I once phoned Hall of Famer and ex-Hab Bert Olmstead in Calgary (he was in the phone book), hoping to get him to talk about the old days with the Rocket and Stanley Cups etc. He hung up on me.
When I had my sports bar in Powell River, Frank Mahovlich and Red Storey came in while on an oldtimers tour. Frank told me the Montreal organization was so much better than the Leaf organization. We fed them a spaghetti dinner. That night, referee Storey, with a microphone, told the crowd that the spaghetti at Kane’s was the best.
I spoke to the Habs’ Jim Roberts after a game at the old Forum when I was about 13 , several years before it was renovated in 1968. He was nice to me and I decided to start a Jim Roberts fan club. I didn’t because I figured it was too much work and he wasn’t a good enough player.
I met the Rocket when he was refereeing an oldtimers game in Calgary. I told him he’d sent me a Christmas card when I was about 8 years old and he said he used to send out lots of cards but didn’t remember much at all about the old days. My sister took a picture of him, then the Rocket said he wanted me to take a picture of him with my sister.
My dad took me to a Montreal-Toronto game back in the 1950s. Somehow he corralled coach Toe Blake in the lobby and asked him to take my hockey book into the dressing room and get Doug Harvey to sign it. Blake did.
My peewee coach in Orillia, Jack Dyte, played 27 games for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1943-44 season. He had one goal and 31 penalty minutes. He played alongside Punch Imlach for the Quebec Aces in the old Quebec Senior League and against the Rocket before Richard joined the Habs.
When I lived in Ottawa, it was well known that a somewhat down-and-out Doug Harvey was living in a railway car (which was once used by Canadian PM John Diefenbaker) at the race track across the river in Hull. And what did I do? Nothing. Didn’t go there. Didn’t bring him any smokes or a bottle. Didn’t invite him home for a turkey dinner. Nothing. It’s a big regret.
I had breakfast with HOF goalie Glenn Hall when he came to Powell River for the Allan Cup back in the late-1990s. After breakfast I drove him around the area in my Hyundai Excel.
Butch Bouchard didn’t own a pair of skates until he was 16, and just four years later he’d made the NHL.
I grew up just down the street from Rick Ley, who was a solid defenceman for the Leafs in the late 1960’s and into the ’70s. He also played for the New England Whalers in the WHA and has his sweater retired in Hartford. He then went on to a coaching career in Vancouver and Toronto. He and I would sometimes skate on an outdoor rink before school, and in the summer, during a pickup baseball game, with him pitching and me catching without a mask, the batter tipped one of Ley’s pitches and the ball knocked my front tooth out. I’ve had plastic in my mouth ever since.
In the late 1960s, Rick Ley’s older brother Ron and his buddies threatened to take me behind the pool hall and cut my long hair.
Bep Guidolin played his first NHL game in 1942 with Boston. He’s the youngest player ever to play in the league, at 16 years old.
Floyd Curry attended his first Montreal Canadiens training camp in 1940 at just 15. He didn’t make the team but it’s still quite a feat.
Bobby Orr played for the Jr. A Oshawa Generals when he was just 14.
Hall Of Fame goalie Johnny Bower didn’t play his first NHL game until he was 30 when he was called up from the minors to the NY Rangers. He played one season, then three more in the minors. After that he was traded to Toronto when he was 34 years old (maybe older). Amazingly enough, Bower played goal all those years with poor eyesight and rheumatoid arthritis.
Claire Alexander, who played defence for the Leafs in the mid 1970s, came into the league when he was 29. Before that, he was a milkman in Orillia, Ontario (my hometown).
In the early 1960s, when I was about 12, my parish priest, Monsignor Lee, was somehow connected to the Toronto Maple Leafs. I think it had to do with St. Michael’s College. At one point he took my buddy Ron Clarke and I to Peterborough to see an exhibition game between the Leafs and Chicago, and the afternoon before the game, we had dinner at the hotel with the Leafs’ brass. The players were in an adjoining room. Ron and I had dinner with the Monsignor, King Clancy, and Jim Gregory, who is now in the builder’s category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In the 1950s, New York tough guy Lou Fontinato (who later was traded to Montreal), got into a scrap with Rocket Richard. Fontinato got Richard’s sweater off and proceeded to rip it to shreds with his skates. A few weeks later, Fontinato received a bill from the Canadiens for $38.50.
I was a milkman in Calgary for awhile and Doug Risebrough was one of my customers. His wife, who looked after the milk situation, gave me a small tip at Christmas. Risebrough played 13 years in the NHL, with both Montreal and Calgary. When he was eating his Cheerios with the milk I had faithfully delivered, he was coaching the Flames. I remember years before, in Ottawa, when the Habs played a pre-season exhibition game at the old Civic Centre, the buzz in the papers was the new promising rookie who would be playing that night in his first NHL game. That player was Doug Risebrough.
I played on the same Midget team as Dan Maloney for one game in Barrie after our Orillia team got eliminated and three of us were loaned to Barrie. I remember he was big, and a real leader even then. We were about 16. I also spent an afternoon with him hanging out and playing pool. Dan Maloney played for four teams (Chicago, LA, Detroit, and Toronto) over 11 seasons, and eventually went on to coach. He was truly a great guy and a tough bastard.
Toe Blake’s real first name was Hector. He got the name ‘Toe’ from his younger sister who pronounced the last part of Hector as toe, as in “Hectoe.”
Turk Broda, who was the Toronto Maple Leaf goalie from 1936 to 1952, had the nickname “Turk” because as a child, his neck would turn red like a turkey when he got angry. His real name is Walter.
During the time I owned my restaurant in Powell River, the Hanson Brothers (from Slapshot) came to town for a promotional thing at the arena. Afterwards, two of them, the Carlson brothers, came into my pub and at midnight, I locked the doors and drank beer and talked hockey with them until about 5AM.
When I was 12, my peewee baseball team played in a tournament in St. Catherines, Ontario. For one game, goalie great Gerry Cheevers, in his early-20s at the time, was the umpire.
When I was about 11 and at the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame at the CNE in Toronto with my dad and sister, I asked Foster Hewitt for his autograph. He signed for me, but because he was in a deep discussion with someone, he kept my pen. I was too shy to ask him for it so my sister had to get it for me.
Howie Morenz was Toe Blake’s hero when Blake was a boy. He said he even called himself Howie. Years later, in 1937, Blake played for the Habs alongside his boyhood hero Morenz. This was the same year Morenz died from complications from a broken leg.
Toe Blake used such terrible profanity, he was barred from the Forum Billiard Hall.
In the early ’60s when I was about 13 or so, my previously mentioned buddy Ron Clarke and I went to Barrie, Ont. for an exhibition game between the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons and the Rochester Americans. We were there early and somehow got talking to the Buffalo trainer, and he let us be stickboys for the game. The team gave Ron and I sticks, although I broke mine later playing road hockey. And Don Cherry played that night for Rochester, although I only know this from the lineup sheet I still have.
Toe Blake said “Hockey has been my life. I never had the opportunity of getting one of those million dollar contracts, but hockey was worth more than a million to me in plenty of ways.”
1950s Habs grinder Marcel Bonin would at times eat glass (probably after several pops), and also wrestled a bear or two. And once, while at training camp in Victoria, BC, Bonin broke his thumb during some horseplay off the ice. He kept it a secret from Toe Blake, then during the next practice, pretended to hurt his hand on the ice and kept himself from getting into hot water with Blake. It worked.
Two NHL players who were notorious for treating rookies on their own teams badly were Steve Shutt and Dave Keon. Shutt’s reasoning was, “Hey, it happened to me so it’s gonna happen to them too.”
Jim Pappin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967, lost his Cup ring years ago. But it was found several years ago in the Gulf of Mexico when a diver using an underwater metal detector came up with it.
I saw Bobby Orr twice in my home town of Orillia. Once when I was sitting in the park down by the lake, he and his wife strolled by. He had a hockey school with Mike Walton in Orillia at this time. The other was out at one of the local beverage rooms, and he and a bunch of people I knew a little, sat near us. There’s a strong chance my table drank more beer than their table.
Gary Lupul, a great ex-Canuck and a good friend of mine who passed away several years ago, introduced me to goaltender Richard Brodeur, who was in town on an oldtimers tour. Gary told Brodeur I was a Habs fan, and Brodeur said “Oh. I don’t want to talk to you.” (He was joking. I think.)
I was also introduced to the Hanson Brothers’ manager when the Hansons came to town. I held out my hand and he asked “Do you wash your hands when you take a crap?” I said of course, and it was only then that he shook my hand.
A kid I played minor hockey with for four or five years, John French, ended up getting drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and played a couple of years with the club’s farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. But it was the early 1970s and extremely difficult to crack the Habs line up, so French signed with the New England Whalers of the newly-formed World Hockey Association instead. He played with Gordie Howe and another good Orillia boy, his old friend Rick Ley, who had played for the Leafs before jumping to the WHA.
The best seat I ever had at a game was in the first row at the Montreal Forum in the late-1970s, behind the net, just to the right of the goal judge.
The worst seat I ever had was at Edmonton’s Northland Coliseum for a game between the Habs and Oilers, and we were in the very first row behind the Oilers bench. John Muckler and his two assistant coaches stood right in front of us, so the only time we could see was when the play was down at either end.
Canada’s greatest pool player, Cliff Thorburn, is a long-time Habs fan.
The first two artificial rinks built in Canada were in Victoria and Vancouver.
From a documentary I learned that Russian Czar Peter the Great would often go incognito to Europe, with a shaved mustache and old hat, and from a painting of him shown in the doc wearing these, he looks a dead ringer for deceased Russian hockey star Valeri Kharlamov.
When the Rocket was playing for the Verdun juniors in 1939, he took boxing lessons in the off-season. He became so good at it that he was entered into a Golden Gloves competition, but a damaging punch in the nose by his coach prevented him from participating.
Leaf star Darryl Sittler and his wife Wendy were staying at Paul Henderson’s house and looking after their three daughters when Henderson scored those big goals during the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series.
Team Canada had a six-hour stopover in Paris on the way to Stockholm. Goalie Ed Johnston said this about Paris: “What’s wrong is the same thing you find with all these European cities. Too many old buildings.”
While in Stockholm, a Swedish fellow at the press conference mentioned that maybe Bobby Orr, who was injured and didn’t play in the series, wasn’t as good as Russian Valeri Kharlamov. “He’s good in the NHL,” said the guy, “but in Europe he’d be only average.” A Canadian who overheard this said, “Put this down. Bobby Orr-healthy-would eat any Czech or Russian alive. And he’d spit out any Swede.”
In Moscow, the Canadians were seen coming back to their hotel at all hours of the night. While some of the boys were sitting around the lobby of the Grand Hotel, someone mentioned hearing that the Russians had put street crews with jackhammers outside the Canadian team’s windows in the early morning. “No problem,” said one player. “We won’t be in anyway.”
Coach Harry Sinden celebrated his 40th birthday while overseas. “Ten days ago I was 29,” he said.
Some Canadian fans who arrived in Moscow found out there were no tickets available for them. These included Maurice Richard, Punch Imlach, former referee-in-chief Carl Voss, and legendary wrestler Whipper Billy Watson. Those left out were given three options: they could take an all-expenses paid 10-day tour of Copenhagen; they could fly home and be refunded; or they could stay and take their chances on finding tickets. Most chose the third option.
Dennis Hull, after a tour of Moscow, gushed, “I really like the place. It reminds me of Buffalo.”