Saturday, April 1, 2017
REMEMBERING JOHNNY McCORMACK
On February 27, 2017, family and friends gathered at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Whitby, Ontario, to say goodbye to Johnny "Goose" McCormack. The former National Hockey League forward passed away on February 22 in Oshawa, Ontario. He was 91 years-old.
Born on August 2, 1925, McCormack left his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta in 1943 to join the OHA junior "A" St. Michael's Majors in Toronto. In his second season with the Majors, he became a Memorial Cup champion on April 23, 1945, when the Majors defeated the Moose Jaw Canucks.
The next year, McCormack was assigned to the Tulsa Oilers of the United States Hockey League. In Tulsa, he recorded 41 points in 45 games.
McCormack took part in the Leafs 1946 training camp in St. Catharines, Ontario, but following camp he made a decision that halted his participation in the game. On October 3, 1946, came the announcement that Johnny McCormack was hanging-up his skates and moving in a different direction. He had another calling that led him to enter the seminary to become a priest. McCormack returned home to Edmonton to start his studies. When news of his departure got out, someone commented, "I guess that goes to show you how far a guy will go to stay out of Pittsburgh." The Maple Leafs farm team, the Hornets, were located in Pittsburgh.
After a one year absence, McCormack returned and picked-up his hockey career in 1947-48 with the Senior Toronto Marlboros. In late January of 1948, McCormack was summoned by the Maple Leafs following an injury to Syl Apps. He made his NHL debut on January 31 against the Detroit Red Wings at Maple Leaf Gardens. McCormack skated between Bill Ezinicki and Harry Watson. Following his three-game trial, he returned to the Senior Marlboros.
His second crack at NHL action came in 1948-49. While with the Senior Marlboros, he was called-up for one contest by the Maple Leafs. Then, it was back to the OHA Senior "A" League and a 39-point season with the Marlboros.
In 1949-50, a huge development changed the course of McCormack's future. In the midst of another tryout with the Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe and Hap Day liked what they saw and on January 12, 1950, signed McCormack to his first professional contract. Prior to signing on the dotted-line, McCormack scored his first NHL goal on January 7 against the Chicago Black Hawks. A newspaper report noted, "...the Chicago defence was nowhere as he (McCormack) took a pass from Watson at the blueline and romped in unmolested."
Under contract to the Leafs, McCormack hoped his stay in Toronto would be a long one, but in early 1951, his relationship with Conn Smythe began to crumble. His wedding to Margaret Anne Gordon, a nurse at the Hospital for Sick Children, during the hockey season, sent Smythe to another orbit. A day after the nuptials, McCormack was demoted to the Leafs farm team in Pittsburgh. A headline in the Hockey News captured the reason for his being shipped out of Toronto. It declared, "SMYTHE ORDERS GOOSE TO HORNETS FOLLOWING MARRIAGE."
During the '50-'51 campaign, McCormack divided his time between the Leafs and Hornets. His 46 games with the Maple Leafs enabled him to get name on the Stanley Cup, when Bill Barilko scored the Cup-winning goal against Montreal in overtime.
McCormack was completely vanished from the Leafs organization when Smythe dealt him to the Canadiens in September 1951. With the Habs, McCormack won another Stanley Cup in 1952-53. He finished out his NHL career in '54-'55 with Chicago.
Due to his long-reach and masterful poke-check, McCormack will always be remembered for being a solid defensive player. And his sense of humour was always shining through. One night when the Canadiens faced Detroit, referee, Bill Chadwick, was sending a steady stream of Red Wings to the box. With each shorthanded situation, McCormack climbed over the boards to kill the penalty. During a face-off, McCormack told Chadwick, "If you're calling those penalties to give me a chance to play Bill, you can stop right now, I'm all in."
"Goose" continued to play hockey after retiring. On most winter weekends, McCormack and his teammates with the NHL Oldtimers, travelled to hockey barns throughout Ontario to raise money for charities.
Also, McCormack was a regular at the Original Six Alumni Luncheon held in Toronto. At this event, McCormack made the rounds to reminisce. For example, he spent time with Phil Samis, a teammate with the 1945 Memorial Cup champions at St. Mike's. Then, he moved across the room to chat with fellow Leaf, Danny Lewicki, from the 1950-51 squad.
Watching this led to several conclusions. Johnny McCormack was not only a good hockey player and loyal teammate, but also a true gentleman.