Monday, November 27, 2006


Duff and Roy Enter Hockey Hall of Fame

They rolled out the red carpet recently at the corner of Yonge and Front in Toronto. Four new members of the Hockey Hall of Fame were about to be inducted, and the hockey world takes a back seat to no one when it comes to “puttin’ on the Ritz”.

Dick Duff and Patrick Roy entered as retired players, and the late Herb Brooks and Harley Hotchkiss entered in the builders’ category.

This was “Saint” Patrick’s first year of eligibility, and there was never any doubt about his selection. Simply put, he is the best goaltender ever. Now some of you older codgers may disagree with me, but the facts are there for your perusal.

He had a long and distinguished career, and continues to succeed in the hockey world as a coach. In 2006, he mentored the Quebec Remparts to victory in the Memorial Cup. Not a bad start to his coaching career.

When you consider the categories that Roy heads, as far as goalies are concerned, there is little doubt that he retired as the best ever. He played more games, won more games, and leads in goals against for a career. ( I will also concede, for all you nay sayers, that he also leads goaltenders in losses as well. In that same vein, Cy Young leads all major league pitchers in wins and losses. He is well down on the list for earned run average, another testament to Patrick’s prowess.)

He is the only goaltender to win 200 games for two different teams, and chalked up two Stanley Cups with the Habs and the Avalanche.

He credits the input from Rogie Vachon, Daniel Bouchard, and Francois Allaire in making him the goalie he was. But he wasn’t always a tender.

I asked him during the media session before the Hall ceremonies about his early career. “I played out at first,” he told me. “I wanted to play goal, but I was too small. Then the next year in Quebec, my Mom signed me up as a goalie.”

In the early and mid 1980s, many NHL teams sent representatives to Niagara Falls, Ontario for a slow pitch softball tournament. An annual affair, it gave players a chance to get together socially following every hectic season. We often attended the event with Belleville’s Rick Meagher, who was with New Jersey at the time. I remember a young and rather slight third baseman for the Canadiens team. He had amazingly quick hands, snaring line drives that should have been “doubles down the line”. The same Patrick Roy.

Terrance Richard “Dick” Duff, now seventy years old, was born in Kirkland Lake. He is generously listed as being five feet, nine inches. Size was never a problem for the left winger who began his NHL career at the age of 19 with the Leafs. He is yet another northern boy who made good on the iced surfaces of the NHL.

There is a long list of players who were raised in Northern Ontario, and north- western Quebec who were scouted in their home towns, and coerced into moving south. Hockey barons from Montreal and Toronto scoured the rinks in Timmins, Sudbury, Kapuskasing, Kirkland, Noranda, Chapleau, and other northern bergs to find their future stars. Mostly mining towns. Young bucks relished the opportunity to head south to play the game they loved, far from the smelters and the piercing whistles signalling the end of shift. The brass ring, to be sure.

Duff won Cups with the Leafs in ’62 and ’63, then was traded to the Rangers. Following that season, he found himself with the Canadiens. He added four more Cups with the Habs, and played in seven All Star Games.

Duff is a wonderful raconteur, and captivates with his yarns of early hockey memories. He cherished his days playing with the greats---Rocket Richard, Beliveau, and Henri Richard---“who had the heart of a lion”.

His room mate with the Leafs was Dave Keon, a Noranda boy. He told me that it was a special day for him to be there with Duff. Keon does not go to Leafs games, has never been to the Air Canada Centre, and did not participate in the closing ceremonies at the Gardens. He was brushed aside by Harold Ballard and the Leaf brass in 1975, when he was not offered a contract to continue with the Leafs.

Keon had spent his entire career with the Leafs up to that point. He was the Rookie of the Year in his initial season in 1960, and led the Leafs to several Stanley Cups. In 1967, he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. David Michael Keon was inducted into the Hall in 1986.

I spotted Keon just before he entered the hallowed area of the Hall, and was dismayed to find him being badgered by a group of younger Leafs supporters. “Come back to the Leafs,” they bellowed. “We need you here. You are part of us.”

It was painful. Keon smiled, and turned away.

I quietly asked him if he followed the game from his home in Florida. He answered to the negative, to the point that he did not even watch the game on television. “I don’t get that channel,” he told me. He added that he does follow college football, and college basketball. His son, David Jr. has worked with the NHL for years.

A phalanx of hockey’s best amassed to pay homage to the four inductees. The list is almost endless, but I did spot: Coffey, Gartner, Bower, Pulford and Ron Ellis. Pat Quinn, Scotty Morrison, Tom Watt, and Ron Hogarth. Glen Anderson, Goring, Hawerchuk, Billy Smith, Dionne, Howell, Gadsby, The Fergusons, some Sutters, Al Arbour, Pilote, Damphousse, Bathgate and Red Kelly.

Amongst others.

Other players, and managers, and friends and fans of the game.

In homage to great players, great builders. At the Hall.

James Hurst

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