And because this is a Habs blog, I can say that Horton played 24 years in the NHL, 1446 games, none of which were with the Montreal Canadiens. He was strong as an ox and tough to get around, but I’m sure Ralph Backstrom and Henri Richard zipped by him on several occasions.
I originally wrote this a year ago and I’m delighted that MacWilliams’ son emailed me and let me know about his dad. Here’s the original story and the email I received a couple of days ago.
He wasn’t big, this John MacWilliams of Huntsville’s Squirt, then Peewee, and later, Bantam teams, all of which played Orillia on a regular basis in the early 1960’s. In fact, he was small. But regardless of his size. he looked like a hockey player. And did he ever play like one.
We were constantly told by our coaches to watch this MacWilliams, be careful with him, don’t let him get wound up because he’d be almost impossible to stop.
And he was. He was the most fantastic young hockey player I’d ever seen. Even on my own own team, my regular centreman John French went on to play for the Toronto Marlboros, was chosen by the Montreal Canadiens and played in the minors with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, and eventually ended up in the World Hockey Association with New England and Indianapolis.
But there was no one like John MacWilliams. He reminded me of Ralph Backstrom and Dave Keon, the way he skated and danced around the ice. He dazzled, and made the rest of us look quite ordinary.
And then, just like that, he was never seen again by any of us in Orillia.
This was a guy headed to the bigs with a bullet. We were all sure of that. But it never happened.
A few years ago I emailed national newspaper writer and acclaimed author Roy MacGregor, who’s roughly my age, and comes from Huntsville. I figured he might know about John MacWilliams.
MacGregor replied back, saying that yes indeed, he remembers John MacWilliams, and that the young fellow was probably the best he’d seen to. And then he told me what happened to him.
This young guy, with all the talent in the world, who skated and scored the way I wanted to, the way all of us wanted to, simply quit hockey completely and took up figure skating.
Hi Dennis, I’ve had the privilege of reading your blog and the article about my father. He has read it as well. He is the guy who has been teaching hockey skating on the east coast for the last 30+ years. We did it together. We lived in Saint John NB and the Dartmouth NS and next to Howie Meeker, nobody revolutionized the hockey school like my Dad. He was elite in both sports back in the 60’s and I think the decision to pursue the figure skating route was made because of his size. He still runs hockey Schools in Ontario and the Maritimes and has taught several huge name NHL players, one just scored a pretty big goal in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago. He has two Granddaughters and loves to spend time with them and golf. He currently resides in Guelph, Ontario. If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. Thx Jon MacWilliams
I’m not around for awhile and look what happens – Canada wins more medals – this time on the speedskating track, and so I’d better warm up the keyboard.
Charles Hamelin won gold and Francois-Louis Tremblay bronze in men’s 500 metre short-track, and then Hamelin teamed up with his brother Francois, plus Tremblay and Olivier Jean to win the 5000 metre relay. Jean is the one with the long dreadlocks. What’s the procedure for washing dreadlocks?
American superstar Apolo Ohno and his teammates took bronze, and one thing I should say about Ohno – he’s a good ballroom dancer. He won Dancing With The Stars a few seasons back, moving around the floor like a shorter and heavier Fred Astaire. I appreciate this feat simply because my wife made me take dancing lessons a few years ago and I was the worst one there from about 20 men.
So good for our really fast Canadians. This is an Olympic sport Henri Richard and Ralph Backstrom would’ve been good at.
He had all the things I knew were good in life – a big talent and one who could skate like the wind, a great brush-cut, a lovely wife, was a heralded phenom when he was a kid, and he wore the sweater of the Montreal Canadiens. What could be better than all that?
He was Ralph Backstrom, and I wanted to be Ralph Backstrom. I knew I wasn’t going to be another Rocket or Beliveau or Geoffrion, so I thought I’d be Backstrom instead. I started by getting a brush-cut and posing on the ice like I’d seen Backstrom do in pictures, even when I was supposed to be concentrating on playing. My coaches must have wondered what the heck I was doing.
He had come out of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, a little town in northern Ontario that seemed to churn out hockey players the way General Motors churns out cars, having produced Ted Lindsay, Mike Walton, Dick Duff, Barclay, Bob and Bill Plager, the Hillman brothers, Mickey Redmond and others, and especially Backstrom. He was a star in minor hockey, as most pros once were, and was captain and the best of the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens junior squad before he joined the big club.
I loved the way Ralph Backstrom played, the way he skated like a blur and was so solid both as a scorer and a checker. And because he was such a fast skater, he and Henri Richard would race around the Forum ice from time to time for the fun of it because they were the team speed demons.
I hadn’t seen an image of Backstrom for years, and suddenly, during the 100th birthday celebrations at the Bell Centre, there he was, smiling and walking out to centre ice with the others. It made me happy to see him. But he doesn’t have his brush cut anymore, and that made me sad.