Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It has been a long time since a Toronto Maple Leaf won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. In fact, 51 years have passed since Brit Selby was awarded the prize in 1966. His streak ended tonight when Auston Matthews was named the top rookie at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

No stranger to the Leaf organization, Brit Selby played his pee-wee hockey in the Toronto Hockey League with Shopsy's a club sponsored by Toronto's NHL club.

In November 1961, Selby skated for the Lakeshore Goodyears in the Metro Junior "B" League when he was summoned by the junior "A" Toronto Marlboros to replace an injured Brian Conacher. In his debut as a Marlboro, Selby scored the second goal in a 4-0 victory over St. Mike's.

Selby remained with the Marlboros for the balance of his time as a junior. He became a Memorial Cup champion in 1964. The 1963-64 Marlboros were a powerhouse with many future NHL players in the line-up. In the mix were several teammates that would later join Selby on the Maple Leafs roster. Names of note included Pete Stemkowski, Mike Walton, Ron Ellis, Wayne Carlton, Jim McKenny and Gary Smith.

His big break came in 1964-65, when the Leafs called up Selby on a three-game professional trial. On January 2, 1965, Selby, who played left wing, made his first NHL regular season appearance against the Detroit Red Wings and Gordie Howe. And Howe welcomed the rookie in his usual manner. In his first shift, Selby received what he called a "sort of initiation, I guess" from Mr. Hockey. Right off the bat, Howe planted his stick on Selby's arm and left a large bruise.

The next night, Selby faced the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. In this contest, Selby scored his first National Hockey League goal when he tipped in a pass from Carl Brewer that eluded Rangers goalie Jacques Plante. In the third and final game of his professional trial on January 6, he scored the game-winner in Toronto's 3-1 win at Chicago Stadium. After this tilt in the Windy City, he was returned to the Marlboros.

Brit Selby turned pro in 1965-66 with the Maple Leafs. In an interview several years ago, Selby told me what it was like to negotiate his first NHL deal with Leafs general manager & coach, Punch Imlach. "When I signed my contract with Imlach in 1965, I wasn't allowed an attorney and I wasn't allowed an accountant to help me. My parents weren't even allowed into the meeting. It was just myself, a 19 year-old kid negotiating with Imlach, who was an officer in World War Two and coached three Stanley Cup teams."

Although he was silenced in Imlach's office, Selby did his talking on the ice during his rookie campaign. By February 1966, he netted 13 goals and led at the mid-season point in voting for the NHL's top rookie award. During this era voting for the major trophies took place in the middle and end of the regular season schedule.

One of the highlights during his first NHL voyage was a natural hat trick Selby recorded against Boston Bruins goalie Bernie Parent. With the good, also came the bad, as there were a number of mishaps that held Selby back. These included a groin injury, bruised ankle, influenza and a cracked bone in his right foot. This last physical impediment was kept under wraps to keep the opposition from causing further damage.

At seasons-end, Selby had posted 14 goals and 13 assists in 61 games. These statistics and his overall performance enabled Selby to win the Calder Memorial Trophy.

When the Maple Leafs opened up at home on October 22, 1966, Selby was presented the Calder Trophy by the Honourable John P. Robarts, the Premier of Ontario. To make the moment more special, Selby's dad and a few work pals from a wholesale plumbing company named Cunningham & Hill were in Maple Leaf Gardens to watch the presentation.

While everything fell into place for Selby in year one, the same couldn't be said of year two in 1966-67. In the first six games, Toronto only earned one victory and in this stretch, Selby's production only reached one goal and one helper. Imlach's response to Selby's slow start was to demote him to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League. Out west, Selby's season came to a crashing end on December 7, 1966. The Canucks battled San Diego that night and when Selby collided with defenceman Jimmy Watson, he emerged with a broken leg.

Coming off their surprise win in the 1967 Stanley Cup Final, the next order of business for Leaf management was the expansion draft. No longer on the Leafs radar screen, Selby was exposed to the six new NHL franchises and on June 6, 1967, was claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. Determined to show he belonged in the big-show, Selby rejuvenated his game in Philly. In 56 contests, he produced career highs for goals (15) and assists (15).

Over two seasons in Philadelphia, Selby competed in a total of 119 games and soon found himself on the move to several NHL destinations. In March 1969, the native of Kingston, Ontario, was traded back to Toronto. Then, on November 13, 1970, Selby was shipped to St. Louis for former Leaf defender Bobby Baun.

All along, Selby knew his time as a professional hockey player had a limited shelve-life. "As a third or fourth line player, I knew my career wasn't going to last that long. That's when I started going to university. I was helped by people like Carl Brewer. He provided me with some guidance." Ultimately, Selby became a teacher and enjoyed his post-hockey life working for the Toronto Board of Education.

To underscore the importance of preparing for the cold realities after retirement from the game, Selby revealed details of his hockey pensions. "I got thirty-two hundred a year from the National Hockey League. They increased the benefit and called it a gift and I receive an extra eight-thousand. Also, I receive another thousand from the WHA (World Hockey Association). That's all I receive from my hockey wars. I only played for ten years, but for players who depend on it (a hockey pension), they'd be in financial difficulty."

Early in 1971-72, St. Louis sent Selby to the minors to play for the Central Hockey League Kansas City Blues. In the summer of 1972, he decided to change his focus. "I had just accepted a job in Switzerland in August. I must have had my head in the sand as I knew nothing about the WHA. A friend of mine in Philadelphia called me and said there was a lawyer who could negotiate a deal for me in Ottawa."

Though the deal with Ottawa didn't materialize, Selby was signed by Quebec. "We started out in Quebec and "Rocket" Richard was the coach. He was so positive with the players. He was a good guy." However, Richard's time behind the bench didn't last long. "One night I was coming home and there was a moving van. "Rocket" and I lived in the same apartment building. The next day, I found out he had quit. Around two weeks later, I was shipped to the New England Whalers. I ended up playing with Tommy Webster and Terry Caffery. I had more fun than any other season and we won the Avco Cup (1973). For some reason, they traded me to the (Toronto) Toros."

He hung up his skates in 1974-75 after playing 17 games with the Toros.

Looking back to winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, Brit Selby has fond memories. "It was exciting. Punch Imlach didn't inform me (about the Calder). A sports reporter from the Toronto Star, Red Burnett, phoned me and told me I won the Calder. They can't take it away and I'm proud of having the distinction of winning the Calder in 1965-66."

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