Friday, May 8, 2015

1945 Memorial Cup

At a recent NHL Oldtimers lunch, I experienced one of those magical hockey moments that crop up from time to time.

As I was enjoying a conversation with Phil Samis, a former teammate, Johnny McCormack, sat down beside him and they quickly began reminiscing about their early days in hockey and their hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. These two wonderful characters were members of the 1945 Memorial Cup championship team at St. Mike's.

Johnny McCormack (L) with Phil Samis

Phil Samis (above), a defenceman, went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1948. The bulk of his hockey career was spent in the American Hockey League, where he added Calder Cup championship to his trophy case.


Johnny McCormack (above), who played up the middle, was noted for his ability to strip a puck away from an opponent by employing a nasty sweep check. He won a Stanley Cup in 1953 with the Montreal Canadiens.



On April 23, 1945, Samis and McCormack celebrated St. Mike's 7-2 victory over the Moose Jaw Canucks at Maple Leaf Gardens. Although Samis didn't play in game 5, he did see action in two other contests. The win was St. Mike's fourth in the best-of-seven final, thus making them Canadian junior champions.

Future Montreal Canadien, Leo Gravelle, was the scoring hero for St. Mike's in game 5. He notched a natural hat trick with his first goal resulting from a major penalty shot. John McCormack assisted on his third goal. The Globe and Mail noted of Gravelle's final marker: "McCormack passed to Gravelle, but the puck got mixed-up with his feet. He kicked (it) into position for a shot and beat Bentley with a short shot." The goalie for Moose Jaw was Bev Bentley, a member of the hockey family from Delisle, Saskatchewan. Besides this helper, McCormack added a goal of his own and another assist on a goal by Gus Mortson.

In addition to Gus Mortson, who later joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, a number of players listed in the game line-ups for Moose Jaw and St. Mike's went on to play in the National Hockey League.

Several of the better known names for Moose Jaw included Bert Olmstead, Metro Prystai and Ralph Nattrass. On St. Mike's side of the ledger there was Jimmy Thomson, Tod Sloan and Les Costello.

The coach of the Canucks, Reg Bentley, the older brother to Max, Doug and the previously mentioned Bev Bentley, played 11 games with the 1942-43 Chicago Blackhawks. His counterpart behind the bench at St. Mike's was Leaf legend Joe Primeau. The centre for Toronto's dynamic Kid Line, Primeau skated for the Leafs from 1928-29 to 1935-36.

The Globe and Mail reported on April 25, 1945, that "the five-game tournament between (the) Canucks and St. Michael's College drew 65,437 customers for a game average of 13,087, an all-time record."

The success at the box-office raised talk of Maple Leaf Gardens becoming the permanent home for future Memorial Cups. This proposal was made to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association by Conn Smythe. Also, there was chatter of a 'Hall of Fame at the Gardens for junior hockey teams."

Seventy-years have passed since the evening of April 23, 1945, however, on a pleasant spring afternoon in 2015, Phil Samis and Johnny McCormack talked about that time as though it were only yesterday.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Montreal-Detroit 1937

Last week when Tampa Bay eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in game 7 of their series, I was hoping for a different result. The prospect of Montreal and Detroit adding another chapter to their rich history of battling one another in the playoffs was something worth looking forward to.

They first met in 1937 when they went to battle in the semi-finals. The best-of-five series went the distance with the deciding game being played at the Montreal Forum on April 1, 1937.

A goal scored late in the third period by Montreal defenceman Bill MacKenzie sent the contest into extra-time. The following description MacKenzie's goal appeared in The Globe and Mail:

On a brilliant solo play MacKenzie brushed through Wings', edged closer while a wing checked him, then smashed a backhand shot past Smith from about six feet away. It was scored at 14:56. 
It took three overtime periods before the outcome was determined. The hero for the Detroit Red Wings was Hector Kilrea. The native of Blackburn, Ontario, scored when he, "...slipped through to take a pass from behind and score the goal that hoisted Detroit to the heights again and a courageous Canadien entity into the dreariness of defeat after a season of exceptional excellence."

Hec Kilrea

The Detroit Red Wings captured the '37 Stanley Cup by taking the best-out-of-five final 3-games-to-two over the New York Rangers.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Past Glory

Sure, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs haven't had much to celebrate recently, but that wasn't always the case.

Back on May 2, 1967, television viewers, tuned in to watch hockey, watched as Toronto defeated the Montreal Canadiens in game 6 of final to capture the Stanley Cup. These clippings from The Toronto Telegram are a wonderful reminder of what the Toronto Maple Leafs could accomplish.


Past Glory.

Monday, March 30, 2015

FaceOff - The Hockey Movie

On the first statutory holiday following the 1971 Stanley Cup playoffs, one would expect hockey fans to be basking in the warm spring air.

Normally, that would be the case, but on Victoria Day in May 1971, Toronto hockey fanatics converged on Maple Leaf Gardens for one more kick-at-the-can.

For .75-cents, an adult ( .50-cents for children) could get far more than hockey for the price of their admission.


As the above advertisement indicates, the Gardens was transformed into a movie set for the production of the Canadian produced hockey film FaceOff. I recall waking-up very early on that holiday Monday and dragging my dad to Church and Carlton to witness the filming.

The Globe and Mail reported that, "about 35 players representing six teams," participated in the action.

Johnny F. Bassett, the executive producer of FaceOff, told Rex MacLeod of The Globe and Mail that, "we've shot about 40,000 feet of film," up to that point.

Portions of this pertained to action photographed during actual NHL games and off-ice scenes taking place in the dressing room or during a road trip.

"Some things had to be done more dramatically, so today we had cameramen right on the ice," said Bassett.

And for those of us filling the seats, it was a totally different type of experience. Time-outs for commercial breaks were replaced by lighting and camera set-ups between scenes.


Two of the principals on that day were lead actor Art Hindle and Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman Jim McKenny.

Hindle's character, Billy Duke, is a prized rookie with the Maple Leafs. In the storyline, Duke meets Sherri Lee Nelson (played brilliantly by actress Trudy Young) a rock and roll singer, who doesn't know much about the game of hockey.

When Duke convinces Sherri to attend a home game, she sees another side of Billy. Engaged in a physical contest, Duke doesn't shy away from the rough going. Unable to stomach the blood and guts component of the game, Sherri bails and makes a beeline to the exit.

Their very different lifestyles is a major theme throughout the story. These two young, but conflicted, lovers, struggle to keep their relationship on track.

Distracted by his emotions, Duke's play on the ice begins to suffer. He losses his focus and it all comes crashing down in dramatic fashion, when he tosses a linesman (Matt Pavelich) to the ice.

Segments like the one involving Pavelich were filmed while the holiday crowd hooted and hollered in their role as one giant collective extra.

Jim McKenny, serving as Art Hindle's double, was filmed using a long-shot. The fact Hindle and McKenny looked alike, made the scenes they shared blend together flawlessly. A long-shot of McKenny skating into a corner gives way to a close-up of Hindle duking it out with an opponent. These edited scenes didn't lose credibility with the audience.

Clyde Gilmour, the Toronto Star film critic at the time, noted:

Director George McCowan, cameraman Don Wilder, film editor Kirk Jones and sound chief Al Streeter, deserve high credit for the major-league craftsmanship they have shown in capturing the speed, grace, savagery and tension of NHL hockey on their wide colour screen.

In an April 1971 interview with reporter Dan Proudfoot, Hindle stated, "I want my character to be halfway between the two (McKenny & Dorey) of them. Proudfoot expanded on this point, "McKenny resembles him closely...but Hindle thinks Dorey's temperament better fits the role."

It is understandable why Hindle would include Leaf defenceman Jim Dorey into the mix when preparing for the part. Dorey burst onto the NHL stage in a big way back in 1968. After his first regular season home game on October 16, Dorey's name entered the National Hockey League Record Book. He set a record for the most penalty minutes in one game, 48.

While McKenny was a perfect model for a smooth skating puck-carrying defenceman, Dorey fit-the-bill when it came to a character study of a tough take-no-prisoners rearguard.

The premier of FaceOff took place on November 12, 1971, at the Odeon Carlton Theatre. This venue seemed fitting since it was a skip and a jump away from Maple Leaf Gardens.


In early March on a Saturday afternoon, Mike Wilson, The Ultimate Leafs Fan, hosted a hockey version of the Bravo television show 'Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.' Here are some clips as Art Hindle, Jim McKenny and Jim Dorey chat about the feature attraction, FaceOff.


Art Hindle: "The first time I heard about the film was at an acting workshop taught by a guy from the Actors Studio in New York. It was explained that Jimmy (McKenny) was going to play in a movie called FaceOff that Johnny Bassett's producing and we should all do our best to help him accomplish that goal. So, that's what we did and we had a lot of fun. Jim was a great guy and we became friends. I guess at some point in time, John changed his mind. The next thing I know, the casting person was bugging me to consider doing the part. I said, Jim McKenny's doing it.

She said, 'well, he's not.'

I told her I'm not going to step in because Jim has become a friend and I don't like the optics of what that would be. Going back, I actually heard that at one point, it was a toss-up between you two guys McKenny & Dorey) as to who was going to play the part (of Billy Duke).

Finally, the casting person tells me I better consider doing it because Johnny's decided if you don't do it, he's going to hire an American actor. I talked to my friends and they said in that case, you have to do it because you don't want an American playing the best Canadian hockey player in the world.

The thing Johnny wanted was to watch me skate. We arranged a meeting at Tam O'Shanter Rink. I got out there and started skating around. My ankles started to hurt. For Johnny, I had one really fast skate around and I came to a really good stop.

He said, 'that's great, I'll talk to you latter.'

We started shooting late in March. First, I went on a road trip with the Leafs to Philadelphia, Oakland and Los Angeles. I missed the flight to Detroit. In Oakland during the practice, the coach, Johnny McLellan, told me I should put on some equipment and skate with the team. I did and Paul Henderson, who did not practice, was sitting in the stands with some Oakland players. They started laughing when they saw me stumbling around and falling. Paul told them, don't laugh, they just brought him up from Rochester, he's a goon and McLellan is going to start him tomorrow and you guys are in big trouble. Paul told me they all stopped laughing.

Cut to when we were shooting at Maple Leaf Gardens in late May. I'm skating all around doing my thing and when I skated off, Paul was standing there. He asked me, and I wear this like a badge-of-honour, 'how did you get that good?'

At one point during the filming they dropped the puck and we scrimmaged. I played Jim's position on right defence."


Jim Dorey: "He (McKenny) never played defence!"

Jim McKenny: "I went to the acting classes, but I was no good."

Jim Dorey: "I became involved in the movie because there were some fighting scenes. Art and Jimmy were up the ice in front of the net and I was back playing defence. It was a unique situation. Art really fitted in with the hockey team. The guys took it upon themselves to have him as part of the hockey team."

Jim McKenny: "Especially, when he missed the flight to Detroit. I thought, there's a player."


Art Hindle: "John made a deal with an American distributor and that was a big thing back in those days. I think it was Canon Distributing. They loved the film, but they told John there has to be more heat in it. John agreed to have a scene where Sherri and Billy are in bed. We went up to CFTO, the TV station owned by his family. There, on a sound stage, was a bed and some curtains. It looked like a porno set. John hated the idea of doing this. Trudy and I felt the same way. Trudy gets into bed wearing a negligee and they're waiting for me. I bounced out of my change room in full hockey regalia, skates included. I jumped on the bed and said, okay John lets start shooting. He fell over laughing and Trudy was laughing. John said, 'okay we're not shooting this!'"


Art Hindle: (on acting with the Leafs George Armstrong) "I thought he was pretty good. He didn't try to push it or anything like that."

Jim Dorey: "The other players dug the fact that something different was happening in hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs approved this and the NHL accepted it. They seemed to realize that there was a product after a product."

Art Hindle: (On the Victoria Day filming at MLG) "That day, I was the first one on the ice and there were already about 8,000 people there and the cheer went up. It almost seemed to lift the roof. It certainly lifted me. For that whole day I could skate like the wind. I even skated during the lunch break and talked with some fans. I wish I'd been able to go back and shoot some of those scenes which involved the athletes ego, so I could use it in that scene with Trudy (where Billy tells Sherri, "I'm younger, I'm stronger and tougher and that's why you dig me.") It's a unique thing, when 8,000 people are cheering."

Art Hindle: "I met for Slap Shot with George Roy Hill, who was the director. He was interested in me for the guy that strips at the end of the film."


Jim Dorey: (on the fight with Billy Duke in the dressing room) "We some improvising. i didn't know I had those lines in me. It wasn't anything I wouldn't normally do."


Art Hindle: "There was a scene where Ed Giacomin goes out behind the net to stop the puck. I come in and slew-foot him. Rod Seiling comes in and confronts me. We're suppose to push-push, drop the gloves and fight. We were doing take after take. I skated away at one point and wondered why the takes weren't any good. The camera guy, who was my best director, Don Wilder, told me that that Rod Seiling was laughing during the takes, so they were no good. In the next take, I suckered Rod with my glove still on and went on to do the fake fighting. They yelled, 'cut, we've got.' I jumped up and ran, I didn't skate, and ran into the Leafs dressing room and locked the door. Then, there was banging on the door.

"Open the f%#king door you prick, I'm going to kill you!

Finally, it's quiet and I hear some say, 'open the door, let us in.'

I said, no I'm not opening the door.

And they said, 'we've talked to Rod.'

I opened the door and Rod said, 'look, I'm sorry. Here I think you guys are making fun of my game and what am I doing? I'm doing the worst thing and making fun of your game. So lets go out and shoot it right.'

Which we did and we've been friends ever since.


Art Hindle: "Bobby Baun was great. I walked onto the plane (for the Leafs road trip) and I see all these faces. I'm basically a shy person. I see all these guys and I'm thinking, what do I do? How do I handle this? Suddenly, a voice says, 'why don't you sit down here.' I look over and see there is an empty seat. I sit down and I turned to see who the person was that spoke to me. I looked and there's Bobby Baun. He was the see test nicest man to me. He made me feel right at home."



Art Hindle: "During the game in Philadelphia, I was sitting with the guys not in the line-up. Fans could reach up and ask for autographs. So, people were actually saying to me, 'please Mr. Ullman, could you please sign.' After the game, I go down to the dressing room and Johnny McLellan says, 'okay you guys, good game, there is a one-o'clock curfew.' We went to a bar in Cherry Hill named Dukes. And then, we were going to go to Doug Favell's apartment and by that time it was around 1:00am. I told Howie (McKenny) it's almost one and reminded him of McLellan's curfew.

 Howie said, 'he has to say that.'

Then, I asked, what if he checks up?

Howie replied, 'well, my roommate is George Armstrong, he'll cover for me.'"


Art Hindle: "One time, I told Brian Spencer we were all going to the pub for beers. He said he couldn't go because he was going to San Francisco to get something. I asked him, what he had to get?

He response was, 'some bullets.'

That's when I left him.

Art Hindle: "At that same hotel, we were sitting by the pool. I remember Jacques Plante being there and some other guys. Dave Keon was sort of floating around. Everyone was asking me questions about what I knew about hockey.

Keon   asked, 'so you think you know a lot about hockey, well who has the best backhand in the NHL?'

I said, Stan Mikitia?

Keon, 'NO'

Jean Ratelle?

Keon, 'NO'

Esposito?

Keon, 'NO'

Finally, I said I don't know.

Keon, 'It's ME!!!'

Art Hindle: (could you make FaceOff today?) "You couldn't make it today, not with the mindset the NHL has. Certainly not with the Leafs, they wouldn't agree to it. And certainly not with the NHLPA. It captures a piece of time. When you watch the film, it's a time capsule for the city of Toronto, the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. You've got Beliveau walking past the camera. You've got Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson. And don't forget the two goalies they had on that team, Jacques Plante and Bernie Parent."

Art Hindle: (on a sequel) "Sports movies rarely work. We all love sports and we've all gone to see sports movies, but they seldom make money.They are a tough sell. The few that have made it, like Bull Durham, are funky and outside-of-the-box. There are a certain niche of people who love FaceOff. There is not a market for it. You'd have a lot of trouble finding money. You have to make it and find distribution."


As the curtain fell to close out the conversation between Art and the two Jim's, their audience showed their approval with thunderous applause.

This critic gave it two thumbs-up and 5-out-of-5 stars!
























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.