Thursday, July 7, 2016

REMEMBERING "LEAPIN' LOUIE"


There is good news and there is bad news.  Usually, at the Original Six Alumni lunch, the news is all good. But at the July lunch, I was informed of some bad news. When Don Joyce told me that Louie Fontinato had passed away the day before on July 3, it was like taking a blow to the head.

 Last summer, Don arranged for Gary England and I to visit Louie in Guelph, Ontario, along with  Louie's former teammate Harry Howell. I've known Don and Gary since I first started attending the lunch several years ago. Although time had taken its toll on Fontinato, he was still the fiery individual I had read about when he played for the New York Rangers. Tough as nails, Louie was a physical force on the ice and he let his fists do his talking. During our visit, his hands were constantly in motion (as the above photo shows) when he told a story. It was a joy to watch the interaction between Louie and Harry Howell. While Louie did most of the talking, I could tell by watching Harry's eyes that he was taking in every word spoken by his longtime friend. Unfortunately, Howell's health has been in decline for the past couple of years. But it didn't seem to matter on that warm sunny afternoon.

These memories flashed before me when Don broke the bad news of Louie's passing. I now know what an opponent must have felt like when Fontinato tangled with them.




Here is a portion (unedited) of the news release put out by the Fontinato family:

Legendary Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers Tough Guy “Leapin” Lou Fontinato Passes Away Suddenly at Age 84

GUELPH, ONTARIO – It has only been three weeks since Gordie Howe’s demise, and now the other party involved in the famous Howe – Fontinato fight passed away on Sunday, July 3, 2016, in Guelph, Ontario.  The hockey fraternity has lost one of its most colourful and boisterous characters.

Louis Joseph "Leapin” Louie Fontinato (born January 20, 1932) was a defenseman in the National Hockey League with the New York Rangers from 1954 to 1961 and the Montreal Canadiens from 1961 to 1963.  Prior to the NHL, Fontinato played with the Vancouver Canucks and Saskatoon Quakers of the Western Hockey League.  In 1952/53, Fontinato played for the OHL’s Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, a team that most experts agree was one of the best junior hockey teams ever assembled.  Along with Lou Fontinato, future NHL players Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, and Eddie Shack all played for the Mad Hatters on that Memorial Cup winning team.

Lou Fontinato was a rugged defender and the most feared enforcer of his time.  He started his career with New York during the 1954-55 season.  The following year, he led the NHL in penalty minutes – the highest total ever at that time.  He also led the league in that category in 1957-58 and 1961-62 with Montreal.  While with the Rangers, Fontinato and Gordie Howe had a running feud that culminated in the now famous fight at Madison Square Garden on February 1, 1959.

Fontinato was eventually traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Hall-of-Fame great Doug Harvey at the tail end of his career.  Fontinato's career came to an abrupt and violent end in 1963 at the Montreal Forum.  After missing a check on left-winger Vic Hadfield of the Rangers behind the Montreal net, he slammed headfirst into the boards, broke his neck, and became paralyzed for a month.  After multiple spinal surgeries, Fontinato regained most of his motion.

After his retirement from the game due to his life-altering injury, Fontinato returned to his hometown of Guelph, Ontario, to raise beef cattle.  He spent the next 55 years doing what he loved best – actively working on his cattle farms. 

Lou Fontinato was recently admitted to Riverside Glen Nursing Home in Guelph, suffering from symptoms of dementia, and he passed away quietly in his sleep.  Fontinato is survived by two of his three children.  His daughter Paula Fontinato lives in Guelph and his son Roger Fontinato lives in Surrey, BC.  Louis Fontinato Jr. passed away on May 31, 1996.

His adult children, Paula and Roger, released the following comment:  “We appreciate the well wishes and condolences the family has received.  Our father will be greatly missed by his family, colleagues, and many friends.  We are grateful that he did not have to suffer through a long, debilitating, and difficult illness.”


Tough guy persona aside, Fontinato was known for his strong work ethic, his demanding nature, and contagious, boisterous personality, as well as for being a loyal teammate, an avid outdoorsman, an excellent cook, a world-class Bocce player, and Italian red wine-making aficionado. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

BY GEORGE!


Happy 86th birthday to former Toronto Maple Leaf captain George Armstrong . An unsung hero in the Leafs Stanley Cup run in the 1960s, Armstrong had the difficult task of being stuck in the middle between his teammates and Leafs coach and GM  Punch Imlach. A cool customer under pressure, "The Chief" managed to keep his team focused, despite Imlach's ruling with a heavy-hand. On the ice, Armstrong vigorously worked in the corners to dig out pucks and set-up plays.

 
The above photo of Armstrong was taken this past May at a tribute for his former linemate Tod Sloan.

Friday, June 10, 2016

LOSS OF A LEGEND


Today, the hockey world lost a true legend with the passing of Gordie Howe. He broke into the National Hockey League in 1946 with the Detroit Red Wings and the following season he teamed up with two special teammates. Howe wrote about the new trio in his book 'Gordie Howe - My Hockey Memories.' "Early in the year Ivan (Detroit's head coach) threw together a line that featured me on right wing, Ted Lindsay on left, and veteran centre Sid Abel in the middle. We clicked right away. Dubbed the "Production Line,"  we went on to finish the year one-two-three in team scoring..."

Now the lone survivor from that line, Ted Lindsay issued the following statement on the loss of his friend and former teammate:

I was very sad to learn today of the passing of my longtime teammate, and friend, Gordie Howe. Gordie really was the greatest hockey player who ever lived. I was fortunate to play with Gordie for 12 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and I've known him for over 70 years. He could do it all in the game to help his team, both offensively and defensively. He earned everything he accomplished on the ice.

Beyond hockey, Colleen and his family meant everything to him. Gordie was larger than life, and he was someone who  I thought would live forever. My wife Joanne and I extend our condolences to Gordie's children - Cathleen, Mark, Marty and Murray - and his entire family and many  friends during this time.

When Howe's NHL and WHA stats  (regular season & playoffs) are combined the results are staggering -  GP- 2,421 / G-1,071/ A-1,518 /P-2,589.

Monday, June 6, 2016

D-DAY

Today marks the 72nd anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1944. On that historic day, the allied forces, which included Canada, began their assault on Western Europe at Normandy France.  Canadian forces concentrated on a beach front in an operation called “Juno”.

Numerous battles ensued after the June 6th invasion and many young Canadian men lost their lives fighting for future generations.

The hockey world wasn’t immune to the conflicts of World War Two. This story is about about one such brave individual, who loved playing hockey and more importantly, loved his country.

Red Albert “Ab” Tilson was born on January 11, 1924, in Regina Saskatchewan.  In 1941, Tilson travelled east to play junior “A” hockey in the OHA. Tilson became a member of the Oshawa Generals and played under coach Charlie Conacher.


 That season, the Generals went all the way to the Memorial Cup Final and faced the Portage La Prairie Terriers in Winnipeg. The Generals lost the best-of-five Final 3 games to 1. Despite his team’s loss, Tilson led Memorial Cup play in assists with 12 and points with 20.

The following year, 1942-43, Tilson won the OHA scoring title with 57 points in 22 games. Once again, the Generals played in the Memorial Cup Final held at Maple Leaf Gardens, but lost 4 games to 2 against the Winnipeg Rangers.

Tilson repeated as scoring champ in the tournament by recording 32 points in 11 contests. For most of his time in Oshawa, Tilson centered a line with Floyd Curry and Kenny Smith. He was a prospect with the Toronto Maple Leafs and by all accounts was a can’t miss NHL’er.

After the ’42-’43 season, Tilson, then 20 years old, enlisted in the service at Kingston, Ontario.  He chose Kingston in hopes of playing hockey with the senior “A” Kingston Frontenac Army Club. Ultimately, he played only 3 games with Kingston.

On June 17, 1943, Private Tilson underwent his basic training in Cornwall and on August 18 his rank was upped to acting Lance Corporal.

A year later, on May 2, 1944, Tilson arrived in Nova Scotia to become part of a training brigade in preparation for going overseas.

He departed Canadian soil on June 17 and arrived in England on June 24.  Now ranked a Private, Tilson landed in France on July 23, 1944, and was assigned to the Queen’s Own Rifles of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division’s 8th Brigade.

On August 9, 1944, Tilson got his first taste of action. The operation called for his unit to clear a path in the Quesnay Woods for an attack by a Polish Division, which was attached to the Canadian Army.

In October, Tilson, now back to his rank of Lance Corporal, was part of “Operation Switchback”. It involved clearing the south shore of West Scheldt (SHELL-T) in Belgium. It became known as the Battle of Scheldt.

On October 12, Tilson and the Queen’s Own began their crossing, but came under German fire. As a result, Tilson was injured and sent behind the front line for treatment.

When he returned, Tilson was ranked as a Rifleman.

On October 26, the Queen’s Own started their attack on the town of Oostburgh and secured the territory. Also, they took a number of prisoners. However, they soon faced a counter-offensive by the Germans, who were located nearby at Walcheren. They used 88-millimeter guns against the Canadians.

The Battle lasted several days and on October 27, 1944, Red Tilson was hit and died in action. He was 20 years old.

In time for the 1944-45-hockey season, The Globe and Mail donated a trophy to the OHA in honour of Tilson. The first winner of the Red Tilson Trophy as the league MVP was Douglas McMurdy of the St. Catherines Falcons. Johnny McCormack, then with St. Mike’s, finished second in the voting.

The first Leaf prospect to be awarded the Tilson was Tod Sloan. He was named the winner the following year. The last Leaf prospect to be voted the winner of the Tilson was announced just a couple of weeks ago when London’s Mitch Marner got the nod.

        

  

Saturday, June 4, 2016

QUINN'S HIT ON ORR



At the Boston Garden on April 2, 1969, the Bruins and Leafs began their quarter-final series with a bang.

There were numerous highlights in the opener.

To start, this was the encounter where Leaf defenceman Pat Quinn laid out Bobby Orr in the second period and the fans quickly and aggressively turned on Quinn.

Sent to the sin-bin to serve a 5-minute major for elbowing, Quinn was verbally and physically abused by the Boston faithful.

Bruins president, Weston Adams Jr., was quoted as saying, “they’ll kill him,” in reference to the crowds response to Quinn’s hit on Orr.

A police officer said, “The fans here don’t like anybody to touch Orr.” He went on to say, “to me though it looked like a clean check.”

Quinn shared this assessment.

“It was a nice clean check. Maybe the people thought it was dirty, but like I said, I like to hit,” Quinn told reporters.

In the third period, all hell broke loose.

A massive brawl began when netminder, Gerry Cheevers, cross-checked Leaf forward Forbes Kennedy, who in turn, applied the lumber on Cheevers.

Then, the fun began.

Kennedy took on Ted Green, Johnny McKenzie and back-up goalie Eddie Johnston, who left the bench to come to Cheevers aid. 

When he got to Kennedy, Johnston placed him in a bear hug by the glass and this allowed the fans to lean over and plant some shots on Kennedy. This wasn’t Johnston’s intention, as he later explained that he was trying to pull his opponent away from the glass.

Also, one of Kennedy’s punches landed on linesman George Ashley.

Forbes Kennedy went into the record book for amazing 8 penalties and serving 38-minutes.

Six of Boston’s ten goals came on the power play. Phil Esposito, who scored four with the man-advantage, also added two assists. His six points equalled a playoff record for most points in a game. He shared this feat with the Canadiens Dickie Moore.

It truly was a wild game and the mix of Quinn’s hit on Orr, the huge brawl and the 10-0 beating the Bruins put on the Leafs, made it one to remember.




Tuesday, April 26, 2016

REMEMBERING GERRY McNEIL


On the 65th anniversary of Bill Barilko's Stanley Cup winning goal scored on April 21, 1951, Mike Wilson hosted a gathering to remember that eventful night.

One of the special guests was David McNeil. His dad, Gerry McNeil, was between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens when Barilkno scored at the 2:53 mark of overtime in game five.

David McNeil has written a book - In the Pressure of the Moment - Remembering Gerry McNeil - about his dad's life and career in hockey.

Gerry McNeil was born on April 17, 1926, in Quebec City. He played for a brief time in 1943-44 with the junior Montreal Royals and in that same year graduated to the senior Royals. While with the Royals in 1947-48, he got his first taste of NHL action when the Montreal Canadiens called him up for two games. McNeil lost one game and tied the other.

Late in 1949-50, Montreal once again summoned McNeil, who was playing for the Canadiens farm team in Cincinnati. In six games, McNeil sparkled, posting a 3-1-2 record with a 1.50 goals against average. His performance helped Montreal's starter, Bill Durnan, win the Vezina Trophy.

The following year, McNeil became the Canadiens number one goalie and was in the net for all their games over the next two seasons. In 1953, he became a Stanley Cup champion. He left the Canadiens after the 1953-54 campaign and the reason for his departure is one of the many wonderful stories in the book.

Other than a brief return to the Habs in 1956-57, McNeil spent the rest of his playing time in the minors.

Before David addressed the crowd, I chatted with him about writing the book and his dad.

On what motivated him to write this book: Well, I sat down with my dad in the 1990s and knew he wasn't going to be around forever and I wanted to get the stories. We started watching games together and we noticed there was a big difference between our experience of the NHL even 20 years ago and what fans experienced in the early 50s. My book became not just the story about my father, but a history about sports media. I had a lot more material than I could get into one article, so I always knew I would be working on a book. I had a few false starts and it took time, but I persevered and didn't quit. I had a contract to publish it as my father was dying. After he died, I finished the manuscript and sent it to the publisher. The publisher called me and asked, 'you know the guy that signed you to that contract?' I said, yes, 'well we fired him, he was totally incompetent and he signed a whole pile of guys to contacts that could never produce the material we want. I've looked at your manuscript and we have strict criteria for our sports biographies series and your manuscript will never fit in.' That was the end of that. Then, Ken Dryden's book, The Game, was reissued on its 30th anniversary and then, Todd Denault's book on Jacques Plante came out. So the timing wasn't just right. I had to sit and be patient. With any writing or creative project, it's not over until you say it is over. I held on and along came Louis Anctil a Vancouver publisher. He thought this would be a great project. We teamed up and made it happen. I'm really happy that I hung in there. My father would have said to me, 'you only have one choice, you can try and make it better.' I've spent 20 years trying to make it better. I'm pretty proud now of the final product.

On things he learnt about his dad that surprised him: I couldn't believe the positive press he got. I teased him once that he must have witnessed Elmer Ferguson and Dink Carroll murder somebody because I can't believe the things they said about you. It is kind of unqualified praise and admiration. If he had a bad game they ignored it. That was one thing that surprised me. The one thing that didn't surprise me so much was that he was a really team player. He'd do anything for his teammates. He once covered up for Dollard St. Laurent. It was a story that didn't get into the book. Dollard coughed-up the puck once in front of the net and it led to a goal. Dick Irvin didn't get the number of the player and the sports reporters wouldn't help him out with who it was. So he asked my father. He told Irvin that he wasn't going to tell him. Irvin said, 'Gerry you think about it, we got a practice at nine o'clock tomorrow morning and I'm going to ask you again and you better tell me.' He slept on it and the next morning there's practice, but nothing is said. My father and Dollard exchanged glances and they think Irvin's forgotten about it. Irvin blows his whistle after forty minutes and everybody goes off the ice except for Gerry. Then, Irvin asks, 'okay Gerry who was it that coughed-up the puck?' My father said, 'I slept on it Dick and you know what, I don't think I want to tell you.' Irvin replied, 'okay Gerry you start skating.' Twenty minutes later my father is ready to collapse. Dollard comes out of the dressing room and my father waves to him to get out of there as he's going to blow it. Then, Dick blows his whistle and says, 'okay Gerry give me the name.' My father looked at him and said, 'I'll never give you the name.' That was the end of it. Dick knew my father had to play the next night, so he couldn't kill the guy. My father and Dollard shared this story on the golf course around the year 2000 and I was there. You could tell Dollard still appreciated the fact my father sucked it up for him. My father said he was the beneficiary because the next game Dollard St. Laurent was all over the place getting every rebound and taking everybody out. That was one thing that distinguished him from his successor, Jacques Plante. He was a great student of the game, but he would also be critical of a defenceman who wasn't in position. He was probably right, but it didn't endure him to his teammates. My father throughout his life knew he had the respect of his teammates and I think that really was all that mattered to him. He didn't want public accolades or the trophies. He was quite happy winning the last Vezina for Bill Durnan when he came in at the end of the 1950 season and improved Bill's goals against average. His own average for those six games was 1.50. That was perfectly in keeping with his character of trying to do something for somebody else.

On what was the hardest part about writing the book: Some of it was emotional right from the beginning. We weren't going to write a whitewash. This had to be about my father's flaws. My father wasn't a perfect individual. He overcame challenges later in life. He overcame problems with alcohol and homophobia. We were more proud of him for that actually than we were for his winning the Stanley Cup. It really made for a great family dynamic. That was a little difficult (to write about) because you know if my dad was alive I'm not sure if the book would have gotten written the same way. In the end it was a good positive story about Gerry, but not one he would have wanted to see.

On how his dad dealt with pressure: Not well, the Leswick goal in 1954 is an example (Detroit's Tony Leswick scored in the overtime of game seven in the Stanley Cup Final. The goal was scored when Doug Harvey stuck out his glove in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. Instead, he redirected the puck and it found the back of the net). The quick version about the pressure and how he dealt with it is that he didn't sleep that summer. He kept thinking if I was standing an inch further back that the puck would have hit me here and who knows we could have won the seventh game in overtime. That is tough one. Especially, with Doug Harvey, he was the one guy my father said as soon as he came out onto the ice he would breathe a little easier. Harvey played professional baseball, so if anyone is going to knock the puck out of the air it's going to be Doug Harvey. They never discussed it afterwards. My father had trouble sleeping and when he did fall asleep around four o'clock he would dream about that goal. He had decided he was going to quit earlier in that playoff run because of a fight with Dick Irvin. He promised himself he would never play another game under Dick Irvin and although he missed out on those five Stanley Cups (Montreal won between 1956 & 1960) he took personal pride in the fact he kept his promise to himself. He never did play another game for Dick Irvin. But he didn't let the team down as he finished the series.

On having a dad who played in the NHL: What I remember is that he got stopped by strangers and they would ask, 'coma sava Gerry?' We would lose 15 to 20 minutes. He would indulge people he hardly knew. He would fake his way through the conversation. I figured it out. He would ask about their children and the other person would be moved that my father would remember. But he wasn't really remembering, he was faking his way through it. He had a lot of time for people. He carried his celebrity well. I was too young to ever see him play in the NHL. I knew my father as a sales representative and a good father.

In the Pressure of the Moment - Remembering Gerry McNeil is full of rich stories and chapter four - The Goalie in the Barilko Picture - will be of  particular interest for Maple Leaf fans. The entire book will be an interesting, informative and fun read for all hockey fans


The above picture shows David McNeil sitting between Dan Donohue (L) and Kevin Shea.  This picture was taken during the Q&A session after the presentations. Dan Donohue spoke about his family and how they came into possession of the puck Bill Barilko used to score against Montreal in the overtime on April 21, 1951. Author and hockey historian, Kevin Shea, who wrote an outstanding book on Barilko (BARILKO without a trace) talked about Bill Barilko's amazing hockey career and his very sad passing in August 1951.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

BEFORE THE BIG GOAL


On April 21, 1951, Bill Barilko's overtime goal in game five was the Cup winner, as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated Montreal 3-2. In August '51 Barilko died in a plane crash.

Below, are the program cover and line-ups from game two of the Stanley Cup final played on April 14, 1951.



These come from the program that Sid Smith, a teammate of Barilko's on the Leafs from the time they both broke into the National Hockey League, kept from game two.




The action photo (above) of Barilko from game two appeared in the Toronto Telegram. The Montreal Canadiens won game two by a score of 3-2, with "Rocket" Richard scoring the winner in overtime. All five games in the Cup Final were decided in extra-time.