Milan Marcetta’s last interview?

Anyone who chases names from the past knows the jarring sensation of learning that someone you just talked to has died.
On September 1st of this year, I was hunting around for Milan Marcetta, who played in the NHL. With a fairly uncommon name, and the lead that he was probably in British Columbia, I started my search.

With the first call, I got his brother, who steered me in the right direction.

Milan Marcetta had been in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, and hence there was a file on him from Maple Leaf Gardens that I now have access to through the Allan Stitt Collection (which was the basis for my book, Written in Blue & White).

There was nothing really earth-shattering or important in Marcetta’s file, but I’m a curious guy and one of the real rewards of this gig is returning copies of old paperwork to players of the past. The fact is that most of them have little to no record of their days in the NHL and in the minors, especially if they played before the late 1960s, when lawyers and agents began representing players.

A native of Cadomin, Alberta, Marcetta made his way through the western junior league before a variety of Western Hockey League teams employed him as their centre — Calgary Stampeders, Saskatoon Quakers, Victoria Maple Leafs. He also had stints in the American Hockey League, with the Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Americans.

Of main interest to most people were his three games with the Leafs — all in the 1967 playoffs, so therefore his name is on the Stanley Cup with the last of the championship Toronto teams. He also played parts of two seasons with the expansion Minnesota North Stars. “It was the first year and the crowds were good in Minnesota at that time,” he told me.

But I found something intriguing in the paperwork. There was a letter on Syracuse Braves letterhead, but I couldn’t find a record of that team even existing in that particular year.

Milan and I didn’t talk too long, but he did help me out with my query — the team from the Eastern Professional Hockey League moved to St. Louis.

We talked about a few of the players and coaches he knew, and I asked if he had any regrets about the way his career turned out. “No, none at all,” he said. Hockey was a big part of his life. “I had 17 years of it, yeah I enjoyed it.” (Post-hockey, he was a property manager in Coquitlam, BC.)

As we all have experienced, sometimes when you are talking to a senior, there are a litany of ailments to list off if you ask about their health. Truthfully, I don’t ask much any more.

Without that knowledge, it was a surprise that Milan Marcetta died on September 18th, the obituary from the Victoria Times Colonist circulating through the email list for the Society for International Hockey Research.

Was I his last interview about his career? Probably. In retrospect, of course, I wish that I had asked him about a lot more things, that our chat had gone longer, but there is little I can do about that now.

Rest in peace, Milan.

Love for the Toronto Public Library


With the City of Toronto elections coming up, there is a lot of noise about the things in our great city that don’t always work well — transit, affordable housing, bullying, crack-head politicians.

There rarely is much said about the Toronto Public Library system because it is one of the best systems in the world. For some perspective, the TPL’s Key Facts page says that it is the busiest library system in the WORLD, with 72% of Torontonians using it.

Quite simply, I would not be the writer that I am today, with ten books out, plus a ton of others that I worked on (and am working on), without the TPL’s books, video tapes (remember them?), DVDs, and reference materials. When I was at Ryerson University, I can remember holing up at the Lawrence and Northern branches doing my homework. Later, when I moved to the west end of the city, the Annette and Jane/Dundas branches have been my home away from home. Through the years, I’ve made a point to visit as many branches as I could.

And then there’s the incredible Metro Reference Library down at Yonge and Bloor in the very heart of the city. It might be the most valuable resource in the entire city, though I doubt Mayor Rob Ford has ever been inside. Whether I was happily perusing microfilm, looking for old wrestling results, or putting in my Stacks Request for a vintage hockey book, there have been many times I have spent an entire day at Metro Ref.

My local branch, Jane/Dundas, underwent renovations just after my son was born in November 2006. I’d been there a lot before then, including four years as a volunteer, helping kids learn to read on Saturday mornings. In particular, two librarians at the time were especially enthusiastic about my budding writing career, and Norra and Catherine both bought copies of The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians when it first came out in 2003, even though I’m pretty sure they weren’t wrestling fans!

When it reopened, Quinn was just over a year old, and I can still remember having the cake at the celebration with him. Since then, rarely a week goes by when I’m not there. I regularly place holds for graphic novels (comics to most people), which I usually read before bed — I have a personal rule NOT to take work to bed, so I never read about sports before drifting off to sleep. There have been a number of inter-library loans, a rarely-used resource whereby you can’t request a library book from a library outside the TPL.

The quiet room has been a wonderful place to force myself to work … which doesn’t always happen at home, when there’s another cup of tea to make or an unfinished crossword puzzle.

Now, coming up on Thursday, November 6th, we’re a part of Family Hockey Night, the brainchild of the best children’s librarian in the world, Jo-Ann Woolverton. (She sets aside new books that come in that she thinks Quinn will like! How awesome is that?) The idea is that we wanted to celebrate Quinn’s book, Duck with the Puck, but didn’t want it to be a crass marketing event. Instead, we’ll have Quinn read his book, answer some questions, and there will be a screening of a short hockey movie — probably Roch Carrier’s The Sweater, and a craft. [CLICK HERE for more info on Family Hockey Night.]

And just as importantly, it brings the community into the library so that they too will know more about what a great place it is.

Thanks TPL!

The first interview


It was pretty cute today as my son, Quinn, was the subject of his first interview about the book we worked on together, Duck with the Puck.

The local newspaper, The Villager came by to talk to both of us about an event scheduled at our local Toronto Public Library branch on November 6th. It’s being called a “Family Hockey Night” but the genesis behind it was Quinn’s book launch. He’s going to read his book and take some questions, and there will be a selection of hockey books available to borrow, as well as a screening of The Sweater. Should be a fun night.

But what got me was how Quinn, who is seven going on 17 some days, went from poised and comfortable discussing the book one moment to goofy and shy the next.

Some lessons we talked about after the interviewer left:

- look at the interviewer
- try to sit still, and not curl up in a ball in the corner hugging your favourite stuffie, Big Duckie
- don’t eat a big chunk of cheese during the interview, a piece so big that you are unable to talk for a couple of minutes

Naturally, I find myself trying to remember what I was like at his age. We were similar in a lot of ways, I think. Though I didn’t have a book out by his age, I did get many opportunities to see my father interviewed for his annual publication, The Buyer’s Guide to Factory Outlets (in Ontario). When I was a Cub Scout, I got to interview Betty Clay, the daughter of Scouting’s founder Lord Baden-Powell, on local television, so I would have been nine or so.

The hope is that this is the first of a few interviews to promote the book. He is off to a good start and I’m one proud papa.


The great white whales


The recent death of Ricki Starr brought up the question — who would be my “great white whale” of an interview in the wrestling world? Another reclusive figure like Starr that I have on an unwritten wish-list.

The wrestlers of the last 30 years are far more media savvy and comfortable talking about the business itself, not keeping kayfabe and protecting its secrets, than their predecessors.

So the key to this list is both age and reclusiveness, as they are wrestlers who haven’t surfaced publicly any time recently, or that I have never seen an interview with where they talk about their wrestling careers.

I mean, I’ve never interviewed Shawn Michaels, but he’s hardly a media-shy enigma.

And I’ll stick to wrestlers whose primary language is English.

Like wrestling cards themselves, I reserve the right to change my mind on these “white whales” … or, even better, strike them off my list as a completed interview! (Email me if you can help!)

Iron Mike Sharpe: I’ve written more about his father and his uncle than probably any one else alive. They were key figures in the history of wrestling, among the first gaijins to succeed in Japan. Their families have shared personal photos and information … and even they are stymied to let me know where their half-brother or cousin is. Most of us know the second-generation star with the permanent arm band as a competent, loudly entertaining enhancement talent, but he did have a few runs on top in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He later became a trainer, and some of his students have been in touch over the years with me, hoping I can help them find him.

Toni Rose: She’s not the biggest name in the history of women’s professional wrestling, but having talked to so many of her contemporaries, I’d like to be able to interview her. The challenge with women wrestlers is both that they often get married and change their names, but they often divorce themselves from the business completely, their youthful folly well in their rear-view mirrors, and refuse to talk about it.

Lorraine Johnson: Same as Toni Rose, with the added benefit that she was married to wrestler/promoter Nick Roberts, and their daughter was the “Perfect 10″ Baby Doll (Nickla Roberts). I’ve asked Baby Doll about an interview, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Bobby Davis: Modern fans probably have no idea who he is, but he was a very young manager for the greatest of them all, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. There were others he managed, but Davis is always associated with Rogers to me and other historians. These days, he is apparently associated with Wendy’s restaurants, which he invested in and apparently did VERY well.

Tony Marino: Of the names on this list, it’s the most likely to happen, simply because he’s in good health and goes to the Florida legends luncheons. Dotty Curtis, I’m counting on you here. He was a big star in many places, always in great shape.

A few more: Off the top of my head, Bobby Harmon, Misty Blue Simms (and not just because I remember seeing a certain movie she was in…), Bob Lueck (who I’ve called but he didn’t return my call)…

Looking at Titans in Toronto in the rearview mirror


This past Saturday, September 27th, I ran the sixth Titans in Toronto fundraising dinner for the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. (Here’s the report: Focus on Siki makes Titans In Toronto ‘Irresistible’)

It was great fun, successful from the sense that we oversold on tickets and packed the venue, The Factory up at Dufferin and Steeles, to the gills. But financially, it’s a bit frustrating.

On the same weekend that a friend ran the event Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer, which made a reported $2.2 million, we made roughly .1 % for the PWHF. Small potatoes on so many levels, but what can you do, really? Where are the high rollers in professional wrestling fandom?

It reminds me of the oft-repeated joke in the business:

“How do you make a million dollars in pro wrestling?”

“Start with $10 million.”

But, as they say, it’s not all about money.

The real joy is in seeing the wrestlers enjoying themselves, seeing old friends, reuniting after decades (and decades!) away from each other. Priceless moments, to be honest.

As I sit here and finish off the accounting for the event, I find myself getting a little down, but I know I shouldn’t. It was a great night, with no issues or unexpected snags (except a video not running properly and running out of dinner plates!).

For a pick-me-up, I went back to a column I wrote for SLAM! Wrestling a month before the event: Why I run Titans in Toronto. It has boosted my spirits, as have all the notes on Facebook and Twitter, and the single phone call from Sweet Daddy Siki on Sunday morning telling me what a great time he had and how much better it was than he was expecting.

Okay, back to work.