Facinating fact #1. 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.
Faxcinating fact #2. When I was about 12, my grandmother told me the daughter of a friend of hers was getting married in Orillia on a Saturday, to the trainer of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bobby Haggart. So I scrambled on up to the church, and the entire Leafs team was standing outside the church. Bobby Baun, Frank Mahovlich, Tim Horton, Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, everybody. I got autographs, and the next day at Mass, me and my mom and dad sat right behind Dave Keon and his wife.
Fascinating fact #3. 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.”
Facinating fact #4. 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.
Fascinating fact #5. 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.
Fascinating fact #6. 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.
Fascinating fact #7. 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.
Fascinating fact #8 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.