Born: June 1, 1928 (Montréal)
Died: June 17, 2014 (Philadelphia)
A tough, bruising defenceman, Larry Zeidel was known as The Rock for his stiff bodychecks.
Zeidel was not a stranger to the penalty box, accumulating an impressive rap sheet in more than 20 seasons of professional hockey.
He had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup with the Detroit red Wings in 1952, but after a brief time in the NHL seemed destined to close out his career in the minors. Instead, at age 39, he was signed by the expansion Philadelphia Flyers for their inaugural season.
A rare Jewish player in his era, Zeidel endured anti-Semitic taunts throughout his career, most notably during an incident which ended in a vicious, stick-swinging duel against Eddie Shack.
Lazarus Zeidel was born in Montréal and raised in the gritty Park Extension neighbourhood, a blue-collar district home to many immigrants.
An older brother, Rudolph, known as Rudy, had been an amateur boxer and a member of the journalism club at the YMHA. After war broke out, Rudy signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force. On the night of June 11-12, 1943, he was part of a Wellington crew with Squadron 429 assigned to a bombing mission on Dusseldorf, Germany. His plane was shot down over the Netherlands by a German Nightfighter. Flight Sergeant Zeidel, a bomb aimer, was 21. Three of the crew were buried nearby, while Zeidel and one other member have no known burial site.
A year later, Larry Zeidel, aged 16, played two games with the Porcuine (Ont.) Combines, his first experience in senior hockey. After two seasons of further junior hockey with the Verdun (Que.) Maple Leafs and the Barrie (Ont.) Flyers, he joined the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Senior Hockey League at the start of the 1947-48 season. In three seasons with the Aces, Zeidel scored 18 goals with 57 seasons. He also had 57 assists. In 1949-50, his final season with the Aces, the 6-foot, 190-pound defenceman managed to record 176 penalty minutes.
After a season with the Saskatoon Quakers, the defenceman was signed as a free agent by the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL. His only point was a goal in 19 games and he spent most of the 1951-52 season with the Indianapolis Capitals of the American Hockey League. When the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup, Zeidel’s name was included on the roster, despite his short stint and minor contribution to the club.
Prior to the 1952-53 season, Detroit sold Zeidel, Larry Wilson and Lou Jankowski to the Chicago Black Hawks. Zeidel skated in 64 games with Chicago (one goal, six assists, 102 penalty minutes) before his rights were bought back by the Red Wings, who sold him a year later to the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
In eight seasons with the Bears, Zeidel cemented his reputation as a take-no-guff roughneck. He was whistled for 211 penalty minutes in 1956-57 and 203 minutes in 1959-60.
Zeidel skated for three Calder Cup winners as AHL champions — the Bears in 1958 and ’59, and the Cleveland Barons in 1964.
He spent two seasons with the Seattle Totems during which he earned a five-game suspension from the WHL for spitting on referee Willie Papp in a 1965 game against Victoria. He was also fined $200.
The suspension and fine was one of many he earned during his career. In 1958, he engaged in an on-ice brawl with Eddie Shack during an exhibition game in Niagara Falls, Ont. The fight continued in the penalty box and spilled into the stands, leading to the arrest of Shack and Zeidel. In 1960, the AHL suspended Zeidel for five games after he kicked Michel Harvey of Quebec during a fight. In 1963, he was suspended for four games and fined $100 for a stick-swinging fight with Willie O’Ree.
After the NHL doubled in size with the 1967 expansion, Zeidel, aged 39, prepared an illustrated brochure describing his hockey skills, which he sent to the six new teams. Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ed Snider signed the defenceman, who had not skated in an NHL game in 13 seasons.
It was while with the Flyers that Zeidel renewed his feud with Shack, who was by then playing for the Boston Bruins. Philadelphia’s arena had lost part of its roof in a storm, so Flyers home games were moved to neutral territory. On March 7, 1968, in a game played at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Zeidel and Shack engaged in an ugly, stick-swinging brawl midway through the first period. Both men were bruised and cut, Zeidel enduring a nasty gash to his forehead. Both men were assessed match penalties and NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended Shack for three games and Zeidel for four.
Campbell denied reports that Zeidel had been subjected to anti-Semitic slurs. His assessment was backed up by Flyers general manager Ed Snider. “It appears that in the heat of the battle during an important game, Larry might have struck the first blow,” Snider said. “Shack had nothing to do with any vicious name-calling and reports of competitive baiting were blown far out of proportion.
Yet, two spectators at the game in Toronto sent separate telegrams to the NHL offices describing slurs they heard from the Bruins bench. Mary Patterson wrote “the remarks were uncalled for an ignorant.”
Mike Meade, who attended with his wife, named a player and described the slur he heard, which was later rendered by newspapers as “you Jewish …, you Jewish …”
In 2007, the sportswriter Gerald Eskenazi related that Zeidel said a Bruins player had yelled at him, “You’re next for the gas ovens, Zeidel!” Zeidel also said the player who said so was not Shack. The player remains unidentified.
Zeidel wound up his career by lacing up for nine games with the Flyers in 1968-69. He retired instead of returning to the minors. He became an investment advisor and, for a time, provided commentary on broadcasts of Flyers games.
Last year, the Philadelphia Daily News reported Zeidel had been taken in by a neighbouring family after he fell sick. He lived in a basement bedroom, where he was visited by former teammates Joe Watson and Bernie Parent.
Zeidel is survived by four children and his estranged wife, Marie. He also leaves 10 grandchildren. He was predeceased by two brothers. The family’s paid obituary notice noted he had donated to Boston University’s CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) Center to advance the safety of athletes in future.