Category Archives: Wayne Gretzky

Houses Of The Holy

Presenting the boyhood homes of four of the greatest players of all time.

All four photos were taken by yours truly. Not that I’m bragging or anything.

Below, the house in Bordeaux, Quebec, just north of Montreal, where Onesime and Alice Richard moved to from the Gaspe area when Onesime took a job in the big city as a CPR machinist. This is where son Maurice grew up with brother Henri and six other siblings.

When Maurice was older his dad got him a job in his machine shop for $20 a week.


Bobby Orr’s place in Parry Sound, across the street from the Seguin River where young Bobby learned to play the game better than anyone else, except for maybe the fourth player on this page.

This house is only a couple of hundred feet from Parry Sound’s main drag, but I’m guessing he didn’t hang out there looking for trouble, like I did in my home town.


Wayne Gretzky’s pad on Varadi Avenue in Brantford. A fine house on a nice tree-lined street. Bicycles and a little hockey net sit in the driveway, probably for various grandkids visiting Walter.


And finally, Elmer Ave. in Orillia, where the smallish yet shifty Dennis Kane grew up. This is a guy who, while playing for Byers Bulldozers midget all-stars, had his shot clocked at an incredible 29 mph. And aside from seven or eight others, was the fastest skater on the team.

It’s a shame that scouts were either drunk or weren’t paying attention when Kane was playing.  It’s a shame that he was too smalI with shitty muscles. It’s a shame his shot sucked. It’s a shame that the wild and crazy 1960s came along and he got sidetracked. It’s a shame that he had a hard time focusing and would sometimes sing Beatles songs under his breath while carrying the puck down the wing.

There are several other fine excuses as well.


R.I.P. Gordie

Howe and Rocket

When I was a kid in the schoolyard, the conversation with my buddies would go something like this:

Rocket’s better.
Nope, Howe’s better.
No way. Rocket’s better.
Howe’s better.
Take off, hoser.
No you take off.
Shut up and your mother wears army boots. (Or words to that effect).

That’s what it was. Always the same thing. Rocket and Howe. Two completely different players, but Howe was the enemy and Rocket was my hero, so I won. And I’ve  known now for years that Howe was the better all-round player, but I didn’t then and I wouldn’t have admitted it even if I did.

In the 1990s I had breakfast with the legendary goalie Glenn Hall, who was in Powell River for the Allan Cup. Glenn was a teammate of Gordie’s in the 1950s with Detroit, and played against him while with Chicago and St. Louis.

Glenn had also faced the Rocket and Orr during his Hall of Fame career, and because he lived near Edmonton and still involved in hockey in various ways, was as familiar with Wayne Gretzky as practically anyone.

I asked who he thought was the greatest ever and he didn’t hesitate. Howe, he answered, because he could do it all, and the others couldn’t.

I didn’t tell Glenn his mother wore army boots.

But Howe could do it all. His wrist shot was something to behold, his passes pinpoint, his deft scoring touch like few others, his unequaled on-ice intelligence, the unparalleled respect he rightfully earned from other players.

And tough? You want tough?

My friend and former co-worker Gilles Gratton was a backup goalie during the 1974 WHA Canada-Russia Summit Series, and he told me about the time Gordie’s son Mark was leveled by a Soviet defenceman in dastardly fashion, so much so that an unsteady Mark initially skated to the wrong bench and had to be steered to the right one by Soviet players.

Not long after, Gordie just happened to skate by the player who nailed Mark, and the guy just happened to end up with a broken arm and was gone for the series.

You didn’t mess with Gordie or his kin.

Players in the NHL, WHA, or Russia didn’t go in the corners with Gordie. They timidly poked their sticks at the puck and then got the hell out of there before one of those famous elbows crushed their faces.

He did it all, legally or not. There was absolutely no one like him.

Several years ago Howe came to Powell River for an autograph signing and the prices charged for his signature were incredibly outlandish. Way higher than normal, maybe because Powell River is fairly isolated.

I was astonished at these abnormal prices and I wrote a column about it for the local newspaper in which I wasn’t very nice, coming down hard on him and the grocery store where the signing was held.

I regret that I did that. Extraordinary prices or not (and they were), this was a fine and friendly fellow, a legendary man, possibly the greatest hockey player to ever play the game,  and he was there trying to make a buck. What an asshole I can be sometimes.

Now he’s gone and it’s a sad day for me and you and millions of others. I can almost hear angels in heaven’s schoolyard: “Rocket’s better”. “No, Howe’s better.” “Take off, hoser”.

Gordie & Rocket

Not As Much Fun In ’80-81

The late 1970s were fine years for Habs fans of course, as the Canadiens chalked up four straight Stanley Cup wins and all was well in this crazy, mixed up world.

Even after the run finished, the 1979-80 campaign saw the boys finish first in the Norris Division with 107 points, but cracks and unrest had begun to show.

Unhappy coach Scotty Bowman had left town for Buffalo after the 1978-79 season , where he assumed the role of coach and general manager after being denied GM duties in Montreal.

And as Bowman bolted, aging stars Jacques Lemaire, Ken Dryden, and Yvon Cournoyer retired.

In 1980-81, any semblance of a powerhouse team was gone and it was very sad. We were used to much better.

Difficult to stomach was the gang being swept in ’80-81 by the upstart Edmonton Oilers, with a skinny kid named Wayne Gretzky emerging as a freak of nature in the Oiler’s lineup.

Shortly after the disappointing sweep, Montreal coach Claude Ruel resigned and was replaced by the unsuccessful Bob Berry (14 different coaches have followed since).

Berry, between his three years as coach of the L.A. Kings and almost three in Montreal, would never get his teams past the first round of the playoffs, and 63 games into year three, Jacques Lemaire took over the helm.

It just wasn’t a rosy time for all concerned.

These were the days that saw a New York Islanders dynasty rise, with Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Billy Smith and company winning their own four straight.

By then, the idea of the Habs winning four in a row as they once had was only laughable. It had become painfully obvious that the dynasty wasn’t just on life support, it was officially over.

The Flower’s greatest years were behind him, his 50-goal seasons would come no more. Goaltending was shaky, and Patrick Roy was still several years away.

Steve Shutt was the team’s leading point-getter in the 1980-81 season, recording 35 goals and 38 assists for 73 points. Mark Napier was next with 71 points, while Lafleur was third with 70 points.

The goaltending duties were shared by four guys that season – Richard Sevigny, Michel Larocque, Denis Herron, and Rick Wamsley.

Doug Wickenheiser, the Habs first-overall pick, chosen over fan favourite Denis Savard, suited up in this 1980-81 season and turned out to be not quite the player the organization and fans thought they were getting.

The much maligned (and initially much heralded) centreman recorded just 7 goals and 8 assists, and often found himself a healthy scratch.

Wickenheiser had been a huge star in junior with the Regina Pats and his big body at centre ice had folks wondering if they might have a new Jean Beliveau on their hands. But he never managed to become a major impact player (115 points in 202 games in Montreal), and was finally dealt to St. Louis.

And to add salt to everyone’s wounds, including Wickenheiser’s, the shifty and bilingual Quebecer from Pointe Gatineau, Denis Savard, had become the toast of the town in Chicago.

Rough times after those glorious late-1970s, and it would be five more years after ’80-81 before the Canadiens would become champs once again.

At that time, a handful of years in Montreal without Lord Stanley was unacceptable.

Now of course, it’s a bit more than a handful.

Orr Town

I dislike the Boston Bruins as much as anyone. Can’t stand them. Hate the uniform. When I see someone on the street wearing a Bruins sweater or jacket I say to myself, yep, there’s the friggin’ enemy.

I’m a Habs fan, so these are natural feelings. I have no control over this.

But disliking the Bruins has never stopped me from feeling that Bobby Orr is the greatest to ever lace ’em up. Better than Gretzky. Better than Howe and Lemieux and Beliveau. And yes, better than my lifelong idol, the Rocket.

Any of this can be debated. I just don’t have the energy.

Orr was magnificent, the Norris Trophy was his for eight straight seasons, but his career lasted just nine full seasons because of those wretched knees. It’s one of the hockey’s true tragedies.

Below, some photos I took in Orr’s hometown Parry Sound while driving from Powell River to Montreal to start my job at Classic Auctions back in 2013. Parry Sound is about 60 miles northwest of Orillia, where I grew up.


-A sign on the highway, of course.
-The house Orr grew up in. The Seguin River, where he honed his skills, is just across the street.
-The name of his street, Great North Rd. (He lived just three houses around the corner from the main drag).
-Orr’s Deli, owned by his dad’s brother. A couple of his nieces work there.
-A big wooden sign in the deli. Too bad about the uniform.
-And outside the Orr Hall of Fame, which was closed.

Orr sign

Orr's house

Orr street


Inside deli

Orr hall of fame

Pat’s Time

I worked in Hull, Quebec at the E.B. Eddy paper mill in the mid to late-1970s when Pat Burns was a local cop there.

I never met him. I just thought it was a good opening paragraph.

I’ll bet as a cop, Burns was a beauty. Tough as nails. No nonsense.  We saw how ferocious he was as a coach. Smart-ass punks would have stood no chance.

The ex-cop has now been chosen as part of the 2014 Hall of Fame gang, along with Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, and referee Bill McCreary.

Who knows why Burns wasn’t picked five or ten years ago? Maybe he’d ruffled some feathers before he passed away in 2010 from cancer.

This was a tough hombre who wouldn’t have stood for any guff from legends in their own minds who run various branches of hockey, including members of the HOF selection committee.

The bottom line is, he was a strong and successful coach who deserved to be placed in the Hall. There are plenty in there who are debatable choices, but not Pat Burns.

It was Wayne Gretzky, who owned the Hull Olympiques from 1985 to 1992, who convinced Pat to quit the beat and coach the Quebec Junior team full time. It worked out beautifully.

Of course it did. Because everything Gretzky touched back then seemed to turn to gold.

As a coach, when Pat Burns wasn’t raging, he seemed as likeable as can be in interviews, and by many accounts was popular and personable to everyone he wasn’t collaring or coaching or happened to be near when he was in a foul mood.

He admitted it was tough in Montreal with the pressure from media and fans, he didn’t always handle things in a cool and calm manner, and I’m sure at times, reporters would tread lightly after a tough loss. Would you want a pissed off Pat Burns glaring at you?

He was behind the Habs bench for just four years, his learning years as an NHL coach from 1988 to 1992, and was awarded the Jack Adams Award in 1989 for top coach in the league after taking the boys to the Cup finals before falling to the Terry Crisp-coached Calgary Flames.

(I wrote a letter to my sister in Calgary before that ’89 series had started, giving my prediction along with a little made-up series review which I titled “Pat Burns Terry to a Crisp”)

Next stop was Toronto, where he led the Buds from 1992 to ’96, and where he’d win the Adams in 1993. And from there it was four years with the Bruins (1997 to 2001),  where he’d earn a third Jack Adams Award, this one in 1998.

It sucked to see Pat Burns running the bench in Toronto and Boston. It always sucks to see a beloved Hab in those enemy uniforms.

Following Boston it was the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03 for Burns where he’d win the Stanley Cup, and then one final year after that with the Devils before being diagnosed with colon cancer.

A great career, successful almost everywhere he coached. And on Monday, November 17, 2014, eleven years after his final line change, we’ll see Pat inducted.

Late, but better late than never.


Cream Of The Crop




The best ever? It’s been written and talked about forever.

I don’t care. I want to talk about it too. It’s cold and I don’t want to go out.

There’s no real definitive answer I think, but it can be broken down in stages.

Howie Morenz in the 20s and 30s. Maurice Richard’s name was added in the 40s. Gordie Howe and the Rocket in the 50s.

It was all Howe in the 1960s, although Bobby Hull’s name was tossed around by some, and Bobby Orr showed up in the latter part of the 1960s and into the 70s.

Then Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky came along and ruled the 80s and 90s.

Gretzky’s name comes up much more than Mario’s, but Mario, before he got sick, would take a back seat to no one and ended with 1723 points in 915 regular season games, including an 85-goal season in ’88-89.

Maybe Mario is underrated when it comes time to talk about the best ever. He was big and smart with hands of gold.

Sidney Crosby is great of course, but he’s not in this stratosphere. Not yet at least. I wonder if some would disagree about that.

Usually, it boils down to three guys when this topic comes up – Howe, Orr, and Gretzky.

My choice is Bobby Orr.

Although I would see Gordie Howe play a number of times over the years on television (once live at Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid-’60s), he never seemed to completely control the flow of the game the way Orr did, although I know Howe was in a league of his own in almost every department.

Orr’s two years older than me and comes from the same area of Ontario. We were worlds apart as players of course, but at least I can say I  played in many of the same barns as him, maybe against some of the same guys he played against in town like Midland and Huntsville and Gravenhurst. I feel some sort of Central/Northern Ontario connection in a way.

Bobby Orr was a minor league phenom and we were talking about him with envy when we were kids. We knew about him. We heard about his exploits. Parry Sound kids my age came down to Orillia to play and I think our teams played there too. And we watched his brother Ron when his Junior C Parry Sound team played in Orillia.

I saw Orr a few times in Orillia over the years, including a night at the Atherley Arms Hotel when he was at a table with friends and a guy with a few too many drinks in his belly came up to Bobby and was rude and vulgar, which wasn’t cool.

I also by chance walked by him and his wife Peggy in the Orillia park one day and said hi, and they both smiled and said hi back.

I saw him play when he was 16 in an exhibition game in Bracebridge. He was with the Oshawa Generals at the time, but on this night he suited up with the Orillia Terriors senior team against a Muskoka all-star senior team. Orr had the puck all night, and we could see other players – talented, grown men – laughing and shaking their heads at how good this teenager was.

Orr skated like no other defenceman, he had different bursts of speed, he charged the net and racked up points like no other defenceman, and he controlled the play like no other player on the ice. He was also strong and smart, and when it came time to drop the gloves, he could be nasty.

That’s a complete player to me. He did it all and cruelly it didn’t last long because of his bad knees (10 seasons in Boston and a short stint in Chicago). But what a player he was before his knees did him in.

Orr himself says Gordie Howe was the best ever. He played against Howe and watched Gretzky throughout 99’s career. But it’s Howe he chooses, as do many.

Howe wasn’t flashy like the Rocket, Orr and Gretzky, but every pass from him was on the tape, his shot was as hard or harder than any player in the league, he was as good or better a goal scorer as there was, and he was a mean hombre, the toughest player in the league. Punches that crushed noses.

No one dared fight him. He struck fear into the hearts of others, but they respected him. To go into the corners with him was never a good thing. His elbows were legendary.

And of course Wayne Gretzky. You need a fancy calculator and about an hour to tally his records. There’s a legion of players and fans who insist he’s the greatest ever. It’s been said often that in the heat of battle, he thought two or three plays ahead. It was ridiculous how he could rack up the points.

But I go with Bobby Orr. Orr had it figured out ahead of time like Gretzky did. It’s some sort of miraculous instinct. He was a better skater than Gretzky, there’s no comparison in toughness, and he collected reams of points even though he was a defenceman.

He also comes from my neck of the woods and from the same era, which is important to me.

The only Boston Bruin I was ever a fan of.



’98 Nagano – Canada – U.S.

Canada didn’t do well in Nagano ’98, finishing fourth behind the Czech Republic, Russia, and Finland, while in women’s hockey, the U.S. took gold and Canada silver.

But all I’m doing here is showing Gretzky, Roy, Yzerman and the Team Canada gang in action against the U.S. early on in the tournament, when Canada won 4-1, and which I thought you might enjoy because of seeing these guys again.

Leo The Really Good

The little boy you see in these two videos scoring all these goals is Leo, the son of a co-worker of mine.

Every time I ask how Leo did in any of his games, it’s always that he scored seven or ten etc.

Leo only just recently turned 5, and in the first video, you see him get twelve points in a game, and in the second, he notches his 100th goal of the season. He reached 103 that game.

This kid is going to be the new Gretzky or Lafleur or  Crosby.

Keep the video and check it out again in about fifteen years, when Leo Brodeur is in the NHL