Tag Archives: Gerry Cheevers

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

Crests And CYO

Don, now living in Houston, Texas, grew up in Orillia at the same time as me, and after reading my post about the sloppy way players sign their autographs nowadays, he emailed his CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) hockey crests he’s kept all these years, signed by Bob Pulford, Ron Stewart, and, Gerry Cheevers, to show examples of how players didn’t scribble as much back then.

CYO was a fun league, run in the beginning by big Father Sullivan, who would sometimes curse and have his face go beet red when he was pissed off, which he would often be. It almost seemed like he shouldn’t have entered the priesthood in the first place. He was a forceful dude, and might have made a lousy factory foreman. Or an effective bouncer at Chez Paree.

I still haven’t forgiven him for coming to our class one day and informing all of us that we were now altar boys. We weren’t given a choice. And I became such a lousy altar boy. Never knew when to ring the bell. Sometimes I’d stumble on the altar steps. And I once caught my altar boy garments on fire while lighting candles and the priest on duty had to put me out with a coat.

Thanks to Don for sending these along. Brings back memories.

One of these players, Ron Stewart, was the guy who got into a wrestling match on the front lawn with Terry Sawchuk, with Sawchuk dying soon afterward.

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The Little Team That Did

I’m extremely proud to say I was a smallish-yet-reliable 12-year old second baseman and shortstop (I’m bottom row, third from right) for this Orillia peewee all-star team.

We took on all comers, including big-city Toronto teams, and we whupped them all. According to the year-end banquet program, we won 38 games and lost four. We won five championships during the season, including the Prince Edward Trophy, The Lions Trophy, District E Championship, Provincial Legion Championship, and Police Association Trophy. We were also Ontario Baseball Association finalists, losing to Windsor in a stressful and tight game.

Our small-town gang defeated several all-star teams from Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catherines, and many others. I remember Hall of Fame goalie Gerry Cheevers umpiring one of our games in St. Catherines.

On three occasions we played and won three games in one day and on four occasions, two games. We travelled approximately 3500 miles in the season, and in the O.B.A. series, we defeated Owen Sound 36-10 in three games, Newmarket 17-1 in two games, and Cobourg 33-2 in two games. In the finals against Windsor we lost in the third game after three extra innings.

After one championship a fire truck met us on the outskirts of Orillia and brought us into town with sirens blaring. We also had a parade with two to a convertible, and were brought to the Mayor’s chambers where she presented us with individual pen sets, mine of which is long gone.

Several of the guys are dead now, at least one is a multi-millionaire, one lost a leg in a construction accident, one is in Whitehorse, and one, John French (catcher) would go on to become property of the Montreal Canadiens before bolting to the W.H.A.

Cliff Yeo, our stern, no-nonsense manager, was a chain smoker with yellow hands and teeth, but he knew his baseball and we won because of him. After a game in Windsor he caught several of us, including me, smoking cigars at the back of the bus, but he said nothing. Maybe because he was such a lover of tobacco himself.

Big Night In A Small Town. A Tribute To Gary Lupul

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Powell River, the little semi-isolated town up the coast from Vancouver, boasts a junior team, the Kings, in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), and one of the best senior squads in all of Canada, the Regals. It’s serious hockey played in these parts. But on Saturday night, the most important hockey game of the year will be a fun night, a great night, but also a bittersweet night.

Because on this night, the town, players and fans honour Gary Lupul.

Gary Lupul was my friend, as I’ve mentioned here before. We used to have great all-night talks. His mom, who recently passed away, was a lovely lady who oozed class and was the force behind the town getting a new arena. Whenever I see his dad at the mall or on the street, he always has something silly to say that makes me laugh. In fact, I just Vic at the mall a few days ago sitting with a bunch of women his age, and he had them all laughing and giggling.

The Lupul family is a family of warm and funny characters.

Gary began as a huge star in the Western Hockey League with the Victoria Cougars and went on to play 293 games with the Vancouver Canucks, scoring 70 goals and had 145 points. He played against Gretzky, Lemieux, Cheevers and Lafleur, and although slightly small, was a tough cookie who stood up to everyone.

But he had troubles off the ice. Drugs and alcohol ended up shortening his career and although he regretted it, he also probably knew he couldn’t change. He was a fun-loving fellow who drove his coaches crazy but was loved by his teammates, who always speak of him now with a smile on their faces.

Happily, at a time when he really needed a break, he became a scout for the Canucks and was able to stay in the sport he loved. He would phone me sometimes when he was on wintry roads that took him throughout Ontario from rink to rink – Kitchener one night, Huntsville or Ottawa or Cornwall the next, even my old hometown Orillia, and he would tell me about young players he’d just seen, and you could tell he was in his element.

Just over two years ago, on July 17, 2007, while watching television, Gary suffered a heart attack and died, and we mourned and still mourn. He was a great, kind, funny, generous guy who could relate to a street person as easily as he could to a millionaire. He’d been through some hard times, and he kept a special place in his heart for the down-and-out.

Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks alumni are coming to Powell River to take on the Regals alumni made up of players who won three Allan Cups in the past fifteen years, and it should be a fun, entertaining night of great passes, slick plays, and smiling faces.

But it won’t really be about the game on this night. It will be about Gary, our friend, who we miss so much.

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Habs Make It Eleven In A Row Over Boston. So I Have A Gift For You

I’m having a good night tonight. I got home from work and my wife had a roast and a six pack of Heineken waiting for me. I start four days off. Then I watched the recording on my new TV of the Habs winning their eleventh straight win against the Boston Bruins (eight this year), and in doing so, stay on top of the heap in the eastern division.

So, because I’m in such a good mood, and it’s Easter, I’ve decided to give you a present. Just click the link below and enjoy a five and a half minute video of a 1971 Montreal-Boston bench-clearing brawl. Beliveau’s even in there, tugging and pulling. This is a huge brawl involving fans, police, Derek Sanderson, Phil Roberto, Gerry Cheevers, and a cast of thousands. Historically, Montreal and Boston like to rumble with each other. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBkvn4SsR5A&feature=related Watch it pick up momentum as it goes.  You don’t see this kind of thing any more.

Again, When You Least Expect It, More Fascinating Facts!

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Fascinating Fact # 1   I owned a sports bar for awhile in Powell River, and during this time the infamous Hanson Brothers came to town for a promotional thing at the arena. Afterwards, they came into my pub and at midnight, I locked the doors and drank beer and talked hockey with them until about 5AM.

Fascinating Fact #2  A small scrap of paper signed by Bill Barilko, who scored the Cup-winning goal for Toronto against Montreal in 1951 and died later that year in a plane crash in northern Ontario, recently sold on ebay for $750.

Fascinating Fact #3   Frank Mahovlich came into my pub after an NHL Oldtimer’s game with his niece, who lives in Powell River. I had to tell customers who clamoured all over him to cool it so the guy could eat his meal.

Fascinating Fact #4   When I was 12, my pee wee baseball team played in a tournament in St. Catherines, Ontario. For one game, goalie great Gerry Cheevers was the umpire.

Facsinating Fact # 5   Years ago, when I was about 11, I asked Foster Hewitt for his autograph. He signed for me, then, because he was in a deep discussion with some other guy, he kept my pen. I was too shy to ask him for it so my older sister had to get it for me.

Fascinating Fact #6   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.

Fascinating Fact # 7   Toe Blake used such terrible profanity, he was barred from the Forum Billiard Hall.

Facinating Fact # 8    I collect old Montreal Canadiens kid’s wool sweaters. Not like some of the old ones in the photos above as these are extremely early Habs sweaters,  but like the one in my photo at the top right, and other’s similar to that. They’re all from the 1940’s, ’50’s, and ’60’s but I’m still looking for ones from the ’30’s and ’20’s. I saw some in old Eaton’s catalogues recently, so I know they were around at that time. But are they around now?

Fascinating Fact #9  In the early ’60’s when I was about 13 or so, my buddy 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 us both sticks, although I broke mine later playing road hockey. And Don Cherry played that night for Rochester.

The final Fascinating Fact goes to Toe Blake, who said this: “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.”

(For more delicious and delightful facts, just click on ‘Fascinating Facts’ over in the category section and get a whole bunch of stuff.)