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Dickie Moore: A Leaf too late, but an all-time great

I recently had a wonderful conversation with long-time Montreal great Dickie Moore.

Now 78, and still a highly successful businessman (owner of Dickie Moore Rentals since the early 1960s), he was generous enough to respond to a request I made to speak with him

In our initial conversation he shared memories from his time with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s and early ‘60s, and his brief comeback with the Leafs during the 1964-’65 NHL season. (We arranged a time to do a more ‘formal’ audio interview – which we have now completed – which I will place on this site shortly. The photo included with this story was taken after Game 4 of the 1963 semi-final series against Toronto. Montreal won that night, but the Leafs won the series in 5 games. That 1962-’63 season was the last that Moore spent with the Canadiens.)

Moore was an outstanding all-around player-tough, fiery and an offensive threat. He led the NHL in scoring twice, once with 96 points- when numbers like that meant something in the old 70 games a season, 6-team NHL.

He recounted how Emile “Butch” Bouchard was an outstanding team leader and personal mentor to him and other young players. He mentioned how, when former teammate Toe Blake took over from Dick Irvin Sr. as coach, he went into the room and told the assembled players, “I can’t coach you guys. You’re too good”, then walked out. Blake proceeded to simply let them play.

And play they did, winning 5 Cups in a row, successful in part because they were not micro-managed and over-coached, as most NHL clubs are today.

He remembered Bert Olmstead as exactly how I’ve often heard Olmstead described: a great player, someone Dickie respected a great deal, but someone who was hard on his teammates and not necessarily loved by everyone because of his relentless drive and will to win- whatever it took to win. (That was an attitude that, by all accounts, Olmstead took to the Leafs when he joined Punch Imlach in the late 1950s, and also to his short-lived time as coach of the expansion Oakland Seals in 1967-’68.)

Moore also thought the world of long-time teammate Doug Harvey, and believed it a terrible shame that Harvey was traded by Montreal after the 1960-’61 season to the New York Rangers.

Dickie shared the story of how Irvin once asked the players how much a hockey puck weighed. No one knew, but Harvey said, “twenty pounds.” Irvin responded, “20 pounds?...” Harvey said, “You try moving that puck with two guys on your back…”

Dickie spoke warmly of his brief time with the Leafs. Before agreeing to a comeback, he said he checked out Imlach and the organization by speaking with former teammates like Olmstead, who never got along with Imlach but nonetheless respected Punch and spoke very highly of him. Dickie also spoke with Jean Beliveau, who had played for Imlach with the Quebec Aces in the very early 1950’s.

Moore came from a large family- 9 boys and one girl, and typical of that generation, devoted and hard-working parents.

He learned a lot from Bouchard about preparing for life after hockey. He told me he always had the ambition of owning his own business, and he has been very successful. He called me from his office, still at work at the age of 78.

One thing he shared in our conversation was simple but revealing: he said that the key to coaching was treating players the way you would wish to be treated. Blake did that with him, and all the Canadiens, and that led to great success for players- and the team. That, Moore said, is how he has operated his business.

As a then young Maple Leaf fan, I remember Moore playing with Toronto during the 1964-’65 season with Toronto.

An industrial accident around the time he left the Canadiens caused a major knee problem, and he could not have played in 1963-‘64 in any event. But, he was claimed in the intra-league draft before the 1964-’65 season and Leaf GM and Coach Punch Imlach convinced Moore to make a comeback with Toronto.

Toronto had just won 3 Cups in a row, but Imlach always recognized the value of veteran leadership and gave Moore a chance to play with the Leafs.

Moore was healthy enough to play about half the regular season games that year, totaling 6 points. He added a goal and an assist in 5 playoff games, as the Leafs fell to his old team, Montreal, in a 6-game semi-final series that ended the Leaf dominance of the early 60s.

I don’t frankly remember a lot about Moore’s play with the Leafs that season, but not long ago I watched one of the playoff games from that season on Leafs TV. Moore was clearly still a hard-driving player, giving everything he had against his old team.

Moore retired after that ’65 season, but was again talked out of retirement, this time by St. Louis coach Scotty Bowman, during the 1967-’68 season- the first year of NHL expansion.

Bowman was building a veteran squad with Glenn Hall in goal and a number of former Montreal players (Bowman had been raised in the Montreal system as a player and coach) including Ab McDonald, Doug Harvey and Jimmy Roberts.

Moore played less than 30 regular-season games, but was a standout in the playoffs, as the Blues raced through the Western Conference playoffs all the way to the finals where Moore again faced his old Montreal club.

During that playoff season, Moore accumulated 14 points in 18 games in helping the Blues make it to the finals.

Moore retired again after that season, for good. He finished his career with more than 600 points in just over 700 regular season games, and added another 110 points in only 135 playoff games.

He was the kind of determined, gritty, talented player that would have been a great fit with the Leafs- if only we had him a bit sooner.

What a privilege it was to speak with one of the true legends of the game. Someone who is one of the first names I think of, when I think back to what was, for me, the golden age of hockey.

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