toros, toros, toros

The Toronto Toros began their brief life in the World Hockey Association as the Ottawa Nationals, and they ended it as Birmingham, Alabama’s own Bulls. The Toros played just three seasons, starting in the fall of 1973. They were gone by 1976. Their best year was that first one, when they played in the division finals, before losing to the Chicago Cougars.

This weekend, the drove of elder Toro alumni gathered for a private reunion at the Toronto home of historian and collector Mike Wilson included Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson, Vaclav Nedomansky, Wayne Carleton, Gilles Gratton, and Rick Vaive. Herewith, a look back at some Toro luminaries and some of their selected milestones.

June, 1973

A group of businessman headed by John F. Bassett had bought the Nationals for $1.8-million. The players they inherited included rising talents like Tom Simpson and Gavin Kirk as well as veterans like Les Binkley. It wasn’t long before the team was introducing itself to the city it was now calling home.

While Toros doesn’t have the euphemistic ring to it Bassett Hounds had, it was market-tested from a hatful of 80 different names, including Twinkies and Tweedies.

The color combination was the survivor of 23 combinations, but it put the Toros in direct competition with league rivals Winnipeg Jets. However, there will be no conflict in color schemes, because road uniforms are a strong contrast to home uniforms.

There had been anticipation that Bassett was about to reveal the signing of Darryl Sittler, or Paulin Bordeleau, or Syl Apps — or even announce the site of their home games — but he could reveal nothing new on these subjects.

• Gord Walker, The Globe and Mail, June 12, 1973

July, 1973

The Toros did find a home: Varsity Arena (or as The Globe and Mail had it in an early summer story, “Variety Arena”). A month into the team’s history, Bassett announced that they’d sold approximately 2,400 season’s tickets for a rink with a capacity of 4,800.

“That’s pretty encouraging.”

The Toros have been unable to tempt any player into abandoning the National Hockey League, although they had Darryl Sittler wavering for a while. Perhaps they were consoled in that they helped make him a rich man. He signed with Toronto Maple Leafs, supposedly for $750,000.

There were rumors that the Toros might try to sign Alex Delvecchio, 42-year-old centre of Detroit Red Wings.

“We’re not interested in Delvecchio,” said Bassett. “I’m not denigrating him as a player but we did very well in the draft and we think we’re all right.”

In the same article, Bassett shared his vision of the future, which turned out to be more or less on the money, give or take four years:

He assumes it is evitable that the WHA will merge with the NHL. He figures this will happen within two years, “at the very outside.”

• The Globe and Mail, July 26, 1973

October, 1973

The Toros played their first game, in Toronto, at Varsity Arena, a 4-4 tie with the Chicago Cougars.

After four years of looking at a pillar in Maple Leaf Gardens, Michael Lynch “decided to pack it in and come down here.”

“Here” was little Varsity Arena, all spruced up with shiny red paint last night to welcome 4,753 hockey fans and The Toronto Toros, the World Hockey Association’s alternative to the Leafs.

It was the Toros’ first night in Toronto, an event quite unlike Hockey Night in Canada, which for people like Michael Lynch was just fine.

Bob Garbutt, 26, was there “because I think the Leafs have ripped off the citizens of Toronto long enough. They’re getting too big for Toronto. The city is going to win this team [sic].”

“The Leafs have become too sophisticated,” added Bill McQuaid, 25. “I think this league’s got a good chance of going places — and I like to back an underdog.”

• Elaine Carey, The Toronto Star, October 8, 1973

June 1974

All-Canadian hero Paul Henderson, 31, signed on for a five-year term with the team. That same month, 36-year-old Frank Mahovlich signed a four-year deal. His terms were said to amount to $1-million of the course of the contract. Henderson wasn’t talking about his:

He refused to disclose the financial terms of his contract, but said, “I’m not making a million dollars.”

• Associated Press, June 11, 1974

July, 1974

When the Toros added another player that summer, The Toronto Star made room on its front page for the news, with a story headlined “Czechs’ Gordie Howe defects to the Toros.”

His name is Vaclav Nedomansky and he’s known in international hockey as Big Ned.

He’s 30 years old, he’s a centre and he has been an amateur star for 12 years, the latter years as captain of the Czech national team.

Ron Bull, information officer with Manpower and Immigration in Toronto, said today that Nedomansky is in Canada as a legitimate landed immigrant, not as one seeking political asylum.

“He was on holiday in Switzerland and while there applied to Swiss authorities for asylum,” Bull explained. “During this period he also applied to the Canadian immigration office for landed immigrant status.

“The office in Berne is not a busy one and because of this his application was processed quickly,” Bull said.

“He had a job offer to play professional hockey. Because he is a good hockey player with a high degree of skill he was given high points for this. Good hockey players are in high demand in Canada.”

• The Toronto Star, July 18, 1974

October, 1974

The Toros eventually moved from Varsity Arena over to a Carleton Street address, where they rented Leaf ice from Leaf owner Harold Ballard.

A crowd of 14,141 turned out at Maple Leaf Gardens to see Hull and his Jets go against the Toros who emerged with a 3-1 victory.

“It really felt like a hockey game with all those people here,” said Toros winger Paul Henderson who has been accustomed to crowds of more than 16,000 when he played for the National League Toronto Maple Leafs until last year.

The Toros averaged a little more than 4,000 fans for their games last season at Varsity Arena and averaged about 8,000 in their first four games this season at the Gardens.

• Canadian Press, Ottawa Citizen, October 25, 1974

March, 1975

The heart of a young Toros’ goaltender goes out to 50something former Leaf great Johnny Bower, who’s taking a turn in the practice nets for Toronto NHL team one day on Gardens ice.

If Bower looked behind him, back of the protective glass, he would see a young man with somewhat the air of a street punk passing by. He is Gilles Gratton, 22, who plays goal for Toronto’s WHA entry, the Toros, and is on the first year of a five-year contract that will pay him $645,000. The Toros practised earlier, and Gratton is on his way to the parking lot; in his pocket, fingers play against the keys of a canary yellow Porsche 911-S Targa — value: $16,670 — which was provided by the Toros free of charge. Every two years he gets a new one; it’s in his contract. When Maple Leaf practice is over Johnny Bower will change into gray flannel slacks and a blue Maple Leaf blazer. The blazer is provided.

“Just look at him, Gratton says, obviously impressed with Bower’s ancient abilities. “I’ll never be half the goaltender he was. But I’ll make more in the next five years than he made in his life. All he ever he had was hockey — it was his work, man, and that’s why he couldn’t walk away from it. I see somebody like Bower playing and it makes me sad. For him there was nothing else.”

• Roy MacGregor, Ottawa Citizen, March 27, 1975

December, 1975

Nedomansky made an impression in his first North American season, though perhaps not quite the one that he and everyone else had hoped for.

“We were somewhat disappointed,” says former Toros general manager Buck Houle, fired at the start of this season in a front-office shuffle. We thought he’d get at least 50 goals, probably more. We thought he’d show more leadership than he did. Mind you, there were adjustments for him. It was all new. Still, we thought he could have been more aggressive than he was.

“He’s the greatest centre in hockey,” says Toro owner Johnny F. Bassett, “but if he used the body more, he’d have been even better.”

“Vaclav was better in Czechoslovakia,” says Zoltan Sausik, a Toronto businessman and Czech Canadian who knew Big Ned back home. “Here he seemed lost sometimes. He must play the Canadian way more. He must hit more, he must shoot more.”

Big Ned smiles, shakes his head. “You must understand, it is much different for me,” he says in his fast-improving English. “The ice is much smaller. I turn around and — boom — there are the boards. Everybody thinks I must be a big star, I must score many goals. Why? Hockey is for six players, not one player. Here it is one player all the time. Always he wants to keep the puck and score the goal because the scoring championship is a big, big thing. It is too big. It is not important what one player does. For me, it is better to do what is good for the team, not for me. You understand? Hitting is the same. I can be rough too but hockey is hitting puck with the stick — not hitting the player.”

• Earl McRae, Montreal Gazette, December 5, 1975

 April, 1976

Talk of the Toros’ demise — or at least, their departure — circulated for months.

“I just don’t know,” Bassett said when asked if the Toros would be back at Maple Leaf Gardens next season. There had been talk that the team might move to Hollywood, Fla., if attendance at home games did not pick up. The Toros played to much larger crowds after the rumors of the move were reported.

• Associated Press, April 5, 1976

May, 1976

The end came quickly. Way to go, Blue Jays.

The Toronto Toros are leaving town.

The team’s last-ditch attempt to gain a foothold on the local hockey market was abandoned yesterday, three seasons and about $4 million in losses after the World Hockey Association club burst onto the Toronto scene as the alternative to the Maple Leafs.

Heavy financial losses — $1.5 million on last season’s operations alone — plus failure of a recent season ticket drive, were principal factors in team president Johnny Bassett’s decision to move the franchise.

Bassett listed the arrival of major league baseball in Toronto and the World Cup hockey tournament to be played next fall as factors in his decision to move.

• Jim Kernaghan, The Toronto Star, May 5, 1976

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adam pardy drive

Street Cred: Winnipeg Jets' defenceman Adam Pardy isn't the only NHLer to boast an eponymous street in his hometown of Bonavista, Newfoundland: Michael Ryder Place was there first.

Street Cred: Winnipeg Jets’ defenceman Adam Pardy isn’t alone as an NHLer who can boast an eponymous street in his hometown of Bonavista, Newfoundland: Michael Ryder Place was there first.

mike ilyich keenan

Defending KHL champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk launch their new season today with a game against Barys Astana. In April, under coach Mike Keenan, Metallurg won the team’s first Gagarin Cup. Keenan is both the first North American coach to win a KHL title and the first coach to have raised both a Gagarin and a Stanley Cup in his career. Special achievements come with special privileges — such as, I guess, dressing up as Vladimir Lenin for this new Metallurg promotional video.

steampunks

3026.preview

A clowder of Detroit Red Wings takes the heat in … well, 1958 is the year cited, but given the make-up of the group, I think that 1961-62 might be more likely. From the top, left to right, that’s Leo Labine, Gordie Howe, and possibly Pit Martin (unless it’s Allan Johnson or Claude Laforge). Middle: Len Lunde, Warren Godfrey, Bill Gadsby, Vic Stasiuk. Front: Parker MacDonald, Alex Delvecchio, and Larry Jeffrey.

(Photo: Tony Spina Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University)

books that hockey players read: black beauty

milt and book

Black Beauty isn’t a hockey novel, of course, but that doesn’t mean Anna Sewell’s 1877 horse-rights classic doesn’t offer lessons for hockey players to take to heart. There’s one, in fact, right there in the opening pages, wherein Black B. remembers the pretty meadow where he grew up, with the pond and the shade of trees, and six boistering older colts next door, and Black would run with them and kick and bite and rough-house, and then one day his mother, Duchess, took him aside and told him, listen, son, those are good colts, those colts, but they’re cart-horse colts with no manners, whereas you, you come from excellent stock, with a cup-winning grandfather and a well-respected father, and let me just say about your grandmother, she had the sweetest temper of any horse anywhere and, also, have you ever seen me kick or bite? No. So, she says, “I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play.”

Great advice, you have to agree, not to mention smart parenting. What I don’t know is whether this is a speech that made it from the original novel into the picture-book version that Boston’s Milt Schmidt has here, above. You’d hope so, if only in truncated form. Pictured at home in 1954, Schmidt and his wife, Marie, are seen with son Con and daughter Nancy. The Bruins captain was playing in the last of his distinguished 16 NHL seasons that year. He retired at Christmas that year, on the advice his aching 36-year-old knees, and was immediately appointed Bruins’ coach, taking over from Lynn Patrick, who was also the Boston GM.

Schmidt coached the team until 1966. He took over as GM in 1967. Later, he steered the Washington Capitals through their stumbling start in the league. Today, aged 97, Schmidt lives in Boston, the oldest living NHLer.

 

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bob fillion

The oldest of Montreal Canadiens has died, Bob Fillion, at the age of 95. He won two Stanley Cups, in 1944 and 1946. The tributes to his hockey career you ought to review today is this one (in French) from Gabriel Béland at La Presse, and another from Dave Stubbs at The Gazette.

(Photo: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Quebéc)

electoral froth 2015: puck possessed

“Well, you know, I thought going into this debate that Justin Trudeau had to do one really important thing: he had to go into the corners and come out with the puck. He had to go toe-to-toe with these really strong-willed politicians and I think he did that a number of times tonight …”

• Abacus Data chairman Bruce Anderson’s verdict on how Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau delivered on expectations at the Maclean’s National Leaders Debate in Toronto, during a discussion on the August 6 edition of the At Issue panel on CBC-TV’s The National.

 

electoral froth 2015: in with the brawlers, out with the puck

“He needs to show that he can go into the corners with those other, kind-of-brawling-type politicians and come out with the puck. So toughness is something he needs to demonstrate. He doesn’t get to do that in the House of Commons very much; he doesn’t do it on the hustings, particularly. But this is an opportunity to do that.”

• Abacus Data chairman Bruce Anderson on what Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has to do at tonight’s Maclean’s National Leaders Debate in Toronto, during a discussion on the August 5 edition of the At Issue panel on CBC-TV’s The National.

fathers and sons

Leo Reise, Jr., seen here getting in some hurdling practice, had some very good sporting days in his time. He played his first NHL game in 1946 for the Chicago Black Hawks; in 1950, he helped the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup, the first of two in which he’d play his part. From both a personal and family point of view, it must have been hard to top the Sunday in September of 1936 when he and two of his sisters dominated the Grimsby, Ontario, high school sports meet. Reise, who was 14, won five firsts on the day, including the 100-yard dash; high jump; hop, step, and jump; and fast bicycle race, while Ella and Christine cleaned up on the girls’ side.

Reise died of cancer this week at a Hamilton, Ontario, hospice. He was 93. The Red Wings were mourning him yesterday, while at The Hamilton Spectator, Scott Radley paid amiable tribute to his nine NHL years. Along with his Stanley Cups, he was twice named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team.

His father was the original Leo. When his children were running amok in 1936, he was the coach of both the local hockey team (the OHA Peach Kings) and the women’s softball team (the Peach Queens). As a professional, Leo, Sr. preceded his son in the NHL, sharing his eight seasons among the Hamilton Tigers and New York’s Americans and Rangers.

Radley repeats a popular historical error in the Spectator when he claims for the Reises the distinction as the first father-and-son duo to have played in the NHL. It’s a persistent mistake, embedded in The Hockey Hall of Fame’s biographical brief in its online directory of players and perpetuated at Wikipedia and — well, here not long ago at Puckstruck, too, sorry to say.

In fact, the Reises are third in line. First to figure would be the Patricks, which seems right, given their importance in shaping the game. Hockey’s Royal Family, biographer Eric Whitehead called them. Lester Patrick’s career on the ice was long and distinguished, and he played it on defence, twice winning the Stanley Cup as a Montreal Wanderer. He was retired by the time the NHL got going in 1917, but by 1926 he was running the New York Rangers, which he would eventually lead to four more Cups as coach and/or manager.

Everybody knows about the emergency turn he took in the Rangers’ goal during the 1928 Stanley Cup final when Ranger regular Lorne Chabot was injured: at the age of 44, he stopped 18 of 19 Montreal Maroon shots to lead his team to an overtime victory. Not so celebrated is the short stint he took on the Ranger defence a year earlier in a regular-season game against the New York Americans. The idea there was to qualify himself in case the Rangers needed him in the playoffs. Almost as soon as he took the ice, replacing Ching Johnson, Patrick took a tripping penalty. He didn’t play again that year.

Lester’s eldest son, Lynn, made his debut as a Ranger in 1934; another one, Muzz, joined the team in 1938, and all three of them were part of New York’s 1940 Stanley Cup win.

Bert Lindsay beat Lester Patrick to the NHL ice by almost ten years. He tended a goal, in fact, in the league’s very first game, in December of 1917, and though nine goals got past him, his Montreal Wanderers ended up beating the Toronto Hockey Club 10-9. He played another year, this time for the Toronto Arenas, but that was it for his hockey career, and in the 1920s moved on to other business, including fathering a son, Ted, who’d make his debut as a young Detroit Red Wing in 1944.

That’s how it went, as far as first fathers and sons to play in the NHL: Patricks, Lindsays, then Reises.

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o canada

Judge of Play: Toronto-born artist Jeff Molloy lives and works on Gabriola Island, B.C. To see more of his brilliant work, visit http://molloy.ca/jeff/. "I create multi-dimensional, multi-sensory works," he says there, "that explore historical and contemporary culture through the use of humour, stereotypes, traits and artifacts." This portrait of Sir John A. is one Molloy painted in tandem with several works depicting Louis Riel. "As an artist I use hockey as a metaphor," Molloy say. "Macdonald was the ref and Louis was the player sent to the penalty box."

Judge of Play: Toronto-born artist Jeff Molloy lives and works on Gabriola Island, B.C. To see more of his brilliant work, visit http://molloy.ca/jeff/. “I create multi-dimensional, multi-sensory works,” he says there, “that explore historical and contemporary culture through the use of humour, stereotypes, traits and artifacts.” This portrait of Sir John A. is one Molloy painted in tandem with several works depicting Louis Riel. “As an artist I use hockey as a metaphor,” Molloy say. “Macdonald was the ref and Louis was the player sent to the penalty box.”

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the fish and bun cook

Reel Time: As a New York Ranger left winger, Bun Cook won two Stanley Cups playing on a line (the Bread Line) with his older brother Bill and Frank Boucher. He took to coaching after his playing days were done, mostly for the AHL's Cleveland Barons. In the summer of 1950, at the age of 46, he went fishing while rumours eddied that Art Ross was about to offer him the job of coaching the Boston Bruins. Didn't happen: Lynn Patrick was the man for that. Cook stayed in Cleveland. the next season he guided the team to the Calder Cup, his fifth. (Photo: Hank Andrews)

Reel Time: As a New York Ranger left winger, Bun Cook won two Stanley Cups playing on a line (the Bread Line) with his older brother Bill and Frank Boucher. He took to coaching after his playing days were done, mostly for the AHL’s Cleveland Barons. In the summer of 1950, at the age of 46, he went fishing while rumours eddied that Art Ross was about to offer him the job of coaching the Boston Bruins. Didn’t happen: Lynn Patrick was the man for that. Cook stayed in Cleveland. the next season he guided the team to the Calder Cup, his fifth. (Photo: Hank Andrews)