I clearly remember him scoring his first NHL goal. In fact, I am 99-percent sure that I still have a copy of it from back when we used to “tape” hockey games onto VHS. The Buffalo Sabres were in the opening round of the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs, squaring off against the New Jersey Devils. The Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey’s Meadowlands housed Game One, and it would not take long for Sabres’ rookie Todd Simon to open the scoring in the series.
“It was late in the first period, and I think we had a 4-on-3 power play. I remember Coach (John) Muckler putting me out on the ice, and telling me that if I win the faceoff, go immediately to the front of the Devils’ net”. It behooved Simon to follow the instructions of his five-time Stanley Cup champion coach. “Dale Hawerchuk got the puck back at the point, and he flung a wrist shot towards the net. I deflected the shot past Martin Brodeur, but ended up getting smoked by Scott Stevens”, Simon laughs. “So I didn’t actually get to see the goal; just my teammates celebrating and swarming me after”.
The 1994 series between the Sabres and Devils would be a rough and tumble one, and Todd Simon would end up being involved in multiple scrums on the ice involving New Jersey’s fabled “Crash Line” of Bobby Holik, Mike Peluso and Randy McKay. And while Simon and the Sabres would take them the distance of seven games, the Devils would clinch the series on Meadowlands’ ice in Game Seven. The opening goal of the series scored by Simon would be the lone NHL goal of his career. But – it would be one of many that he would score as a professional hockey player.
Speaking to Todd Simon the evening before the first of December, I tell him that what I find very noteworthy about his pro career was that he produced offensively at every level, and in multiple countries across five professional leagues. If you add up the numbers of his entire pro career, Simon scored 1,079-points in only 966-regular season games. But where it all started for him was as a 9-year old in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “I began playing organized hockey with the Toronto Young Nats in Triple-A. Historically, a lot of great players came out of that program”. Including “The Great One” himself Wayne Gretzky, as well as Hall of Famers Eric Lindros, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy. “I stayed on there until I played Midget at 16 or 17, and then I was eventually drafted into the OHL (Ontario Hockey League)”.
Growing up in Toronto, Todd Simon was naturally a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. “I used to love watching all the Leafs game on TV growing up, and then of course going to the games at Maple Leaf Gardens. As a kid in the 70s I idolized Darryl Sittler. And then of course when the Edmonton Oilers came on board in the 1980s my hockey hero was Wayne Gretzky”. Eventually during Simon’s pro career things would come full circle and he would have the opportunity to face off against his idol Gretzky. Though upon being drafted into the OHL he was not as familiar with his new hockey club.
Wrapping up his time in Midget with the Don Mills Flyers, Simon was drafted 73rd overall in the 1989 Ontario Hockey League draft by the Niagara Falls Thunder. “I really didn’t know much about the team I was going to at the time. But it was my dream to get drafted into the OHL and to be able to continue my hockey career”. An interesting side note to Simon’s being drafted in the 1989 OHL draft is that he was selected four rounds ahead of future longtime NHLer Bill Guerin, one of the Devils’ players whom he became accustomed to facing during his playoff run with the Sabres in 1994.
In what would become his forte for many years of hockey to come, Todd Simon absolutely exploded as a scorer during his two full seasons in junior with the Thunder. Playing in all but one regular season game for the Thunder between the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons, Simon would put up numbers of 125 (51-goals, 74-assists) and 146 (53-goals, 93-assists) point totals. Those numbers easily placed him in the top ten in the OHL for goals, assists and points during those two years. Simon led the entire OHL in points during his final season of major junior, thus capturing the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the league’s top scorer that season. And while Niagara Falls would lose in the semifinals during the ’91-’92 playoffs, Todd would average a goal per game during the playoffs for the Thunder; 17-goals in 17-games along with a whopping 24-assists to give him 41-points. “Having success for 2-years in major junior was dream come true”, Simon says. “I had two good seasons, and it was more opportunity to play the game that I love”.
Simon’s accolades would lead towards another dream coming true when he was selected by the Buffalo Sabres during the 1992 NHL entry draft. It is shocking to me that given the numbers that Todd Simon produced in major junior that he was not taken as a higher selection, as Buffalo chose him in the 9th-round of the draft and the 203rd player overall. Regardless of where he was slotted, he had made it to the NHL. “It was a very special moment for myself and for my family. With Buffalo being so close to Toronto and to Niagara Falls, I knew a lot about their organization. Being so close to home, family could come and watch me play. It was great!”, Simon recalls.
Upon being selected by the Sabres, Simon would receive a 3-year entry level contract and he was assigned to Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate the Rochester Americans. With the Amerks, Simon’s scoring prowess continued even though it was his first season playing professionally and he was all of 20-years old. With 27-goals and 66-assists, Todd would finish second overall in scoring for the Amerks behind only Peter Ciavaglia and ahead of AHL legend Jody Gage. The Amerks firepower amounted to 348-goals as a team during the 1992-93 season, and they would vault themselves into the Calder Cup Finals during Simon’s rookie year. “We were a young team. There were 6 or 7 of us rookies. A few guys came in together from the OHL. We had a good mixture of guys, and definitely getting to play with a legend like Jody Gage was inspirational for younger players like myself. Jody was a great influence for me; just a great veteran who was really good for the young guys on the team. We also had Dan Frawley, and he really taught all of us how to be pros too”.
The fact that Simon would lead the Amerks in scoring with 33-goals and 52-assists in only 55-games during his second year of pro brought about the opportunity for him to make his NHL debut. Late January of 1994, Simon would get a one game call up by Buffalo for a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. “It was a neutral site game against the Lightning in Orlando. I was actually quite nervous. Almost shell-shocked. You look around the locker room and there’s Dale Hawerchuk, Alexander Mogilny, and Dominik Hasek”. Unfortunately for Simon and the Sabres, they would be shutout by Tampa Bay 4-0.
Simon would be sent back down to Rochester until the Sabres brought him back up for the final month of the regular season stemming from a March 12th showdown with the Los Angeles Kings up through an April 14th game against the Washington Capitals. For Simon though, the March 12th affair with the Kings would be yet another dream come true. “It was pretty exciting getting to play in L.A. against Gretzky”, he says. Whether he was invigorated by playing against an idol, Simon was awesome during his game against the Kings. In a 5-3 Buffalo victory, Simon would register his only NHL regular season point by tallying an assist and put four shots on Kings’ goalie Kelly Hrudey.
In total Todd Simon would finish his time in the NHL with 1-assist in 15-regular season games and 1-goal in 5-playoff games. Though his time in the NHL was brief there would be many great years to come. After a third and final season with the Sabres organization in which he once again led the Amerks in scoring with 90-points in 69-games, Simon would make the jump to the International Hockey League (IHL) when he signed on with the Las Vegas Thunder. “My rookie contract with Buffalo was over after 3-years, and I ended up getting a pretty good offer to go play with Las Vegas that I took. We actually had a pretty good team. We had a very solid defense with guys like Greg Hawgood and Ruslan Salei. Curtis Joseph was a holdout for playing with Edmonton so he was our goaltender”.
Despite registering a very solid 26-goals and 48-assists for 74-points in 52-games with the Thunder, Simon would end up being traded to the Detroit Vipers. Though it was a change of scenery for sure, Simon would continue his explosive scoring for the Vipers. “Even though it was definitely a big climate change to go from Las Vegas to Detroit, the Vipers were the best organization in the IHL. My time there would finish with a championship too in 1997”. Continuing his scoring ways with 21-goals and 51-assists – placing him second overall on the Vipers for the 1996-97 season – Simon would be surrounded by some familiar faces and some immense talent. “We had Sergei Samsonov who was 16-years old at the time. We had Jeff Reese in goal. We had a lot of veteran talent too like Brad Shaw, Yvon Corriveau, Stan Drulia, and Jimmy Carson. Guys who were well-established and had spent a lot of time in the NHL”. Simon was also accompanied by former Buffalo and Rochester teammates Wayne Presley and Peter Ciavaglia. This high scoring, veteran laden collection of players culminated into a Turner Cup championship after defeating the Long Beach Ice Dogs 4-games to 2 in the Finals.
Leaving as a champion, Todd Simon would venture forth from Detroit after 1996-97 and move onto his longest stay in the IHL when he signed with the Cincinnati Cyclones. “I loved playing in Cincinnati. It wasn’t really a place that I had been to before, but it was a great team with a great coach (Ron Smith). In Cincinnati it was a lot more laid back compared to Detroit. I played with Gilbert Dionne. We clicked right away, and had a lot of success together”. The younger brother of Hockey Hall of Famer Marcel, Gilbert Dionne was already a Stanley Cup champion, having won it with Montreal in 1993, before he came to the Cyclones. Combined with Simon, the two were a scoring machine together for 3-years in Cincinnati. In 466-games together with the Cyclones, Simon and Dionne combined for 529-points as Cincinnati’s top tandem.
The IHL began to encounter some struggles in the late-1990s and the league would eventually fold in 2001, quite unfortunately. Recognizing the impending issues with the league, Todd Simon pursued opportunities to play elsewhere and ended up heading overseas to Germany. “I knew that the ‘I’ was having some problems and might fold. I thought it would be good to go overseas to play, as I didn’t feel there was a chance to make it back into the NHL as a 29-year old. And actually a lot of the guys whom I had played with in the IHL ended up going over to play in Germany too around the same time”.
Simon would play in Germany for 7-years, and became most endeared with the city of Wolfsburg where he spent of the majority of his time and the final four years of his time in the country. “Wolfsburg was phenomenal”, Todd recalls. “They had a great soccer club, nice parks, nice schools for my kids. And they had some really great hockey fans too that loved their team. It was a full crowd every night. They’d be singing and waving flags. They really knew their hockey too. You’re heroes to them when you’re winning, but if you’re losing they let you know about it”, he ends with a laugh. All the while, Simon’s scoring prowess never slowed up during his time in Germany; in 339-games he tallied 338-points.
The final season of Todd Simon’s career, 2007-08, would be played in Milan of the Serie A league in Italy; the top ice hockey league in the country. “Wolfsburg had changed a lot. They brought in a new GM, a new coach, and they really wanted to weed out all the import players. I wanted to try something different. Milan was interested, and I ended up taking my family there for a year. It wasn’t the best experience playing there, and after that I called it a career”.
Upon retiring, Todd Simon started his own business with hockey development of young players and began the Todd Simon Hockey program. Simon brings his program to the Niagara Region of Ontario and does a remarkable job in fostering and teaching youngsters. It offers a year-round set of instructions designed to highlight and improve every aspect of a hockey player’s development. Better yet, work with the players is done individually, in small groups and through team instruction, thus reaching out to all types of learning for the kids who partake. Todd does not stop there either. “In addition to Todd Simon Hockey, I also coach two teams – a novice team and an atom team”, he says, “I show the kids how it is important to be good people as well as good athletes”.
Though the Todd Simon Hockey program is by far an elite means of educating and developing young players through Todd’s own expertise and experience, it does not mean that Todd hasn’t been met with some resistance. Minor hockey in the Niagara Region is somewhat monopolized, and a school like Todd’s is viewed in some circles as “competition”. Todd Simon has received dissuading emails from Niagara hockey representatives stating that he is not sanctioned to be at games or to coach at certain tournaments, as Todd Simon Hockey is not part of their organization. It is disappointing to see that this would be the case and that the local hockey administration would not be more willing to utilize someone of Todd’s credentials to their advantage. Even more so, it is detrimental to the young athletes who are hindered from capitalizing upon Todd’s talents and knowledge of the game.
But it isn’t as if Todd Simon hasn’t dealt with resistance before. He has actually dealt with it throughout his entire career and has always well-surpassed any challenges. “What I have learned is to never give up and to never listen to everything that you hear. I was never a World Junior, I was never a high draft pick, I was never supposed to make it as a professional hockey player. But I didn’t listen to any of that. I controlled what I could; I used it as motivation. Stick it to those who said that I couldn’t make it”.
Todd scored over 1,000-points professionally. He won championships, was drafted into the NHL and scored a goal. Simon obtained scoring titles, including one of the most coveted in that of the OHL. 16-years as a professional hockey player. And now, he is bettering young kids both as players and as people. Todd Simon most assuredly made it.
If you would like to learn more about Todd Simon Hockey please check out Todd’s website at http://www.toddsimonhockey.com . For those looking to help their young hockey players as the holiday season approaches, please consider signing them up for Todd’s hockey clinic January 2nd, 3rd and 4th of 2017. Registration for the clinic can be found on Todd’s website.
You can picture him clearly. A boy all of 11 or 12 years of age. The early 1970s. Expansion of teams in the National Hockey League had become somewhat of an epidemic at that time. And there was a rival league too. Huddled up in bed at night, a small AM radio in hand hidden under the covers to prevent his parents from hearing. Evening in the suburbs of Montreal no less, and a young Chris Langevin is listening to broadcasts of Buffalo Sabres’ hockey games. The frenzied trill of an orchestra as the Sabres’ introductory theme, Sabre Dance, leads them onto the ice, instantly invoking visions of their fabled “French Connection”-line soaring along the ice. Richard Martin, Rene Robert, and Langevin’s future teammate, the greatest Sabre of them all, Gilbert Perreault.
“I can still hear that song in my head. That rally song had something about it; almost hypnotic. It had a real impact on me. I’d be lying in bed at night as a kid listening to the Sabres game. Living in the suburbs of Montreal, I don’t even know how we got that radio broadcast, but we did. And that music… I’ll always remember the music of that song coming through my radio. For some reason, it really reached into me. Something that I have never forgotten, and every time I think of that song today it still can give me chills”.
It’s mid-October, and I am spending a rainy evening in Buffalo chatting with former Buffalo Sabres winger Chris Langevin. To say that Chris did his job as a hockey player is an understatement. In fact, it is so greatly understated that many are unaware of what this man accomplished in a relatively brief professional career. Chris himself downplays it to me, whereas I look at him in an almost a heroic light. But I feel compelled to remind him that the way he played the game of hockey truly meant something to other people. Whether it be the teammates that he protected, the odd but incredibly talented coaches he played for, or the fans of the game like me.
“I started skating when I was about 3 or 4-years old. My family and I lived in West Mount, a suburb of Montreal. Some of the memories that I’ll always have are skating in circles on an outdoor rink as child”, Langevin is saying, and I feel like I am right there with him as he looks back in his mind’s eye. “The rink was covered with a roof but it was totally open on the walls. I used to wear these Montreal Canadiens socks. They were probably a bit too large for me. I would be skating around in circles. I just loved to skate; always have. My parents would be watching me and laughing at me because the socks would start to fall down and you could see my long underwear underneath. I must have looked ridiculous”, he recalls with a hearty laugh.
While Langevin was always a Canadiens fan, it was those radio broadcasts and that entrancing Sabre Dance theme that really took hold of him during his younger years, leading him to falling in love with the game of hockey; a sport that was readily available to him in the province of Quebec. “It was pretty easy and obviously a really good thing for kids to play hockey. Organized hockey was always around, and the costs were included with the taxes that we paid, so there was really no cost other than the equipment we needed to play. I probably started playing organized hockey at the age of 10. We played about one game a week, and most of the games we played were played outdoors”. Perhaps stepping back into hockey’s roots, the simpler game of Langevin’s youth seems far more enjoyable to me. “Because most of the games were played outdoors, you know, we would have to shovel the ice and all. It certainly wasn’t the same as the game is today. It was a just a bunch of us kids playing. It was hilarious sometimes too – I remember playing some games in the rain. I lived fairly close to the rink, so sometimes when it was raining I would be walking to the rink only to find that we weren’t playing because of the weather, and you would just be devastated because you were really lucky if you played even two times a week”. Born November 27th, 1959, the proximity of Langevin to hockey’s most storied franchise, the Montreal Canadiens, provided some early thrills. “I remember getting to see Jean Beliveau score his 500th career goal. And I actually had the opportunity to meet him multiple times.
The more that Chris Langevin skated and played, the better he became. And though that was the case as he progressed through all levels of the game, as a teenager the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League took note of the young lad. From here, Langevin’s place in the game would forever change. “I was one of the last draft picks taken during my draft year for junior. I remember thinking, ‘Chicoutimi? Where the hell is that?!’. But to me though, it was my dream. I was never a good skater, and so I had never thought or envisioned getting that far”.
In Chicoutimi, Chris had to contend with one of hockey’s oddest coaches of all time in Orval Tessier. “Orval was the strangest coach that I ever played for. He’s the same guy that when he coached the Chicago Blackhawks made that infamous quote about his players needing heart transplants after the team had lost during the playoffs. He never really helped you learn anything. I remember going to him sometimes and saying to him, ‘I have been working on this play, what do you think?’ or ‘what do you feel about this in my training to help me be a better player?’, and he’d just say ‘I don’t care’ and walk away. It was really bizarre”. As Chris and I talk, we agree that he played for a natural hat trick of coaches who marched to the beat of their own drum; Tessier, Mike Keenan and Scotty Bowman. “With the other two coaches, (Keenan and Bowman) they were much different in their own way but were obviously incredibly successful. Tessier on the other hand was just plain weird. After he made that ‘heart transplant’ comment, I don’t know how much more coaching he did after that”.
The star player for the Sagueneens during Langevin’s time was a future 3-time Stanley Cup winner Guy Carbonneau. Langevin and Carbonneau were teammates in Chicoutimi for three years, and during that stretch Carbonneau finished in the top ten in scoring for the QMJHL, including the second overall scorer his final year in major junior. Carbonneau would need a protector out on the ice, and Langevin fit the bill quite well. “Guy was certainly an offensive force, eh?”, Chris asks me. “I had always been a goal scorer, myself. But I went to camp, and ended up playing with Carbonneau on a line. I would stick up for guys like him. I would drop the gloves, and I actually did very well at it. But it was very different for me. It was my job to protect Guy, but at the same time I went away from being a goal scorer; I protected a player like him. But it is also funny how things work out too. I transitioned from being a goal scorer to being a protector, and then Guy later in his career went from being a scorer to one of the best defensive specialists to play the game”.
While Carbonneau would explode for seasons of 141 and 182-points his last two years of major junior, Langevin would put up solid numbers of his own, including two straight 20-plus goal seasons and a final season with the Sagueneens that saw him score better than a point per game (22-goals and 30-assists for 52-points in only 46-games). Besides Carbonneau, many of Langevin’s Chicoutimi teammates would go onto careers in the NHL. Gilles Hamel, a teammate of Langevin’s during his final year of major junior, would eventually end up being alongside him with two more teams, the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, later on in their careers, while other Sagueneens players Gilbert Delorme, Alan Haworth, Gord Donnelly, Sam St. Laurent, Louis Sleigher, and “Super Mario’s” older brother, Alain Lemieux, would all spend time in the NHL. “I’d have to say from my time in Chicoutimi, a good 10-12 players went on to spend at least some time in the NHL”, Chris recalls.
Despite a new found role and top-notch teammates whom he protected, Langevin never thought of his career going much further than playing major junior. In fact, he would not even be drafted into the league by an NHL team. “I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be playing hockey anymore. But I ended up getting invited to a camp in Saginaw (the Gears of the IHL). I had always been an aggressive player, but I could still score. I did a lot of hitting, was good in the corners, and I was always protecting the better players. I felt that I was complimentary to the skilled guys. But I ended up walking into the dressing room in Saginaw, and I immediately thought to myself, ‘Are you friggin’ kidding me? This is a joke! It was like Slap-Shot 2‘. Even though I played a physical game, I was not necessarily a big guy at 6-foot and close to 200lbs. I looked around, and there are all these huge guys who were really not good hockey players”.
Elaborating more on that thought, Chris explains that “the IHL really needed to have a certain amount of rookies to qualify as a minor development league. The IHL could probably be equated to today’s ECHL; a AA level of hockey. Going in, it was actually scary to see all of these goons. You think to yourself, ‘I just wanna go home’. I wasn’t the biggest guy, so I was an easy target. I honestly thought, ‘I swear to God, this is Charlestown! This is the Charlestown Chiefs from Slap-Shot!”. But Langevin stuck it out and stayed in Saginaw for the 1980-81 season. He would finish fourth overall in team scoring with 35-goals and 48-assists, and would become a champion in only his first season of professional hockey.
Winning the IHL’s Turner Cup championship was “Amazing!”, as Chris describes it. “I remember early on in that season I was a bit intimidated by the size of the players around me. We were playing a game and there was this huge guy who had the puck behind the net. I came around and absolutely smoked him behind the net; just smoked him. Well, he got up and ended up chasing me down the ice, so I knew I had to stand up for myself – if I didn’t at that point, it would’ve been over with most likely. So I turned around and dropped the gloves, and ended up proving myself to the league and to my teammates”.
As he had protected players in Chicoutimi, Chris Langevin found himself in the role of the protector once again. The top scorer in the IHL that season was Saginaw’s own Marcel Comeau; a shifty, but smaller centerman who at 6-foot only weighed 165lbs. Comeau led the league in points with 126 and in assists with 82 of them. It was Langevin’s job to protect Comeau now. “I was put on the first line with Marcel Comeau. He would feed me the puck, and I put together my best offensive numbers of my career at the pro level. I played the game bigger than what I was. Looking back that was wrong in some ways because it led to a lot of injuries, but it was what also got me to the NHL. I had always wanted to be a scorer, and at least in Saginaw I was able to do that too, but I also had a role to play. It also depends on the timing that you get with a team and what their needs are. I was never a goon; always played on the top lines. But I was sort of condemned because I was good at dropping the gloves. In the IHL, everyone was really out for themselves because we were all fighting for jobs. But after the CHL’s Houston Apollos folded we ended up getting some of their players like John Gibson and Scott Gruhl, and we became a really good hockey team. We held together, and ended up winning that championship”.
After the championship run in Saginaw, Chris ended up getting a first time opportunity to make an NHL club, and he ended up advancing at least to the next closest level. “After that season in Saginaw when we won the cup, I had an agent and I got invited to a tryout camp in Buffalo. I didn’t make the Sabres but I did receive a contract and signed with Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate the Rochester Americans. I went from making a yearly salary of $7,500 with Saginaw to making $20,000 with Rochester – I was elated!”. For Langevin’s first two seasons in Rochester he would play under the watchful eye of “Iron Mike” Keenan and would be reunited with former Chicoutimi teammates Gilles Hamel and Alan Haworth as well. Rochester’s hockey club during the early 1980s was incredibly talented to say the least, and could have rivaled numerous NHL clubs of that time too. It would not take long for Langevin and team to find success and demonstrate how solid of a hockey team they were.
“It was amazing. Even if I had not made it to the NHL, I was pretty happy where I was with Rochester. You did learn from older guys who were there like Yvon Lambert, Phil Myre; older guys like that who had been around and were trying to extend their careers. There were a lot of French-Canadian guys on our team. And we all wanted to win so badly and find success that we used to have fights in practice even. I’m not kidding you. There would be fights during practice between the French and the English-speaking players. Everyone was just so intense. We would have our practices in Lake Shore right along Lake Erie, and that rink would be so cold – like 20-below; you would just freeze. Guys would shoot pucks in there at other guys’ ankles. It wasn’t done to be malicious. We were all just competing with one another to get to the next level. The guys on the team from the west were bigger and stronger, while the Quebec guys were smaller and more talented. I was stuck in the middle, having to protect who I could”, Langevin recalls with laughter and mild incredulity over the situation.
As he had done with Guy Carbonneau and Marcel Comeau previously, Langevin now protected Rochester’s top scorer, Geordie Robertson. “He was the guy that I played with the most. I still think he is one of the highest scorers in Amerks’ history. I was his protector. Geordie had influence with the coaches as a seasoned veteran, and he certainly had a role with me playing with him. He’d go and antagonize other players, and then I’d jump in to do my job”. One of the greatest seasons in Amerks history, 1982-83, saw Robertson lead all Rochester players in scoring with 46-goals and 73-assists for 119-points; good enough for third overall in the league, while his protector Langevin led the team in penalty minutes with 255 and finished sixth overall in the league for that category. Speaking further on his teammates: “all of the French guys on the team were very close and incredibly talented. Guys like Gilles Hamel, Jean-Francois Sauve, Bob Mongrain, Jacques Cloutier. They all went on to solid careers in the NHL”.
And then there was Keenan. The 1984-85 Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL’s coach of the year, Mike Keenan would eventually win the Stanley Cup in 1994 with the New York Rangers and had three other Stanley Cup Finals appearances. But it was his extremely tough coaching style and the general attitude he had towards his players that earned him the nickname “Iron Mike”. Keenan was renowned for messing with the heads of his players and some of his tactics in doing so have been widely questioned. But what cannot be questioned is the results he achieved, and what would culminate into a Calder Cup championship for himself, Langevin and the Amerks for the 1982-83 season.
“Mike Keenan – playing for him was great. For me, it was absolutely great. He was very demanding, but I had zero issues playing for him. I personally don’t think he is given enough credit for his coaching abilities. He created drills in practices that no one knew what the hell he was trying to teach us. I think a big part of it was to keep players focused and on their toes. He was incredibly innovative; just very ahead of his time. Keenan was just so intense, and he would lose it with the most talented players. He really singled out players who were not playing up to their potential, or for a lack of effort. But he did so to make them better players and help them move onto the NHL, his primary mandate. I really have nothing but good things to say about him. I did find him a bit strange as he moved on throughout his time in the NHL. In my opinion, he was the best coach that I ever played for”.
Winning the Calder Cup with Rochester, his second championship in only three years of playing professionally, and eventually earning the captaincy in Rochester was proof enough that Langevin had found solid ground in his own game. “I always kept trying to get to the 20-goal mark. I always thought that I was capable of doing that, and it was a goal to do that in the NHL, to go along with 200-penalty minutes too. It was really something that I worked toward and felt that it was a reasonable objective”.
The Buffalo Sabres took note of Langevin’s determination and almost reckless abandonment for himself in order to get the job done and win hockey games. Going through an “injury bug” of their own, Buffalo brought Langevin up on an emergency recall to join them. “I drove from Rochester to Buffalo, which is about an hour and 15 to an hour and 30-minute drive, and then immediately hopped onto a bus with the team to ride up for a game in Toronto. I’m not flying – I’m busing it! In my first NHL game!”, Langevin laughs heartily at this memory, realizing that he spent all this time riding buses in the minors, and then for his first NHL game he ends up riding a bus once more. “After the game in Toronto though, we would fly to Detroit and then to Boston as well”.
Langevin would remain with the Sabres for a 6-game stretch and would even score his first NHL goal. Dreams were indeed coming true. “I honestly feel that I played the best hockey of my career during those 6-games. I think the biggest thing that hurt me was that I wasn’t actually drafted by Buffalo. During those games the other players on the left side were Craig Ramsay, Paul Cyr and Dave Andreychuk, and I felt that I outplayed at least two of those guys. I was playing nearly 20-minutes a game too, on a line with Sean McKenna and Gilles Hamel. But I hadn’t been picked by the Sabres, and I only had one goal during that stretch, so I think it was easier for them to send me back down once the injured players returned. Drafted players have a longer leash and always seemed to get the second chances, which is perfectly understandable”.
The goal would come against the Boston Bruins and goaltender Pete Peeters during Langevin’s third of the six games. It was a beauty too. “We were losing to Boston 4-0 or something like that. Sean McKenna was skating behind the net. He threw it out front to me in the slot and I just blasted it right by Peeters; he didn’t even see it. And you want your first goal to be like that. Not a fluke or bouncing off a skate or stick. Just a clean shot right by the goalie. And on the very next shift I had an open net again and I just missed putting it in past Peters. Just think that if I could have put that one in too that game could have had a different outcome”.
But arguably the more quintessential moment for Chris during his callup, the one that really brought everything home for him and come full circle, was being up close and personal with the greatest Sabre of them all, Gilbert Perreault. “After getting the call for the game against Toronto, we flew to Detroit to play the Red Wings. And guess who I end up rooming with on the road? Gilbert Perreault! We’re in the same room together. I was just in awe. Really more like shock, actually. I sat down on my bed, and he just immediately starts talking with me. Just talking, talking and talking. I guess they could not find anybody who wanted to room with him because Gilbert really liked to talk and was not a fan of the ritual pregame nap. I usually liked to take a nap before a game, but I didn’t sleep before that one and it did not bother me at all. But Gilbert was just a true gentleman. Needless to say that song (Sabre Dance) came back into my head again, here I am chatting in the same room as Gilbert Perreault”.
After those six games Langevin was sent back down to Rochester. “It was really a big letdown when I got sent back down, but I understood the math behind it and what was going on behind the scenes. I knew that I was playing better than some of the other players at my position, but you are given more of a chance if you are a draft pick versus someone who isn’t, like me. But the one thing that I realized about myself was that I was getting better as a player as I was going forward. I had improved to the point that I knew I could play and skate in the NHL”.
1984-85 saw Chris have another solid season offensively and in penalty minutes with the Amerks. He set his career high in goals scored with Rochester, 19, and did so in just 63-games all the while putting up 212-penality minutes. But what would perhaps be more important for the future, Langevin’s coach for part of the season in Rochester was former Sabres great Jim Schoenfeld. The time spent with Schoenfeld would help to garner Langevin some insight into where his career was going. “I always felt that I could play for the Sabres on the left hand side. Jim Schoenfeld had coached me in Rochester during the ’84-’85 season before he got asked to suit up again as a player on defense in Buffalo because the Sabres had injuries on their blueline”.
Going into the 1985-86 campaign, “I knew that I was going to make the team that year”, Langevin recalls. “And once you get in, it’s hard to get out. I had been the captain for Schoenfeld in Rochester before he got called up to Buffalo to play. At the end of that season, I gave him a call because I knew he was going to be the coach in Buffalo (for the ’85-’86 season). I called him that summer and asked him, ‘will you give me a chance?’. He asked me back, ‘will you come into camp in the best shape of your life and play the exact same way as you did in Rochester?’. And I did exactly that – I worked out all summer really intensely and came into camp in the best shape of my life, and I stuck”. Unfairly, 16-games into the season Langevin blew-out his knee in a game against the Quebec Nordiques, and his career was over. Chris never played a professional hockey game after that.
“I earned every ounce of what I accomplished”, he tells me. And hell, he is exactly right. He did it all and fought for it all. Nothing was handed to him. “I had a good run. It was a really cool time, but I have no regrets. The two best days in my life were one, getting to stay in a room with Gilbert Perreault, and two, when Buffalo said to me that I should go ahead and find an apartment”. Other things would end that year too, as Jim Schoenfeld would be fired by the Sabres partway through that season as the team finished exactly at .500 and failed to make the playoffs. It would also be Gilbert Perreault’s final full season in the league, as he would retire after one more year of just 20-games. Scotty Bowman’s last full season with the Sabres would be that year too before he was let go early the following year, right around the time that Perreault officially retired.
Chris Langevin has gone onto work for Bauer hockey for 21-years. 70-percent of the equipment in the NHL today comes from Bauer. Chris has worked as a developer for them throughout that time, and has found great meaning in seeing some of his life’s work in action. His career though in hockey was shaped from everything he dreamed about from a very young age.
“I just dreamed of playing in the NHL. Hearing that Sabres song in my head, wearing my Montreal Canadiens socks and embarrassing myself as a kid on the ice. It was all that I ever wanted to do. It was my number one goal. You have to dream of something in order to accomplish something. Having courage, fortitude, a lot perseverance. With all of that, it is pretty hard to take away a dream. I had a dream, and I just never quit”.
Chris and I debate a bit back and forth as to what it means to be a hero. Perhaps I am mistaken when I tell him that someone like me thinks of him as a hero for having made it to the NHL like he did. Not having been drafted. Having to change his role from what he always wanted to be on the ice to what he was required to be. No matter how he did it, he made it. Chris disagrees with me. “Come on, we’re not heroes. Playing hockey is not what constitutes a hero”. I respond, “Okay, let me better explain myself. Maybe hero is the wrong word. But you have to realize though that what you did on the ice matters to people for whatever reason. We find some value or importance in what you accomplished”. He responds, “Okay, that’s a fair analysis. When I was captain for Rochester I used to do a lot of visits at hospitals for sick children and with charities and it seemed to make a difference for people. That to me is something that stands out”.
Exactly. And because you are one of those few people who had a dream and never stopped working for it, eventually accomplishing it – that sets an example in and of itself for anyone who takes the time to listen. So yes, people like me look up to people like you. It means something. And you earned every bit of it.
“For the players that I coach at Grand Valley State University, I tell them, ‘How you act and how you treat the people around you sets the stage for how well you do on the ice’. You appreciate the challenges that you encounter in life, and you are able to overcome them. Wayne Gretzky once said to us, and I always tell it to the players that I coach, ‘We don’t become a team, until you start playing for the person beside you'”. Mike Forbes has worked with the Grand Valley State University Lakers since 2007, starting first as an associate coach but then taking over as head coach in 2009; a position he has held ever since. Under Forbes’ watch, the Lakers have attained a highly impressive record of 222-61-12 and have qualified for ten consecutive ACHA Division II National Championship Tournaments, winning the tournament in 2011; the tournament features the top sixteen Division II teams in the nation. But as I speak with the former Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers defenseman on a Wednesday night in late-September, I come to learn that Mike Forbes’ superb career as a collegiate coach has stemmed from the sum of all partsthat are him; the accomplishments, the experiences, the decisions he has made (both wise and regrettable in retrospect) as a player, a business man, a student, a person – and Mike is kind enough to be sharing those aspects with me.
Born September 20th in 1957, Mike Forbes began skating at the age of three and started playing organized hockey at the age of five. “I started playing house league in Georgetown, Ontario at the age of five, coming up through the ranks, and eventually playing on the travel team. There were a good number of opportunities to play. My father helped maintain the two local rinks in Georgetown. We also had an open field in behind the house where we could skate too. I played Metro Junior A at the age of 15 with the Bramalea Blues, and then I ended up being drafted into the OHA by the Kingston Canadians”.
In the first ten years of Mike Forbes’ life, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup four times. While the Leafs of those championship teams were laden with a multitude of Hall of Fame players, there was no Hall of Famer on their roster, or in the league for that matter, as physically as imposing as defenseman Tim Horton. Widely known as one of the strongest individuals to ever play the game, Horton would play 24-seasons in the NHL, ended only by his untimely death in an automobile accident in 1974. Horton, a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee in 1977, was a member of each of the Leafs’ Stanley Cup winning teams during Forbes’ childhood. It would be a chance encounter with the “ironman” Horton that would forever inspire Mike; something he holds dearly to this day.
“Debbie Ferris was a girl in my homeroom class. I ended up reconnecting with her years later and we still keep in touch on Facebook. Well, her family were friends with the Hortons. And one summer when I was about six or seven, Tim was over at her house swimming in their backyard pool. I remember thinking that he looked just like Sgt. Rock (of DC Comics); just chiseled, with that squared-off jaw. Myself and some other friends had stopped over and Tim Horton came over to say ‘hello’ to us. I had never asked anyone for their autograph before, but I got straight on my bike, road home, got a pencil and some paper, and asked Tim for his autograph. That whole experience really inspired me as a young hockey player, and is still something that I cherish to this day”.
What Forbes did not realize until many years later is that his own family were very much closely tied to the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the grandeur of the fabled Maple Leaf Gardens arena. “My grandfather lived next door to Conn Smythe”, Forbes shares with me. Smythe of course was the principal owner of the Maple Leafs and the builder of Maple Leaf Gardens. “What I did not find out until more recently was that both my grandfather and my great-uncle were some of the original investors in Maple Leafs Gardens, thus helping Conn to build the arena. They, along with numerous other people, had purchased stock in the initial offering of Maple Leaf Gardens stock. My grandparents lived near Caledon, Ontario, which was the home of Smythe’s gravel pits; Conn made his fortune selling gravel for the development of metro Toronto. The shares were $6,500 in 1927; crazy money in those days. More than a year’s salary! But knowing that my family was a part of that, and has ties to history like that is something that I hold very dearly and am quite proud of”. Forbes’ father, a worker for Bell Canada, would also take young Mike to one or two Leaf games a year, and “Hockey Night in Canada” was religiously watched on Wednesday and Saturday nights in the Forbes household.
Selected by the Kingston Canadians in the Ontario Hockey Association draft, Mike Forbes would see very limited action with Kingston due to bouts with mononucleosis. “I didn’t have too bad of a first year with Kingston”, appearing in 64-games and tallying 10-assists on the backend, “but I ended up getting mono during my second year. I tried to come back too soon, and ended up having a relapse of it as well. Here I was about 185-190lbs., and then after I contracted mono I was down to 160”. The illness would limit Mike to only 48 of the 70-games played during Kingston’s 1975-76 season.
A change in scenery at that point would greatly be needed to get Forbes back to the level where he was capable of playing, and to afford him a fresh start. “Punch Scherer (General Manager for Kingston) made it known that he was going to try trading me, and had asked me if I was willing to go somewhere else. I felt at the time that a new atmosphere might be conducive and get me playing again after having missed so much time. And so he would end up trading me to the St. Catharines Fincups”.
Here is where the story has a bit of drama to it. “Bert Templeton was the coach of the Fincups and he was an extremely colorful guy, to say the least”, Mike tells me. “Well, when I was playing for the Bramalea Blues, Bert was coaching the Hamilton Red Wings. Our team consisted of mostly 17-year old players, but many of Hamilton’s players were 20-years old or thereabouts. A really nasty brawl broke out, including with some of the fans, and a number of kids ended up in the hospital. Afterward, the Ontario government held an investigation into the behavior of the coaches and players, specifically Bert Templeton, and there ended up being the ‘McMurtry Trials’ court case. Well, I ended up testifying against Bert Templeton in the court case, and so when I found out that I was going to be playing for him in St. Catharines, I was scared sh*tless. He ended up calling me into his office my first day with the team, and he is sitting at his desk as only Bert Templeton could, and he says to me, ‘Mike Forbes…’, and I said ‘Yes sir’. And Bert said, ‘Are you the same Mike Forbes who played for Bramalea?’, I said, ‘Yes sir, I am’. Then he asks me, ‘And you’re the same Mike Forbes who testified against me in court?’, and I said, ‘Yes sir, I am’. So then Bert said to me, ‘Well that took a lot of courage!'”. Scary and as heart-racing as that conversation might have been at first, it was clear that Mike Forbes had earned the respect of his new coach.
With Templeton leading the charge, the 1976-77 Fincups scrapped their way to a record of 50-11-5 for 105-points. They were an extremely talented team with a great deal of firepower and fisticuffs as well. Future NHLers Ric Seiling, Dale McCourt and Mike Keating would each surpass the 50-goal plateau, while ten players would hit triple digits in penalty-minutes. The performance would win them the Hamilton Spectator Cup as the first overall team in the OHA that season. Perhaps even more exciting, because the Fincups had won the Memorial Cup trophy as the top major junior team in Canada the year prior, they were automatically selected to represent their country at the 1977 World Junior Championships in Czechoslovakia, along with eight other additional players from the OHA. Forbes and team would take the silver medal at the tournament, losing only a single game and that to the Soviet Union (who took gold). Forbes’ Fincups teammate, Dale McCourt, would lead all players in tournament scoring with 10-goals and 8-assists in 7-games.
Needless to say that Forbes’ final season of major junior hockey was a most memorable one, and something that he cherishes. “We were the last major junior team to represent Canada as a club team in the World Juniors. We had started that season 33-0-1; didn’t lose a game. I want to say that at least 16-guys on our roster with the Fincups made it to the NHL”, he recalls. In addition to Forbes, McCourt, Seiling and Keating, the Fincups also had Al Secord, Jay Johnston, Willie Huber, Jody Gage, Al Jensen, Rick Wamsley, Steve Hazlett, Joe Contini, and Tim Coulis who all spent time in the NHL. “I think what happened though was that we just ran out of gas. We ended up losing to the London Knights in 7-games in the semis of the OHA playoffs. All the hype of the World Juniors and the success during the season, we were just worn out and ran out of gas”.
Separately, Mike recalls another amusing Bert Templeton moment from that season. “Bert liked to use me on the powerplay, but at some point he moved me up front to wing. Well, I really wasn’t able to do much offensively. So one day during practice he blows the whistle and stops everything, and says, “Forbes, do you know why you’re playing on the fourth-line?… Because I don’t have a fifth-line!!”; a classic delivery of a line by Templeton. “Bert demanded a lot of us”, Forbes recalls, “but he made all of us better”.
While Forbes would have doubts about his own performance in his major junior career, his solid play on the blueline would find him being selected in the third-round, 52nd overall in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft by the Boston Bruins. Look at any Bruins media guide or roster listing from the mid-late 1970s, and it’s a glimpse into some of hockey’s greatest annals. Though Forbes would join them in the later stages of that era, the club was still very much “The Big, Bad Bruins”. Looking back he tells me, “I was really happy about going to one of the ‘Original Six’ teams. The Bruins were coming off of two recent Stanley Cup championships. I didn’t feel that I had put together a junior career that was good enough to go in one of the top-five rounds of the draft, and then I ended up going in the third-round; I was pretty shocked”.
While it was former chief Bruins scout Gary Darling who would originally take note of Forbes’ skill and tout him as a higher pick, his biggest advocate in Boston would be one of the most colorful and entertaining hockey personalities of all time. “I went to camp in Boston as a 19-year old pro without a contract, but Don Cherry’s belief in me ended up getting me signed with Boston shortly after camp started. I felt that I had a slow start to training camp. We played an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Flyers; the same game that George Plimpton played in goal for his book, Open Net. I ended up getting into three fights that night against Dave Hoyda. Don was impressed with my play and my determination. I ended up scoring a goal, and I picked up the puck and skated it over to the trainer for a keepsake. Don says to me, ‘Kid, how do you feel?’. So I said, “Well Grapes, I feel good!’. So Don laughed and said, ‘Kid, you look like sh*t!'”, referring to the physical results of his three scraps with Hoyda.
Cherry would be in Forbes’ corner throughout his time with the Bruins. “I really needed to play in order to feel comfortable with my own game. When I wasn’t playing, some insecurities would come out. I was 19-years old playing as a pro and just was not ready for all that comes with that. I was used mainly as the sixth or seventh defenseman at a time when mostly five defensemen were used”. Cherry would help to alleviate for Forbes any sense of being unsure. “Harry Sinden (GM) wanted to send me down to the minors, and I really needed to go down to the minors, but Don really didn’t want me to go down; he believed in me and wanted me to play. I remember him saying to me once before a game against the NHL’s old Cleveland Barons, ‘Kid, Harry wants to send you down, but I am going to put you in the lineup tonight. Play as much as you can, and get into a fight if you can too’. After the game, Don went and was complimenting me to all of the reporters, and the next day the paper was talking about how strong of a game I had and how complimentary Don Cherry was of my performance. He made it so Harry Sinden couldn’t send me down. That always really meant a lot to me that Don would do that. At that time, it was not really done, and certainly not easy, for a coach to go to bat for one of his players and put his own neck on the line but that’s what Don did”. Listening to Forbes talk about Cherry, I can hear the sincere admiration that he still has for his former coach.
Forbes’ teammates in Boston certainly made him feel welcomed in “Beantown” too, especially the aged guard on the roster. “The Bruins were a really tight knit team. After practice it was common for us to go out for lunch or for beers at The Fours“, a popular bar in Boston. “All of the players were really welcoming. Johnny Bucyk had me over at his house for Thanksgiving and Christmas”. Playing in his final NHL season, Bruins captain Johnny Bucyk was 42-years old at the time and old enough to be Forbes’ father. “Gerry Cheevers had me go with him to the Santa Anita Race Track”. Recognized by his iconic mask, the Hall of Famer Cheevers has long pursued a passion for horse racing. “Wayne Cashman used to have all the rookies buy him his meals and his beer especially while we were on the road, but it was all in good fun”. Cashman’s style of play typified that of the “Big, Bad Bruins”.
And then there was Jean Ratelle, who I was most interested in learning Forbes’ memories of. The elegant Ratelle is a 1985 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, a two time recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy for his gentlemanly play, who also scored over 1200-points during his NHL career. “I already had a connection to Jean Ratelle as my mother had gone to the same school as him in Guelph, Ontario. After I had broken my ankle during my rookie year and was recovering at home in the off-season, Jean knocked on our door and stopped in to check on me. He wished me well in my recovery and offered any help that he could; I never forgot that and it really meant a lot to me”. Asked how he remembered Ratelle as a player Forbes says, “Everyone held him in very high regard. Jean dished the puck so well, and was a great playmaking centerman. A real gentleman of the game”.
Brad Park would be Forbes’ defense partner with the Bruins in most situations. In fact, Forbes vividly recalls his first NHL game; played against the Blackhawks at the old Chicago Stadium and being on the ice for the opening faceoff. “I was on defense with Brad Park. Up front we had Don Marcotte on the left side and Bobby Schmautz was on the right, with Jean Ratelle centering both of them. Gerry Cheevers was in net. The Blackhawks had John Marks on leftwing with Stan Mikita at center; I don’t quite remember who was on right. And on defense, they had Keith Magnuson and he was paired up with none other than Bobby Orr. And Tony Esposito was in goal”. One can only imagine the excitement and awe that Mike must have felt playing his first NHL game and to do so with such company alongside of him on both ends of the ice. “I remember Wayne Messmer belting out the National Anthem, and just how incredibly loud it was in the arena. As the puck was dropped Jean Ratelle wins the draw back to me. Stan Mikita is forechecking, and I tried to send a pass across to Brad Park. Well, I totally whiffed on the pass, unintentionally. Mikita, anticipating that I was going to complete the pass and he was going to snatch the puck for a breakaway, ends up skating right by me without the puck. I ended up dumping the puck in and when I got back to the bench some of the guys on the bench said, “Hey kid, nice move”. Totally serious; they were thinking that I did it on purpose!”
It would be the aforementioned broken ankle that would eventually lead to an even more limited role with the Bruins for Forbes and a shortening of his time with the team, as Boston would send him down to their minor league affiliate, the Rochester Americans of the AHL, in March of 1978. Forbes would suit up for 32-regular season games with the Amerks along with another 6 more in the playoffs, before Sinden would recall him to Boston as added insurance during their fabled Stanley Cup Finals series against the Montreal Canadiens. While Forbes would not see any playing time during the Finals, he at least got to be part of the experience and was included by Cherry and his Bruins’ teammates during practice and in the locker room. Unfortunately for Boston, they would lose to the Canadiens in six games.
Forbes would play the entire 1978-79 season down in Rochester, though he would get another insurance policy call-up from the Bruins in time for the playoffs without seeing any action. In 75-games with Rochester, Forbes would tally 4-goals and 20-assists. But in the playoffs with Boston, the Bruins would be undone yet again by the Montreal Canadiens, this time in the semi-finals, in the infamous Game-7 “too many men on the ice” call, which many consider the main reason that Don Cherry would lose his job as Bruins coach. Perhaps because he no longer had Cherry as an advocate, the Bruins would leave Forbes unprotected in the expansion draft when the NHL and WHA would merge during the summer of 1979.
The Edmonton Oilers would take Mike Forbes as their thirteenth selection in the expansion draft. Joining the team that would have the soon-to-be “Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, on their roster would be exciting to most, though Forbes was mostly stunned by the selection. “I was really surprised; surprised that anyone would even pick me up. I didn’t really feel that I had found myself in Rochester, and I hadn’t really gained any confidence at that point. I was not predisposed to Edmonton; I really felt that I needed to develop my game. But what made the transition easier was that the Oilers had picked up a some of my former Boston teammates like Bobby Schmautz and Ace Bailey, and so there were some familiar faces.
Forbes would spend the bulk of Edmonton’s inaugural NHL season with their CHL minor league affiliate the Houston Apollos, and it would be here that he would finally begin to feel a level of comfort with his own game. Paired on defense with 37-year old veteran Poul Popiel. Though Popiel was born in Denmark, he was raised in Georgetown just like Forbes. “Poul was my defense partner, and he really took me under his wing. Up to that point, I had no idea of the work, the discipline that were involved with being a professional hockey player. Poul really taught me the game from a professional standpoint”. Paired with Popiel, Forbes would have a very solid season with Houston and would finish second only to Charlie Huddy in scoring by Apollos defenseman, notching 5-goals to go with 30-assists in only 55-games.
With Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Kevin Lowe starring in their first NHL season, Forbes would end up playing a pair of games during the Oilers first year. “Edmonton was going through a rash of injuries, and I ended up getting called up and joining the team on the road for a game against the Colorado Rockies. I was very nervous that game, very tentative. Glen Sather told me that they were planning on taking me with them to Los Angeles, and so my second game ended up being against the Kings. The Oilers really played a very free-flowing, offensive style and I felt that in L.A. I played a much better game. So they told me that they were going to bring me back to Edmonton with them. So we get to Edmonton at about 7:30AM, and it’s 50-degrees below outside. The only clothes I had were my suit and a few pairs of underwear and socks. So I went to a K-Mart or somewhere and bought some gloves, and a jacket and a toque. But after just three days, they sent me back down to Houston. I’ll tell you, that was the happiest I ever was to go down to the minors! And I also felt that I needed more time to develop and grow”.
The Oilers would have themselves a new affiliation in the CHL for the 1980-81 season, and Mike Forbes would end up playing one of his finest professional years with the newly christened Wichita Wind. Tallying 4-goals on top of 44-assits, Forbes would lead all Wind defensemen in scoring, and would finish as the fourth overall scorer on the team. “We were a really tight knit team. We had Mark’s brother Paul Messier, on top of Dave Semenko, Byron Baltimore, and Andy Moog. We had a lot of size and toughness. Tom Roulston led the team in scoring, and he pulled off nearly 70-goals that season (63-goals exactly in only 69-games). Ace Bailey was our coach, and it was just great playing for him. He had good relationships with the players, and had great character. The guys really loved playing for Ace. He really liked tough, hard-skating teams. Unfortunately we got beat out in seven games by Salt Lake (Golden Eagles) and they won the Turner Cup. The run we had gone on took everyone by surprise as we were the second last team to qualify for a playoff spot. But we ended up running into Rick Heinz who was the goalie for Salt Lake (Heinz would also play in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks), and he just stonewalled us. Anytime I run into Rick till this day, I always admonish him for having my two championships; this one in 1980-81, and then later one when I was in Muskegon”. Looking back on that season playing for Garnet “Ace” Bailey, who sadly lost his life in the September 11th attacks, Forbes looks back with a deep admiration for his former coach and friend. “When I coach even till this day, I talk about how well everyone got along with Ace. He was infectious in the locker room and infectious amongst my teammates”.
Forbes would play a total of three seasons with the Wichita Wind, including his finest professional season statistically in 1982-83 when he would rattle off 15-goals and 46-assists for 61-points in 75-games; once again, tops among all Wichita D-men. But Mike’s final taste of the NHL would come a season earlier during the 1981-82 campaign. The Oilers of that season would see Gretzky set the NHL record of 92-goals, while Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri would finish out the top-five in scoring behind “The Great One”. For Forbes though, appearing in 16-games with the Oilers that year would be “bittersweet”, as he describes it. “In 110-days with Edmonton, I only played in those 16-games. They would send me down to the minors on the weekends. Paul Coffey was my partner on defense. I was an average defenseman and a good puck-mover. But what the Oilers needed was a stay-at-home defenseman who could hang back and cover for any mistakes Paul might have made with the puck, though there weren’t many. It just wasn’t the right combination having us paired together. They ended up pairing him with Charlie Huddy, who was a much better defensive-defenseman, and it led him to playing nearly 20-years in the NHL”.
One of the true bright spots for Forbes during the 16-game stint is that he would score the first and only NHL goal of his career, and it was indeed a beaut; perhaps especially in the history books. “The goal came against Vancouver. I was not a bad skating defenseman, but I wasn’t great. But one thing I can say is that I could really shoot the puck. It had good velocity, and I could shoot it hard. We were on the power-play, and I was the right-hand shot on the left-point, with Kurri playing on the other side. Gretzky moved in low, and got the puck out to the point to Kurri; he fed it across and I drove the shot 100mph off of Glen Hanlon’s collarbone”, Forbes recalls with some laughter. “Well, Gretzky got to the puck, and we setup the same play again. He fed the puck out to Kurri, Kurri fed it across and I one-timed it, except this time I totally whiffed on the puck. So it’s going along the ice about half the speed of the first shot and it ends up sliding in past Hanlon for the goal”. An interesting bit of trivia, Canadian sports author and journalist, as well as Forbes family friend, Frank Orr, did an interview with Mike and pointed out to him years later that Forbes is one of only three players in NHL history to have their lone NHL goal be assisted by both Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.
While the Oilers would go on to win their first Stanley Cup during the 1983-84 season, professionally that year would be a tumultuous one for Forbes and he would end up being part of a hockey club that goes down in history as existing for one season. “I was offered a 3-year deal with Edmonton, but I really didn’t see any hope of playing with that team, considering the logjam of defensemen they had. I did have some interest from Toronto, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey. I didn’t accept Edmonton’s offer, but during the October waiver draft that season, Glen Sather decided to protect me. So I ended up not being with an NHL team. I ended up signing an minor league contract with the Montana Magic”, though laughing Forbes says, “but they had some disappearing ink on the checks come payday”.
Despite being more of an oddity, the Montana Magic were somewhat of an interesting hockey club. 33-year old former NHL sniper and Stanley Cup champion Reggie Leach put up 21-goals in his final (full) professional season. In only his second year playing pro, 22-year old Jock Callander would end up winning a Stanley Cup and playing 19-years as a professional. Other NHL veterans like Stan Weir, Jim McTaggart, Alain Lemieux, and goaltender Lindsay Middlebrook would help to fan out the Magic’s roster. “We were a better team than what our record showed”, Forbes recalls. “We just had a difficult time attracting fans to the games”.
In a very astute career decision, Mike Forbes would end up taking a year and a half off from playing hockey in order to complete a degree at Rocky Mountain College. The decision to get his degree, and acquaint himself with business and marketing opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for his career after hockey. After retirement, Forbes would become assistant general manager and co owner of the Muskegon Lumberjacks, following the team as they moved to Cleveland. But while in Muskegon, Forbes would be part of five Turner Cup Finals appearances, including two championships. Mike would also be rewarded for his top-notch efforts in Muskegon by earning a Stanley Cup ring in 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the Lumberjacks roster of players and management team would play a vital cog in the Penguins championship that season. Craig Patrick, the Penguins Vice President and General Manager, would graciously acknowledge Forbes’ active part in helping the parent-club Penguins win the Cup that year. Seven of Forbes’ Muskegon players would be imperative for the Penguins success and get their names inscribed on the Cup, including the son of Forbes former Montana Magic teammate Reggie Leach, his son Jamie. In 1993, Forbes would eventually become GM of the team who once stole a Turner Cup from him, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Following a season in Salt Lake, Mike would accept the position as commissioner of the Colonial Hockey League. Forbes pursuit of his own education made all of that possible.
But prior to his success on the business side of hockey, Mike Forbes would have one last hurrah as a professional player. “At 27-28 years old, it was hard to have taken a year, year-and-a-half off from hockey, and think I could come back and play”. But play he would. Before he joined Muskegon’s front office, Forbes signed a personnel services contract with the team which afforded him the opportunity to play with the team, and then eventually take a front office role. During the 1985-86 season, Mike would appear in 14-regular season games for the Lumberjacks, chipping in a goal and 7-assists. But then, he would provide a steadying veteran presence on the blueline for the playoffs, playing in 13 of Muskegon’s 14-playoff games, and helping lead the team to a Turner Cup championship; the first and only championship of Mike’s professional career as a player.
Forbes final pro season, 1986-87, would see a near repeat performance as a champion. This time playing in 67 of Muskegon’s 82-games, Forbes would help vault the Lumberjacks back into the Turner Cup Finals, though as stated earlier, they would fall at the hands of goaltender Rick Heinz and Salt Lake once more. To his credit though, Forbes would play in all 15-playoff games for the Lumberjacks and put up a very solid 1-goal and 10-assists during that run to the finals.
While making arrangements to conduct an interview with Mike Forbes, I tell him that I am really glad that he won the 1985-86 Turner Cup championship with Muskegon; that he at least got to raise a trophy over his head one time as a player. But during our conversation, Mike teaches me a very important lesson that he has learned – he tells me, “it’s not the championship, it is about the lifetime achievements. The things that I accomplished in my career. Going from a player on a personnel services contract, to work in the front office, to marketing, to assistant GM, and then VP of operations. It is my life’s work”. Mike Forbes should be incredibly proud of those achievements, for he has accomplished more than what many could ever hope for.
While I marvel that Forbes got to play alongside Gerry Cheevers, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Brad Park, and most special in my eyes, Jean Ratelle, I realize that those are just a few parts of Mike Forbes’ life, his career. I have only seen a portion of the sum by what he has so graciously shared with me. It may even be impossible to fully capture the entire sum. But I can definitely say this – the parts that Mike Forbes has shared with me have shown me enough of the sum of those parts for me to know that although he is very humble and downplays his career as a player, that if I could even assemble a quarter of similar parts in my own life, that I would be a very successful individual. It is perhaps no wonder that I admire Mike Forbes so.
Three of them won the Stanley Cup. One is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Arguably three more should be. Six were NHL All-Star selections. Each one of them played professional hockey, whether it was in the NHL, WHA, or in the minors – they all made it to the pro level. And I am fortunate enough to have one of the two goaltenders for the 1968-69 Montreal Junior Canadiens – the team still widely considered the greatest junior hockey team of all time – to be sharing his story with me.
Edward (Ted) William Tucker was born May 7th, 1949 in Fort William, Ontario. From his earliest moments of playing street hockey or shinny, Ted Tucker wanted to be a goaltender. Beginning to play organized hockey at the age of nine, there was minimal opportunity to start the game at a younger age. “At the time that I started playing hockey, there were no Tom Thumb, Mites, or Squirts programs in my hometown. There was a small ad in our local newspaper from the Elks organization, looking for players and asking which position you preferred to play. I asked my parents if I could sign up, and right from the get-go I wanted to be a goalie”.
As a youngster, Tucker’s play between the pipes would take some time to develop, though improvement took place each year as he played. “In my first year of hockey, I was a pretty bad goalie because in 12-games I let in around 120-goals and finished in last place out of 12-teams. But in my second year we placed sixth out of the twelve, and in my final year we came in second, won the championship in the playoffs, and I won my first goaltending trophy”.
Here is where Ted’s story takes an interesting turn. Prior to the expansion of 1967, National Hockey League teams used what were called “C”-forms as a means of securing prospects for the future of their organizations. There were also “A”-forms, which committed a player to a tryout with the club, and “B”-forms which gave the team the option of signing a player in return for a bonus. But the “C”-forms were the most binding of the three forms, as they committed the professional rights of the player to that particular hockey team. “C”-forms could only be signed by the player at the age of eighteen, or by the player’s parents, often in exchange for some type pf signing bonus. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Montreal Canadiens were almost notoriously known for securing talent for their club’s future by nearly any means necessary. “After I finished Pee Wee hockey, all of the graduating players would have a choice as to what teams they wanted to try out for and play on. My dad, who did not know it at the time, offered my services to the Fort William Canadiens, who sponsored two teams in the Bantam and the Midget divisions. So I ended up signing with Fort William, a branch of the Montreal Canadiens, in exchange for a pair of goalie skates; not knowing at the time that by doing so I also became their property for life as a minor league player”. Just like that, Ted Tucker was owned by the Montreal Canadiens. The irony being, that although Tucker was now property of Montreal, his favorite hockey club as a kid was the Detroit Red Wings, particularly their superstars “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe and arguably the greatest goaltender of all time, Terry Sawchuk.
While with Fort William, Tucker’s success would continue to build each year, winning the division and the championship his second year at the Bantam level, and then also repeating the feat with the Canadiens at the Midget level as well. Tucker won goaltender trophies in his last year with each division. His success level was strong enough to vault Tucker into four more years of Junior-A hockey with Fort William, as opposed to playing out his time in the juvenile divisions. Sharing the goaltending duties initially with the Canadiens Junior-A squad before solidifying himself as the number one through his solid play, Tucker would once more win the division for Fort William, another goaltending trophy of his own, and another championship as well.
Montreal’s Canadiens must have taken note of Tucker’s play in Fort William, and invited him to their Peterborough training camp the following year, and then sent him to their Junior Canadiens camp that same time. Tucker was faced with some decision making, as to where he wanted to play and how he would handle his schooling. “I practiced there (Junior Canadiens’ camp) for about a week and a half, and they offered me a chance to play in the Montreal Junior Metro League. I turned that down and said that I wanted to go back home and finish my grade-12, and also play more with Fort William since I was now their starter; to me, this was the right decision to make”. Though Tucker’s choice to return to the Fort William team did not secure a championship that year, it did provide him with an opportunity to have his first run at a major title. “I was picked up by the Port Arthur Marrs (named after the trucking company and their sponsor, W.H. Marr, Ltd.), and we played and lost to the Toronto Marlies 4-1 in the Memorial Cup Championship”. It would be the Marrs only shot at a Memorial Cup title.
Following the 1967 season, Ted would have more decisions to make as he deciphered which path he wanted his hockey career to go down; that of continuing to play Major Junior hockey, or go the route of university; both seemingly lucrative options for an eighteen year old. “I had two offers come in after that season. One was a full ride to the University of Minnesota Duluth, and the other was with the Montreal Junior Canadiens. I turned down the scholarship for two reasons. One was that I would only play about 15-games my first year, and two, I really didn’t know what I wanted to be after I left college. On the other hand, Montreal said they would pay for my education, and I would also be playing in the best junior hockey league in all of Canada, the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA)”. The decision made by Tucker was well-reasoned, but having to balance both school and hockey would prove exceptionally difficult, and soon he would have to pick one or the other instead of tackling both. “Unfortunately, with all the travel that we did, I got into an absenteeism problem at school. I was told by the school that I either had to stop playing hockey, or I would not be able to write any of my exams, even though I had passing grades in every class. I knew that Montreal wouldn’t pay for my schooling if I just went to school, so I ended up quitting school”.
I suppose that an outsider could argue either way about Ted Tucker’s decision to forgo school and focus on hockey instead. Tucker’s electing to play for the Montreal Junior Canadiens would be an opportunity of a lifetime that would be even more of a special rarity than what he ever could have surmised at the time. An opportunity that would see him become part of one of the greatest assemblages of hockey players on one team, at one time. Not an All-Star roster. Not an Olympics or Canada Cup team. Rather, a hockey club that was combined for a regular season of play – not a meaningless festivity for fun, or a temporary allegiance for one’s country.
“In my first year on the team, there were only four English players, and the rest were French. Our coach, Roger Bedard, was also French. He would say everything in French in practices and in games. If he had anything to say to one of us four, or if we didn’t do a play right, then he would talk to us in English. In my second and last year playing Junior, there were only three English players on that team”, Tucker tells me. That final year being 1968-69. Take a moment to contemplate this particular team’s roster. They had two-thirds of what would become the Buffalo Sabres’ fabled “French Connection” line in both Gilbert Perreault and the late Rick Martin. Even with Perreault and Martin on their roster, The Junior Canadiens leading scorer that season was Rejean Houle, who put up 53-goals and 55-assists for 108-points in a mere 54-games. Once making it to the NHL, Houle would go on to win five Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens. Left-winger Marc Tardif would finish his career as the all-time leading goal scorer in the World Hockey Association, though even he would get his name inscribed on Lord Stanley’s Cup prior to jumping to the WHA when he won it with Montreal in 1971 and 1973. The ever-colorful Andre “Moose” Dupont patrolled the blueline for the Junior Canadiens that year as well, long before he became one of the “Broad Street Bullies” and won two Stanley Cups with the Philadelphia Flyers. Throw in the likes of Josh Guevremont, Guy Charron, J.P. Bordeleau, Bobby Lalonde, Norm Gratton, Richard Lemieux, and Serge Lajeunesse, all of whom would go onto strong, lengthy NHL careers, and you have a team whose talent level will never be achieved again on one roster in junior hockey.
Tucker affirms this by saying, “This was the highlight of my Junior career, as we went on to win the Memorial Cup that year. The history speaks for itself. If you Google the ’68-’69 Montreal Junior Canadiens, they say that this was, and still is, the best junior hockey team ever assembled. Every player on that team went on to play pro hockey”. All in the one year, that Junior Canadiens team captured the Memorial Cup, the J. Ross Robertson Cup as the winner of the OHA’s playoff championship, the Hamilton Spectator Cup as the team that finished with the best record in the OHA, and the George T. Richardson Memorial Trophy as the champions of the Eastern Canadian Junior “A”.
Ted Tucker’s memories of this team and his teammates are still very vivid to this day. I ask him to share with me some of his fondest memories from that hockey club. “Even though there were only three English speaking players on that team, we never felt anything but appreciation from the French players. They all joked around with us, and it was amazing to see the passion Gilbert Perreault had for wrestling; he would go into these wrestling, clowning-around episodes on the ice and in the locker room. The other thing that they would do was play “keep away” with the puck, and you could see all their talents come out, especially Marc Tardiff’s and Gilbert’s when they did that in practice”.
Believe it or not, the excitement and the passion amongst fans towards the ’68-’69 Junior Canadiens rivaled and even sometimes surpassed that of the NHL’s Canadiens. As Tucker recalls, “my first year playing in Montreal in the old Forum, the crowds started out small; maybe some nights 5,000 people. But as the season progressed, we would get it up to 8,000 to 10,000 fans. Then in my second season, we were averaging anywhere from 12,000 to 14,00 a game. One night, the NHL club drew 16,000 on a Saturday night, and we had a big rivalry with Oshawa and outdrew the Canadiens as we had over 18,000 attend the game. This was unreal for Junior hockey at the time”.
Can one even imagine the concept of a junior club outdoing the greatest hockey franchise of all time, the Montreal Canadiens? It seems unfathomable, though the NHL greats certainly seemed to appreciate what these teenagers were doing for the organization and for the game of hockey. Ted remembers that, “our dressing rooms was just down the hallway from the NHL Canadiens, and to see these players practicing was amazing. Being able to go into that room and see all the players, and every once in a while, some of them would show up at our games to watch us play. Guys like Gump Worsley, Jean Beliveau, and John Ferguson, just to name a few”. Even these Canadiens’ and hockey greats were fans of Tucker and his junior teammates.
The problem with being a goaltender in the Montreal Canadiens’ organization, especially during the 1960s, was that there was a logjam of talented netminders that the club owned, and opportunity for advancement and playing with the parent club was slim to none for a lot of Canadiens’ prospects, including Ted Tucker. Suffice it to say that when his Junior career ended, there was next to no chance that Tucker would find himself on the NHL Canadiens’ roster, or even with one of their top minor league affiliates. “In the Fall of 1969, I attended my first professional training camp with the Montreal Canadiens, and I was one of fifteen goalies to participate in the camp”, Tucker tells me. “I knew the odds of making the AHL or the CHL affiliated teams were pretty well stacked against me. But I practiced very hard, and started making the goalie cuts as they needed a total of eight goalies for their teams (the NHL roster, AHL’s Cleveland Barons, CHL’s Houston Apollos, and IHL’s Muskegon Mohawks). I survived the cuts, and was one of three goalies for the final cuts to be made for Muskegon.
“After a week of working out with Muskegon, I was called into GM Morris “Moose” Lallo’s office. I was given the option of either staying with Muskegon and being the backup to Bruce Mullett, who I just happened to be paired with during my first year with the Montreal Junior Canadiens at a week salary of $150, or go play with the Clinton Comets in the Eastern Hockey League, who were a farm team of the Minnesota North Stars”. Minnesota did not have enough goalies of their own in order to stock the Clinton team, so that is how the opening presented itself. “Moose told me that I would be the only goalie there in Clinton, and he said he would tell them that I was going to be paid $180 for playing in Muskegon, which was a lie. To me it was no-brainer as I would get to play every game, and make $30 more a week, which was a lot back in 1969”.
Deciding to play for Clinton, Ted Tucker was the youngest player on the Comets’ roster, his first year of professional hockey. Despite his young age, Lallo’s word held true and Ted Tucker would suit up for nearly every one of Clinton’s game for his first two years; 69-games played in 1969-70, followed by 74-games in 1970-71. Some of Tucker’s teammates, like Len Speck, were twice his age or close to it. I ask Ted to tell me about those first few years of pro with the Comets. “After arriving in Clinton, I found out that they played in two separate arenas; one was the Clinton Arena where they played the majority of their games, and the other was the Utica Arena, which was about a 20-minute drive from Clinton, and we would usually play there on Friday nights”. The way that the Utica Arena was maintained could be a nightmare for goaltenders, as Tucker quickly become familiarized with. “The interesting part about those games was they wouldn’t put a whitewash down on the ice because they took the ice out after every game to accommodate basketball games and concerts, so that they could save money; they would just paint the standard face-off circles, the goal-lines, blue, and center ice lines. Needless to say, this was very hard to see the puck, as it was basically playing on black ice. So to start every period, I would have my teammates scrape the ice in the same manner that a goalie scrapes his crease, just to try and make a little more texture to the black ice”.
The novelty of the black ice and the two separate arenas, the joy of regularly playing close to 70-games a season, and the veteran leadership amongst teammates culminated into early success for Ted Tucker and the Comets, as they would win the EHL Walker Cup championship, after compiling a superb record of 50-16-8 in his first pro season. “I still cherish my three years of playing with the Clinton Comets, as it allowed me to develop at a faster rate. This first year was like a dream come true and a magical season, as I also won the Rookie of the Year Award, I was a First Team All-Star, and I won the trophy as the top goaltender for 1969-70. I will always remember and cherish that playoff run. In the second round of the playoffs we were playing the New Haven Blades. We won the first two games at home, and the first in New Haven. My roommate when we went into New Haven was Ian Anderson, who was one tough SOB; he kept the guys from screening me in front of my net. Ian said to me before the start of Game-3 that if I got a shutout, he would give me a pair of new golf shoes, as he knew that I loved golf and he also owned a sporting goods store in Utica. Wouldn’t you know it, I get the shutout that night and we were all bubbly about going up three games to none in the series. Here’s where the plot thickens – Dave Hainsworth, who was a terrific goalie for New Haven, gets super hot and proceeds to shut us out three games in a row to force a Game-7 in Clinton. So here we are now in Game-7, and New Haven comes out flying and they score two quick goals and are outplaying us in every aspect of the game. Somehow we weathered the storm and eventually tied the game up in the third period. Everyone in the building is thinking we are going to go into OT as we were in the last minute of play. All of sudden, we scored with 15-seconds to go in the period. To this day, you can ask any player on that New Haven team, and they’ll tell you that the goal shouldn’t have counted, as it went in from the side of the net through a hole in the netting. The refs checked and rechecked the netting and found no hole, so the goal was counted. Just before we took the final faceoff, (center) Jack Kane comes up to me and says, ‘just stay calm, and you’d better stop anything that gets shot your way'”. After that wild affair in the round against New Haven, Ted Tucker and his Comets teammates went on to play Greensboro from the Southern Division for the Walker Cup. Though they would lose the first two games of the series, they would rally to win the next four games in a row, including an all out firestorm in Game-3 which saw an 8-7 overtime victory, after Tucker was pulled for an extra attacker, being the Comets means of tying the game. At the end of it all, Ted Tucker was an EHL champion in his first season of pro hockey.
One last side note on Ted Tucker’s three years in Clinton – he would actually play two playoff games for a completely different team during the 1970-71 season by suiting up for the Syracuse Blazers, even though he was still a Comet. “In the EHL, most teams only carried one goalie to save on costs. In the playoffs, you were allowed to pick up a goalie for emergency situations. Well, we had lost in the first-round that year, and Syracuse’s goalie hurt his knee. Since Clinton is only 50-miles from Syracuse, they asked me if I would play for them”. The Blazers would end up being one of ten professional teams that Tucker would play for during his career.
In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, the National Hockey League was growing at a rapid pace. The league would expand from six teams to twelve in 1967, followed by adding two more into the fold in 1970 when they added Buffalo and Vancouver. Then, two years later they would add the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames For players like Ted Tucker, who had been on the periphery of the NHL, expansion opened up potential job opportunities that were once much harder to come by prior to 1967. In one day, Tucker was property of three different NHL teams. Having been a prospect for the Montreal Canadiens since he was a teenager, in June of 1972 the Habs would ship his rights in exchange for cash to the expansion Atlanta Flames, who would then trade Ted to the California Golden Seals that same day. For some players an experience like that may have been disconcerting, but not for Tucker. On the contrary, he felt like he now had opportunity within his grasp. “For the first time I actually felt wanted by an NHL team and I thought that I finally caught a break. Garry Young was the General Manager for the Golden Seals, and he was the one that wanted me in the trade. My first contact with Garry was over the phone, and he said ‘Welcome to California!’. I thought that it was a prank call, and kept saying ‘Who is this?’. Garry assured me that it was not a prank call, that he would call me back in a couple of days to talk contract with me. I was on Cloud-9. He called me back, and just like that, over the phone we settled on a 2-year contract with a signing bonus included”.
Perhaps being a bit overexcited with this lucrative offer from California, Ted accepted the deal without at first considering some of the other incentives that likely could or should have been included. He ended up reaching back out to Young to see if some changes could be made and a restructuring of the deal. “Once everything was starting to sink in, I remembered that I hadn’t asked for any performance bonuses, like shutouts, averages, wins, or picking up any awards, so I called him back and explained the situation to him. Garry told me that he would call me back after he looked over what the other goalies were making. He ended calling me back and saying he would be upping my base to $10,000 the first year and $12,000 the second year if I were to play in the the minors, and then $21,000 the first year and $23,000 the second year if I made the NHL club, plus bonuses in each league”. Hearing Ted Tucker speak of this, I could see some GMs playing hardball, and saying something to the effect of “Tough luck; you should have asked before”. The fact that Young raised his salary and included the bonuses was testament to the Golden Seals wanting Tucker to be part of their organization.
Tucker would end up playing a full season and a bit more with California’s minor league affiliate, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, of the Western Hockey League. “The fans were terrific, and the city itself was also terrific. If you looked to the East you would see the mountains, and if you looked to the West you would see the open pit copper mine”. Though it was very scenic and welcoming, Tucker would need to get acclimated to a variance in elevation, as well as a bizarre setup for the team’s rinks. “There were no more bus rides with Salt Lake, as we flew to every city. The one disappointment I had was that even though I liked Al Rollins as a coach, I thought that he would show me more about playing goal as he was a former NHL goalie (Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs). It was also a test for endurance as now we were playing at 4,200-feet, and when we would play Denver at 5,200-feet the air would be so thin that we would have to carry oxygen tanks on the bench for the players. We also practiced in a satellite rink, as we shared the Palace with the ABA’s Utah Jazz. Two sides of the rink were enclosed, and the other two sides were wide open to the air. Depending on the weather, if it was cold we would leave the pucks at the Palace, and we would skate for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and our trainer would joke that the pucks went to the dry cleaners”.
Low and behold, Ted Tucker would see his first shot at the NHL during the 1973-74 season by appearing in five games with the Golden Seals. It was what he had waited an awful long time for, and the dream had now finally come true. “I was called up as an emergency replacement for Gilles Meloche. What happened was that the back of his hand got cut by the skate of Reggie Leach. From what I was told, a warm up for a game day practice was over, and Reggie says to Gilles that he wanted one more shot. Reggie came down, and somehow his skate ran over the back of Gilles catching glove, which at the time didn’t have the protective cover that is on the back of gloves today. Gilles was very lucky, as a tendon was cut, but they were able to reattach it in an emergency operation. I was there with the team for 3-months”.
I ask Ted if he remembers his first NHL game and what took place. “I got the call that I had to fly to San Francisco, and then a limo rushed me to the arena because the game had already started. So here I am, rushing to get dressed and when I make my way to the bench during a stoppage in play, and the announcer says my name over the PA system. I get this round of applause from the fans and I’m not even playing in the game! My first playing time though came against the St. Louis Blues. We were losing at the time, Marv Edwards had hurt his knee. I came in off the bench and ended up leading us to a win, which I got credited for”.
Tucker would go on to play in four more games for the Seals after that, finishing his time in the NHL officially with a record of 1-win, 1-loss, and 1-tie across the five games. “My loss was against the Vancouver Canucks, 3-to-2, and the tie game was when I replaced the starting goalie as we were losing and I ended up backstopping us to getting a tie”. Though on the whole, the Seals were among the NHL’s bottom dwellers they still possessed a modest amount of talent during those early to mid-1970s teams with players like Reggie Leach, Ivan Boldirev, Walt McKechnie, and Joey Johnston. It was the core of this Seals roster that really pushed for Tucker to have more opportunity to play. “It was tough sitting on the bench game-in and game-out because I thought to myself ‘Here’s my chance’. Fred Glover, who at the time was the Head Coach, GM, and President of Operations wouldn’t give me a chance to show what I could do. The players were on my side though. During one game at the Coliseum which we were losing, the fans were yelling ‘We want Tucker!’. Joey Johnston and Walt McKechnie both turned to Glover and said, ‘Put the kid in’. But it didn’t happen”.
After all of his time waiting to get there, it seemed that Ted Tucker was still not getting a fair shake at demonstrating how he was capable of performing at the NHL and opportunity was running out. “Another time we were losing 7-to-1 in Pittsburgh, and I figured ‘Okay, I’ll start the 3rd period’. Well I didn’t, but Bob Champoux (third-string goalie after Meloche and Edwards) gives up the 8th goal in the opening minute of the 3rd, and so then Glover says, ‘You’re up. Go in’. I shut them down until a deflection got past me with less than a minute to go in the game. That was the last time I got into a game in the NHL, other than sitting on the bench”. But Ted made it just the same. And if I do say so myself, he did quite well, especially considering that he was playing for the Golden Seals. Just look at the numbers themselves. For the 1973-74 season, the Golden Seals finished dead-last in the league with an abysmal record of 13-55-10. Yet Tucker, in only 5-games, accounted for one of those 13-wins and 1 of those 10-ties. His California teammates provided a minimal support network for any goalie (Ted included), albeit on the stat sheets, as the Seals would only post 195-goals that season, as opposed to allowing 342.
Ted further explains, “When I was there, Glover got fired right near the end of my third month with the team and Marshal Johnston took over as coach. Johnston called me into his office and told me that I had a choice – I could either stay with the big club, or I could go back to Salt Lake to play, and hopefully win a championship as they were going to be in the playoffs. If I had stayed, my next game would have been in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. But I decided that I would go back to Salt Lake City because I had at least two-and-a-half more months to play, and the Seals’ season was done at the end of the month. Do I regret making this move? The answer is ‘yes’ because I never got another chance to play in the NHL and show them what I could do”.
After his lone season in the NHL, Ted Tucker would go onto play six more years of professional hockey in the IHL with six different teams. The teams that Tucker would play for were as colorful as their names; the Toledo Goaldiggers, the Columbus Owls, the Port Huron Flags, the Muskegon Mohawks, the Saginaw Gears, and the Dayton Gems. Tucker would add two more championships to his résumé; in 1974-75 with Toledo, and again in 1980-81 with the Gears. The 1980-81 Turner Cup trophy being a very fitting ending, as that would be Ted Tucker’s final season of pro hockey. “I feel very blessed to have been part of four championship teams, between Montreal, Clinton, Toledo and Saginaw. I also played on three runner-ups with the Port Arthur Marrs, Salt Lake City, and with Port Huron”.
From those years in the IHL and those championships, I ask Ted to tell me which memories stand out as the most important in his heart. He tells me, “The Toledo Goaldiggers championship means a lot to me, as it is every goalies dream to play in a seventh game on the road, in Saginaw, on the road, before a sell-out. And I played in that game. We arrived back home to a crowd of over 10,000 fans, and it was just one big party downtown”. There were a number of other interesting facts that helped make the Toledo team extra special. “First”, Ted says, “we were an expansion team in the IHL in 1974, and we barely made the playoffs. I can still remember (Head Coach) Teddy Garvin saying to the press that none of his teams ever backed into the playoffs, but that he would take it that year because we had been in a slump and had been just holding onto the fourth and last spot for the playoffs. We then beat the Columbus Owls in five games, then came back and beat the Dayton Gems in seven, after being down three games to two and facing elimination at home.
One of my favorite stories that Ted Tucker shared with me is the practice after the Goaldiggers had gone down 3-to-2 in the series against Dayton. I immediately cracked a smile and chuckled heartily. “We had just gotten blown out in Dayton to go down 3-to-2. In practice, Garvin told us to all line up on the goal line while he is standing at the blue-line with no skates on. He then says to us, “Who has won championships?”. He calls Kent Douglas (who had won the Stanley Cup in 1967 with the Maple Leafs) to the blue-line. Darwin Mott puts up his hand too, and Garvin calls him to the blue-line too. I guess he didn’t see my hand, and proceeded to call the rest of us a bunch of losers. He said, ‘You quit on me in the last game. Now I’m quitting on you! And you can run your own practice!’, and he proceeded to walk off the ice and sit in the stands. Juri Kudrasovs, who was our captain, took over and started running the practice. Meanwhile, Garvin is up there laughing at us and calling us quitters. Juri got really pissed, and flung his stick at Garvin, just barely missing him. The rest is history – we went on to knock off Dayton in seven games”.
Six years later, the ’80-’81 championship with Saginaw would also be a memorable one for Tucker, but in a different way. “Saginaw is also special to me. It was like a bookend to my career. We only lost one game in all of the three series that we played; winning twelve and losing one. Wren Blair, who was the GM and part owner of the Gears made a comment to us at the banquet that we had actually cost him money, we hadn’t played enough home games during the playoff. Out of the three series, we could have played twelve home games as we had home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Instead, we only ended up playing seven home games, as we swept two series four games to none”. After the ’81 Turner Cup with the Gears, Tucker would retire but would stay on with the team as their PR man until the franchise folded in April 1983.
Tucker’s life after hockey seemed to settle in one location instead of the many that he played in throughout his career. He made a home for himself in Temperance, Michigan where he raised a family and retired from working with Jeep from the time the Gears folded in 1983 up until May 2008. Ted also coached his son, Travis, through all levels of hockey, up to junior varsity in high school. And up until recently, he kept himself involved in playing in a Sunday night pickup game until last year when he turned 66-years old. These days Tucker loves playing golf, which he informs me is “much easier on the body”.
I ask Ted Tucker what is the most important thing that he has learned from hockey. “Wow, so many things come to mind. One would be good work ethic. But also integrity. Honesty. And a passion for the game”. Ted goes on further to say, “I don’t believe that the passion is there for the players anymore. It’s about money, and ‘How much can I make?’. When I signed my first NHL pro contract, the minimum was $15,000, and now it’s $575,000. I also believe that the new young player doesn’t have the respect of their fellow players as they try to hurt them the first chance they get. Don’t get me wrong; I love a hard-hitting game. But not the cheap headshots you see now in the NHL”.
Tying into what Ted Tucker says, it is obvious to me that this man played the game with a sincere work ethic of his own. Every place that he played, he gave it his all and wanted to show that he was capable of being the top netminder. He also exuded a true sense of both integrity and honesty, in knowing what he wanted and what decisions he chose to make. Choosing hockey over school. Returning to Salt Lake City instead of staying with the Golden Seals. Asking the GM to reconsider and renegotiate his first contract with California for better incentives. Recognizing that he was in fact wanted by an NHL club. Good, bad, ugly, or otherwise, Ted Tucker upheld his integrity and his honesty.
But what stands out most to me, personally, and what really makes me admire Ted, is that passion for the game the he mentioned. You do not win four championships without that passion. You do not begin your professional career with a championship, nor end it with one, if you do not have that passion. Hell, Ted Tucker also won a championship smack dab in the middle of his career too. Even more noteworthy, you do not tend goal for the greatest junior hockey team ever assembled and go down in history as such, if you do not have his passion either. I want today’s NHL young player to be more like Ted. I want them to know his story, and see how this man played the game. He is admirable, and his career means something to hockey. Today’s hockey player wanting to be in the NHL, heed the experience and the character of Ted Tucker. After all, he was the goaltender for the greatest junior team of all time.