tripled in size from the time Campbell first took office, increasing awareness and revenue for the National Hockey League.

Clarence Campbell presenting the Calder Memorial Trophy to Boston Bruin Bobby Orr in 1967.
Clarence Campbell presenting the Calder Memorial Trophy
to Boston Bruin Bobby Orr in 1967.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Perhaps his greatest contribution to the National Hockey League was navigating the league through turbulent waters while the World Hockey Association was attempting to establish itself and provide an unwelcomed challenge to the more senior league. The fledgling WHA existed for seven uncertain seasons before disbanding.

Campbell retired from the NHL presidency in 1977, but was retained as an advisor to the league. During his 31 years running the NHL, it would be difficult to name anyone more powerful or influential in shaping the game.

In 1966, Clarence Campbell was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1974-75, the league renamed its conferences, with the Clarence Campbell Conference comprised of the Patrick and Smythe divisions, and the Prince of Wales Conference made up of the Adams and Norris divisions. Although the NHL changed the conference names to the Western and Eastern conferences in 1993-94, Campbell's legacy continues by way of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, introduced in 1967-68 for the team that finished first in the West Division during the regular season. The trophy was awarded to the regular season Campbell Conference winner beginning in 1974-75, to the playoff champion of the Campbell Conference beginning in 1981-82 and, as of 1993-94, has been presented to the playoff champion of the Western Conference.

Clarence Campbell died on June 24, 1984, just shy of his 79th birthday. The newspapers stated, "Although Campbell scored no goals, he did more for hockey than any man in its history."

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.