If Stephen Harper’s new nominee to the Supreme Court wasn’t drafted at the age of 14 by the Detroit Red Wings, should he have been?
That’s a good question for hockey retroactivists. First, though, a quick review of what the Honourable Marc Nadon, 64, told a special House of Commons committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon. Let the record show (via Susana Mas of CBC News):
Nadon said he came from humble beginnings, the son of parents who valued the importance of post-secondary education — an opportunity they lacked.
The new justice said that as a youth his ambition in life was to play hockey. Nadon said he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings at the age of 14.
Nadon conceded he is neither an Ottawa Senators fan nor a Montreal Canadiens fan, an admission he joked could be “fatal” in the nation’s capital.
He said his father read him “the riot act” around age 16 and forced him to decide whether he wanted to study or play hockey.
Nadon chose the books over Canada’s national winter pastime.
Or in his own words:
During my youth, my ambition in life was to become a hockey player, which may seem surprising looking at me, but those days were different. In fact, I was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings when I was 14.
That’s all clear enough. But as court documents testify — sorry, that should be exhaustive online hockey databases — the evidence shows (via hockeydraftcentral.com, hockeydb.com et al.) that Nadon wasn’t, in fact, drafted at all, by Detroit or any NHL club.
Born on September 7, 1949, Justice Nadon would have been 13 in 1963, the year the NHL convened its first amateur draft. Before that, clubs sponsored junior-league teams to which they herded their young prospects. Players signed contracts, known as “forms.” An A form got you a try-out, a B gave the team the option to sign a player for a bonus. The C committed your professional rights to the team in question. You had to be 18 to sign that one, or if your parents were willing, they could do it for you.
Montreal had the first ever pick and they used it to take Garry Monahan from St. Michael’s. Detroit took his teammate next, Peter Mahovlich. After 19 more picks, that was all for 1963.
In 1964, the routine was the same: the draft was in June, at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, at the end of the NHL’s annual meeting. Explained Montreal’s Gazette:
Each club took its limit of four, meaning the switching of rights to 24 potential stars at $2,000 for each player.
The rights can be exercised on a youngster’s 18th birthday. Most of the kids involved are 16 years old now.
The draft meeting was closed and no names were announced.
We know now that Detroit had the first pick overall with which they chose Claude Gauthier, a Rosemount midget from Quebec. Not an auspicious crop of first-rounders, the class of 1964: only one in six ended up playing in the NHL, Tom Martin for Toronto, who got into three games.
The jewel in the rough that year went at number 14, to Boston, a 16-year-old Etobicoke goalie by the name of Ken Dryden.
Unless his selection remains under eternal wraps, 14-year Marc Nadon wasn’t chosen. Detroit’s last pick, number 19, was Rene Leclerc.
The only hockey trace I’ve been able to chip so far from the archival ice dates to December of ’64, just before Christmas, when Nadon’s St. Jérôme midgets beat Montréal-Nord 6-0. Nadon scored a goal and added an assist, which put him seventh in the league’s list of scoring leaders, with five goals and 12 points in 11 games. (He’d also accumulated six penalty minutes.) Notable at the tope that year: Verdun’s Guy Charron, who went on to play for Montreal, Detroit, Kansas City, and Washington.
So did Justice Nadon misspeak in Ottawa today, or confuse himself with Rosemount’s Claude Gauthier? Did his memory mislead, or was it an error of enthusiasm on the second day of a bright new shining NHL season? It’s hard to say. It may be that he’ll clarify the case tomorrow, right after he declares that he’s actually a die-hard Columbus Blue Jackets fan, never misses a home game.
In the meantime, we’ll have to sleep on conjecture. The Detroit Jr. Red Wings were a Junior B team in the early 1960s, playing in the Border Cities Junior B Hockey League and, when that folded up in 1964, shifting to the Michigan Junior Hockey League. They were affiliated with the NHL club and it could be that they wooed and/or drafted a fledgling jurist with a nose for the net named Marc Nadon.