Rick Ley Deserves The Honour

 rick ley

I played a lot of hockey and baseball with the kid around the corner when I was growing up in Orillia, Ontario, and now this kid, Rick Ley, might very well have the new arena in Orillia named after him, thanks to some good, hard work by another old friend of mine, Mel St. Onge.

Below is the story just released in the Orillia Packet and Times. And if you click on this link http://dennis-kane.com/its-time-rick-ley-returned-my-hockey-gloves/  you will also see that Rick Ley owes me a pair of hockey gloves. (He also knocked out my front tooth pitching to me in a neighbourhood baseball game, but that’s another story).

NEW TWIN-PAD FACILITY: Idea pitched to name rink in honour of former NHL blueliner, coach


Only one person has been born in Orillia, played his minor hockey in Orillia and gone on to a lengthy NHL career.

For that reason alone, the new twin-pad arena being built in west Orillia should be named in honour of Rick Ley, says Mel St. Onge, who grew up with Ley and played on various hockey and baseball teams with the future pro.

“Rick Ley, in my mind, is head and shoulders above anyone else who ever grew up in Orillia and played minor hockey in Orillia,” said St. Onge. “In fact, he’s the only guy who ever played all their minor hockey in Orillia and went on to play in the NHL.”

St. Onge pitched his proposal to name the new twin-pad arena in Ley’s honour at last week’s recreation advisory committee meeting. While he said the majority of the committee was supportive of his idea, city council will have to make any final decision on the matter.

“I gave each councillor and the mayor a copy of my presentation and talked to several of them personally,” said St. Onge, who once chaired the recreation advisory committee and formerly wrote a sports column for The Packet.

St. Onge was instrumental in having the baseball diamond at Tudhope Park named in honour of Orillia’s athlete of the half-century, Jerry Udell. He was also behind the naming of other diamonds: the Dean Heliotis and Gander Ross diamonds at McKinnell Park and the Cliff Yeo diamond at Franklin Carmichael Park.

“I just think it’s important that we recognize these people who helped put Orillia on the map,” said St. Onge. “Rick Ley is a perfect example of an Orillia boy who learned his craft here and went on to do great things. And wouldn’t it be great for today’s minor hockey players to know that a kid who once grew up in Orillia and played minor hockey here went on to play in the NHL…That‘s why it’s important to recognize people like Rick. ”

Ley, who was born in Orillia on Nov. 2, 1948, went to Central Public School during an era in which all the elementary schools in town had their own hockey teams.

“When he was at Central, we won the championship every year,” said St. Onge, who had the unenviable job of being the team’s goalie. “I can remember in practice when Rick would want to take shots on me, I’d tell him to back up because his shot was so hard.”

St. Onge remembers Ley getting called up to play midget and junior hockey — long before his age permitted it.

“He was named the top junior hockey player in Orillia when he was just 14,” says St. Onge.

A year later, Ley left Orillia to play for the Niagara Falls Flyers of the Ontario Major Hockey League, now known as the Ontario Hockey League. That first year, he and his mates won the Memorial Cup. A year later, Ley was named captain and the team won its second straight Memorial Cup title.

The Orillia native was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round — 16th overall — in 1966. “That was when there were just six teams,” said St. Onge. “Nowadays, he would be considered a first-round pick.”

Ley was a key stay-at-home defenceman for the blue and white for four years before being lured away by the upstart WHA and the New England Whalers, where he was captain for six years.

At the end of his playing days, his number was retired by the franchise that would become the Hartford Whalers and later the Carolina Hurricanes. He is one of just three players to have their Hartford sweater retired; Gordie Howe is one of the others.

While a knee injury cut short his playing career, he turned his attention to coaching and began a new career as a bench boss with the Muskegon Lumberjacks with whom he won an IHL championship.

Ley was named head coach of the NHL’s Hartford Whalers in 1989-90. He became an assistant coach of the Vancouver Canucks in 1991 and became the team’s head coach in 1994.

Ley returned to his roots in 1998 when he became Pat Quinn’s assistant coach with the Leafs in 1998 — a position he held until 2005.

And while his big league career is impressive, St. Onge said success never changed the quiet, powerfully-built lad he grew up with.

“Even though he was just two years older than me, I idolized Rick,” said St. Onge. “I have never seen anyone — then or since — who was so dedicated to his goal. He had to give an oral composition in Grade 8 about what he was going to be when he grew up. He said I’m going to play in the NHL. He always believed that.”

In fact, St. Onge said Ley used to sneak into the Community Centre at night so he could practise.

“The rumour is that Dick Davies (the manager of the rink) gave Ley his own key so he wouldn’t have to break in,” recalled St. Onge with a laugh.

While hockey was his forte, Ley, like St. Onge, was an excellent baseball player who, at the age of 14, was hitting homeruns out of the Lions Oval diamond — balls that routinely banged off the old tin roof at the Community Centre.

“Rick (who now lives in Dunville, Ont.) has never forgotten his roots, ” said St. Onge. “He has always been willing to help out a worthy cause … He is someone who is deserving of this honour. “

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