Wednesday, November 28, 2018


"My mother Anastasi (Nellie to her friends), my five sisters Anne, Mary, Marjorie, Stella and Rose, and my brothers Bill and John, all contributed into making me the man that I was and hopefully still am today." ~ Danny Lewicki, "From the Coal Docks to the NHL."

A celebration of Danny Lewicki's life took place on October 13, 2018, at the Royal Canadian Legion Coronation Branch 286 in Etobicoke, Ontario. A solid NHL left winger, Lewicki passed away on September 25, 2018.

I had the pleasure of recording Lewicki's memories of his time on and off the ice.

Born on March 12, 1931, in Fort William, Ontario, Daniel "Dashin' Danny" Lewicki holds a distinction unmatched in hockey history and one which will unlikely be equalled anytime soon. He is the only player, while still eligible to play junior hockey, to capture the Memorial Cup, Allan Cup and Stanley Cup.

"At nine years of age, I started skipping school. I hid my skates under the back porch. You can imagine how I'd be in Fort William back in those days. The temperature would be 30 t0 40 below. I'd go to the outdoor rink and spend six to seven hours skating by myself."

In 1948, Danny was loaned from the Fort William Columbus Club to the Fort Arthur West End Bruins to help them in their run for a junior title. The Bruins faced the Barrie Flyers for the Memorial Cup at Maple Leaf Gardens. Lewicki and his new teammates gained a stranglehold in the final by winning the first three games. Game four turned out to be a wild contest with Port Arthur wiping out a three goal deficit in the third period. In overtime, Lewicki scored the Memorial Cup clinching goal in a 9-8 victory. A Toronto newspaper reported, "Lewicki took Migay's pass, used him for a decoy to sail around the defender and fired one past Strachan for the clincher."

"I turned down a contract to play in Brandon and for the (Toronto) Marlboros and I went to Stratford because my coach (Leo Barbini) in Fort William was there. I thought I would be more at home with someone I knew. He had signed me to a form the year of my 16th birthday with Providence (AHL)."

Leo Barbini suggested to Lewicki that he attend the Providence Reds training camp. He told young Danny, "If you go they will even give you $100 for expenses." But there was a stipulation that would haunt Danny Lewicki. As Lewicki later reflected, "Then he said, 'in order for you to get the $100 for expenses, they want you to sign this to make sure you show up at training camp.' Little did I know I was signing a C-form." The matter became more complicated for Lewicki when Conn Smythe and the Toronto Maple Leafs purchased his rights in the summer of 1948. The C-form allowed the Leafs to control Lewicki's destiny in the game when he turned 18 on March 12, 1949.

"When Stratford asked me if I would fight the C-form in court, I said okay. Mr. Smythe was ready to kill me. They suspended me for about two months before I finally went to the Marlboros. Mr. Smythe called me up to his office. He was so furious and being an army-man, he would turn beet-red. He called me an impertinent rat. And I didn't know what an impertinent rat was. I don't think Mr. Smythe ever forgave me for battling the C-form." 

Under these circumstances the Lewicki-Smythe battle reached a boiling point in early October of 1949. Both camps dug into their positions; Lewicki wanted to remain with the Stratford Kroehlers and Smythe wanted his prospect to be part of the Leafs as an amateur or a pro player. The stalemate was broken when the Leafs suspended Lewicki on October 7, 1949.

Lewicki's fight over the C-form was front page news. Ultimately, the long-reach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the harm they could cause to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, who supported Lewicki and the Kroehlers if they elected to pursue the matter through the courts, was too immense. The stand off limited Lewicki's hockey action to practicing with the Stratford junior team.

In a confrontation that would be difficult to win, Danny Lewicki relented and joined the OHA junior 'A' Toronto Marlboros, who had already started the 1949-50 campaign. He had an outstanding year with the Marlboros having scored 36 goals and registering 73 points in 32 games. Lewicki skated on a line with Jack McKenzie and George Armstrong. His junior career came to an end when the Marlboros were eliminated from the OHA playoffs by Windsor.

But this didn't mean Lewicki's hockey season was over. Still in the hunt for an Allan Cup title, the senior Marlboros came calling for the trio of McKenzie, Lewicki and Armstrong. Coach Joe Primeau now had three new weapons for his arsenal.

And the new additions helped the senior club make it all the way to the 1950 Allan Cup final. Their western opponent was the Calgary Stampeders. Lewicki's shining moment came in game four on May 8, when he scored all 3 goals in Toronto's 3-1 victory. The Calgary Herald described his scoring outburst in the third period as follows: "He broke the scoreless deadlock at 9:50 when he was beside the Calgary net to tip in Hugh Bolton's long shot. Lewicki made it 2-0 at the 13:53 mark when he faked Roy Hexer, the lone Calgary defender, and beat Russ Dertell for the second time. Lewicki's third marker came on a breakaway and he out-legged Calgary chasers, finishing off with a blazing shot from close in that allowed Dertell no chance."

These three tallies are an excellent example of why Lewicki was considered to be a natural when it came to depositing the puck in the back of the net. Each goal was scored in a different manner with Lewicki finding open ice and reading a play to get a result.

Two nights later, Lewicki added an Allan Cup championship to his hockey resume when the Marlboros defeated Calgary by a score of 9-5.

Next up for 19 year old Danny Lewicki was his rookie year with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played his first NHL regular season game on October 14, 1950, against Chicago at Maple leaf Gardens. The Leafs lost 2-1 to the Black Hawks, but a reporter noted, "Danny Lewicki did not look bad at all at left wing."

On October 28, 1950, the Boston Bruins made a visit to the Gardens and Lewicki elevated his game to a new level. At the 18:10 mark of period one, he scored his first of 105 NHL goals. In his game story for the Toronto Daily Star, Joe Perlove wrote, " ... Danny Lewicki took a perfect pass from Max Bentley on the fly, scooted around Bill Quackenbush and beat Gelineau with a perfect shot."

Just over a minute later, Lewicki assisted on a goal by Ted Kennedy.

In his first season with the Leafs, Lewicki recorded 16 goals in 61 games and added 18 helpers for 34 points.

Toronto, in hockey's post-season, advanced to the 1951 Stanley Cup final by ousting Boston 4 games to 2.

"Before the game(s), they would freeze my groin and tape it up. My job at that time, because of the way I could skate, was to go up and down my wing and make sure my winger doesn't score."

During the '51 playoffs, Lewicki was suffering from a groin injury, but that didn't prevent him from altering his game so he could help his team. Lewicki couldn't play in his usual fashion on offence due to his inability to maneuver, so he concentrated on defence.

On the line for Lewicki was the chance to add the Stanley Cup to his collection of hockey silverware. In a fierce war with Montreal Canadiens, the two clubs pushed the limits with each of the first four games going to overtime. The Leafs held a 3 games to one advantage heading into game 5 at the Gardens. And it came as no surprise to anyone when the fifth contest also needed extra-time.

Danny Lewicki completed his championship hat trick when Bill Barilko scored to give Toronto Lord Stanley's mug.

Coming off a banner year, Lewicki looked forward to his sophomore season with the Leafs, but his hope of spending the entire schedule with the parent club suffered a blow when he was shipped out to the American Hockey League Pittsburgh Hornets. This coming on the heels of  being told by coach Joe Primeau that it would safe for Lewicki to sign a lease for an apartment in Toronto.

"I told Conn Smythe about Joe Primeau telling me I could sign the lease and he said, 'is that all that's bugging you. If you go down to Pittsburg and you prove to me that you belong in the National Hockey league, I'll buy you any house in the city of Toronto.' I went to Pittsburgh and was there 3 weeks."

Over the next two season, Lewicki played the bulk of his games with Pittsburgh. Between 1952-53 and 1953-54, he only suited up for 11 contests with the Maple Leafs. He had decent numbers on the farm and scored 55 goals during his time with the Hornets.

"He (Smythe) called me into his office and said, 'I've got a couple of homes in my area that I built (near Smythe's gravel pit business).' On one street, Turk Broda lived there as did Gus Mortson. I liked one house that was on the corner right across from Turk's house. Smythe put in an offer of $10,500 and it was accepted. After signing the papers, Smythe asked me, 'by the way, can you live on $70 a week?' I said, what. And he replied, 'well, you have to pay me back for buying you the house.' " 

Despite putting down roots in Toronto, Danny Lewicki's time with the Toronto Maple Leafs came to a close when he was traded to the New York Rangers for cash on July 20, 1954.

"My career in New York was great, especially the first year. I had Don Raleigh as my centre and Nick Mickoski, who was a real good checker. We had a great line. I scored 29 goals and made the (Second) All-Star Team. The second year, Muzz Patrick took over as general manager and he brought in Phil Watson as his coach. Watson tried to turn everyone into a checker. As a result, my production dropped to 18 goals. After 4 years in New York, I was left unprotected and claimed by Montreal."

Lewicki's time in Montreal was limited to the Canadiens 1958 training camp.

"They were looking for a left winger to play with Beliveau and Geoffrion and I thought here's a really good opportunity. I really thought I was going to make the Canadiens that year.  I was there until the last day of camp."

Although dejected by his release from the Habs, Lewicki wasn't out of commission for very long. On September 23, 1958, he was claimed on waivers by the Chicago Black Hawks.

"My first year in Chicago, Rudy Pilous took over as coach (first full season). I started the season playing centre between Ted Lindsay and Kenny Wharram. The first 9 games, I had 5 goals and 8 assists and I thought I was going to have a hell of a year. Then, I was benched after a run-in with Pilous. It started when Eric Nesterenko kept forcing a play and couldn't control the puck. I gave him the puck twice on a power play, but each time it went off his stick and into the other teams zone. They would send it back down to our end. The next year, I wasn't even invited to Chicago's training camp, as I was sent directly to Buffalo."

His exit from Chicago spelled the end to Lewicki's National Hockey League career. The final calculations show he played in 461 games and scored 105 goals and 135 assists for 240 points. In the playoffs, Lewicki recorded 4 assists in 28 contests. The balance of playing days was spent in the American Hockey League. His final season was in 1962-63 with Quebec Aces.

"I spent one year in Buffalo and they made a deal for me to go to Quebec City. They had a working agreement with the Canadiens and I thought maybe I would get called up to Montreal when all was said and done. After 3 years, I didn't get the call and I got totally discouraged. I wasn't enjoying the game anymore and I told Quebec I was retiring. I got a call in the summer from the Hershey Bears saying they made a trade for me. They made a deal for me in exchange for Willie Marshall. I said if I do go, I would be stealing money from you because I don't enjoy the game anymore. Willie went back to Hershey."

After ending his time in pro hockey, Lewicki suited up for the NHL Oldtimers and helped them raise money for various charities.  

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