From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL 
Brad Lombardo
From Triumph To Tragedy is a book which profiles the lives and deaths of six National Hockey League players, all of whom died while still pursuing their pro ice hockey careers.  Inquiries may be emailed directly to the author: bradlombardo@rogers.com
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Profiles on the lives, careers and untimely deaths of six NHLers  

 

  • Chapter 1 - Bill Masterton 1938-1968
  • Chapter 2 - Terry Sawchuk 1928-1970
  • Chapter 3 - Tim Horton 1930-1974.
  • Chapter 4 - Pelle Lindbergh 1959-1985
  • Chapter 5 - John Kordic 1965-1992
  • Chapter 6 - Steve Chiasson 1967-1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
   
 
 
 

Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Monthly Newsletter


Newsletter Editor: Brad Lombardo

 

May

2015

Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - An Overview Of The Book

 

When the National Hockey League finally expanded from six to twelve teams in 1967, it provided opportunities for several career minor leaguers to finally get a shot at the bigs.  One of those journeymen was 29-year-old Bill Masterton, who won a regular spot on the roster of one of those six expansion clubs, the Minnesota North Stars.  The overage rookie suffered severe head trauma from an on-ice collision early in the 1968-69 season. Tragically, he died in the hospital soon after. The league later created The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the player best exemplifying perseverance, dedication, and sportsmanship to hockey. Masterton's death also prompted some NHLers to start wearing protective headgear, but the use of helmets was not made mandatory until several years later.

Arguably the greatest goalie ever, Terry Sawchuk captured four Vezina Trophies and seven Stanley Cups during his glory years in Detroit and, later, Toronto.  A perennial all-star during his remarkable, 21-year NHL career, "Uke" revolutionized goaltending with his trademark crouch style. It was copied by generations of aspiring, young netminders. Sawchuk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971, a year after his death from stomach-related injuries, at the age of forty.

Another veteran who enjoyed a long and storied career, tough and dependable rearguard Tim Horton toiled for 24 years in the NHL, winning four Cups with the Leafs and later anchoring the defense for young teams in Pittsburgh and Buffalo. In early 1974, driving home to Buffalo late at night after a game at Maple Leaf Gardens, Horton died when he his speeding sportscar crashed on the highway.

Pelle Lindbergh, the young Swedish goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers, was another hockey star who died in a horrifying car crash late at night. His bright red Porsche crashed in a New Jersey suburb in November 1985, leaving him in a coma, with severe head injuries. Lindbergh had recently become the first European goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy, so the subsequent death of this pioneer star shocked the hockey world.

Troubled and tormented enforcer John Kordic's death also shocked many in pro hockey. An adept fighter who terrorized NHL opponents with his fists during the late 1980s, Kordic was popular in Montreal and Toronto, but soon wore out his welcome. After unsuccessful stints with a number of pro teams, the embattled pugilist died in 1992, likely the result of ingesting a lethal mix of alcohol, cocaine and steroids. His well-publicized demise prompted the league to eventually adopt a comprehensive substance abuse policy.

Alcohol consumption also seemed to have a role in the death of veteran rearguard Steve Chiasson, who played for Detroit, Calgary, Hartford and the Carolina Hurricanes. Chiasson attended a team party right after the 1999 playoffs ended; he died later that night, after his pick-up truck crashed on the way home.

 


June

2015

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Dan Snyder (1981-2003)

 

Born 1981 in in Elmira, Ontario, Dan Snyder dreamed of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs but eventually made the NHL as an Atlanta Thrasher. He played only one season with the Thrashers before a tragic car accident took his life during the team's 2003 training camp.

Snyder grew up playing shinny on the frozen ponds of Elmira, soon joining the local Elmira Sugar Kings. As a teenager, he was impressive enough to be selected by the Owen Sound Platers in the seventh round of the 1995 OHL draft. "When he came here in 1995 as a scrawny 16-year-old, he was just so full of determination," recalled Ray McKelvie, the team's business manager. "He said he was going to make the hockey team and he did. He became our captain and our team leader on and off the ice. He led us in 98-99 to the final four. That was his last year as captain and I'm sure if he'd been running for mayor he would have won hands down."(71) McKelvie also said Snyder was well-liked and respected by his teammates."He wasn't a big man," McKelvie recalled, "(but) I never saw a player have such control over the dressing room and the teammates. When he spoke, everybody listened. He was such a leader."(72)

Snyder was also the OHL club's nominee for the league's humanitarian award his last two seasons there. He enjoyed going to schools and talking to children. "He was a young man who came into the Ontario Hockey League without a great deal of fanfare, but through hard work and perseverance was team captain and one of its best players, if not the best player, on the Owen Sound team for his last two years," said commissioner

 

David Branch. "His last two years he was humanitarian of the year for the Owen Sound franchise, which spoke to his giving nature and support of community services."(73) A smaller forward at 6 feet and 190 pounds, Snyder was not drafted by an NHL team, instead signing as a free agent by the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999. Then he joined the team's IHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears, and helped that club win a league title in 2001. The next year he moved to another club affiliate, the AHL's Chicago Wolves, another team he helped win a championship for, the 2002 Calder Cup. He was briefly called up to the Thrashers both seasons.

Snyder spent the 2002-03 season playing for both the Wolves and the Thrashers, where he potted 10 goals and 4 assists in 36 games. He had ankle surgery in the off-season, and went to training camp determined to win a regular roster spot. He was so impressive in the exhibition games that management asked him to stay. "He finally arrives and the team says, `Go ahead and get a place, you 're here, you've made the team "', recalled his agent, Todd Reynolds. "During the off-season they referred to him as `one of our core guys.' They saw him filling that third- or fourth-line centre role on the club."(74)

Tragedy struck on the evening of September 29, 2003, just prior to the start of the regular season. Snyder was left in critical condition in a coma after being involved in a high-speed car cash - he was a passenger in teammate Dany Heatley's black Ferrari when it missed a curve on a two-lane road and slammed into a brick pillar and iron fence at an estimated speed of 130 km/h. The convertible was torn in half, and Snyder suffered a fractured skull when both he and Heatley were thrown from the vehicle. Heatley suffered a minor concussion, a contusion on his lung and a bruised kidney, but none of his injuries were not nearly as severe.

Atlanta considered canceling its pre-season game against Florida when news of the tragedy broke, but decided to play, a 3-2 win. "Both guys would want us to play and keep going forward," said Thrashers goalie Byron Dafoe. "Now the game is over and we can focus on more important things."(75) The numbers for both players were worn on the back of their teammates helmets, and the club and the Snyder family thanked fans and friends for their support. "We are humbled and overwhelmed by the support and prayers that we've received from all over," the family's statement read. "Dany Heatley and our son, Dan, need strong support and positive energy in order to be able to overcome the difficult challenges that lay ahead."(76)

Doctors treating Snyder had to drill a hole in his skull to drain off fluid when pressure on his brain got dangerously high, but were hoping there was no permanent brain damage. Graham and Luanne Snyder remained hopeful about their son's prognosis. "When they're in the room and talking to Dan, his heart rate goes up and his blood pressure goes up," they said, "so they feel that's a sign of him recognizing that they're there and he understands who they are."(77) Meanwhile, Heatley faced a felony charge of serious injury by vehicle and three misdemeanour charges.  He had to post $50,000 bond before his transfer to an Atlanta-area hospital.

As the first days of October came Snyder had still not regained consciousness; the Thrashers organization issued a statement: "The doctors are conducting a lot of measurements on his brain and all levels at this time are in a normal range. His condition seems to improve every day and we thank you again for your continual support and prayers."(78) Snyder's condition worsened, however, and he died in the hospital on October 5th, from massive brain injuries without regaining consciousness. "We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Dan Snyder," the Atlanta Thrashers said in a statement. "Dan was a teammate and friend to all of us. We feel a tremendous amount of pain as an organization and extend deepest sympathies to his family."(79)

Atlanta's General Manager Don Waddell discussed how much Snyder meant to the team. "He was a true battler. He had to work his way into the lineup to play at the minor-league level," Waddell remembered. "When he came here last year, the second half of the year, he proved he was ready to be an NHL player. He wasn't the most skilled guy in the world. He did it by his pure determination and commitment and hard work in the game."(80) Atlanta police, meanwhile, planned to upgrade the charges against Heatley to vehicular homicide first degree.

At the first team practice after Snyder's death, coach Bob Hartley had the players kneel in prayer. "It was just all of us getting together with our thoughts and prayers for Dan," said goalie Dafoe. "That's what it's going to be like everytime we get on the ice."(81) Hartley talked about facing the ultimate adversity as a team. "The game now is not about winning," he asserted. "It's about taking care of the family. This is basically our sanctuary right now. Going on the ice is what we enjoy the most."(82)

Just days later the Atlanta Thrashers opened their regular season on their home ice at Philips Arena, but without the usual celebration.  Almost 18,000 fans and Snyder’s family watched a video tribute and a lone piper playing “Amazing Grace”.  The players, many in tears, tapped their sticks on the ice as a show of respect.  Players on both teams wore a patch.  “We have dedicated (the season) to him,” Dafoe noted.  “It’s going to be impossible to go through the year without thinking about him every day and every time we hit the ice.”(83)  Determined is what we are tonight, I think,” said defenseman Andy Sutton, “and that helped us push through for the win.”(84)  The team then flew to Toronto and took an hour-long bus ride to Snyder’s resting place in his home town of Elmira, Ontario.  “We have the (game) winning puck,” noted veteran forward Marc Savard, “and we’re going to deliver it to him.”(85)

Held at Elmira Memmonite Church, the funeral was attended by over 1,500 people, including many of Snyder’s former teammates as well as other notables from the team and league.  Still facing serious charges, Heatley, injured and walking with crutches, attended the service, where he was soon addressed by Jake Snyder, Dan’s older brother.  “Dany, one thing that always happened when I was in living in Elmira was family and friends would stick together, the same thing would always happen.  My friends are your friends.  If you’re one of Dan’s guys, then you’re one of my guys.  Friends look out for each other no matter how tough the situation; it’s what my brother would want.”(86)

Graham Snyder echoed his son’s sentiments.  “The friendship between Dan and Dany Heatley was very special,” he noted.  “The common thread they shared through playing hockey made them friends.  We all make mistakes.  We want you to know we do not lay blame on Dany Heatley for the accident that took our son from us.  Dany is a good person and no one feels more sorry for what happened than him.  We do not benefit from harbouring resentment or anger towards others.”(87)  Wadell recalled that Snyder and Healtley were best friends.  “Those two guys were roommates.  They did a lot of things together,” he claimed.  He recalled signing Dan to a $25,000, two-way contract back in 1999, more as a favour to his scouts than because he saw NHL potential.  “I never thought I’d be burying one of my players,” he said.  “This is certainly the hardest thing I have ever done.”(89)

Towards the end of the service, Jake Snyder talked about how his brother and he played hockey in the family basement when they were young.  “I used to make him stand and sing the national anthem, and I would interview him between periods, playing Dave Hodge,” he fondly recalled.  Jake also talked about how he longed to hear his brother’s voice.  “You’re the toughest person I have ever known,” he said.  “I dedicate my life to be like you, Dan.”(90)  After the funeral, most of the crowd filed out of the church and walked down newly renamed Snyder Street, which was lined by hundreds of local junior hockey players, wearing the jerseys of their local teams.

Determined to dedicate the season to their late teammate, the Atlanta Thrashers played inspired hockey, and led their division for much of the first half Despite losing both Snyder and Heatley, the latter to severe knee injuries resulting from the accident, Atlanta became a hard team to beat. Ilya Kovalchuk emerged as one of the game's best scorers, and the Thrashers remained in the hunt for a playoff spot going into the new year. Charges were never pressed against Heatley, largely because the Snyder family had forgiven him, and the young Atlanta scoring star returned to the ice in late December. "When Dany was in the hospital I told him that life goes on," related teammate Slava Kozlov. "I told him he has to play for two people now - himself and Dan Snyder."(91) Heatley returned to the lineup in late January, but thoughts of his deceased friend were still very much on his mind. "I think about him all the time... He was a perfect teammate, a guy you respect. He just worked harder, harder than anybody else," he recalled. "He's been a big part of me coming back. And being around the guys, it's helped me heal a lot."(92)

The Atlanta Thrashers faded towards the end of the season, missing the playoffs, but Snyder was still remembered. The Detroit Red Wings wore a special No. 37 patch on their jerseys for a mid-season game against the Thrashers, and the game-worn jerseys were auctioned off by the NHLPA. All proceeds went to the Dan Snyder Memorial Scholarship, an award established by the Players' Association and Thrashers players to honour Snyder in his hometown. Similar shows of respect continued throughout the regular season.

 


July

2015

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Roman Lyashenko (1979-2003)

 

Born May 2, 1979 in Murmansk, Russia, Roman Lyashenko was a talented young Russian forward who played with the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers. In 1995-96 the rangy 16-year-old joined Torpedo Yaroslavl of the Russian Elite League, notching 17 points in 60 games and displaying a strong defensive game. He returned to Yaroslavl for the next two seasons, continuing to excel in a mainly defensive role. Not a particularly strong skater, Roman worked hard at his game, enough to impress coaches for the Russian National Junior team. He did not disappoint them when added to the squad, his strong two-way play helping Russia win a silver medal at the 1998 World Junior Championships.

Lyashenko posted his best offensive numbers with Yaroslavl in his fourth and final season there, recording 19 points in 42 games. Roman added four more points in the post-season, helping the Torpedo capture the league championship. Roman was again selected to the National Junior squad, and excelled in his role as a third-line centre. With a goal and two assists Lyashenko helped Russia capture gold at the 1999 World Junior Championships, and later recalled that year as his most memorable.

Roman's strong play in the Russian league had caught the attention of scouts for the Dallas Stars, who selected the youngster in the 2nd round of the 1997 Entry Draft, the 52nd pick overall. He joined the Stars organization for 1999-00, just months after Dallas had captured its first Stanley Cup. After training camp, Lyashenko was assigned to the Michigan K-Wings of the International Hockey League (IHL). He enjoyed a strong start, with five points in his first nine games, and soon found himself called up to Dallas. Team management was considering Lyashenko as a replacement for the team's top defensive centre, Selke Trophy-winner Jere Lehtinen, sidelined indefinitely due to injury. The feisty Russian rookie was also brought in to help shake up the NHL's defending Cup champions, who had grown complacent early in the new season. "I see Lyashenko almost the same way I see Lehtinen," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock told The Dallas News, "His game has risen beyond his years. He's 20 years old in age only. He looks like a real good fit for us."(54)

Filling in admirably as the third-line centre, Roman netted just two goals in his first 25 games with the Stars but his luck changed on January 23`d, against the Chicago Black Hawks. Lyashenko tied the game 2-2 at 1:02 of the third period, when he picked off a pass by Hawks defenseman Bryan McCabe and beat goalie Jocelyn Thibault. Ten seconds later he scored the game-winner from the right face-off circle - it was the second fastest time in Stars history that two goals were scored. "The first one was a giveaway in our end and I was caught deep in the net relaxing a bit," Thibault later admitted. "His second goal, no goalie in the world would be able to stop that shot."(55) Stars coach Ken Hitchcock was impressed. "Roman's sound defensively, even if he doesn't score. You can see it in practice, when he has time to shoot the puck, he can just bury it," Hitchcock asserted. "Tonight on his first goal, he had time to shoot the puck. On the second one, he just had a great shot. He's a typical young guy. He came in and had a tremendous burst of energy. Then there was a lull. Over the last three games, he's been excellent."(56)

Lyashenko continued to play strongly, finishing with 12 points in 56 regular-season games. He was also effective in the post-season, scoring a game winning goal against the Edmonton Oilers, in the opener of the Western Conference QuarterFinals. His other playoff goal was the series-clincher against the Colorado Avalanche, in game seven of the Western Conference Finals. Appearing in all 16 games, Roman helped Dallas reach the Stanley Cup finals for the 2nd straight season but the Stars eventually lost to the New Jersey Devils.

Roman started 2000-01 with the Utah Grizzlies of the IHL, the Stars' new minor-league affiliate. Summoned to the NHL club after just six games, the Russian centre soon won a regular roster spot, appearing in a career-high 60 games. Lyashenko was often a healthy scratch in the post-season, however, appearing in just one contest. Roman was back in Utah the following season, where he posted his best offensive numbers to date, with 36 points in 58 games. On March 12th he was traded along with Martin Rucinsky to the New York Rangers, in exchange for Manny Malhotra and Barrett Heisten.

Lyashenko played well for New York, scoring two goals and posting a plus or even rating in 13 of his 15 games. The Rangers did not make the playoffs, however, and after the NHL season ended Roman joined New York's farm team for the playoffs. Although the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL lost their first-round series, Lyashenko acquitted himself well, with two points in four games. He was promptly selected to the Russian entry at the 2002 World Hockey Championships, where he had two assists in nine games and helped Russia capture the silver medal.

Later that summer the Rangers re-signed the Russian centre, a restricted free agent, and he joined the Wolf Pack for 2002-03. Placed on an effective line with veterans Dixon Ward and team captain Ken Gernander, Roman's two-way play helped anchor the young Hartford team. "It's really how well you play defensively," Lyashenko said after recording two goals and an assist in a 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Admirals. "If you can try and stop the other team from making plays and forcing them into mistakes and turnovers, it will produce offense. With the young guys right now, we have to play consistent or take it up a level. It's a simple game. We can't make too many mistakes."(57)

Hartford coach Ryan McGill was visibly impressed with the determined and talented Russian. "Roman is a pretty responsible player (without the puck)," McGill noted. "He doesn't put himself in bad position."(58) The 24-year-old played only two games in New York, but tallied 23 goals and 58 points in 71 games with the Wolf Pack, fourth best on the team. He tied a Wolf Pack record with four points in a 9-4 win over Springfield, placed second on the club with a plus-25 rating, and was co-selected as the Pack's best defensive forward. He collected a couple of points in the playoffs, the last hockey he ever played.

After returning to Russia for the summer, Roman joined his mother and sister on a vacation to Turkey in early July. The trio stayed about 8 or 9 days in Antalya, a southern Mediterranean resort province popular with Russian and other European tourists. They were set to return to Russia on Sunday, July 6th, but a grim discovery was made early that morning. "When he (Lyashenko) didn't show for breakfast, his mother and sister called the room. No answer”, Todd Hamilton, the player's agent, later said. "They (then) knocked. No answer. Finally someone from the hotel opened the door and found Roman passed away."(59)

No official cause of death was given, but reports from Turkey's news Anatolia Agency, asserted that the NHLer committed suicide, apparently hanging himself with his belt.(60) Lyashenko's family was too distraught to discuss his death, and hoped that the Medical Examiner's report would shed light on the tragedy. "His body is still awaiting the autopsy in Turkey," Hamilton noted soon after. "Once that is done, they will determine a cause of death and the body will be taken back to Russia."(61)

Rangers President Glen Sather issued an official statement when news of the Russian player's death became known. "The New York Rangers organization is shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Roman Lyashenko," he said. "Roman was a quality individual who had a positive impact on everyone he touched, both on and off the ice. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and teammates during this difficult time."(62) There was also a press release from Dallas. "Roman was a quality young man who we were privileged to have in our organization for three years," Stars General Manager Doug Armstrong said. "Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Lyashenko family as they deal with this tragedy."(63)

The official cause of death was soon confirmed as suicide by Turkish and Russian authorities. It was also reported that the NHLer had written a suicide note apologizing for killing himself, and had cut his wrists and arms before hanging himself.(64) A medic at the hospital where Roman's body was brought, Dr. Eeuzi Ersoy, was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying that Roman's body was free of disease, dismissing speculation that he killed himself because he was ill.(65) Further comment was declined by the prosecutor's office at the time, citing an ongoing investigation.

Family and friends in Russia were shocked to hear that Lyashenko took his own life, but at least one colleague admitted that he was an ambitious young player, unhappy with his place in the U.S. and anxious to advance from the minors to the NHL. "He wanted to make it in the world hockey elite, but he wasn't yet able to," said Pyotr Vorobyov, coach of the Russian league team Lada and close friend of the player. "He had doubts. He needed more trust and confidence in himself. I invited him back (to play in Russia again). I said, `Roma, come to us. You can believe in yourself again '."(66) The Russian coach asserted that Lyashenko's career woes were not likely to have driven him to suicide, but refused to speculate any further. "I was sure he would rest up on his vacation," Vorobyov noted. "He told me he was sure he should just keep trying (to make the NHL)."(67)

Wolf Pack General Manager Don Maloney asserted that Lyashenko was very close to becoming an NHL regular again. "He had a terrific season with us. The organization certainly had plans for him going forward, quite possibly up with the Rangers," Maloney claimed. "All he needed to get back to the NHL was to get a little stronger."(68) An unrestricted free agent who made US$635,000 in 2002-03, Roman's contract status for next season was uncertain. The Rangers offered him a qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline, which would have paid him his regular salary if he made the team but a lower stipend if he was sent to the minors. Having wanted a one-way contract from the team, the disappointed hockey player was planning to remain in Russia for the next year, his agent already in contract talks with a couple of local teams there.

Wolf Pack captain Ken Gernander found it hard to believe that his former linemate had taken his own life. "It's shocking because it's so uncharacteristic. Some guys wear their heart on their sleeve and are up and down a lot. But Roman seemed to take everything with a grain of salt," Gernander argued. "He had a very, very dry sense of humor, which I appreciated, but emotionally he was always the same, never on that emotional roller coaster. But maybe we don't know him as well as we thought we did. Still, it's so out of character for the Roman I knew."(69)

Gernander focused on remembering Lyashenko the person. "He was sly like a fox, spoke better (English) than he let on and was quite quizzical," Hartford's veteran leader noted. "Not much went past him. If there was something he didn't understand, like a joke, he'd find you afterwards and ask about it because he wanted to know what it meant. My Dad (a Dallas scout) loved Roman as a player, and he was the best two-way player we had. But it's hard to talk about that now because it's all so irrelevant."(70)

Lyashenko's death has further raised the suspicions of several Russian hockey fans. Roman's coach at Torpedo Yaroslavl, Alexei Traseukh, was shot to death in his apartment early in the new year. Soon after, a mysterious car crash seriously injured former Torpedo teammate Vladimir Antipov, claiming the life of his wife. Rumours of links between these tragedies and the Russian mafia persisted as Lyashenko's body was laid to rest near his hometown of Murmansk on July 12th. Funeral arrangements were taken care of by Todd Hamilton's agency and the Torpedo Yaroslavl hockey club.


August 

2015

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Dmitri Tertyshny (1979-1999)

 

Born December 26, 1976 in Chelyabinsk, USSR, defenseman Dimitri Tertyshny became one of the top rookies for the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1998-99 season.  A talented young hockey player, Dmitri was just 17 when he joined Chelaybinsk of the Russian Hockey League for the 1994-95 season.  His steady play on the blueline attracted the attention of European scouts for the Philadelphia Flyers, and the team selected him in the sixth round of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, 132nd overall.

Tertyshny returned to his hometown club for the next three seasons, where he honed his defensive play.  His final season with Chelaybinsk, 1997-98, proved eventful as the Russian club traveled to North America and played several exhibition games against teams from the Western Pro Hockey League.  A sturdy 6 foot 1 and 178 pounds by the time he attended the Flyers' training camp in the fall of 1998, Dmitri's considerable physical stature soon earned him the moniker "Tree".  He arrived at training camp expecting to eventually be re-assined to the team's AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, but instead impressed coach Roger Nielson, earning a roster spot.

Acquitting himself well in the freshman campaign, Tertsyhny played in 62 regular season games, scroing twice and adding eight assists.  His tireless work ethic soon caught the attention of fellow teammates.  "The first thing I noticed about him was how hard he worked," said Flyer Valeri Zelepukin, a fellow Russian.  "I must have passed him 10,000 pucks," assistant coach Craig Ramsay later noted.  "I told my wife, 'that was one dedicated guy' - I would quit before he would.  He'd shoot forever.  He was a determined young man, absolutely determined to be a hockey player."  Dmitri had only limited English language skills but went out of his way to make friends on the team.  "What you remember is his smile.  That was how you knew him," goalie Ron Hextall noted.  "You would say something to him, and he would smile and nod like he knew what you were trying to get across."  Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke remembered how he always worked on his communication skills.  "Tertyshny was a really nice, likeable kid.  He always had a smile on his face," Clark remembered.  "You'd ask him - 'how's your English? - and he'd always say the same thing 'it's coming, it's coming'."

Dmitri made some glaring rookie mistakes, but his overall play proved his was an NHL-calibre player with a big upside. "I always thought he would be with us for a long time, recalled Clarke. "We felt he was really developing as a player and would have continued to develop.  He had lots of potential, because he had skills and brains."  Philadelphia's star captain Eric Lindros agreed, noting that Tertyshny was an all-star in the making, a terrific player who loved the game.  Limited in his experience under pressure, the Russian rearguard only appeared in one playoff game, and the Flyers themselves were quickly ousted in the first round.

Determined to continue his steady development, the 22-year-old defenseman remained in Philadelphia for intense training sessions in the summer.  His wife, Polina, four months pregnant with the couple's first child, returned to their home in Chelaybinsk.  In mid-July Dmitry joined several teammates at a charity golf tournament in Vermont, organized by teammate John Leclair.  Tertyshny and Sandy McCarty were among those Flyers who then traveled directly to the team's skating camp in Kelowna, British Columbia, three hours east of Vancouver.

Several members of the Phantoms were also there, including Francis Belanger and Milhail Chernov, another Russian.  On July 23rd, Dmitri and the two men decided to spend the day relaxing near Okanagan Lake, a picturesque resort area located nearby. On the beach, the three players befriended a local woman named Michelle Monroe,and the quartet eventually decided to rent a small boat.  

With Belanger at the helm, tragedy struck shortly after the boat ride began.  "He (Tertyshny) was kneeling up on the seats at the very front of the boat," said Seargeant Phillip Boissonneault of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,  "The boat hit a wave, which caused Dmitri to lsoe his balance and fall forward overboard.  And then the boat ran over top of him and he was struck by the propeller,"  Having suffered very severe lacerations to his neck, the young Russian, not wearing a life preserver, was still alive when pulled from the water.  Dimitri was bleeding profusely, his jugular vein likely severed. Rushed to the hospital, he was dead on arrival.

The accidental death sent shockwaves throughout the Flyers' organization, already mourning the recent death of longtime broadcaster Gene Hart.  Having lost key players to various tragedies over the years - including Barry Ashbee, Pelle Lindbergh, and Yanick Dupre, the Flyers family once again dealth with a heart-breaking loss.  "A freak accident. I phoned (assistant coach Ramsay), who spent a lot of time working with him, and he's devastated," said coach Nielson.  "Such nice, cooperative kid."

"It's a shock - here you have a young player come over here and get adjusted.  He transforms himself into a gamer..." noted Lindros, visibly upset.  "He was just a terrific person."  Team strength coach Jim McCrossin recalled how much Dimitri loved being in North America.  "I knew a lot of people didn't get a chance to know him," he noted. "I wish they had."

After memorial services were held in Philadelphia, Tertyshny's body was shipped back to Russia for burial.  The Flyers' organization also expressed concern about the welfare of his widow, Polina, and the couple's unborn child.  "You worry about Tertyshny's family," admitted Clark, "and you worry about the things you normally worry about when a young person passes away."  In August the team announed that the Flyers and the Phantoms would play a pre-season benefit game, in memory of the late rookie.  "We think this is a good way for the players and the organization to help contribute toward the Tertyshny family,: Clark announced.  "The profits from this game will be placed in a (scholarship) fund for the future education of the unborn child of Dmitri and Polina."

Almost 15,000 tickets were sold for the benefit game, played on September 21st at First Union Spectrum.  "Our biggest concern is making sure Polina and the baby are going to be all right," Lindros declared, adding that he had been in touch with Jay Grossman (Dmitri's agent), to make sure that the family was well taken care of.  "As captain of the team, I am going to make sure of it.  Whatever we can do to help out, whether it's an exhibition game or further means of suppport, we'll be right there."

Prior to the start of the game, Dmitri's parents, Valery and Tatyana, were presented with his game-used helmet, signed by all his teammates.  It was also announced that the players would wear Tertyshny's number 5 on their own helmets for the 1999-2000 season.  These were two classy gestures on behalf of an organization all too familiar with tragedy involving its players over the years.  

A few months later, on just the third day of a brand new century, Alexanderi Valeri Tertyshny was born.


September 

2015

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Stephane Morin (1969-1998)

Born March 27, 1969 in Montreal, Quebec, Stephane Morin was a junior hockey scoring star who later played in the NHL with Quebec and Vancouver.  In 1986-87 the 17-year-old center joined the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL, but did not flourish offensively until the following season, with the Chicoutimi Saqueneens, where he posted 83 points in 68 games.  Morin seemed destined for stardom in pro hockey after scoring 77 goals and notching 109 assists with the Sagueneens in 1988-89, his final year of junior hockey.  His 186 points gave him the league scoring title - it would be 11 years before another player, Brad Richards, registered as many points in a single season in that league.

In the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, the highly touted youngster was selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the third round, 43rd overall, ahead of future stars such as Nik Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, and Vladimir Konstantinov.  Stephane was assigned to the Halifax Citadels of the AHL prior to the start of the season and soon became one of their best players, with 60 points in 65 games.  After a few games in the NHL he was back in Halifax the following year, where another productive start earned him a promotion to the bigs.  Morin had 40 points in 48 games in 1990-91, his first official NHL season, and was one of several outstanding rookies in the league that year.

Stephane spent the next campaign playing for both clubs, once again recording impressive offensive numbers in Halifax. He was not strong defensively, however, and Quebec was already deep at center, with young stars Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic.  Morin was moved to the Vancouver Canucks in 1992-93, and that season registered 85 points for their AHL farm team in Hamilton.  He notched 109 points with Hamilton the following year, finishing third in league scoring and earning a brief promotion to the parent club - it would prove to be his last stint in the bigs.

Morin was not able to land a regular NHL roster spot, but his impressive minor league stats impressed Frank Serratore, coach and general manager of the IHL's Minnesota Moose.  In the summer of 1994, Serratore signed the gifted playmaker to a three year contract, and Stephane did not disappoint, scoring 33 goals and 88 points in his first IHL season, capturing the league scoring title.  He enjoyed another strong campaign with the club in 1995-96, and after the season the franchise re-located to Manitoba.  Morin played a dozen games with the Moose the following year, before moving to the rival Long Beach Ice Dogs, where he had 82 points in just 65 games and was a leading candidate for the IHL's Most Valuable Player Award.  He posted 19 points in 18 playoff games, leading the Ice Dogs al the way to the Turner Cup Finals.

Stephane was off to another strong start in 1997-98, with 27 points in as many games,but then was seriously injured.  On December 3rd, in a spirited affair against Kansas City, he broke his leg in a collision with the goal post, after driving hard to the opponent's net.  Morin missed 52 games, but returned to help Long Beach in the playoffs.  "The reason we're better defensively this year than we were last yeaer is that depth at center," coach John Van Boxmeer said during the team's opening round series against Las Vegas.  "Last year, Stephane Morin was really a guy we could count on (defensively), and when's the last time anybody ever called Steph a defensive center?  But he was the guy who did all that work for us...."  At the time the crafty center was happy to be healthy and taking nothing for granted.  "I won't be (complacent) because I haven't gotten to play much this year, and I'm really excited to be back and have a chance to contribute," he claimed. "And I think our team is a very smart team.  We know that Las Vegas is a dangerous team with some of the most talented offensive players in the league.  If we give them room, they'll hurt us.  We can't take it for granted.  They're a big team too, and they're going to come out hard.  So we know this won't be easy."  Long Beach prevailed in the series, but fell short of returning to the finals, bowing out in the second round.

Deciding not to return to the IHL the following season, Stephane played a few games for the Sorel Dinosaurs of the QSPHL before heading over to Europe.  He joined the Berlin Capitals of the German Hockey League, soon establishing himself as one of the league's top players.  Life was good for the French Canadian expatriate - he had recently married and had a son, Frederick - but Morin's good fortunes would not lost.  On October 7th, he joined his teammates for a game at Reviers Lions Arena in Frankfurt, but soon fell ill and left the ice early in the second period.  He stood up on the bench, declared that he was not well, and then collapsed.  Stephane was rushed to a nearby hospital after medics at the arena failed to revive him, but was pronounced dead on arrival.  The official cause of death was a fatal heart attack; he was just 29 years old.

Several of his former teammates were shocked to learn of his sudden passing.  "He had a great sense of humor and was friendly and he got along great with everybody," recalled Russ Romaniuk, who played with Morin in the IHL.  "He was one of the best guys you'd want to meet.  He was a great guy to be around.  He had a serious knee injury last year, but showed a tremendous amount of desire to get back. He was the captain of Manitoba and he was an assistant in Long Beach and you could see why guys looked up to him and he had a great work ethic."  Former pro player Patrick Lefebvre recalled how much in love Morin was at the time of his death. "He was happy that he met someone he felt so good with," claimed Lefebvre, who grew up with Stephane in Montreal.  "And he was so devoted to his baby.  He was a great guy and it's just a tragedy to hear this.  It makes you think.  This is a guy who just loved to play hockey and be with people and, at a young age, he's gone and is not with us any more.  That really hurts."

Stephane Morin's body was flown back to his hometown of Montreal from Germany, and he was buried after a small and private funeral.  His death was not big news around the NHL, as he had been out of the league for a few years, but it definitely reverberated in the minor pro leagues, where he was better known.  Soon after, the IHL established a scholarship fund in his name, with proceeds to be given to his son Frederick.


October 

2015

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Yanick Dupre (1972-1997)

Born November 20, 1972 in Montreal, Quebec, Yanick Dupre was a speedy left winger who played for the Philadelphia Flyers in the mid-1990s.  Dupre grew up playing hockey in the Montreal area, and at 17 advanced to the Drummondville Voltiguers of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

From 1989 to 1991 Yanick posted impressive offensive numbers with the Voltiguers, netting 43 goals and 111 points in regular season play.  His speed and offensive acumen caught the attention of Flyers' scouts, and the team selected him in the third round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, 50th overall.  Dupre was returned to Drummondville for the 1991-92 season, his final junior tilt; traded to Verdun College-Francais half-way through the regular campaign, he finished up with 57 points between the two clubs and even managed a brief promotion to the Flyers.

Dupre attended the NHL team's training camp the following autumn, but was shipped to the AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, for the start of the season.  Coach Terry Murray liked his agility and speed, and decided to employ him as a penalty killer. Developing into one of the AHL's top shorthanded goal scoring threats, Dupre posted fairly decent offensive stats in his three years with Hershey, netting 50 goals and 123 points.  Promoted to the bigs late in 1994-95, he appeared in 22 games but did record any points.

The following year proved to be very bittersweet for the young francophone hockey player.  Dupre enjoyed his best offensive season in the AHL, scoring 20 goals and amassing 56 points in just 50 games.  Again promoted to the NHL for a short stint, Yanick was one of several young players who assisted in the Flyers' Wives Winter Carnival, an annual fund-raising event established in the memory of former player and coach Barry Ashbee, who eventually succumbed to leukemia.  Yanick also scored his NHL goal, during a game against the St. Louis Blues.  Having intercepted a pass near the St. Louis blueline, Dupre passed the puck to Anatoli Semenov before putting the return feed into the net.  He managed to tally one more before the end of the season - it would be his last goal in pro hockey.

By springtime Yanick noticed that his skating had dropped off dramatically, and he often felt tired and worn down.  He underwent routine tests in April 1996, and was soon diagnosed with leukemia.  Subject to grueling chemotherapy treatments, Dupre became very ill, even slipping into a coma at one point, but the cancer eventually went into remission.  When doctors informed him that his chances for survival were excellent, he started to ponder a pro comeback.  He put on weight, even participating in skating drills with team coaches, and talked about returning to the Hershey Bears the following season.

There would be no comeback.  Dupre remained at the MAsissoneuve Rosemount Centre in Montreal, the leukemia research facility where he was being treated.  Nearly bald and having lost considerable weight during his battle against cancer, Yanick returned to Philadelphia for a brief time, even taking part in a pre-game ceremony.   In the spring of 1997, he also helped organize a celebrity golf tournament to raise money for the leukemia research centre in Quebec, but in May his cancer returned.  A bone marrow transplant in June proved unsuccessful, and by late summer Dupre's condition had worsened.  He died on August 18, and two days later was buried in Montreal, after a private memorial service.

Dupre did not play long in the NHL, but his death was deeply felt by many in the Flyers' organization, as well as family, friends, and fans in Quebec.  After his death, the Hershey Bears organization made several charitable donations in his name to the Mainsonneuve Rosemount Centre.  The AHL even established The Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, to be given annually to the league's "Man of the Year".  Dupre was also fondly remembered by the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, wich established The Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award.  Originally presented each year tot he Flyer player who deemed to have the best rapport with the local media, the award was renamed after Dupre in 1999; it was subsequently given to the player best exemplifying character, dignity and respect for the sport, both on and off the ice.


November 

2015

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Bob Gassof (1953 - 1977)

Born April 17, 1953 in Quesnel, British Columbia, Robert Allen Gassof was a burley rearguard who toiled for the St. Louis Blues in the 1970s, and was known as one of hockey's premier fighters.  His brother Brad, also a product of the British Columbia hockey circuit, briefly toiled in the bigs as well, for the Vancouver Canucks.

Bob Gassof played local minor and bantam hockey in his native province, and at 17 he joined the Vernon Lakers of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. He advanced to the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League the following season, 1971-72, joining the Medicine Hat Tigers, where he compiled 314 penalty minutes in 64 regular season games,with another 29 in the playoffs.  Returning to the Tigers as a sophomore, he led the league with 388 penalty minutes, and even netted 11 from the blueline.  The Tigers advanced far in the playoffs, and Gassof accumulated 152 penalty minutes in just 17 games.  Developing a reputation as one of the league's most feared pugilists, the 5 foot 10, 195-lb. defenseman was sturdy if not tall, and steady in his own end.  Gassof was selected on the third round of the 1973 Amateur Draft, by the St. Louis Blues.

Gassof started the 1973-74 season with the Denver Spurs of the Canadian Hockey League, where he led the league with 301 penalty minutes in just 45 games.  He eventually joined St. Louis for 28 games, recording just 3 assists but 84 penalty minutes. Finishing sixth in the Western Division, out of the playoffs, the Blues had Bob start the next season in Denver, but after 19 games the young rearguard was promoted to the parent club.  Establishing himself as the team enforcer, Gassof had 18 points and 222 penalty minutes, often squaring off against tough guys such as Boston's Ted Green or Philadelphia's Bob Kelly and Dave Schultz.  His toughness helped St. Louis finish second in the Smythe Division, but they were still swept by Pittsburgh in the second round of the playoffs.

In the summer team management reaffirmed its commitment to surrounding its star players with capable pugilists,and Bob willingly accepted this role, setting a team record with 306 penalty minutes in the 1975-76 season.  St. Louis finished third in the Smythe Division, and were defeated in the opening round of the playoffs by the Sabres.  Gassof enjoyed his finished season in 1976-77, his fourth and last, with career highs in goals, assists and points.  His 254 penalty minutes once again ranked him among NHL leaders, and St. Louis finished with a 32-39-9 record, good for first place in the weak Smythe Division.  Montreal swept them in the quater-finals.

Gassof looked forward to the off-season in the summer of 1977; for a few weeks he hung around his home in Richmond Heights, Missouri, preparing to visit friends and family back in Canada.  On May 27, he attended the traditional post-season team party held each year at the 200-acre ranch of the team's veteran star, Gary Unger, who resided in nearby Villa Ridge, a small community located about 30 miles west of St. Louis.  About 60 to 70 guests attended Unger's annual hog roast, including most of the Blues' players.  "He (Gassof) was the toughest guy I've ever played with," Unger later remembered.  "He was kind of indestructible.  We were friends and we both had the feeling that life was great and nothing could happen to us.  His wife Marie was seven months pregnant and there was everything to look forward to."

Unger's passions included quarterhorses and motorcycles, both of which he kept on his expansive ranch.  Gassof had often visited the ranch to go horseback riding, but never took an interest in the bikes.  That is why Unger became concerned late in the afternoon that day, when he looked up from cooking at his barbecue grill, and saw his teammate sitting on one of his bikes. "I didn't drink at all (that day), so I didn't realize how much some of the guys had been drinking all day long," Unger later recounted. "I told Bobby he wasn't in any shape to be riding a bike and urged him to get off the motorcycle and have something to eat.  I thought everything was under control and I got distracted.  A half hour later, the phone rang...I knew in my spirit something was wrong. I kept asking, Is Bobby Ok? Is Bobby Ok?, but he just kept saying There's been an accident.

Gassof had taken the motorcyle for a ride.  At about 7:10 p.m., Bob was northbound on a nearby county road, Frankin County Route M, when he apparently lost control and crossed the center line.  The Blues' defenseman collided head-on with a car driven by a 19-year-old local resident, Douglas Klekamp, along in his vehicle. Klekamp escaped serious injury, but Gassof was thrown from the bike and suffered severe internal damage.

Several of the Blues' players hear the loud crash sound from the collision and rushed to the scene, arriving just before the ambulance and police. Seriously injured, the stricken hockey player was placed on a stretcher by emergency medical personnel, and then rushed to St. Francis Hospital in the nearby town of Washington. Soon after arrival, he was pronounced dead.

The Blues' players and their wives and families consoled each other in the aftermath, with Unger among the most shaken up.  "Right away the question came to me - Do you know where you're going to spend eternity?",  he recalled. "That year, befoe one of the playoff games against Minnesotia, one of the kids who was hanging around waiting for anautograph had asked me that.  At the time I was, like, go away, kid. I've got a game to play, but when Bobby was killed, the question came right back to me.  That's when I started looking at another side of life, rather than just going crazy with hockey.  I realized I was surrounded by things that were not making me happy."

Missouri Highway Patrol determined that Gassof crossed the center line in the road before hitting the other car head on, but it remains uncertain if he had consumed alcohol beforehand.  He beneficiaries collected double indeminity damage on a $50,000 team policy, plus about $25,000 through Bob's NHLPA coverage.  The Blues' organization was not entitled to pay any more compensation under the catastrophe policy, which released the team from further responsibility, since Gassof was not engaged in team duties at the time of the accident.


December

2015

Book Review: Tragic Tales - by Sal Barry - The Hockey News Magazine, November 23, 2015 - Vol. 69 No. 07, page 8

Were Sawchuk and Kordic doomed? Was there more behind Masterton's demise than just hitting his head?

WHEN A FORMER PLAYER passes away, the hockey community is saddened by the loss.  But when a player dies in the midst of his career, it cuts much deeper.  Over 160 pages, From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL tells the stories of six players whose lives ended too early: Bill Masterton, Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton, Pelle Lindbergh, John Kordic, and Steve Chiasson.

First-time author Brad J. Lombardo does an admirable job of handling such a heavy subject.  The book is thoroughly researched and recollects each player's accomplishments, the events that led to their deaths and the aftermath.

The chapters on Sawchuk and Kordic are particularly strong. Lombardo details how both were already broken men by the time they reached the pinnacle of their careers.  Their untimely demises seemed inevitable.

And while the much-told story about Masterton's death is that he hit his head on the ice after being checked by two opponnents, Lombardo gives several accounts that suggest other contributing factors.- SAL BARRY


January

2016

Article on Book in The Windsor Star Newspaper (Sports section, Dec. 26, 2015):

Lombardo Book looks at dark side of hockey

Windsor native Brad Lombardo is publishing a second book on hockey players who died while playing in the National Hockey League.  His first book, From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL, centred on six players from the post-expansion era: Bill Masterton, Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton, Pelle Lindergh, John Kordic, and Steve Chiasson.

The next book will profile six players from the early 20th century: Joe Hall, Georges Vezina, Charlie Gardiner, Howie Morenz, Babe Siebert, and Bill Barilko.  

A University of Windsor graduate, Lombardo is a full-time teacher and part-time writer in his spare time.  "It's a labour of love," said Lombardo, who lives in Richmond Hill.  "I would've been happy if the book sold a dozen copies.  We've done really well and we just received a positive review in The Hockey News magazine."

The book is available on amazon.com and costs $13.95 US.  You can win one of two free copies in a random draw. Just send in your name and telephone number to sports@windsorstar.com.

Lombardo is the son of the late William Lombardo, the former president and CEO of Peerless-Cascade Plastics Ltd.  He got the idea for the first book while watching the Leafs on TV with friend Rob Osborne.

"We were sitting in the basement and the subject came up about John Kordic," Lombardo said. "I said, "Wouldn't it be great to have profiles o all the guys who died tragically while still purusing a hockey career?"

"It's still a bit of a drak subject but they're interesting stories to tell.  We didn't include players like Bob Probert or Brian Spencer because they died after their careers were over."

Masterton, a 29-year-old journeyman with the Minnesota North Stars, died from severe head trauma after an on-ice collision in the 1968-69 season. The Bil Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded each year to the player best exemplifying perseverance, dedication, and sportsmanship.

Sawchuk, who won seven Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, died at age 40 from stomach-related injuries after an off-ice incident with New York Rangers teammate Ron Stewart.

Horton, who played 24 yeras in the NHL and won four Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs, died in 1974 when his car crashed driving home to Buffalo after a game at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Chiasson, a former member of the Red Wings, Whalers, Flames, and Hurricanes died in 1999 when his truck crashed after a team party.


February

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - William "Hod" Stuart (1879-1907)

Born in 1879, William Hodgson "Hod" Stuart was one of the early hockey greats.  In 1899 Hod and younger brother Bruce joined the Ottawa Senators of the Canadian Amateur Hockey League (CAHL), then known as the Senior Circuit.  The two siblings soon became local stars, with Hod developing a reputation for hard but clean bodychecks,a long reach, and breathtaking end-to-end rushes with the puck.  

In 1900 the father of the two hockey-playing brothers, an established, wealthy contractor, used his business connections to bring the two boys to Quebec, where they joined the Bulldogs.  Playing the position of cover point in an era when teams put seven players on the ice, Hod concentrated on his defensive duties while brother Bruce supplied much of the team's offence.

Stuart's steady defensive play impresssed the owners of the Pittsburgh franchise in the fledging International Professional League (IPL), North America's first true pro hockey league.  Pittsburgh inked Hod to his first pro contract in 1902, and he was soon playing in the rough and tumble loop.  He eventually convinced management to sign his brother; a few years later, the siblings would go on to play together on Michigan's Portage Lake, Houghton and Calamut squads, where Hod pushed for better salaries and playing conditions.

For the 1905-06 season, the Stuart brothers returned to play for Pittsburgh. They eventually grew frustrated with the often dirty and violent play in the IPL, however, the tipping point for Hod being a particularly mean-spirited affair against the Michigan "Soo". He jumped ship in December, signing with the Montreal Wanderers of the Eastern Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA).  His salary at the time was the highest ever paid for a pro hockey player, and his subsequent stellar play showed he was worth the money.  Bruce soon joined him, and the boys helped the Wanderers defeat the Kenora Thistles to win the 1907 Stanley Cup.  It was a great accomplishment for both Hod and Bruce Stuart, one that made their rich businessman father extremely proud; it was certainly the highlight of Hod's career, for soon after the Stanley Cup triumph came tragedy. 

A few months after the Cup victory, Hod was on vacation at the Bay of Quinte; it was a bright and sunny afternoon on July 23rd, and he decided to go for a swim.  The picturesque shoreline featured an old lighthouse, with a wooden diving platform next to it, about six feet above ground level and overlooking the bay.  Hod was not aware that the water was extremely shallow, believing it to be much deeper than the couple of feet that it was.  He landed head first in rocky water, striking his head against a rock.  He was dead by the time he was found, submerged under the water, his head badly injured and his neck clearly broken.

News of Hod Stuart's sudden, accidental death shocked the hockey world, particularly in Montreal, where his recent Cup exploits with the Wanderers had made him a local hero.  The Montreal Gazette carried a lengthy obituary:

    Stuart's work throughout the winter is well known and requires little comment.  He was the backbone of the team, and without him the Wanderers would have been lost. He was a real general of the game, he knew it thoroughly himself, and could play any position from forward to point, and he had the ablity to impart what he knew to others. One featue won Stuart hosts of friends here in Montreal, and that was in all the many hard games he took part in during the winter; he played clean, gentlemanly hockey all the way through. In the famous Ottawa match which later led to the summoning of the two players to a police court, Stuart bore the brunt of the rough work and without flinching, and at the same time without retaliating.

As a tribute to Stuart, the Wanderers hockey club and five other teams from the ECAHA established the Hod Stuart Memorial Match Committee, to arrange a hockey game from which the proceeds would be donated to the deceased player's widow and her two children.

Attended by almost four thousand people, the Hod Stuart Memorial Game was held at the old Montreal Arena on January 2, 1908, just prior to the start of the new season.  In what was probably the first-ever all-star format contest in any sport, the Wanderers faced off against a selection of all-stars from around the league.  Several players wanted to play for the all-star team, but some teams did not want their stars participating, fearing injuries.  Only seven were chosen for each side, representing the actual number of players iced on the ice, thus meaning there were no substitutions.  The all-stars included goaltending great Percy Lesueur (Ottawa Senators), Jack Marshall (Toronto Shamrocks), and Frank Patrick (Victoria Cougars).  Bruce Stuart, by then playing for the Ottawa Silver Seven, had to withdraw because of physical ailments.  The Wanderers line-up featured goalie Riley Hern as well as Stuart's two linemates, Eddie Hogan and Joe Power.  Hod's replacement on defence was a youngster named Art Ross.

The Wanderers dominated the first half of the game and at one point led 7-1, but the all-stars stormed back with five straight goals in the second half.  The final tally was 10-7 for Montreal.  More than $2,000 was raised, with proceeds going to Hod Stuart's family.  The man himself would have his hallowed place in hockey history firmly entrenched years later, in 1945, when he was one of twelve charter members posthumously elected to the newly established Hockey Hall of Fame.


March 

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The Early NHL - update

My first book, From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL, profiles six NHLers who died tragically, while in the midst of pursuing their pro careers:  Bill Masterton, Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton, Pelle Lindbergh, John Kordic, and Steve Chiasson.  

The original research I compiled on the subject included profiles of more than 30 NHLers, but the decision was later made to profile just six of them in the first book, with all players playing in the post-1967 expansion era.  The original 30-plus profiles include several brief ones of various NHLers; these were featured in a chapter 13 in the original manuscript; several of them have since been published in this monthly newsletter.

We are now returning to the publishing table, to consider the publication of a second book, culled from much of the original research material.  

The new book, tentatively entitled, From Triumph To Tragedy In The Early NHL, will be written in tandem with Robert Osborne.  It will profile six players from the early days of the NHL, during the first half of the twentieth century:  Joe Hall (1882-1919), Georges Vezina (1887-1926), Charlie Gardiner (1904-1934), Howie Morenz (1902-1937), Babe Siebert (1904-1939), and Bill Barilko (1927-1951).

Much of the research and writing for the second book has already been done, so it is just a matter of time before Rob and I round it into form.  At that point we will consider our publishing options.

Until then, wish us luck (we will need it!)....


April

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Brian Spencer (1949-1987): Part 1

Brian Spencer was a journeyman forward tho played in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins.  

Born September 3, 1949 in Fort St. James, British Columbia, as a young boy he learned to skate on the frozen ponds of Stuart Lake during the cold winters.  Roy Spencer often helped his twin sons, Brian and Byron, shovel the snow off the ponds, before they started skating.  Brion did not even skate in an indoor rink until the age of 13, when his father started driving him to nearby Vanderhoof.  They would awaken at 3 a.m. for the trip, and would arrive in the town about two hours later, for his peewee- and, later, bantam-level games.  Extra cash, however, was hard to come by for the working-class family.  "I remember one game," Brian would later recall, "when all my dad had in his pocket was fifty cents.  He paid to have my skates sharpened, and didn't have anything left for a cup of coffee."

When Brian was 14 years of age, he attended a hockey camp in Nelson, British Columbia.  Camp instructors included Red Berenson and Bob Plager from the St. Louis Blues.  "I couldn't skate, but Berenson and Plager went out of their way to help," Spencer lagter recalled, "I have to credit Berenson for starting me on a serious hockey career.  Up to that point, I was convinced I'd never get out of the bush leagues."  Berenson took young Spencer to Regina, for a tryout with the city's junior team, during which time he lived with the former NHLer's parents. 

FROM THE JUNIOR RANKS TO THE PROS

Brian joined the Estevan Bruins of the SJHL at the age of 17, and the following season, 1966-67. saw him toil for the Regina Pats and then the Calgary Centennials of the WCJHL (Western Canadian Junior Hockey League).  He stayed in that league the next year, but with Estevan-Swift Current, where he potted 48 goals in 53 games.  By then, the speedy young winger had grown to 5 foot 11 inches and filled out to a solid 185 pounds; his point production, grinding style and dedicated work ethic caught the attention of scouts for the Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs selected Brian in the fifth round of the 1969 NHL Entry Draft, 55th overall, but that autumn he was still the final training camp cut.  Assigned to Tulsa of the Canadian Hockey League, he was recalled to the bigs in December.  He did not play but was still happy to share the good news with his dad, at the time suffering from severe uremic poisoning.  "When I heard the Leafs brought me up, I called my dad right away," he later recalled. "We both sort of broke down. He was so happy he couldn't speak."  It was a poignantly proud moment for Roy Spencer, who had always dreamed that one of his sons would make the NHL.  "My father never played hockey because from the time he was a kid he was always working," Brian claimed. "He spent every penny he had to buy e equipment. I always played hockey the way dad taught me. He taught me to never back down."

Spencer finally saw some big league action during the latter part of the 1969-70 season, when he was called up in March.  The Leafs beat the Bruins in his first game, but he saw limited ice time and went pointless in his nine-game stint.  He had a much better start the following season, his official rookie campaign, when he scored a couple of big goals early on.  Personable, outgoing and full of energy, the blonde-haired rookie soon earned the nickname "Spinner".

TRAGEDY IN PRINCE GEORGE

On December 2nd the rookie winger was scheduled to do a live interview with host Ward Cornell on CBC Television, during the first intermission of a game against the Black Hawks.  It was not too surprising that CBC wanted to interview the extroverted youngster for one of its weekly Saturday night broadcasts, and the interview was slated to be carried nationally and was eagerly anticipated in Fort St. James.  Roy Spencer, 57 at the time, was particularly ecstatic, proud that his son was being interviewed live on national television.  He was equally elated that Brian's wie had given birth to their first child, a baby girl, just days before, and had invited family and friends to his house to watch the interview.

Just before the interview started, CBC abruptly announced that its network affiliate in Prince George, 85 miles away, was switching over to the game between Vancouver and California.  Roy Spencer was beside himself, extremely upset that the Prince George TV station, CKPG, was not broadcasting the interview in British Columbia.  The exasperated father impusively grabbed his rifle, got into this pick-up truck, and then drove nearly an hour and a half to reach the station.  In a blinding rage, he burst into the station, brandishing his rifle and ordering staff up against a wall.  He demanded that somebody switch the local channel back to the Maple Leaf game, but was told by terrified television personnell that all switches were performed out of the CBC's Toronto operations.  By then as tired as he was frustrated, Roy Spencer did an about face and marched out of the television station and toards his pick-up truck in the parking lot.  RCMP Constables had been called to the scene and were waiting, however, and in the ensuing confrontation Roy Spencer was shot three times and died at the scene.  As he lay dead in the parking lot, the CBC's interview with his son Brian was being broadcast to millions across Canada.

The shooting death of Roy Spencer cast a long shadown of the remainder of Brian's pro hockey career.  "My father never wanted me to be second best," he declared shortly after the tragedy. "The only thing he wanted was for me to make the NHL. He said the day I made it, his life would be a success." Still determined to make it in pro hockey, young Spencer went on to enjoy a productive rookie season, with 24 points in just 50 games.

Next month - May 2016 -  Brian gets claimed by the New York Islanders, then is traded to Buffalo....


May 

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Brian Spencer (1949-1987): Part 2

Brian suffered a knee injury in his sophomore year; limited to just six poits, he spent some of the season down in the minors, in Tulsa, where he also owned a sporting good store.  He was claimed in the 1972 Expansion Draft by the New York Islanders, one of the NHL's new entries, and put up 38 points for the expansion team, earning him the title of team's most popular player.  His production dropped off the next season, however, and in March Spencer was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Doug Riseborough.  

Brian enjoyed perhaps his most productive year in 1974-75, his first full campaign with the Sabres.  A team on the rise, the Sabres were fast  becoming an offensive powerhouse, led by the French Connection Line of Gilbert Perrault, Richard Martin, and Rene Robert.  Brian fit right in with the team's mantra of agility and speed, and he posted a career-high 41 points.  Having missed the playoffs the previous year, Buffalo posted a 49-16-15 record and finished first in the Adams Division.  All three members of the French Connection ended up in the top ten scoring leaders.  Buffalo defeated Chicago and then Montreal, advancing to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in club history, but were ultimately bested by star goalie Bernie Parent and the Philadelphia Flyers.  Although he did not score in the post-season, Spencer still proved to be a useful asset to the powerful club, appearing in all sixteen playoff games and recording four assists.

Spencer proved to be a gritty forward with the Sabres, and the followed season he was the inaugural winner of the Tim Horton Trophy, awarded to the team's unsung hero.  Buffalo finished second in the Adams Division and beat St. Louis in the opening round of the 1976 playoffs, before falling to the Islanders in the quarter-finals. Brian was held pointless in what ended up as a tight checking series.  He tied a career-high with fourteen goals in 1976-77, but was held pointless for the second straight post-season, as Buffalo defeated Chicago before again falling to the upstart Islanders.

That summer Spencer was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Ron Shock; he enjoyed a decent first season with the Pens but the team finished fourth in the Norris Division, out of the playoffs.  In 1978-79, the then-29 year old played just seven games with the big club, before being sent down to the Binghampton Dusters of the AHL, where he finished the year.  He remained in the AHL the following season, moving to the Springfield Indians before ending the campaign with the Hershey Bears, where he was looked on for grit more than goals.  He provided that in the post-season, helping Hershey capture the Calder Cup.  After a decade in the NHL and much shorter stint in the minors, his journeyman career in pro hockey had finally delivered a championship.  It seemed to be enough, as he decided to retire soon after.  In ten NHL seasons, he had recorded 80 goals and 233 assists, with four different teams, but it was now time to turn the page, to a new chapter in his life...

Next month - June 2016 -  Spencer's fast-paced lifestyle after the bigs ends in tragedy....


June

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Brian Spencer (1949-1987): Part 3

Spencer led a controversial lifestyle after his pro career ended, leaving behind two ex-wives and five children, as he moved into relationships with different women.  He moved to northern Florida in 1980, and shacked up with an escort worker, Dianne Fialco; they lived in a trailer located on the edge of a backwater swamp.  Spencer made use of his mechanical skills and found work operating heaving machinery; in his spare time, he drank a lot and did recreational drugs.  Several close friends would later recall phoning him and urging him to return to Canada and enter drug rehab, but Spencer did not want to leave the West Palm Beach area and the easygoing lifestyle it offered.

In the summer of 1987 Brian was arrested for first-degree murder in the 1982 shooting death of local restaurant owner Michael Dalfo.  A truck driver had discovered the popular owner's body after seeing vultures circling a swampy area.  Spencer was eventually fingered as Dalfo's killer and his murder trail was held that autumn in Palm Beach.  If convicted, the former NHLer faced the daunting prospect of a 25-year prison term or a sentence to die in the electric chair.

At Spencer's trial, former girlfriend Dianne Fialco recounted that at the time of the alleged murder she and Spencer had broken up but were still living together.  She testified that she went to Dalfo's house as a professional escort on February 2, 1982, but left because of abuse she suffered from Dalfo, whom she believed to be high on drugs.  Fialco testified that upon returning home she confided in Spencer about what had transpired, which sent him into a rage.  She also said that an increasingly angry Spencer went to the restaurateur's house that night, forced him into a car and then drove him to an abandoned area, where he was shot to death.  She allegedly later changed her story, later saying she actually accompanied the pair in the car but fled the vehicle when she became nervous.  Fialco testified that she never saw a gun or heard any shots, but that Spencer later told her that Dalfo "wouldn't be able to call his lawyers now".

Fialco's testimony was very compelling to the jury, which was composed of seven men and five women, but the prosecution had trouble building a convincing case.  The defendant was found not guilty on October 16th.  "I've been given another chance at life," beamed the visibly happy Spencer after his acquittal. 

Author Martin O'Malley, whose book on Spencer - Gross Misconduct - was later turned into a CBC-TV documentary, noted that the former player tried to turn over a new leaf.  "He took some time off to travel, then lost his job at a repair shop when they went union," noted O'Malley. "He was working odd jobs as a sort of freelance mechanic".  Old friends from up in Canada again tried to convince hm to return home, citing the murder trail as a sign that Florida was bad luck for him.  Spencer truly hated the cold winters, however, and had little money to return north, so he decided to remain in the the sunshine state.  He reconsidered this when he started receiving threats, likely in connection to the Dalfo case.

In March of 1988 he visited Toronto, where he reunited with former Leafs teammate Darryl Sittler.  "I spent about two hours with him. He told me had been getting death threats," Sittler recalled. "He told me he was going back to Florida to gather his things and move back, either to the Toronto or Buffalo area.  He talked about starting a new life.  I gave him my number and told him to call when he got back."

While in Toronto, Spencer also visited former Toronto teammate Jim McKenny.  "He walked down a lot of avenues people have never been. He experienced a lot of things people never have," McKenny later remembered. "He thought he was the only bad person in the NHL, he felt he was the only person who failed. But I told him there were about two hundred other guys who messed up worse than he thought he had.  I told him he shouldn't feel guilty. It's really tough to re-establish yourself after hockey.  He was all alone. When he came here, he was amazed at the interest of people. He was surpised people still cared about him. He thought he was the scum of the earth. But he really picked up when he visited Toronto. He wasn't your run-of-the-mill NHLer. He was inquisitive about everything."

Soon after Spencer, then 39, returned to Florida.  He lived with a new girlfriend, native Quebecer Monica Jarboe, in a run-down section of Riviera Beach, about seventy kilometres north of Miami.  On the evening of June 2nd, Brian told her he would be back in half an hour, and left their residence.  He then me up with his friend, Gregory Scott Cook, who later told police that the two purchased crack cocaine and planed to return to Cook's house to smoke it.

Police were also informed that the two men were parked in Cook's 1984 Ford Pick-up truck, in front of an abandoned city hall complex, after having stopped to pick up cigarettes. A white car then approached and parked. A man, described by Cook as black with a thin build, got out and approached the truck, and then demanded money. Cook gave the would-be robber all he had in his pocket - about three dollars in cash - but Spencer refused to hand over anything. The assailant took out a long-barreled revolver and then shot Spencer, the bullet going through his left arm and into his chest, piercing his heart.  In the ensuing chaos, the shooter bolted and the paramedics arrived, soon rushing the mortally wounded Spencer to St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach.  He was pronounced dead there just after midnight.

Riviera Beach Police Captain Jerry Poreba soon confirmed to local media that Spencer was shot supposedly as a result of a late-night robbery, after buying crack cocaine.  Poreba noted that Spencer was shot in a well-known drug area, which the former player himself allegedly frequented. "It wasn't just a case of their happening by that area," he noted. "They knew what went on there."  But he added that the police were not treating the tragedy as a simple robbery because of the other implications, notably the death threats Brian had received.

"The last time I talked to him he told me he was getting death threats," O'Malley later confided. "The first thing that came to mind was that it was an assassination, an execution." Another person who did not accept the theory that Spencer's death as happenstance, a botched robbery, was television producer John Long, a long-time friend. "It was a set-up, a retaliatory thing," Long surmised. "That's been my fear since the trial."

Years later many people still believe that Brian Spencer was the victim of a contract killing or deliberate hit, arranged by people who were close to murdered restaurateur Michael Dalfo.  Soon after, the killer was actually apprehended by police and it was discovered that he had a lengthy criminal record.  He confessed to the killing but not to any connection to any of Dalfo's associates and was sentenced to life imprisonment.  Meanwhile, the personable former NHLers known as Spinner Spencer was dead, leaving behind his mother, his twin brother, two former wives, and five children.


August

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Michel Briere (1949-1971): Part 1

Note to Newsletter Readers:  There was no July 2016 Newsletter, as I was on vacation in southern Spain, where I lived as a student during the 1970s.  And my August Newsletter is running late, largely because of jet lag after arriving back home early in the month.

Born October 21, 1949 in Malartic, Quebec, Michel Briere became a rookie star with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.  Playing local hockey in Quebec, in 1967-68 the speedy young forward joined the Shawinigan Bruins of the Quebec Junior A Hockey League. In 50 games, Michel netted 54 goals and led the league in both assists (105) and points (159).  A second all-star team selection, he followed up with 27 points in 12 playoff games, leading his team to the Memorial Cup.

The following season Briere had 75 goals and led the league once again, with 161 points.  A first all-star team selection, he wqs picked up by the Sorel Black Hawks for its Memorial Cup playoff run, against the Montreal Junior Canadiens of the Ontario Hockey Association. Michel was selected in the third round of the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, 26th overall, by Pittsburgh.

Several in the Penguins organization believed that Briere could become the young franchise's first true superstar, and his impressive play after a game early in the 1969-70 season was noticed by local sports media. "Briere skated easily. He skimmed across the ice like a waterbug, not with great speed but with a phantom elusiveness, defly avoiding body checks, probing and questing for the puck," a local newspaper noted. "His shot was quick rather than powerful, coming invariably when the goaltender least expected it, preceded as likely as not by a feint, by a dip of the shoulder."

Relatively small and undersized at 5' 10" and 150 pounds, the smooth-skating 20-year-old still enjoyed a solid rookie season. With fellow French Canadien Jean Pronovost on his wing, the crafty center led team rookies in scoring, with 12 goals and 44 points in 76 games.  Pittsburgh finished in second place in the West, with a 26-38-12 record, 22 points behind the division-winning St. Louis Blues.  In the opening round of the playoffs the Penguins faced the Oakland Seals, in what was then known as the Western Conference semi-finals, and defeated them in four straight games.  Briere was the hero at 8:28 of overtime in game four, scoring the goal that gave Pittsburgh the win and the series.

The Penguins advanced to the Western conference finals against the Blues, but promptly lost the first two games on the road. Back home Briere took over; in game three he scored the overtime goal, his second of the playoffs, as Pittsburgh bested St. Louis 3-2.  Two nights later, with the teams tied at a goal apiece after regulation, he struck again in overtime, potting the winner and tying the series.  With three sudden death markers in the playoffs, the Penguins young center had become one of the post-season feel good stories.

St. Louis rallied to take the next two games and the series, advancing to the Stanley Cup finals, where they were swept by Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins.  But Briere's promising post-season performance bode well for the future of hockey in Pittsburgh; in just 10 games the rookie had netted five goals and eight points, even displaying a penchant for rough play with seventeen penalty minutes.  "He was the biggest leader we had at the time," former teammate Ken Schinkel once wistfully recalled. "And we had some good, established players on that team.  But he was the catalyst and made it go."

Read Part 2 of the Michel Briere in next month's newsletter.....


September

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Michel Briere (1949-1971): Part 2

In the summer of 1970, Briere was engaged to be married, his future wife pregnant with the couple's first child.  He returned to Quebec in early May to make arrangements for his marriage the following month, but tragedy struck when the young NHLer was involved in a horrific car accident.  On the night of May 15th, just outside the city of Malartic, the sportscar that Briere was driving failed to negotiate a sharp corner in the road.  The car skidded off the road and crashed into a tree, killing one of Briere's three companions and seriously injuring the others.

Having suffered severe head injuries, the young Penguins' star was transported by air from Val D'Or to Montreal, where he was taken to Notre Dame Hospital.  He underwent several brain operations and was left in a coma.  Friends, family and members of the Penguins' organization came to visit.  "The thing (was), he didn't look hurt," noted Red Kelly, then the team's coach. "He was just lying there."  Schinkel recalled that it was very tough to visit the critically-injured rookie.  "It was such a shock to see him the first time," he admitted.  "It was tough to forget."

The Penguins' organization was clearly shaken by the tragedy and the team itself bumbled through the 1970-71 campaign, at one point enduring an 18-game winless streak and ultimately finishing seventh in the West, second worst in the league. Briere's leadership and scoring were sorely missed.  "We tied a lot of games that year (20) and with his talent, he could do things to help you win the close games," Kelly would recall many years later. "No doubt about it, his death leaft a big hole on the club.  We just couldn't fill it."

Briere actually remained in a coma for nearly a year, once actually regaining consciousness long enough to recognize his parents and sister as well as Dick Cross, the Penguins' scout who brought him to the club.  He slipped right back into a coma right after that lucid moment, however, and in later March of 1971 was transferred to Maria-Claraci Rehabilitation Centre, a "convalescent home in Montreal.  Briere died there on April 13th.  "He was one of the greatest competitors I ever played with," Schinkel claimed. "He would never take defeat.  He really wanted to win and he would tray and do it by himself if he had to.  

Several NHL clubs and others in the hockey fraternity expressed their sympathies to the Penguins' organization and soon after the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League formally established The Michel Briere Memorial Trophy, awarded each season to the league's top scorer. Briere's number 7 jersey was retired in a special ceremony held by the Shawinigan Bruins just before its next home game, and his Bruins' sweater was presented to his parents at centre ice.

For several years Briere's number 21 jersey hubg in the Igloo Club at the Civic Arena, the Penguins' original home; it was unofficially retired, as no Penguins' player had worn it after his death.  On January 6, 2001, it became official when number 21 was officially retired at Mellon Arena, the Pens' new home, in a ceremony before a home game against the Montreal Canadiens.  The ceremony was initially to have taken place in 2000, and was to have seen both the jersey numbers of Briere and Penguins' great Mario Lemieux retired.  It was postponed when Lemieux decided to end his 3 1/2 year absence from the game.  Number 66 was taken down from the rafters a week before the ceremony and Briere's number 21 was raised up as its replacement.

At that ceremony were former linemate Jean Pronovost and Martin Briere, Michel's son, who was born just months after his dad's tragic car crash.  Local sports media noted that Briere's death was the first of two popular Pittsburgh athletes who wore number 21.  On December 31, 1972 - New Year's Eve - the star outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberto Clemente, died when a small plane he was piloting crashed.  Clemente also wore number 21.


October

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Joe Turner (1919-1945): Part One

Born March 28, 1919 in my own hometown of Windsor, Ontario, Joe Turner was a talented young goalie who locals claimed would one day be the number one goalie for the team across the river, the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.  In 1933-34, the 14-year-old boy joined the Toronto Canoe Club of the OHA-Jr. League, where he gained valuable experience.  He returned to his hometown to play for the Windsor Motors of the MOHL (the team would later be renamed the Bulldogs).  After a three-year stint in Windsor, Turner played for seven different clubs over the next five years, with stints in Stratford, Guelph, Detroit and London.  By 1941-42 he was playing for the Indianapolis Capitals of the AHL, the official farm team of the Red Wings.

Turner was just 22 years of age when he joined the Capitals but was already a grizzled veteran between the pipes of sorts, with eight minor league seasons under his belt.  He was the number two goalie behind incumbent Jimmy Franks, who had been the back-up goalie for the 1936 and 1937 Stanley Cup-winning teams in Detroit.  Turner impressed, usurping Franks as the starting goalie by the time training camp ended.  It was a significant achievement, as Turner was the only netminder ever used by the Caps.

Taking to the nets on Hallowe'en Eve in 1941, Joe Turner shut out the Washington Lions, 1-0, and followed that up with a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Hornets.  He did not allow more than three goals in any of his first 15 games, and Indianapolis posted a 10-3-2 record.  An ankle injury sidelined him briefly in December, but he returned to help the team go 16-2-4 down the stretch.

Turner played in his first and only NHL game on February 5, 1942, when he was called up to the Red Wings to replace their injured netminder Johnny Mowers.  The rookie was understandably nervous playing in front of more than 8,000 fans at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, and allowed two first-period markers against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.  He settled down after that, however, and made several great saves during the remainder of the game, including a breakaway against Leafs scoring star Gordie Drillon in the third period.  The game ended 3-3, and Mowers was back in the nets for the next tilt, with Turner returned to the minors.


November

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Joe Turner (1919-1945): Part 2

Turner returned to the Indianapolis Capitals after an ankle injury sidelined him briefly in December; he helped the team go     16-2-4 during the stretch run.  Rookie Joe Turner played in his first - and only - NHL game on February 5, 19042, when he was called up to the Red Wings to replace their injured netminder, veteran Johnny Mowers.  The young Turner was understandably nervous in front of more than 8,000 fans at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, even allowing two first-period markers to the visiting Maple Leafs.  He settled down, however, and stoned former NHL scoring champ Gordie Drillon on a breakaway late in the game, allowing the Wings to escape with a 3-3 tie.  Mowers was back in the nets for the next game, and young Joe was back n the minors.

His confidence buyoed, Turner finished the season strong, leading the AHL in wins with 34 and goals-against-average (2.44).  He posted four shutouts to help the Caps clinch the West Division title.  Turner made 35 saves in the final game of the regular season, a resounding 10-3 thumping of Pittsburgh, and then backstopped Indy to an upset victory over the Springfield Indians in the opening playoff round.

In the Calder Cup finals, the Caps faced the Hershey Bears in a best-of-five series.  After four games, the series was tied.  In the final and deciding game, Turner took a hard shot off the face early on but rebounded to stop 36 shots.  The Caps scored often, and skated off with a 8-3 win and the Calder Cup.  Young Joe Turner was already a champion, having clinced the AHL title, and the Caps celebrated their winning season the next night at the Colombia Club back in Indianapolis, where Turner received the loudest ovation of any player.  He was later named to the AHL first all-star team.

After that remarkable season, it seemed like the sky was the limit for young Joe Turner.  Red Wings' coach and general manager Jack Adams regarded him as the NHL club's goalie of the future.  In the off-season, he married his sweetheart, a local young woman, and seemed ready to settle down for family life.  Like many other pro players, however, Turner felt a sense of patriotic duty to his country, as the great war raged on in Europe.  He decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. serving with the Marine Corps.

An infantry lieutenant in the 79th Division, Joe Turner was ready for war.  In January of 1945, at the very end of the war, the young goalie - used to being cheered in the hockey arenas of the U.S. and Canada  - suddenly found himself on the battlefields of Europe.  He joined intense fighting betweent the Allies and the Germans in Holland's Hurtegen Forest, the battle being but a prelude to the more horrific Battle of the Bulge.  Any luck that Joe Turner had ran out during that fighting; he was struk and killed by a German artillery shell on January 12, but was still listed MIA until December 19, when he was officially declared dead.  The former Red Wings goalie was just 25 years old.

Soon after Joe died, the war was over.  Back in the Detroit area, a new hockey league was being created, one which would give local hockey players returning from war a place to play.  Red Wings executive James Norris was among the founders of the International Hockey Leauge, and personally helped to ensure that Joe would be remembered.  The League named their newly-fashioned championship trophy the JosephTurner Memorial Trophy, later renamed the Joseph Turner Memorial Cup.  

During the IHL's 56-year existence, the Turner Cup was up for grabs every spring.  It twice returned to Indianapolis - 1958 and 1990 - with the Cup victory in 1990 achieved on home ice, on the very same ice surface where young Joe Turner had excelled over half a century earlier.  In July 2001 the IHL officially ceased operations and the Turner Cup was officially retired.


December

2016

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Dudley Garrett (1924-1944)

Born July 24, 1924 in Toronto, Ontario, Dudley "Red" Garrett was a large and imposing defenseman who played one season with the NHL's New York Rangers.  As a youngster, he had honed his defensive skills on the Ontario junior hockey circuit, and by the age of 18 he had grown to 5 foot 11 and 190 pounds.  Nicknamed "Red" because of the auburn colour of his hair, he played six games in 1942-43 with the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League, but was impressive enough to earn a promotion to the New York Rangers.  Although he netted just two points in 23 games as a Rangers rookie, his defensive acumen bode well for his future career.

Garrett was one a countless young Canadians who heed the call of patriotic duty as the Second World War drew to a close. Soon after his rookie NHL campaign had ended, he enlisted in the Canadian Navy and was shipped overseas.  Records show that he died on the battlefields of Europe on November 25, 1944.  After all these years, Red Garrett is still remembered by the American Hockey League, where he had more of a lasting impact.  Soon after his death, the league established the Dudley Red Garrett Memorial Award, presented each year to the league's top rookie.  The award continues to this day.


January

2017

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Jack Darragh (1890-1924): Part 1 

Born December 4, 1890 in Ottawa, Ontario, Jack Darragh was one of the great, long-time scoring stars on the old Ottawa Senators.  Over a 13-year career, from 1910 until 1924, he averaged better than a goal every two games.  He played right wing with a left-hand shot, unusual in those early playing days, and was known as an excellent skater, shooter and stickhandler.  Jack was also a gentleman on the ice, another rarity in an era known for tough, often violent, play.

Darragh was just 18 when he joined the Ottawa Stewartons of the OCHL, where he was one of their top scorers for three years. By the 1910-11 season he had graduated to the bigs, making the Ottawa Senators of the NHA (National Hockey Association).  Young Darragh potted 18 goals in just 16 games, helping the Senators win their very first Stanley Cup title, with victories over Galt and Port Arthur.  These were the very early days of hockey, and Darragh was one of its shining stars.  Over the next three seasons Jack would score another 53 goals, earning a reputation as one of the game's top shooters, although the Senators would not compete for another Cup until 1914-15, when they tied the Montreal Canadiens for first place.  Ottawa won the two-game, total-goals series by a score of 4-1, but were easily beat in the best-of-five finals against the Vancouver Millionaries, the Pacific Coast champs.

Darragh was playing hockey in an era of great player movement, with stars frequently changing teams in both the NHL and the PCHL.  Yet the young Senator remained loyal to Ottawa.  The NHA folded in 1917 and was replaced by the NHL (National Hockey League), with the Ottawa Senators among the inaugural teams.  Darragh quickly proved to be one of the top players in the newly-formed NHL, netting 14 goals in just 18 games during that first season.  He really made his mark on the league in the 1919-20 campaign, however, when he enjoyed a career year, with 22 goals and 36 points in 24 games. Ottawa posted a dominant 19-5 record, good for first place overall and the NHL championship.  The Senators therefor earned the right to face the PCHA champion Seattle Metropolitans for the Stanley Cup.

Darragh scored the game winning goal in the opening game, a 3-2 Senators win over Seattle, and then helped Ottawa take a 2-1 series lead after three games.  The finals series, a best-of-five, was supposed to be played entirely in Ottawa, but ice conditions became so poor that the final two games were played at the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto.  The Metropolitans won game four, but it was Darragh who emereged as the scoring hero on the deciding match.  It is safe to say the the travel-weary Metropolitans were probably exhausted by the time game five arrived, and Darragh and the Senators pressed early.  By the end of the game, Jack had scored three goals and Ottawa lamblasted Seattle 7-1 to win their second Stanley Cup.  Darragh was easily the best player in the finals, leading all scorers with five goals and seven points.


February

2017

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Jack Darragh (1890-1924): Part 2

Clearly the best team in the young NHL during the 1921-22 season, the Ottawa Senators were led by top goalie Clint Benedict and scoring stars Cy Denneny, Frank Nighbor and the veteran Darragh.  Ottawa finished in second place with a 14-10 record, but then soundly defeated the first place Toronto St. Pats 7-0 in the NHL championship game.  The Senators then travelled to the west coast, where they played the Vancouver Millionaires for the title, its second defense; the teams split the first four games, all decided by one goal.  Again, the veteran Darragh emerged as a scoring hero, netting both goals in a 2-1 Ottawa victory.  The Senators had become the very team to win back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.  Darragh was again the playoff scoring leader, with seven tallies in as many games.

Jack did not play pro hockey during the 1921-22 season and was clearly not the same goal scorer when he returned to the NHL the following campaign.  With just six goals in 24 games, he was a supporting player on another strong Ottawa club, which finished first overall with a 14-9-1 record.

Led by Denneny, the league's top scorer, and Benedict, and undefeated on home ice, the Senators bested the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, in the two-game, total-goals series.  There were, however, two Cup challenges ahead of them - the PCHA Champion Vancouver Maroons and the upstart Edmonton Eskimons of the new Western Canadian Hockey League.

Ottawa beat the Maroons 3-1 in a best-of-five series, then swept the Eskimos in two straight to capture their third Cup in four years.  Although not a front-line player, the aging Darragh managed an important marker against Edmonton.  The 1923 Cup finals was historic, as it was the first time that two brothers opposed eacher other - there were actually two sets of dueling siblings, actually:  Corb Denneny of the Eskimons and his brother Cy, and George and Frank Boucher, the latter a Senator.  It was also reknown for the exploits of a young Senators defenseman named Francis "King" Clancy, who became the first and only player to play all six positions in a Cup series, having tended goal in one game from early in the second period on, when Benedict served a match penalty. Clancy would later find fame and fortune with the Toronto St. Pats and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 1923-24 season was Darragh's curtain call, in both hockey and life.  Having clearly lost a step or two, the aging pro ended the season  with just two goals in 18 games.  Again the league's dominant team, the Senators were upset in the NHL championship by the Canadiens.  Jack Darragh had laboured during that series, and after the season ended he returned home.  He complained that he was not feeling well and was diagnosed with peritonitis.  He died in the summer of 1924, at the age of 34.


March 

2017

From Triumph To Tragedy In The Early NHL - a preview

My first book, From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL, profiles six NHLers who died while still pursuing their pro hockey careers: Bill Masterton, Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton, Pelle Lindbergh, John Kordic, and Steve Chiasson. In this first book I decided to profile six players from the modern era of the NHL, dating back to 1967, when the NHL expanded from six to twelve teams.  The first player profiled, Bill Masterton, was actually a child of the 1967 expansion draft, a journeyman defenseman who found a place in the new NHL with the newly formed Minnesota North Stars. 

The manuscript for the first book was actually culled from a much larger manuscript, one which profiled twelve NHLers in separate chapters, and then offered brief profiles of another couple of dozen, in a rather large, heavily researched chapter 13.  These brief profiles from chapter 13 have actually been published right here in this newsletter, since the newsletter first appeared back in May 2015.

I am now turning my attention towards having a second hockey book published, based on researched and written materials from the original manuscript.  This second book would feature the other six NHLers whom I profiled in separate chapters, these players being stars in the first half of the 20th century: Georges Vezina, Joe Hall, Charlie Gardiner, Howie Morenz, Babe Siebert, and Bill Barilko. Vezina and Hall died in the early years of thein newly formed NHL, while Gardiner, Morenz, and Siebert met their tragic demises during the 1930s.  Barilko's untimely end came a little later; in the summer of 1951 he disappeared during a fishing trip up north and his body was not discovered until a decade later.

I am still working on the manuscript for this proposed second book, accumulating research and fine-tuning the stories, and, of course, searching for a publisher.....


April

2017

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Frank McGee (1887-1916): Part 1

"One-eyed" Frank McGee was arguably the most explosive offensive player of his day, the architect of the Stanley Cup glory years enjoyed by the original Ottawa Senators, in the early 1900s.

Born 1887 in Ottawa, Ontario, Francis Clarence was the sixth of eight children.  His parents, John and Elizabeth McGee, headed a well-known Irish Catholic family, a local clan of sorts.  John's half-brother was none other than the famous Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a famous orator and politician who was an original Father of Canadian Confederation, later to be assassinated.

As a young boy, Frank McGee skated on the frozen Rideau Canal during frigid Ottawa winters; when he was old enough, he joined the St. Mary's Aberdeens hockey team.  At 13 he was promoted to the Canadian Pacific Railway intermediate hockey team, but his aspirations as a hockey player soon received a setback.  In the year 1900, ironically the start of a new century, young Frank was struck in the face by a puck during a charity benefit game against a team from Hawkesbury.  He eventually lost complete sight in his left eye.  McGee was not be deterred from his hockey dreams, however, and the youngster persevered, continuing to display impressive ice hockey skills over the next few years.  He had a particular knack for scoring goals, and excelled in other sports, even playing on local college and city rugby squads.

By the age of 19, Frank stood only five foot six inches and weighed a wispy 140 pounds, but his lightning speed allowed him to zigzag around slower opponents on the ice.  His speedy play and penchant for finding the back of the net caught the attention of officials from the Ottawa Hockey Club of the Canadian Amateur Hockey League (CAHL), and he was soon signed to an entry-level contract.  

In his debut with the Ottawa club, in January of 1903, one-eyed McGee potted a pair of markers in a convincing 7-1 win over the Montreal AAA.  A few weeks later, he would net five goals against the Montreal Victorias, serving notice to the hockey world in the east.  In an era when the forward pass was still not allowed, McGill's superior stickhandling skills enabled him to work his way closer to the net for better scoring chances, where he often cashed in.

In just six games with Ottawa, the young McGee had netted 14 markers, enabling the squad to best the Victorias for the Stanley Cup, which in those pre-NHL days was awarded to the top amateur squad.  Ottawa then successfully defended their Cup title against Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora).  

McGee continued his success in his sophomore season with Ottawa, scoring 12 goals in just four games, and then netting a record five markers in the second titlt of the team's successful Cup defense against the Toronto Marlboros.  Frank scored five more goals a month laer, when Ottawa defended another Cup challenge, this time by a team from Brandon, Manitoba.

In 1904-05 the Ottawa Hockey Club formally became the Ottawa Silver Seven; the newly renamed club joined the newly-formed Federal Amateur Hockey League (FAHL).  Frank tied Jack Marshall for the scoring lead in the league's inaugural season, netting 17 goals in just six games.  His greatest moment came in January of 1905, when a team from Dawson City, Yukon formally challenged the Silver Seven for the Cup.

Eight members of the Dawson City club traveled over 4,000 miles during a gruelling, physically exhausting and taxing journey, finally reaching Ottawa on a trip that saw them transported by dog sled, boat and train.  After 23 days, the weary players finally arrived in the nation's capital, only to then be soundly defeated 9-2 and 23-2 by the Silver Seven.  McGee scored an astounding 14 goals in the second lopsided contest, a Stanley Cup record that still stands to this day.


May 

2018

From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL - Frank McGee (1887-1916): Part 2

Soon after McGee and his Silver Seven teammates bested the Dawson City crew for the 1905 Stanley Cup, they were challenged a second time, by a team from Rat Portage.  A broken wrist sidelined him for the first game, a 9-3 loss, and for the second game his opponents were keen to exploit his injury but were unsure which wrist was injured.  McGee added to their confusion by wearing a heavy metal brace on the healthy one.  The ploy worked like a charm; his injury left unbothered, the scoring star netted a hat trick to help even the series.  He would score another three, including the winner, in the third and deciding game of the series.

The 1905-06 season was McGee's curtain call, but the one-eyed legend still managed 28 goals in just seven games.  In February and March the Ottawa club faced two Cup challenges - by teams from Queen's University and Smith Falls - but prevailed in both, with McGee once again leading the way, netting 15 goals in the four games.  In retrospect, his play was the major reason why the Silver Seven were able to successfull defend their Cup titles nine times from 1903 to 1906.  That streak ended in late March, however, when the Montreal Wanderers bested them in a third two-game series.

Just prior to the start of the following season, the 24-year-old McGee abruptly announced his retirement from hockey.  He left the game with stratospheric scoring statistics - 71 goals in 23 regular season games, 63 more tallied in 22 Cup games.  Hockey pundits of the day attributed his early retirement to nagging injuries, largely resulting from opponents taking liberties with the game's top scorer.  Others pointed out that his legacy in the burgeoning game of hockey was solidified by his incredible scoring exploits, despite his relatively short, four-year career.  "He was even better than they say he was," early hockey pioneer Frank Patrick proclaimed at the time. "He had everything - speed, stickhandling, scoring ability - and he was a punishing checker.  He was strongly built, but beautifully proportioned, and he'd an almost animal rhythm."

After his hockey days were over, McGee actually turned to other sports.  He played rugby in the Ottawa area for a few years and even became an amateur golf champion, winning a handful of local golf tournaments. By the spring of 1914, the 27-year-old McGee was looking for his next big challenge in life; he would soon encounter that challenge head-on, when World War One broke out in Europe, a war that would eventually render much of that continent a large-scale battlefield.


June

2017

From Triumph To Tragedy - Frank McGee (1887-1916): Part 3

The McGee family has a special place in Canadian history, with Frank himself a great-nephew of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, an Irish-Canadian politician and founding father of Canadian federation in 1867.  Thomas Mcgee was assassinated by Fenian elements a year later.

In keeping with a proud and long-standing tradition in the storied McGee family, Frank joined the Canadian Militia a few years after his retirement from hockey. His uncle, James McGee, had fought in the U.S. Civil War, and older brother Charles returned from Boer Wars as a war hero.  Legend has it that during enlistment the one-eyed Frank fooled the Medical Board by misreading an eye chart, but it is more likely that his father's considerable influence enabled the former hockey star to get into the armed services.  Charles soon joined his younger brother in the militia, and in August of 1914 the siblings were mobilized for active service, when Canada joined World War One.  Frank joined the 43rd RAegiment, but in November was transferred to the Overseas Expeditionary Force; soon after, he was appointed Temporary Lieutenant, 21st Batallion.

Lieutenant Frank McGee and his batallion embarked for England on May 5, 1915, and it was there, weeks later, that Frank learned of that Charles was killed in battle. By then Frank had become an expert machine-gunner, which was put into play when his batallion moved to France, where Canadian units were being integrated into the trenches.  Wounded at Dickebusch on December 17th, he returned to England less than two weeks later, his knee sffering from synovitis, his days as a gunner clearly done.  Several medical reports declared the former hockey star unable to walk and therefore unit for general service, but in the summer of 1916 he was cleared to rejoin his comrades.

With sight in just the one eye and limited mobility, Frank was assigned to the position of motorcycle dispatch rider.  He declined a safe clerical position at La Havre and was back with the 21st Batallion just in time for Canada's first involvement in the Battle of the Somme. It was a bloody battle, a true struggle of attrition, with over 21,000 Canadian soldiers killed on the very first day alone.

From July through September Canadian forces joined British and Australian troops as they fought against the Germans, often engaging in brutal hand-to-hand combat, and subjected to heavy bombing and raids.  Daily war dispatches mention that on Setpember 16, 1916 Lieutenant Frank McGee proceded to the Sugary Factory Line, an area which Allied and German soldiers were fiercely battling over.  It is likely that on the autumn morning McGee drove his motorcycle to Batallion headquarters, then joined the front lines when the Allies lost most of their officers in a brutal German advance.  What is certain is that McGee lost his life during a German counter-attack that afternoon, known in the history books as the Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette.

Most of the dead were eventually recovered from the Somme battlefield, but McGee's body was never found, having probably been completely obliterated by shellfire.  Rumours of his death started to circulate back in Canada, but his brother D'Arcy told local newspapers that he had just received a letter from him, and assumed he was still alive. Days later, the Militia Department visited the McGee household to deliver the grim news, and The Ottawa Sun newspaper later conveyed the shock felt throughout the city:  "Once again there has been brought home with gripping grief and pain the grim reality of the present conflict of nations.  It is doubtful if the loss of any one of splendid young Ottawans who have fallen at the front since the outbreak of war has occasioned such keen regret as that of the late Lt. Frank McGee...:, the newspaper wrote, "Frank McGee dead? Thousands of Ottawans knew him.  Few seemed able to believe thta he too had given up his life in the struggle for freedom."  The famous hockey star was also remembered throughout Canada, and in 1945 he was one of nine hockey stars chosen as the charter members of the National Hockey League Hall of Fame.