Ernie Leacock officiated in over 2,000 games, including the Winter Olympics and World Championships, and was highly respected by players, fans and fellow officials.
A Londoner, born “a penny bus ride”, as he put it, from the future Harringay Arena, Ernie was raised in Canada after his family emigrated to Banff, Alberta when he was two years old.
In his twenties, he played mostly in the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL) in western Canada. Hearing that Wembley Lions were looking for Canadian pros to staff their new team, in July 1934 he wrote asking for a trial. This was granted but the Lions transferred him to Richmond Hawks, where he played in season 1934-35.
In February 1935 he was selected to compete for Great Britain in the World Championships in Davos, Switzerland. After appearing in the opening game against Canada, the Canadians protested against his inclusion as he had played a few pro games outside Canada in Portland, Oregon. The ruling was upheld.
As this meant he had to wait three years before he could play either internationally or in Britain, he decided to take up refereeing instead. It was a decision that greatly benefited the British game as he performed the role with distinction for 30 years.
Facing a manpower shortage, in the two years before World War Two the British Ice Hockey Association (BIHA) allowed a one-man refereeing system and Leacock was often that man.
His most memorable pre-war games were the exhibition matches between Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Redwings, when the NHL clubs came to Brighton and Earl’s Court in the spring of 1938. His sound common sense, tolerating no nonsense on the ice but always prepared to give a player the benefit of the doubt, came in particularly useful when trying to adjudicate between quarrelsome NHL pros.
He was the first professional to officiate at the World Championships in 1950 and 1951, in London and Paris respectively, and at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway.
His advice and encouragement were always available to the post-war generation of officials, and he was generous with his time for young players. As the BIHA’s assistant secretary in the early 1950s, he was in charge of intermediate and junior ice hockey.
In a poignant gesture to the game he loved, he timed his retirement for 23 May 1965 after he officiated in the last ever game at Brighton’s Sports Stadium.
Ernest Sidney Leacock was born on 22 March 1906 in Edmonton, London, the son of a Freeman of the City of London, and died on 7 April 1976 on the Isle of Wight. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.