bill gadsby, 1927—2016

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By Gads: News today that Hall-of-Fame defenceman Bill Gadsby has died at the age of 88. Born in Calgary, he finished his distinguished career with the Detroit Red Wings in 1966 after a 20-year NHL career that also included stints with Chicago and the New York Rangers. (The Red Wings pay tribute to his life and eventful times here.) Above, some time in the 1950s, Toronto hatter Sam Taft takes a measure of Gadsby’s brow. (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4450)

claude ruel: he speaks the language of hockey

ruelClaude Ruel died on Monday at the age of 76. He was a promising young defenceman in the Montreal Canadiens’ system when an eye injury stopped his playing career in 1958. As a coach, he succeeded Toe Blake behind the Habs’ bench in 1968, winning a Stanley Cup in his first year and then, halfway through his third, resigning when the team foundered. He stayed with the team, working with Scotty Bowman during his years in charge. During the 1979-80 season, he replaced Bernie Geoffrion as coach, steering the Canadiens to first-place Norris-Division finishes in consecutive campaigns. Playoff success didn’t follow and in 1981 he gave way to Bob Berry.

For fuller appreciations of Ruel’s life and hockey times, I direct you to Dave Stubbs at the Montreal Gazette and to Tom Hawthorn’s obituary at Benched. Herewith, a short anthology of Rueliana made up of sentences culled verbatim from various contemporary newspapers from 1968 through the late 1980s and presented in no special order.

You don’t need a program to identify Claude Ruel, whether he’s on the ice or wearing civvies. At 5’5”, 220 pounds, give or take a few ounces, Claude Ruel is hard to miss.

Anyone taking over the Canadiens’ coaching reins from Toe Blake is stepping into big shoes since Toe guided the club to eight Stanley Cup crowns and nine league titles in 13 years. But Claude Ruel has a theory that when a man tries his best at anything he’s bound to succeed.

As trite and repetitive as it may sound, the two words that typify Ruel’s outlook on life in general and hockey in particular are work and dedication.

“I came from a big family and I had to go to work very young. Nothing came easy. I was filling potato sacks and setting pins in a bowling alley when I was 11 and 12.”

It is difficult to see the Canadiens functioning without Ruel.

Occasionally Ruel would punctuate his running commentary with: “C’est ca! C’est ca!”

An indefatigable worker, he spends time helping people such as Engblom, Langway, Mark Napier and Rick Chartraw improve their skills long after the team’s superstars have left the ice.

While there is no substantial proof, the word is that Ruel bleeds red, white, and blue.

Claude Ruel, chubby 32-year-old coach of the Montreal Canadiens, resigned Thursday.

Ruel, who coached Montreal to its last Cup title in 1969, constantly complained of the pressure connected with the job.

“Claude didn’t like the pressure,” says former Canadiens’ coach Scotty Bowman. “His first year, his layers really performed for him. The second year, they didn’t respond.” And what about this time? “The biggest thing is he won’t have Claude Ruel to help him like I did,” Bowman said.

Ruel is considered by hockey people to be one of the best talent evaluators in the world and he is also excellent at [sic] bring out the best in young players who are willing to work at their craft.

Since Ruel came out of Sherbrooke, Que., to play organized hockey at the age of 15, his command of English was limited and he had a unique way of fracturing the language that brought laughter — and even ridicule — from both French- and English-speaking players.

“I’ll tell you how good he was,” said Pollock, “though you probably shouldn’t write it because it just won’t sound right. But Claude Ruel was a lot like Bobby Orr. He couldn’t skate like Bobby but he had something Orr does that so few others don’t have and that’s great hockey sense and great anticipation.”

Ruel too played right defence and what was considered a very bright hockey future was cut down suddenly Nov. 17 in Belleville, Ont.

“I was getting set to take a shot from the point and the guy who was checking me hit my stick and it came right up and caught me in the eye.” He spent almost three months in hospital as doctors tried vainly to save his sight in the injured eye.

“That Lafleur, he has good hockey sense,” said Claude Ruel, chief scout for the Canadiens. “He’s big, he can shoot, can play offensively and defensively. He’s just a great hockey player.”

“There’s no use just blaming it on the defence and the goalkeeping,” adds Ruel. “It’s just a lack of work and the only way to get on a real winning streak is for everyone to put their minds to work.” What’s the solution? “Don’t ask me,” replied Ruel. “I’m not Superman.”

What had been good-natured ribbing of Ruel’s sayings in the championship run the year before — “Two eggs side by side,” “A daily double” (for a big hotel room), “Two-on-one, each take a man” — became a way of blaming the coach when things didn’t go well on the ice.

His problem has always been discipline. For instance, a couple of years ago, Bowman took a day off and when the players decided they’d had enough, they set upon Ruel and pulled his pants off. Continue reading

j.p. parise, 1941-2015

parise 1972Duel Citizens: Canada’s J.P. Parise found himself in disagreement with Soviet captain Viktor Kuzkin in the second period of the seventh game of the Summit Series in Moscow on September 26, 1972. Both men got two-minute roughing penalties for their efforts; Canada ended up prevailing, 4-3. It was in the next and final game that Parise was ejected for almost (but not quite) pole-axing German referee Josef Kompalla. “Maybe sometimes you don’t understand who you are,” Parise mused in a 1992 documentary, Summit On Ice. “Never would I have realized that I would become such an enraged man for two weeks.”

Parise died in Minnesota on Wednesday, of lung cancer. He was 73.

(Photo: Frank Lennon. Library and Archives Canada, e010933347)

pat quinn, 1943—2014

1971-72 O-Pee-Chee #122 Pat Quinn

Roy MacGregor’s requiem at The Globe and Mail is the one I’d send you to, here, followed by Steve Milton’s tribute at The Hamilton Spectator and this one that Rosie DiManno wrote for The Toronto Star. I’d quote Trevor Linden, who said earlier on Monday, “We have lost a great man. It’s a sad day for hockey and for everyone who loves our game.” Then I’d leave it at that.

(Photo: The Want List, hockeymedia, on flickr)

viktor tikhonov, 1930—2014

tikhonov 1From Moscow, Monday’s early morning brings word that legendary Soviet-era coach Viktor Tikhonov has died after a long illness. He was 84. Three times his national teams won Olympic gold, and his world championships were eight. “He was a man consumed by hockey,” Lawrence Martin writes in The Red Machine (1990). “For him it was like gambling or alcoholism, an addiction. He had to win and win again — and keep winning.” He was repairing buses in the 1940s when Vsevolod Bobrov took note of his soccer and ball-hockey exploits in the depot yard, which led to a place on defence on Vasily Stalin’s Air Force hockey team. Martin quotes Tikhonov explaining his coaching credo:

All that I know of myself is that nothing was ever given to me without effort, not when I first stepped out on the ice or now, when I am carrying the coach’s burden. Stubborn labour, self-sacrifice, fanatical devotion to a favoured activity, tireless perfection of athletic professionalism — these are, in my understanding, the key to success for every hockey player and every athlete. And these principles I always and everywhere defend.

shirley fischler, 1940—2014

With the sad news, from Monday, of Shirley Fischler’s death at the age of 74, a salute to her work as a hockey journalist and broadcaster is in order. At 82, her husband Stan remains the game’s most productive commentator, in print and out on the web, via the Tweetosphere and through the broadcast air. In her own long and varied career, Shirley co-authored several of his 90-odd books. She also blazed a trail for women into hockey’s press boxes and, in the early 1970s, became the first female hockey analyst when she covered the New England Whalers of the WHA with her husband.

She’ll also be remembered as the last journalist to talk to Terry Sawchuk, a week before his death at the age of 40 in May of 1970. The story is part of the goaltender’s tragic legend by now. Hockey season had ended. After what seems to have been an alcoholic scuffle at home with New York Rangers teammate Ron Stewart, an injured Sawchuk was hospitalized in Long Beach, New York. He had his gallbladder removed and underwent another operation on his damaged liver.

Brian Kendall tells the story in his fine Sawchuk biography, Shutout (1996). Introducing herself with her maiden name, Walton, Shirley Fischler walked into Sawchuk’s room bearing flowers. She said she was a big Ranger fan; no mention of any reporting or newspapers. Her story was in The Toronto Star next day:

Terry Sawchuk: ‘can never come back from this’

He was battered, she wrote, weak. “I’m retired, man,” he told her. Stewart had been testily denying any involvement to reporters. Sawchuk wasn’t much more forthcoming about what had happened. An accident, he said.

His face was pale, sunken, “so much so that the map of scars had almost disappeared.”

Often abrasive and harsh, he now commands nought but pity. He lies in a semi-private hospital room which is bare except for a single vase of flowers and some soft drink bottles his two oldest sons had brought.

His roommate’s coughing bothered him. There was a shipping channel out his window and he spent the hours watching ships go by. The Rangers were saying he was going to be fine, but Sawchuk wasn’t so sure. He’d been in a bad way. “They still don’t know if I’ll be okay. I’m full of tubes and my back bothers me.”

“Seeing him,” Shirley Walton wrote, “is believing he’ll never play again.” She asked him all the same about a rumoured three-cornered deal that would get Jacques Plante to Toronto and send Sawchuk to St. Louis. “I’m through,” he said.

Sawchuk died on May 31 of pulmonary embolism. “His life was a ceaseless procession of tragedies,” Jim Proudfoot wrote in The Star. “For each of his achievements, and there were many, there were half a dozen sad reversals — sickness, injury, personal heartbreak.”

The Daily Freeman in Kingston, New York, has a tribute to Shirley Fischler’s career, this way, along with an archive of some of her work, sporting and otherwise.