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The NHL ‘all nice-guy’ team: Have your say

I’m sure everyone remembers, if they had the opportunity as kid, when they met a professional hockey player.  The first NHL’er I ever met was a young defenseman who lived in the small town right next to mine in the late 1950s,  Maple Leaf defenseman Marc Reaume. (Click on his name to read my earlier story.)  Reaume was a fine young defenseman who was traded to Detroit for Red Kelly.  Marc had a tremendous minor-league career, but also played briefly for the Habs and later the Vancouver Canucks when they joined the NHL in 1970-'71.  An off-ice accident ended his career.

I later met Bobby Orr (click on his name to read "Bobby Orr and the night my Dad didn't believe me) in Toronto during his rookie season, but I didn’t encounter many other “pros” until I was a young guy in the broadcasting field in the 1970s.  Orr, though, was a nice as you could possibly expect when I saw him that Friday night in Toronto in the fall of 1966, the night before the Leafs hosted Orr and the Bruins at the old Gardens,

Because they were both nice to me and graciously shook my hand, they would be on my list of “nice guys” who made meeting an NHL’er a memorable—and positive—experience.

In 1977-'78, in my early days in the sports broadcast field, I worked up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  Wayne Gretzky, even as a young 17 year-old, could not have been more accommodating.  He continued to help me out for years afterwards whenever I needed to fill an interview spot for the shows I was hosting. (Click here for the link to a short clip from an interview I did with him when he was only 17.)

He has to go on my list.

About ten years ago I did an interview with Leaf legend Johnny Bower (see late 1950s photo of Johnny at right).  Bower was the goaltender who joined the Leafs late in his career, but played until he was 45 and helped them win those four Cups along the way.

Everything I had ever heard about him was true.  He was engaging, humble, friendly.  Just a fine individual.

The late Scott Garland (pictured at left), a rugged winger with the 1970s' Maple Leafs, was one of the nicest individuals I ever had the opportunity to interview.  He's on my list, too.

I could pick any number of players who I've cnountered through the years, but to fill out my all nice-guy roster I'll go with Andy Bathgate.  I interviewed Andy not that long ago for this site.  ( Click to go to that interview.)  And he was also very generous with his time back in the mid-1970s when I was a young guy in broadcasting and wanted the chance to interview him.  An all-time great and a fine person.

So right there I have four Hall-of-Famers- a goalie, a defensemen, a center and a right winger plus a local childhood hero (Reaume) and a tough role-playing winger (Garland). That's a good start. 

Based on how players come across, either in person or interacting with the media, we probably all have our personal “nice guy” team— players who come across in a genuine, down-to-earth way.

Hockey players, generally speaking, have the reputation of being the best pro athletes to deal with for reporters.  Fans seem to feel the same way. For me, the list of modern-day “nice guys” has to include Boston goalie Tim Thomas.  I don't know Tim but he just seems to be a guy who appreciates where he has come from and works hard, someone who has a certain humility about him and makes time for others.

Who is on your “nice-guy” team, past or present?  It can be based on a personal encounter that you had, how they come across in interviews, stories you’ve heard, whatever comes to mind.

Send your comments along.

           

4 comments:

  1. I had the pleasure of watching a Leafs-Habs tilt on a Saturday night a few years back from the Leafs Alumni Box, and Wedel Clark was there! He was very nice, though reserved, and was gracious enough to allow for a couple photos and autographs. Very classy guy, despite his ferocious play on the ice. His wife and children were also there, very nice family!

    Jason

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  2. Long suffering Leaf fanFebruary 18, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    The First NHLer I met was the Detroit Red Wing when they came to the old Hamilton forum to play an exhibition game against the Junior A team. In between the first period, my old Atom A coach had permission for us to stand outside the Wings dressing room as the players came off the ice. I still remember the thrill and disappointment of meeting my favorite player Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. I only say that I was disappointed because it was after that game and the next day that a neighborhood boy who was as a big brother informed me Hamilton and Detroit were not the same team. OK so I was a dumb kid! Still what a bubble burst, and especially from a Hab’s fan. No wonder I, to this day, hate the Canadiens. Thanks, Mom and Tim Horton for turning me into a Leaf fan. As for the other pro’s I met, I have to say Jim Schoenfeld and Ed Gilbert were at lot of fun having them knocking us little kids into the snow bank in the backyard rink. Ed Gilbert was dating my friend’s older sister at the time, so we got to see them quite often. Let me tell you a little secret about Schoenfeld, he does not like to lose when it comes to playing the old table hockey game, so he cheats by picking up his end ha! I found Paul Henderson (I still have his autograph picture) very kind. Met Bobby Hull at Gemini Mercury one Saturday and found him to be a class act. He was there from nine in the morning until late in the afternoon and refused to leave in spite of playing a game that night against the Leafs until every single one of us kids had an autograph and picture with him. Even though I never met him personally, Jim Dorey has to be a nice person because his cousin Dorothy who was in my fourth grade class said he was. On a personal note, and I saved them for last on purpose because it is always a thrill to see kids in your neighbor make it to the pros. Al Jensen lived around the corner from me on Hayes Avenue. Even though he was a year or two older than I was, we still attended the same elementary school, junior high, and high school together. I remember fondly, especially this time of year, having heated ball hockey tournament in the old neighborhood. Al could be overly (as for the rest of us) competitive. It was great to see him carry that same spirit all the way to the NHL. The final one I like to mention is Derek King; he truly is a gentle giant and a very good friend to those around him. I remember one night him calling the house when the Islanders were in town so he could talk to my best friends little brother. He just wanted to let Terry know that he had not forgotten him. In my books, that is a standout man! I wish him luck in his coaching career.

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  3. The first Leaf I met was Dave Keon. I was probably 12 at the time, and he was visiting the kids at Central Neighbourhood House on Sherbourne St. He couldn't have been nicer, and meeting him is an indelible memory. For some reason, I remember noticing the thickness of his neck and shoulders, and thinking that even though he was smallish, as I was, he was tough! I also met George Armstrong many times at our church. He was another terrific guy, somewhat shy I'd say, but always willing to chat with us. There are many reason the Leafs of the 60's are "my team", and Keon and Armstrong will always dwell among my heros.

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  4. Thanks to everyone for their posts here and e-mails. It really adds to the site when people take the time to share their own memories.

    I was remiss in not including Bobby Hull in my "team", or at least mentioning him! I've posted on Bobby a few times on the site. He has been unbelievable with fans his entire hockey life and a great ambassador for the game.

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