Imagine how proud Roy Spencer must have been. Imagine the thoughts that swirled through his head. The phone call had finally come, and when he would see the game, there would be no words to describe it.
Roy’s boy Brian was about to play, on national television, for the fabled Toronto Maple Leafs in his first NHL game.
Brian Spencer had been no angel growing up, not by a long shot. The boy was quick-tempered, and quicker to fight, but everyone in Fort St. James, a dark, blue-collar town in northern British Columbia, knew he was a chip off the old block. After all, old man Roy was known in those parts as a fiery, hard-living, no-nonsense type of fellow, and his family, for all intents and purposes, was a tough family in a tough town.
Brian had a twin brother and the two played for hours each day during the cold winter nights on the backyard rink Roy had built behind the simple log cabin they lived in. Roy would often go out with the boys and slowly teach them the finer points of the game, especially how to play with an aggressive edge, because, as Roy would explain, this way would lead to the pros the fastest. Forget about being the next Dave Keon or Jean Beliveau. Forget about smoothness, concentrate on toughness.
Those hours in the backyard paid off, because in 1969, the Toronto Maple Leafs chose young Brian and he was sent to the Tulsa Oilers, a farm team of the Leafs, for grooming. Brian played hard, and in 1970, with the Leafs facing Chicago in the playoffs, the call came. Brian Spencer was being brought up to play for the big team.
When Brian learned he was going to Toronto, he quickly made his own call. It was to his dad Roy back home who, by that time, was dying from kidney disease. He was playing, he told his dad, and his game was to be aired on Hockey Night in Canada from coast to coast!
Bad kidneys or not, it must have been one of the best days of Roy’s life. For a proud hockey dad, something like this just doesn’t get any better.
In the end, it couldn’t have gotten any worse.
The CBC knew nothing about Roy and Brian Spencer and the big debut in the Leafs uniform, and for whatever reason decided to air the Vancouver-Oakland game instead. It was a decision that led to tragedy.
Roy, once he realized what was happening, rose from his chair in front of the television, got into his car with his rifle, and drove 85 miles to the nearest television station, in Prince George.
At the station, Roy demanded they show the Leafs game, a demand that was refused, and the RCMP were called. Roy found himself in a shoot-out with the police, and the proud dad, who only wanted to see his boy playing in his first NHL game, was quickly shot and killed.
In Toronto, young Brian was wearing the famous blue and white uniform of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and between periods, he was interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada. It was the biggest night of his life, and he was sure his dad was watching and smiling, with chest pumped with pride.
What Brian didn’t know was at the same time he was being interviewed, his dad was being shot to death. He learned after the game.
Brian Spencer’s career lasted 10 years, with stops after Toronto in Long Island, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. In 1987, Spinner, as he was known, while living a drifter’s life in Florida, was charged with kidnapping and murder but was acquitted for lack of evidence. Three months later, while he was beginning to get his life back in order, he was murdered by a young hoodlum trying to rob him.