Tag Archives: Whipper Billy Watson

Gene Kiniski was Canada’s…………

One day I was sitting in a pub listening to the guy next to me tell his buddy about how 1950s/60s wrestling bad guy Gene Kiniski used to bill himself as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete.”

I thought that was great, so I tracked down Kiniski in Point Roberts, Wash. and gave him a call. I thought it would be good for the little newspaper column I had back then.

He answered the phone by saying, in a loud and gruff voice,  “CANADA’S GREATEST ATHLETE!”

Yes he did. It was awesome.

He was also a terrific guy on the phone, full of fun and laughter, and he went on about his family, his son’s restaurant in Point Roberts, his contentment now.

Just a nice, sincere fellow who had also played pro football for the Edmonton Eskimos before his wrestling career had begun, and one who had adopted the villain role and “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” shtick by bashing bashing heads, throwing chairs out of rings, and pissing wrestling fans off, all as a way of supporting his family.

For every saintly Whipper Billy Watson, there had to be a Gene Kiniski to stomp and growl.

In 2010 we lost this colourful character and I don’t know about Canada’s Greatest Athlete, but there’s a good chance he was Canada’s Nicest Athlete.

He asked me to send him a clipping of the column, which I did, and he sent me these in return. I never made it down to see him, and I regret it.

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Mr. Kiniski

I used to have a weekly column in the Powell River Peak and I’d write about all kinds of things. Kind of like here.

One day I was sitting in the pub listening to the guy next to me talk about how 1950s/60s wrestling bad guy Gene Kiniski used to bill himself as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete.” I thought that was great, and figuring it might make a fun column, I somehow tracked down Kiniski’s phone number and gave him a call.

He answered the phone as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete.” Yes he did. It was awesome.

He was also a terrific guy on the phone, full of fun and laughter, and seemed just a nice, humble fellow, one who had adopted the villain and “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” schtick a long time ago when he was bashing heads, throwing chairs out of rings, and pissing fans off as a way of supporting his family.

For every saintly Whipper Billy Watson, there had to be a Gene Kiniski to stomp and growl.

He asked me to send a clipping of the column, which I did, and he sent these back.

Gene Kiniski died in 2010. Three years ago we lost Canada’s Greatest Athlete.

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A Few ’72 Tidbits

Team Canada had a six-hour stopover in Paris on the way to Stockholm, and goalie Ed Johnston said this about the beautiful old city: “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.”

The Russian players who didn’t dress for the games in Moscow had to buy their own tickets to get into the rink.

Unusual Little Fascinating Facts in the 1972 Summit Series

Right now, 36 years ago in 1972, Team Canada was not having a nice time with the Russian National Team. They were clobbered in Montreal and booed in Vancouver. They were tired and frustrated, and things looked bad. But in they end, as we all know, they pulled it out.

 But it wasn’t just on-ice things going on. Here’s a few rare little tidbits:

 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.”

All George Had To Do Was Use His Don Head

George Stephen figured he should probably just forget about it. No one had heard about it, and most didn’t believe him. I figured he had probably inhaled too many fumes from the Powell River mill. But George insisted he’d seen it, only now he was thinking he might be the only one on the planet who had.

 George would say often that one night, more than 40 years ago on Hockey Night in Canada, the Boston Bruins, in Toronto for a game against the Leafs, were issued a delayed penalty, and something odd happened. As soon as the referee raised his arm, Bruin goaltender Don Head, instead of skating to the bench for an extra attacker, smartly skated to the blueline, goalie pads and all, and played a short shift as a defenceman until a Leaf finally touched the puck, and back to his net Mr. Head went.

 Hmmm. Sure, George. The goalie played out on the powerplay? Maybe Foster Hewitt sang the national anthem. Maybe Conn Smythe took on Whipper Billy Watson in a pre-game wrestling match. What, the Bruins didn’t have a defenceman who could go out instead? C’mon!

 George insisted, though. When Chicago goalie great Glenn Hall came to Powell River, George asked him, but Hall had no idea what our man was talking about. A letter to the Hockey Hall of Fame garnered a reply. All they could say was they had no idea, but if it were true, it would make a great story. George even asked Powell River resident Andy McCallum, who had played with Head for the Ontario Senior Windsor Bulldogs, but all Andy could say was he wouldn’t be surprised because Head was such a good skater, even with goalie pads on.

 There was only one last thing George could do. Ask the man himself, Don Head. If he could find him.

 Through sleuthing that would do Dick Tracy proud, George discovered that Head was alive and well and living in Portland, Oregon, and on the phone he got. After mistakenly getting a few others of the same name in Portland first, the goalie was finally tracked down, and George asked that big nagging question. Did he leave his net and become a defenceman with his goalie equipment on?

 Head thought for a second, and gave an answer George wasn’t really hoping for. “I don’t remember ever doing that,” he said, and after a few more pleasantries, George politely said goodbye. He was even more convinced to just forget the whole thing.

 And that should be the end of the story.

 But the phone rang the very next night at George’s house, and sure enough, Don Head was on the line from Portland. “Hello George,” he said. “If I’m ever in a trivia game and need an answer, I’m phoning you.” George asked why, and Head continued. “You were absolutely right. My daughter and I went through my scrapbooks and found the write-up of me skating up the ice and playing the point on the power play. It was a Saturday night, Hockey night in Canada, and we beat Toronto 4-3. I’d forgotten all about that.”

 Head wasn’t finished there. He sent a copy of the news story to George and enclosed a little note that said: “Maybe this will convince everyone that you didn’t really inhale those fumes at the mill after all.”

 It took more than 40 years, but George Stephen finally has proof that he saw what he saw. All it took was asking Don Head himself. It was all true. The goalie played the point, pads and all.