The Sad Story of Roy Spencer And His Son Brian

Imagine how proud Roy Spencer must have been. Imagine the thoughts that swirled through his head. The phone call had finally come, and when he would see the game, there would be no words to describe it.

Roy’s boy Brian was about to play, on national television, for the fabled Toronto Maple Leafs in his first NHL game.

Brian Spencer had been no angel growing up, not by a long shot. The boy was quick-tempered, and quicker to fight, but everyone in Fort St. James, a dark, blue-collar town in northern British Columbia, knew he was a chip off the old block. After all, old man Roy was known in those parts as a fiery, hard-living, no-nonsense type of fellow, and his family, for all intents and purposes, was a tough family in a tough town.

Brian had a twin brother and the two played for hours each day during the cold winter nights on the backyard rink Roy had built behind the simple log cabin they lived in. Roy would often go out with the boys and slowly teach them the finer points of the game, especially how to play with an aggressive edge, because, as Roy would explain, this way would lead to the pros the fastest. Forget about being the next Dave Keon or Jean Beliveau. Forget about smoothness, concentrate on toughness.

Those hours in the backyard paid off, because in 1969, the Toronto Maple Leafs chose young Brian and he was sent to the Tulsa Oilers, a farm team of the Leafs, for grooming. Brian played hard, and in  December of 1970 the call came. Brian Spencer was being brought up to play for the big team.

When Brian learned he was going to Toronto, he quickly made his own call. It was to his dad Roy back home who, by that time, was dying from kidney disease. He was playing, he told his dad, and his game was to be aired on Hockey Night in Canada from coast to coast!

Bad kidneys or not, it must have been one of the best days of Roy’s life. For a proud hockey dad, something like this just doesn’t get any better.

In the end, it couldn’t have gotten any worse.

The CBC knew nothing about Roy and Brian Spencer and the big debut in the Leafs uniform, and for whatever reason decided to air the Vancouver-Oakland game instead. It was a decision that led to tragedy.

Roy, once he realized what was happening, rose from his chair in front of the television, got into his car with his rifle, and drove 85 miles to the nearest television station, in Prince George.

At the station, Roy demanded they show the Leafs game, a demand that was refused, and the RCMP were called. Roy found himself in a shoot-out with the police, and the proud dad, who only wanted to see his boy playing in his first NHL game, was quickly shot and killed.

In Toronto, young Brian was wearing the famous blue and white uniform of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and between periods, he was interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada. It was the biggest night of his life, and he was sure his dad was watching and smiling, with chest pumped with pride.

What Brian didn’t know was at the same time he was being interviewed, his dad was being shot to death. He learned after the game.

Brian Spencer’s career lasted 10 years, with stops after Toronto in Long Island, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. In 1987, Spinner, as he was known, while living a drifter’s life in Florida, was charged with kidnapping and murder but was acquitted for lack of evidence. Three months later, while he was beginning to get his life back in order, he was murdered by a young hoodlum trying to rob him.

8 thoughts on “The Sad Story of Roy Spencer And His Son Brian”

  1. The whole incident with Roy was very unfortunate. I was living in Prince George at the time. When he arrived at the CBC affiliate CKPG TV, he proceeded to hold the employees hostage at gun point demanding the station switch their feed to the Toronto game. When that failed he forced the station to suspend its TV transmission and the station went off of the air. The immediate area around the station was cordoned off. A lengthy stand-off with police ensued. When the safety of the hostages obviously became paramount the situation escalated and in the end Roy lost his life. The implication that the Cops rushed in “guns ablazing” when you say he was quickly shot and killed is not what we saw.

  2. DK,

    Andy Warhol got it wrong: very few of us get 15 mins of fame, in fact so few as to be, if not statistically non-existent, practically so. No, what we all get, each & every one of us is 15 mins of craziness, a time (perhaps many of short duration)of emotional/psychological stress of such intensity that the rational mind shuts down and reason goes awol. And, unlike Roy Spencer, for most of us this spasm(s) of irrationality passes unnoticed, the conseqences are limited and come to end when self-conscious embarrassment sets in which for most of us, if we’ve been on the receiving end of such a breakdwon, constitutes in and of itself an adequate apology. And not infrequently we turn such incidents around, derive some didactic message from it and/or a chuckle or two. Yes, these `rogue moments’ are characterized by gradations of acceptability and degrees of contriteness but rarely, oh-so-rarely, again, unlike Roy Spencer, does an episode escalate to the point of explosive violence, to the point of no-return when all the compassion, all the understanding, all the forgiveness in the world is not and never will be sufficient to mitigate the grief that has come crashing down. We are left only with the hope that the damage is contained, that the aftershocks do not further progagate the initial rupture. Sometimes secondary effects can be anticipated, understood and neutralized, although effective intervention in this sense is also oh-so-rare …. as was the case for Brian Spencer. Certainly, there is no `cure’ for this aspect of our `condition’ and, if not invariably so, I do think that in the vast majority of cases, simply waiting is the best strategy because we all know that we simply lack the strength and energy to endure for long this type of extravagant emoting – like the mythical phoenix we consume ourselves and in the aftermath we emerge altered, usually drained and passive, bewildered even by our actions. Would this have been `the right thing’ for Roy Spencer? Given time, would he have come to his senses? We’ll never know.

  3. I only recently learned of my uncle Brian and was surprised and saddened when I heard his story. His twin brother Byron married my aunt Shelly and with all the hours I spent at their place I never heard of him it wasnt till I watched Gross Misconduct that I learned of the relationship.

  4. Amelia, thank you for writing. It’s a sad story with first Brian’s dad and then Brian in Florida, and it’s too bad. Sometimes it happens.

  5. The first time I ever saw Brian Spencer skate was in 1974 after the Sabres acquired him from the Islanders. He had the ability to make incredible plays against the boards that changed the momentum of games. While others may have skated with more grace, I never saw anyone skate with more heart or passion than Brian. He was so incredibly generous to the Buffalo community,
    participating in myriad charity events, and it was through those events my father came to know him. Dad once expressed his concern to me that he feared Brian would be exploited by those who would take advantage of his generous nature and genuine love of people. Years later, after Brian retired from hockey and went to Florida, my father’s words came back to me. In our hearts, we felt the only thing Brian was guilty of, was placing his faith in people that didn’t deserve his trust. I woke the morning of June 3,1988 to the terrible news. My heart broke. So much has been written about Brian, especially since his death, that has been sensationalized. I remember Brian as an intelligent, thoroughy unique human being, who spoke with the intensity of someone who truly loved life. He was a man with an inquistive spirit, generous soul and a heart, bigger than the country he came from. I still wear his sweater, number 21, to Sabres games.

  6. Diane, it’s very beautiful what you’ve written. It’s a tragedy what happened, of course, and it’s people like you who keep Brian’s heart and soul alive.

  7. Dennis I’ve read about Roy and Brian’s tragic life stories and watched the movie Gross Misconduct. I as a Leaf fan enjoyed Brian’s ambition and tenacity as a player even when he was with Buffalo. I dont mean any negativity towards your story but in 1970 the Leafs were not in the playoffs. No Canadian based teams were in the 1970 playoffs. And Vancouver joined the NHL at the beginning of 70-71 season and never made playoffs til 75 when Brian was no longer with Toronto. So i dont believe his first game was in the playoffs

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