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The passing of Frank Selke Jr.

We’re always sad when we hear of the passing of someone who was in some way a part of our lives—even if they didn’t know who we are.  That's often the case when we lose someone in the sports world, especially an individual who was part of something special- a great team, or a classy organization.

That’s how I felt when reading of the death of Frank Selke Jr. (at the age of 83) earlier this week.  Selke’s father (left) was a key executive around Maple Leaf Gardens in the relatively early days of the Conn Smythe era.  I’m not a historian, but I know they had a falling out of sorts at one point, and Selke went on to join the Montreal Canadians as that team’s General Manager—and he led the proud franchise for many years.  I'd have to look it up to see precisely how many Cups the Canadiens won during Selke Sr's time in charge, but it was a lot.  As importantly, he helped to maintain and build upon a legacy that stands to this day.  In those days, Montreal was home to the "Flying Frenchmen", year in and year out one of the best and most exciting teams in hockey. Selke's shrewd managerial work was a huge part of that  success.

For his part, the elder Smythe was not “only” an executive, of course,  he actually founded and owned the Maple Leafs.  His son Stafford (photo at right) eventually took over ownership of the Maple Leaf franchise in the early ‘60s, along with partners John Bassett Sr. and Harold Ballard.  The junior Smythe’s unexpected death in 1970 (I think it was 1970) led, unfortunately, to Ballard becoming the sole owner of the franchise for the next 20—often bumbling—seasons.

During the Smythe years, the Leafs were a first-class franchise, not perfect, but successful on and off the ice. The old Maple Leaf Gardens was one of the shrines of hockey.

In Montreal, Selke Sr. won a lot of Stanley Cups in the 1950s, and as the team transitioned and experienced a few difficult seasons in the early ‘60s, passed the torch on to a then young Sam Pollock, who would go on to become something of a legend in Hab land.

Meanwhile, Selke’s son, Frank Jr., became a TV colour man (alongside the legendary English-language voice of the Canadiens, Danny Gallivan, lower right), as well as being a communications staffer for the Habs as well as an in studio host on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

I loved Selke as a broadcast guy—smart, fair, well-spoken, usually asking thoughtful questions (as best one could in the somewhat wooden olden-days HNIC format).  I did not get to see him often enough, as he generally (with a few exceptions I seem to recall when he would be in Toronto) worked the Montreal telecasts. But we did see him plenty at playoff time either when the Leafs were finished, were actually playing against the Habs or when he joined the Toronto show once the Habs were eliminated.  (Some context:  viewers were I lived in southwestern Ontario only and always saw Toronto games on Saturday night.  It was the only game we had access to all week during the regular-season.  We were also “blacked out” of any games if the Red Wings across the way were playing at home on a Saturday night, which fortunately did not happen very often.  Also, in this early ‘60s, the Leafs won those three Cups in a row, so they lasted longer than Montreal in the playoffs many years…)

As I recall, Frank Jr.  went on to join the Oakland Seals as a team executive (President, General Manager, I can’t quite remember) when expansion came to the NHL in the summer of 1967.  He helped bring on board a number of ex-Leafs in the first couple of years that the Seals existed.  Names that pop to mind include Bobby Baun, Billy Harris, Wally Boyer and Kent Douglass.  He also imported Charlie Hodge, left, from his Dad's old team, the Habs. Hodge had been a number-one goalie for a time after the Jacques Plante years,  but Gump Worsley, the ex-Ranger great, became the primary starter over time after sharing duties with Charlie for a time.)

I don’t now how long he stayed there, but my guess is Selke Jr. was such a nice individual that he was not really cut out for the sometimes cut-throat world of professional sports administration.  I believe he got involved in broadcasting again (perhaps on the advertising side?) in some form through the 1970s and beyond.  (I’d be happy if someone could provide more accurate details, as opposed to my rather sketchy memory on this one!)

In his later years, if I’m not mistaken, he was deeply involved with the Special Olympics.  Even in his senior years, every time I heard him interviewed, he always came across as a most genuine and decent man. When people talk about a person having led a “full”  and meaningful life, I’m guessing Frank Selke Jr. was one of those. As I've posted here many times, my Dad was a devout Montreal Canadien supporter, and the Selkes' were a part of "my" history as a result.   I'll always think of Frank Jr.  fondly.


  1. "During the Smythe years, the Leafs were a first-class franchise, not perfect, but successful on and off the ice."

    I think we are getting back to that. Kadri is flying. Nonis, Carlyle and Eakins seem to be putting in a credible, workman-like effort without allot of fuss.

    Most nights, I can't wait for the next game.

  2. I think we've exhibited some of that class off and on in the last twenty plus years, DP. Maybe they are working toward that kind of status again. That would be most welcome.

  3. Agreed DP and Michael. Although the Rogers/Bell/Tanenbaum triumvurate is not perfect, I think they are more committed to producing winning teams than a majority ownership that is a Pension Fund, which only exists to maximize profits, not product.

  4. I was saddened to see another well-respected heritage guy passing from our midst when I read it earlier and was glad to see you honour him (and his family) with your article, Michael.

    As DP agreed with you about the nature of the Leaf organization in the past and the current attempts to bring forth some of that class in its presentation incarnation, I am looking forward to the ceremony honouring Mats (Hall of Fame induction) at the game tonight (Saturday). I hope we have a great game so that the ludicrous idea that the Leafs were 'cursed' the last time Sundin was honoured (and began their departure over the cliff against Montreal) could be revoked once and for all! Of course, some will just say 'reversed' - but in any case, here's an idea for the team to be able to move forward:

    Given something I suggested earlier about Dave Keon having his number retired but able to 'release' it for use by a player of his choice, the thought struck me that tonight would be a great time for Mats Sundin to do something similar... Nazem Kadri often wore the number 13 in the past(perhaps to honour the likes of Sundin - I think I read that somewhere) - if ever there was a time to tie the future to the past in a positive way and communicate a commitment to the young man, calling him to center ice and presenting a newly numbered uniform could be a great touch!

    Might be a nice touch - I'll be watching with some interest to see if my thoughts become reality!

  5. I'm not a Tanenbaum guy, Sean, but I acknowledge the "new" owners might want to win. The Pension Plan folks had other priorities- making money - which they well maximized.

  6. I have absolutely no idea how Kadri and Sundin would feel about that, but on the surface, that's a wonderful idea, InTimeFor62.

  7. R.i.p Frank. You will be missed.