An NHL official from the United States during the Original Six era would be an unusual occurrence, but then, Bill Chadwick was no ordinary official. Chadwick began his love for the game as a player, however, as a 19-year-old trying out for the U.S. National Team in 1935, his playing days came to an abrupt end. In his first practice, a stray shot caught him in the eye. Blinded in one eye, he tried playing again the next year, but an accident above his good eye scared him into retiring. Good fortune came his way through his adversity when Tommy Lockhart, president of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, called and asked him to officiate that night because the scheduled referee had taken ill. Two years later, at age 24, Chadwick was in the NHL, where he stayed until 1955. Chadwick served as a linesmen (1939-1941) to begin his 16-year NHL career, and moved into refereeing during the following 14 years (1941-1955). Through his career as an NHL official, Chadwick took great pride in having never missed an assignment, despite many travel challenges.
Among his proudest accomplishments was earning the opportunity to referee 105 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Bill worked a total of 42 Stanley Cup Final contests - 40 as a referee and two as a linesman. Of those, he worked an amazing 13 deciding games in the Stanley Cup Final series as a referee and one as a linesman, missing only his first year as a linesman and 1945-46 as a referee. By the time he retired in 1955, Bill Chadwick was the leader in games officiated with over 1,000. In addition, he worked five All-Star Games (1948, 1949, 1951, 1952 and 1954).
Chadwick is credited with developing and implementing the hand signals now universally used by hockey officials throughout the world. He began using them as a means of communication to the timekeeper, mainly because of the noise in the arenas. It was also a way to let players and the fans know which penalty was called. For a holding penalty, for example, he'd grab his wrist. For slashing, he'd hack his forearm. For tripping, he'd swipe his hand against his knee. Fans and players alike appreciated the clarity of the signals.
In all of his 16 years in the NHL, Bill never wore a striped sweater, the standard now for today's officials. He did wear three different sweaters: a heavy woolen v-neck pullover, plain white with orange and black trim on the neckline with a large NHL crest on the left breast, a lighter-weight orange sweater with a crest on left breast and a zippered-neck trim in black as well as a blue sweater that lasted but one game.
Throughout his career, Chadwick never told a soul of being blind in one eye, and he found great amusement every time a player called him "blind." Chadwick was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964. After retiring, he became vice-president of a major New York business, and he was an ardent Rangers season ticket holder, but his true passion resided more in taking an active role in the game. When was asked to do radio work for the Rangers in 1965, he accepted, and it was during this time he was given the nickname "the Big Whistle." He remained with the club as a commentator for 20 years, known as much for his impartiality on the radio as he had been on ice.
In 1974, Bill Chadwick wrote his autobiography, "The Big Whistle." He retired to private life in 1987.