Whatever happened to NHL Old-timer games? As a kid in the 1980's I attended quite a few great Old-timer matches, from second-tier affairs in my hometown Newmarket, Ontario rink in front of 1,000 spectators to full houses at Maple Leaf Gardens. I saw two great ones at the Gardens back in the day. One was the famous Flying Fathers hockey squad against a team of Toronto Maple Leaf oldsters.
The Flying Fathers were a team of actual Roman Catholic priests led by ex-Leaf Father Les Costello. Costello was a member of the 1948 Leaf Cup winners as a rookie. He retired to the priesthood in 1950 and helped form the Fathers in 1963. The game I saw took place March 18, 1984 against a Leaf team that included Johnny Bower, Red Kelly, Andy Bathgate, George Armstrong, Norm Ullman, Ron Ellis, Sid Smith and Frank Mahovlich. They were coached by King Clancy and Bob Baun, Bobby Orr was a linesman. A true spectacle for a young young fan like myself.
My next Old-timer game, and one of the best ever staged also happened at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was on January 25, 1985 and pitted the first reunion of Team Canada 1972 against a team of NHL Old timer stars. I wrote about it here a few years ago;
The highlight for me this evening was getting down to ice level during an intermission and getting an autograph from Bobby Orr. Even at 13 years of age and never having seen him play live, I knew it was something special to meet him.
This brings me to a game that I didn't actually attend, but it may rival the Canada '72 Reunion for best ever. This one showcased the past greats of the Montreal Canadiens and the Maple Leafs on March 23, 1980. Once again played in front of a packed Gardens the game included the likes of Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Jacques Lemaire, Dickie Moore, Gump Worsley, Frank Mahovlich, Johnny Bower, Harry Howell, Pierre Pilote, Andy Bathgate, Cal Gardner and Howie Meeker. A veritable wing of the hall of fame took to the ice.
In addition to these stars, Rocket Richard assisted Referee Red Storey as an official. At this time, Mahovlich was only 42 years-old and had played as recently as two years prior in the WHA. "Did you see Henri Richard?" he asked after the game,"He still has that speed." The 48 year-old Beliveau admitted,"I've been on skates only once, just for exercise, since we played this game in Montreal a year ago. I'm definitely out of shape." One guy who certainly was in shape was 34 year-old Jacques Lemaire who had just finished a season as player coach in Switzerland and would return there for one more season.
The oldest of the old-timers to play in this game were 57 year-old Ken Mosdell and Meeker and 59 year-old Cal Gardner, father of NHLers Paul and Dave. Gump Worsley actually scored a goal in this game. When referee Red Storey awarded Montreal a penalty shot, goaltender Worsley took it and scored on Bower who "did't exert himself on the play". You gotta love old-timers games.