Thursday, December 11, 2014

Barilko, Lewicki & Thomson

The final Sports Talk session for 2014 at Mike Wilson's Museum took place last week. And the first year of these talks ended with a spectacular finish.

Kevin Shea, a noted hockey author, began the evening with his presentation on the life and career of Bill Barilko. There is no one more qualified to speak about Barilko than Kevin Shea. His outstanding book in 2004, Barilko - Without A Trace, tells the wonderful and tragic story of the young hockey player, who scored one of the most famous goals in the history of the game, then shortly afterwards, vanished from sight.

On this night, Kevin provided what I like to call a condensed audio-book version of the printed edition of Barilko - Without A Trace. While Kevin supplied the commentary,  a PowerPoint display enabled us to view his collection of photographs and documents.

The following text is fully based on the content of Kevin's exposition unless indicated otherwise.

Bill Barilko was born on March 25, 1927, in Timmins, Ontario. He was the second son of Steve and Feodosia Barilko. His big brother, Alex, was born in 1926 and his sister, Anne, followed Bill in 1930. They were a close-knit family and very protective of each other.

As a young boy, Bill Barilko wasn't interested in school. He did, however, play goal for the public school team. If his eyeglasses happened to break during the action, Bill would squint his way through. If hand-me-downs, like ice skates, weren't available, he would wear his galoshes on the ice.

In addition to playing hockey, Bill loved the outdoors. In particular, the time he spent fishing. The strange thing about this is the fact Bill hated the taste of fish. He'd bring his catch home for mom to cook, but Bill wouldn't touch the stuff. Instead, his dinner would be some other food like macaroni.

On a large screen, Kevin showed a team photo of the 1942-43 Holman Pluggers, winners of the Ontario juvenile championship that season. Members of this club included Alex Barilko, Allan Stanley (Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame), Pete Babando (Stanley Cup winning goal in 1950), and Eric Prentice (brother of NHL player Dean Prentice). Bill held the position of stick-boy with the Pluggers. On the occasions when the second goalie couldn't attend practice, Bill would take his place.

Stuck in a stationary position like goal, Bill often complained to his brother about his feet getting cold. Alex's advise to Bill was that he should learn to skate properly. Taking this to heart, Bill would skip school and concentrate on developing his skating skills.

As Kevin pointed out, even when Bill reached the National Hockey League, "his game was anything but skating." What he lacked in ability with his blades on was off-set by determination. "He wasn't a great skater by any means, but he worked exceptionally hard and I think that was one of the reasons he made it to the National Hockey League."

In 1944-45, Barilko played for the Timmins Canadians.  His time with this team led Bill to the Porcupine Combines, a local club that often recruited players from other organizations. Allan Stanley, Larry Ziedel and Leo Curik, who was Bill's life-long best friend, also put in time with the Combines.

This opportunity was the first step in Bill Barilko's journey to pro hockey. A scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Johnny Mitchell, took notice of him and the AHL Pittsburgh Hornets gave Barilko a try-out. Although he didn't crack the Hornets roster, the organization found a spot for him in the PCHL. During the 1945-46 campaign, Barilko wore the colours of the Hollywood Wolves.

"He became a fan favourite for the Hollywood Wolves," Kevin told the gathering. "To get some press, their PR guy would put Bill together with the new starlets who were in town. It would be a fictitious date, which is something a lot of Hollywood PR people did and a wonderful looking lady would be in the arm of Bill Barilko. Stories of these dates would appear in the papers and gossip columns of that time and so he became known as Hollywood Bill Barilko."

Then, came Bill Barilko's rapid climb up the Maple Leafs depth chart. "Bill gets an opportunity to come to the Leafs. It's one of those things of being in the right place at the right time," is how Kevin described the circumstances of Barilko's promotion to the National Hockey League.

While in Hollywood, Barilko's coach in his second year was ex-Leaf Bob Gracie. Also on the team, was  Hart Trophy winner "Cowboy" Tommy Anderson. He won the National Hockey League MVP award in 1942 with the Brooklyn Americans, but after being so honoured, he never played another game in the NHL.

"Anderson really took Barilko under his wing and worked on his game," Kevin noted of their teacher-student  relationship. Anderson honed in on Barilko's "bodychecking and skating and that really helped."

When early February of 1947 rolled around, "the Leafs were having problems with injuries," Kevin stated. "Their natural inclination would be to go down to Pittsburgh and pull somebody up from there, but they were also shorthanded on the blueline. So Conn Smythe and Hap Day called Hollywood and asked, 'look is there anyone who can fill in for a handful of games as a fifth blueliner?' Gracie and Anderson suggest Barilko."

At the same tine Barilko was being summoned by the Leafs, Sid Smith, a left-winger with the Pittsburgh Hornets, also got a call to join the Maple Leafs. On February 6, 1947, both Barilko and Smith were on the ice for Toronto's contest in Montreal against the Habs.

Showing no signs of nervousness, Barilko remained true to his style of play, which was fine-tuned by Gracie and Anderson in Hollywood. At the Montreal Forum, he roughed-up Maurice Richard and in his home debut at Maple Leaf Gardens, Barilko manhandled Boston Bruin star Milt Schmidt.

"All of a sudden, the fans gravitate towards this guy," Kevin said of Barilko's growing popularity. "He's giving a great effort every single shift and he's bodychecking guys and sending them all over the place, especially the hated stars of the opposing teams."

Also, Barilko became a part of Toronto's business community. Along with brother Alex, they opened Barilko Bros. Appliances on the Danforth. "They sold stoves, fridges and televisions, which was a fledging appliance at the time. Also, they sold sporting goods of all-kind. Because Bill was a big music fan, they also sold recorded music. It was kind of a mini-department store."

On the hockey front, Barilko's physical presence left the Leafs with no other choice but to keep him in Toronto. And all he did while wearing the Blue & White was win Stanley Cups. In his rookie year, Toronto went on to win hockey's top prize against Montreal and became the first franchise to capture three consecutive Cups when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in 1948 and 1949. Their streak came to an end in 1950, when Detroit obtained some revenge by bouncing the defending champs in the first round.

This brings us to 1951 and the high point of Barilko's hockey career and the tragic loss of his life.

Always looking for adventure, both on and off the ice, Barilko often took chances by becoming involved in the action beyond centre ice. In game five of the 1951 Stanley Cup Final (April 21st), with Toronto and Montreal going into sudden-death overtime, Barilko was instructed to stay out of the offensive zone and pay attention to his own end of the rink. If he ignored this order, Barilko's bank account would shrink by $50 each time he broke rank.

Under coach Joe Primeau, who gained fame as a member of Toronto's dynamic Kid Line in the 1930s, the Leafs were up three games-to-one. They wanted to close out the Final in their barn and not let the Canadiens get their foot in the door.

Very early in the extra-frame, Barilko was  confronted with the sort of play that he was told to stay away from. His reaction would have to be made in a split-second. The Leafs had Montreal hemmed-in deep in their zone and were looking to keep the pressure on the visitors defence.

Leaf forward Howie Meeker was tied-up behind the Montreal net, but managed to keep the puck in play. Next, the puck seemed to go off Butch Bouchard's skate and slide out to the face off circle to goalie Gerry McNeil's right. Sizing up what was happening in front of him, Bill Barilko had to react quickly and accurately.

Kevin picks up the ensuing action.

"There's Bill having to make a decision. Do I gamble and defy the assistant GM (Hap Day, who told him to apply the brakes) and try and keep the puck in or get a shot on net? On the other hand, do I pull back because if Maurice Richard gets the puck he is away on a wild break."

After setting the scene, Kevin laid down the final strokes on the canvas.

"Well, he gambles and dives and backhands the puck over the shoulder of a prone Gerry McNeil. At 2:53 of overtime, Bill Barilko scores the Stanley Cup winning goal in 1951."

Bill Barilko received the following telegram at his Toronto home (the Eton Hotel on the Danforth) on the morning of April 22, 1951. It was sent by his brother Alex, who by this time was working as an official in the Quebec Senior Hockey League. It reads as follows:

CONGRATULATIONS ON WIN TONIGHT SCORING THE WINNER WISH I HAD BEEN THERE WAS LISTENING AND WILL NEVER FORGET IT GIVE BEST TO MOM AND HOPE YOU HAVE GOOD TIME AND REST YOU DESERVE IT DONT FORGET WHAT YOU WANT IN CONTRACT FOR NEXT SEASON PAY ME A VISIT HOME IN FALL=
                                                                                                  ALEX BARILKO.

There would be no more contracts for Bill Barilko or visits with his dear brother Alex.

Closing out his presentation, Kevin covered the awful plane crash in late August 1951 that ended Bill Barilko's life. In addition to the crash, Kevin delved into the massive search to recover the bodies (Bill and pilot Dr. Henry Hudson), which finally occurred 11 years later.

The room fell completely silent when Kevin played an audio track taken from a 78rpm record made by Bill and Alex. It was recorded while they were both living and playing hockey in California and it's a Christmas message to their mother.

"Well mom, we'd like to say goodbye now, this is Alex signing off," the eldest sibling imparts. "And this is Bill mom, bye for now," Bill states to end the recording.

The closeness between Alex and Bill was one of the main themes of Kevin's talk. For a portion of time both played in the city of Toronto. Bill for the Maple Leafs and Alex for the senior Marlboros. "Alex was basically entrenched with the roster of the Toronto Maple leafs," Kevin told us. "He went on a lot of the road trips when it was appropriate. He would eat with the guys when they were in town."

Blaine Smith, son of Leaf forward Sid Smith, was on hand for Kevin's presentation and the next morning he emailed this photograph.


Courtesy of Blaine Smith, who owns this photo.

Snapped in New York City, it shows Bill and Alex sitting side-by-side at the top of the table. Sid Smith is seated second from the right. This serves as visual evidence of just how close, as Kevin advised, the two brothers were. Also, it indicates how accepting the Leaf players were of Alex.

Also, in his collection, our host, Mike Wilson, has a hand-written letter Alex and Bill sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the correspondence, they ask if the Leafs would grant them a try-out so they could play together for Pittsburgh.

"One of the best things that ever happened here was when Anne Barilko-Klisanich (the sister of Alex & Bill) came for a visit," Mike said. "I took that letter down and she stood over in the corner reading it. She read that letter and cried."

The last word on Bill Barilko went to Kevin Shea.

"Right place-right time, great determination. Here he is now remembered all these years later. Here we are talking about a guy who last played in 1951. And his story is virtually as fresh as it was back then."

The next speaker was Bill Barilko's teammate with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Danny Lewicki. They played together on Toronto's 1951 Stanley Cup team. Born and raised in Fort William, Ontario, Danny Lewicki holds a distinction unmatched in hockey history and one which will unlikely be equalled anytime soon. He is the only player, while still eligible to play junior hockey, to capture the Memorial Cup, Allan Cup and Stanley Cup.

Danny discussed his hockey career and touched on a number of things. Here are some edited highlights.

His early love of the game...

""At nine year-of-age, I started skipping school. I hid my skates under the back porch. You can imagine how it'd be in Fort William back in those days. The temperature would be 30 to 40 below. I'd go to the outdoor rink and spend six to seven hours skating by myself."

On being discovered by the Toronto Maple Leafs...

"The Toronto Maple Leafs got hold of me because their head scout, Squib Walker, lived in Fort William. He ran an insurance business. He wanted me to go to Toronto. He came over to our house and wanted me to sign a "C Form". He came into the kitchen and piled up a bunch of one-dollar bills on the table. My mom asked, 'what's he doing with all that money on the table?' I said he wants me to go to Toronto and play hockey. She got a broom and threw him out of the house! She told Walker, 'no one is taking my son from me, get out!!' Eventually, I did go to Toronto.

Playing junior hockey in Stratford...

"I turned down a contract to play in Brandon and for the Marlboros and I went to Stratford because my coach in Fort William was there. I thought I would be more at home with someone I knew."

The dreaded "C Form"...

"After playing in Stratford, I didn't realize my coach, Leo Barbini, had signed me to a Form the year before my 16th birthday with Providence (AHL). He said it would be a great experience for me to go to their training camp. He said, 'if you go they will even give you $100 for expenses.' Like Bill's family, we were very poor and to give my mom $100 was like giving her a million-dollars. Then, he said, 'in order for you to get the $100 for expenses, they want you to sign this to make sure you show up at training camp.' Little did I know that I was signing a "C Form".

His refusal to play in Toronto and remain in Stratford...

"When Stratford asked me if I would fight the "C Forum" in court, I said okay (the matter, however, never reached that stage). Mr. Smythe was ready to kill me. They suspended me for about two months before I finally went to the Marlboros. Mr. Smythe called me up to his office. He was so furious and being an army-man he would turn beet-red. He called me an impertinent brat. And I didn't know what an impertinent brat was! I don't think Mr. Smythe ever forgave me for battling the "C Form."

On playing injured in the 1951 playoffs...

"Before the game, they would freeze my groin and tape it up. My job at that time, because of the way I could skate, was to go up and down my wing and make sure my winger doesn't score a goal."

On being demoted to Pittsburgh in his second season after signing a new lease (as okayed by Leaf coach Joe Primeau) on an apartment in Toronto...

"I told Conn Smythe about Joe Primeau telling me I could sign the lease (something he wouldn't have done if he knew he was being shipped out to Pittsburgh) and he said, 'is that all that's bugging you? If you go down to Pittsburgh and you prove to me that you belong in the National Hockey League, I'll buy you any house in the city of Toronto.' I went to Pittsburgh and I was there 3 weeks and I scored 17 goals and got called back up."

Did Conn Smythe keep his part of the bargain?

"He called me into his office and said, 'I've got a couple of homes in my area that I built (near Smythe's gravel pit).' On one street, Turk Broda lived there as did Gus Mortson. I liked one house that was on the corner right across from Turk's house. Smythe put in an offer of $10,500 and it was accepted. After signing the papers, Smythe asked me, 'by the way, can you live on $70 a week?' I said, what. And he replied, 'well, you have to pay me back for buying you the house!'"

Playing in New York after being traded by the Leafs...

"My career in New York was great, especially the first year. I had Don Raleigh as my centre and Nick Mickoski, who was a real good checker. We had a great line. I scored 29 goals and made the All-Star Team. The second year, Muzz Patrick took over as general manager and he brought in Phil Watson as his coach. Watson tried to turn everyone into a checker. As a result, my production dropped to 18 goals. After 4 years in New York, I was left unprotected and claimed by Montreal."

His experience in Montreal...

"They were looking for a left-winger to play with Beliveau and Geoffrion and I thought here's a really good opportunity. I really thought I was going to make the Canadiens that year. I was there until the last day of camp."

On playing in Chicago...

"My first year in Chicago, Rudy Pilous took over as coach. A lot of the kids he coached in St. Catharines came up. It was Bobby Hull's first year. I started the season playing centre between Ted Lindsay and Kenny Wharram. The first 9 games, I had 5 goals and 8 assists and I thought I was going to have a hell of a year. Then. I was benched 45 games after a run-in with Pilous. It started when Eric Nesterenko kept forcing a play and couldn't control the puck. I gave him the puck twice on a power play, but each time it went off his stick and into the other teams zone. They would then send it back down to our end. The next year, I wasn't even invited to Chicago's training camp, as I was sent directly to Buffalo."

Closing out his career...

"I spent one year in Buffalo and they made a deal for me to go to Quebec City. They had a working agreement with the Canadiens and I thought maybe I would get called up to Montreal when all was said and done. After 2 years, I didn't get the call and I got totally discouraged. I wasn't enjoying the game anymore and I told Quebec I was retiring. I got a call in the summer from the Hershey Bears saying they made a trade for me. They made a deal for me in exchange for Willie Marshall. I said if I do go, I would be stealing money from you because I don't enjoy the game anymore. Willie went back in Hershey."

Remembering Bill Barilko...

"About Barilko, you mentioned that he owned the television place on the Danforth. Television was just getting started and there were 12-inch sets. Turk Broda went over to see Bill and he wanted to buy a television, but he wanted a discount. And Bill wouldn't give him a discount. Turk said, 'I'm one of your teammates!' Bill responded with, 'I don't give a shit, you're paying full price!' I'll say one thing about Bill; he was one of the best hitters with the body that I saw in the National Hockey League. He wasn't a great skater, as Kevin mentioned, but he had the ability to get up so much speed and then all of a sudden, he'd get that hip in there. When he hit you, you got hurt. He had it down to an art. He was one hell of a great defenceman. It was a tragedy what happened that summer after we won the Stanley Cup."

Following Danny's talk, the next speaker was Jimmy Thomson, who began his NHL career in 1986-87 with the Washington Capitals. His final year was in 1993-94, when he skated in 6 games with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The other Jimmy Thomson...

"When I was 14, my dad brought me down to Maple Leaf Gardens and we'd talk about Jimmy Thomson (Toronto Maple Leafs 1945-46 to 1956-57 / Chicago 1957-58 / no relation). As you walked through the front doors, one of the pictures there was of Jimmy Thomson. I'll never forget that."

Getting into the game...

"The Toronto Marlboros scouted me and asked if I would like to play junior hockey with them. Harold Ballard was their owner. We had a hell of a team with Peter Zezel, Steve Thomas and Greg Johnston. Our coach was Tom Martin. At Christmas we were 43-and-3. We were the number one team in Canada. After Christmas, the wheels fell off. Peter Zezel was called up to Philadelphia and Greg Johnston broke his leg."

From goal scorer to tough guy...

"One night with the Marlboros against the Oshawa Generals, a guy takes a run at Dave Meszaros. I get on the ice and with four older brothers, I was taught to protect your own. I ended up fighting this big winner and knocked him out. So, the OHL Yearbook is printed a few weeks later and it says, 'Alberta raised winger has established himself as one of the best fighters.' Also in the OHL at that time, were guys like Bob Probert and Jeff Beukeboom. And I was a goal scorer. As the OHL career went on, I started not to like hockey."

The American Hockey League...

"My first year in the American Hockey League was with Binghamton. Larry Pleau was our coach and he taught me a lot. I probably had 20 fights and things were starting to change. I was drafted in the 9th round by the Washington Capitals and met with Bryan Murray and David Poile at our year-end meeting. They called me in and told me the 15 goals I scored were pretty good for a rookie in the AHL, but if I were going to make the Washington Capitals, I would have to fight. The next year in Binghamton, I had 41 fights in 57 games. I had established myself as the guy they wanted."

The National Hockey League...

"After staring the next year in the AHL, the Caps finally called me up. My first game was in Washington against the Pittsburgh Penguins. And my first assignment was to cover Mario Lemieux! Here I'am a fourth-liner and I'm starting the game against Lemieux. On one play, a drop pass went over my stick and resulted in a scoring chance for Lemieux. When I got to the bench, Bryan Murray really let me have it. 'I'll bury you so far that The Hockey News won't find you.' I never saw another shift that game."

Going to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993 with the Kings...

"Wayne Gretzky, before the Final started, told us that when you go home and brush your teeth, that is the only time you look at yourself and that's when you're real with yourself. It was something they did in Edmonton. If you gave it your all today for the team and were honest and worked together, we're going to have success."

Hanging up his skates...

"I got picked up by Anaheim the following year ('93-'94) in the expansion draft. I suffered a shoulder injury and after two operations, I retired from the Mighty Ducks."

Left to Right: Kevin Shea, Danny Lewicki & Jimmy Thomson
In hockey terms, the three stars of the night were Kevin Shea, Danny Lewicki and Jimmy Thomson and getting the game puck was our host, Mike Wilson!

















Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Huge Loss For Hockey

Last week, I shared my memories of meeting the late Pat Quinn.

In a very short period of time, the hockey world also mourned the passing of Murray Oliver, Gilles Tremblay and Jean Beliveau.

Murray Oliver was born on November 14, 1937, in Hamilton, Ontario. His first crack at NHL action came while he was still in junior with the Hamilton Tiger Cubs. When the Detroit Red Wings came to Toronto to play the Leafs on February 1, 1958, Gordie Howe was out of their line-up with a rib injury.

Since Hamilton was only a skip-and-a-jump away, Murray Oliver and his teammate, Brian Smith, were summoned by the Wings. Also getting a ticket to Toronto was NHL veteran Tony Leswick. A member of Detroit's farm team, the Edmonton Flyers, Leswick was expected to get the majority of playing time over the two youngsters.


The contest at Maple Leaf Gardens turned out to be a difficult outing for Detroit. Sparked by four goals from the brother duo of Barry and Brian Cullen, the Leafs hammered Detroit by a 9-2 score. In his debut, Oliver registered his first National Hockey League point, an assist, on a second period goal by Red Kelly.

"Called up by the Wings to fill injury gaps, were two juniors and an Old-Timer," Al Nickleson wrote in The Globe and Mail. "From the Hamilton Cubs came forwards Murray Oliver and Brian Smith. They certainly weren't the worst on the ice."

Both juniors accompanied the Wings to Detroit for the back-end of the home and away weekend games, but they didn't get off the bench. Oliver and Smith returned to Hamilton in time for the Cubs contest on Monday evening.

Only 19 years-old, Murray Oliver had a potential option if a life in hockey didn't pan out. In the summer of 1957, he signed a contract to play ball in the Cleveland Indians system. A centreman in hockey, Oliver played shortstop when he took to the diamond.

On the strength of his final year in junior (1957-58) Oliver's future definitely was in hockey. His 90 points in 52 games resulted in him being named league MVP and capturing the "Red" Tilson Trophy.

Beginning in 1959-60, Oliver earned regular employment in the NHL. He skated in 1,127 games with Detroit, Boston, Toronto and Minnesota. When his playing time came to an end in 1974-75 with the North Stars, Oliver had scored 274 goals and 454 assists for 728 points.

Gilles Tremblay was born on December 17, 1938, in Montmorency, Quebec. He began his journey towards the NHL in 1955-56 with the QJHL Quebec Victorias. The next year, Montreal placed him in the OHA. His new junior team was the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens.

While still in junior, Tremblay got a taste of the pro game in '58-'59 when the Canadiens main farm team, the Rochester Americans, called him up for a three game try-out. After the trio of games in the AHL, Tremblay returned to Hull-Ottawa.

Prior to graduating out of junior, Tremblay put in a season (1959-60) in the Eastern Professional Hockey League. The following year, he started in the EPHL, but after 14 contests the Montreal Canadiens wanted a close look at their prospect.

Early in 1960-61, Montreal hovered at the top of the standings, but were playing a loose defensive game. To help resolve this problem, the Habs promoted Tremblay.


His first National Hockey League game was played on November 12, 1960, at the Montreal Forum. Tremblay's big league career got off on a winning note as Montreal downed Detroit 4-2.

Next up for the rookie was an engagement on Broadway. After disposing of the Red Wings on Saturday night, Montreal travelled to New York to face the Rangers.

At the 15:26 mark of the opening frame, Gilles Tremblay netted his first NHL goal and it came against a future teammate, Gump Worsley. A UPI report described the tally as follows:

Tremblay's goal was a beauty. He took a pass from Jean Beliveau, skated around New York defenceman Jim Morrison and moved in alone on Worsley. The rookie left winger then faked Worsley twice before depositing the puck behind the confused Ranger netminder.

Impressed with how Tremblay handled himself, Canadiens management made a move to keep him on their roster. Another freshmen, Bobby Rousseau, was sent back to Hull-Ottawa while Tremblay remained in the big-show.

Over the next seven seasons, Tremblay was a mainstay with the Montreal Canadiens. He took part in 509 NHL games and connected for 168 goals and 162 helpers. A four-time Stanley Cup champion, Tremblay hung-up his skates in February 1969. An asthma problem was the major factor in his deciding to retire.

Gilles Tremblay remained in hockey as a broadcaster and excelled in his new craft. In 2002, Tremblay entered the Hockey Hall of Fame after being named the recipient of the Foster Hewitt Award.

Jean Beliveau was born on August 31, 1931, in Trois -Rivieres, Quebec.

After teasing Montreal management and fans of the club for several years, Beliveau finally took up residence in the Habs dressing room in 1953-54. It would end with him becoming a Honoured Member in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Many adjectives can be used to describe Beliveau's career on the ice. Iconic and legendary are the most fitting taking into account his status after making his exit in 1971. Along with Rocket Richard and Guy Lafleur, the Montreal faithful adored Beliveau. He set the example for his teammates and future generations.


Beliveau earned this reputation by rising to the top game-in and game-out and displaying leadership qualities. His pure talent and size allowed him to dominate. With this, came the accomplishments and awards (Stanley Cup, Hart Trophy, Art Ross, Conn Smythe, All-Star Game appearances, record setter).

"He was one of a kind, a classic," former New York Ranger Rod Gilbert told author Mike Ulmer in 1996. "Jean Beliveau was probably the best player in the NHL. He was a typical centreman with lanky strides and vision to both sides. You talk about Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Beliveau was as good as them."

After the news of Beliveau's passing broke, I spoke to Danny Lewicki, who entered the NHL in 1950-51 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. To this day, Lewicki remains as the only player to have won a Memorial Cup, Allan Cup and Stanley Cup while still eligible to play junior hockey.

"There have been many great hockey players in my era and Jean Beliveau was certainly one of the tops," Lewicki said. "Not only as a player, but off the ice he was a complete gentleman. He was very caring and hospitable to anybody and everybody. He never said no."

During the age of the Original Six teams, ownership and management frowned on their players fraternizing with the opposition. However, once they left the game they were no longer tied to the shackles.

"Over the years we became very good friends Jean and I," Lewicki proudly stated. "In fact, on my 80th birthday he sent me his book and signed it 'to Danny Lewicki on his 80th birthday.' He was just a super guy."

Lewicki's analysis of Beliveau on the ice pretty well sums up the opinion of most connected to the game.

"He was a great hockey player. He wasn't dirty and he had the ability that a lot of people just didn't have in that era."





Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Mighty Quinn

One can imagine how intimidating it can be for a kid when he comes face to face with an athlete who seems larger than life. A player so huge and physical that one can't help but be intimidated when in his presence.

Many of you will recall the Coke commercial which featured Pittsburgh Steeler defensive tackle "Mean" Joe Greene. On the football field, Greene was a force to be reckoned with, as he tossed the opposition around like they were rag dolls. When the television camera came in on a tight shot of Greene, the viewer could see the raw emotion on his face.

In the ad, Greene is shown coming off the field following an afternoon of dishing out hits and slamming bodies to the ground. In the storyline, Greene appears to be injured. While heading to the locker room with his jersey slung over his shoulder, Greene crosses paths with a young boy. As the two meet, The Kid, sensing that Greene needs a lift, gives him his bottle of coke. In a flash, Greene drowns the soft drink. As his new friend walks away, Greene shouts, "Hey Kid, Catch." At that moment, Greene pitches his jersey to the boy. "Wow, thanks Mean Joe," The Kid says back to Greene.

This commercial was so good, it won Clio Award for best ad.

On December 20, 1969, I had my own "Mean" Joe Greene moment.

This wasn't any ordinary Saturday in our household. All week long, I could hardly wait for a new day to begin. The countdown started on Monday evening when my Dad returned home from work. After dinner, he announced he had tickets to the Leaf game on Saturday night.

To my delight, the New York Rangers would be in town to face the Leafs. The fact the visitors were an Original Six club made the game even more appealing to me. Even in grade school, I had an appreciation for the five clubs my team battled before expansion.

Looking back, the game itself was a disaster for Toronto Maple Leaf fans. The Rangers, after building-up a 5-0 lead, when on to defeat Toronto 5-2. The Leaf goals came late in the third period with Ron Ellis netting both of them.

Aware of my disappointment of the outcome, my Dad made a suggestion that immediately put a smile back on my face. Picking up our pace, Dad and I made our way to the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room. Of course, we didn't get to go inside, but we knew our chances of seeing some players was good.

While standing against a wall, I noticed one individual slowly proceeding in our direction. I had never been so close to hockey player that seemed to be as big as a giant. A tap on my shoulder and a whisper from Dad filled me in on his identity. "That's Pat Quinn," Dad leaned in and told me. He didn't play that night due to an injury.


At first, I was reluctant to approach Pat for an autograph, as he seemed to be so imposing. I noticed his hands were massive and damage could be caused if I shook one. And I was sure my neck would snap if I had to look up and talk with him. Each push from Dad eventually landed me next to the Leaf defenceman. As I recall, it was difficult for me to get any words out. All I could do was hand him my program to sign. Being a pro, Pat struck up a conversation and personalized the autograph he gave me.



By breaking the ice, Pat put me at ease and his size and reputation on the ice vanished. Ever since his first NHL regular season game with the Leafs, Pat Quinn quickly became known for his ability to hammer the opposition and stand up for his teammates. For the most part, Pat's hits were clean, but due to his strength and size advantage they could also be very painful.

His first official Leaf game was played in Pittsburgh against the Penguins on November 27, 1968. Right from the outset Pat let it be known he was going to play a physical game. "Pat Quinn, another Tulsa Oiler, took Dorey's place on defence and bombed Angotti with a solid check to let the Penguins know he meant business," Red Burnett wrote of Pat in his debut.

I thought about all this earlier in the week when I heard of Pat's passing. A lasting memory I will have of "The Kid" and Pat Quinn.











Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Harry Howell: Stamp of Approval

It has been 38 years since Harry Howell last played professional hockey. After 31 games with the Calgary Cowboys of the World Hockey Association in 1975-76, Howell closed the book on his playing career, which began in 1952-53 with the New York Rangers.

During the month of October, Howell. an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, once again found himself under the hockey spotlight.

On October 2, 2014, Canada Post unveiled a new set of stamps called the Original Six Defencemen Series. The collection pays tribute to six defenders who patrolled the blue line for the Original Six franchises. Selected to have their image placed on a stamp were Bobby Orr (Boston), Doug Harvey (Montreal), Pierre Pilote (Chicago), Tim Horton (Toronto), Red Kelly (Detroit) and Harry Howell (New York).



Then, on October 18, 2014, Harry Howell was honoured by his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. Civic leaders, family, friends and hockey fans, gathered at the North Wentworth Twin Pads as it undertook a name change and became the Harry Howell Arena.



Howell, now 81 years-of-age, is no stranger to participating in events that recognize his accomplishments on the ice. Back in 1967, the New York Rangers went all-out with a celebration called Harry Howell Night. A ceremony was held prior to the Rangers hosting the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 1967. The contest was Howell's 1002 in a Rangers uniform and it set a record for longevity. At the time, Howell was in his 15th season in the Big Apple.



The day before the on-ice festivities, Howell (pictured above) received a Bronze Medallion of New York City at a gathering held at City Hall. Arthur Daley, who covered the occasion for The New York Times, spoke to Howell about his first goal in the National Hockey League. Daley noted that Howell's first of 94 NHL goals came on his very first shift with the Rangers in 1952. On the play, Howell watched from his post on Toronto's blue line as players from both clubs battled for possession of the puck around Leaf goalie Harry Lumley. Eventually, the puck made its way to Howell at the point.

"It was a screen shot," Howell explained to Daley. "And screen shots are a matter of luck. You just try to miss the first pair of legs in front of you and hope for the best."

Writing in The  Toronto Telegram about Howell's first spin with the Rangers, sports editor Bobby Hewitson, noted that, "...Howell in particular looked very good."

New York general manager Frank Boucher summoned Andy Bathgate, Dean Prentice and Harry Howell from the junior Biltmores. An injury to defenceman Leo Reise was the reason for Howell getting the call. A couple of other rookies, forward Ron Murphy and goalie Lorne "Gump" Worsley, were also in the line-up for New York.



Bathgate and Howell skated in their first NHL games on Saturday October 18, 1952, against Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. Prentice, would make  his debut when New York played their home opener on October 22. All three were brought up to the big league club on a three game try-out.

Following the Rangers 3-3 draw against Boston to kick-off the home portion of their schedule, New York management had to make a decision to keep Bathgate and Howell or return them to junior hockey. At a lunch held by the New York Writers Association on October 23, Boucher informed the gathering at Leone's Restaurant that both Bathgate and Howell would remain on the Rangers roster.




Beyond setting a new mark for contests played by as a Ranger, Harry Howell had reached the peak of his game in 1966-67. Around the same time as he was being feted by the Rangers, news came that Howell, along with Chicago's Pierre Pilote, lead all defencemen in the midseason voting to become a First Team All-Star. In the second round of voting, conducted closer to the end of the '66-'67 campaign, both Howell and Pilote maintained their lead and were named to the First Team.

The crowning moment for Harry Howell came on April 26, 1967. Instead of starting a holiday in Florida, Howell travelled to Toronto to attend a Stanley Cup luncheon put on by the National Hockey League. And he wasn't there to enjoy a free meal. Howell picked-up a major piece of silverware and it had nothing to do with the knives and forks. Besides, this item was much larger - the James Norris Memorial Trophy. This award is given to the best NHL defenceman and at the time was determined  by sports writers and broadcasters working in the six NHL cities.

After the first round of Norris voting, it was announced in January 1967 that Howell received 79 votes. This put him in top spot amongst  all other NHL rearguards. At the end of the season, 34 more ballots were counted in Howell's favour. His total of 113 votes were the most garnered by a defenceman and gave him the advantage over Pilote (95) and Boston rookie Bobby Orr (36). In addition to receiving this prestigious award, Howell has the distinction of being the last player named its winner in the Original Six era.

Getting back to Harry Howell Night on January 25, 1967, it was the biggest party held in Manhattan that evening. The guest list included 15,925 fans that watched the bash take place at the Garden. A long table was positioned at centre ice and it served as a depot for the many many gifts bestowed upon Howell. As with any occasion of this nature, family members were beside Howell to lend their support and salute their loved one.



One gift couldn't be placed on the table and this simply was due to its size. And this one, a brand new Mercury Cougar automobile, certainly caught Howell's attention. "His eyes lit up and the crowd roared when the Cougar was driven onto the ice - and out stepped Red Sullivan and Louie Fontinato," noted The New York Times. Both Sullivan and Fontinato were former teammates of Howell's with the Rangers.

Howell and his family were given so many gifts that perhaps, the most important one dealt with hauling the goods. "Most useful gift at Harry Howell Night in New York was presented by ex-referee Bill Chadwick, now a trucking executive," Jim Proudfoot wrote in the Toronto Daily Star. "He undertook to transport Howell's loot to his home in Hamilton."



When the time came for Howell to address his well-wishers, he knew there was one gift he hoped to present to them in the not too distant future. "I hope to be out here again," Howell began. "When I am, it will be to hold the Stanley Cup."

Though he never won a Stanley Cup as a player, Howell did go on to receive a stamp of approval from hockey's number one Nation.




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

MLG - November 12, 1931

Tonight, marks the 83rd anniversary of the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Here are some pages from the November 12, 1931, "Official Programme" from the game played between the Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks.


Now, some clippings from November 12th & 13th, 1931


Memories & Dreams.

Monday, November 10, 2014

November 11th - Remembrance Day

I can't think of a better occasion to share some photos from recent visits by the NHL Oldtimers to Sunnybrook Veterans Centre in Toronto. Organized through the years by Al Shaw, the last trip took place on September 24, 2014.

Hockey is a powerful bond for Canadians and the love of the game remains with us for a lifetime. This became evident when observing the interaction between the Veterans and their guests. One can't help but marvel as the Veterans recall their memories from hockey's Original Six era and the players share stories from the time they played. The mutual respect and admiration between the Veterans and former hockey players is truly amazing to witness.

Al Shaw kicks-off the 2013 visit

A hard-hitting defenceman with Montreal & New York, Ivan Irwin makes his way around the room (2013)
A winner of two Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs  ('62 & '63), Bob Nevin signs an autograph (2013)
Bob Beckett (Boston) on the left and Pete Conacher (Chicago, New York & Toronto) display a  hand-out that the players sign (2014)
A closer view of the above mentioned hand-out which was designed by Phil Samis. Unfortunately, Phil couldn't attend due to a planned trip to his hometown of Edmonton, but he certainly contributed to the cause by donating the hand-out. Phil won a Memorial Cup with St. Mike's, a Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs ('48) and a Calder Cup with Cleveland (2014)
Danny Lewicki a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs 1951 Stanley Cup team (2014)

Dick Duff has a captive audience as he tells a story (2013)
Gary Collins saw some playoff action in 1959 with the Toronto Maple Leafs (2014)
Johnny McCormack recorded 25 NHL goals with Toronto, Montreal & Chicago
Forward Ron Hurst brings cheer as he addresses the 2014 gathering.  Ron skated in 64 NHL games with the Maple Leafs between 1955-56 & 1956-57
Jerry Junkin, who played with Allan Stanley on the 1943-44 EAHL Boston Olympics, signs one of the hand-outs (2013)

Cliff Thorburn, who won the 1980 World Snooker Championship, dazzled the crowd with several trick shots (2014) 

The visit isn't complete until Sunnybrook resident, Murray Westgate, makes an appearance. In the early years of Hockey Night in Canada, Murray served as a pitchman for Imperial Oil. Taking on the role of an Esso Dealer, Murray donned a serviceman's uniform and appeared on screen in several spots. His duties included doing live commercials and introducing the popular intermission feature called The Hot Stove League. Also, Murray did the sign-off at the conclusion of each broadcast. And how convincing was Murray as a gas station attendant? "I can't tell you how many times a stranger asked me to have a look at their car," Murray has been quoted as saying regarding the impression he made on the car driving public.



AHL Hall of Fame member, Jim Morrison and his lovely wife Wanda, spend a few moments with Murray (2013)
Two Hockey Night in Canada guys. Brian McFarlane looks on  as Murray holds up a gift from the NHL Oldtimers (2013)

During World War Two, Murray Westgate boarded a ship and patrolled the waters for enemy submarines. At the time, Canadian navy vessels needed an escort to look out for dangers at sea while transporting supplies.

In 2012, Murray told Toronto Star writers, Paul Hunter and Jim Rankin, in their Star-Dispatches story, I Remember, about his memories of when the war ended.

"I got the surrender signals on VE-Day," Murray said. "We were 200 miles north of Azores. When peace was declared, we got the signal in plain language. Everything was in code up until then. The war was over; splice the main brace, they told all the ships at sea.

Then, Murray commented on the discussions that took place. "As we spliced the main brace, we talked about the war. Thank God, that was the war to end all wars. We were happy about that. But it's worse now than ever.We thought that was the be-all and end-all for peace in our time. No way."

A clear reminder by Murray that conflicts around the world continue to put young lives in harms way.

Lessons passed on from one generation to another.

On Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs held a pre-game ceremony to honour Canada's War Veterans. With members of the Leafs and visiting New York Rangers lined up at their respective blue lines, eight Veterans took their spots at centre ice. Following their introductions, a tape of Sunnybrook resident, Jim Wilson, reciting the powerful and moving In Flanders Fields (John McCrae - May 3, 1915) was played for the hushed crowd at the Air Canada Centre and the television audience. "Jim did the audio reading of the poem at Sunnybrook," Sally Fur, a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook, told me in an email.

At Sunnybrook, Jim Wilson sits on the executive of the Veterans & Community Resident's Council. On behalf of his fellow Veterans, Mr. Wilson annually accepts a gift from the NHL Oldtimers when they come calling. Throughout the year, Gary England, who is a regular at the Oldtimers lunch, makes certain to secure the signatures of the players on a piece of memorabilia. Before dispersing into the crowd to mingle with the Veterans, one of the players makes a presentation to Mr. Wilson and turns over the offering. Last year, Ivan Irwin, as pictured below, proudly passed along a signed helmet to Mr. Wilson.





Jim Wilson's story of his time in the service began when he was 15 years old. The year was 1942 and along with a pal, Jim, like so many other young men, didn't come clean about his actual age when he enlisted. "With some handy work and a connection through the local Police Department in Westmount, Quebec, Jim's birth certificate conveyed that he was appropriately 18," Sally Fur noted in  her bio on Mr. Wilson.



His first assignment came in basic training when he served as the company bugler.

"Then it was off to HMCS Cornwallis in Halifax, Nova Scotia to be a seaman, learning knots and splices and Morse Code," Sally wrote of Jim's first real taste of life in the Royal Canadian Navy. "From there, he went on a Fairmile vessel, to the Belle Isle Straights of Newfoundland, to keep back German submarines that were working their way up the St. Lawrence River towards Quebec City."

Over a period of time, Jim shifted from the Reserve Force to the Permanent Force. This meant he had to be ready to cross the pond and get closer to the action. It also resulted in a trip across Canada to his new home on the west coast. "In Vancouver, he was sent to the HMCS Kokanee, and was stationed on a frigate, a large anti-submarine vessel with advanced technology and SONAR," Sally noted in her piece.

A pleasant surprise awaited Jim when he made his initial trip overseas. "Landing in Ireland, he was granted a leave and took the opportunity to visit relatives," Sally explained. "A visit he vividly remembers and treasures today."

Before returning to Canada, Jim patrolled the waters in Hawaii, the Panama Canal and Bermuda. Upon returning  home, he sailed on convoys out of Halifax. "Here, he saw the most interesting action, when he ran into a surfaced German Submarine recharging its batteries. It was a chase that lasted 24 hours, and one that he will never forget," is how Sally described Jim's wildest adventure.

Jim Wilson's career in the navy lasted for 23 years. In addition to World War Two, he contributed to the effort in the Korean War. Mr. Wilson earned the rank of Chief Petty Officer First Class.

Although Jim wasn't on hand Saturday night, his presence was truly felt by anyone who listened to his rendition of In Flanders Fields. The words of this famous poem coming from this Veteran of the Second World War and  the Korean War took on a very special meaning.





Lest We Forget.









Friday, November 7, 2014

Like it Happened Yesterday - Part Two

At the last NHL Oldtimers lunch, Blaine Smith was kind enough to show me a scrapbook his Dad, Sid Smith, created when he was a young boy.  Born and raised in Toronto, Smith played his entire NHL career with the Maple Leafs. Upon reviewing the old newspaper clippings it is easy to see that Sid became a hockey fan very early in his life.


A page from Sid Smith's childhood scrapbook


This got me thinking about my very first scrapbook which dates back to to November 7, 1964. It's the oldest item remaining with me from my childhood. Just the fact it has survived this long is an indication of how meaningful it is to me.

Surprisingly, I have a clear recollection of Saturday November 7, 1964, when the first clipping was applied to the scrapbook. I recall Mom and I working at the dining room table after enjoying a delicious dinner. Mom took the lead on this project as far as materials were concerned, but my input wasn't ignored. While Mom got the scissors and blended her ingredients for a homemade paste, I held in my hand the initial entry for page one.

Each Saturday during the hockey season, I followed the same routine week-in and week-out. Most of the day was spent playing road hockey or working on my shot in the driveway. Once inside the house, the newspaper took over my attention. I couldn't wait to get my claws on the sports section. Also, there was an added bonus each Saturday as the Toronto Daily Star included the Canadian Weekly Magazine.

The Canadian Weekly immediately tweaked my interest on that glorious Saturday in November of 1964. A beautiful colour photo of Johnny Bower making a kick save graced the cover. Looking on as his teammate prevented another goal was forward Ron Stewart.


The cover of my 1964 scrapbook


In an age where black & white still dominated, the vibrant colours of the Leaf uniform, the giant white crest stitched to the rich blue sweater,  seemed to sparkle when viewing the Bower photo.

Another thing that caught my eye was the size of the cover. A bit larger than most publications, I knew it would make an excellent cover for my scrapbook. Up until then, my shoebox contained smaller photographs extracted from newspapers and magazines. The scrapbook opened up new possibilities and a place to safely store these bigger pictures.

When I recently viewed the scrapbook, one thing instantly struck me - I never saved the article on Johnny Bower, "Secrets of the NHL's Oldest Star." Curiosity got the best of me as I had to know Johnny's secret.

To determine the answer, I made a trip to the Toronto Reference Library. Armed with the date it appeared, I didn't anticipate having any trouble tracking down the article. Going directly to the source - the Toronto Daily Star, November 7, 1964 - I came up empty. Doing some digging, I discovered that Canadian Weekly was published by Toronto Star Limited and distributed in a number of newspapers across the Country. So, when the time came to transfer Canadian Weekly to film for library use, the decision was made to conduct this process once, thus saving on costs. Filmed copies of Canadian Weekly, stretching over a determined period of time, would be found in one specific newspaper. For example, the Johnny Bower piece could only be located in the Montreal Gazette.



Thanks to modern technology, I made a scan of the article so it could be reviewed later.

And what was Johnny's secret?

"I think I discovered the Bower secret, if you can really call it that," wrote the multi-talented Jim Hunt after watching Bower in practice. "I've always had to work hard," the Leaf goalie told Hunt. "I don't know any other way to play this game, you see."




The timing of the Canadian Weekly feature on Bower coincided with his 40th birthday on November 8th and Jim Hunt explored the question of Bower's age.  The native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, was born in 1924. Due to his longevity in the game many wondered if Bower had in fact been born in 1924. The guessing before and after 1964 was that the Leaf goalie wasn't coming clean with the real year of his birth. "I've lied so much about my age that I've forgotten how old I really am,"is a quote attributed to Bower at an earlier time, which Hunt included in his story.  However, the date is indeed accurate and tomorrow, Johnny will be celebrating his 90th birthday!

While at the library, I also sought out material on Toronto's home game played on the evening of November 7, 1964. I can't think of a Saturday when we didn't tune in the CBC to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. My dominate recollection of November 7th was the scrapbook. Thus, the newspaper archive came in handy to secure details of the Leaf game that night.

Once my Mom and I completed our work, it was time to watch the game with my Dad. Poor Mom was bombarded with hockey. The TV schedule listed a number of selections she would have enjoyed viewing. All her life, Mom has been a big movie buff. At 8:00pm, CFTO aired the movie 'Picnic' starring Kim Novak. Another film, 'The Jayhawkers',  with Jeff Chandler played on WGR-Buffalo.

Overall, a decent assortment of TV programming was available before, during and after the hockey game.

The comedies began at seven o'clock with the 'Beverly Hillbillies' and continued through with 'Jackie Gleason', 'Bewitched', 'Mr. Magoo' and 'Gilligan's Island'. On the drama side, 'The Saint',  filled the time slot on CBLT-Toronto before hockey came on the air. Other choices in the mix were 'The Fugitive', 'The Avengers' and 'Gunsmoke'.



Another staple in our household was the show which followed the Toronto Maple Leaf telecast -  'Juliette'.  Hosted by singer Juliette Augustina Cavazzi, this variety series ran from 1956 to 1966. In the opening, she was introduced as "...your pet, Juliette."

But it was Saturday night, time for Hockey Night in Canada. To her credit, Mom never waged a TV war. An avid reader, Mom would curl up on the couch and enjoy a good book. And that only occurred after she put my younger sister to bed and made sure Dad and I were fully stocked with ginger ale and potato chips.

Although the opening face-off took place at 8:00pm, those watching on television didn't get to see the action until 8:30pm.



The contest between the Maple Leafs and New York Rangers was a close affair, with the visitors winning 1-0. The only goal of the game was scored by New York forward Camille Henry in the second period. The shutout was earned by Jacques Plante.

On the day of the game, The Telegram ran an interesting story regarding Leaf rookie Ron Ellis. The previous night, Ellis attended a very special event. As George Gross wrote, Ellis "...stood on the platform as one of the class of proud Grade 13 graduates at a Downsview Collegiate commencement ceremony." The next night, Ellis was patrolling the right-side for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Making the visit to the library nicely helped to supplement some missing details. The new information filled in the blank spots on the canvass.

And that is how I spent my day/evening on Saturday November 7, 1964.