On the day of Red Kelly's Funeral Mass, the morning started with a heavy rain, but by the time family, friends and teammates arrived at Holy Rosary Church in Toronto, the rain had stopped. It was fitting for a man who brought sunshine to those he knew.
As the draped casket made its way up the main aisle, Red Kelly was surrounded one last time by six of his former teammates - Frank Mahovlich, Bob Baun, Dick Duff, Ron Ellis, Dave Keon, Ed Shack - who served as honourary pallbearers.
In his homily, Monsignor Robert Nusca told a wonderful story of when Kelly's statue on Legends Row at Scotiabank Arena (previously known as the Air Canada Centre) was about to be unveiled. The Monsignor lightheartedly asked Kelly if the statue could come to the parish and be on display. Kelly responded, "No, no, no Father!" Not giving up, Monsignor Nusca asked, if they could bring candles and place them around the statue. Kelly gave the same reply, "No, no, no Father!"
Once the laughter inside the church subsided, Monsignor Nusca got to the heart of the story. Red Kelly, a soft-spoken and humble man, wasn't going to allow a statue of himself to be placed on the grounds of his house of worship or agree to candles being placed around it.
Since his passing on May 2, 2019, the flood gates have opened on memories of Red Kelly.
The first thing that hit me was Kelly died on the 52nd anniversary of his eighth and final Stanley Cup. On May 2, 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated Montreal in game 6 to capture the Cup. About a week prior to the anniversary, I watched a tape of game 6 for a story I was writing on who scored the game-winning goal - Jim Pappin or Pete Stemkowski?
With game 6 fresh in my mind, I remembered Ron Ellis scoring the Leafs' first goal. On the play, Kelly carried the puck into Montreal's zone to the left of Canadiens goalie Gump Worsley. As Kelly entered the faceoff circle, he shot the puck as Habs defenceman, Terry Harper, was impeding his path to the net. Kelly's shot was stopped by Worsley, but Ron Ellis was in perfect position for the rebound and he put the puck in Montreal's net.
I thought of, what turned out to be Red Kelly's second-last NHL point, again when Ron Ellis took his spot to serve as an honorary pallbearer.
It was a Saturday night ritual in our household to watch Hockey Night in Canada. That's how I became acquainted with Red Kelly. My dad told me Punch Imlach acquired Mr. Kelly to go against the likes of Jean Beliveau. The Leaf coach and GM made Kelly a forward after his years on defence with Detroit. Also, the fact Kelly wore a helmet made him very visible on the TV screen, and easier to notice when sitting way up in the grays at Maple Leaf Gardens.
In 1971, I received a book for Christmas titled "Red Kelly" written by Stan Obodiac, who was the publicity director at Maple Leaf Gardens. By that time, Kelly had hung up his skates and was in the coaching ranks. But through this book I learned more about the player we had watched on the tube.
One passage perked my interest when I retrieved it off my bookshelf the day Kelly died. It read: Red's idol was centreman Joe Primeau - called Gentleman Joe. On the swamp, when other kids wanted to be Conacher and Jackson (Primeau's linemates on Toronto's famed Kid Line), Red would call out, "Here comes Primeau down the ice!"
Still in grade school, I wanted to know more about this player called "Gentleman Joe." I made a visit to the school library and devoured all the information they had on Primeau. Decades later, I still have a great appreciation for the Kid Line and the Leafs of the '30s.
In 1947, Red Kelly won a Memorial Cup with the St. Mike's Majors. His coach was Joe Primeau.
As fate would have it, I sat in a pew at Holy Rosary next to Joe Primeau's granddaughter, Suzanne.
Kelly joined the Los Angeles Kings after winning the Cup in 1967 with the Leafs. He was hired by Jack Kent Cooke to coach his expansion club. The Kings' first captain, Bob Wall, and their first play-by-play announcer, Jiggs McDonald, attended the funeral.
His next stop behind the bench was with the Pittsburgh Penguins. On their Twitter account, the Penguins noted in a post: The Pittsburgh Penguins organization mourns the loss of Hockey Hall of Famer and former Penguins head coach Red Kelly ... Our thoughts are with the Kelly family, their friends, and the hockey community.
During the summer of 1973, Kelly became the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Several Leafs of that era - Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Jim Gregory (GM) - were on hand for the final farewell to Red Kelly. All three were honourary pallbearers.
Outside the church, McDonald spoke about his former coach and mentor.
"More than anything, he was a hero to us all, how he lived his life, how he opened his house to total strangers and made them feel comfortable. That's what family is all about. The hockey world is famous for family and he kind of showed us the way."
I was fortunate to attend the Leafs' home opener on October 4, 2006, when they honoured Red Kelly's number 4. The following quote by Kelly comes from "Game Day" the official program: "As a kid, I dreamed of making the National Hockey League. I dreamed about playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and dreamed about winning the Stanley Cup. But I never, ever dreamed of them putting my number up at the top of the Gardens which, of course, now has been replaced by the Air Canada Centre. It is a great honour ... one that I never imagined."
On February 1, of this year, the Detroit Red Wings retired Kelly's number 4.
One of the highlights of the Original Six Alumni Christmas Lunch, was the annual appearance by Red Kelly. I remember the time I told Kelly I had a big surprise for him. As we walked a short distance, I could see a look of puzzlement on his face. Once we reached our destination, I told Kelly he may recognize the gentleman sitting at the table. The first words out of Kelly's mouth were, "Phil Samis, I can't believe it!" Samis and Kelly were both part of the St. Mike's hockey program in the 1940s.
As part of the research for my book on Bob Goldham, I interviewed Kelly. Goldham and Kelly were teammates on Detroit for six seasons. I questioned him about his confrontation with Montreal's Butch Bouchard in game 5 of the 1955 Stanley Cup final. I was curious because it resulted in Kelly being assessed his first-ever misconduct penalty. It seemed completely out of character for Kelly, who was awarded the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for gentlemanly conduct in 1951, 1953 and 1954. It came in his eighth NHL season and there was a lot of fuss made over it.
"The play was in the corner and I just came in over the blueline, behind the play," Kelly told me. "Bouchard was still at the blueline and everyone was watching the play in the corner. All of a sudden, I felt a whack on my ankle. I thought he had broken my ankle as he came down hard on it. That is when I took a swing at him, but I missed. He took a swing at me and missed. Everybody piled in, Bouchard was a big guy, so fortunately, they broke it up."
It is a great example of how Kelly handled himself on the ice. He didn't go looking for trouble and it took a lot to get a physical reaction out of him. Kelly's even-temper kept him focused.
He was a skilled player and concentrated on helping his team win. Red Kelly joined the Detroit Red Wings in 1947-48, and played in the Motor City until he was traded to Toronto on February 10, 1960. He contributed to eight Stanley Cup championships (equally split between Detroit and Toronto), was the first winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 1954 as the top NHL defenceman, was a First Team All-Star seven-times as a defenceman and twice as a Second Team All-Star. Also, he won a fourth Lady Byng with Toronto in 1961.
But as the death notice published in the Toronto Star noted, "More than all the awards, nothing meant more to Red than his beloved family."
Leonard Patrick "Red" Kelly was 91 years old when he died.