Saturday, November 5, 2016

Red Kelly and The Ultimate Maple Leaf Den

Yep, Me and "Red" Kelly
So, I met "Red" Kelly last week. 
Actually, I didn't JUST meet the hockey legend, I chatted with him for twenty minutes. This encounter didn't just take place on the street or in a restaurant, it happened in the museum-like basement of Ultimate Leaf Fan, Mike Wilson. 
As a member of the Society for International Hockey Research, I was lucky enough to attend the Meet and Greet event for their Annual meeting in Toronto last week. This was graciously held at the home of Mike Wilson, who told me he is not the self-proclaimed "Ultimate Leaf Fan" but was bestowed this moniker by none other than ESPN. Anyway, as a lifelong Leaf fan and collector myself, I was excited enough to gain entry to the Ultimate Leaf Den. Little did I know I would also meet one of the greatest living hockey players there as well. 
Mike Wilson 
Bathroom door with Original
Maple Leaf Gardens Signage
After I picked up my nametag and met a few hockey authors and the host himself, I descended into the Museum/Basement. Even the walls of the staircase were lined with mostly familiar vintage Leafs memorabilia, then I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and saw Leonard "Red" Kelly standing there chatting with author/historian Paul Patskou. I had met Paul earlier but had many online exchanges with him, and he said,"Hi Chris let me introduce you to Red Kelly."
Paul Patskou, Myself and "Red" Kelly
I shook his hand and said something like "An honour and a pleasure to meet you Mr. Kelly." Then, as the hockey historians we are, Paul and I proceeded to ask Mr. Kelly questions, but mainly listened to him for the next twenty minutes. Paul had met and worked with Kelly numerous times in the past but seemed just as excited as I was to chat with the legend. For his part, "Red" Kelly was as gracious as can be and his mind and voice are still sharp as a tack at 89 years-old. What follows is the best of what I could remember of our chat, some of the stories I had read before but it was still very cool hearing it from the man himself.

On the aftermath of the Richard Riot in 1955;
When we left Montreal, going to Detroit I said, “What happens if they throw a bomb at The Olympia and we have to forfeit the game? We might lose our streak, because we’d won seven in a row. (Detroit had actually won 8 straight going into the final game of the regular season, the forfeit they got in the riot game clinched them first place over Montreal.) So I told Adams this, he never said I told him, he says as if he did. But what they did was, they told them to put extra guys at the doors of The Olympia and that if you went in with a package they’d check you.” (The final game went off incident-free and Detroit won 6-0)

On Ted Lindsay being traded from Detroit to Chicago in the summer of  '57 after helping form the NHLPA union;
We all knew why Lindsay was traded to Chicago.

On his broken ankle late in the 58/59 season with Detroit;
After I broke my leg, they put me in a cast.  The team lost three games in a row there and they took my cast off and asked me if I think I could give it a go. I played the rest of the season with a broken leg and couldn’t turn properly to the one side. I remember Hull coming down on me and I would let him have the one side I could turn to, that way I could defend against him.

On training camp back in the day;
I would always have to stay home and finish working my farm when training camp started. I usually reported two weeks late and was still in far better shape than anyone else. Others were trying to lose weight, I had to put ON weight.

Kelly's Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup Ring 
On his trade from Detroit to Toronto;
I had no idea I was being traded, but wanted nothing to do with the Rangers. I got a call from Clarence Campbell after I refused to go (to New York) and retired. He said Adams is going to suspend you, if he does you’re out of hockey; playing, coaching, refereeing, anything. I said I thought about it all night, I’m not changing my mind. I told Les Patrick of the Rangers that I was retiring that it had nothing to do with the Rangers. (within a few days Jack Adams worked out a trade to Toronto, Kelly agreed to that one) The first time Detroit came to Toronto after the trade, I found it strange playing against my old teammates of twelve and  a half years and was perhaps a bit easy on them. Then Howe followed me into the corner with his stick like this (hooking up around the chest) and his elbow up as usual, and said, “How’s your wife?”, because Gordie of course had introduced us years earlier.  He wasn’t letting up a bit, and I never did on those guys ever again. (Toronto won that game 7-1) 

On his change of positions from Defence to Centre;
Imlach told me when I came over, “If we’re going to win the Cup we have to beat Beliveau. I need you to shut him down.”

On equipment and skates back in the day;
Today’s players are no faster than we were. A few of the players were measured once as skating 30 mph. (I asked him then, 'Can you imagine if you wore the skates they have nowadays and how much better you’d have been?' and he replied) I don’t think it would have made a difference, our skates were just fine. Although in Detroit once I remember turning in the corner and losing an edge and falling. I showed them to our trainer afterwards and he looked quickly at them and said nothing was wrong. When I was traded to Toronto, I showed them to Tommy Naylor and he measured the steel and said one edge was higher than the other, that’s why I was losing my edge.

On his coaching career and why he retired as a player;
When I started coaching (with expansion Los Angeles), they wanted to sign me to play for another four years. They also said though, if I wasn’t cutting it on the ice after a few years they’d put me to work other ways, like selling tickets or something. I said “Hang-it!” and no thanks to the playing part of the offer.
Throughout our chat, Kelly stood there sipping on his Diet Coke as others came and went. And yes, I did let others have a chance to talk with him, I couldn't forget I still had the amazing Leaf museum to explore. Incidentally, I noticed there were a few things in the collection of the Ultimate Leaf Fan that I had in my own collection and I wasn't sure if Mike had them. I asked him if he had a Dave Keon Skate Sharpener still in the box, or a 1930 Game program from the Mutual Street Arena. He thought for a little while and answered 'no'. Perhaps I'll start calling my own den in North Vancouver the Ultimate Leaf Den, West.

Leafs Locker Room Door
Gardens Ushers Cardigan

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