Tag Archives: Gilles Gratton

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

Gilles Does It His Way

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Ex-WHA and NHL goalie Gilles Gratton in a mock arm wrestling pose with Bobby Hull.

They did it as a joke because Gilles has always been a slight fellow and Hull is Hull.

I work with Gilles and he’s a great guy who seems to enjoy talking with me about games the night before and ones coming up. The feeling is mutual. I like hearing his thoughts on things.

Gilles was considered one of the best backstoppers in the WHA and was a backup during the WHA 1974 Canada-Russia series. He didn’t play and didn’t mind at all.

Gilles gained a reputation of being somewhat of a flake when he played, sometimes making noises at opposing players, rambling on about reincarnation to teammates and coaches, and he once refused to suit up with his Toronto Toros because the moon was in the wrong part of the sky and not lined up with Jupiter, which was his way of disagreeing with his coach being fired.

Ken Dryden says in his book “The Game” that Gilles once streaked during a practice with whatever team he was on at the time, and I asked him about it. He said that was wrong. It was during a ball hockey game and the coach promised him five new sticks if he did it.

He told us this story recently. When he first arrived in St. Louis to play for the Blues, he was in an elevator and a man riding up with him asked him if he was happy to be joining his new team.

Gilles answered, “I don’t give a f*&%k about the St. Louis Blues”.

When the elevator stopped, they got out and were met by others. It turned out the man in the elevator was his new coach Gary Young.

Gilles lasted 6 games in St. Louis before he walked out. The next year he was with the New York Rangers, then a season in the minors, and that was that.

After he retired he worked as a wire service photographer at a couple of World Championships in Europe, and eventually ended up in India for several years where he learned to meditate.

Gilles’ a Montreal boy, and I once asked him if ever would have liked to play for the Canadiens.

He said he didn’t know, he’d never thought about it.

Therrien Likes Things Drab

Geez, I hope this doesn’t hurt my stick boy chances.

What do I think about the seemingly never-ending P.K. Subban/Michel Therrien saga?

I personally believe PK drives Therrien crazy, only because Therrien is an idiot who believes PK should be harnessed and talks too much and doesn’t deserve more ice time or playing for Team Canada in the Olympics because Therrien never really grew out of his grade eight mentally or understanding that some people just have high-level personalities. Unlike him.

It’s a personality conflict that would make this coach dislike PK even if he was nothing more than his next door neighbour.

Therrien might also feel he’s getting into Marc Bergevin’s good books by not showcasing him and possibly keeping PK’s bucks from being sky-high when it’s time for a brand new contract. Kind of a brown-nosing, self-serving approach.

Why does the entire hockey world wonder what Therrien’s doing with this young stud? Because like I said, there’s a strong chance the guy’s an idiot.

And what was so wrong with PK and Price’s triple low-five?

“I always like teams who are humble” Therrien said back then when he banned the triple low-five. “It’s a team concept. It starts with that. In life, I think you have to be humble. And we have to respect the game. We have to respect the other team. And we have to respect our fans.”

PK’s personality almost certainly rubs this guy the wrong way. Something will have to give soon.

Random Notes:

My co-worker Gilles Gratton, who played goal in both the NHL and WHA, said the Canadiens wouldn’t have scored on Jaroslav Halak the other night in the shootout even if every player on the team took a turn. Halak didn’t move, the skaters waited for him to do just that, and they ultimately were confused when he stood his ground. Whereas, says Gilles, Carey Price is a slow goalie, his reflexes aren’t overly quick, he can’t react in shootouts, and if he was smaller, he wouldn’t even be in the NHL.

Mr. Gratton And The Mask

G. Gratton

This is a replica we have at work of Gilles Gratton’s mask, voted by SI.com as the NHL’s 4th all-time scariest mask.

Gilles played three seasons in the W.H.A. with the Ottawa Nationals and Toronto Toros, and two seasons in the NHL with St. Louis and the Rangers. Although he got into a tiff in St. Louis and only played six games.

I work with Gilles and he’s a real nice fellow.

He told me his hockey pension is $55 a month.