The life and times of the eight-time Stanley Cup winner
When Boston coach Lynn Patrick was asked who he’d pick between Rocket Richard or Gordie Howe he answered, “Neither! I’ll take Red Kelly!” The only player to have won eight Stanley Cups without playing for Montreal, Red began his life in hockey on the cedar swamps near Port Dover, Ontario, and went on to win accolades and championships as a Detroit Red Wing and Toronto Maple Leaf.
Go back in time with Red as he reminisces about his childhood: the time he nearly drowned; when he brought St. Michael’s College to three provincial championships; and his jump into a career with the NHL where sportsmanlike conduct won him multiple Lady Byng trophies. While playing with the Leafs, he served as member of parliament in Lester Pearson’s government. After retiring in 1967 as a player, Red coached for a decade in the NHL with Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. This is a fascinating biography of a life well lived — on and off the ice.
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About the Author
Leonard “Red” Kelly played 20 seasons in the NHL. He became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Order of Canada in 2002. He and his wife, figure skating champion Andra McLaughlin, live in Toronto, Ontario. L. Waxy Gregoire is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research, and author of three books on hockey legends. He lives in Penetanguishene, Ontario. David M. Dupuis, a former goaltender and coach, is also a member of SIHR, and the author of Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World’s Greatest Goalie. He lives in Toanche, Ontario. Waxy and David co-authored Heart of the Blackhawks: The Pierre Pilote Story.
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The Red Kelly Story
By Leonard "Red" Kelly, L. Waxy Gregoire, David. M. Dupuis
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2016 L. Waxy Gregoire and David M. Dupuis and Leonard "Red" Kelly
All rights reserved.
GROWING UP RED
"Ontario's South Coast" is the nickname for picturesque Norfolk County, an area along Lake Erie with a collection of charming towns and villages, their ports bustling and fields plentiful with fruits and vegetables. Its aqua-, agri- and culinary-tourism-based economy is flourishing, but it wasn't always so.
The development of communities such as Turkey Point, Port Rowan, Delhi, Port Dover, Long Point and Simcoe, where land meets water, was a credit to the pioneer determination to make the wild land home. The key to Norfolk's economic development has always been the allure and abundance of its shoreline waters, to go with some of the most fertile farmland in all of Canada. Case in point: its twin communities of Simcoe and Port Dover.
Port Dover, first known as Dover or Dover Mills, was the first of the two to be officially occupied when a man named Pete Walker planted roots in 1794. Settlers dammed the nearby river and established a grist mill in 1801, which encouraged the building of new homes nearby. The little settlement slowly grew, but international tensions bubbling between Upper Canada (or Canada West) and the Americans to the south would side-swipe it.
In the latter stages of the war of 1812, the Americans, emboldened by their success fighting on the shores Lake Erie, initiated their "Niagara Campaign." Sweeping through the southern region, they reached Dover on May 14, 1814, killing livestock and burning businesses and houses — only one was left standing. The British sacking of Washington and burning of the White House a few months later is believed to have been reprisal for the destruction of Dover. With peace declared shortly after Christmas, the inhabitants of Dover rebuilt anew but this time along the shore of the lake itself.
Fourteen kilometres inland, the town of Simcoe had a more auspicious beginning when it was personally chosen for a settlement in 1795 by the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada himself, John Graves Simcoe. Originally comprising the hamlets of Birdville and Theresaville, it grew exponentially when businessman Aaron Culver established a saw and gristmill in the 1820s. The government of Canada West established a post office there in 1829, and Culver's suggestion that the two settlements become one and be renamed Simcoe was approved.
In the mid-1800s, Norfolk County, specifically the area around Port Dover and Simcoe, saw a large influx of Irish immigrants looking to start a new life in a new land. They were drawn by Norfolk's familiar rolling green hills of rich farmland. Among the newcomers from County Clare, in western Ireland, was a teenager named David O'Kelly, who arrived in 1853, and found work at one of the two tanneries in Port Dover. O'Kelly met and married Catherine Emmett O'Brien, who had emigrated from County Cork, Ireland, a year before he did. She was two years his senior.
When O'Kelly had saved enough money, he bought a strip of land along a road five miles outside of Simcoe, near Doan's Hollow. He and Catherine moved into a simple farmhouse he built on a hill overlooking his land and the nearby Lynn River, and took up the farming life. Children soon followed; among them was William Edward Kelly, born in 1866 — the O' seems to have fallen off the official spelling of the family name somewhere around this time.
William Kelly was raised on the farm and from a young age helped with the chores. When he was old enough, he attended school, walking the five miles every day with children from the nearby Forrest farm. It was clear from the beginning that William was scholarly. When his marks stayed high throughout his teens, and he showed no real interest in farming, his parents realized their son needed a higher education. They were devout Catholics but hardly rich, so it was likely a local priest who helped William get into St. Michael's College in Toronto, and from there into law school.
Soon after graduating, he met a local teacher, Annie O'Mahoney, whose family had a farm between Jarvis and Simcoe. They married at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Simcoe on May 30, 1894. He was 28, she was 25. That same year, William started his own law firm in Simcoe, called Kelly and Porter, with partner Jonathan Porter. Lawyering in farm country was not the most reliable work. Farmers didn't always have a lot of money, so it was not unusual for the Kelly front porch to be stocked with produce from the fall harvest or fresh-cut meat in exchange for his services.
William and Annie were blessed with seven children, but tragedy struck during a complicated and difficult final childbirth. The doctor and nurse attending her that day did all they could, but Annie and her unborn child died, leaving the distraught William Kelly a widower. The children learned to cook and fend for themselves, as their father was busy with his law practice. One of the boys, Lawrence, became adept in making chocolate pudding and fried eggs. Years later, William reacquainted himself with the nurse who had tried to save his wife years before, Lillian Hannick. Though she was 20 years his junior, a romance developed, and, at age 59, William married Lillian on August 3, 1925. In 1935, he was appointed Crown attorney for the region, and his work took him far and wide.
It was on his son Lawrence that the old farm cast its magical spell. From the moment he was old enough, Lawrence would head to his grandfather's to help with chores and harvesting. Into his teens, Lawrence's strength and brawn grew with him, a result of the daily physical grind on the farm. This came in handy in those days, because each of the local towns had its own teenage gang. Lawrence was the leader of the Simcoe gang, which included his brothers Leo, Bill and Dave. When a skirmish arose, Lawrence would hand his jacket to his brothers, pull up his sleeves and face the rival gang's leader "man to man." Many a score was settled successfully in this fashion, and so grew the county legend of Lawrence "Pete" Kelly.
If he was impressed with his son's bravado, William didn't much encourage it. Having eschewed the farming life himself, William felt strongly that education was a means to an end, and somewhere around 1915 he sent Pete to St. Michael's College. He wanted his son to get the good Catholic education that he had.
Pete Kelly entered St. Michael's eager to play hockey, something that had been forbidden by his father back home, for fear of injury. He and a pal ambled over to the Mutual Street Arena to try out for the St. Michael's team. Walking into the dressing room, he was met by a pudgy lad by the name of Jack Adams, who acted like he was an official with the team, but was merely trying out, like Kelly; Adams would later play a major role in hockey history. Pete Kelly made such an impression on the ice that the team manager told him that he would be signed and that he should go to a local sporting goods store, Brown's Sports & Cycle, for new equipment. Knowing that his father wouldn't approve and that his future was back on the farm, Pete Kelly reluctantly passed on the offer.
Over the next few years, Pete met Frances Owen, a girl from Jarvis, a town a few miles from the Kelly farm. Frances had been attending Loretto Abbey, an all-girls Catholic school in Toronto. Courtship ensued, and they were married at the St. Anne's Church in Walpole on June 29, 1921. The newlyweds moved into the white two-story farmhouse occupied by his grandparents, David and Catherine Kelly. They weren't there long before tragedy struck.
David Kelly, in his 80s but still quite mobile, headed down to the field one day to feed the lambs with a bottle and nipple. On the way out, he yelled over to Pete, working in the apple orchard. Pete waved to his grandfather. Hours went by and, when darkness began to descend, Catherine was concerned that her husband hadn't returned. A search found David lying face down in the dirt near a tree. Nearby stood a large old ram, warily watching them, ready to charge. It didn't take Pete long to figure out that his grandfather had been rammed unsuspectingly from behind and had fallen on a sharp stone, which struck his forehead and killed him. Shortly after this, the widowed Catherine moved out of the farmhouse to Toronto, where she lived until her own death in 1929.
Now the sole proprietor of the farm, Pete was determined to continue the family farming tradition. He had to make it work because, soon after marrying, the children started arriving — first a son, Joe, in 1923, and then Laureen, in 1925; two years later, Frances was expecting again.
While pride in his growing family and in the success of the farm pulsed through Pete's bones from spring until fall, his love of hockey sustained him through the winters. Still young at 25, Pete played local intermediate men's hockey with the Port Dover Sailors. Simcoe and Port Dover had an intense rivalry, and the Doverites had offered him his own cutter so he could get to their games on time. So valuable was Pete to Port Dover that the team would hold up the Lake Erie & Northern Railway commuter train until he arrived from his chores on the farm. Wearing his customary blue peaked cap, he played fair but rugged, and his skills with his stick and fists were both admired and hated throughout the league.
"The whole town of Simcoe used to turn out just to boo Pete Kelly," recounted Ted Reeve of the Toronto Telegram years later. "If there had been a Lady Byng Trophy in that league, he not only wouldn't have won it, Pete Kelly wouldn't have even been allowed to look at it!"
In 1927, as Pete worked the farm, and the birth of his third child approached, he followed the sports news. The New York Rangers, Detroit Cougars and Chicago Black Hawks had just completed their first NHL season. The Rangers' Bill Cook won the NHL scoring title with 33 goals and four assists, edging out Chicago's Dick Irvin by one point. Led by Cy Denneny and King Clancy, the Ottawa Senators finished first and won the Stanley Cup despite not having any players in the top ten point-getters. Jack Adams, that pudgy kid Pete had met at the St. Michael's tryout, played his last game with the Senators, and would later move into coaching and management.
On the Kelly farm, Leonard Patrick Kelly came screaming into the world in an upstairs bedroom on July 9. No one could have known how his career would be shaped by that same Jack Adams.
Leonard's group of siblings grew in the next few years to include Frances and Helen, making a family of seven. The farm had an assortment of animals, crops, gardens and pastures.
"For as long as I can remember, we had horses, cows, ducks, geese, chickens — you name it, we had it," Red recalled. "A fox got into the chicken coop one time, and you could hear the squawking going on, a real commotion! Pa ran out. One time it was so cold, Dad got a basket, went and got the piglets out of the barn and brought them into the house to keep warm. He put them behind the stove, and we later fed them all with a bottle that had a rubber nipple on it."
In the early 1930s, the farm's focus changed when Pete Kelly decided to plant tobacco among his 100 acres of mixed crops and pastures. It would turn out to be a major decision: tobacco farming became the centre of their lives for decades to come.
While he helped on the farm, Leonard dreamed about hockey. "Our world was hockey! My brother, Joe, was a pretty good skater. I skated for the first time in our backyard on a small pond in front of the barn," he remembered. "I had bobskates, and soon my feet went out from under me and I landed on my butt. That was the last time I ever wore those bobskates! Then I got my brother Joe's skates. They were a little big, but I wore big socks in them. I sure wobbled around on my ankles at first but then got better.
"Dad also flooded the field behind the kitchen, and we'd play hockey out there. We played summer hockey too, on the gravel road. As I got older, I would put a tarp up between two trees and I would practise shooting the puck. And if we didn't have pucks, we had some other things, and we didn't always have hockey sticks either. Sometimes we'd use a branch or whatever we could get our hands on. We didn't have a lot of money to throw around and get sticks. But we loved our hockey. All summer and all winter, we talked and lived hockey."
As time went by, Leonard continued to skate. Soon he started accompanying Joe to the cedar swamps by Port Dover, where the locals played hockey. Being as southerly as it is, some years Norfolk County wouldn't get freezing temperatures before Christmas. Tired of just skating, helping to clear the ice of snow and watching from the sidelines, one day Leonard decided he wanted to join the game. "I want to play hockey," he said to Joe, who laughed.
"You can't skate well enough yet!" Joe answered. "Hockey's for guys who know how to skate."
"Yeah, scram," said some of the other boys standing nearby.
"I can skate and I want to play!" the younger Kelly insisted.
"Scram," they yelled. "You haven't even got a stick!" Challenged, Leonard walked over to one of the boys and took a swing.
"Hey, the kid really wants to play," the boy laughed. He then pulled off Leonard's little challenger's tuque and started to run away with it but then paused, noticing the colour of the boy's hair.
"No wonder the kid is so mad!" laughed the older boy. "He's got red hair! Hey Red, you get yourself a hockey stick, even if it's made from a broom handle, learn how to skate, and you'll be able to play hockey with us."
The little boy nodded and took up the challenge, coming back to the swamp whenever he could. Soon he was allowed to join the games.
"I was known as the red-headed kid," he recalled. "When they would pick teams, they would pick me by saying 'the red-headed guy.' When they called me Leonard, nobody knew who they were talking about. I've been Red ever since I can remember. At first I was one of the smaller ones, playing with these bigger guys. I'd get knocked around a little bit, but I soon learned to knock back.
"Joe and I used to walk from the farm along the train tracks by the Lynn River to the swamps. The water froze quicker there. Silver Lake was nearby, too, and we sometimes played hockey there. It had hard ice and was huge, and if you missed the goal, the puck would go forever.
"We played with kids from the neighbouring farms and Simcoe and Port Dover. The Chechawks had a rink at their house, equipment. I remember one of them, his helmet kept slipping down over his eyes. They had good hockey sticks too.
"It was natural ice, and it would be almost Christmas sometimes before we could play, but we'd spend all day there. We'd be frozen, but that didn't matter. We'd come home in the dark, and we would be so cold by the time we got to the end of the tracks and could see the light from the house in the distance. It was so good to get home and stand behind the stove to warm up! Then Mom would have good warm things for us to eat."
Hundreds of miles away in Toronto, Maple Leaf Gardens, opened in November 1931, was the centre of the hockey universe. The games were broadcast nationally on the radio, and the Kelly farm would gather to listen in on the action. That first season of games from the Gardens, the Maple Leafs were a force, led by The Kid Line of Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher and Busher Jackson, and they won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1932.
"Saturday nights we'd listen to Foster Hewitt on the radio from Maple Leaf Gardens," Red recalled. "I would be listening with my ear right beside the speaker — I didn't want to miss anything! Growing up, Red Horner was my favourite player, my hero. He had red hair, so that tied me to him. Then there was Gentleman Joe Primeau, along with King Clancy. I never actually saw them play, but Foster Hewitt would make the games sound so exciting — all the shots barely missed the net, even if they were actually wide by a mile!"
Soon Red was going to school. "My first was about four blocks away," he recalled. "It was a one-room schoolhouse, Doan's Hollow Public School Number 2. Mrs. Hilliard was our teacher, and a good teacher. The smaller grades were in the front rows, higher grades in the back. I failed the first grade. We would walk to school, and sometimes the snow was so high it was just under the telephone wires, and because we were close, we'd be the only ones to make it. The school had a playground beside a hill, and in the winter we would go up the hill and come down on our sleighs, through the gate and go quite a ways down to the corner.
"Then I went to Port Dover Public School for a few years. It was a long walk from home. Joe had a girl's bicycle; he had bought it off a neighbour. One time he came up behind me just outside of town, where the road starts to turn. I had been walking, and he says, 'Do you want a ride?' So I nod and hop up on the handlebars. There was a horn that I had to sit around, place it between my legs. It was in a very tricky, delicate spot. Along we go, and suddenly Joe takes a curve and we bounced. I went flying off and ripped my pants. I had to walk all the way back home to change."
Excerpted from The Red Kelly Story by Leonard "Red" Kelly, L. Waxy Gregoire, David. M. Dupuis. Copyright © 2016 L. Waxy Gregoire and David M. Dupuis and Leonard "Red" Kelly. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ONE GROWING UP RED,
TWO THE LESSONS OF ST. MICHAEL'S,
THREE A RED WING TAKES FLIGHT,
FOUR THEM'S THE BREAKS!,
FIVE SEASON OF THEIR DISCONTENT,
SIX THE GREATEST ALL AROUND,
SEVEN A PATRIOTIC SEASON,
EIGHT UNRAVELLING OF A DYNASTY,
NINE LOVE AND BETRAYAL IN DETROIT,
TEN TORONTO METAMORPHOSIS,
ELEVEN CASEY, STANLEY AND MIKE,
TWELVE PLAY IT AGAIN, RED!,
THIRTEEN STANLEY, CONN AND THE MAPLE LEAF,
FOURTEEN O CANADA!,
FIFTEEN A WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY,
SIXTEEN THE LAST HURRAH,
SEVENTEEN BRIGHT LIGHTS OF HOLLYWOOD,
EIGHTEEN DANCE WITH THE PENGUINS,
NINETEEN COACHING THE LEAFS,
TWENTY KATE SMITH VS. PYRAMID POWER,
TWENTY-ONE NEGATIVE IONS,
TWENTY-TWO AIRPLANES, ACCOLADES AND THE ANSWER TO WHY,
ABOUT THE AUTHORS,