The coach and Bill Apter

ApterThankYouLetter

This lovely note came a while back from Bill Apter, he of the “Apter mag” fame and one of the best, most-important pro wrestling journalists in history. (Incidentally, he hates the Apter mag label.)

I’ve had the privilege of editing Bill’s book, which will be published by ECW Press in the fall of 2015.

It’s called, Is Wrestling Fixed… I Didn’t Even Know It Was Broken, and it’s really something, taking you all over his life: growing up a wrestling fan, getting into the business, photography, writing, his love of classic comedy (note the Laurel & Hardy letterhead), karaoke, Japan, his family, boxing.

Like Bill, it’s all over the place, bubbling with enthusiasm, and never dull.

I first met Bill at WrestleMania in Philadelphia back in, yikes, 1999. In 2003, we did a chat session on SLAM! Wrestling, and that’s when the friendship really started. That winter, my wife and I met Bill for breakfast outside Philadelphia, fought over a title belt (a great Christmas card that year), and worked on convincing Bill to write his autobiography.

Note that was 11 years ago.

He finally got serious about it a couple of years back, and my wife and I, along with our son, visited Bill at his home outside Philly, and furthered the plan, and brought back a whack of photos to be scanned. At this point, I’d hooked him up with ECW Press as a publisher.

Again, Bill being Bill, it took a little longer than anticipated, with a variety of real-life issues complicating things, like a tree falling into his home, his daughter’s wedding, and a couple of health scares.

In his thank you note, he thanks me for “coaching.”

That’s the perfect word to describe my relationship not just with him, but also most of my SLAM! Wrestling staff.
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For those who don’t know, my brother, Chris, is the head coach of the Windsor Lancers men’s basketball team, currently ranked #5 in Canada. He is the “pro” coach in the family, having gone on to do all the coaching levels you can, and put decades into it.

Me, I love coaching too, and have coached youth soccer in Toronto’s west end for 20 years now. It’s definitely different now that my son has been playing too — he’s eight.

With my SLAM! Wrestling staff, I feel like a coach as well, assigning roles / stories, cajoling pieces, encouraging, offering advice, interceding when necessary, for good and for bad. There’s a great joy when my “crew” succeeds in other ways too, whether it’s getting married, having kids, or finding a “real” job.

This isn’t the end of my coaching days by any means. Some people are cut out for it, and some aren’t.

And if “Wonderful Willie” says that I’m good at it, I must be.

Can’t wait to show you all Bill’s book this fall!




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“Have you ever been on TV, Dad?”

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As we were walking to school the other day, and talking about our upcoming appearance on Breakfast Television (Tuesday, February 17th, 6:20 a.m.!), Quinn asked me, “Have you ever been on TV, Dad?”

I had to laugh, because he’d been with me to a taping of TSN’s Off The Record in the spring of 2014, so he knew the answer. But I proceeded to list some of my TV appearances, at least the ones I remember.

  • Romper Room: I was only three or four, probably, but it was taped for national broadcast in Kitchener at the CKCO studios, so I was on the show. This was in the pre-VCR days, alas, so my talented romping is lost to all time. (I Googled Romper Room, and didn’t realize how many different versions of it there were.)
  • When I was a Cub Scout, I was on the local Rogers station interviewing Betty Clay, the youngest daughter of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting and Olave Baden-Powell, who founded the Guiding movement. It was a sit-down interview, and I seem to recall there was someone else there, like a Scout, asking questions as well. Man, I wish I had a copy of this!
  • Right at the run of my Canadian Wrestling Report, I appeared on the Kitchener CTV station, CFTO, during a talk show. I don’t remember the name of the show, but I remember the host, Tino Monte. I Googled him too, and he’s got his own website, http://tinomonte.tv/ … way to go Tino!
  • Do we count the time at Ryerson University in J-Skool? Though I wasn’t in the television stream, we had to learn the basics and filmed lots of things with those massive cameras we had to lug around. One of my fondest memories was going to Maple Leaf Gardens for Leafs practice. My first ever hockey interview? Paul Fenton! (I later sent him a copy of Don’t Call Me Goon care of the San Jose Sharks, where he was assistant GM; never heard back, which leads me to believe that the interview meant more to me than him.)
  • While working at Canoe.ca, circa 1998, Jane Hawtin Live! was looking for a talking head on a panel on Star Trek, which was hot with Next Generation, so I went down.
  • Wrestling-wise, there were a number of appearances in documentaries, especially Tiger!, about Tiger Jeet Singh. That one aired a ton on TVO, and was translated into a number of languages, so I’ve had many people mention seeing me on that one — including getting recognized on the bus once! Funny story, the first time I was at Tiger Jeet’s Milton home, his wife insisted that we had met before; turns out it was only because she knew me from the documentary, which Tiger still liked to watch.
  • The highest-profile appearance was probably on Entertainment Tonight Canada, where I was asked to talk about Chris Benoit, his life and the tragic ending, to coincide with the publication of Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport.

No doubt, I’m missing a bunch. I can’t remember what the documentary was that I was filmed at in The SPORT Gallery in Toronto, but I can remember doing it. Wrestling-related.

But the coming appearance on Tuesday will be extra special, because I know it’ll be Quinn’s first-time on TV. (Unless we count a background appearance on Breakfast Television during a Miracle on Main Street event a few years back … or when we were interviewed by J-Skool students at Ryerson while going for an alumni skate about the Mattamy Athletic Centre.)

And away it goes…

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Sending in a manuscript to the publisher is one of the true highlights of being a writer.

You worked for days, months, years on the book and it’s finally out of your hands.

There’s no more second-guessing on what to include, phrases to change, people to still call.

It’s a feeling that NEVER gets old, even after 11 books.

Blue Lines, Goal Lines and Bottom Lines: Hockey Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt went in to ECW Press today. It’s the sequel to Written in Blue & White, which focused on old Toronto Maple Leaf documents.

This one is across the map, from very early documents outside the NHL to tons from the Original Six era of the NHL, to the AHL, the WHA, and a few other minor leagues that aren’t around. There are some league memos too, and some real treats in there.

I’d love to tell you more about it, about what contracts and documents will be in there, but the truth is that I’m not totally sure.

Permitted free rein to write about the documents I found interesting, I just kept writing, so I’m about 10,000 words over the initial target. Yet the way things are set up, it’s dead simple to take out a piece on, say, Don Rope, who never made the NHL but whose paperwork spurred me to find out more about him and want to write something.

Maybe those chopped pieces will find their way onto this blog, or into an article for the Society for International Hockey Research, or The Hockey News. Or maybe there will be a third book on documents. Who knows.

I just firmly believe that if I found something interesting, surely there are other people out there who would also think so.

Of course, the flip side of all this is that the submission of the manuscript is only part of the work. Now we have to come up with a compelling cover, collect all the photos for the book, get the book edited and typeset, and then laid out, proofed, and printed. Oh yeah, and roughly a hundred historical documents need to be scanned and cleaned up too. Fun.

Thoughts on J.P. Parise

There will be many others eulogizing J.P. Parise, who died January 7th of lung cancer, and rightfully so. He was a heck of a hockey player, helped develop hockey players at his post-hockey life as a coach in the NHL and the minors, and then as hockey director at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, and, well, he sired a heck of a hockey player in Zach Parise.

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I watched him play a bit in the 1970s, in my formative years as a fan, and have a bunch of his hockey cards. He’s associated mostly with the Boston Bruins, in whose system he came up, and the Minnesota North Stars, where he played a ton, coached and settled down. But he played with the New York Islanders and the Cleveland Barons too.

While working on Written in Blue & White: The Toronto Maple Leafs Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt, I got the chance to give him a call and talk with him about something very few people do — his one single game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Long story short, J.P. was at the training camp of the Oakland Seals for their initial NHL campaign in the fall of 1967; he’d been claimed by the expansion team from the Bruins’ organization. The camp was in London, Ontario.

By his own recollection, Parise played a bunch of exhibition games and was second on the team in scoring, after defenceman Kent Douglas. He expected to make the NHL for good after 21 games over two seasons with the Bruins, most of his ice time coming in the Central league with the Oklahoma City Blazers.

But he didn’t count on his battles with Seals coach Bert Olmstead.

Here is Parise’s take:

He was big on basic fundamentals of the game, back in those days — stay on your wing, no rink-wide passes, and all those things. So we’re in the third period, I’m on the ice, and we’re leading 3-2. I’ve got the puck on our blueline, along the wall, and I see my right winger just exploding on the right side. So I make a rink-wide pass and sure enough it was intercepted in the middle of the ice. They guy kept coming towards me, and I nailed him and I got a penalty. I’m in the box and they score. Instead of being 4-2, it’s 3-3. And Mr. Olmstead was not very pleased, he was very angry. I go back to the bench and he’s pacing, “Little frickin’ frog…

I said, “Fuck you. I screwed up. I’m sorry about that, but that gives you no fuckin’ right to start attacking my heritage.” And he never responded. The next day at 8 o’clock, I got a knock on my door — we’re staying in London at the hotel, the Holiday Inn I think — these are things I don’t forget! Details that I don’t forget! Lessons in life! He was informing me I had been traded to Rochester of the American League. So, for about four, five seconds of getting things off my chest and unloading, I just screwed up my life, my career, and my NHL salary and the whole thing.

Of course J.P. hadn’t screwed up his NHL career, just delayed it.

In Rochester, coach Joe Crozier was a believer.

I go to Rochester, and now I’m totally depressed. My career is over, I’m 25 years old, and it’s over. He called me into his office one day. He used to call me Johnny. He says, “Johnny, if you can only get out of this frickin’ funk, you’re in.” I had a shitty attitude. He says, “If you get out of the frickin’ funk that you’re in, I’ll have you back in the National Hockey League by Christmas.” He put me on a line with old Bronco Horvath. Bronco and I clicked, and sure enough, just after Christmas I got a call from Joe. He says, “You know what I promised you last September has happened.” I said, “What?” He said, “I’ve traded you to Minnesota North Stars. You’re to meet the team in New York today.” So I went to New York and played my first game with the North Stars and I remained in the National Hockey League for 12 years. And if someone called me a “little frickin’ frog” I would say “Thank you very much.” … I got that message.

In between there, though, was a single game in Toronto for the Leafs — who were associated with the Rochester Americans at the time and were shorthanded — on November 15, 1967.

It was so wonderful. George Armstrong was the captain at the time. I went into the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room. Those guys made me feel like I belonged and had been there for 10 years. It was unbelievable.

I felt so comfortable, and they made me feel welcomed. I think I played with Dave Keon and Jim Pappin. These pretty good wingers for a young rookie.

After interviewing him in December 2013, I sent him copies of his file that Allan Stitt had gotten at some point; most of it was from the Minnesota North Stars files. It was quite the package, and I hope it brought back a few memories for him.

Thank you for sharing a few of your lesser-known tales, J.P. Rest in peace.

It’s about more than stats

I’ll be the first to admit that I am easily distracted by paths that veer off from my original topic. It’s especially true when it comes to the past.

For the last couple of years, I have been a proud member of the Society for International Hockey Research, and the access to edit the statistical database has been a real pleasant experience/distraction.

Want an example?

A month ago, I interview Johnny McCormack, who went to St. Michael’s College in Toronto in the 1940s, and played with the likes of Ted Lindsay, Gus Mortson, and David Bauer, who was later the steward of the Canadian Olympic team. McCormack won a couple of Stanley Cups, but that wasn’t a career highlight.

“I got the biggest thrill out of winning a Memorial Cup against Moose Jaw [in 1945],” he said. “Actually, I felt I contributed more then. When I was with Toronto or Montreal, they would have won the Cup with or without me.”

While we were on the subject of his time with Majors, I asked him about a few names I was unfamiliar with.

Today, I went in and added a first name to Barrett (Tommy), which the SIHR database didn’t have, and while searching for something else, came across a mention of an old goalie, Reg Westbrooke, as the owner-editor of the Creemore Star newspaper. Of course, I added that to the player notes.

To me, the measure of a hockey player is about far more than just the statistics. I respect and bow down to those who love the stats and take the time to enter them, but to me, they are a means to and end, and in no way the end all, be all of a player’s hockey career — or life.

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The perfect example is when Johnny McCormack told me about Ted McLean, a defenceman from those 1944-46 Majors teams. The details on his life were non-existent in the database, but Johnny caught my attention me with two facts:

1) McLean was one of three players from the 1944-45 team that went on to become priests — Bauer, McLean and Gerry Gregoire.
2) McLean died in a car accident.

Intrigued, I figured there’s no way that a priest’s death wouldn’t have made the papers.

It took some digging and time, since I didn’t know WHEN McLean could have died, but the reward was great when I finally discovered his death in November 1990.

The health-conscious Father had been out jogging and was struck by a car, and died a short time later. The news stories and obituary listing allowed me to add a ton of information to his bio page in the SIHR database, including his birth and death dates, a photo, and a whole ton of notes about the man, where the SIHR database had but one:


  • Memorial Cup winner 1944-45
  • Was principal of Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Toronto; was also chaplain.
  • Died after being hit by a car at a crosswalk.
  • Studied theology at St. Basil’s Seminary.
  • Went to University of Toronto.
  • Was one of the founding fathers of Michael Power High School in 1957; was head of the physical education and classics departments.
  • Taught Latin, English, religious studies and physical education at St. Charles School in Sudbury.
  • Was general administrator for the Basilian Fathers in Toronto.

As great as it would have been to have talked hockey with Father McLean, it sure sounds like he was about far more than just a game.