Tag Archives: John French

Lots To Read (If You Want)

I once phoned Hall of Famer and ex-Hab Bert Olmstead in Calgary (he was in the phone book), hoping to get him to talk about the old days with the Rocket and Stanley Cups etc. He hung up on me.

When I had my sports bar in Powell River, Frank Mahovlich and Red Storey came in while on an oldtimers tour. Frank told me the Montreal organization was so much better than the Leaf organization. We fed them a spaghetti dinner. That night, referee Storey, with a microphone, told the crowd that the spaghetti at Kane’s was the best.

I spoke to the Habs’ Jim Roberts after a game at the old Forum when I was about 13 , several years before it was renovated in 1968. He was nice to me and I decided to start a Jim Roberts fan club. I didn’t because I figured it was too much work and he wasn’t a good enough player.

I met the Rocket when he was refereeing an oldtimers game in Calgary. I told him he’d sent me a Christmas card when I was about 8 years old and he said he used to send out lots of cards but didn’t remember much at all about the old days. My sister took a picture of him, then the Rocket said he wanted me to take a picture of him with my sister.

My dad took me to a Montreal-Toronto game back in the 1950s. Somehow he corralled coach Toe Blake in the lobby and asked him to take my hockey book into the dressing room and get Doug Harvey to sign it. Blake did.

My peewee coach in Orillia, Jack Dyte, played 27 games for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1943-44 season. He had one goal and 31 penalty minutes.  He played alongside Punch Imlach for the Quebec Aces in the old Quebec Senior League and against the Rocket before Richard joined the Habs.

When I lived in Ottawa, it was well known that a somewhat down-and-out Doug Harvey was living in a railway car (which was once used by Canadian PM John Diefenbaker) at the race track across the river in Hull. And what did I do? Nothing. Didn’t go there. Didn’t bring him any smokes or a bottle. Didn’t invite him home for a turkey dinner. Nothing. It’s a big regret.

I had breakfast with HOF goalie Glenn Hall when he came to Powell River for the Allan Cup back in the late-1990s. After breakfast I drove him around the area in my Hyundai Excel.

Butch Bouchard didn’t own a pair of skates until he was 16, and just four years later he’d made the NHL.

I grew up just down the street from Rick Ley, who was a solid defenceman for the Leafs in the late 1960’s and into the ’70s. He also played for the New England Whalers in the WHA and has his sweater retired in Hartford. He then went on to a coaching career in Vancouver and Toronto. He and I would sometimes skate on an outdoor rink before school, and in the summer, during a pickup baseball game, with him pitching and me catching without a mask, the batter tipped one of Ley’s pitches and the ball knocked my front tooth out. I’ve had plastic in my mouth ever since.

In the late 1960s, Rick Ley’s older brother Ron and his buddies threatened to take me behind the pool hall and cut my long hair.

Bep Guidolin played his first NHL game in 1942 with Boston. He’s the youngest player ever to play in the league, at 16 years old.

Floyd Curry attended his first Montreal Canadiens training camp in 1940 at just 15. He didn’t make the team but it’s still quite a feat.

Bobby Orr played for the Jr. A Oshawa Generals when he was just 14.

Hall Of Fame goalie Johnny Bower didn’t play his first NHL game until he was 30 when he was called up from the minors to the NY Rangers. He played one season, then three more in the minors. After that he was traded to Toronto when he was 34 years old (maybe older). Amazingly enough, Bower played goal all those years with poor eyesight and rheumatoid arthritis.

Claire Alexander, who played defence for the Leafs in the mid 1970s, came into the league when he was 29. Before that, he was a milkman in Orillia, Ontario (my hometown).

In the early 1960s, when I was about 12, my parish priest, Monsignor Lee, was somehow connected to the Toronto Maple Leafs. I think it had to do with St. Michael’s College. At one point he took my buddy Ron Clarke and I to Peterborough to see an exhibition game between the Leafs and Chicago, and the afternoon before the game, we had dinner at the hotel with the Leafs’ brass. The players were in an adjoining room. Ron and I had dinner with the Monsignor, King Clancy, and Jim Gregory, who is now in the builder’s category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In the 1950s, New York tough guy Lou Fontinato (who later was traded to Montreal), got into a scrap with Rocket Richard. Fontinato got Richard’s sweater off and proceeded to rip it to shreds with his skates. A few weeks later, Fontinato received a bill from the Canadiens for $38.50.

I was a milkman in Calgary for awhile and Doug Risebrough was one of my customers. His wife, who looked after the milk situation, gave me a small tip at Christmas. Risebrough played 13 years in the NHL, with both Montreal and Calgary. When he was eating his Cheerios with the milk I had faithfully delivered, he was coaching the Flames. I remember years before, in Ottawa, when the Habs played a pre-season exhibition game at the old Civic Centre, the buzz in the papers was the new promising rookie who would be playing that night in his first NHL game. That player was Doug Risebrough.

I played on the same Midget team as Dan Maloney for one game in Barrie after our Orillia team got eliminated and three of us were loaned to Barrie. I remember he was big, and a real leader even then. We were about 16. I also spent an afternoon with him hanging out and playing pool. Dan Maloney played for four teams (Chicago, LA, Detroit, and Toronto) over 11 seasons, and eventually went on to coach. He was truly a great guy and a tough bastard.

Toe Blake’s real first name was Hector. He got the name ‘Toe’ from his younger sister who pronounced the last part of Hector as toe, as in “Hectoe.”

Turk Broda, who was the Toronto Maple Leaf goalie from 1936 to 1952, had the nickname “Turk” because as a child, his neck would turn red like a turkey when he got angry. His real name is Walter.

During the time I owned my restaurant in Powell River, the Hanson Brothers (from Slapshot) came to town for a promotional thing at the arena. Afterwards, two of them, the Carlson brothers, came into my pub and at midnight, I locked the doors and drank beer and talked hockey with them until about 5AM.

When I was 12, my peewee baseball team played in a tournament in St. Catherines, Ontario. For one game, goalie great Gerry Cheevers, in his early-20s at the time, was the umpire.

When I was about 11 and at the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame at the CNE in Toronto with my dad and sister, I asked Foster Hewitt for his autograph. He signed for me, but because he was in a deep discussion with someone, he kept my pen. I was too shy to ask him for it so my sister had to get it for me.

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.

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

In the early ’60s when I was about 13 or so, my previously mentioned buddy Ron Clarke 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 Ron and I sticks, although I broke mine later playing road hockey. And Don Cherry played that night for Rochester, although I only know this from the lineup sheet I still have.

Toe Blake said “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.”

1950s Habs grinder Marcel Bonin would at times eat glass (probably after several pops), and also wrestled a bear or two. And once, while at training camp in Victoria, BC, Bonin broke his thumb during some horseplay off the ice. He kept it a secret from Toe Blake, then during the next practice, pretended to hurt his hand on the ice and kept himself from getting into hot water with Blake. It worked.

Two NHL players who were notorious for treating rookies on their own teams badly were Steve Shutt and Dave Keon. Shutt’s reasoning was, “Hey, it happened to me so it’s gonna happen to them too.”

Jim Pappin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967, lost his Cup ring years ago. But it was found several years ago in the Gulf of Mexico when a diver using an underwater metal detector came up with it.

I saw Bobby Orr twice in my home town of Orillia. Once when I was sitting in the park down by the lake, he and his wife strolled by. He had a hockey school with Mike Walton in Orillia at this time. The other was out at one of the local beverage rooms, and he and a bunch of people I knew a little, sat near us. There’s a strong chance my table drank more beer than their table.

Gary Lupul, a great ex-Canuck and a good friend of mine who passed away several years ago, introduced me to goaltender Richard Brodeur, who was in town on an oldtimers tour. Gary told Brodeur I was a Habs fan, and Brodeur said “Oh. I don’t want to talk to you.” (He was joking. I think.)

I was also introduced to the Hanson Brothers’ manager when the Hansons came to town. I held out my hand and he asked “Do you wash your hands when you take a crap?” I said of course, and it was only then that he shook my hand.

A kid I played minor hockey with for four or five years, John French, ended up getting drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and played a couple of years with the club’s farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. But it was the early 1970s and extremely difficult to crack the Habs line up, so French signed with the New England Whalers of the newly-formed World Hockey Association instead. He played with Gordie Howe and another good Orillia boy, his old friend Rick Ley, who had played for the Leafs before jumping to the WHA.

The best seat I ever had at a game was in the first row at the Montreal Forum in the late-1970s, behind the net, just to the right of the goal judge.

The worst seat I ever had was at Edmonton’s Northland Coliseum for a game between the Habs and Oilers, and we were in the very first row behind the Oilers bench. John Muckler and his two assistant coaches stood right in front of us, so the only time we could see was when the play was down at either end.

Canada’s greatest pool player, Cliff Thorburn, is a long-time Habs fan.

The first two artificial rinks built in Canada were in Victoria and Vancouver.

From a documentary I learned that Russian Czar Peter the Great would often go incognito to Europe, with a shaved mustache and old hat, and from a painting of him shown in the doc wearing these,  he looks a dead ringer for deceased Russian hockey star Valeri Kharlamov.

When the Rocket was playing for the Verdun juniors in 1939, he took boxing lessons in the off-season. He became so good at it that he was entered into a Golden Gloves competition, but a damaging punch in the nose by his coach prevented him from participating.

Leaf star Darryl Sittler and his wife Wendy were staying at Paul Henderson’s house and looking after their three daughters when Henderson scored those big goals during the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series.

Team Canada had a six-hour stopover in Paris on the way to Stockholm. Goalie Ed Johnston said this about Paris: “What’s wrong is the same thing you find with all these European cities. Too many old buildings.”

While in Stockholm, a Swedish fellow at the press conference mentioned that maybe Bobby Orr, who was injured and didn’t play in the series, wasn’t as good as Russian Valeri Kharlamov. “He’s good in the NHL,” said the guy, “but in Europe he’d be only average.” A Canadian who overheard this said, “Put this down. Bobby Orr-healthy-would eat any Czech or Russian alive. And he’d spit out any Swede.”

In Moscow, the Canadians were seen coming back to their hotel at all hours of the night. While some of the boys were sitting around the lobby of the Grand Hotel, someone mentioned hearing that the Russians had put street crews with jackhammers outside the Canadian team’s windows in the early morning. “No problem,” said one player. “We won’t be in anyway.”

Coach Harry Sinden celebrated his 40th birthday while overseas. “Ten days ago I was 29,” he said.

Some Canadian fans who arrived in Moscow found out there were no tickets available for them. These included Maurice Richard, Punch Imlach, former referee-in-chief Carl Voss, and legendary wrestler Whipper Billy Watson. Those left out were given three options: they could take an all-expenses paid 10-day tour of Copenhagen; they could fly home and be refunded; or they could stay and take their chances on finding tickets. Most chose the third option.

Dennis Hull, after a tour of Moscow, gushed, “I really like the place. It reminds me of Buffalo.”

 

 

 

A Beautiful Area And An Old Habs Draft Pick

We’re sitting in our friends’ amazing house built on fifty acres of bushland near Peterborough, and after working our way through the Toronto area, this is about as serene as it gets.

I read a few years ago that Hwy 401 from Oakville to Whitby is the busiest stretch of highway in North America and I believe it. And this from someone who was stuck in traffic on L.A. freeways.

Central Ontario gets a bad rap from those who’ve never been or once rushed through. It can be stunningly beautiful. Turning off the main highway and making our way along country roads was a sensational experience. I’d almost forgotten how nice central Ontario is after spending so many years near mountains and beside the ocean.

Although I’ve never been to Ireland, I think it probably looks like this. Nice rolling hills, full of green fields and old barns. A few leprechauns now and again.

Maybe I don’t have to go to Ireland now. I’ll just visit the Peterborough area from time to time and bring some Guinness.

I think every part of Canada has its own big-time beauty, and around here is definitely no exception.

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My friend Mike Mohun, who grew up in Orillia the same time as me, sent me a great article from the Orillia Packet and Times about John French, a guy I played hockey and baseball with when I was a kid, and someone I’ve mentioned several times here.

I often played on the same line as John, he was way better than me and everybody else, and he was our catcher when our peewee baseball team rolled over all challengers.

John was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and in training camp played on the same line as Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer. He also roomed with Ken Dryden.

A really interesting piece, and can be seen here – Little Guy Made It To The Bigs

I just don’t remember him as being little.

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Luci doesn’t know it yet but in awhile, she’s going for her first Harley ride. I can’t wait to see this. My Luci, on the back of a Harley, roaring down the road. Biker chick.

 

Rick In Retirement

Terrific piece in the Orillia Packet and Times about Rick Ley, a kid from my old neighbourhood, a guy who once borrowed my hockey gloves to go to junior camp, and who also accidentally knocked out my front tooth with a baseball. Of course he also enjoyed a stellar career in the NHL and WHA, which isn’t as important as the hockey glove and tooth knocked out, but should be mentioned anyway.

This link, sent to me from my buddy Ron Green in Orillia, is an interview in the Wednesday edition of the Packet, and it seems retirement is agreeing with Rick, which is great. It also mentions another guy I’ve talked about often, John French, along with Wayne Piper, who was my coach for a couple of years when I was a smallish-yet-shifty right winger for Byers Bulldozers.

Have a look. It’s a good read about a good Orillian. Ley’s Credentials Second to None

 

Cover Boy

Several times I’ve talked about John French, who was an old hockey and baseball teammate of mine while growing up in Orillia, our little town also known as Mariposa from Stephen Leacock’s “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town,” and seeing the fellow on a program cover recently finds me going on about him again.

John and his family moved to Toronto when he was in his mid-teens, and I remember when he came back with his new big city team for an important tournament in Orillia. In a sensational moment in time, the slick forward scored five goals in the championship game and was voted tourney MVP.

He had come through in a huge way in his first appearance back in his home town, and myself and his other old teammates sitting in the stands were truly impressed.

French was an excellent hockey player, much better than the rest of us, and he would eventually play Junior A for the Toronto Marlies before being picked by the Habs 52nd overall in the 1970 draft. John would play for the Montreal Voyageurs of the AHL, with Ken Dryden and Wayne Thomas as his goalies, and not long after it was onward to the World Hockey Association.

Years ago I bought a used desk at an Ottawa second-hand shop, opened the drawer, and found a John French hockey card inside. And recently I noticed an old New England Whalers program, and there he was on the cover.

 

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.

Habs’ New Scout Knows Orillia

I’m proud to say that the new Habs pro scout for the NHL Western Division has a huge Orillia connection.

Ethan Moreau played for the Junior B Orillia Terriers during the 1990-91 season, has lived in Orillia off and on for quite some time, and his parents Ab and Ester still live there. Moreau attended Orillia’s ODCVI high school, while I went to Park St., one of the other secondary schools in town, before Moreau was born but I don’t want to get into that.

Gordon Lightfoot and John French also went to ODCVI

ODCVI seemed to always have a huge flock of good looking female students, including Lynn Sinclair, who I once made it to second base with.

Is all this exciting or what? And with this new Orillia/Habs connection, can my stick boy job be far behind?

I Don’t Want To Brag Or Anything, But…….

I don’t want to brag or anything, but there was a time when I was as proficient with a spoon as with a baseball bat. Yes indeed. It says so right here.

And I don’t want to brag or anything, but my grade 8 girlfriend was one of the top two or three hottest chicks in my class. That’s us dancing in the church basement.

I would walk Lynn Sinclair home and we’d make out on the sidewak outside her house, and her chest would rub against me, causing my hormones to do the mambo and give me pains below my belly button for hours afterward.

And I certainly don’t want to brag about the time my peewee baseball rode on a fire truck in a parade, celebrating the fact that we won a bunch of tournaments, with me being as proficient with a bat as I was with a spoon.

And I also don’t want to brag about playing in the NHL. Okay, it was called the Little NHL, and it was a pile of teams from Ontario going at it. But anyway.

John French would one day become property of the Habs, and enjoyed a fine career in the WHA. Ron Clarke became a successful heavy equipment salesman and I hear from him every so often. Myself, I never ever made it to third base with Lynn Sinclair.

 

 

 

Dastardly Arch Rivals

This is one of the earliest pictures I’ve seen of Orillia kids on one of the house league teams that my team would play against. Notice how dastardly they look.

From teams such as this were plucked a few players to play on the all-star team and travel around to Huntsville and Midland and Collingwood and Barrie, all the while dreaming of someday making the NHL.

The guy in the middle, with the C on his sweater, is John French, an old teammate of mine when he was a centreman on some of those all-star teams, and I was his smallish-yet-shifty right winger. John would become Montreal Canadiens property when he got older, although he never played for the big club before bolting to the WHA where he enjoyed some fine seasons with the New England Whalers and others.

This is a previous story I’d written about John. And yes, he was a Damn Fine Hockey Player.

Orillia, City Of Stuff

In looking at the CBC poll that shows Montreal leading as best sports city in Canada, followed by Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto etc, I’m wondering why Orillia isn’t mentioned as a serious player in this regard.

Rick Ley comes from Orillia. So does John French and the legendary Jake Gaudaur, and broadcaster and ex-Leaf executive Bill Watters. The Orillia Terriors won the Allan Cup in 1973, and my peewee baseball team almost won the All-Ontario championship once.

Four Orillia sisters, Bev, Barb, Brenda, and Bette Jean Clarke, were show waterskiers at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, and not only were they great waterskiers but they were also maybe the best-looking chicks in town and I didn’t stand a chance with any of them.

There was this red-headed guy at the Top Hat pool hall, Vern Smith was his name, whom I swear could give Minnesota Fats a run for his money.

Conn Smythe’s university football team lost to Orillia in an important game back in the 1920’s.

I saw Rick Ley hit a home run deep over the right field fence that bounced off the arena roof. And I’ve seen many an Orillian run faster than you can believe when chased by the cops. I personally have jumped fences higher than humanly possible.

I’ve never met Bill Watters but I played ball with his younger brother Rick, and it was either Bill or his dad who delivered the potato chips in the Hostess truck when we were on money-raising drives.

Parry Sound is only 60 miles away from Orillia, which means that Bobby Orr came that close to being an Orillian. But Orr made up for it when he and Mike Walton started a hockey camp there. I posted photos awhile back of Orr and Walton and others riding donkeys up at the arena. Bobby Orr Donkey Rider

Orillia is 90 miles north of Toronto, about 250 miles west of Ottawa, and about 400 from Montreal, which means, because of it’s perfect location, it should be considered for any future NHL expansion. It’d be a great place for Major League baseball too.

Rocket Richard came to Orillia once. He skated around the rink, dropped some faceoff pucks for little kids who buzzed around like whirling dervishes, and people applauded the great man like crazy, even though the majority probably cheered for the Leafs.

I’m not sure if Stephen Leacock, maybe Orillia’s most famous resident, was much of a sports guy. He was originally from England and had somehow managed to move to Orillia where he lived a mansion on the shores of Lake Couchiching. Leacock wrote the classic “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town” which was about life in Orillia around 1910 or so, although he renamed it Mariposa.

But maybe Leacock was very athletic. Maybe he played hockey on the lake in winter, and rowed on it in summer. Maybe he was a real jock who spent his youth spitting tobacco and winning ribbons. I’ve just never heard that.

Orillia, at least when I was there, always had high school football teams, with one school, ODCVI, annually kicking the shit out of Park St. Collegiate. And even though I went to Park Street, I rarely saw one these titanic struggles between the two schools because it was easy to slip away to the pool hall when the games were on.

Glen Drinkle is the only high school athlete that I’m aware of to win the an All Ontario gold metal. He won it in Toronto in the intermediate boys javelin around 1967.

Gordon Lightfoot went to ODCVI and I don’t know if played on the football team or not. He never mentioned it in any of his songs.

All of the above is why I feel Orillia should be in the running in this CBC poll of best sports city.

 

 

Damn Fine Hockey Player

That’s me at the very top, resting my weary head on my hand and stick. But more importantly, over on the left with black toque with pointed end is John French, who was the best player in our age group in Orillia and in the top three in central Ontario. John MacWilliams in Huntsville and Steve Sly in Collingwood were the only ones who would give him a run for his money.

John went on to play junior with the Toronto Marlies and found himself drafted by Montreal. But after a year with the Canadiens’ AHL farm team Montreal Voyageurs (with Ken Dryden as a teammate), and then the Baltimore Clippers, he  bolted to the World Hockey Association (WHA)  and enjoyed a fine career with the New England Whalers, San Diego Mariners, and Indianapolis Racers before ending back in the AHL with the Springfield Indians.

In the late 1970’s my first wife and I bought an old desk in a second-hand store in Ottawa, and in the drawer was a John French hockey card.

You can see John’s very respectable pro career stats right here