Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Chat with Enio Sclisizzi

Enio Sclisizzi started his career in professional hockey in 1946-47 with the Indianapolis Capitals. Based in the American Hockey League, they called the Indianapolis Coliseum - located on the Indiana State Fairgrounds - home. In his rookie campaign, wearing sweater number 17, Sclisizzi  scored twenty goals while playing left wing. In 60 contests, he accumulated 34 points and he was assessed forty-five-minutes in penalties.

The AHL West Division was composed of clubs from Indianapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Capitals posted an impressive 33-18-13 record in '46-'47, but fell short of nailing down the final playoff spot. They finished in fourth-place, one-point behind Pittsburgh.

Although the Capitals aspirations of advancing may have been stymied,  it didn't mean Sclisizzi's hockey season was over.

Like any young hockey player, Sclisizzi's dream was to reach the National Hockey League. In the 1947 playoffs, the Capitals parent club, Detroit, would put the call out for their prospect. After four games in a semi-final showdown against Toronto, the Red Wings trailed Toronto by three games to one. On the medical front, Detroit was dealt a blow when Sid Abel came down with pleurisy. Abel, the Wings number one centreman, performed in only three games during the series. On the morning of game five, another centre, Billy Taylor, was suffering from the flu. In the first four games, Taylor registered six points. The gutsy forward started the game for Detroit, but left half-way through period three. Cliff Simpson, a call-up from Indianapolis, dislocated his shoulder in the post-season.

As the Red Wings roster became decimated by illness and injury, circumstances were ripe for twenty-one year-old Enio Sclisizzi to make his first appearance on the NHL stage. He joined Detroit following the conclusion of the Capitals AHL schedule. On Saturday April 5, 1947, in Maple Leaf Gardens, Sclisizzi took to the ice, proudly wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey. Unfortunately for Enio and his teammates, Detroit fell to the Maple Leafs by a score of six to one.

With one game under his belt, Sclisizzi experienced his first exposure to life in the NHL and everything that came with it. In his case, there was a unique situation unfolding. As fate would have it, the play-by-play of game five was broadcast across Canada by Foster Hewitt. By all accounts, Hewitt never conquered the correct pronunciation of Enio's last name. Problems of this nature were not restricted to his surname or the electronic media. Writing in the April 5, 1947 edition of The Globe and Mail, Jim Vipond made reference to Eddie Sclisizzi. As time passed, Enio Sclisizzi became known as Jim Enio. The individual responsible for the name change was none other than Foster Hewitt.

Word of the name shift came down during training camp in 1948. A short news dispatch informed the hockey community and fans of the transformation.

 There will be one less tongue twister this season for radio announcers who broadcast games involving the Indianapolis Capitals.
 Like a few other outstanding professional athletes in other sports, who had names which were difficult to spell or pronounce, Enio Sclisizzi finally has eased the situation by changing his name.
 From now on he wants to be known as Jim Enio and he hopes the fans will accept the change with the same cooperation displayed by his teammates at the training camp this fall.

In December of 1948, Toronto Daily Star scribe Joe Perlove, penned a piece on Sclisizzi. It shed light on the media's struggle to grasp the Sclisizzi name and the measures taken to rectify the situation.
That's right, Jim Enio came into the National Hockey League as Enio Sclisizzi, but after three radio announcers had fogged their "mikes" and broken most of their chinaware trying to pronounce it correctly, Enio changed his name to Jim Enia. Also, the name was misspelled so often by writers and printers that Enio figured he'd better make it easier on them lest they take the easier path and leave him out of the story.

Perlove added a human element by interviewing Enio's father. In a great example of irony, either an errant stroke of a typewriter key or some other production mishap, lead to "Enio" being misspelled in one sentence. The name change was incorrectly printed as Jim "Enia"! The elder Sclisizzi supplied a short, but sweet analysis concerning the change in identity for his lad when he stated, "It's better for him."

Another quote from Mr. Sclisizzi shows how seriously his son prepared for the physical rigors of competition. He told Perlove, "And he looked after himself, too. Doesn't smoke or drink -  lots of exercise. He wants to be a great hockey player. He's a powerful boy."

In the summer of 1947, Sclisizzi had ample time to prepare for Detroit's training camp come fall. The Red Wings commenced the '47-'48 hockey year at home with the Chicago Black Hawks providing the opposition. Sclisizzi, cracked the opening night line-up and Detroit went on to defeat Chicago 4-2. Once again, Sclisizzi took advantage of personnel problems coming into play with the NHL club. At training camp, Roy Conacher became a holdout, thus creating a roster spot. With the future Hall of Fame left winger taking refuge in his Toronto home, coach Tommy Ivan gave Sclisizzi the nod as one of his left wingers. Another forward playing the left side made his debut in a Detroit uniform - Bep Guidolin. Obtained in a trade from Boston, Guidolin scored a goal in the victory over Chicago. In a Canadian Press story the following day, Ivan heaped praise on both Sclisizzi and Guidolin.

Sclisizzi's hope of an extended stay in the National Hockey League was quickly dashed. When Detroit played game two of their schedule in Toronto on October 18, 1947, he was no longer with the big league team. Sclisizzi spent the next sixty-one games back in the American Hockey League with Indianapolis. Determined to show Jack Adams and company he deserved a trip back to the big show, Sclisizzi had a banner year with the Capitals. He produced sixty-seven points on twenty-nine goals and thirty-eight assists.

As the sun set on Detroit's season in mid-March of 1948, Wings management rewarded Sclisizzi for his outstanding success on the farm. With three dates remaining on the calendar, he was summoned for an encounter at Boston Garden on St. Patrick's Day 1948. He was accompanied by defenceman Eddie Nicholson. After a scoreless battle against the Bruins, Detroit travelled to Toronto. On the day before they tangled with their Canadian rival, Detriot held a practice at Varsity Arena.  For Sclisizzi, it was his second trip to southern Ontario to face the Maple Leafs. This late season affair would suddenly turn magical for the Motor City rookie.

On March 20, 1948, Sclisizzi played his first regular season game in Maple Leaf Gardens. As second period action got underway, the score was knotted at two apiece. Scoring for the Blue & White were Harry Watson and Ted Kennedy. Detroit got tallies from Ted Lindsay and Marty Pavelich. Shortly after referee Bill Chadwick dropped the puck to start the middle frame, Enio Sclisizzi took his spot at centre stage. On a rush towards the Toronto zone, he took a pass from Jimmy McFadden. Approximately 15-feet from the Leafs net, Sclisizzi directed his shot on goal. In an attempt to make the save, goalie Turk Broda "fanned" on the shot. At 3:35, Enio Sclisizzi scored his first National Hockey League goal. His team lost 5-3 to Hap Day and the Toronto Maple Leafs, but for the youngster from Milton, Ontario it was a very special night.

From 1947-48 to 1951-52, Sclisizzi would participate in 67 NHL regular season contests with Detroit. His most sustained action came in '48-'49, when he suited up for 50 matches. In this stretch, he collected nine goals and seventeen points. The bulk of his ice time came with the Capitals in Indianapolis. A trade in August 1952 sent Sclisizzi to the Chicago Black Hawks. After playing 14 games for Chicago in 1952-53, his stay in the National Hockey League came to a close. In 81 NHL confrontations, he scored 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points. He served twenty-six-minutes in the penalty box for infractions committed in the heat of battle. In 13 playoff tilts, he went pointless and was confined to the sin-bin for six-minutes.

His crowning moment with Indianapolis occurred in the spring of 1950. The Capitals became the first AHL squad to go undefeated in playoff action. They captured the Calder Cup with eight straight victories. This group of champions included Terry Sawchuk in goal, with Al Dewsbury, Max Quackenbush, Joe Lund, Clare Raglan and Benny Woit forming a solid defensive core. The offensive punch came from Sclisizzi, Pat Lundy, the brother act of Rod and Don Morrison, Jerry Reid and Fred Glover.

Sclisizzi's remaining years in pro hockey included engagements in the American Hockey League (St. Louis & Buffalo) and Western Hockey League (Calgary, Edmonton & Victoria). He would sharpen his blades for a final time with the WHL Victoria Cougars in 1958-59. He reached All-Star status (AHL) in 1951-52, earning placement on the First-Team. In the WHL, Sclisizzi was selected to the First All-Star Team for his brilliant performance with the Edmonton Flyers (28 goals, 64 points in 70 games).

On August 1, 2011, Enio Sclisizzi celebrated his 86th birthday. A week later, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with him for a chat. Surrounded by those attending Al Shaw's monthly NHL Oldtimers gathering, Sclisizzi and I found a quiet spot to talk. In a split-second, the clanging of cups and glasses, along with other forms of sound seemed to fall silent. My entire focus was on this amazing fellow and his stories from a by-gone age. In his day, the Original Six era was in its infancy and only the best players were given consideration. Like most players from his generation, Sclisizzi was more than willing to discuss his time in hockey.

Your Father came to Canada in 1920 and settled in Milton, Ontario. What was it like growing up in Milton?

Well, there were three brickyards up there and the immigrants all worked in the brickyards. There were about 15 Italian families and they called it Red Hill. We all had our own little garden. The houses belonged to the brickyard. It was as rural as you could get. Everybody had a cow and a pig. They replicated what they had in Italy.

A 1948 newspaper article revealed you played several sports.

 I wasn't much of a ballplayer. I played junior ball in Milton, but all I can remember was one big hit that I had. I couldn't hit that ball (laughing). I played a bit of lacrosse. I was in the Navy for two years and they assigned me to become a physical instructor. I looked after a base in Shelburne, which was about 200 miles south of Halifax. Our job was to take the crew off a ship that came in needing repairs after it was hit. I would look after them until they shipped out again.
 One day, a ship came in with a lot of Salmonbellies lacrosse players from B.C. They said to me, "We're lacrosse players, can you build us a lacrosse thing here?"
 We went to the end of the runway where the planes come in and built a lacrosse box. They taught me how to play lacrosse. It was the first time I held a lacrosse stick in my hand. They did such a good job that when the war was over, I played senior "B" lacrosse in Norval, just outside of Brampton. Detroit told me not to play lacrosse. They didn't want me to get hurt during the summer. So, I had to stop. I enjoyed lacrosse.
 I was in Victoria, B.C. my last year of playing hockey. Just around the corner from where we played, there was a donut shop. We see these guys coming in with lacrosse sticks and hockey skates. They were heading to the arena.
 I asked, "What's going on here?"
 One guy said, "Well, our two ships hate each other and we're going to have a game of lacrosse on the ice."
 I said to George, a friend of mine, "Let's go watch this."
 I never saw such a spectacle in my life. I always thought if someone took this sport, it would take ice hockey right off the rink. In lacrosse, cross-checking is legal. These guys were flying all over the ice, falling down and getting hit. The ball is a hard Indian rubber ball that would bounce and skid in front of the net. It was something I will never forget.

Your Dad once made mention of having to go look for you when it came time to milk the cows. Usually, he would find you skating on the creek. You seemed destined to play hockey over other sports.

 I just loved it. I loved playing hockey. When I started high school, I got to go out and skate on Milton Pond. My Dad would only let me go on Sunday's. He said you have to milk your 13 cows and go to Church, and then you can have three hours in the afternoon for hockey, So, I went down there and I see how these guys played hockey. There would be about three games going on. There was one player by the name of Allan Morley. This guy was such an effortless skater. The ice on the pond would be rough. The puck never seemed to leave his stick. I always wanted to be in the game he was involved in, just to watch him. The best player I think I've ever seen.

When you were young, did the family gather around the radio and listen to Foster Hewitt's play-by-play of Toronto Maple Leaf games?

 We only had one radio between the 15 families and on Saturday night we would tune in. That's all there was to do. We not only listened to Foster Hewitt, but also championship boxing matches. I'm talking about Primo Carnera who was an Italian, so we had to listen to him. When it came to wrestling, there was another Italian guy by the name of Joe Savoldi. My Dad would get a load of kids in his car and we would head down to Maple Leaf Gardens to watch him.

June 1929

July 1933

Mom & Dad were your biggest supporters. Your Dad once commented that you were on skates, with hockey stick in hand, at every possible chance. However, your Mom did have hesitations.

 She wouldn't go to the games. She didn't want me to play hockey. She thought it was too rough and was afraid I wouldn't be able to help her on the farm if I got hurt. But, my Dad just loved it.

Did you have a favourite NHL player?

Syl Apps of Toronto, he was the best. I just admired that guy. I met him and talked to him. I played against him. He was a gentleman on the ice.

In 1943, you were a member of the OHA Jr. "B" Milton Bombers. In a playoff series against Penetang, you scored 4 goals and 3 assists in the deciding game. Were your skills on offence the best part of your game?

 I could out skate anybody. I learned how to skate on speed skates. So, I had a long stride. Even when I got to the NHL, I could out skate most of them. Skating was my forte. I wasn't very big, but  I was big compared to some of the other players. I weighed 168 pounds and was 5'10". I've shrunk a lot since then, but I made it with my skating.

In 1946-47, you joined the Detroit Red Wings organization and played with the Indianapolis Capitals in the American Hockey League.

 Detroit was their parent team. They were owned by a fellow named Norris - the big family that had boxing on TV. They owned Detroit, Chicago and Madison Square Garden in New York. So, they were big in hockey. I got a letter from Jack Adams to come to training camp. The funny part about this was the letter came to me and was addressed to "Enid", instead of "Enio". When I presented myself at the Olympia, the secretary says, "Oh my God, I'm glad you're a man. We didn't know what to expect." (Laughing)

You had an outstanding rookie campaign in Indianapolis, reaching the 20 goal mark. What was it like playing in your first professional season?

 I just loved it. The people in Indiana were great. They loved going to hockey games. We use to fill the arena. I think it held about 10,000. The hockey was good. I thought the difference between the NHL and American League in those days was one or two players. If you put Ted Lindsay or Gordie Howe on Indianapolis, we would be the NHL team. That is how close it was.

In the 1947 playoffs, you were called-up by Detroit to play in what turned out to be the last game in a semi-final series against Toronto. On April 5th, you performed in your first National Hockey League game in Maple Leaf Gardens.

 I remember it was a thrill. Just to be in Maple Leaf Gardens, because we listened to games on the radio from there. Names like Syl Apps, Gordie Drillon, Bill Ezinicki, Turk Broda and Wally Stanowski - these were your heroes. You are nervous until you get on the ice. Once you're on the ice, it's just another hockey game.

It has become one of the great stories in hockey history. Tell us about Foster Hewitt and his inability to pronounce your name.

 I go to training camp one year and Fred Huber, who was the publicity man for the Detroit team, comes into the dressing room after practice. He says, "Come on into office, I want to talk to you."
 So, I go up there and he says he got a call from Foster Hewitt. "He's having a hard time pronouncing your name and we would like to change it. We thought we would change it to Jim Enio."
 I said "It doesn't matter to me."
 I know my Dad was a little upset at the start. Even a lot of kids when I went home in the spring, they would ask, "Where were you all winter?" Playing under Jim Enio, they didn't associate who I was. It didn't really bother me that much.

You played in 4 regular season and 6 playoff games with Detroit in 1947-48. You must have been thrilled to score your first NHL goal and play against the top defencemen in hockey.

 I was. Anytime you score a goal in the NHL it is a thrill. Twenty goals at that time was a lot compared to what they get now. In '48-'49, we finished in first-place. We owned Toronto all year. We beat Montreal out in seven games, and then played Toronto for the championship. They beat us four straight. They literally beat the hell out of us. I didn't find out until later they were cutting the palms out of their gloves. When you went around a defenceman, he was able to grab your sweater and give you a half-spin.

You had a strange thing happen to you when Indianapolis was spending time in Detroit early in the 1951-52 season. As the team practiced in the Olympia, you went to the bench to take a break. Tell us what occurred once you sat down.

 Well, we went up to Detroit and Jack Adams and everybody else was there. They were going to take some players from Indianapolis, because Detroit was going through a rough patch. I come off the ice and I'm sitting on the bench sweating. A player by the name of Bill McComb, who came up with us, skates by and swings his stick around. It caught me right in the mouth. The impact knocked out five teeth, broke my jaw and cheekbone. For the rest of the year, I had to live on milkshakes with raw eggs. Surprisingly, I played pretty well.

In 1952, you skated in 9 regular season games with Detroit. The Wings thought so highly of your contributions, they added your name to the Stanley Cup. However, in 1957, when the Cup was redesigned, your name was left-off. Were you ever provided with an explanation?

 I was called-up for the playoffs in case someone got injured, but I never got into a game. I would work out, however, no one got hurt. No, it didn't bother me. What makes me laugh about all this is there are people associated with the team getting their name on the Cup. Here I am, part of the team, but they took it off.

In the summer of 1952, you were traded to Chicago and played in 14 games with the Hawks. What was that experience like?

 Sid Abel was the coach, who I played with in Detroit. Tommy Ivan was the Vice-President. I had a pretty big opportunity there. At training camp, we had eight exhibition games. I'm going down the ice in one exhibition game, and as I said, I'm a real good skater. I got pushed from behind and I went into the boards with my face. I couldn't get my arm up. I crushed my cheekbone; broke my jaw and my eyeball wouldn't move. They put me on a plane and flew me right to St. Joseph's in Toronto. I would lay flat on my back. I couldn't do anything.
 The Leaf doctor, I remember, every night he would stop in and give me the scores and everything else. My sister worked at Tip Top Tailors and would stop by. It was a very scary thing for me. After six weeks, they finally had to operate. They pulled out a lot of chips, and then my eyeball slowly started to move back and forth where it should have been.
 I'm sitting at home doing my eye exercises when I get a call from Jack Adams in Detroit. He asked, "Jim, how are you?" I told him I was out of the hospital and getting along.
 He continued, "Why don't you come to Detroit and work out with us. We're home for a week and you can get yourself into shape. St. Louis needs some help." St. Louis was a farm team of Chicago.
 I asked, "Jack, who owns me?"
 His reply was, "Har...Har...Har...we're all in the same family."
 I went to Detroit and worked out for a whole week. I went to St. Louis and played pretty good. I was called-up to Chicago, but I was too far behind everyone else. I missed half-a-year and I couldn't seem to get going that was it for me in the NHL.

What was the highlight of your career as a professional hockey player?

 I played with some great players. I think of "Dutch" Reibel who was my centreman. Alex Delvecchio was my centreman - playing with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Even though these guys were stars, we were all in it together. I enjoyed playing hockey. I think it is the greatest game in the world. You have sixty-minutes of action. The game is so different from when we played it. Very seldom do you see three guys go up ice and make plays. They shoot it in and shoot it out. It's a different game.

At the end of our chat, I asked Enio if he would pose for a photograph. Looking through the camera lens, his answer to one of my questions flooded my thought process. It was the inquiry relating to his favourite NHL player. I was applying his response concerning Syl Apps to the current situation at hand.

Enio Sclisizzi of Milton, he is the best. I just admire that guy. I met him and talked to him. He is a gentleman on and off the ice.



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