Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jerry Junkin: Highlights from the Past

At the request of event organizer, Al Shaw, I began a series of talks this month honouring the players and other dedicated individuals, who attend the NHL Oldtimers Lunch. The person profiled to kick things off was Jerry Junkin.

Below is a transcript of my speech and a Q&A session with Jerry.

Markham, Ontario
February 3, 2014

Often, when doing research, it can become frustrating when you hit a brick wall. At times, it goes no further than the statistical information for a player. When delving into Jerry Junkin's past, I thought I could go no further than the data available on fact sheets.

Then, I hit pay dirt when I discovered a Toronto Daily Star article published on June 3,1944, 70 years-ago this upcoming spring. The headline screamed out to me - it read "HIGHLIGHTS IN LIFE AND TIMES OF JERRY JUNKIN".

The piece begins by mentioning Jerry's time as a young lad running errands and doing chores for former Maple Leaf star Harvey "Busher" Jackson, who played on Toronto's famous Kid Line with Joe Primeau and Pete's Dad Charlie Conacher. Jackson's cottage was in Bobcageon, Ontario, which is Jerry's hometown.

While skating with the Birch Cliff Juveniles of the Toronto Hockey League, Jerry's play caught the eye of NHL scout "Baldy" Cotton, another ex-Leaf standout, who won the Stanley Cup in Toronto's first season at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931-32. By all accounts, Cotton was impressed with the hustle Jerry showed in each and every shift on the right-wing.

In 1943-44, Jerry began the year in junior with the Toronto Marlboros, but was summoned, on the recommendation of Cotton, by the EAHL Boston Olympics at mid-season. In 9 contests, Jerry collected 6 goals and 6 assists.

When his season came to a close, Jerry didn't forget Cotton for being in his corner. During his travels, he bought Cotton a gift to show his appreciation.

Cotton's comments after receiving the youngsters expression of gratitude provides insight into Jerry Junkin the hockey player and person. Cotton told the Star reporter this about Jerry. "He's only 19 and may never be a major leaguer, but he brings me back 50 great cigars from out west, so he's tops in my book."

Jerry may have never made it to the big show, but it didn't stop him from picking up a stick and jumping over the boards.

Before closing the book on competitive hockey, he signed on with the Hollywood Wolves and ventured out to California to dazzle crowds during the 1944-45 Pacific Coast Hockey League schedule. Jerry demonstrated his skills on offence by registering 21 points in 17 outings.

Upon returning to Canada, he captured several championships in the THL's Major Commercial League between 1945-46 and his final term in 1949-50 with the Toronto Staffords.

Game Two of the 1947 Toronto Hockey League championship round is an example of Jerry's ability to score and stick his nose into the action. At that time, he was in his first year with the Toronto Barkers. The game story in The Toronto Telegram sums up Jerry's talent and determination to tackle all challenges, no matter how big they were,  when he took to the ice. A portion of the text notes, "Jerry not only performed the three-goal hat trick for his team, but was the instigator of one of the wildest free-for-all scraps seen at the U of T rink this winter." It goes on to provide an explanation for the fireworks. "Junkin started it all when he swung at big John Knipfel...during a faceoff."

Clearly, Jerry would have no difficulty fitting in on a present day team managed by Brian Burke.

One quote from the Toronto Daily Star article in 1944, really drives home Jerry's positive attitude and what the game of hockey meant to him. First, the reporter set the scene. "Rooming with Art Jackson at the Manger Hotel, Jerry would wake up in the morning, stretch, and reflect loud." Then came Jerry's wonderful appraisal of the situation he found himself in at the start of each new day while employed by the Boston Olympics. "What a life! Nothing to do but play hockey. Sure is a swell way to make a living. How long has this been going on?"

Through the years, Jerry never lost his enthusiasm for our great sport and in many ways is a classic example of someone who played for the love of the game.

Next month, Jerry will turn 89 and we all wish him good health and many more years watching the game which filled his life with enormous joy and memories.

Thank you.

Jerry Junkin (2014)

Q&A with Jerry Junkin...

When you were a youngster, who was your favourite NHL player?

Jerry Junkin: "Harvey 'Busher' Jackson. He used to come to Bobcageon where his cottage was located. I got to know him and he used to take me around in his car. He was a real good hockey player. I remember him playing with Primeau and Conacher."

Did you try to play like him?

Jerry Junkin: "I tried to be speedy like him, which I thought I was, but I wasn't as good a goal scorer as Harvey. I always enjoyed how Harvey played on Saturday nights."

Did you gather around the radio to listen to Foster Hewitt on Hockey Night in Canada?

Jerry Junkin: "We use to gather around the stove in the hardware store in Bobcageon. A bunch of us kids would listen to the game and be real happy about it."

Did Foster Hewitt paint a picture of how fast 'Busher' Jackson was?

Jerry Junkin: "He sure did. 'Busher' was always in a lot of plays that went on with him, Primeau and Conacher."

You played with a future Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman, Allan Stanley, during your time with the Boston Olympics - can you describe the type of player he was in the early stages of his career?

Jerry Junkin: "Allan was a very clever player. He could always take the wingers out and move them into the corner. He could check them hard. Allan was the type of person that would never get upset or hurt anybody. He played the game clean and he was an excellent player with the Boston Olympics. He had no problems moving the puck up to the forwards. I knew Allan was going to make the NHL. Also, Fernie Flaman was there and I knew he would make it to the National Hockey League."

In the February 15, 1947, edition of The Toronto Telegram, there is a photo of you and the caption states 'Speedy Winger'. The text below describes you as a 'fast-skating winger'. Like 'Busher' Jackson, did speed become your greatest asset?

Jerry Junkin (1947) - "Speedy Winger"

Jerry Junkin: "Yes, I always wanted to be a fast player. I wanted to get the puck. I could cut in on the goal and score. They use to feed me the puck a lot. Speed was the best part of my game and that is why 'Baldy' Cotton picked me up."

What was the highlight of your career?

Jerry Junkin: "The highlight of my career was playing on so many teams and having so many good coaches. Also, leaving home when I was only 16 to play hockey in Toronto. Hockey was something I always wanted to play. I trained hard all the time."

*The above interview has been condensed and edited

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