Since I began this blog, I’ve had an ongoing series called “Fascinating Facts’, which are various little tidbits and are all true. Here’s a compilation of many of them as I get ready to go to Calgary to see my kids:
I once phoned Hall of Famer and ex-Hab Bert Olmstead in Calgary just to talk about the old days with the Rocket and Stanley Cups etc. He hung up on me.
When I had my restaurant in Powell River, Frank Mahovlich and Red Storey came in. Frank told me the Montreal organization was first class and way better than the Leaf organization. We fed them a spaghetti dinner
I met the Rocket when he was refereeing an old-timers 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 a picture of him with my sister.
My dad took me to a Montreal-Toronto game back in the 1950′s. 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.
I spoke to the Habs Jim Roberts (1963-1978) when I was about 13 after a game at the old Forum, before it was renovated in 1969. 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.
My peewee coach in Orillia played 27 games for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1943-44 season. He had one goal and 31 penalty minutes. AND NOT ONLY THAT: He played alongside Punch Imlach for the Quebec Aces in the old Quebec Senior League and played against the Rocket before Richard joined the Habs. Does it get any more interesting than this?
When I lived in Ottawa, it was a known fact that Doug Harvey, the greatest defenceman of all time after Bobby Orr, lived in some kind of railway car at the race track in Hull, completely down and out, with a drinking problem. So what did I do? Nothing. Nothing at all. Didn’t go there. Didn’t bring him any smokes or a bottle. Didn’t invite him home for a turkey dinner. Nothing. Geez, this would have made an interesting story.
Conn Smythe let the Habs have Dick Irvin as their coach, even though Irvin was a good and successful coach in Toronto, because Smythe wanted his man Hap Day, a good, religious company man and supreme ass kisser, to coach. Irvin went on to coach Montreal for 15 years where he won 3 Stanley Cups and let his son, broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., sit on the players bench from time to time when junior was a kid.
I once had breakfast with old Chicago and various other teams goalie Glenn Hall (1952-1971.) when he came to town for the Allan Cup. He told me Gordie Howe (1946-1980) was better than the Rocket. Even so, I still paid for his breakfast.
In Ottawa in the 1970′s, there was a tremendous fastball team called Turpin Pontiac (maybe they still exist), who were one of the best ball teams in Canada. They had a horn-rimmed glasses-wearing pitcher named Joe Belisle who looked like Dennis the Menace’s father. He probably weighed about 140 pounds and skinny as a rake. However, his pitching arm was twice as big as his other arm, and this was a guy who pitched mostly 1 or 2 hitters, with many, many no-hitters also. The ball was only a blur when he let it go. And one of the guys who played outfield for Turpin Pontiac was a big, strapping long-ball hitting red-head named Larry Robinson, who happened to play defence for the Montreal Canadiens in the off-season.
Several years ago, my sister Carla and I used to do this silly little thing like say, “You know Carla, I’ve known a lot of people in my life —and you’re one of them. Or “You know Dennis, I’ve seen a lot of men in my life — and you’re one of them.” You get the picture. Just silly stuff. So one day, somewhere, maybe Calgary, Ken Dryden was signing his book at a bookstore and Carla bought one for me and had Ken sign it this way- “Dennis, I’ve had a lot of fans in my life, —and you’re one of them. Ken Dryden.”
Rocket Richard was never really associated with being a practical joker, but he had that streak in him. One time on the train the team was travelling on, his coach Dick Irvin Sr. had brought along a bunch of caged prize pigeons that Irvin had shown at some agriculture fair somewhere. The Rocket tried to let the pigeons out of their cages but other guys on the team stopped him.
Emile ‘Bouch’ Bouchard was a big strapping defenceman for the Canadiens in the 1940′s and ’50′s. He was their captain for a period of time. The fascinating part of this story is that he didn’t own a pair of skates until he was 16, and four years later he’d made the NHL.
Terry Sawchuk died after having a serious and drunken wrestling match on the front lawn of his house with teammate Ron Stewart. He was 40 years old.
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 ’70′s. 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. But the big news is that when we were kids, him and I would 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 worn dentures ever since.
In the late 1960′s, Rick Ley’s older brother Ron and his redneck 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 Oshawa Generals, a farm team of the Boston Bruins, 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. Amazingly enough, and this is why this thing is called “Fascinating Facts”, Bower played goal all those years with poor eyesight and rheumatoid arthritis.
Claire Alexander, who played defence for the Leafs in the mid 1970′s, came into the league when he was 29. Before that, he was a milkman in Orillia, Ontario. (my hometown).
In the early 1960′s, 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. One day, he took my buddy Ron Clarke and I to Peterborough to see an exhibition game between the Leafs and Chicago. The afternoon before the game, we had dinner at the hotel with the Leafs’ brass. The players were in an adjoining room. So Ron and I had dinner with the Monsignor, King Clancy, and Jim Gregory, who has just been recently inducted into the builder’s category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In the 1950′s, New York tough guy Lou Fontinato (who later was traded to Montreal), got into a real 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.
Montreal drafted Mark Napier instead of Mike Bossy.
Scotty Bowman, when coaching the Habs in the 1970′s, would usually be a real miserable soul after the team had won. But when the team lost, he was a nice, happy person. The general consensus was that Scotty liked to play games with his players’ heads, and it was a big reason he was such a good coach.
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 very little 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 somebody else in 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.
CBC television host George Stroumboulopoulos, is a good, solid Habs fan.
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 really, really tough.
I have a beautiful old ticket stub from Game 8 of the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series at Luznicki Arena in Moscow.
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 a sports bar/bistro in Powell River, the infamous Hanson Brothers came to town for a promotional thing at the arena. Afterwards, they came into my pub and at midnight, I locked the doors and drank beer and talked hockey with them until about 5AM.
A small scrap of paper signed by Bill Barilko, who scored the Cup-winning goal for Toronto against Montreal in 1951 and died later that year in a plane crash in northern Ontario, recently sold on ebay for $750.
When I was 12, my pee wee baseball team played in a tournament in St. Catherines, Ontario. For one game, goalie great Gerry Cheevers was the umpire.
Years ago, when I was about 11, I asked Foster Hewitt for his autograph. He signed for me, then, because he was in a deep discussion with some other guy, he kept my pen. I was too shy to ask him for it so my older 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 ’60′s when I was about 13 or so, my buddy 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 us both sticks, although I broke mine later playing road hockey. And Don Cherry played that night for Rochester.
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.”
In the early 1940′s the Montreal Canadiens were bringing in less fans than the senior league Montreal Royals. The Habs were averaging only about 1500 people in those days. Guess what changed in Montreal? What caused fans to go from 1500 to 12,000 in only a few years? Two words – The Rocket.
And what completed the growth of fan attendance, from 12,000 in the late 1940′s to regular sellouts at the beginning of the 1950′s. It was the signing of Quebec senior hockey hero, Jean Beliveau.
1950′s Habs grinder Marcel Bonin used to eat glass, and also wrestled bears. And once, while at raining 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. It was found last year 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 lttle, 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 last year, introduced me to goaltender Richard Brodeur. 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. 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 1970′s and to crack the Habs line up, you pretty well had to be a Guy Lafleur, so French decided to sign 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.
Rick Ley and I sometimes skated on the big outdoor rink near us, before school. Ley also pitched a ball to me one summer which the batter fouled off into my mouth and knocked my front tooth out.
The best seat I ever had at a game was in the first row at the Montreal Forum, behind the net, just to the right of the goal judge. This was in the late 1970′s.
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 one end. Most games I’ve gone to, however, were usually way, way up.
Canada’s greatest pool player, Cliff Thorburn, is a long-time Habs fan.
I asked my wife who the most handsome player in the NHL is, and she said it’s a tie between Jose Theodore and Sheldon Souray.
In the early 1910′s, Lester and Frank Patrick pioneered professional hockey on Canada’s west coast, and the first two artificial rinks built in Canada were in Victoria and Vancouver.
My midget coach was a man named Jack Dyte. In 1943 he played 27 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, and that was it for his NHL career. He managed one goal and no assists during this stint. But the thing was, he chewed tobacco at our practices and spit the juice on the ice. So the surface had dozens of brown spots all over it. I always wondered how he got away with that.
I recently saw a documentary on Russian Czar Peter the Great. Peter would often go incognito to Europe, with a shaved mustache and old hat, and the documentary showed a painting of him in this mode. And lo and behold, 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.
And some 1972 Summit Series facts:
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.”