Fred Waghorne, called "Wag" and later "Old Wag" when his son adopted his nickname, was one of the game's great innovators. As a referee, he was responsible for rule changes on the ice. Off the ice, he was the guiding light of some of the best-known hockey leagues in the world. He created a network of teams and organizations across Canada that brought kids into the game who wouldn't have had a chance to play otherwise.
Waghorne was born in Tunbridge Wells, England, in 1866. He moved to Canada as a young man and brought with him a love of rugby, a sport he'd be involved in throughout his life. His interest in athletics soon broadened to include lacrosse and then hockey. He began a league in the Toronto area called the Toronto Lacrosse Hockey League, a four-team organization that fielded lacrosse teams in the summer and hockey squads during the winter months. Hockey grew in popularity and the league soon became the Toronto Hockey League.
This first incarnation of major-city hockey eventually disbanded, but Waghorne continued to push for better opportunities for youngsters and veterans alike to work on their skills and play in competitive, non-professional situations. He was one of four co-founders of the Beaches Hockey League in 1911. The league came to be called the Metropolitan Toronto Hockey League and today it's the largest minor hockey organization in the world. Waghorne headed up the league for many years, as did his son, Fred Waghorne Jr., or "Young Wag."
Waghorne achieved much of his lasting fame for his thousands of games as an official. With the sport still nascent and constantly developing, snap decisions during play often became the rules that have been passed down to the modern game. In the earliest days of the sport, when Waghorne was in his first of 50 seasons as a referee, the goalies weren't allowed to fall to their knees and there were no forward passes or substitutions for the seven players on each side who started the game. Indeed, it was an altogether different sport from its modern cousin seen in huge arenas around the world today.
"A few of the rinks were lighted by coal oil lamps, and the corners were dark pockets," Waghorne said of the sport's first arenas. "It was in rinks of that type that the art of puck-lifting was at its peak. The Pete Charltons of the day lofted the puck up to the rafters, beyond the goalkeeper's vision. Often the rubber seemed to drop from the roof, right in front of the surprised goalkeeper, then bounced crazily into the net. Some players could lift from end to end."
Referees used a cowbell instead of a whistle to halt proceedings, and with many of the games played outdoors or on tiny rinks with the paying public right next to the playing surface, fans who disagreed with a call could use the cover of darkness to rain down abuse and objects on the referee, who often worked the games alone. A back entrance to the rink was used by officials to avoid the milling about of upset fans following a game, and the heavy cowbell, swung back and forth in front, secured a path for the beleaguered referees. When the game was over, a long ride on the rail system, back home or to another game in a far-flung locale, awaited the poorly paid mediator. On one occasion Waghorne was stuck for days in a town far from home because of heavy snow.
One of the changes in the game attributed to Waghorne was the use of the cowbell. Many young men would bring bells of their own to the game to disrupt the other team or just to raise a ruckus. Waghorne was the first to use a whistle, a shrill device that wasn't as prevalent in rural Ontario as the bell. The metal version he first tried had to be scrapped because of the cold conditions in some arenas - it would stick to the referee's lips - and a plastic whistle became the norm.
Early in his career as an official, Waghorne became involved in the controversy around the status of amateur versus professional athletes. John Ross Robertson, who as president of the Ontario Hockey Association fought to keep hockey an amateur game, argued that Waghorne shouldn't be allowed to referee because he'd served as a field captain in a professional lacrosse league one summer. The proposal came up for a vote but was rejected after one member made an argument that couldn't be contradicted. "Mr. President," the member said during the debate, "if we debar Mr. Waghorne, who will referee our final games?"
During a game in Arnprior, Ontario, Waghorne made another important contribution to hockey in the form of the face-off. Previously the referee would place the puck between the centermen and then play would begin, usually with the official's ankles and shins being smacked and bruised in the rush for the puck. Waghorne had had enough of that and informed the players that he'd drop the puck from a few feet above the ice, a move that allowed him an opportunity to jump out of the way. The change was so successful - the players liked it as well - that Waghorne reported it to the hockey associations, which later made it a regular part of the sport.
One of his stranger rulings was the result of the early use of two-piece pucks. Sometimes a forward would send a hard shot at the net and hit the post, breaking the puck into two parts, one of which went into the net. Waghorne would state quickly that there was no goal for half a puck. "The rule book says that a puck is 1" thick," he said later of his decision. "That piece of rubber that went into the goal was only ½" thick, so it couldn't qualify as a puck. And if it wasn't a puck, it certainly couldn't have been a goal." He also said that the scoring team would expect two goals if the puck broke and both pieces went into the net, which surely wouldn't do. Because of this unique occurrence, solid pucks were favoured and it was ruled that the puck - the whole puck - must cross the goal line to constitute a goal.
Waghorne continued his contributions to hockey, lacrosse and rugby right up to his death in 1956 at the age of 90. He refereed over 2,400 hockey games and 1,500 lacrosse matches. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builders category in 1961.