Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Willie Marshall : AHL Legend

With the American Hockey League celebrating it's 75th anniversary, we take a close-up look at a true AHL legend - Willie Marshall. In part-one, we delve into Marshall's career in junior hockey.

Willmott Charles "Willie" Marshall was born on December 1, 1935 in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. After being scouted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he joined the St. Michael's Majors in the Ontario Hockey League.

Marshall's junior career began in 1948-49 when he played in 32 games for St. Mike's. In his rookie campaign, he scored 13 goals and added 18 assists for 31 points. Noted for his speed, the 5'10" - 165 lb, centre, brought his game to another level in his sophomore year. Known as "The Whip", Marshall netted 39 goals and 27 assists for 59 points in 43 games. With talent galore, St. Michael's knew they had their number-one centre in Marshall. However, things were about to abruptly change prior to the 1950-51 season.

In September of 1950, came word that Marshall had left St. Mike's and was joining the Guelph Biltmores. Roy Mason, a local grocer in Guelph and the manager of the Biltmores, had signed Marshall to a lucrative contract. He was to receive a salary of $2500. for playing, financial incentives for goal production and a $500. signing bonus.

The concern over the transaction was two-fold. The first objection came from St. Mike's. Father Ted Flanigan claimed that his club released Marshall so he could join the Toronto Marlboros. The second concern was emitted from the other teams in the OHA. The huge sum of the contract was staggering. Many were of the opinion players with equal or greater talent than Marshall could demand higher figures. The Majors appealed the validity of the signing. Club sponsors throughout the league wanted to discuss the concept of salary limits.

On October 6, 1950, the executive of the Ontario Hockey Association gathered for a hearing concerning the Marshall matter. All four parties pleaded their cases. Speaking for St. Mike's, Father Flanigan stated that they gave Guelph permission to talk with Marshall, but it didn't mean they were releasing him to the Biltmores. It was Roy Mason's belief a deal was in place - $500. cash and two players from their training camp roster - with St. Mike's.

Representing the Toronto Marlboros was future Leaf owner and President Stafford Smythe. He explained the unique working relationship between the Leafs, Marlboros and St. Mike's. As both junior clubs came under the Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. umbrella, there were procedural policies in place. Neither team could "raid" the other's talent base and if a player was being released, he would first be offered to the other club. In regards to Marshall, Smythe told Father Flanigan to make the best deal they could and the Marlboros would top it. Smythe became hesitant when he discovered the amount of cash Marshall was to be paid. He simply wouldn't pay, but did send two players to St. Mike's. Thus, Smythe considered him as being property of the Toronto Marlboros.


Willie Marshall
 As for Marshall, his only wish was to play in Guelph and he had the support of his parents.

The OHA issued a finding (October 6, 1950) that supported Marshall's desire to don a Biltmores uniform. Their decision was based on the following CAHA clause - "No player shall be transferred without his consent, and that no junior shall be transferred against the wishes of his parents."

With all the maneuvering going on around him, Marshall just wanted to play hockey. And that is exactly what he did. On October 13, 1950, Willie Marshall skated in his first game with the Guelph Biltmores. Playing against the Waterloo Hurricans, he scored two goals. The Biltmores won 5-4 on the strength of Herb Dickenson's (NYR 1951-52 & 1952-53) game winning goal with less than two minutes remaining.

However, that is not the end of the story. Another twist would be tossed into the mix.

Tomorrow, we continue to explore Marshall's journey through junior in part-two of Willie Marshall : AHL Legend.

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