Tuesday, April 26, 2016

REMEMBERING GERRY McNEIL


On the 65th anniversary of Bill Barilko's Stanley Cup winning goal scored on April 21, 1951, Mike Wilson hosted a gathering to remember that eventful night.

One of the special guests was David McNeil. His dad, Gerry McNeil, was between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens when Barilkno scored at the 2:53 mark of overtime in game five.

David McNeil has written a book - In the Pressure of the Moment - Remembering Gerry McNeil - about his dad's life and career in hockey.

Gerry McNeil was born on April 17, 1926, in Quebec City. He played for a brief time in 1943-44 with the junior Montreal Royals and in that same year graduated to the senior Royals. While with the Royals in 1947-48, he got his first taste of NHL action when the Montreal Canadiens called him up for two games. McNeil lost one game and tied the other.

Late in 1949-50, Montreal once again summoned McNeil, who was playing for the Canadiens farm team in Cincinnati. In six games, McNeil sparkled, posting a 3-1-2 record with a 1.50 goals against average. His performance helped Montreal's starter, Bill Durnan, win the Vezina Trophy.

The following year, McNeil became the Canadiens number one goalie and was in the net for all their games over the next two seasons. In 1953, he became a Stanley Cup champion. He left the Canadiens after the 1953-54 campaign and the reason for his departure is one of the many wonderful stories in the book.

Other than a brief return to the Habs in 1956-57, McNeil spent the rest of his playing time in the minors.

Before David addressed the crowd, I chatted with him about writing the book and his dad.

On what motivated him to write this book: Well, I sat down with my dad in the 1990s and knew he wasn't going to be around forever and I wanted to get the stories. We started watching games together and we noticed there was a big difference between our experience of the NHL even 20 years ago and what fans experienced in the early 50s. My book became not just the story about my father, but a history about sports media. I had a lot more material than I could get into one article, so I always knew I would be working on a book. I had a few false starts and it took time, but I persevered and didn't quit. I had a contract to publish it as my father was dying. After he died, I finished the manuscript and sent it to the publisher. The publisher called me and asked, 'you know the guy that signed you to that contract?' I said, yes, 'well we fired him, he was totally incompetent and he signed a whole pile of guys to contacts that could never produce the material we want. I've looked at your manuscript and we have strict criteria for our sports biographies series and your manuscript will never fit in.' That was the end of that. Then, Ken Dryden's book, The Game, was reissued on its 30th anniversary and then, Todd Denault's book on Jacques Plante came out. So the timing wasn't just right. I had to sit and be patient. With any writing or creative project, it's not over until you say it is over. I held on and along came Louis Anctil a Vancouver publisher. He thought this would be a great project. We teamed up and made it happen. I'm really happy that I hung in there. My father would have said to me, 'you only have one choice, you can try and make it better.' I've spent 20 years trying to make it better. I'm pretty proud now of the final product.

On things he learnt about his dad that surprised him: I couldn't believe the positive press he got. I teased him once that he must have witnessed Elmer Ferguson and Dink Carroll murder somebody because I can't believe the things they said about you. It is kind of unqualified praise and admiration. If he had a bad game they ignored it. That was one thing that surprised me. The one thing that didn't surprise me so much was that he was a really team player. He'd do anything for his teammates. He once covered up for Dollard St. Laurent. It was a story that didn't get into the book. Dollard coughed-up the puck once in front of the net and it led to a goal. Dick Irvin didn't get the number of the player and the sports reporters wouldn't help him out with who it was. So he asked my father. He told Irvin that he wasn't going to tell him. Irvin said, 'Gerry you think about it, we got a practice at nine o'clock tomorrow morning and I'm going to ask you again and you better tell me.' He slept on it and the next morning there's practice, but nothing is said. My father and Dollard exchanged glances and they think Irvin's forgotten about it. Irvin blows his whistle after forty minutes and everybody goes off the ice except for Gerry. Then, Irvin asks, 'okay Gerry who was it that coughed-up the puck?' My father said, 'I slept on it Dick and you know what, I don't think I want to tell you.' Irvin replied, 'okay Gerry you start skating.' Twenty minutes later my father is ready to collapse. Dollard comes out of the dressing room and my father waves to him to get out of there as he's going to blow it. Then, Dick blows his whistle and says, 'okay Gerry give me the name.' My father looked at him and said, 'I'll never give you the name.' That was the end of it. Dick knew my father had to play the next night, so he couldn't kill the guy. My father and Dollard shared this story on the golf course around the year 2000 and I was there. You could tell Dollard still appreciated the fact my father sucked it up for him. My father said he was the beneficiary because the next game Dollard St. Laurent was all over the place getting every rebound and taking everybody out. That was one thing that distinguished him from his successor, Jacques Plante. He was a great student of the game, but he would also be critical of a defenceman who wasn't in position. He was probably right, but it didn't endure him to his teammates. My father throughout his life knew he had the respect of his teammates and I think that really was all that mattered to him. He didn't want public accolades or the trophies. He was quite happy winning the last Vezina for Bill Durnan when he came in at the end of the 1950 season and improved Bill's goals against average. His own average for those six games was 1.50. That was perfectly in keeping with his character of trying to do something for somebody else.

On what was the hardest part about writing the book: Some of it was emotional right from the beginning. We weren't going to write a whitewash. This had to be about my father's flaws. My father wasn't a perfect individual. He overcame challenges later in life. He overcame problems with alcohol and homophobia. We were more proud of him for that actually than we were for his winning the Stanley Cup. It really made for a great family dynamic. That was a little difficult (to write about) because you know if my dad was alive I'm not sure if the book would have gotten written the same way. In the end it was a good positive story about Gerry, but not one he would have wanted to see.

On how his dad dealt with pressure: Not well, the Leswick goal in 1954 is an example (Detroit's Tony Leswick scored in the overtime of game seven in the Stanley Cup Final. The goal was scored when Doug Harvey stuck out his glove in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. Instead, he redirected the puck and it found the back of the net). The quick version about the pressure and how he dealt with it is that he didn't sleep that summer. He kept thinking if I was standing an inch further back that the puck would have hit me here and who knows we could have won the seventh game in overtime. That is tough one. Especially, with Doug Harvey, he was the one guy my father said as soon as he came out onto the ice he would breathe a little easier. Harvey played professional baseball, so if anyone is going to knock the puck out of the air it's going to be Doug Harvey. They never discussed it afterwards. My father had trouble sleeping and when he did fall asleep around four o'clock he would dream about that goal. He had decided he was going to quit earlier in that playoff run because of a fight with Dick Irvin. He promised himself he would never play another game under Dick Irvin and although he missed out on those five Stanley Cups (Montreal won between 1956 & 1960) he took personal pride in the fact he kept his promise to himself. He never did play another game for Dick Irvin. But he didn't let the team down as he finished the series.

On having a dad who played in the NHL: What I remember is that he got stopped by strangers and they would ask, 'coma sava Gerry?' We would lose 15 to 20 minutes. He would indulge people he hardly knew. He would fake his way through the conversation. I figured it out. He would ask about their children and the other person would be moved that my father would remember. But he wasn't really remembering, he was faking his way through it. He had a lot of time for people. He carried his celebrity well. I was too young to ever see him play in the NHL. I knew my father as a sales representative and a good father.

In the Pressure of the Moment - Remembering Gerry McNeil is full of rich stories and chapter four - The Goalie in the Barilko Picture - will be of  particular interest for Maple Leaf fans. The entire book will be an interesting, informative and fun read for all hockey fans


The above picture shows David McNeil sitting between Dan Donohue (L) and Kevin Shea.  This picture was taken during the Q&A session after the presentations. Dan Donohue spoke about his family and how they came into possession of the puck Bill Barilko used to score against Montreal in the overtime on April 21, 1951. Author and hockey historian, Kevin Shea, who wrote an outstanding book on Barilko (BARILKO without a trace) talked about Bill Barilko's amazing hockey career and his very sad passing in August 1951.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

BEFORE THE BIG GOAL


On April 21, 1951, Bill Barilko's overtime goal in game five was the Cup winner, as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated Montreal 3-2. In August '51 Barilko died in a plane crash.

Below, are the program cover and line-ups from game two of the Stanley Cup final played on April 14, 1951.



These come from the program that Sid Smith, a teammate of Barilko's on the Leafs from the time they both broke into the National Hockey League, kept from game two.




The action photo (above) of Barilko from game two appeared in the Toronto Telegram. The Montreal Canadiens won game two by a score of 3-2, with "Rocket" Richard scoring the winner in overtime. All five games in the Cup Final were decided in extra-time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

MATT PAVELICH: THEN & NOW

When watching footage from the Original Six era, this gentleman's face always seemed to appear on the screen. His name was seldom mentioned, but he was one of the best at his job.


Matt Pavelich joined the National Hockey League in 1956 as a linesman and went on to work 1727 regular season games. As former NHL forward, Lou Angotti, said of Pavelich, "(Matt) was one of the best at what he did."






Sunday, April 17, 2016

CHARLIE HODGE: 1933-2016


Another loss for hockey with the sad news that Charlie Hodge has passed away. He began his NHL career between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens in 1954-55. The newspaper photo below shows Jacques Plante replacing Hodge in goal during game two of Montreal's semi-final series against Boston in '55. Habs coach, Dick Irvin, kept the Bruins on their toes by using both his goalies




Charlie Hodge was born on July 28, 1933, in Lachine, Quebec. He won four Stanley Cups with Montreal. In 1964, he won the Vezina Trophy and shared the award with Gump Worsley in 1966. Hodge was named to the Second All-Star Team in 1964 and 1965. He also played with Oakland and Vancouver.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

IN MEMORY OF RON WICKS

In memory of Ron Wicks, I'm once again posting a story I wrote on Referee's Night hosted by Mike Wilson back in 2015.

For a change of pace, Inside the Room featured the other guys who shared the ice with some of hockey's biggest stars, the referee's.

Left to Right: Bryan Lewis, Ron Wicks and Bruce Hood

"We were the best money could buy," joked Bruce Hood to start off the evening.

When you get a group of on-ice officials together in one room, there is a question that always tops the list - How and why did you become a referee?

"I started in Georgetown doing kids hockey and it ended up being better than delivering newspapers," said Bryan Lewis of his first venture wearing the stripes. "The worst thing then, as it is now, was parental abuse, but once you got through that it was nothing."

"I started in Sudbury and played in the midget league," Ron Wicks informed the audience. "When I stopped playing, I offered to referee in the league. I was scouted by Bob Davidson, who was the chief scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He sent my name to Carl Voss, who was the NHL referee-in-chief. I took two weeks off as a tax assessor for the city of Sudbury. I came down here (Toronto) to do a few exhibition games and low and behold I got hired for $40 a game. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. And I stuck around for 26 years."

"I was playing intermediate hockey in Milton and I also worked at the rink," began Bruce Hood when talking about how he got his start. One night during a junior game, the referee couldn't make it, so they asked me if I would do it. I drove out to the guys house and got his sweater and whistle. I enjoyed being the referee and that is how I got started."

During the Q&A period, this question was asked of all three members of the panel - Can you remember a favourite game you worked?

"My one-thousand game, it was the only time my mother saw me work live and the game was played in Montreal," advised Bryan Lewis.

"My first game, I was just turning 20 years-old and my knees were banging together," noted Ron Wicks. "I was pinching myself and asking 'what in the hell 'am I doing here?' I remember Clarence Campbell, the president of he league, coming in and saying I missed an off-side by 20-feet. I must have improved because I lasted 26 years."

"My first game, which was played in Toronto," replied Bruce Hood. "I remember going out on that ice and I couldn't feel anything below my waist."

Friday, April 15, 2016

A CELEBRATION OF RON WICKS' LIFE


This afternoon (April 15, 2016), family and friends gathered at the Brampton Golf Club to remember former National Hockey League official Ron Wicks, who passed away earlier this month.

Ron's daughter, Lisa, gave a wonderful tribute to her dad
Left to Right: Terry Gregson, Greg Kimmerly & Ron Hogarth
Brian Wicks, Ron's son, set the tone for the afternoon by pointing out the gathering was a celebration  of his dad's life
Bruce Hood told some wonderful stories about his good friend

Former NHL linesman, Will Norris, spoke about travelling with Ron

Joe Bowen, the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Terry Gregson


Matt Pavlich
Will Norris with Bryan Lewis (right)


Saturday, April 9, 2016

THE PAST & FUTURE


On April 9, 1932, in their new home at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the New York Rangers 6-4 to capture their first Stanley Cup.

Tonight, the current Leafs close out their regular season schedule in New Jersey against the Devils. Unlike the '32 club, these Maple Leafs will not participate in the post-season action.

But there is hope for the future. The Leafs dismal season will place them high up in the Draft this summer and through trades and free agent signings, they should be in a position to ice a much improved team next autumn.

One thing is certain, with Toronto embarking on their centennial year, 2016-17 will be loaded with celebrations and stories on the rich history of this franchise.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

EDMONTON'S DYNASTY GOALIE


Behind every championship team there is a great goalie that stands tall and during the Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup dynasty era, Grant Fuhr loomed large in the crease.

In his final year with the Victoria Cougars in 1980-81, Grant Fuhr was considered to be the top ranked goalie in junior hockey.

Johnny Bower, who backstopped the Toronto Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups in the 1960s, recognized Grant Fuhr’s potential while scouting for his former club.

“I have seen him four times,” Bower told Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell in February 1981. “He’s probably the best in the country – certainly the best in the west. Any club that is looking for a goalie will have to regard him as a first-round choice.”

A leak of the rankings prepared by Central Scouting in March 1981, revealed that Grant Fuhr headed the list of goalies for the NHL Entry Draft.

An NHL Draft preview in The Globe and Mail highlighted the Edmonton Oilers interest in selecting Grant Fuhr, who hailed from near-by Spruce Grove, Alberta.

“General manager Glen Sather hopes to get Grant Fuhr, Victoria Cougars’ fine young goaltender,” the newspaper noted of Edmonton setting their sights on drafting Grant Fuhr.

Choosing 8th in the first round at the 1981 Entry Draft, the Edmonton Oilers were elated to announce Grant Fuhr’s name as their selection.

“For me it was a great thrill because I’m from Edmonton,” Fuhr told me in an interview. “It’s home and any chance you get to go home and play pro makes it an easier transition. I was excited about that.”

The next step for Fuhr was to attend his first pro training camp and show the Oilers brass what he could do in the National Hockey League. For most prospects, this came with a degree of pressure, but for Grant Fuhr that wasn’t the case.

“I went to camp thinking we have four or five goalies of NHL caliber, so I didn’t think there was any pressure at all. I figured I would be going back to junior to play some more.”

Grant Fuhr’s return to junior didn’t materialize and he played 48 games in his rookie campaign with Edmonton. Only 19-years-old, his regular season stats – 28-5-14 – showed he could hold his own against the games best. His effort earned him a spot on the Second All-Star Team.

“I guess I didn’t know any better,” Fuhr said as he began to comment on how he went about taking care of business between the pipes for Edmonton.

“I just played and was having fun. There wasn’t a lot of thought that went into it. I got dressed everyday and went out and played. Looking at it that way made it easier for me. I didn’t get caught up with everything else.”

The Oilers finished second overall in the 1981-82 regular season standings, but hit a brick wall that prevented them from advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings eliminated Grant Fuhr and his teammates from post-season action by taking the fifth and deciding contest.

“Part of it was a growing process and part of it was I just wasn’t any good,” stated Furh of his initial taste of hockey’s second season. “My first playoff game I lost 10-8. I didn’t play very good and I thought it would be a short run after that.”

Like many in the game, Grant Fuhr struggled in his sophomore year and posted a 13-12-5 record. Several factors came into play when examining the cause for his dip in production.

“I had a shoulder rebuilt and I got off to slow start that year and I lost my confidence a little bit.”

To help Grant Fuhr regain in his form, Glen Sather sent him to the American Hockey League to play 10 games for the Moncton Alpines.

“Going down there helped me find my game and find myself again.”

How one responds to adversity can have a lasting effect on the future and after participating in just one playoff game in 1983, Grant Fuhr was eager to bounce back.

In 1983-84, it was time for Grant Fuhr and the Edmonton Oilers to put together a banner regular season followed by success in the playoffs.

At the conclusion of the NHL schedule, Grant Fuhr had regained his winning ways by putting up solid numbers, which included 30 victories in 45 encounters.

The Oilers were a determined bunch when the playoffs rolled around and reached the Stanley Cup Final where they faced the New York Islanders.

To lift Lord Stanley’s mug, the Oilers had to dethrone the NHLs reigning dynasty, as the Islanders had won four consecutive Cups starting in 1980.

For Grant Fuhr, his maiden voyage into the Final meant he would have to outduel Billy Smith at the other end of the ice. And right off the bat, Fuhr proved he was up to the challenge.

“Everything that Billy Smith usually does to rival teams was done to the Isles by 21 year old Grant Fuhr,” observed one scribe after Fuhr shutout the Islanders 1-0 in game one.

“For me it was fun,” recalled Grant Fuhr of his competition with Billy Smith. “I looked up to Billy as he was the best money-goalie in the game. That’s what you tried to attain in your career. We became friends over the couple of series’ we played against each other. To be put in the same category as Billy was awesome.”

Grant Fuhr suffered a shoulder injury in game three, which forced him out of the Final.

“I was out handling the puck when I shouldn’t have been. Pat Hughes was taking Pat LaFontaine out of the play and I happened to be in the way.”

Glen Sather, in a gesture to acknowledge Grant Fuhr’s contributions, instructed him to dress for the remaining contests and take a seat at the end of the bench. The official back-up goalie to starter Andy Moog was Mike Zanier.

Still, the inability to play frustrated Fuhr, but being seated at ice level was a plus.

“It was frustrating because everything had gone pretty well to that point,” Fuhr told me over the phone.

“It also gave me the chance to witness everything,” said Grant Fuhr of his time on the bench. “I got to see the play first-hand.”

Edmonton captured the Stanley Cup by downing the New York Islanders 4 games-to-one.

“It was awesome,” proclaimed Grant Fuhr of his first Cup win. “As a kid that’s what you strive for and to actually be able to do it was a lot of fun.”

While Fuhr enjoyed the celebrations associated with a championship, he used the fact he missed two games as a motivational tool.

“There was nothing I could do about the injury, but it gave me a little bit of fire for the next year.”

In the 1984-85 Stanley Cup playoffs, Grant Fuhr had one focus and that was to help his team duplicate the success they had the previous spring.

 His sparkling playoff numbers, 18-15-3, contributed to the Oilers second Stanley Cup run, which concluded with a 4 games-to-one triumph over Philadelphia in the Final.

“To be able to have the opportunity to do it again was even more fun,”

I was curious if Grant Fuhr and the other Oilers thought they were becoming a dynasty after two straight titles.

“No because we never really looked at it that way. We just wanted to be as good as could be everyday and we went out and performed that way. We just wanted to win every year.”

And part of the winning philosophy for Grant Fuhr was nourished in how he performed in practices.

“We didn’t want to be scored against in practice,” said Fuhr without any hesitation. “And the guys wanted to score, so that’s what made it fun. We pushed ourselves to be better – the forwards pushed us and we pushed them. By having fun in practice and being competitive it made us better.”

Aiming for a three-peat in the 1986 playoffs, the Oilers were derailed by their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, in game seven of the Smythe Division Final. The game-winning goal occurred when Edmonton defenceman, Steve Smith, banked a misguided pass from behind the goal off Grant Fuhr.

“It was just one of those things that happened. Obviously, no one wants it to happen. If anything it made us focus on being better the next year because we wanted to be on top again.”

The manner in which they lost to Calgary made the Oilers aware of another important fact.

“It wasn’t that we got beat, we beat ourselves,” stated Fuhr in reference to the own-goal. “It made us realize we could be beaten more so by ourselves than an opponent. So, we just had to concentrate a little harder and we were pretty determined the next year.”

The job of getting the Oilers ready to return to championship form in 1986-87 belonged to Glen Sather.

“Glen always set the bar high for us,” stated Fuhr of his former coach. “He wanted us to be the best. He gave us the tools and opportunity to do that. It was just that we had to figure it out.”

It didn’t come as a surprise when the Edmonton Oilers met the Philadelphia Flyers in the ‘87 Cup Final.

During the grueling grind of the playoffs, Grant Fuhr had a unique way of getting away from it all and charging his batteries. When possible, he hit the links to play golf.

“It was relaxing playing golf,” said Fuhr of the other sport he excelled in. “People don’t realize that during the playoffs, if you sit and think and worry about it all the time, you’re going to burn yourself out. I could spend two or three hours and just get away from the game and give my mind a rest. It made me fresher for what I had to do during games.”

This time around in the Final, Grant Fuhr had to battle Ron Hextall in the Flyers net.

“Hextall was fabulous that year. I think that was the sole reason it went seven games because Hextall was that good. In game six we had a lead, but we let it get away.”

Although Hextall was frustrating Edmonton’s big guns, Wayne Gretzky knew the Oilers had an ace-in-the-hole.

“We kept saying Grant’s going to out play him and Grant’s going to win it for us,” stated Gretzky after his team won game seven in Edmonton at Northlands Coliseum.

Grant Fuhr offered an interesting slant to teammates depending on one another and the confidence that can be cultivated from the process.

“You better be good if your teammates have confidence in you, then obviously, it does wonders for your own confidence.”

On the topic of playing behind such explosive weapons like Gretzky and company, I wondered if Grant Fuhr ever experienced times where he had trouble staying motivated or keeping his head in the game.

“We were never shy about giving up shots and there was always enough work. That is one thing our system did during the years. We played an offensive style of hockey, so the goalies were always going to get their work. We were more run-and-gun than most teams were. You were going to get your work as a goalie, but at the same time, you knew you were going to get a three or four goal cushion to work with.”

The fourth Stanley Cup in the dynasty era came the following season when Edmonton swept the Boston Bruins in the 1988 Final.

Boston coach, Terry O’Reily, knew Grant Fuhr was an obstacle to the Bruins having any luck against Edmonton.

“Our goalie would have to play better than Edmonton’s and that is a lot to ask of your goalie to play better than Grant Fuhr,” noted O’Reily.

This comment by O’Reily demonstrates how vital Grant Fuhr was on team mostly recognized for filling the opponents net with pucks.

“It was fun because we were a big happy team and it was like a family,” stated Fuhr of the dynasty Oilers. “You wanted to do your part so you weren’t the weak link. And that’s what we were always taught.”

In addition to adding another Stanley Cup to his trophy case, Grant Fuhr took home the Vezina Trophy and finished second to Wayne Gretzky for the Hart Trophy. Also, he was named to the First All-Star Team.  He registered 40 wins in 75 games.

A blip on the radar screen occurred in 1988-89 when the Los Angeles Kings ousted the Oilers in the opening round.

When hiccups like this happened there was no joy in Oilers Nation.

“We were our biggest critics,” said Fuhr. “We wanted to win more than anybody. If fans were hard on us, we were harder. We had high expectations and we thought we should win every year.”

They returned to the winner’s circle in 1989-90 by upending the Boston Bruins for their fifth Stanley Cup since 1984.

However, for Grant Fuhr the last hooray in the Edmonton Oilers dynasty era included another injury for him to deal with. During the regular season he only played in 21 contests and didn’t appear in any playoff games.

“Yeah, more shoulder issues,” said Grant Fuhr referring to his downtime. “I had the shoulder rebuilt, again. Another year of getting glued back together. Billy (Ranford) happened to get on a great run and I got to watch as we got into the playoffs and found a way to get it done.”

I asked Grant Fuhr if there was one ingredient in the dynasty era that made the Oilers unique from the competition?

As though on cue, he answered, “the chemistry.” He went on to explain what this entailed. “I think the fact we all treated each other like family resulted in us being different from everybody else. And if Glen said someone didn’t fit in, they were moved right away. It was all about making sure you could fit in as a teammate. When you were a general manager, coach and president, you get a feel for all that stuff. Glen knew what was going on in the room.”

A dressing room that was home to Grant Fuhr and his teammates during the Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup dynasty era.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A TRIBUTE TO TOD SLOAN



Last Saturday (April 2, 2016) family and friends gathered north of Toronto to pay tribute to former NHL player Tod Sloan.
The Original Six Alumni and the Royal Canadian Legion –Branch 356 – Sutton West Ontario organized the event.
Pete Conacher, Johnny McCormack, Ivan Irwin, Bob Beckett and Ron Hurst represented the alumni. To show their appreciation, Conacher presented an NHL jersey to the Legion to put on display in their hall.
Much of the legwork to get this tribute off the ground was done by Al Shaw and Jim Anderson on behalf of the alumni and Joanne Sloan (Tod Sloan’s daughter).
Local politician, Peter Vanloan, read into the record a proclamation honouring Sloan.
Video archivist, Paul Patskou, put together a DVD of Sloan’s career highlights and it was shown during the course of the festivities and Jim Anderson presented Sloan with an album of photographs.
Two special guests, George Armstrong and Dick Duff, were on hand to make it a memorable afternoon for Tod Sloan. They were his linemates in 1955-56, when Sloan had his best year in the National Hockey League.
The Leafs top line in 1955-56, Tod Sloan flanked by George Armstrong (L) and Dick Duff
I spoke with them after the official ceremony.
“I had the good fortune that in my first year Tod was my centreman,” Duff said. “He got 37 goals, I got 18 and “The Chief” got 16 goals.
“It was a solid line with three guys from northern Ontario and we understood each other. Tod was a highly skilled player and he could play tough.”
The Sloan-Armstrong-Duff trio were the main reason the Leafs even made the playoffs in 1956.
"We made the playoffs in the last game of the year," Duff explained. "I scored one goal and "The Chief" scored the other and Tod assisted on both goals, as we beat Detroit 2-1."
“There are two things Tod did well in his life, he could play hockey and he liked to argue,” Armstrong recalled. “He was on the wrong side with Smythe. Tod always use to argue against Smythe and Smythe didn’t push him for All-Star selections or for the best player in the league. Tod didn’t become well known. He was a better hockey player than me and I’m well known and he’s not.” 
Tod Sloan (L) at the tribute with Dick Duff (Standing) and George Armstrong 
  Tod Sloan first descended on the Toronto hockey scene when he was a 16 year-old youngster.
His team, the midget Copper Cliff Redmen, travelled from northern Ontario to play the Young Leafs in a semi-final match-up at Maple Leaf Gardens on April 7, 1944.
The Redmen lost 5-4, but Tod held a hot-stick as he scored all 4 goals for the Redmen.
Next up for the future Toronto Maple Leaf was a two-year stint with the OHA Jr. “A” St. Michael’s Majors. His first season with the Majors was in 1944-45.
And like his time in midget, Tod continued to deposit the puck into the net. During the regular season, he scored 21 goals and produced 37 points in 19 games.
In the playoffs, he helped St. Mike’s advance to the Memorial Cup and Tod Sloan the scoring machine went into overdrive.
He led all scorers with 17 goals and also led in penalty minutes with 32.
On April 23, 1945, Tod became a Memorial Cup champion when St. Mike’s downed the Moose Jaw Canucks 7-2 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Tod continued to burn up the OHA in his second and final term with St. Mike’s.
Listen to these numbers. In 25 league games he led the OHA in scoring with 43 tallies and 75 points.
For the second year in-a-row St. Mike’s played for the Memorial Cup, this time against the Winnipeg Monarchs.
Tod led all scorers in Memorial Cup play, scoring 23 goals in 12 games.
Although he wasn’t able to win another Canadian junior championship, Tod did add another piece of silverware to his trophy cabinet.
St. Mike’s lost the seventh and deciding game to the Monarchs 4-2, but earlier in the Memorial Cup Final, Tod was named the winner of the “Red” Tilson Memorial Trophy.
 A standout junior player with the Oshawa Generals, Tilson appeared to be a can’t miss future star with the Toronto Maple Leafs. But he never made it to the National Hockey League as he lost his life in World War Two.
To honour the memory of “Red” Tilson, The Globe and Mail created a trophy in his name.
As the newspaper noted, “the trophy is awarded annually to the Ontario Junior “A” player who, in the estimation of the coaches, combines sportsmanship and outstanding ability.”
Tod became only the second individual to win the Tilson Trophy.
Also, Tod nabbed the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the OHA’s scoring champion.
Tod’s brother, Joe Sloan, was also a Leaf prospect, but during World War Two he was shot in the leg and the injury ended his time on the ice.
With his junior career in the books, Tod signed his first professional contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 30, 1946.
At the press conference to announce the signing, Leaf coach, Hap Day, compared his budding star to two NHL sharpshooters, Carson “Old Shovel Shot” Cooper and New York sniper Bill Cook.
“Coop and Bill could pick their spots any time and never be a fraction off their target, especially in laying in those scoring shots an eighth-of-an-inch within the goalpost and Sloan is the nearest thing to them I’ve seen” 
Tod’s first couple of years in pro hockey was spent in the American Hockey League with the Pittsburgh Hornets, where he gained the necessary seasoning prior to jumping to the NHL.
In 1947-48, Tod was called up by the Leafs for one game and he played in his first NHL contest on Christmas Night 1947. An injury to Don Metz provided Tod the chance to make his NHL debut against the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum.
Then, the following year in 1948-49, Tod was once again summoned by the Leafs when Howie Meeker fractured his right collarbone. In 29 games with the parent club, Tod scored 3 goals and 4 helpers.
Tod closed out his minor-league career in 1949-50 with the Cleveland Barons. Twice during his time in the AHL, he played in the Calder Cup Final, but didn’t win the championship.
From 1950-51 to 1960-61, Tod played 7 seasons with the Maple Leafs and 3 with the Chicago Black Hawks.
In his first full year with the Maple Leafs, Tod scored 31 goals in a era when the benchmark for elite scorers was 20.
Then, in the 1951 Stanley Cup Final, Tod scored perhaps the biggest goal in his National Hockey League career.
In game 5 against Montreal, the Leafs trailed the Habs 2-1 late in the third period. With time running out, Ted Kennedy, Max Bentley, Sid Smith and Tod Sloan went to work.
Kennedy won the faceoff in Montreal’s zone and pulled the puck back to Bentley at the point.
An article in the Globe and Mail noted that Bentley, and I quote, “worked his way goal ward firing through a maze of players. The puck bounced out, Smith smacked at it and hit a goalpost, the disc landing at Sloan’s feet. Tod did the rest.”
The time of the goal was 19:28 and it was Tod’s second of the game.
Another account offered that Tod’s goal “took the heart out of the Habs, cost them a victory they had locked up. It was like having a man steal home on you in the ninth to tie the score.”
In the overtime, Bill Barilko scored the Cup winning goal for the Leafs and in August ’51 was killed in a plane crash.
Without Tod’s tying goal, Barilko may not have been able to leave his very special mark in Toronto Maple Leafs history.
Tod’s best year in the NHL was in 1955-56.
In 70 games, he scored 37 goals, tying a club record for most goals in a regular season. He equaled the mark set by Gaye Stewart in 1945-46.
He finished second in the voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy to Jean Beliveau, who was named the NHL’s MVP.
 However, Tod was named the Leafs MVP by the Gardens board of directors when they awarded him the J.P. Bickell Trophy.
On April 17, came the news that Tod was voted to the Second All-Star Team at centre. He also played in the 1951 and 1952 All-Star games.
In June of 1958, Tod was traded to Chicago and in the spring of 1961 helped them win their first Stanley Cup since 1937-38.
Tod ended his NHL career in the winner’s circle as he retired after the Hawks won the Cup.
In late December 1962, Tod was reinstated as an amateur and joined the OHA Senior “A” Galt Terriers.
The Terriers represented Canada at the 1962 world championships in Denver, Colorado. In a losing cause, Tod recorded 16 points in 6 games.
Tod Sloan went on to play for the NHL Oldtimers and helped raise a lot of money for various charities.  










  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

REMEMBERING RON WICKS


On October 5, 2015, I had the privilege of giving a talk at the Original Six Alumni lunch on the career of former NHL official Ron Wicks. The date of the talk just happened to land on the 55th anniversary of Ron working his first National Hockey League game in 1955.
A short time after the lunch, I exchanged emails with Ron and sent him a picture from the event. In his reply, he wrote, "Thanks Jim, we all had a great time."
Then, before Christmas, I came across a photo (below) and emailed it to Ron to confirm that it was him in the picture. "Yes, it is me and I love it, (I) never saw it before. Carl Brewer is mixing it up with Boom Boom (Geoffrion)."
Sadly, the next email I received from Ron was gut-wrenching. He sent it out to several individuals and it was so kind of him to include me. It read in part: "Hi there friends, My disease has caught up with me and I hope to stick around to watch the Masters, and then soon my journey here maybe ending but continuing from up above the clouds. I'll be keeping an eye on you. Thanks for joining me on my skate around the rink - Ron Wicks."
Ron Wicks past away last night (April 1, 2016) of liver cancer.

Below, is the text from my talk on October 5, 2015:

As a young fan during the latter part of the Original Six Era, it was easy to identify and have some knowledge about the players on each of the teams.
And although they shared the ice with the biggest stars in hockey’s Golden Era, I knew very little about the on-ice officials.
Well, I’m happy to say with the passage of time this has all changed. The publication of books authored by Red Storey, Bill Chadwick and Bruce Hood provided me with a new perspective on those who wore the striped sweater.
Then, earlier this year, I had the fun experience of witnessing 3 referee’s talking about their time in the game. Included in the panel discussion were Bryan Lewis, Bruce Hood and the gentleman I’m going to talk about today – Ron Wicks.
Ron’s 2009 book – A Referee’s Life – served as wonderful and informative companion to his in-person talk. Due to time restrictions, my scope is limited, thus, I highly recommend Ron’s book for greater detail and many more fascinating stories.
On the subject of stories about Ron, I was talking with Ray Scapinello about 10 days ago, and he couldn’t resist telling me this one.  Apparently, Ron wasn’t one of Al Arbour’s favourites. One night Ray was part of a crew working with a rookie referee and Al was constantly badgering the poor guy. During a stoppage, Ray was positioned in front of the Islanders bench when Al began one of his tirades. He told the new guy he was awful and the worst referee he had ever seen. At this point, Ray turned to Al and said to him, “I thought Ron Wicks was the worst referee you ever saw”.  Thinking it over, Al Arbour yelled out, “Hey rookie, you’re the second worst referee I’ve ever seen.” 
To begin, here is some background on Ron Wicks, the young hockey fan.
Like most hockey mad kids growing up in the 1940s, Ron got his fix by listening to Foster Hewitt on the radio and playing road and ice hockey.
Now, by tuning in Hewitt’s broadcast one would think the Toronto Maple Leafs were Ron’s favourite NHL club. Think again. The Detroit Red Wings not the Leafs were his team. Ron’s heroes were Terry Sawchuck and Gordie Howe. 
When Detroit captured the Stanley Cup in 1950, Ron couldn’t hide his jubilation and wore his Red Wings sweater to school. As he pointed out in his book, “for my audacity that got all 60 pounds of me stuffed into a garbage can.”
In 1952, Ron, then 12 years old, moved with his family from Timmins to Sudbury.
At 14, he joined the Sudbury Minor Hockey League and played in the newly built Sudbury Arena, home of the Senior “A” Sudbury Wolves.
His participation in the Sudbury Minor Hockey League eventually led Ron to his career as an official.
“I started in Sudbury and played in the midget league until I was 16 years-old,” Ron told those gathered for the panel discussion.
“When I graduated as a player, I volunteered to become a referee. They said, ‘go buy yourself a sweater and a whistle,’ and I became a referee.”
For the next three years Ron refereed games in Sudbury.
Then, came his big break.
‘I got scouted by Bob Davidson, who was the chief scout of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was scouting the North Country and found Frank Mahovlich and Dave Keon. He sent my name into Carl Voss the NHL referee-in-chief.”
The National Hockey League responded by sending Ron an invitation to their referee’s training camp in the fall of 1960.
“I took 2 weeks off from my job as a tax assessor with the City of Sudbury. I came down to Toronto and did a few exhibition games. And low-and-behold, I got hired for $40-bucks and I stuck around for 26 years.”
Ron began his life in the NHL as a linesman.
In one of those exhibition games, Ron had an interesting encounter with Chicago’s huge defenceman, Elmer “Moose” Vasko.
“I remember sitting in the lobby of the Empress Hotel in Peterborough and talking with Elmer Vasko,” Ron stated as he began the story.
He explained to Vasko that he was trying to earn a job in the NHL as an on-ice official. Their conversation ended with Vasko wishing Ron good luck.
Ron picked-up the story about how their paths crossed during the game.
“That night a big brawl broke-out and I came up to Elmer, who was 100 pounds heavier than me. I asked him if he would kindly go to the penalty box. He said, ‘you know kid, you’re right.’ He skated to the penalty box and my boss came in at the end of the period and said, ‘way to break-up that fight with Mr. Vasko.’ The next time I saw Mr. Vasko, I bought him a cold beer.”
On the final day of camp, Voss told Ron he had earned an NHL job and he signed his first pro contract.
At 20 years of age, Ron began his journey by working the lines in a contest on October 5, 1960, and today is the 55th anniversary of his maiden voyage – congratulations Ron!
His first assignment on October 5th was a game between Boston and New York at Madison Square Garden. The other linesman was George Hayes, who Ron noted, “took me under his wing and showed me the ropes in the big leagues.”


Ron’s first exposure to NHL post-season action came in the 1961 playoffs.
One playoff contest Ron worked in ’61 would ultimately become an example of why the officials had to unite as a group.
He spoke in a serious tone when he recalled an incident that occurred.
“I was working the game in Chicago when Toe Blake (coach of the Canadiens) ran across the ice after a three-period overtime game in the Stanley Cup semi-finals and punched referee Dalton McArthur.”
Digging deeper, I discovered that McArthur called a penalty against Montreal’s Dickie Moore and Chicago scored the game-winning goal on the power play. This sent Blake over the deep end.
Continuing the story, Ron commented that, “Toe got fined $2-thousand dollars and Dalton got fired. Then, we started our union a few years later.”
In fact, The Referee and Linesmen’s Association was formed in 1969.
As the 1963-64 hockey season progressed, Ron, now in his fourth term as a linesman, made an important decision relating to his future. He decided, with the leagues blessing, to become a referee. As Ron put it, “when I started as a linesman they gave me a bag of marbles and when I lost all my marbles I became a referee.”
This shift in direction resulted in Ron going to the minors for seasoning. He developed his skills by calling games in the Central Pro League, Western Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
In the last year of the Original Six Era, Ron wore the referee’s armband in 2 NHL games.
When the NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967, Ron returned to the big-show after a 3-year absence and began his long run as the new sheriff in town.
And what a career he had as the guy wearing the white hat and taking on the difficult job of maintaining law and order in various NHL cities. Here are some of the highlights.
Ron is the youngest person at age 20 to hit the ice as an NHL official when he worked his first game as a linesman in 1960.
On March 3, 1985, he worked game number 1,000 as a referee when the Pittsburgh Penguins took on the Rangers at MSG.
On December 14, 1985, Ron established a new record for most NHL games worked by a referee – 1034 – surpassing the previous mark held by Bruce Hood.
In the 1962 All-Star Game, Ron was a linesman and in 1986 he refereed the All-Star Game.
In addition to his NHL duties, Ron worked in the 1984 Canada Cup.
Ron retired following the 1985-86 season and had worked 1,067 games as an NHL referee. When adding in his games as a linesman, the figure is closer to 2,000 games.
He participated in 175 playoff contests and 5 Stanley Cup Finals.
Ron is a member of the Sudbury and Brampton Hall of Fames.

And above all, Ron’s efforts right from the outset with the Referee’s and Linesmen’s Association helped create better working conditions and financial stability for future generations. Similar to the players of the Original Six era, Ron and his contemporaries, like Bruce Hood, helped build our grand game.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Wicks.