It happened in hockey

Polonich sues after clubbing by Paiement

By Brian McFarlane
It was over 20 years ago, on August 17, 1982, that the first civil suit resulting from an on-ice incident in the NHL ended with former Detroit Red Wing player Dennis Polonich receiving an unexpected award of $850,000 from a U.S. Federal Court.
The incident that triggered the lawsuit took place during a game between Detroit and Colorado on October 25, 1978 at the old Detroit Olympia. Polonich was struck in the face by a stick wielded by the Rockies’ Wilf Paiement. The blow broke Polonich’s nose and inflicted other facial injuries. Dr. John Finley, the Red Wing physician who treated Polonich, called it "the worst injury he’d ever seen." Then Detroit general manager Ted Lindsay testified that Paiement hit Polonich in the manner of a baseball player swinging a bat.
As a result of the attack, the NHL suspended Paiement for 15 games and fined him $500. The lawsuit followed and attempts to settle the dispute out of court proved fruitless.
The amount of the award stunned the hockey world, especially when James Feeney, the attorney for Polonich, revealed that he had been prepared to settle for less than $100,000. Paiement’s attorney called the amount of the award "totally absurd, unreasonable."
Polonich argued that the injuries he suffered shortened his NHL career and on August 17, 1982, he was awarded the full amount by a Federal Court in Detroit—$850,000 in damages.
One hot afternoon, during a golf tournament in British Columbia a few summers ago, I talked with Polonich about the lawsuit and other hockey matters. "I was surprised that Paiement never showed any remorse for clubbing me," he said. "As for the settlement, none of the money came out of his pocket. My career went downhill after the injury and I had hopes that the Red Wings might offer me something in the way of a coaching job after I bled and sweated for them for 12 years. I was disappointed when it didn't happen. I went on to become a successful coach in junior hockey in Western Canada."
When I asked Dennis Polonich if the settlement figure I’d read about so many years ago was an accurate one, or if he had really received an amount far less than the $850,000, he laughed and said, "Oh, I got the full amount and then some. With interest, you know, and with smart investments it worked out very well for me, well over a million."
I asked him if he was proud to be a former Red Wing.
"Sure I am," he said. "Nobody expected me to make the team, to become an NHLer. I was an 8th-round draft choice after all—and small. I was only 5-foot-5 and 160-pounds. And I was a center when the team had Alex Delvecchio, Red Berenson and Marcel Dionne at the position. Try to beat one of those guys out of a job. Hey, let me tell you a funny story about Dionne. The Wings were playing an exhibition game one night against St. Louis and Marcel got sick and couldn’t play. So I was called in at the last minute and there was no time to get an extra jersey for me. The trainer gave me Dionne’s number 5. This was before they put the names on the backs of the jerseys. So I’m playing and a lot of the fans thought I was Marcel. We’re both short and stocky, see. Now a big fight breaks out and I got excited. I leaped over the boards and grabbed one of the St. Louis Blues and boom! I knocked the guy flat. One punch. The crowd goes wild. They’re screaming, ‘Marcel! Marcel!’ Now Marcel couldn’t fight. He never got into fights. But on this night the fans thought he was a slugger, one of the best damn fighters they’d ever seen.
"Another thing I’m proud of," he said, "Is the fact I played against Gordie Howe and his sons in the last game he played at the Olympia. Our line started against Gordie and the boys when they were with Hartford. At the end of the game, I went right over and asked Gordie for his stick. So I have the last stick he used at the Olympia. After he gave me the stick, he took a lap around the ice and the crowd went crazy. They loved the guy. And he took off a glove and threw it high in the stands. Then he skated across the ice and threw his other glove. I’ve never heard such an ovation."
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