All posts by Dennis Kane

Toothless in Orillia

It was a nice summer day at McKinnell Square in Orillia when I put on a little mask that only covered my eyes, and I crouched behind the plate to catch a ball thrown by neighbourhood kid Ricky Ley, who would eventually grow up to play and coach big league hockey.

I had the ball lined up when Rick made the pitch, but the batter ticked it and the ball changed direction and flew into my mouth. And into my hand came my top front tooth, root and all.

It hurt like hell and I scrambled home and I don’t know whether Rick and the guys kept playing or not, but I like to think they felt so bad they just couldn’t carry on. Somehow, though, I feel they carried on.

I learned to live with a plastic upper plate with one tooth on it, but it would come out easily which made me paranoid. I held it in my hand one time while on the roller coaster at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto because I was afraid I’d lose it, and I broke it in about five pieces.

On one dark, fuzzy night several years after I got this tooth, my friends and I were down in the bushes drinking Four Aces sherry (95 cents) with the hobos at their little camp, and I got sick. Four Aces would do that sometimes. Shortly after, we all staggered out, and at some point I realized I’d lost my tooth, so I staggered back into the bushes in pitch-black darkness with an almost impossible chance of finding the thing. But at some point, in the middle of a blackness, in a bush, I reached down and put my hand right on it.

Nowadays I’ve got this fancy permanent tooth in my mouth and it’s way better. I don’t have to worry about losing it.

Losing it, and breaking it, and having gum stick to it. All in all, that false tooth was quite a pain in the ass.

It looked a lot like this –

And without it, I looked like this…

They’re Humans!

The 1972 Summit Series wasn’t the first time the Russian National team set foot on North American soil. Fifteen years prior, in 1957, the Soviets played exhibition games in Canada, were guests of Maple Leaf Gardens for a Leafs-Hawks game, and made it known that one of their priorities was to see the great Rocket Richard in action (I don’t know if this happened or not).

They played to capacity crowds, said the big difference between NHL and Russian hockey was “the unnecessary roughness in the NHL”, and a Canadian teenager, seeing the foreigners in a hotel lobby exclaimed, “They’re humans, just like we are!”

Jim and Red

As we make our way through this endless and pathetic Habs season, I thought I’d tell you my Red Fisher/Jim Roberts story.

I was a kid at the Montreal Forum to see the Canadiens play the Rangers, and when the siren sounded to end the game, my friend and I wandered down to rinkside to look at the big CHs at centre ice.

This is what I wanted to do as much as see the game. Get close to the ice and see the CHs that I had only seen on grainy television. It was magical to me, and I can still feel that exact moment to this day. Funny what a couple of painted logos on the ice can do.

We also saw trainers wheel out the players’ equipment from the corridor near the dressing room, stacked in bags on carts, bags belonging to all the guys from my hockey cards. I can still feel this moment too.

Nearby I spotted Jim Roberts, the all-important defensive forward who sometimes played defence, talking to some guy in a suit, so I sauntered up and asked him to sign my program, which he did and which you can barely see in the picture above, just below Jean Beliveau and Jim Neilson.

Best of all, Roberts was extremely nice to me and asked me where I was from and such, and he had no idea how much this impressed me.

He impressed me so much that I decided to start a Jim Roberts Fan Club. It would be almost like being on the team for goodness sake. What a fantastic idea this was.

The next step was writing Red Fisher, and I informed him of my plan to start a Jim Roberts Fan Club. Red wrote back (I had this letter for a few years I think, but don’t anymore), and he told me that he would mention this to Roberts the first chance he got.

I never heard any more. Maybe Jim Roberts waited all season for his fan club to begin. Maybe Red forgot to tell him. Regardless, it probably wasn’t more than a day or two later that I realized I didn’t want to start a Jim Roberts Fan club. It would be way too much work, and I had school to worry about, hockey to play, Beatles to listen to, girls to think about, public skating to go to on Sunday afternoon,  Ed Sullivan and Bonanza to watch on Sunday evening.

I didn’t have time for this. My weeks were full.

On top of all that, where was I going to get stuff to send to members? How could I afford stamps? What would I write about, other than the fact that Jim Roberts was a good player and was nice to me when I asked for his autograph?

I don’t know what I would’ve done if Jim had contacted me and told me he was excited to have a fan club.  I’d be stuck.

What the heck was I thinking?

So if Red Fisher forgot to mention it to him, I’m very grateful.

 

 

R.I.P. Red Fisher

Red Fisher, the man we all knew had the best job on the planet, has died at age 91.

Red covered the Habs for the Montreal Star and Montreal Gazette, beginning in 1955 and ending in 2012, when he was 85-years old. He became one of the boys, part of the players’ and coaches’ inner circle, winning or losing money on card games while the trains took to the team to other big league cities.

His first hockey assignment was, amazingly enough, the night of the Richard Riot (March 17, 1955) at the Forum.

It had to have been an incredible time for Red, covering those Stanley Cup teams over the years and doing so in such fine and unique fashion, and at this time my thoughts go out to Red’s family and friends.

I can only add a bit of a personal story about Red.

In the early 1960s I was a kid at an exhibition game in Peterborough, Ontario between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks, and I approached Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, who were standing by the boards, for autographs. Hull was more than happy to oblige, but Mikita was surly and miserable. I’ve always maintained that he told me to go to hell (or worse) but over the years I began to hope that he didn’t really get that harsh, that it was just me, because I was young, making too much of something.

I would like to say this… In no way is this to be taken that Stan Mikita was a bad person. In the beginning he was a little rough, but as the years went by, Mikita became a fine, friendly gentleman, a class act, and a legendary and deserving Hall of Famer.

After this incident in Peterborough, I wrote a letter to Red Fisher at the Montreal Star about it, and this is his reply back to me.

Habs Bee Hives

This is most of my Bee Hive collection from the 1944-64 series (Group 2). Not all but most. I’ve added several more since this picture was taken.

I have 75 of 78 Habs Bee Hives, missing only the extremely rare Tod Campeau and the light background J.C. and Gilles Tremblay (I have the more common dark backgrounds.)

Beehives were part of my youth and I would nag my mom to buy lots of Bee Hive corn syrup so I could remove the collars at the top and send them to the St. Lawrence Starch Company and get my free pictures.

The photos are much bigger than hockey cards, measuring 5.5 x 8 inches, and some of them are extremely difficult to find. The valuable ones are the non-stars, the guys who only played a handful of games in most cases.

Kids wanted the stars, so there are plenty of Rocket and Beliveau etc. out there. No one was clamouring for guys like George Robertson (31 games with the Habs), or Tod Campeau (42 games), or John Hanna (6 games), and there were less printed of these journeymen.

 

 

 

In a Box

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I pulled this out of a box in the closet the other day.

There’s a “Nixon For President” button, which is funny I suppose because I never liked the dirty rotten scoundrel. Did anybody?

A button/ribbon for the journey to the moon in July of 1969 with Neil Armstrong and the boys.

A plastic spoon I saved from the ship, Empress of England, that I took from Montreal to Liverpool in 1969.

A gum cigar that says “Win with Dick.” Nixon again, sorry about that.

A Russian Habs pinback that looks like an ordinary pinback except that’s it’s Russian and it’s old.

A Habs Stanley Cup pinback from 1986.

A pinback showing Pierre Trudeau giving the finger.

A nice metal Forum pin.

A 1987 playoff ticket stub from the Forum, a game I was at involving, I think, the Quebec Nordiques.

A Che Guevara pinback made from leather.

A WHA ticket featuring the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Nationals sometime around 1974.

A couple of Forum matchbooks.

A Habs/Oilers pin when they played an exhibition game in the 1980’s for charity in Ottawa.

A couple of 1988 Calgary Olympics pins.

And a beautiful handmade silver Habs pin my ex-brother-n-law had made for me for Christmas many years ago. I miss my ex-brother-in-laws.

Phone Book Families, Like the Orrs

Years ago my dad had this old 1959 Orillia and area telephone book hanging around the house which he was planning on tossing out until I asked him if I could have it because I knew Gordon Lightfoot’s family home is listed in the pages.

There are others too.

Paging through the Orillia section, I see the GM Lightfoot household at 283 Harvey St., and young Gordon, who would be about 20 when this phone book came out, had moved out of the house the year before. I used to have a couple of buddies who also lived on Harvey St, and my dad worked for a while at a dry cleaners in Orillia with Gordon’s father.

On the same page as Lightfoot is Norman Ley at 47 Wyandotte. Norman was the dad of Rick Ley, who went on to fame and fortune in both the NHL and WhA.

The book also has listings of the area surrounding Orillia, which includes Parry Sound, and I found Bobby Orr’s family home which you can see at Doug Orr, (his dad) on 21 Great North Road. Bobby’s grandfather, Robert Orr, is listed at 67 River.

Bobby would be about 11 at the time of the phone book.

Searching further, I went into Sundridge and found Bucko McDonald on Main St. Bucko had not only been a star in the NHL in the 1930s and 40s with Detroit, New York, and Toronto, but also coached Bobby Orr in squirt and peewee in Parry Sound. Bucko decided to make the young fellow a defenceman even though Bobby was small and had great skills up front. When dad Doug questioned Bucko about this odd decision, Bucko told him “Bobby is born to play defence.”

Sundridge is also where my mother came from.

Also listed in the pages of this old phone book is the Roger Crozier household in Bracebridge, writer Paul Rimstead’s dad’s farm outside of Bracebridge, and the family home of another respected Canadian writer, Roy MacGregor in Huntsville (who played minor hockey against Orr and the Parry Sound team).

Marlene Geoffrion

Marlene Geoffrion, wife of the late, great Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion, is the daughter of Howie Morenz, and she was just three when her famous father died. But after Morenz passed away in hospital from something related to a broken leg or broken heart, his wife Mary, Marlene’s mom, quickly blew through the insurance money she received and eventually the Canadiens had to hold a benefit night for her at the Forum just so she could buy groceries and pay the rent.

Marlene, still a very young girl, was placed in an orphanage with her brothers Howie Jr and Donald, for three long years.

Eventually, Mary married a millionaire, George Pratte (or Pratt), just nine days after six-year old Donald died of pleurisy, and Marlene and Howie Jr came home. But Mary died at forty-one of alcoholism as she continued to suffer from the death of her beloved Howie.

Morenz

I avoided joggers and bike riders along the trails at Mount Royal Cemetery, and visited the grave of Howie Morenz and his son Donald a few years back when I was living in Montreal.

It took a while, but I found the site.

Howie and little Donald are buried with Mary Morenz’s mom and dad, Herbert McKay and Wilhelmina Stewart.

Howie

I’m not sure where Howie’s wife Mary is buried. She doesn’t seem to be there with the rest of the gang.