Saturday, November 12, 2016


This being Toronto's centennial season, there is no bigger or important date in Maple Leafs history than November 12, 1931. It was 85 years ago tonight that Maple Leaf Gardens opened and a new era began.

In their new building, the Leafs won the Stanley Cup on April 9, 1932, against the New York Rangers. They went on to capture ten more Cups with the last coming in 1967.

The Gardens was not only the domicile to Leaf captains (pictured below from left to right) Hap Day, Charlie Conacher, Red Horner ( Leaf owner/manager Conn Smythe), Syl Apps, Bob Davidson, Ted Kennedy and Sid Smith, but also was the hockey home for generations of Leaf fans.

On the radio, young and old used their imagination to visualize the play being called by Foster Hewitt from his post in the gondola. When television arrived in 1952, families gathered in the living room and had the chance to witness the action from the hockey shrine at Carlton and Church. It was as though they had their own seat in the greys or greens. Saturday was Hockey Night in Canada from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


O, land of blue unending skies,
Mountains strong and sparkling snow,
A scent of freedom in the wind,
O'er the emerald fields below,
For thee we brought or hopes, our dreams,
For thee we stand together,
Our land of peace, where proudly flies,
The Maple Leat Forever

-Revised lyrics by Vladimir Radian, 1997-

On October 23, 2016, the launch for "The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication 1917-2017" was held in Toronto.

The launch took place at the home of Mike Wilson and Debra Thuet, which is also the site of Wilson's incredible collection of Maple Leaf memorabilia. So, the surroundings were perfect for an afternoon of Leaf talk.

The focus on this occasion was author Kevin Shea and his latest effort. Unfortunately, his co-author, Jason Wilson, was unable to attend due to a previous commitment. 

Upon seeing and handling the "Official Centennial Publication" one quickly realizes the care and attention to detail behind its creation. You become aware of this when touching the raised Maple Leaf crest and lettering on the solid blue/grey hardcover. The cover is eloquently designed and void of any visible distractions.

And the attention to detail continues over the 375 pages of text. The Toronto Maple Leafs one hundred year story is nicely structured by featuring the different era's and decades. It begins with "The Noble Cause"(1917-18 to 1918-19) and ends with "Hope"(2015-16 and beyond).

Shea's solid and concise writing helps the reader connect with all the generations that make-up the Leafs story. It delves into an unknown past for many and recalls memories fans were able to experience. Shea, now with 14 books under-his-belt, delivered both an informative and fun read.

Concerning the unknown past, how many know that Toronto almost lost their NHL franchise in 1927. In the chapter "Blue and White" Shea documents how Conn Smythe and his associates came to the rescue and prevented the team from moving to Philadelphia.

Then, there are the personal stories of the players and what it meant to them to wear the Leafs' uniform. One of the most moving of these tales belongs to Kurt Walker, who skated for Toronto from 1976 to 1978. He told Kevin Shea about what happened before his first game at Maple Leaf Gardens. "These were the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I was now one of them! As I walked out to the ice surface with the team, I saw my dad standing in the runway with a big smile on his face. He leaned over to me and said, 'You made it! I love you!' I told my dad that I loved him, too."

There isn't a Leaf fan around that hasn't dreamed of sharing Walker's experience with their own father. 

Another delightful part of the book is the glorious photographs. For example, one page is dedicated to showing two separate pictures of the Leafs captains through the ages. It pays tribute to the men that led the team in the dressing room and on the ice.

If Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment decides to put together a time capsule to mark their one hundred year history, this book deserves a spot. It weaves together the complete story of the Maple Leaf Forever. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


It is called the wow-factor, that moment when you are struck right between the eyes. For fans visiting Mike Wilson's hockey collection, the wow-factor strikes as you descend down the stairs to the lower-level of his home. Then, when you reach the bottom, your feet don't know if they should turn left or right, as you're immediately surrounded by glorious memorabilia.

After making my first visit to see the dazzling works, I wrote, "Taking a tour of Mike's mementoes is similar to entering a time machine and travelling back to explore a bygone era." His work to preserve the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is absolutely amazing.

Now, Mike Wilson has made a portion of his collection available for everyone to see with the publication of his first book - Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan, Centennial Collector's  Edition, Toronto Maple Leaf Treasurers. Toronto Sun hockey writer Lance Hornby and historian/video archivist Paul Patskou  round out the writing team.

The book spans the entire history of Toronto's NHL franchise from 1917 to the present day. Each collectable has been smartly photographed and gives the reader an excellent visual perspective. The content fills 224 pages and is nicely laid-out.

During my first visit several years ago, the piece that floored me was the original turnstiles from Maple Leaf Gardens dating back to 1931. Happily, when I read the book, they were included. Anyone familiar with Wilson's collection knows there is a story behind each item. In the case of the turnstiles, his childhood memories are part of the story and he provided insight into this aspect.

"After days or even weeks of anticipating seeing my heroes play in person, these turnstiles were the only thing left between me, the seats and the ice surface," Wilson wrote in the book of the gateway to Maple Leaf heaven. "My dad and I would arrive early and stand under the clock in the main entrance off Carlton, watching the other team's players arrive."

Paul Patskou elaborated on the turnstiles. "Turnstiles are different than seats. While a fan may not be able to sit in certain seats, good and bad, everyone had to pass through the same turnstile."

Lance Hornby detailed the difficulties once Wilson took possession of the turnstiles. He explained how Wilson's friend, Mike Wekerle, best known for his work on the television show Dragon's Den, stored them in a vacant house he owned until the room was completed.

With each piece, Wilson provides a collectable ranking measured in pucks. The turnstiles were given a five-puck ranking, which is the highest.

Using this method of calculation, my ranking for Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan is five-pucks. It is both an informative and fun read for all hockey fans, not just those of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As the book only covers a portion of the collection, there is little doubt a sequel will be in the works!

And for Leaf fans looking to the future, this quote comes from Mike. "The only other thing I'd like to see in The Room is a big Leaf Stanley Cup celebration. That would be the ultimate."

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Johnny Bower (L) with Dick Duff

On September 28, 2016, the Original Six Alumni made their annual trip to visit the Veterans at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

A large gathering was on hand as event organizer, Al Shaw, introduced the players and former Leaf, Ron Hurst, entertained the crowd. A newcomer to the Sunnybrook visit was Darryl Sittler. Always a fan favourite, Sittler gave a short talk on his career and told several stories.

Back row (L-R) Johnny McCormack, Pete Conacher, Danny Lewicki, Johnny Bower, Bob Nevin, Darryl Sittler and Dick Duff. Front Row (L-R) Murray Westgate, Ivan Irwin, Sue Foster

Darryl Sittler

Saturday, September 10, 2016


In today's hockey world, agents, accountants, marketing and financial experts, and legal representatives have a say before a client signs on the dotted-line.

A new book from ECW Press written by Greg Oliver - Blue Lines, Goal Lines & Bottom Lines - Hockey Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt - shows how different the process was in the past.

For example, one can examine the National Hockey League Standard Player's Contract of Montreal Canadiens legend Doug Harvey. The contract, signed on September 25, 1948, contains only two additional clauses. Perhaps, the greatest defenceman in his era, Harvey insisted that he receive a five hundred dollar bonus if Montreal goalie, Bill Durnan, won the Vezina trophy. The second bonus, also for  five hundred dollars, was to be paid if Harvey made the First or Second All-Star Teams.

Then, there is the fascinating documenting of Henri Richard's first contract with the Canadiens. During talks between Richard and Montreal's managing director, Frank J. Selke,  a page from an old desk calendar was used to record the terms and finalize the negotiations. Several days later, the details were transferred to a Standard Contract and passed along to the NHL.

The opening pages immediately grabbed my attention, as they pertain to Wayne Gretzky's career. The documents range from his participation in the Quebec Pee Wee Hockey Tournament to his time in Edmonton.

In a "Questionnaire for Players" Jean Beliveau wrote that his hobbies were "golf & women." The document is dated April 22, 1952. Tidbits like Beliveau's answer and seeing the documents are the fun and entertaining part of the book. The informative part and background details are supplied in Oliver's text.

Opening up this book and flipping from one page to the next is like looking through a family scrapbook. Memories are quickly remembered by the older generation and the past can be shared with the younger generation. The vintage look of the contracts and historical documents nicely shines through and captures the time period from when they were created.

Broken down into five categories - The Great Ones, Management and Minor Leagues, The Original Six Era, Expansion, World Hockey Association - there is something of interest for every hockey fan. And the timing of this work is perfect taking into account the National Hockey League celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2006-17. The content allows the reader to walk through the rich history of the game.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


There is good news and there is bad news.  Usually, at the Original Six Alumni lunch, the news is all good. But at the July lunch, I was informed of some bad news. When Don Joyce told me that Louie Fontinato had passed away the day before on July 3, it was like taking a blow to the head.

 Last summer, Don arranged for Gary England and I to visit Louie in Guelph, Ontario, along with  Louie's former teammate Harry Howell. I've known Don and Gary since I first started attending the lunch several years ago. Although time had taken its toll on Fontinato, he was still the fiery individual I had read about when he played for the New York Rangers. Tough as nails, Louie was a physical force on the ice and he let his fists do his talking. During our visit, his hands were constantly in motion (as the above photo shows) when he told a story. It was a joy to watch the interaction between Louie and Harry Howell. While Louie did most of the talking, I could tell by watching Harry's eyes that he was taking in every word spoken by his longtime friend. Unfortunately, Howell's health has been in decline for the past couple of years. But it didn't seem to matter on that warm sunny afternoon.

These memories flashed before me when Don broke the bad news of Louie's passing. I now know what an opponent must have felt like when Fontinato tangled with them.

Here is a portion (unedited) of the news release put out by the Fontinato family:

Legendary Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers Tough Guy “Leapin” Lou Fontinato Passes Away Suddenly at Age 84

GUELPH, ONTARIO – It has only been three weeks since Gordie Howe’s demise, and now the other party involved in the famous Howe – Fontinato fight passed away on Sunday, July 3, 2016, in Guelph, Ontario.  The hockey fraternity has lost one of its most colourful and boisterous characters.

Louis Joseph "Leapin” Louie Fontinato (born January 20, 1932) was a defenseman in the National Hockey League with the New York Rangers from 1954 to 1961 and the Montreal Canadiens from 1961 to 1963.  Prior to the NHL, Fontinato played with the Vancouver Canucks and Saskatoon Quakers of the Western Hockey League.  In 1952/53, Fontinato played for the OHL’s Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, a team that most experts agree was one of the best junior hockey teams ever assembled.  Along with Lou Fontinato, future NHL players Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, and Eddie Shack all played for the Mad Hatters on that Memorial Cup winning team.

Lou Fontinato was a rugged defender and the most feared enforcer of his time.  He started his career with New York during the 1954-55 season.  The following year, he led the NHL in penalty minutes – the highest total ever at that time.  He also led the league in that category in 1957-58 and 1961-62 with Montreal.  While with the Rangers, Fontinato and Gordie Howe had a running feud that culminated in the now famous fight at Madison Square Garden on February 1, 1959.

Fontinato was eventually traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Hall-of-Fame great Doug Harvey at the tail end of his career.  Fontinato's career came to an abrupt and violent end in 1963 at the Montreal Forum.  After missing a check on left-winger Vic Hadfield of the Rangers behind the Montreal net, he slammed headfirst into the boards, broke his neck, and became paralyzed for a month.  After multiple spinal surgeries, Fontinato regained most of his motion.

After his retirement from the game due to his life-altering injury, Fontinato returned to his hometown of Guelph, Ontario, to raise beef cattle.  He spent the next 55 years doing what he loved best – actively working on his cattle farms. 

Lou Fontinato was recently admitted to Riverside Glen Nursing Home in Guelph, suffering from symptoms of dementia, and he passed away quietly in his sleep.  Fontinato is survived by two of his three children.  His daughter Paula Fontinato lives in Guelph and his son Roger Fontinato lives in Surrey, BC.  Louis Fontinato Jr. passed away on May 31, 1996.

His adult children, Paula and Roger, released the following comment:  “We appreciate the well wishes and condolences the family has received.  Our father will be greatly missed by his family, colleagues, and many friends.  We are grateful that he did not have to suffer through a long, debilitating, and difficult illness.”

Tough guy persona aside, Fontinato was known for his strong work ethic, his demanding nature, and contagious, boisterous personality, as well as for being a loyal teammate, an avid outdoorsman, an excellent cook, a world-class Bocce player, and Italian red wine-making aficionado. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Happy 86th birthday to former Toronto Maple Leaf captain George Armstrong . An unsung hero in the Leafs Stanley Cup run in the 1960s, Armstrong had the difficult task of being stuck in the middle between his teammates and Leafs coach and GM  Punch Imlach. A cool customer under pressure, "The Chief" managed to keep his team focused, despite Imlach's ruling with a heavy-hand. On the ice, Armstrong vigorously worked in the corners to dig out pucks and set-up plays.

The above photo of Armstrong was taken this past May at a tribute for his former linemate Tod Sloan.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Today, the hockey world lost a true legend with the passing of Gordie Howe. He broke into the National Hockey League in 1946 with the Detroit Red Wings and the following season he teamed up with two special teammates. Howe wrote about the new trio in his book 'Gordie Howe - My Hockey Memories.' "Early in the year Ivan (Detroit's head coach) threw together a line that featured me on right wing, Ted Lindsay on left, and veteran centre Sid Abel in the middle. We clicked right away. Dubbed the "Production Line,"  we went on to finish the year one-two-three in team scoring..."

Now the lone survivor from that line, Ted Lindsay issued the following statement on the loss of his friend and former teammate:

I was very sad to learn today of the passing of my longtime teammate, and friend, Gordie Howe. Gordie really was the greatest hockey player who ever lived. I was fortunate to play with Gordie for 12 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and I've known him for over 70 years. He could do it all in the game to help his team, both offensively and defensively. He earned everything he accomplished on the ice.

Beyond hockey, Colleen and his family meant everything to him. Gordie was larger than life, and he was someone who  I thought would live forever. My wife Joanne and I extend our condolences to Gordie's children - Cathleen, Mark, Marty and Murray - and his entire family and many  friends during this time.

When Howe's NHL and WHA stats  (regular season & playoffs) are combined the results are staggering -  GP- 2,421 / G-1,071/ A-1,518 /P-2,589.

Monday, June 6, 2016


Today marks the 72nd anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1944. On that historic day, the allied forces, which included Canada, began their assault on Western Europe at Normandy France.  Canadian forces concentrated on a beach front in an operation called “Juno”.

Numerous battles ensued after the June 6th invasion and many young Canadian men lost their lives fighting for future generations.

The hockey world wasn’t immune to the conflicts of World War Two. This story is about about one such brave individual, who loved playing hockey and more importantly, loved his country.

Red Albert “Ab” Tilson was born on January 11, 1924, in Regina Saskatchewan.  In 1941, Tilson travelled east to play junior “A” hockey in the OHA. Tilson became a member of the Oshawa Generals and played under coach Charlie Conacher.

 That season, the Generals went all the way to the Memorial Cup Final and faced the Portage La Prairie Terriers in Winnipeg. The Generals lost the best-of-five Final 3 games to 1. Despite his team’s loss, Tilson led Memorial Cup play in assists with 12 and points with 20.

The following year, 1942-43, Tilson won the OHA scoring title with 57 points in 22 games. Once again, the Generals played in the Memorial Cup Final held at Maple Leaf Gardens, but lost 4 games to 2 against the Winnipeg Rangers.

Tilson repeated as scoring champ in the tournament by recording 32 points in 11 contests. For most of his time in Oshawa, Tilson centered a line with Floyd Curry and Kenny Smith. He was a prospect with the Toronto Maple Leafs and by all accounts was a can’t miss NHL’er.

After the ’42-’43 season, Tilson, then 20 years old, enlisted in the service at Kingston, Ontario.  He chose Kingston in hopes of playing hockey with the senior “A” Kingston Frontenac Army Club. Ultimately, he played only 3 games with Kingston.

On June 17, 1943, Private Tilson underwent his basic training in Cornwall and on August 18 his rank was upped to acting Lance Corporal.

A year later, on May 2, 1944, Tilson arrived in Nova Scotia to become part of a training brigade in preparation for going overseas.

He departed Canadian soil on June 17 and arrived in England on June 24.  Now ranked a Private, Tilson landed in France on July 23, 1944, and was assigned to the Queen’s Own Rifles of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division’s 8th Brigade.

On August 9, 1944, Tilson got his first taste of action. The operation called for his unit to clear a path in the Quesnay Woods for an attack by a Polish Division, which was attached to the Canadian Army.

In October, Tilson, now back to his rank of Lance Corporal, was part of “Operation Switchback”. It involved clearing the south shore of West Scheldt (SHELL-T) in Belgium. It became known as the Battle of Scheldt.

On October 12, Tilson and the Queen’s Own began their crossing, but came under German fire. As a result, Tilson was injured and sent behind the front line for treatment.

When he returned, Tilson was ranked as a Rifleman.

On October 26, the Queen’s Own started their attack on the town of Oostburgh and secured the territory. Also, they took a number of prisoners. However, they soon faced a counter-offensive by the Germans, who were located nearby at Walcheren. They used 88-millimeter guns against the Canadians.

The Battle lasted several days and on October 27, 1944, Red Tilson was hit and died in action. He was 20 years old.

In time for the 1944-45-hockey season, The Globe and Mail donated a trophy to the OHA in honour of Tilson. The first winner of the Red Tilson Trophy as the league MVP was Douglas McMurdy of the St. Catherines Falcons. Johnny McCormack, then with St. Mike’s, finished second in the voting.

The first Leaf prospect to be awarded the Tilson was Tod Sloan. He was named the winner the following year. The last Leaf prospect to be voted the winner of the Tilson was announced just a couple of weeks ago when London’s Mitch Marner got the nod.



Saturday, June 4, 2016


At the Boston Garden on April 2, 1969, the Bruins and Leafs began their quarter-final series with a bang.

There were numerous highlights in the opener.

To start, this was the encounter where Leaf defenceman Pat Quinn laid out Bobby Orr in the second period and the fans quickly and aggressively turned on Quinn.

Sent to the sin-bin to serve a 5-minute major for elbowing, Quinn was verbally and physically abused by the Boston faithful.

Bruins president, Weston Adams Jr., was quoted as saying, “they’ll kill him,” in reference to the crowds response to Quinn’s hit on Orr.

A police officer said, “The fans here don’t like anybody to touch Orr.” He went on to say, “to me though it looked like a clean check.”

Quinn shared this assessment.

“It was a nice clean check. Maybe the people thought it was dirty, but like I said, I like to hit,” Quinn told reporters.

In the third period, all hell broke loose.

A massive brawl began when netminder, Gerry Cheevers, cross-checked Leaf forward Forbes Kennedy, who in turn, applied the lumber on Cheevers.

Then, the fun began.

Kennedy took on Ted Green, Johnny McKenzie and back-up goalie Eddie Johnston, who left the bench to come to Cheevers aid. 

When he got to Kennedy, Johnston placed him in a bear hug by the glass and this allowed the fans to lean over and plant some shots on Kennedy. This wasn’t Johnston’s intention, as he later explained that he was trying to pull his opponent away from the glass.

Also, one of Kennedy’s punches landed on linesman George Ashley.

Forbes Kennedy went into the record book for amazing 8 penalties and serving 38-minutes.

Six of Boston’s ten goals came on the power play. Phil Esposito, who scored four with the man-advantage, also added two assists. His six points equalled a playoff record for most points in a game. He shared this feat with the Canadiens Dickie Moore.

It truly was a wild game and the mix of Quinn’s hit on Orr, the huge brawl and the 10-0 beating the Bruins put on the Leafs, made it one to remember.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


On the 65th anniversary of Bill Barilko's Stanley Cup winning goal scored on April 21, 1951, Mike Wilson hosted a gathering to remember that eventful night.

One of the special guests was David McNeil. His dad, Gerry McNeil, was between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens when Barilkno scored at the 2:53 mark of overtime in game five.

David McNeil has written a book - In the Pressure of the Moment - Remembering Gerry McNeil - about his dad's life and career in hockey.

Gerry McNeil was born on April 17, 1926, in Quebec City. He played for a brief time in 1943-44 with the junior Montreal Royals and in that same year graduated to the senior Royals. While with the Royals in 1947-48, he got his first taste of NHL action when the Montreal Canadiens called him up for two games. McNeil lost one game and tied the other.

Late in 1949-50, Montreal once again summoned McNeil, who was playing for the Canadiens farm team in Cincinnati. In six games, McNeil sparkled, posting a 3-1-2 record with a 1.50 goals against average. His performance helped Montreal's starter, Bill Durnan, win the Vezina Trophy.

The following year, McNeil became the Canadiens number one goalie and was in the net for all their games over the next two seasons. In 1953, he became a Stanley Cup champion. He left the Canadiens after the 1953-54 campaign and the reason for his departure is one of the many wonderful stories in the book.

Other than a brief return to the Habs in 1956-57, McNeil spent the rest of his playing time in the minors.

Before David addressed the crowd, I chatted with him about writing the book and his dad.

On what motivated him to write this book: Well, I sat down with my dad in the 1990s and knew he wasn't going to be around forever and I wanted to get the stories. We started watching games together and we noticed there was a big difference between our experience of the NHL even 20 years ago and what fans experienced in the early 50s. My book became not just the story about my father, but a history about sports media. I had a lot more material than I could get into one article, so I always knew I would be working on a book. I had a few false starts and it took time, but I persevered and didn't quit. I had a contract to publish it as my father was dying. After he died, I finished the manuscript and sent it to the publisher. The publisher called me and asked, 'you know the guy that signed you to that contract?' I said, yes, 'well we fired him, he was totally incompetent and he signed a whole pile of guys to contacts that could never produce the material we want. I've looked at your manuscript and we have strict criteria for our sports biographies series and your manuscript will never fit in.' That was the end of that. Then, Ken Dryden's book, The Game, was reissued on its 30th anniversary and then, Todd Denault's book on Jacques Plante came out. So the timing wasn't just right. I had to sit and be patient. With any writing or creative project, it's not over until you say it is over. I held on and along came Louis Anctil a Vancouver publisher. He thought this would be a great project. We teamed up and made it happen. I'm really happy that I hung in there. My father would have said to me, 'you only have one choice, you can try and make it better.' I've spent 20 years trying to make it better. I'm pretty proud now of the final product.

On things he learnt about his dad that surprised him: I couldn't believe the positive press he got. I teased him once that he must have witnessed Elmer Ferguson and Dink Carroll murder somebody because I can't believe the things they said about you. It is kind of unqualified praise and admiration. If he had a bad game they ignored it. That was one thing that surprised me. The one thing that didn't surprise me so much was that he was a really team player. He'd do anything for his teammates. He once covered up for Dollard St. Laurent. It was a story that didn't get into the book. Dollard coughed-up the puck once in front of the net and it led to a goal. Dick Irvin didn't get the number of the player and the sports reporters wouldn't help him out with who it was. So he asked my father. He told Irvin that he wasn't going to tell him. Irvin said, 'Gerry you think about it, we got a practice at nine o'clock tomorrow morning and I'm going to ask you again and you better tell me.' He slept on it and the next morning there's practice, but nothing is said. My father and Dollard exchanged glances and they think Irvin's forgotten about it. Irvin blows his whistle after forty minutes and everybody goes off the ice except for Gerry. Then, Irvin asks, 'okay Gerry who was it that coughed-up the puck?' My father said, 'I slept on it Dick and you know what, I don't think I want to tell you.' Irvin replied, 'okay Gerry you start skating.' Twenty minutes later my father is ready to collapse. Dollard comes out of the dressing room and my father waves to him to get out of there as he's going to blow it. Then, Dick blows his whistle and says, 'okay Gerry give me the name.' My father looked at him and said, 'I'll never give you the name.' That was the end of it. Dick knew my father had to play the next night, so he couldn't kill the guy. My father and Dollard shared this story on the golf course around the year 2000 and I was there. You could tell Dollard still appreciated the fact my father sucked it up for him. My father said he was the beneficiary because the next game Dollard St. Laurent was all over the place getting every rebound and taking everybody out. That was one thing that distinguished him from his successor, Jacques Plante. He was a great student of the game, but he would also be critical of a defenceman who wasn't in position. He was probably right, but it didn't endure him to his teammates. My father throughout his life knew he had the respect of his teammates and I think that really was all that mattered to him. He didn't want public accolades or the trophies. He was quite happy winning the last Vezina for Bill Durnan when he came in at the end of the 1950 season and improved Bill's goals against average. His own average for those six games was 1.50. That was perfectly in keeping with his character of trying to do something for somebody else.

On what was the hardest part about writing the book: Some of it was emotional right from the beginning. We weren't going to write a whitewash. This had to be about my father's flaws. My father wasn't a perfect individual. He overcame challenges later in life. He overcame problems with alcohol and homophobia. We were more proud of him for that actually than we were for his winning the Stanley Cup. It really made for a great family dynamic. That was a little difficult (to write about) because you know if my dad was alive I'm not sure if the book would have gotten written the same way. In the end it was a good positive story about Gerry, but not one he would have wanted to see.

On how his dad dealt with pressure: Not well, the Leswick goal in 1954 is an example (Detroit's Tony Leswick scored in the overtime of game seven in the Stanley Cup Final. The goal was scored when Doug Harvey stuck out his glove in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. Instead, he redirected the puck and it found the back of the net). The quick version about the pressure and how he dealt with it is that he didn't sleep that summer. He kept thinking if I was standing an inch further back that the puck would have hit me here and who knows we could have won the seventh game in overtime. That is tough one. Especially, with Doug Harvey, he was the one guy my father said as soon as he came out onto the ice he would breathe a little easier. Harvey played professional baseball, so if anyone is going to knock the puck out of the air it's going to be Doug Harvey. They never discussed it afterwards. My father had trouble sleeping and when he did fall asleep around four o'clock he would dream about that goal. He had decided he was going to quit earlier in that playoff run because of a fight with Dick Irvin. He promised himself he would never play another game under Dick Irvin and although he missed out on those five Stanley Cups (Montreal won between 1956 & 1960) he took personal pride in the fact he kept his promise to himself. He never did play another game for Dick Irvin. But he didn't let the team down as he finished the series.

On having a dad who played in the NHL: What I remember is that he got stopped by strangers and they would ask, 'coma sava Gerry?' We would lose 15 to 20 minutes. He would indulge people he hardly knew. He would fake his way through the conversation. I figured it out. He would ask about their children and the other person would be moved that my father would remember. But he wasn't really remembering, he was faking his way through it. He had a lot of time for people. He carried his celebrity well. I was too young to ever see him play in the NHL. I knew my father as a sales representative and a good father.

In the Pressure of the Moment - Remembering Gerry McNeil is full of rich stories and chapter four - The Goalie in the Barilko Picture - will be of  particular interest for Maple Leaf fans. The entire book will be an interesting, informative and fun read for all hockey fans

The above picture shows David McNeil sitting between Dan Donohue (L) and Kevin Shea.  This picture was taken during the Q&A session after the presentations. Dan Donohue spoke about his family and how they came into possession of the puck Bill Barilko used to score against Montreal in the overtime on April 21, 1951. Author and hockey historian, Kevin Shea, who wrote an outstanding book on Barilko (BARILKO without a trace) talked about Bill Barilko's amazing hockey career and his very sad passing in August 1951.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


On April 21, 1951, Bill Barilko's overtime goal in game five was the Cup winner, as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated Montreal 3-2. In August '51 Barilko died in a plane crash.

Below, are the program cover and line-ups from game two of the Stanley Cup final played on April 14, 1951.

These come from the program that Sid Smith, a teammate of Barilko's on the Leafs from the time they both broke into the National Hockey League, kept from game two.

The action photo (above) of Barilko from game two appeared in the Toronto Telegram. The Montreal Canadiens won game two by a score of 3-2, with "Rocket" Richard scoring the winner in overtime. All five games in the Cup Final were decided in extra-time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


When watching footage from the Original Six era, this gentleman's face always seemed to appear on the screen. His name was seldom mentioned, but he was one of the best at his job.

Matt Pavelich joined the National Hockey League in 1956 as a linesman and went on to work 1727 regular season games. As former NHL forward, Lou Angotti, said of Pavelich, "(Matt) was one of the best at what he did."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

CHARLIE HODGE: 1933-2016

Another loss for hockey with the sad news that Charlie Hodge has passed away. He began his NHL career between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens in 1954-55. The newspaper photo below shows Jacques Plante replacing Hodge in goal during game two of Montreal's semi-final series against Boston in '55. Habs coach, Dick Irvin, kept the Bruins on their toes by using both his goalies

Charlie Hodge was born on July 28, 1933, in Lachine, Quebec. He won four Stanley Cups with Montreal. In 1964, he won the Vezina Trophy and shared the award with Gump Worsley in 1966. Hodge was named to the Second All-Star Team in 1964 and 1965. He also played with Oakland and Vancouver.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


In memory of Ron Wicks, I'm once again posting a story I wrote on Referee's Night hosted by Mike Wilson back in 2015.

For a change of pace, Inside the Room featured the other guys who shared the ice with some of hockey's biggest stars, the referee's.

Left to Right: Bryan Lewis, Ron Wicks and Bruce Hood

"We were the best money could buy," joked Bruce Hood to start off the evening.

When you get a group of on-ice officials together in one room, there is a question that always tops the list - How and why did you become a referee?

"I started in Georgetown doing kids hockey and it ended up being better than delivering newspapers," said Bryan Lewis of his first venture wearing the stripes. "The worst thing then, as it is now, was parental abuse, but once you got through that it was nothing."

"I started in Sudbury and played in the midget league," Ron Wicks informed the audience. "When I stopped playing, I offered to referee in the league. I was scouted by Bob Davidson, who was the chief scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He sent my name to Carl Voss, who was the NHL referee-in-chief. I took two weeks off as a tax assessor for the city of Sudbury. I came down here (Toronto) to do a few exhibition games and low and behold I got hired for $40 a game. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. And I stuck around for 26 years."

"I was playing intermediate hockey in Milton and I also worked at the rink," began Bruce Hood when talking about how he got his start. One night during a junior game, the referee couldn't make it, so they asked me if I would do it. I drove out to the guys house and got his sweater and whistle. I enjoyed being the referee and that is how I got started."

During the Q&A period, this question was asked of all three members of the panel - Can you remember a favourite game you worked?

"My one-thousand game, it was the only time my mother saw me work live and the game was played in Montreal," advised Bryan Lewis.

"My first game, I was just turning 20 years-old and my knees were banging together," noted Ron Wicks. "I was pinching myself and asking 'what in the hell 'am I doing here?' I remember Clarence Campbell, the president of he league, coming in and saying I missed an off-side by 20-feet. I must have improved because I lasted 26 years."

"My first game, which was played in Toronto," replied Bruce Hood. "I remember going out on that ice and I couldn't feel anything below my waist."