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Brian Glennie: Open-ice hits were his specialty

As Leaf fans continue to celebrate the arrival of Dion Phaneuf and his big-hitting ways, it led me to write about long-time Leaf great Bobby Baun earlier this week.

Following the theme of hard-hitting defensemen, Leaf followers of my generation will also well-remember Brian Glennie.

I guess you could say Glennie was your prototypical “defensive defenseman”. He was not a puck carrier, nor a particularly smooth skater, but he was a big, rugged guy who was one of the few defensemen in the 1970s who still was effective at throwing the old-fashioned open-ice hip or body-check in the center-ice zone.

Glennie came up a little late, age-wise, with the Leafs, having played for the junior Marlies and in the minors before making the jump during the 1969-’70 season. He also earned a spot on Canada’s national team and represented Canada at the 1968 Winter Olympics in France.

When he came on board in the 1969-‘70 season, the once-aging Leaf defense was in transition. Allan Stanley (after a season with the Flyers in 1968-69) and Marcel Pronovost had retired. Pierre Pilotte, too.

40 year-old Tim Horton was moved to the Rangers during Glennie’s first year in blue and white. Other young defenders like Jim McKenny and Ricky Ley were also taking on a bigger role.

While never considered a “star”, Glennie was good enough to make Team Canada in the fall of 1972 as part of the Summit Series, staying with the squad as a reserve, as I recall.

He played hard and mostly well for Toronto through the ‘70s, before finishing his career with the LA Kings. He had a knack for anticipating the right moment to step up into the center-ice area to eliminate the oncoming forward, often with a huge body-check.

I well remember the night a friend and I went down to Maple Leaf Gardens, probably in the winter-spring of 1975. Though we were just young students at the University of Toronto, we had bought season’s tickets way up in the ‘greys’ because they were so inexpensive—four bucks a seat.

However, on this night, we wanted to dump the tickets because the Leafs were playing the California Golden Seals, an awful team in those days. I think they had Dennis Maruk as a small ‘skill’ guy -and not too much else.

As we were looking to sell our tickets, a fellow offered us a pair of “red” seats at no cost—as long as we didn’t turn around and sell them. We said sure, and gave our greys away.

The reds back then were just above the ice-level ‘golds’. The reds were the second-best seats, price and location-wise, in the house. In a way they were actually the best seats, because the sightlines and overall perspective was great—above the golds but below the “greens”.

I vividly remember that Glennie hit a guy—hard—in the open ice that night right in front of us, and it made an impression: These were and are big men, playing a tough game. When you watch on TV, or even from the old ‘greys’ as I often did, you are very physically detached, and you just don’t feel the contact in the same way. That play, right in front of me, was an affirmation that guys such as Glennie had a difficult job.

My one and only personal encounter with Brian was in the spring of 1977. I was a young broadcaster working for a small radio station west of Toronto. I was assigned to cover a youth hockey awards ceremony one Saturday morning and Glennie was the Leaf on hand to hand out the awards. (I have no idea, but I’m guessing in those days the Leafs would have given the players an opportunity to make a few hundred bucks as an appearance fee, if that, to attend one of these functions.)

I did a short interview live on-air with Brian, routine stuff. However, what I always remembered was his saying to me, just before the interview, off-air, “When does your shift end?”

It struck me as interesting that this high-profile athlete, a “Maple Leaf”—which made him a big man in and about Toronto—didn’t assume I was impressed to be spending time with or interviewing him because he was a “Leaf”. There was no ego about him. He just sort of assumed, I guess, that this was a job for me, which it was (though I enjoyed it, of course) and that like everyone else, I was probably looking forward to my workday ending.

Glennie’s been featured on the Leafs TV “Once a Leaf” program and like many former athletes it sounded as though Brian had some challenges in his after-hockey life. But it seemed like he has handled everything that has come his way.

A good guy—and a good Leaf.

1 comment:

  1. I know Brian from the Winter time he spends in Florida, where he golfs. A very nice man who treats everyone well, and with generosity. Brian is actually a soft hearted and unassuming guy.