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1960s: Remembering two colorful guys: Howie Young and Reggie Fleming

There have always been colorful characters in hockey, but when I think of real “characters”, for some reason I think of certain individuals from when I was a kid in the 1960s.

Recently, the death of Reggie Fleming triggered much-needed discussion about the horrible effects that his role as a long-time NHL enforcer may have played in terms of his suffering from serious brain damage later in life. (Fleming, sadly, apparently played well beyond his time as an NHL’er, and still felt compelled to play the ‘tough guy’ role into his 40’s.) But this important issue is a discussion for another time.

I remember Fleming as a tough guy, for sure, but also somebody who could play, when allowed to do so. He wasn’t a flashy player, but he could skate, he killed penalties and could pot enough goals to make him valuable as far more than “just” a fighter.

I best remember him with Chicago, New York and Boston throughout the ‘60s, though he actually came up in the Montreal system and played a few games with the Habs in 1959-’60, the last year of their run of five Stanley Cups in succession. It’s significant to note that Reggie, traded before the next season with star winger Ab McDonald to Chicago, was a piece of the 1961 Cup-winners with the Hawks in his first full season in the NHL.

In 1964-’65, he netted 18 goals with a weak Boston team—a significant total in the old six-team NHL. A year later, he led the entire league in penalty minutes, and still managed to score 14 goals.

He scored 15 or more goals twice with the Rangers in the late 1960s, when they were becoming a very good team. He fought to protect his teammates because it was what he was expected to do. He finished up his NHL career in the expansion years with Philadelphia and the Sabres—Buffalo’s first year as an expansion team in the NHL. He scored more than 100 goals in his career- most of them in the tough old, “Original Six” days. (Interestingly, he scored more than 20 goals in his first season in the WHA in the early 1970s. The next season he played with his old Chicago and Boston teammate, Pat Stapleton.)

He probably never received the respect he deserved back from the game, but I remember him as a guy who gave his all. I noticed him when I was a kid, and when I watch old games now, I often focus on Fleming and admire what he brought to the teams he played for.

Another guy who comes to mind when talking about colorful characters is Howie Young. Young was known for his off-ice antics and, sadly, he struggled with substance abuse. But he was a really talented guy—he simply would let his temper get the better of him. He could be an undisciplined player and sometimes showed that tendency in two stints with the Red Wings and the Black Hawks. He played with some of the biggest names in hockey—Howe, Delvecchio, Sawchuk, Hull, Mikita, Pilotte and Hall. He was tough, had some offensive skills and he could fight.

I was at the old Detroit Olympia in the late winter of 1968 when Howie slashed Montreal tough guy John Ferguson with his stick, splitting Fergie open. Fergie exploded in anger and battled with Young. (That was one of three fights that Ferguson was part of that night, including one with Paul Henderson, who was traded the next day to the Leafs.)

Young (pictured with the Wings in the early ‘60s, at right) could be dirty, and wild, both on and off the ice. He was with the Wings when they made it to the finals against Fleming and the Hawks in 1961. In 1962-’63, he helped the Wings get to the Cup finals again, this time against the Leafs. That season, he earned almost 300 minutes in penalties in only 64 regular-season games. He was one of those guys that, as an opposing forward, you had to now where he was at all times.

Unfortunately, despite his talent, he played more games in his career in the minor leagues (more than 500 in the AHL and the old Western league) than he did in the NHL. He played briefly with the Vancouver Canucks in their first season in 1970-’71, his last games in the big-time. He was still good enough, though, to play parts of two season in the WHA when he was in his late 30s.

Both of these guys were old-fashioned characters, who brought color to the game in the rather conservative and stodgy ‘old’ NHL.

1 comment:

  1. I vaguely remember both Young and Fleming as I was a Hawks fan starting in early 60s. I never saw much of either as I live in CanaDUH, and the only NHL we got was HNIC on CBC with Maple Leafs and Habs. I was a BIG Hull fan and Fleming LOST a lot of points with me when he fought Hull in the WHA!