Monday, March 23, 2015

TORO, TORO, TORO

The second hockey talk session for 2015, hosted my Mike Wilson, focused on the Toronto Toros. Under the ownership of the colourful Johnny F. Bassett, they played in the World Hockey Association.


Here is a brief history tracing the locations where the club set-up shop.

 The club was first based in Ottawa, Ontario. The franchise was granted to Doug Michel, but Nick Trbovich took over as the majority owner. The team was called the Ottawa Nationals.

Former Toronto Maple Leaf, Billy Harris, was behind the bench when the Nationals played their first game on October 11, 1972. With the Civic Centre only half-filled, Ottawa fell 7-4 to the Alberta Oilers. The first goal for Ottawa came off the stick belonging to Bob Charlebois.



Hampered by low attendance during the 1972-73 campaign, Ottawa fled the nations capital when playoff time rolled around. Instead of playing in Ottawa, the Nationals landed in Toronto. They called Maple Leaf Gardens home for their opening series against the New England Whalers.

Billy Harris wasn't concerned that his team would be distracted by the move.

"Everyone seems to think this will bother our players, that they're thinking of moving instead of concentrating on hockey. Heck, earlier in the year they went through 5 weeks when they didn't know if they should buy groceries or not. We were suppose to be on our way to Milwaukee - so a little thing like this isn't going to affect us."

In competition with junior club in town, the Ottawa 67s (OHA), who had Dennis Potvin in their line-up, the Nationals couldn't gain a spot in the marketplace.

The nail in the coffin came when the city of Ottawa requested the club pay a $100,000 rental bond.

Buck Houle, general manager of the Nationals, could see the writing on-the-wall.

"To me, Ottawa seems like the kind of town in which it would take two or three years, at least, to get a following and then you couldn't be sure."

On May 2, 1973, Johnny F. Bassett and his Can Sports group purchased the Ottawa Nationals with the intention of keeping them in Toronto. At the time, John Bassett Sr. owned the Canadian Football League Toronto Argonauts. Also, in the 1960s, the elder Bassett held an ownership stake in the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Stafford Smythe and Harold Ballard. After a prolonged battle in the boardroom, Ballard gained majority control of the National Hockey League team.


Two important tasks awaited the new owner of Toronto's second professional hockey team - a place to call home and a name.

Johnny F. Bassett first attempted to work out a deal with the city of Toronto to play in the Coliseum on the CNE grounds. His intention was to convert the facility into a hockey arena.

Although Bassett's plan didn't materialize in 1973, the concept did resurface in 2002. That's when the Coliseum was refitted and housed an American Hockey League team called the Toronto Roadrunners.

Eventually, Bassett settled on Varsity Arena, with Sunday nights being reserved for WHA hockey.

The second job consisted of finding a name. Bassett had the advertising firm of Vickers and Benson conduct research on these potential names - Metros, Blues, Yorks, Royals and Toros.

On June 11, 1973, Bassett welcomed the Toronto media and revealed the Toro name and sweater.



The Toronto Toros played their first game on October 7, 1973 at Varsity. The visitors were Pat Stapleton and the Chicago Cougars. A near capacity crowd watched as the Toros and Cougars skated to a 4-4 draw.



Toronto's roster was a mix of young and old. On the defence they had veteran Carl Brewer and up front an 18 year old underaged rookie by the name of Wayne Dillon.

Dillon, who was still in high school when he signed with the Toros, offered a unique excuse when he was late for a team flight. He told management he was held-up due to a detention at school! Upon hearing this, Buck Houle remarked, "I thought I had heard everything in pro hockey."

The honour of scoring the Toronto Toros first goal went to Tommy "Shotgun" Simpson. Noted for his skills on offence, Simpson went on to score 52 goals with the Toros in 1974-75.

A change of scenery occurred in 1974, when the Toros departed Varsity Arena for the spacious confines of Maple Leaf Gardens. This was a no-win situation for Bassett. He found himself saddled with a huge rental bill and enormous costs when it came to using the television lights at the Gardens. The lease terms at Carlton and Church were restrictive and didn't help the profit column.

After 2 years at the 'House Conn Smythe Built,' Bassett made an important decision. On June 10, 1976, he announced that the Toros were packing up and shipping out to Birmingham, Alabama. Clearly, Birmingham offered Bassett a fresh start. The city had a new arena and he would no longer be held for ransom by the owner of Maple Leaf Gardens. Just as important, his hockey club didn't have to live in the shadow of the Toronto Maple Leafs.


The Birmingham Bulls played their first regular season game in football country on October 8, 1976. As was the case in the Toros first contest, "Shotgun" Simpson rifled home the Bulls first goal.


It didn't come as a surprise when, in late March of 1979, the NHL and WHA merged. Four of the six remaining WHA franchises were invited to the dance, but Bassett's Birmingham Bulls were left out in the cold. They did, however, receive $2.85-million to go away.



The real fun of exploring the WHA comes when hearing the stories from those who worked or played in the league. And there were a number of stories told on a cold night in Toronto.

Here are some memorable quotes from the panel of  Gilles Leger, Brit Selby, Tom Martin and Rick Vaive. Another special guest was John Bassett, the son of the Toronto Toros owner, Johnny F. Bassett.

Back Row (L TO R): Brit Selby, Rick Vaive & Tom Martin. Seated at the front is Gilles Leger.
John Bassett and Gilles Leger share some memories.
Gilles Leger ('72-'73 to '78-'79 Front Office & Coaching Staff):"The franchise as a whole was like a ship going through the hockey market. It started out in Ottawa with Doug Michel. We weren't drawing extremely  well, so they decided to sell the team to Nick Trbovich, who lived in Buffalo. Then, Johnny F. Bassett bought the team and brought it to Toronto. They were a bunch of young entrepreneurs that wanted to own a hockey team. They wanted to do something different. John was the president. He was an innovator and a lot of his stuff is in the game today, like in marketing. I was an assistant coach to Billy Harris in Ottawa, and when we moved to Toronto, I became the director of player personnel."

"As we went along, the team went through cycles. I eventually became general manager of the Toros, and then, we moved the team to Birmingham."

"My player budget wouldn't pay one player today. The economy at that time was excellent to start a new league."

"These are guys who left NHL jobs to come and start a new league. They made it a good place for young players like Rick Vaive to come and play outside of junior hockey. I think the WHA as a whole really helped hockey."

Tom Martin ('72-'72 Ottawa/'73-'74 Toronto/'74-'75 Toronto): "I was in the Detroit organization playing in Fort Worth of the Central League. We started hearing rumours of this new league starting up. The NHL started to get a little worried, so they would send guys down to talk to us and they said, 'if you guys sign and it collapses, you're finished.' We all thought there was a lot of money to be made and maybe we should take a gamble. I'm proud that we took the chance. All our contracts were guaranteed in Ottawa. They signed us for three years and all our money was in the bank. It was a good gamble.

Brit Selby ('72-'73 Quebec & New England/'73-'74 Toronto/'74-'75 Toronto): "I was at the end of my career. I was 27. I was sent by the St. Louis Blues to Kansas City and I was finishing my career there. I had just about accepted a job in Switzerland in August 1972. I must have had my head in the sand as I knew nothing about the WHA. A friend of mine in Philadelphia called me and said there was a lawyer who could negotiate a deal for me in Ottawa."

"Buck Houle (the Ottawa GM) had been a big influence in my life from the time I was in pee-wee. He was the manager of our teams like the Toronto Marlboros. He knew me. I don't know if this is true or not, but I thought I was going to Ottawa. But the lawyer signed me with Quebec."

"We started out in Quebec and 'Rocket' Richard was the coach. He was so positive with the players. He was a good guy. One night I was coming home and there was a moving van. 'Rocket' and I lived in the same apartment building. I thought he was moving some stuff into his apartment. The next day, I found out he had quit. Around two weeks later, I was shipped to the New England Whalers. I ended up playing with Tommy Webster and Terry Caffery. I had more fun than any other season and we won the Avco Cup. For some reason, they traded me to the Toros."

"The WHA was wonderful to me. I probably wasn't the easiest player for management to put up with."

Rick Vaive ('78-'79 Birmingham): "I told Sherbrooke I was going to leave in my final year of junior and go to the WHA. It gave me the opportunity to play against men and try and get better as a hockey player in a better league. Sherbrooke was willing to match the $50,000 being offered by the WHA. I was absolutely shocked that they were willing to pay me that amount of money to play my final year of junior. I turned it down and took the contract in Birmingham. The best part of that was being with a bunch of other 19 year-olds (the other underaged players signed by Birmingham collectively  known as the Baby Bulls). I wasn't going into this all alone."

"Aside from the fact the year before I got there, they had all the tough guys, who beat the crap out of everybody. When they got rid of them and brought all of us in, it was revenge time for all the others."

Gilles Leger: "I got the young guys together and told them you got to have character. Hockey was very tough at that time. They started it in Philadelphia and we continued it in Birmingham. I told the kids one thing you do when you start fighting is grab on and duck a lot. Don't try and throw any punches."

Brit Selby: "If someone challenged you, you would never back-off. I got clobbered by John Ferguson and I fought Jerry Korab."

Rick Vaive: "John Brophy was our coach. One of the things he instilled in me was you have to stick-up for yourself. That will give you more room on the ice and a lot more respect around the league. But at times it didn't go every good. Dave Semenko suckered me and knocked me out cold. John Brophy asked our trainer, Larry Ashley, if I was okay and he said no. Brophy was screaming we should just send him home if we can't play!"

"I remember we were playing New England one night at home and we had a 1-0 lead. Brophy put me on the ice in the last minute with a faceoff in our zone. One of our guys cleared the puck and I wanted to beat the guy on the other team to avoid an icing call. I beat him to the puck and went around the net. As I came around the net, I turned and skated backwards. I was going to put the puck in the empty net. And that's all I remember. Next thing I know, I'm Bambie on the ice and I'm trying to get up and make it to the bench. The following day, I looked at the film and discovered it was Gordie Howe who hit me."


Tom Martin: "It was good fun when we heard that Evil Knievel was coming to one of our Toro games. We all laughed. He took some penalty shots at Les Binkley and the fans really loved it."

Gilles Leger: "I remember John telling me that Harold Ballard offered to sell him the Leafs for $50-million. That was a lot of money at that time."

Rick Vaive: "We had Bear Bryant Night in Birmingham and there were line-ups to get in. I told one of the guys we should have Bear Bryant Night every game. Football was king down there. I remember him coming in wearing his checkered hat."

Gilles Leger: "In Birmingham, we had three different kind of teams to initiate the people to hockey. The first year, we had a lot of superstars like Henderson Nedomansky and Mahovlich. The second year, we signed all those tough guys. Then, we really were the Birmingham Bulls. We signed guys like 'Bad News' Bilodeau. The third year, we had all the young guys that could actually play."

Gilles Leger: "One time, we were playing in the Boston Garden where the New England Whalers played their games. The night before the game, Tommy (Martin) went out to get a pizza. He got mugged on the way back."

Tommy Martin: "They had a gun and took my Memorial Cup ring. We were lined-up for the national anthem before the game the next night and all the guys on New England shaped their hands like a gun and were pointing at me."

Brit Selby: "When we played in New Jersey, we use to change into our uniform at the Holiday Inn, then take the bus to the rink."

Tommy Martin: (on the relationship between the Leafs & Toros) "There really wasn't much of relationship other than exchanging hello's."

Gilles Leger: "The Leafs never recovered after the WHA. They lost too many players. They lost Ricky Lee, Bernie Parent, Paul Henderson, Jimmy Harrison."

Tommy Martin: "They wouldn't pay anybody. Dave Keon went in and told the Leafs the WHA were offering "x" amount of dollars for him to jump. And Harold Ballard told him we're not going to pay you, get out of here and don't come back when it folds. Here's a guy who spent his whole career in Toronto and wanted to end it with the team he had been captain of."

Gilles Leger: "We found 'Bad News' Gilles Bilodeau in Quebec. A friend of mine told me about him. I went down to take a look at him and drafted him. We played Phoenix one night in Toronto and they really intimidated us. The next time we played in Quebec City, I called my friend and told him to send 'Bad News' to Quebec because we wanted to play him. He developed a reputation in the East Coast League. I started him with Nedomansky. When Nedomansky scored, I sat Giles down. Then, when I put him out about ten minutes later, Nedomansky scored again."

"I put 'Bad News' on the power play and told him to stand in front of the net. A Quebec defenceman tried to take him out, but Gilles hit him over the head and his helmet came down his face and he was bleeding. After the game, guys came up to me and asked, 'does he have any brothers?'"

Tommy Martin: "We had one guy they brought up and I won't mention his name. He was one of these guys that all he could do is fight. We won a game in New England and Billy Harris, our coach, was so happy he gave the guys some money for drinks. The fellow who was called up came with us to the bar. We were drinking from old-fashioned glasses. I looked around and asked him where his glasses were. He said he ate them! He devoured four off them and all that was left were stubs. The waitress came over and asked where his glasses were and we had to tell her that he ate them."

This amazing story, told by Tommy, topped-off a wonderful evening of Toronto Toros talk. I can't think of a better tale that captures the essence of the World Hockey Association. It definitley was a show-stopper.


















Thursday, March 5, 2015

Jerry Junkin: The 90 Club

It's not everyday you get to attend a 90th birthday party, so when the Toronto NHL Oldtimers celebrated Jerry Junkin reaching this milestone, it made last Monday's lunch all the more special.

Today is Jerry's actual birthday, but the party started early when family and friends gathered to toast the occasion. And there was a gift, Jerry knew he would be getting. It has become a tradition that when a former player turns 90, a gold plate is affixed to a chair noting his name. This is a very exclusive club, which now has 5 members. In addition to Jerry, those who have been honoured in this fashion include Wally Stanowski, Bert Conacher, Murray Henderson and Johnny Bower.

Jerry stands behind his newly plated chair. Sitting on the right is Wally Stanowski.

A close up shot of the plate

Jerry took over the microphone and thanked everyone for coming out, then belted out his famous 'Pig Song'.

Jerry surrounded by his family.

Here is a link to a previous story I wrote on Jerry....

Jerry Junkin: Highlights


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Phil Samis: Marking the Occasion

It is always nice when someone from the Toronto NHL Oldtimers lunch is recognized by the media.

Phil Samis pictured with a copy of Lance Hornsby's piece on him from the Toronto Sun

Such was the case in late December of last year, when Lance Hornby wrote about former Leaf defenceman Phil Samis. For a Maple Leaf fan, Lance's 'This Day in Leafs History' is a must read. On December 28, Lance noted Phil Samis' birth in 1927 and gave a brief history of his time in Toronto.

While in the Leafs organization, Phil won a Memorial Cup (St. Mike's) in 1945 and a Stanley Cup (Toronto Maple Leafs) in 1948.

I snapped the photo of Phil holding the story when he made his first appearance of 2015 at Monday's lunch.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bob Nevin: A Return Visit to Maple Leaf Gardens

On February 17, the Ontario Heritage Trust launched Heritage Week 2015. The event took place at the Ryerson Athletic Centre, which is located in the former Maple Leaf Gardens.

According to a media release, "Heritage Week - which runs from February 16 to 22 - is an annual celebration of Ontario's rich history and provides an opportunity to recognize the important work of heritage organizations and volunteers across the province. This year's theme - Play. Endure. Inspire. Ontario's sports heritage - explores the traditions, innovations and heroes of sport in Ontario."

On hand to take part in a question and answer session was two-time Stanley Cup champion Bob Nevin. Bob played his junior hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens with the Toronto Marlboros and won a Memorial Cup in 1955-56. He captured hockey's ultimate prize with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962 and 1963.

During the Q&A, most of the inquiries came from students, who got time off school to join in the fun. In addition to Bob, several other athletes, including Olympian Perdita Felicien, were peppered with great questions from the youngsters. And it seems no matter the generation, hockey remains to be a hot topic. It was amazing to listen to the wide range of questions that were directed to Bob, who last skated in the National Hockey League in 1976 with the Los Angeles Kings. Of all the athletes, Bob appeared to be the favourite with those picking up the microphone to ask a question or make a comment. The most repeated phrase was, "this question is for Bob."

One girl told Bob she didn't have a question, but asked if it was okay if she could get a close look at his Stanley Cup ring. Another asked Bob to comment on the state of the current Maple Leafs. He responded by telling the crowd it may well be the right time for a rebuild. Also, Bob pointed out that he played several sports when he was a boy and encouraged his young audience to do the same. "You never know," Bob stated, "you may not like a sport, but until you've tried it, you won't know if you are good at it."

Bob made such a good impression that one student suggested that he join the 2014-15 edition of the Maple Leafs to help them get back on track! All Bob could do with that was smile as those piled into the basketball facility clearly understood that Bob and his fellow teammates from the 1960s knew what it took to be a Stanley Cup winner.

After the closing comments, Bob was swarmed by those requesting a picture or an autograph and he took part in several media interviews.

Bob Nevin wearing the Blue & White.

The Heritage Week launch was hosted by Anne-Marie Mediwake and Dwight Drummond from CBC  News.
Bob listens as wheelchair basketball player, Tyler Miller, answers a question.  Left to Right: Mandy Bujold  (boxer), Tyler Miller, Bob Nevin, Perdita Felicien, and CBC anchor Anne-Marie Mediwake.
A crowd favourite, Bob Nevin signs an autograph.
After taking questions from the students, Bob did the same for the CBC.
Last month, Bob attended an event hosted by Mike Wilson and Kevin Shea, honouring former Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson.

A trade on February 22, 1964, sent Bob Nevin to the New York Rangers, but 51 years later, it was great seeing him back at the grand old building situated at Carlton and Church.



Friday, February 6, 2015

The Last Time it Happened

On January 29th and January 31st, 2015, the Montreal Canadiens won consecutive games by a score of 1-0. In victories over the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, Carey Price earned the shutouts and Montreal forward Max Pacioretty scored the winning goals.

The last time the same goalie and skater accomplished this in back-to-back 1-0 contests was in 1954.

Early in the 1954-55 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings met in home-and-away games. The first encounter took place at the Olympia in Detroit on November 11, 1954. Starting in goal for Toronto on the road was Harry Lumley. After a scoreless opening period, Toronto's Sid Smith beat Detroit goalie Terry Sawchuk in the middle frame. The Globe and Mail described Smith's goal as follows:

Smith grabbed a pass from skipper Ted Kennedy before letting go a short shot that struck the stick of Detroit defenceman Bob Goldham, and sipped off-course into the cage.

Toronto's game-winning-goal was scored at the 19:44 mark, resulting in the Red Wings having to wait until the final twenty-minutes for a prolonged stretch of time to try and score the equalizer. And they came out blasting. Detroit carried the play for most of the period and out shot Toronto 15-5. Harry Lumley, who was celebrating his birthday, kept the barn door shut and the Leafs departed the Motor City with a 1-0 win.






Two nights later, on November 13, 1954, Toronto hosted Detroit at Maple Leaf Gardens. Fresh off a brilliant performance on Thursday evening in Detroit, Lumley got the call to start at home. Once again, the two clubs played a tight defensive game with Lumley and Sawchuk not allowing a single shot to get past them. The lone goal of the game came early in the third period with Sid Smith finding a way to give his team the lead.

Writing in the Toronto Daily Star, Gordon Campbell noted:

But came the third, and at the 42-second mark Wings' Tony Leswick was doing penance for hooking Ted Kennedy at 19:52 of the second period when Sid Smith scored the game's only goal. He was in like a flash to fire (shooting) Kennedy's across-the-goal-mouth pass into the rigging. 

Right down to the final moments, the Red Wings attempted to tie the game. Detroit coach, Jimmy Skinner, pulled Sawchuk for the extra-attacker and as Al Nickleson observed in The Globe and Mail:

The Leafs, fighting bitterly, prevailed and Detroit's Johnny Wilson helped by missing the net when in alone, to climax a spine-tingler.

The next night at Boston Garden, Sid Smith continued to hold the hot-hand for Toronto. He scored two goals in the Leafs 3-1 win over the Bruins.





















Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Afternoon with Derek Sanderson

He is considered to be one the most colourful and controversial players ever to play the game of hockey. Derek Sanderson burst onto the hockey scene in 1963-64 when he became a regular with his hometown junior team in the OHA, the Niagara Falls Flyers. On the ice, Derek took whatever measures were necessary to earn a victory. Off the ice, he didn't shy away from sharing an opinion or challenging the establishment.

On a recent visit to Toronto, Derek was the honoured guest at the first Sports Talk gathering for 2015. Hosted by Mike Wilson, the event took place on a dreary Sunday afternoon, but inside the bright lights switched on by a camera crew to record the festivities replaced the bleak skies.

Mike Wilson with Derek

Derek's appearance was made possible by author Kevin Shea. In 2012, Harper Collins published Derek and Kevin's joint effort, 'Crossing the Line'.  Now, they were ready to share the many stories from their highly successful book with a captive audience at Mike's Museum.

Kevin Shea with Derek

In a scenario similar to the early days of Hockey Night in Canada, Derek and Kevin sort of recreated the intermission feature called 'The Hot Stove League'. Back in the 1950s broadcast, a group of hockey men would sit around a set designed to resemble a country store. In addition to a pot-belly stove, the shelves were lined with canned and boxed goods. Nicely positioned in their rocking chairs, the likes of "Baldy" Cotton, Ted Kennedy and Syl Apps exchanged banter on all things hockey. With the advancement of time, the rustic country store is replaced with Mike's magnificent collection as the backdrop and Kevin took over the moderators role from Wes McKnight.

Keeping with this theme, there was no better way to begin than showing highlights of Derek on Hockey Night in Canada. Providing the moving images was hockey's top ranked video archivist, Paul  Patskou. Topping Paul's play list was Derek's first shift in the National Hockey League with the Boston Bruins. Called up from Niagara Falls, Derek skated on a line with Bob Dillabough on right wing and Bill Goldsworthy on the left flank.

On December 11, 1965, at Maple Leaf Gardens, Derek Sanderson's dream of playing in the NHL came true. It was a non-eventful shift for Derek, but there was one clue as to what the NHL could look forward to once he graduated from junior. On an icing call, Derek didn't let up when he heard the whistle. Instead, he muscled the puck away from Leaf defenceman Allan Stanley. To many, this could be interpreted as a brash move made by an upstart rookie.

The shining moment in Paul's line-up was Derek's first interview on Hockey Night in Canada. After being introduced by Ward Cornell, the intermission host began his questioning by asking Derek why he seemed to be cooling the rough play that he was noted for in Niagara Falls. "In junior," Derek replied, "the referees were allowed, I'd say, to be more severe with their calls and they'd call the cheaper things. If you get a penalty up here, you deserve it."


After several more inquiries, Cornell quizzed Derek as to what thrills he had experienced so far in his rookie campaign. "I got in a fight with Orland Kurtenbach, I guess that was one of them," Derek informed those watching the telecast. He also mentioned scoring a couple of goals against New York after the two teams entered the third period deadlocked on the scoreboard.

Near the end of the interview, Cornell asked Derek if he was still a bachelor. His response brought a huge laugh when he replied, with a grin on his face, "I am." The laughter came from knowing it would be a while before Derek was ready to settle down.

No video presentation involving Derek Sanderson would be complete without showing a clip from the movie Face-Off, which starred Art Hindle in the leading role. The plot centres on a hotshot rookie with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Billy Duke, who struggles with some off ice issues. Primarily, having a girlfriend (Trudy Young as Sherri Lee Nelson), who sings in a band and cannot come to grips with the violent nature of hockey.

In a bar scene, sitting with his agent and Billy Duke, Derek is introduced by Duke's girlfriend between songs. Enjoying a fine beverage and an Export "A", Derek stands and acknowledges the applause. In typical Sanderson style, he delivers this line when Duke is described as being one of the games future greats, "Maybe," he states without missing a beat.

The final Hockey Night in Canada clips showed that Derek still possessed his scoring touch in the waning years of his career. In this package, Derek scores a shorthanded goal for St. Louis, his first goal as a Vancouver Canuck and his second to last NHL goal while wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform.

When the lights went on, it was time for Derek and Kevin to begin their conversation. Here are some highlights. They have been edited and condensed.

Advice from his dad early on...

"My dad said, 'son you have to work around the clock, think it, dream it, be it, everything you do should be towards hockey'."
And Derek used this to his advantage. When the time came to do chores around the house, young Derek would point out certain pitfalls to his dad. For example, when a snowstorm dropped a load of the white stuff on the roof, Derek told his dad a fall off the latter could result in an injury, which could end his pursuit of earning a living-playing hockey. Upon hearing this, the elder Sanderson immediately turned the job of removing the snow off the roof to his daughter Karen.

On being scouted by Harold "Baldy" Cotton...

"One night in Paris, Ontario, I scored four goals...and "Baldy" asked my dad if I'd been signed by anyone. My dad said no and he ("Baldy") asks 'how about a hundred-bucks for your son?' 'Sure' (replied Mr. Sanderson) and I didn't find this out until I was 32. Bobby (Orr) got $800. and not just stopping there, he got a blue suite and they put stucco on his dad's house."


On getting the nickname "Turk"...

"We were playing a very close game in bantam...and I curled outside a guy and I heard 'hey Derek'...and I drop the puck to him and it was their guy. They started giving names to the sounds (to identify another teammate in order to safely drop the puck) and mine was a turkey. I had to say 'Gobble, Gobble' (thus the nickname "Turk")."

On playing junior hockey in Niagara Falls...

"They had just moved out of Barrie (Ontario) and came to Niagara Falls. I was 15 and I use to pull the barrels in the rink (to clean the ice surface). Ronnie Schock and guys that were in the National Hockey League are all playing and I'm just a rink rat. I was shy and nervous and really didn't know what to do. I stayed on the bench for a good 30 games, but you learn a lot on the bench."

Getting called up by Boston...

"Hap Emms calls me into the dressing room and says, 'son I think you are playing pretty good, I want you to go up to (play) the Leafs tonight. Meet the bus line and Eddie Westfall, here is his number and give him a call.' So, I got my little junior blazer on and I got my skates. I asked Eddie if there is anything I should do? He said, 'just take your time and let it happen'."


Speaking about Bobby Orr...

"Bobby Orr was suppose to belong to the Niagara Falls Flyers, we owned him, but Wren Blair got him to Oshawa. He was like a fly-in-a-bottle. Gilles Marotte (a Flyers defenceman) got him one night and crossed checked him in front of the net. He drove him into the crossbar and lifted him up because he was so light. He was so humble."

More on playing in Niagara Falls...

"We had a real good team. We had some defencemen that were really talented and we had goalies - Doug Favell and Bernie Parent. We had Goldsworthy (Bill) and Tommy Webster; there were a lot of guys that played in Niagara Falls, who could play anywhere."

Fighting while in junior...

" I never really liked starting (a fight) because I liked to mouth my way through it. It is exhausting to stand up and do that. It is a very difficult task. I only weighed 175-pounds. I use to put cotton-batten in my shin guards to make them look bigger."

On playing with the OHA Junior All-Stars against the Czechs in December of 1966...

"They were playing real well, so I thought I would go in and start something. I charged Jiri Holik. (At this point, Mike Wilson showed Derek a program from that game) I hit him and gave him a little jab, which nobody sees. I try to upset him, but he spits in my face. Now, I'm going to try and kill him! They didn't want to fight, they didn't want to use the stick, they'd shoot the puck at you and kick. To them, you've lost it if you want to fight."


Harry Sinden...

" I think he was the smartest guy to ever understand the game. He would come by and kick your shin pad and whisper in your ear and nobody heard it. He'd try new things and keep everybody up. He was the best."

On being a faceoff specialist...

"We didn't have the marks on the ice and then they tried to put the players feet apart with the markings. That really hampered hockey. I wasn't afraid to pull myself out of the draw if I didn't feel it or the other guy had beaten me a couple of times. My dad use to say you had win every draw all over the building. If you get each centre winning every faceoff you're going to have the puck 7 or 8-minutes more than the other guys."

Making the Bruins a team...

"Bobby Orr started a two-drink rule, meaning you got to come out for two-drinks (any beverage would do beer, milk whatever) and after that you can leave. And I never saw anyone leave after two. We stayed together and went places together. We got to know each other. It was a team that had fun and we all liked each other."

Winning the Stanley Cup in 1970...

"It was close against St. Louis, they didn't have a lot of name guys, but they did have Red Berenson and they had some pretty good goalkeepers. I'm glad Bobby scored the goal and flew through the air, but I'm behind the net (Derek passed the puck to Orr for the Stanley Cup winning goal) and out of view in the picture. Every time I sign a picture of that goal I draw an arrow and sign the back. People try to make comparisons, but Bobby was different. He had a speed and overdrive that I don't think a lot of people can see and I don't think he even knew he had it. He knew at one certain point he would go straight instead of cutting in. He'd go straight first, then cut in. He was just a great hockey player and a great guy."

After winning another Stanley Cup in 1972, the WHA came calling...

"The only time you can win any negotiation, at any level, is when you have the ability, power and guts to walk away. If you don't walk away you've lost all your power. I met this guy, Bernie Brown, who owns 50% of the WHA Philadelphia Blazers. His partner, who is a lawyer, only came in with 50% of the franchise fee, which was nothing. So, he was giving me Bernie Brown's money. We went back and forth, but I just didn't want to go. We had Andre Lacroix and Bernie Parent, but I just didn't want to go the WHA. When me met, they offered me $2.3-million dollars. I was absolutely stunned. I told them to give me five banking days to make a decision. Then, I came back with more demands - a two-bedroom suite on the road and a driver for my girlfriend. They agreed and I thought when are they going to say no to me? Then, I realized the lawyer was giving me Brown's money. I took it and it turned out to be $2.6-million dollars. At one point, I said if you put $50,000 more in there, I would be the highest paid athlete in the world, beating the soccer player Pele. They said 'okay'. The number looks like a telephone number."

Going back to the NHL...

"Bobby said in front of the guys, 'I think you were an asshole for leaving us,' but if he hadn't done that, it would have been untenable. The Boston Bruins didn't protect me because I had a fight in the dressing room. Ultimately, I was traded to the New York Rangers. Then, it was off to St. Louis, Vancouver and Pittsburgh. The coach in Pittsburgh, Johnny Wilson, told me that I still had the head and hands, but when the knees go that is it. So, Pittsburgh didn't resign me."

` ` `
Besides talking about his hockey career, Derek spoke about his battle against alcohol and drugs. "I was a full-fledged alcoholic and addicted to seven drugs," Derek stated. "I should be dead, but there is a lot of great people in the world, that seem to help us all. I would have been nothing without them, the people who took me in and edged me along." He also provided this insight, "Nobody ever gets sober without some kind of an awakening, understanding or higher power."

Back in the day, Derek's lifestyle was often chronicled in newspaper and magazine articles. Pictorial spreads showed Derek clutching a drink in one hand and an attractive lady in the other. Away from the rink, Derek's part-time job exposed him to all sorts of temptations.

"I was contacted by Joe Namath and he asked me if I would like to be his partner in another Bachelors 111," Derek recalled of his conversation with the New York Jets QB. Bachelors 111 was a nightclub Namath owned in the Big Apple. At the time, Namath was being pressured by the National Football League to give up his interest in the club. He contacted Derek to counter the NFL and open up shop away from New York City. "I was making $11,000 a year playing hockey and Joe offered me a new Lincoln and $30,000 to run the club in Boston. Also, he offered me the power-of-the-pen. This meant that  friends could come in and I'd sign their cheque. It was all on the club. Unless you've ever owned a bar, you wouldn't believe the magnet that was."


Down the road, Derek opened his own place in Boston, Daisy Buchanan's, and developed a routine during the hockey season. "Practice finished around noon and I would have 5 or 6 beers in the afternoon. It was then time for dinner at the club and I would take a lady home. It was off the charts. That wasn't me. My mother didn't raise me that way."

Following Derek and Kevin's chat, the floor was open for questions and answers.

To read Derek Sanderson's more spicier stories, I suggest dishing out the coin to purchase a copy of "Crossing the Line'. As the movie ads state, "It is well worth the price of admission."

In the Acknowledgements for his book, Derek wrote, "Through family, friendships and faith - discovering there is something stronger than all of us - I was able to reconstruct my life. The people who really cared gave me the strength to get back on my feet, and I am eternally grateful."

On a Sunday afternoon when the NFL crowned their conference champions, Derek Sanderson talked about what it takes to be a champion both on and off the ice.


Photo credits: The author / Paul Cookson (http://www.adarmygroup.com) & Mike Wilson (http://www.ultimateleafsfan.com).














Friday, January 9, 2015

The First Step

It all has to start somewhere, that first step which hopefully, leads to a career in the National Hockey League. For some the dream comes true, but for many like myself we never got to skate in a pro game.

In the case of Sid Smith, his journey to the National Hockey League began in early 1943. Born and raised in the city of Toronto, Sid signed-up to play another season in the Toronto Hockey League. The 1943 hockey year was of particular importance, as it marked Sid's last season before being considered for junior.

Courtesy of Blaine Smith

As the above T.H.L. certificate documents, Sid registered on January 6, 1943, to participate in the Juvenile Series. He was returning for another campaign with Carmen Bush's Columbus Boys' Club.

Carmen Bush was born in 1912 and started organizing sports leagues when he was only 10 years old. His first venture involved street leagues. As the name indicates, Bush would take community street teams and incorporate them into a league.

Eventually, Bush became associated with the Columbus Boys' Club in the 1930s. Starting as a volunteer, Bush made his way through the ranks and was appointed club director. The Columbus Boys' Club offered a variety of sports for youngsters residing near Christie Pits in Toronto.

Sid Smith, front row-left, wearing his Columbus Boys' sweater in the early 1940s. Courtesy of Blaine Smith

Carmen Bush's influence on young Sid Smith remained with the future Toronto Maple Leaf for his entire life.

"Carmen Bush started me in hockey," Sid Smith told author Jack Batten. "He ran the Columbus Boy's Club in a barnstorming old clubhouse over Bellwoods Avenue, and he taught us baseball, hockey, football, everything. He taught the fundamentals. After I'd started in Christie Pits, I went with Carmen's teams in the Toronto Hockey League from the time I was thirteen until I was seventeen, and I never forgot his lessons."

In 1943-44, after sharpening his hockey skills with the Columbus Boys' Club, Sid made the jump to Junior "B" with a local high school, Toronto De La Salle Oaklands. Over the next two seasons, Sid played Junior "A" in Oshawa and Senior "A" with the Toronto Staffords.

Courtesy of Blaine Smith

Then, in 1946-47, Sid Smith took one final step to reach his goal of playing in the National Hockey League. In February of 1947, Sid was called-up from the Pittsburgh Hornets by Conn Smythe's Toronto Maple Leafs. He would go on to wear the Blue and White for his entire career - 601 regular season encounters -  in the NHL. In addition to capturing several Stanley Cups and being a First Team All-Star left-winger, Sid was a two-time Lady Byng winner and served as team captain.

Decades later, my first significant step came in 1966. After being registered in a House League, I donned the  goalie pads to play between the pipes.



 Like Sid Smith, I progressed to the Juvenile level, but didn't advance any further. Still, I enjoyed playing the game and it showed me how difficult it was for guys like Sid Smith to take that next step and how truly gifted one has to be to make a living playing hockey.