Monday, November 23, 2015

WRITING ABOUT A HOCKEY LEGEND

One year ago today, the hockey world lost one of its most beloved citizens, Pat Quinn.

In his first National Hockey League game with the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 27, 1968, Quinn let his opponents know they should keep their heads up when he came over the boards.

Red Burnett's game story in the Toronto Daily Star on Quinn's debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins noted the rookie's physical play:

Pat Quinn, another Tulsa Oiler (the Leafs' farm team in the CHL), took Dorey's place on defence and bombed Angotti (Lou) with a solid check to let the Penguins know he meant business.

Long after Quinn burst onto the NHL scene, his reputation has grown beyond that of an enforcer turned coach and executive. He became a mentor, who gave back to the game and cared about the people around him.

The story about how these character traits evolved and were nurtured are told in a new book on Pat Quinn published by Penguin Random House.

Earlier this month, Mike Wilson hosted a special event 'Inside the Room' to celebrate the release of Quinn - The Life of a Hockey Legend. Pat Quinn's siblings - Carol, Guy and Barry - were on hand to remember their brother.

Carol standing between Guy (L) and Barry.

Dan Robson (R) with Mike Wilson
Dan Robson, who authored the book, provided insight into the making of this mammoth project.

"It was an opportunity that was given to me, which I was fortunate to have," Robson said in his opening remarks.

His involvement in this undertaking began in December 2014. An email from Nick Garrison of Random House led to them meeting over drinks at a pub in Toronto.

"He started talking about Pat, who passed away 3 weeks before, and the outpouring of emotions and love for Pat in those 3 weeks after he passed away. Nick wanted to capture all that in a book and he asked me if I wanted that chance."

Robson jumped at the offer and as he stated, "it was the biggest opportunity I had in my career."

But his first reaction doesn't come as a surprise, taking into account the task at hand.

"I was immediately terrified, then I said, absolutely. It was a huge challenge, but one I hoped I could take on and do well."

When word filtered out that Robson, a senior writer with Sportsnet Magazine, would be penning Quinn's story, there was skepticism about a young scribe getting the job. Some held the opinion a contemporary of Quinn's in the media would be best suited for the assignment.

"I would expect there would be a great deal of skepticism and I had a great deal of skepticism myself," Robson said in response to the assertion. "I was in university when Pat was coaching the Leafs. I know people were unsure of me from the beginning. My goal and my job was to say here is a man, who was greatly respected and loved, and I have a blank slate."

To achieve this goal, Robson set out "to speak to everybody who knew Pat from all different capacities." Close to 100 interviews were conducted in the process. "It was my opportunity to fill in the blanks and not have any preconceived notions and try my best to tell the story through their words."

Robson's first priority was to speak with Carol, Guy and Barry.

"It starts on Glennie Avenue in east end Hamilton," Robson said of Quinn's childhood home. To this day, the house remains in the possession of Pat's sister, Carol. "I remember sitting down with Carol and having coffee all afternoon."

Roaming the rooms where a subject lived as a child can help a writer gain a sense of life back then for the individual. The fact a sibling is supplying commentary during the research is pure gold.

"I walked around the house where Pat and the rest of the Quinn family grew-up and there is so much of the family in there."

Listening to Robson chat about the Quinn family and Hamilton, it was easy to grasp the importance to him of not beginning with the obvious, but digging deeper into Pat's roots.

"Everyone thinks they know Pat from the Leafs, Canucks and Team Canada, but I had the chance to get to know where it all began. Everyone talks about Pat being a loyal man of strong values and I wanted to know where that began."

One value Robson discovered was "the pursuit of excellence that Pat had since he was a boy," a pursuit that followed Quinn into his adulthood. "He worked several jobs and was always trying to better himself. He always tried to push himself further."

Robson told the gathering "the time Quinn spent before making it is one of my favourite parts of his story."

"He was so driven by school while still toiling in the minors. He obviously loved hockey and was travelling from place to place with his family."

Delving into Quinn's history gave Robson an understanding of how he functioned later in life.

"Even after he made it and the Flyers went undefeated in 35 games and he won coach of the year, Pat still wanted to become a lawyer."

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is the exploration of Quinn's relationships with people he met along the way.

"The relationship between Pat and Trevor Linden is one that really moved me," Robson stated. "Their relationship was the most emblematic of what Pat meant to so many other people."

A trip out west in March of this year allowed Robson to meet with Linden in Vancouver and they hooked-up shortly after the Canucks organization held their tribute honouring Quinn.

"We had a long chat about Quinn as his mentor. It wasn't about the X's & O's of hockey, but Pat taking Trevor as a teenage kid, who was just about to play in the NHL, and mentor him to the point of what he became."

The end result of Robson's effort is a 349-page gem documenting Quinn the hockey legend and man.

"It started in late January (2015) and finished up in July," Robson said of the writing timeline, which by any standard is a tight deadline. "The good thing about writing about a guy like Pat Quinn, there is no shortage of people to talk about Pat Quinn. Once you got going, they just kept coming and that's what is so special about Pat Quinn."

The last word went to Pat's brother, Barry Quinn.

"It was a privilege to be Pat's brother," Barry said as he stood to address the crowd. "We were privileged to have the parents we did, my sister Carol, my brother Guy and my brother Phillip, who passed away 24 years ago."

Like his big brother, it was obvious Barry wore his big Irish heart on his sleeve.

"It was tough to lose Pat and we think about him almost everyday, He was a great guy," Barry stated with great deal of pride and a twinge of emotion in his voice.

Then, he turned his attention to Dan Robson.

"We're really glad with the way Dan has put this book together. I'm proud of Pat and I'm proud of Dan. He (Dan) has made our family proud."

There is no better ringing endorsement for Quinn - The Life of a Hockey Legend than the one spoken by Barry Quinn.






Monday, November 16, 2015

REGGIE LEACH - GETTING TO THIS POINT

Mike Wilson's special guest 'Inside the Room' earlier this month was former Philadelphia Flyers sniper, Reggie Leach.

A gifted goal scorer, Reggie's most productive NHL season was in 1975-76. On an offensive tear, he rifled home 61 goals and added 19 more in the playoffs. Despite losing to Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final, Reggie captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He is the only skater on a losing team to win this award. All the other winners have been goalies.

His appearance 'Inside the Room' came just days before the release of his book, The Riverton Rifle.


 Speaking before a captivated audience, Reggie talked about how he became the man he is today. The role hockey played in life and the struggles he faced. How he turned his life around and is now a powerful force in the First Nations community.

"I grew-up in the little town of Riverton, Manitoba, which had a population of 650 people," Reggie said of his start in life. "There were only 2 or 3 native families in Riverton. I was a snotty little kid and my clothes were always dirty."

"I didn't start skating until I was 10," he noted of his late start on blades. "I put on my brothers skates. They were size 11 and I'd stuff them with papers so they wouldn't fall off. That is what I used for 4 years. Today, I only use a size 7 skate."

Like many kids, Reggie hit the pavement to first learn the game.

"I played a lot of road hockey. I played goal because I was short and fat and I couldn't run."

The major hockey team in town made a tremendous impact on young Reggie.

"When I was 12 or 13, the Riverton Lions senior team were my heroes. They were the best players in town. I knew a little about the National Hockey League, but not that much. The Lions were the guys I  respected and I wanted to be like them."

And it didn't him long to share the ice with his hockey heroes.

"At the age of 13, I was good enough to play with the senior team for a couple of years."

Scouted by the Detroit Red Wings, they arranged for Reggie to play Junior "B" in Saskatchewan.

"So, I go there and being a native kid, it was my first time away from home. I'd get up in the morning go to school and hockey practice. Then, I'd go back and sit in my basement. I did that until Christmas. That's how lonesome I was."

Unable to to adjust to his new surroundings, Reggie decided to take action.

"I went home for Christmas and stayed home. There was no way I was going back. All my friends were in Riverton and I rejoined the Lions."

His return home, as Reggie stated, "is where everything turned around for me."

Over time, with the help of one gentleman, Reggie realized his growth as a person and hockey player was dependant on one factor.

"I'm hanging around the senior team and having a couple of drinks with them all the time at the age of 14 or 15."

A former coach recognized the pitfalls of Reggie's ways and provided him with some positive direction.

"He took me to a restaurant for dinner. We talked about hockey and what I wanted to do in life. I hated school and told him I wanted to be a hockey player in the National Hockey League."

What happened next helped Reggie get on the path to success.

"He pointed to a guy on the street and said, 'that guy could have been a pro hockey player, but he drank too much.' I said, I'm not going to do that," Reggie told his mentor of his intention to curb his booze consumption.

"He told me I had to leave Riverton and he made some calls. At that time, Detroit owned junior teams in Weyburn and Flin Flon."

Reggie explained the criteria set by the Red Wings when it came to placing prospects in either Weyburn, Saskatchewan or Flin Flon, Manitoba.

"Anybody that didn't go to school went to Flin Flon and skated for the Bombers. We had to show-up every morning and sign in at The Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company, then spend the next 4 hours trying to hide."

In Flin Flon, Reggie met Bobby Clarke, who became his lineman and the two of them later won a Stanley Cup with Philadelphia.

"I remember the first time we met. I was in the Whitney Forum shooting pucks against the boards. This was in August and there was no ice. He was watching me and came down and introduced himself. We were never apart for the next three years. We bought our clothes together and we sat together on the bus."

Reggie's NHL journey began in 1970, when the Boston Bruins selected him in the Draft.

He fondly recalled his first taste of NHL action, when he was inserted into the line-up for a exhibition contest against Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings.

"He was one of my idols," Reggie noted of Mr. Hockey. "All I remember is Bobby Orr coming up to me and saying, 'Reg, keep your head up, Gordie is going to test you.' So, on one play I go around the net and sure enough, Howe elbowed me. I turned around and slashed him."

This reactionary response didn't go unnoticed by Number 9.

"He said to me, 'kid you're going to be okay.' He skated away and I knew I scared him," a comment Reggie made with a big smile.

"I was the highest paid door-opener for 2 years," he said with a chuckle. "I made the roster, but in most games I got one or two shits."

By February 1972, Reggie's lack of ice time with the Bruins began to frustrate him.

"Getting out of Boston, I sort of forced the issue. I told them I'm not playing and I want to get traded so I can play."

Reggie got his wish when the Original Six Bruins dealt him to the expansion Oakland Seals. While he got plenty of play with Oakland, the team didn't have much success on the ice.

"The only good thing about Oakland was the fact our owner, Charlie Finley, also owned the Oakland A's. We got free tickets to the World Series."

His exit out of sunny California came in 1974.


"I got traded in May to Philadelphia and they were the Stanley Cup champions."

The shift east reunited Reggie with his junior pal, Bobby Clarke.

"Clarkie, Bill Barber and I were put together," Reggie noted of Fred Shero's new line combination.

On the topic of his coach in Philly, Reggie told a story which gave insight into the genius that is Fred Shero.

"The first year I was there we would practice the same break-out play everyday for 20-minutes.  But we would never use it in a game. We did that for 4 months straight. Then, all of a sudden in March he said, 'all right guys time we switched.' That is when we went for the second Cup and we had the new system going into the playoffs."

The most moving part of the evening came when Reggie talked about his drinking problem.

"I'm an alcoholic," Reggie told the hushed room. "My problems started around '78-'79. I didn't really realize it at the time. I use to quit for all the wrong reasons. I quit for family or the Flyers wanted me to quit."

The turning point in Reggie's battle with the brown bottle came in his post-hockey life.

"Finally, in 1985, I quit on my own for myself and nobody else. I haven't drank since and it has been 30 years this September."

This brings us to Reggie Leach getting to this point in his life.

"I do a lot of public speaking in First Nations communities. I talk about life choices and drugs and alcohol. I tell the kids to learn one thing a day and it will take you a long way."

His book - The Riverton Rifle - is now available and after listening to Reggie talk about his life and hockey career it is a must read. It is a wonderful blend of inspirational stories and chronicles his rise to become a star player in the National Hockey League.

"It is not a show-and-tell book," Reggie said of The Riverton Rifle. "It is what I learnt from my lifetime to become an elder."


















Tuesday, November 10, 2015

REMEMBERING


When I got outside, attacking planes were coming from every which direction dropping incendiaries as well as anti-personnel bombs that sent out a swath of fragments when they hit the ground. Fires lit up the target. Our trucks were hit and burning. Some of our gunners had been hit and others had run to take their places. Even in the confusion I was proud of the way my men were standing up. The night was full of gunfire, explosions, shouts, and screams.
- Conn Smythe's observations after his Battery Unit was attacked in Caen on July 25, 1944.


Long after the likes of Conn Smythe had taken a stand and signed up to participate in World War Two, the hockey world continues to remember the sacrifices they made.

Recently, the Toronto-NHL Oldtimers made their annual trip to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto to visit those living in the Veterans Wing. For the players, this is one jaunt they gladly make knowing the good feeling they get from meeting everyone at Sunnybrook. After having their lunch the Veterans gathered to listen to several short speeches, then the fun part of the activities took place. The players descended from the stage and took part in a meet and greet session. As each player worked the room one could see the joy they brought to those who fought for our Country.

Al Shaw, who organized the visit, gives his opening remarks.



Ron Hurst delights the gathering crowd with his storytelling.





Gary England seated between Johnny Bower and Dick Duff. Throughout the year, Gary secured autographs on a Stanley Cup photo for the Veterans.


Johnny Bower making the presentation to one of the Veterans.



Gary Collins

Bob Nevin
Pete Conacher

Brian McFarlane
Dick Duff

Ivan Irwin

Johnny Bower with Hockey Night in Canada pioneer Murray Westgate.


Never lost during the visit was the bravery and courage the Veterans showed to make this world a greater and safer place for future generations. The ultimate sacrifice being made by those who never returned and lost their lives fighting for our freedom.