Custom Search

Great ex-Leafs Dickie Moore, Olmstead, Bathgate and old time Leaf rivals Gadsby and Hodge: remembering some NHL stars of my youth…

I think most of us who have some emotional attachment to sports and particular teams and athletes in various sports are saddened when we hear of the passing of old-time players.

It has too often happened over the past few months that I’ve noted the passing of a former great, and I told myself that I should share a few memories of their NHL careers here at VLM. I’ll try to catch up a bit today with reflections on a few individuals who've died in recent months and still generate warm hockey memories for me.

Bert Olmstead

Olmstead is someone I’ve written about here many times over the years.  Not so much because I saw him play all that often (he retired after the 1961-’62 NHL season, when I was 8 years old) but because it was as if I always knew who Bert Olmstead was from the time I could talk, walk and watch hockey.

Here’s the thing: raised as I was in a Montreal Canadiens-mad family (a father and two older brothers who were passionate Montreal fans) I learned early on about “The Rocket”, Beliveau, Plante, Harvey, Tom Johnson, Butch Bouchard, Donnie Marshall, Phil Goyette—all those great old names.  When I started “following” hockey in the late 1950s, the Leafs acquired Olmstead from the Habs, who likely saw Bert as winding his way toward the end of his career. (The old 1950s "Bee Hive" photo at right hung in my bedroom for years when I was a child...)

Olmstead brought leadership and a hate-to-lose attitude. He was a fiery, gritty presence on a Leaf club that was changing its culture under new General Manager and soon Coach, Punch Imlach. By 1961-’62, Olmstead was fighting persistent injuries, but his hard-driving style of play along with his effectiveness in the corners and around the front of the net made him a valuable member of a Leaf side that won a Cup for the first time in more than a decade in the spring of ’62.

Bert was actually a “player coach” under Punch for a time, but gave that up when he felt he was not really being consulted on decisions.  But he was a guy who helped re-establish a winning culture in the organization that in turn helped that group go on to win several other Stanley Cups after he left.

The future Hall-of-Famer retired after the Leafs left him unprotected in the NHL league draft in the summer of ’62. He later  coached for one season: the first year of expansion, with the old Oakland Seals, a team that included former Leaf teammates  Bobby Baun, Gerry Ehman and Billy Harris.

Dickie Moore

Like Olmstead, Moore was a rough and ready player with the vaunted Canadiens machine in the 1950s. He helped Montreal win those five Cups in a row between 1956 and 1960. Moore could really play: he was a talented winger, often playing with Henri Richard and older brother Maurice. He was tough as nails. He led the league in scoring one time, when 96 points was a huge number (and in a 70 game season, as I recall). And he could fight. He was the epitome of a passionate, driven player who hated to lose.

An industrial accident left him severely injured (leg) and he retired before the 1963-’64 season. But he was unhappy that the Habs kind of pushed him out the door. So when Punch Imlach came calling after picking him up in the league draft before the ’64-’65 NHL season, Dickie worked his tail off to get in shape and joined the Leafs. He had modest stats during the regular season, but was instrumental in the Leafs taking the eventual Champion Habs to six games in a hotly contested semi-final in April of 1965.

Moore retired again that summer, only to be coaxed back to the game one last time by Scotty Bowman to join the expansion St. Louis Blues in the late 1960s. I recall that Moore had a pretty extraordinary playoff as the Blues made it all the way to the finals before losing to Montreal. (That St. Louis squad had a number of great old players in that 1967-’68 season, including former Leaf Al Arbour and ex-Hab goaltending great Jacques Plante…)

I was so fortunate to interview Dickie a few years ago.  I posted the audio interview here on the VLM site. I’m not sure if the link still works, but it was such a great conversation with a warm-hearted and straightforward individual, an all-time great who was a true Hall-of-Famer in every sense.

Andy Bathgate

Bathgate was a star long before he came to the Maple Leafs in a much-debated trade in February of 1964. He was a great offensive player for the New York Rangers throughout much of the decade of the ‘50s and the early 1960s.  I seem to recall that he tied for the league lead in points one year. (He might have tied with Bobby Hull; I’m trying to remember…) He had a great shot and was famous for being the guy who hit the aforementioned Plante in the face with a shot in the fall of 1959—pushing the netminder to insist on wearing a mask in net from that moment on.

In the deal, the Leafs gave up two very popular players with their best days still ahead of them (Dickie Duff and Bob Nevin) and a couple of solid future NHLers in Rod Seiling and Arnie Brown. But while Bathgate largely struggled to adjust to playing in Toronto’s defensive “system”, he scored a couple of huge goals in the ‘64 finals against the Red Wings. One was a key goal on the road in Detroit. The other was one I will never forget, because I was watching nervously as a ten year-old on our old black and white TV when it happened: a near rink-long breakaway, then beating Terry Sawchuk with a well-placed shot in the first period of Game 7 in that hard-fought series. The first-period goal gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead, and they built on that lead to win the game—and their third Cup in a row.

Andy was dealt a year or so later to the Red Wings, and finished his NHL career with the expansion Penguins, though he also later played in the World Hockey Association. Andy was kind enough to do an interview with me when I was a young guy breaking into broadcasting in the summer of 1976 (it was the first time I heard the story about him hitting Plante on purpose with his shot in that '59 game. Andy said he was fed up with Jacques  hitting him with his back side behind the net when Andy was chasing a loose puck. Plante used to roam out of his net…he probably the first goalie to really do that). I remember being surprised to hear, during that discussion, that Bathgate was still working on his shot to perfect it, even though he had fully retired by the time we spoke in 1976.

Andy repeated the favour for me a few years ago when we had another long chat for the VLM site. He was a great player and a classy individual.

Bill Gadsby

Gadsby was another player who was a big part of my hockey-mad youth. He played for the Red Wings—right across from the small town I was raised in, in southern Ontario. Bill had played with the Rangers before Detroit (and I think Chicago before that) and was a real rugged, battling defenseman. He could put up points, too, but I remember him mostly in the latter stages of his career in Detroit as a steady, mature presence on mostly very good Red Wing teams. He blocked all kinds of shots back in the day (see great old photo below, with Gadsby trying to block a a shot from New York's Camille "The Eel" Henry at the old Madison Square Garden), and was a well-deserving Hall-of-Famer.

Unfortunately, his teams never managed to win a Cup, though they came awfully close in Detroit in 1964 and 1966. But for a break or two, Gadsby would have been a Stanley Cup winner before retiring after the 1965-’66 season.

Bill later coached the Red Wings, but, in a decision I still don’t understand, then owner Bruce Norris fired Gadbsy after the first two games of the 1969-70 season. (The Wings had won both games.) While I was never a Red Wing fan, Gadsby always seemed like the epitome of a team-first guy. He played hurt and played hard and was the kind of individual I would have loved to see play for the Maple Leafs.

Charlie Hodge

Hodge is another longtime NHLer whose recent passing brought back all kinds of memories.  He was Jacque Plante’s understudy for many years in Montreal in the 1950s.

Hodge was small in stature (I doubt he weighed much more than 150 pounds) but he was a really good goaltender. To provide some perspective, there were basically six goalies who played in the old six team NHL—at least in the late 1950s and early 1960s when I was a kid.  Barring injury, Plante played in Montreal, Johnny Bower (though Johnny was indeed injured at various times) in Toronto. Gump Worsley was the guy in New York, Glenn Hall in Chicago, Terry Sawchuk in Detroit. They  all played a ton. Boston was a bit of an exception in the early ‘60s, as a few guys like Don Head and Bob Perreault were fighting for the top job before Eddie Johnston established himself.

When Plante was traded by Montreal to the Rangers for Worsley in the summer of 1963, it was expected Gump would be the starter.  But over time, Hodge emerged as the top guy that season, and he was the man in the playoffs when Toronto upset the Habs in a fantastic seven-game series in the spring of ’64. (Game 7 was the famous night that Leaf center Dave Keon scored all three goals in a 3-1 win at the Forum in Montreal).

Hodge shared playing time with Worsley in 1965 and 1966 as the Habs won championships both years, though Worsley was the go-to guy in the playoffs.  I believe Hodge won the Vezina Trophy (then given to the goalie on the team that gave up the fewest goals in the regular season) for his outstanding play in the 1963-’64 season and he may have shared it later with Worsley.

Hodge brought his veteran experience to the expansion Oakland Seals and was solid in Oakland’s early years in the league. He finished his career with the Vancouver Canucks in 1970-’71. He later became a scout for various NHL teams.

Each of the above were names have always stood out for me as someone who has loved hockey for as long as I can remember. Even those who played with the Leafs for a time were best known for their achievements elsewhere, but all were outstanding pros.

Some of my fellow “old time” VLMers no doubt have your own memories of watching or hearing about these great old players!


  1. Wonderful article, Michael! As an adult, it's amazed me how many of "my" Leafs (roughly the 59-67 teams) actually came from other teams. I became more aware of it, of course, because I knew Bathgate as a Ranger, and Moore and Olmstead as Canadiens (though Olmstead "became" a Leaf in my mind), and I was stunned by the trade of players like Mahovlich. Rude awakening to the reality of pro sports! But the prior movement of players like Bower, Stanley, and Murray Oliver, say, were a complete surprise to me.
    When I look back on those teams of the late 50's-early 60's, I now see a team being pieced together that would eventually win the Cup. It's interesting to look at today's team and try to figure out how long it will take before they're legitimate contenders. As your article illustrates, the right trade at the right time can make a huge difference. Many fans are looking at our juniors and the draft as the path to Lord Stanley's Promised Land - which would lead me to believe we're 5 years out, at least. But with a good trade here and there - an Olmstead, for example - who knows? I might get to bring that parade outfit down from the attic sooner than I imagine!

    1. I think you've surveyed the Leaf landscape accurately, as usual, Gerund O'. The pipeline seems (maybe this time for real??) to be filled with legitimate future difference-makers (Nylander, Marner...the upcoming first overall selection...), so that's hopeful. I don't know, as I survey the "final four" teams (now on to the finals), how many experienced leaders the current roster has that can play the role we're talking about. But as you note, a move to acquire a modern-day "Olmstead type" can indeed happen. (And it's always good to have those parade outfits dry cleaned every once in a while, just in case!) Thanks Gerund.