Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

19 December, 2009

RED KELLY STILL HOCKEY'S CLASS GUY


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I was pleased this evening to see the Toronto Maple Leafs honouring good old Red Kelly, along with relative youngsters Bob Nevin and Mike Walton, in a pre-game opening ceremony.  All three were prominent members of  Stanley Cup winners in Toronto during the 1960s.
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What surprised me most was that Red did not appear to have aged any more than Nevin, 11 years his junior, and Walton, a whopping 18 years younger than the 81-year-old former National Hockey League veteran player and manager-coach of three NHL teams.
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Leonard Patrick "Red" Kelly was and is an amazing guy.  In spite of his success as a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and winner of eight Stanley Cups equally divided between stints as a standout member of the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, he remained low-key and humble.  He epitomized the clean-cut athlete of the l950s and '60s.  Of Christian heritage, he has yet to utter his first swear word.
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Growing up I idolized Kelly, then a solid defenseman with Red Wings teams that boasted the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel and Terry Sawchuck.  After being traded to Toronto in 1960 and moving up to the forward line as a centre, he became a premier play maker and was largely responsible for Frank Mahovlich's success as a prolific goal scorer. You can imagine how completely overwhelmed I was in 1952 to be called up to play with Dresden Juniors in the Ontario Baseball Association championship finals against a Port Dover team coached by none other than the 25-year-old redhead himself.  He, of course, is Norfolk Country born and bred and calls both Port Dover and Simcoe his home.

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Some 14 years later, I was sports editor at the Simcoe Reformer when I received a telephone call.  The rather high-pitched voice on the other end of the line announced:  "Hi Dick...This is Red Kelly calling."  You could have knocked me over with a feather.
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He went on the say that the NHL expansion Los Angeles Kings would be announcing later that day that he had signed on as the team's inaugural manager-coach.  "I just felt that I owed it to my hometown newspaper to let them know in advance of the announcement," he explained.  So typical of Red.  Always thoughtful and loyal...They just do not make 'em like that any more!
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It was an excellent scoop for me because even though Red had announced his retirement as an active player with the Maple Leafs several weeks earlier, Toronto coach Punch Imlach dragged things out by refusing in the end to release Red's rights until LA traded a minor league defenseman to the Leafs in exchange.

Never flamboyant or overly-vocal behind the player's bench, Red went on to prove himself to be an effective, inspirational leader of not only the fledgling Kings, but the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs in subsequent years.

During his heyday as a player with the Maple Leafs, quite remarkably he even found time to serve as Liberal Member of Parliament for the Toronto riding of York West...A super-human feat, to say the least.

Red remains my idol, especially after seeing him at centre ice in the Air Canada Centre tonight dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff between the Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. 
...Ten years from now when I'm his age, I want to look as good as him!

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