Tag Archives: Susan Foster

September Was Canada Cup Time

 

It was always around this time, in early September, when those beautiful Canada Cups were held, when the Russians were still the enemy, when Sweden, Finland, and Czechoslovakia offered up National team excellence, and when the United States was becoming, slowly, a team to be reckoned with too.

It was when Alan Eagleson appeared to shine, demanding and getting his way about money, times, the choosing of officials, and maybe even deciding what kind of mustard and relish went on the hot dogs. He pounded desks and swore and bullied his way through five successful ventures, and as rotten a bastard as he was, he got the job done.

Sadly, it was discovered later, with the perseverence and fight of Carl Brewer and his partner Susan Foster, that these tournaments, along with the annual all-star games, were lining Eagleson’s pockets, making him a rich man beyond his wildest dreams. It was money belonging to the players, that should have been deposited into the NHL Players Association pension fund and wasn’t, and Eagleson would later be forced to set up shop in the crowbar hotel for his dastardly deeds. 

There were five Canada Cups, all in September, and each held special magic. These tournaments gave us supreme hockey, brilliant hockey, fast, back and forth, with drama and suspense, great goaltending and memorable goals, and if you were rooting for Canada, you celebrated four of the five times.

Canada won in 1976 thanks to the tournament-winning overtime goal by Darryl Sittler against Czechoslovakia. Myself and other E.B.Eddy workers in Hull, Quebec hid in the mechanic’s room where a television was stored, and we watched the final game with one eye on the TV and the other on the boss’s van that he’d drive around in. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch but we got to see much of it.

Many pick this team as possibly the best ever, and it’s easy to see why. Bobby Orr was the tournament MVP. Denis Potvin said out loud that he was as good or better than Orr in the series, and maybe he was. Larry Robinson, Bobby Hull, Bobby Clarke, Guy Lafleur and a barrel full of other stars were in the lineup. Future Hall of Famers from top to bottom. We were proud in Canada.

Russia came back with a vengeance in 1981, clobbering Canada 8-1 in the final game, and the KLM (Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov) dazzled and made NHL teams drool at the prospect of getting these guys signed to a contract. That would come later.

Russia also boasted the brilliant Vyacheslav Fetisov and his partner Alexei Kasatonov on the blueline. These two despised each other but played like brothers-in-arms on the ice. And regardless of how powerful this five-man unit was, the Soviets also had an ace up their sleeves – the great Vladislav Tretiak in goal, who once again gave the NHLers fits as he had in the past. Tretiak was named MVP in this 1981 series and all in all, we weren’t so proud this time.

Canada met Sweden in the finals of the 1984 edition of the Canada Cup, and won two games to nil over Mats Naslund, Hakan Loob, Kent Nilsson and company. Gretzky, Michel Goulet, Paul Coffey, Mike Bossy and the rest of the ususal suspects proved too much for the Swedes, and the Canadians redeemed themselves from the previous 1981 embarrassment.

!987 proved to be maybe the most exciting of all the tournaments, at least in my eyes, and one of the most dramatic and memorable goals ever scored happened in the final game. On September 11th, the Soviet Union beat Canada 6-5 in overtime. Two days later, in Hamilton, Canada returned the favour and beat the Soviets by the same score, 6-5, again in overtime. And in Hamilton two days after that, Wayne Gretzky charged up the ice, passed it back to an open Mario Lemieux, and again, it was a 6-5 game, only the winner came with 1:26 seconds remaining instead of going into overtime.

I was in Leningrad, Russia, (before it was changed back to St. Petersburg) when the 1991 Canada Cup was held, and it’s an odd feeling to be sitting in a Russian home watching this tournament. Out hosts often cheered wildly for Canada, but maybe they were just being nice. But it wasn’t the Russians that Canada faced in the final, it was the U.S., and although the Americans managed to go so deep for the first time, Canada swept them in two games to win it again.

I miss the days of the Canada Cup very much. It was us against them, like it was in 1972, only without the initial shock of finding out that great hockey was being played elsewhere, and it offered the added bonus of the other European powerhouses involved. The Olympics now may present the same countries going head to head, but back then, European players still weren’t household names in North America the way they are now. They were still a curiosity, a mystery, and gawddam we wanted to clobber them.

The Canada Cups were a terrific time for hockey fans around the globe. It’s just too bad Alan Eagleson walked away with most of the money.

How Players Were Treated, Way Back When

Before NHL players had any sort of union or any kind of say in their matters, owners and management did pretty well whatever they damn well felt like doing. Management had all the power, and many players came from impoverished families with hockey as their only way out. They didn’t want to work in mines or mills or farms like their fathers, and the men in suits upstairs knew it.

Back then, especially as the 1950’s unfolded, it was common practice for owners to give management a certain amount of money and tell them to sign players for as little as they could and keep what was left over.

So of course management were cheap bastards.

The following story was told by Ralph Backstrom to my friend Susan Foster, and was included in her wonderful book, The Power of Two. In this, I’m paraphrasing.

When Ralph was a 17 year old hockey phenom in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, the Canadiens sent Ken Reardon, a man who had graduated to Montreal management once his playing days were over. At the Backstrom kitchen table, Reardon  sat with Ralph and Ralph’s parents and placed five $100 bills on the table which would be the Backstrom’s to keep if Ralph signed on the dotted line. Ralph told Susan that at that time, neither he or his parents had ever seen even one $100 bill, let alone five, and Ralph signed the paper, making him part of the Canadiens family.

As Reardon was leaving, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another five $100 bills, waved them in Ralph’s face, and told him he’d been authorized to pay twice as much for Ralph’s signature. Then he put the 500 bucks back in his pocket.

Lunching With Greats!

Susan Foster is such a lovely lady and I can see why Leaf great Carl Brewer fell head-over-heels for her, with the two of them becoming long-time life partners.

But Susan and Carl were not just a loving couple. They also fought the good fight for all NHL players, and in the end were the force that brought down Alan Eagleson and his cronies who were putting into their pockets millions of dollars which rightfully belonged to the players.

Her man Carl, who spoke like a professor and was an excellent defenceman, is gone now, but Susan remains close to the retired players from the era of the Original Six teams and continues to strive to help NHL widows who might not be getting their fair share.

(If anyone knows the whereabouts of Rhonda Lapointe, widow of  deceased NHLer Rick Lapointe, please contact me so I can pass it along to Susan).

Susan invited my wife Luciena and I to a luncheon in Toronto where about 60 ageing gentlemen, who once upon a time were stars in the golden age of hockey, the 1930’s to 1960’s, gathered to swap stories and tell tall tales, and to eat and laugh and catch up on old times. It was like a warm family reunion.

Pete Conacher, from the famous Conacher family and who had played in New York, Chicago, and Toronto, sat with us, treated us with kindness, and was such a gentleman. Ivan Irwin, who wore number four in Montreal before Jean Beliveau, joined us and told great stories from his day.
Wally Stanowski now 92 years old and a Leaf and Ranger legend, was a friendly old fellow, and said he doesn’t watch much hockey anymore. Wally is the last surviving member of the 1945 Stanley Cup-winning Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ron Hurst, taking the mike, told bawdy jokes, and the cleanest I can get is the one he related about how a hunter had brought back a monkey and when asked if he wanted to mount it, replied that he’d rather just shake its hand.

Ivan Irwin recalled how he was the sixth defenceman in Montreal and told Frank Selke that it would probably be best if he was traded somewhere where he would play regularly. Selke promptly shipped Irwin to the minors in Victoria, which was the last thing the big defenceman expected. The next season he was dealt to New York. I mentioned that he probably only made about $4000 a year back then, and he said, “try half that.”

In the photos below, the wonderful Susan Foster poses with Ivan Irwin. Also, a look at the room full of long-retired greats, along with 92 year old Wally Stanowski in the red shirt, and Pete Conacher and Ivan Irwin with Luci.

   

Waking Up To A Wonderful Email

This very special email arrived this morning;

“Your recent interview with Terry Harper was excellent. You are an exceptional writer. It was such a pleasure to read his comments and his thoughts on his fellow players of his era. He always was a down-to-earth, good guy. It is very nostalgic to revisit the 6 team era with memories being shared by the former players of that time. In the early to mid 1960’s I was a student at McGIll and saw many of the Leaf’s-Canadiens games as I was friends with Jim Roberts and many of the Leafs. I was the late Carl Brewer’s life partner.”

Susan Foster

I was really touched by this and so I wrote her back and asked if I could put this on my site. She replied;

Hi Dennis:

Yes, you certainly may publish my note to you.

You have excellent taste being such a ‘Habs’ fan all these years!  There hasn’t been a finer franchise in the history of the league and they certainly treat their former players with respect and dignity as well. I hope you never change elegance.

Best regards,

Susan

And about her life partner, Carl Brewer? He was a steady defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the days of the Original Six, with a solid career beginning in 1957 and lasting until 1980. He locked horns with coach Punch Imlach many times during the 1960’s simply because he wasn’t a slave to any master. He was his own man, and stood up for himself and others often during these days when players had almost no say whatsoever with management. Brewer also spent time in Detroit and St. Louis, was a member of the Canadian National team for a year, and even became player-coach of the Finnish National team. He was eventually inducted into the Finnish Hall of Fame, although he was Canadian through and through.

Carl Brewer was also one of hockey’s most intelligent hockey players. He was a learned man, scholarly like Ken Dryden, and when he was interviewed between periods on Hockey Night In Canada, you’d think you were listening to a university professor, not a hockey player. He was so well-spoken, so insightful, so original.

Brewer also spearheaded the fight against his former agent Alan Eagleson, which resulted in jail time for the disgraced agent who had defrauded millions of dollars from his clients like Brewer and Bobby Orr. Many players from that era can thank Carl Brewer for fighting the good fight for them.

A short biography of this great man can be seen here.

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