This Orillia Terriers were household names, almost like NHL players for young Orillia kids like me. All larger than life big shots in my eyes and with other little hockey fans.
I wonder if they realized that.
The team was packed with great players playing in a great Ontario Senior League in a time when clubs weren’t far off from pro calibre. Almost a minor pro team except no money was involved.
I was just a kid, and they were grown men, really old guys who shaved. They drove trucks and worked in local factories and delivered milk and some dated older sisters of girls I knew. And when they played they burned up the ice surface.
It was fast, rough, tough hockey, and sometimes retired NHLers would show up in various lineups, including Harry Lumley between the pipes in Collingwood, and rugged forward Cal Gardner in Orillia. (top left corner in photo).
I remember watching Gardner play like it was yesterday. I can even visualize now where I was sitting during one game when he was on the ice, which is weird because I’ve often forgotten why I’ve walked from the living room to the kitchen.
But it’s vivid, and it was fun to see a guy in the flesh who had actually played in the NHL against the Rocket and Howe and others but was now an Orillia Terrier, only a few feet away, and who used the same dressing room as I did when I would lace up my little blades.
Gardner played for the Rangers, Toronto, Chicago and Boston before retiring in 1957, was twice an all-star, and joined Orillia after being with the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League. His two sons, Dave and Paul both became NHLers too.
He also also had a couple of big connections with the Habs in different ways.
Gardner was on the ice for Toronto when Bill Barilko scored his legendary goal to win the Cup for the Leafs in 1951, and had set up Howie Meeker who missed the net, just before Barilko didn’t miss the net.
And he and Montreal’s Ken Reardon enjoyed a bitter and dangerous feud that lasted years. It began when Gardner was with New York and got his stick up after a shot from the point and clipped Reardon on the lip. Gardner said his stick was up a little. Reardon said it was a blatant cross check to the face.
Whatever it was, it started a bench-clearing brawl and Reardon promised revenge on Gardner, pretty well every time the two met after that.
In 1949, when Gardner was a Leaf, Reardon finally got that revenge at the Forum, when he “accidentally” ran into Gardner and broke his jaw on both sides, causing league prez Clarence Campbell to force Reardon to post a $1000 good behaviour bond. But they continued to rough each other up even after that and the ill-will apparently continued long after both had retired.
Too bad Reardon didn’t latch on to an Ontario Senior team and they could have kept it going, maybe at the good old Orillia Community Centre, with me there to see it. I never minded seeing a little blood and intestines splattered on the ice, as long as it wasn’t mine.