Entering Wally’s World

On June 19th, I got to spend a couple of hours with the 95-year-old Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf. He is the last surviving member of the 1942 Stanley Cup winning Leafs team. Though I don’t know 100%, he is probably the oldest living New York Ranger too.

wally

I’d interviewed Stanowski a few times in the past and was always thrilled with his memory and ability to recall specific events. There have been a few times that I’d met him in person too, at NHL oldtimers luncheons, and he was always pleasant, and so many of the other oldtimers would stop by his seat just to say hello, Godfather-like.

The idea behind the visit to his apartment in a retirement home in Toronto’s west end was to video tape him, to capture his memories for a “living library” to benefit future generations, guaranteeing that his story is not lost.

It was all put together through SIHR — the Society for International Hockey Research — of which I am a proud member.

Along for the ride were Paul Bruno, the current president of SIHR, and Jim Amodeo, who does the great Hockey Then & Now blog.

Complicating things were the fact that I wrecked my right knee on Saturday, tearing my ACL, MCL and a meniscus while playing goal in a local men’s soccer game. Needing to be chauffeured around is new to me, but Paul got me there and, seeing my massive leg brace, Wally immediately started telling stories about his own leg woes through the years — including the broken leg that ended his playing career.

Interestingly, he is pretty adamant that had he not broken his leg, that he would have continued his career and been eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. We have that comment on tape, including some other gems, like what a dirty player Elmer Lach was, and a hilarious story about the very early days of his marriage to his wife, who only passed a while back.

Chances like this to hang out with hockey greats don’t come around a lot. The big, big stars get their stories told again and again, but lesser names like Stanowski don’t always get the chance.

As fun as it was to sit down with him and tape it all, the real work is still to come in piecing it all together into a coherent video interview.

At least it’s something I can do with a wrecked knee.

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