‘Have another donut’ clash still lives in infamy 30 years later

“Schoney,” I called out rather ineffectually, attempting to grab the Devils’ coach and prevent him from getting into trouble as the brouhaha escalated in the corridor leading to and from the Meadowlands ice. “Schoney …”

But it was too late. There was no stopping Jim Schoenfeld, and no stopping the trouble that would be visited upon Jim Schoenfeld — and, in fact, the NHL — in the wake of perhaps the most infamous coach-referee confrontation in North American pro sports history, which occurred 30 years ago to the day and date of Sunday, May 6, 1988.

You know it by three words. Everyone knows it by three words.

“Have another donut.”

“You know, we were just a bunch of young upstarts, and I felt we were being screwed,” Schoenfeld was saying when revisiting the incident with me in Philadelphia before the Rangers’ final game of the season. “So I waited for Don as he came off the ice and wanted to ask him about it.”

Don, as in referee Don Koharski. But you knew that, too.

“I’m not irate at that point. I just want to ask him what’s going on? But then he gets heated and I get heated,” Schoenfeld, now the Blueshirts’ assistant general manager, is saying. “Then things kind of escalate and they reach the tipping point.

“The corridor is crowded. There’s really no room, and there’s a commotion going on. He kind of stumbles and his skate hits the concrete.

“The rest lives in infamy.”

Koharski, through the league, declined an interview request. Schoenfeld is recounting his memory of the incident reluctantly, and he believes he’s talking about it for the first time in three decades, but he isn’t telling me much if anything that I don’t know. For you see, the reason I was among the horde in the corridor following the Bruins’ 6-1 Game 3 victory for a 2-1 series lead in the Cup conference finals is that I at the time was the Devils’ vice president of communications. I was on my way into the room when I heard loud voices and turned back to witness the fray.

“You probably have a better memory of everything than I do,” he says. “But I know that suddenly he’s screaming that I’ll never coach again, and then, well, I reacted. But I shouldn’t have said what I said. I was wrong.

“I heard that it kind of stuck with his daughter at school. I regret that.”

Memories are supplemented, if not confirmed or corrected, by YouTube. Koharski moves forward past Schoenfeld. The coach jumps in front of him. The referee keeps walking. His right skate slips off the rubber mat onto concrete, and he crashes into the wall on his right. He thinks he has been pushed. But he hasn’t been. Wildly out of control, the referee yells at the coach.

“Oh, you’re gone now! You’re gone!” Koharski screams as chaos ensues.

Linesmen Ray Scapinello and Gord Broseker attempt to restrain Schoenfeld. So does a security guard or two. So do I. Schoenfeld’s sport coat slips down his right shoulder. He’s wearing his signature suspenders.

Koharski continues to scream. Schoenfeld screams back, “You fell. You fell, and you know it!”

Koharski is yelling that he hopes there is a tape of the incident. I think he yells something about Schoenfeld never coaching again. The ref turns down the hallway. And this is when Schoenfeld goes off.

“You’re crazy,” yells the coach. “You fell, you fat pig. Have another donut! Have another donut!”

The mob dispersed. Schoenfeld and I went into the coach’s office, joined soon by general manager Lou Lamoriello. Everyone is calm. None of us anticipates this developing into an international incident. We talk about how we’re going to handle this in the postgame press conference. Schoney is more concerned with the 2-1 series deficit. I think Lou is, too.

There was only one tape of the incident, shot by the local WABC-Channel 7 camera crew. We were able to get a copy Saturday before practice. When the video evidence supported Schoenfeld’s contention that Koharski had slipped on his own accord, the team went on with its day, preparing for the following night’s Game 4. The league did not schedule a hearing. We sent the video to the league, in the person of VP Brian O’Neill, if I remember correctly.

“I never thought about a suspension,” Schoenfeld is saying 30 years later. “I thought I’d get fined.”

(Warning: Explicit language)

Game day dawned. I was in the office early. Well, there is no such thing as “early” when operating on Lamoriello Time. I was in and out of Lou’s office. He sensed trouble. We all sensed trouble. At around 12:30, we were notified that our coach would be suspended for that night’s match.

Lamoriello attempted to get in touch with NHL president John Ziegler. He could not be found. For hours, he tried to reach the league’s chief executive. No one in the league hierarchy would tell Lamoriello where he was. I’m pretty sure Lou spoke to O’Neill, who admitted he had never watched the tape of the incident.

A couple of weeks earlier, the rookie named Brendan Shanahan had been suspended for Game 4 of the Patrick Division finals against the Capitals following a Game 3 joust with defenseman Greg Smith. He had been suspended after a hearing that included the right of appeal.

“A player gets a hearing, but a coach doesn’t?” I want to say I said to Lamoriello, but it is entirely possible that he raised the issue first. It was a long day. It has been a long three decades since.

In any event, due process, or the lack thereof, became the centerpiece of our strategy to challenge the ruling. Apparently there was nothing in the league bylaws guaranteeing a coach a hearing or the right of appeal.

“You used me as the reason to get that injunction?” Shanahan asked rhetorically when we chatted last week. “I never knew that.”

Chicago owner Bill Wirtz, chairman of the Board of Governors, was in charge of league business in Ziegler’s absence. Lamoriello pleaded with him to grant a stay of the suspension. If not, he warned, the Devils would go to court to seek an injunction against the suspension. That was Lou’s idea, not mine. That I remember clearly.

The Devils got a temporary restraining order issued by Superior Court Judge J.F. Madden, to whom Lamoriello was referred by Judge John Conti, who housed some of the team’s younger players in their rookie seasons. In fact, Shanahan was living with the Contis at the time. The judge’s daughter was our statistician on the radio broadcasts, for which I did the color commentary.

We whipped up a statement upon getting the injunction, Lou and I in his office. For the only time, ever, I put words in his mouth. Most of them, he even approved. And then, before the scheduled start of Game 4, I conducted a press conference, in which I communicated the franchise’s righteous indignation over our lack of due process.

The Devils and Bruins went through warmups before returning to the ice for pregame laps. Neither assigned referee Dave Newell nor linesmen Broseker and Ron Asselstine came onto the ice. Two minutes before the scheduled puck, officiating director John McCauley informed both teams that the officials would refuse to work if Schoenfeld were behind the bench.

And so the teams left the ice to wait … and wait … and wait while talks proceeded between Lamoriello and league officials. I was up in the radio booth in the Halo, of course offering a fair and balanced take on the matter. The players were in the dark.

“No one knew what was going on,” Shanahan was saying. “We were in our full equipment sitting there, but what I remember is guys telling each other to make sure to be ready whenever we played. It just went on and on.”

It went on for more than an hour. And then … and then …

“So we’re sitting there,” Shanahan says. “And we see these three guys walk from our changing area through our locker room and out the door. They’re off-ice officials. We know them. They’re great guys. One of them is wearing a ref’s shirt and the two others are wearing yellow practice tops. It was like, ‘What?’ Our jaws just dropped

“I’ll tell you what I’ll never forget, though. We were sitting there in stunned silence. Aaron Broten was generally extremely quiet. It was kind of like he was mute. But suddenly, he lets out this belly laugh that is still the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. And then, while Aaron is laughing, Kenny Daneyko jumps up and lets out an angry string of expletives.

“And then, it’s ‘OK, let’s go.’ And we’re out the door and onto the ice.”

Paul McInnis was the referee. Vin Godleski and Jim Sullivan were the linesmen. If you look on the official scoresheet on NHL.com, you wouldn’t know it, though. No officials’ names appear.

After more than an hour delay, the puck was dropped, the match under way under a surreal environment.

“I’m pretty sure it was the first shift, the Bruins throw a home-run pass up the middle and the guy is in on a clear cut breakaway,” Shanahan says. “The whistle blows. Offside for a two-line pass. It was kind of a shocker. The Bruins went, ‘Why?’ We were like, ‘OK, this is how it’s going to be.’

“You had to be ready for anything. We were telling each other all game, play through everything to the whistle and don’t assume a call is going to be made.”

The game spiraled out of control during the second period. Schoenfeld and Boston coach Terry O’Reilly, best friends away from the rink, had a screaming match on the bench during a brawl. Devils assistant coach Bob Hoffmeyer grabbed a stick, mounted the dasher, and held it menacingly as a weapon. We won, 3-1 and tied the series.

Game 5 was scheduled for Tuesday in Boston. Ziegler hurried back. A hearing was convened the day of the game in a Boston hotel. Koharski and the two Game 3 linesmen had filed reports indicating that Schoenfeld had pushed the referee. I was not at the hearing but was told that after playing the tape of the incident, Lamoriello allowed the officials to amend their statements. I’m pretty sure legal action was threatened, but don’t quote me on that.

Schoenfeld received a one-game suspension for “verbal abuse of an official” that he would serve in Game 5. The restraining order was withdrawn. Lamoriello went behind the bench for Boston’s 7-1 victory that gave them the lead in the series the B’s would ultimately win in seven games.

I worked that Game 5 defeat from the radio booth in the old Boston Garden. Before it, though, team owner John McMullen came calling.

“They wanted to fine you, too,” he told me. “For going on the air and ripping the league for two hours. We wouldn’t let them. But just try to be careful tonight.”

Thirty years, Schoney.

Where are they now?

Don Koharski: Retired as a referee in 2009 and spent time in the NHL’s officiating department. Operates Don Koharski’s Officiating & Development Camps.

Jim Schoenfeld: Fired as Devils coach 14 games into the 1989-90 season. Later coached the Capitals and Coyotes, and currently is Rangers assistant GM.

Lou Lamoriello: Was Devils president/GM through 2015. Spent last three seasons as Maple Leafs GM and now is a senior adviser.

Brendan Shanahan: Scored 656 goals in a Hall of Fame career that included four-plus seasons in New Jersey and two on Broadway. Serves as president of the Maple Leafs.

Larry Brooks: Returned to The Post in 1994 and has covered the Rangers, Devils and written the Slap Shots column over the past two-plus decades.

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