And away it goes…

nhldocs

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Blue Lines, Goal Lines and Bottom Lines: Hockey Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt went in to ECW Press today.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 Oh yeah, and roughly a hundred historical documents need to be scanned and cleaned up too.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.

parise

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.

mcclean

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.

A first pay-per-view

PPV
On Sunday, I took my son to his first WWE pay-per-view … though how much longer we continue to call them that is in question, with them airing primarily on the WWE Network.

It was the Tables, Ladders and Chairs … and Stairs show in Cleveland, at the Quicken Loans Arena — “The Q.” [Here's my report: Browns loss offset by Ziggler win at TLC.]

We had fun. The seats were good, the action great, and the fans were pretty into it. The only issue with a show that has so much plunder and so much action away from the ring is that you end up watching a lot on the big screens.

And, because we’d been the Cleveland Browns game earlier in the afternoon, we had already had our fill of soda and popcorn, so didn’t need to buy anything at the show!

Naturally, the whole experience got me thinking a little bit about some of my own experiences at pay-per-views in the past.

My memory ain’t what it used to be … but here’s an attempt to list some of the pay-per-views I have been to through the years.

1) WrestleMania VI in 1990 — It was at Toronto’s SkyDome, and it was the last year that I wrote my Canadian Wrestling Report newsletter.

2) WWE Breakdown: In Your House on September 27, 1998 — It was at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, where I’d seen a ton of hockey over the years, as well as other events, like MoscaMania. The show was notable for the debut of Christian, a mysterious figure who arrived during the Edge vs Owen Hart bout.

3) WrestleMania XV in 1999 – The show was at Philadelphia’s First Union Center, but what really stands out for me was the fan fest — a precursor to the more ambitious Fan Axxess events — at the convention centre. They had a media room set up and continually brought out various WWF stars for interviews. I told Jerry Lawler that I owned a Lawler AWA World title T-shirt (still do). I joked with Edge that I didn’t need to talk to him, as I had only just seen him in Toronto. And I got to meet Isaac Hayes, who was there because of his celebrity as Chef in South Park, but who I knew as one of the greatest musicians and writers of all-time.

4) WCW Mayhem on November 21, 1999 – The Air Canada Centre in Toronto was rocking for WCW’s first PPV in town. There was a tournament for the WCW World title, and I remember the WCW PR guy tipping me off: “You Canadians are going to like the result.” The main event ended up being Bret Hart vs Chris Benoit, with the Hitman winning.

5) WrestleMania 2000 – This was the first and only time I’d done the triple-shot that a lot of fans do now, going to Anaheim’s Arrowhead Pond for the big show, then to Los Angeles for Raw and San Jose for Smackdown. Lots of memories with this one, particularly because my Dad made the trek with me. Of note, and this demonstrates the time, there was no wireless connection in the arena, and WWF didn’t pay to turn on the phone lines to file electronically in the press box. To file my story to the Sun newspaper chain (and SLAM! Wrestling), we had to go to an office of an employee of the Pond, where I put my story from a disc, and put that disc in their computer … once it booted up. (The next year in Houston, WWE had the phone lines working.)

6) WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001 – The Astrodome in Houston struck me as a bit of a dump, with water leaking up in the media room, and other excitement. Again, I find myself remembering things away from the show. WWE Canada hosted a dinner for its clients and even lowly media like me at Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse. Various WWE wrestlers are called upon to visit these type of events during the lead-up to WrestleMania, so everyone could go home saying they met a wrestler. Al Snow was dispatched to visit with us. I told him about a New Fabulous Kangaroos boomerang that I owned with his visage on it. His reply? “Burn it.” (Ironically, I didn’t go to WrestleMania X-8 in Toronto, as I had been laid off by Canoe, and wasn’t brought back to run the SLAM! Wrestling section until March 2003.)

7) WrestleMania 22 in 2006 – My hotel was right across the parking lot from Chicago’s Allstate Arena. It’s a tiny venue, maybe the smallest arena ever for WrestleMania. There was no press box, so I was typing in my seat. After the show, I ran across the parking lot — in the pouring rain — to my hotel so I could file the story. Then I had lots of wrestling fans to have a couple beers with once the work was done.

8) Unforgiven on September 17, 2006 – It’s always convenient when show at at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Alas, it is the last WWE PPV in town.

9) WWE TLC 2014 in Cleveland

Often I’ll hear, “Oh, you’re so lucky” because I’ve gone to WrestleMania, and all that — and I am — but it was also work, sometimes frustratingly so, butting my head up against the WWE machine.

No relation

oliver-murray

When retired NHL veteran Murray Oliver suddenly passed away from a heart attack on November 23, 2014, at the age of 77, I faced the inevitable question: “Are you guys related?”

Nope. We were not related, though we had some friends in common — in particular old wrestler Bruce Swayze.

I interviewed Murray a few times, and he was a nice guy. He was most appreciative of a big package of old documents from the files of the Minnesota North Stars that I copied and sent to him.

He also hooked me up with his old pal Lou Nanne for an interview.

Thanks, Murray. Rest in peace.


* * *

In case you were wondering, there are three players in National Hockey League history with the last name Oliver: David Oliver (played with the Michigan Wolverines before making the NHL with the Olivers, Rangers, Senators, Coyotes and Stars from 1995-2006), the aforementioned Murray Oliver, and the Hockey Hall of Famer, Harry “Pee-Wee” Oliver, who played in the NHL from 1926-37, with the Bruins and Americans.


* * *

oliver-al

For the record, I’m not related to Al Oliver either — but he was always one of our favourite baseball players growing up. My brother and I had an Al Oliver-licensed bat, and we still have it here in Toronto.

Al Oliver was such a beast of a player, a big guy who could hammer it. We collected baseball cards, so we learned about him that way, but once he played for the Montreal Expos, well — now there was something to brag about in the schoolyard, even if the hues of our skin didn’t match.

And I LOVE the way his hat doesn’t fit on his head in the baseball card posted here because of his afro.


* * *

Courtesy BaseballReference.com, here are the Major League Baseball Players named Oliver:
Al Oliver 1968-1985
Andy Oliver 2010-2011
Bob Oliver 1965-1975
Darren Oliver 1993-2013
Dave Oliver 1977-1977
Gene Oliver 1959-1969
Joe Oliver 1989-2001
Nate Oliver 1963-1969
Tom Oliver 1930-1933

* * *

Football? Not familiar with these guys listed at pro-football-reference.com, so we’re probably not related:
Bill Oliver G 1927-1927
Bob Oliver DE 1969-1969
Branden Oliver RB 2014-2014
Chip Oliver LB 1968-1969
Clancy Oliver DB 1969-1973
Darryl Oliver RB 1987-1987
Frank Oliver DB 1975-1976
Greg Oliver RB 1973-1974
Hubie Oliver RB 1981-1986
Jack Oliver T 1987-1987
Jeff Oliver T-G 1989-1989
Louis Oliver DB 1989-1996
Maurice Oliver LB 1991-1991
Melvin Oliver DE 2006-2006
Muhammad Oliver DB 1992-1995
Paul Oliver DB 2008-2011
Vince Oliver QB 1945-1945
Winslow Oliver RB 1996-2000

* * *

As for basketball, I’ve got nothing. Never heard of any of these guys, from BasketballReference.com:
Brian Oliver 1991-1998
Dean Oliver 2002-2003
Jimmy Oliver 1992-1999

But the greatest Oliver involved in basketball is by far my brother, Chris Oliver, to whom I AM related! He’s been the head coach at the University of Windsor for a decade now, and has taken the Lancers to a couple of Canadian championship Final 8 tournaments.

We need to get a basketball card made of him.

Go Lancers!


large_Oliver6
We are family! All hail coach Chris Oliver!