Bill Goldthorpe was known as one of the fiercest, wildest enforcers ever to play professional hockey, though most of his career was spent in the minor leagues. He was immortalized to some degree in the 1977 film Slap Shot starring Paul Newman, where the character Ogie Oglethorpe was based upon him.
In his prime, Goldthorpe was as volatile as nitroglycerin. He’d blow up and fight if someone so much as looked at him funny, even if the game hadn’t started, even if it meant going into the stands. It was all part of the rough-and-rumble 1970s, the golden era of bare-knuckle hockey, where fights were the prime selling point of the game. His tough-guy persona followed him into his personal life, where he struggled to stay out of trouble. A gunshot wound, a knife attack, and several bouts in jail peppered his legend until he got it together to build a life for himself after hockey.
He was born in northern Ontario, in the railway town of Hornepayne and raised in Thunder Bay where he began playing minor league hockey. It wasn’t long before he learned that he would have to fight for his respect. “As a kid, I used to watch [Thunder Bay defenceman] John Schella and his buddies, guys who were older than me. They played poker and they played tough hockey,” Goldthorpe said. “I was only 17 and I wanted to be like them.”
Albert Cava, the legendary Thunder Bay Vulcans coach, loved the ferocity of his young forward while Goldthorpe loved the way his coach treated him. “I was fair with him,” Cava said. “I appreciated what he could do for our team. He was a helluva hockey player, the best penalty killer I’ve ever seen. He played every shift as if his life depended on it.”
In 1973 Goldthorpe was off to the pros. He had 20 goals and 26 assists his first season in the NAHL and that earned him a go with the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints. In 1977, he was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp and played well in scrimmages and exhibition games. The coaches said they wanted Goldthorpe to stick around but the team wasn’t prepared to offer him a contract. Goldthorpe walked. After a brief tryout with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL was finished with the wild man from Thunder Bay. Within seven years, all of hockey was done with him.
Bill Goldthorpe Highlights (Lowlights?)
• In Smiths Falls, Ontario, a fan slugged Vulcans defenceman Lee Fogolin Jr. while he was on the ice. Goldthorpe flew into the stands and, in the ensuing scuffle, broke a security officer’s leg.
• Nicknames: “Goldie” and “Harpo.”
• In Thunder Bay for a time, Goldthorpe needed a police escort to home games.
• Goldthorpe had a summer job as a gravedigger.
• He was jailed 18 times.
• Bob Costas was a play-by-play announcer for the Blazers. He recounted that Bill once tore up his newspaper that he was reading on the team bus. Costas replied with a condescending remark, “Don’t be jealous Goldie. I’ll teach you to read.” This sent Goldthorpe into a rage an he lifted Costas up with one hand and pulled out a hack saw and puts it under Costas’ chin. Goldthorpe had to be restrained by teammates.
• Goldie once jumped out of a penalty box, skated after a linesman and, because the referee had grabbed his arms and pinned them back he bit the linesman on the leg.
• Goldthorpe was arrested in Wisconsin after slugging it out with a teammate on the tarmac at the Green Bay airport. It took two Canadian immigration officials to escort him back into the country the next day.
• Goldie was called up to the Minnesota Fighting Saints during the 1974 playoffs. He got an extra two minutes in a fight with John Schella of the Houston Aeros. Harry Neale asked for an explanation from an official. The ref told him that Goldthorpe left the penalty box to fight and hadn’t bothered to bring his gloves or stick.
• Marc Habscheid spent a season with Goldthorpe in the AHL “We were with Moncton and I remember Halifax pounding us. The next game against them, Goldie’s in the lineup and we’re at our bench for the national anthem and Goldie says, ‘Open the gate.’ I said, ‘They’re playing the anthem.’ He says, ‘Open the gate.’ So I open the gate and he goes onto the ice and stands in front of their bench and he talks to all their players. I don’t think those Halifax guys threw a hit all game.”
• Gatorade bottle incident, San Diego – Announcer is announcing the penalty “and I have a Gatorade bottle and the guy starts mouthing off to me, and I intended to throw the water bottle down but it slipped out of my hand and hit the announcer in the head.” The announcer was knocked out and Goldthorpe was suspended one game.
• Goldthorpe served his suspension the next day in street clothes. “I’m in the stands wearing a suit when a brawl breaks out. Well, I can’t watch my friends fight without me. So I go all through the crowd, go down to where the zamboni comes out… the security guards are so scared they wouldn’t even touch me. I opened the zamboni door and went on the ice with my suit on and started fighting. Some guys could have beat me but they were so scared. I was like water surfing. They were grabbing me and pulling me all over the ice and I was punching them. I got 10 games for that.”
• He needed 300 stitches to his left arm and hand after an encounter with a knife-wielding thug who had been beating up a woman. Had a buddy not applied a tourniquet to Goldthorpe’s arm, he would have bled to death.
• In 1980 in San Diego, he was shot in the stomach while trying to rescue an ex-girlfriend. It was the ex-girlfriend’s drug dealer who didn’t like the way Goldthorpe got involved. The bullet just missed his kidney and the paramedics who treated Goldthorpe said if he hadn’t had such strong abdominal muscles he would have died.
• “I think Goldie’s proud of the role he played. He took care of his teammates and he was fiercely loyal,” said George Gwozdecky, now the University of Denver hockey coach and a former teammate.
• After the 1980 shooting, his father Alfred Goldthorpe, spent 30 days in San Diego nursing his son back to health. A week after he returned to Thunder Bay, the 58-year-old died of a heart attack. His wife Pearl had died seven years earlier, a victim of cancer at 53.
The film Slapshot is a sore spot for Goldthorpe. Several actual hockey players like Dave ‘Killer’ Hanson and the Carlson brothers had roles in the film but Goldthorpe was not included. One big strike against Goldthorpe was that during casting he had thrown a coke bottle in the locker room just as Paul Newman’s brother Art was there to scout him. The bottle smashed on a wall near Newman, showering him with coke. That was the end of Goldthorpe’s chances at fame.
Goldthorpe laments when asked if he has any regrets from the off-ice incidents. He states, “All of them. I’m not going to whine. I did it because I didn’t have discipline. I should never have drank. I wasn’t a drunk but I drank and that didn’t help. I didn’t start every fight. I’d be in a town and someone would say, ‘You’re not that tough.’ I was only 173 pounds and people couldn’t believe I was Ogie Ogilthorpe. That’s how a lot of things got started.”
Affected by the shooting incident and death of his father, he began making some life changes. He went back to school and enrolled in accounting and computer programming. He got a construction job and became a foreman in charge of building condominiums in downtown San Diego.
RetroCards honors Bill Goldthorpe with 2 cards featuring his playing time with WHL’s Minnesota Fighting Saints in the 1974 playoffs.
*Much of this post was from an article written and researched by By Allan Maki of Toronto’s The Globe and Mail