Tag Archive for George Armstrong

Who’s the Captain of this Barge?

1219 for publication April 28, 2017

Ross Brewitt

Who’s the newest captain of the Leafs going to be?

The question was first raised by “Mike,” a long-serving friend of mine and a lifelong subscriber to the Maple Leaf lifestyle. These days his calendar is filled with figuring out where all the pieces fit, what new pieces they’ll need, and it’s not like he’s alone.

A few generations of Leaf fans, some able to cheer their heroes forward with more than a quick-fix on to base their enthusiasm on, are enjoying the luxury of “looking ahead” as opposed to looking back, at old glories in the fading rear-view mirror. We expect these legions to grow considering the numbers coming out of the closet after years of submerging their backing and allegiance.

Based on the performance of the present Leafs, holding a top team in hockey down to six games decided by one goal, eight periods of extra-fun hockey played over six games, and only one concluded without overtime, underlines how the Leafs came that close to upsetting “number one” over the regular season.

By mid-term it was expected the Leafs were a better team, a competitive team. No-one knew how long it would last, or how it would translate into a playoff atmosphere. Now they find themselves the toast of Leaf fans coast-to-coast. Even better, there are those inside hockey and other fans who admire what they’ve accomplished.

The reality will come October ’17 when much more will be expected of them, or else.

In the meantime let’s get back to this new Leaf’s choice for captain. At present Toronto has four “A’s.” In my opinion, they should continue that format through the coming season. Realistically, I’m figuring if they don’t pick-up Jonathan Toews or Erik Karlsson in a deal in the off-season, (yeah, right,) there are two outstanding choices for captain in the fold right now. Mike Rielly, and/or Auston Matthews. The other Mike, my pal Mike, thinks it goes to Matthews, right now, no hesitation, no contest.

Having been around the NHL scene, watching captains come and go on many teams, I’ve often found the next captain selected was often not the slam dunk he seemed to be. It’s not always the team’s best player standing on skates. It’s not the oldest, nor the youngest, and there’s where we are with a captain-in-waiting for Toronto. That’s the obvious dilemma in dealing with a popularity contests pitted against cold, hard, necessity.

Past Leafs were a mixed bag. Example George Armstrong was an excellent “C.” Yet Dave Keon hated the assignment. Both were very private people, the perfect example of straightforward service, and unmistakable disregard.

See, the captain wears many off-ice hats, he’s the buffer between the front office, and the coaches when a wrong turn is made by one or the other parties. A captain is an ombudsman, often burdened with minor aggravations, disputes between players and coaching staff, someone to fill a required date at a hospital, the kinds of public relation requirements all teams assume once the season begins.

That availability of players is often disrupted with team priority requirements for injury rehab, changes in the lineups, reassignment to the minors, treatments, and family matters.

But by and large, the captain is the face of the on-ice product. Barring injury he must be an everyday player and a front-man, someone with the presence to settle internal disputes between teammates, management, media and coaches. For that he uses his standing within the team and his trust and perceived impartiality to settle disputes for the good of the team.

That area alone is the big responsibility.

Within those considerations, Rielly at age 23, has shown improvement in his standing and grasp of the NHL game. It’s improving at a rapid pace for a young defensive player. The difference between the two, is summed up in Rielly’s longer range of eon-the-job experience.

The good news may be having four A’s carry the load for the next two seasons and then put the right man in line for the job. It will allow the next captain of the Leafs to show his leadership and talents in that area. Keeping in mind these two excellent candidates to be the “players public face,” will ideally be a long term assignment.

What’s the rush? Looks like the talent will be there, on the job, when the time comes for the Leafs to “C.”




Pat Quinn: Legend and Legacy

1076 for publication November 28, 2014

Upon receiving an email advising me of Pat Quinn’s passing, the first image that came to mind was November 2008. He was leaning against the wall outside the Media room of Guelph’s Sleeman Centre, fully engaged in poring over the lineups for the OHL Storm’s game that night with the London Knights.

Being aware of his recent appointment as coach of Team Canada’s Junior team, I sidled over and quietly asked, “what horse are you picking in the third?”

As he glanced up the shaggy eyebrows arched and an orderly facial transformation occurred with the big familiar grin following. It was a signature smile I had first seen at the Leafs 1969 training camp.

Back then, as the newly appointed editor of Maple Leaf Gardens Magazine, I was playing catch-up that September, much like a few others. Among the group of rookies were general manager Jim Gregory, coach Johnny McLellan, head trainer Joe Sgro, and another player who became a close friend, defenseman Jim McKenny. After years of bridling under the dictatorial Punch Imlach, “Howie” was about to play his first full NHL season.

I was told by the previous editor, “get close to the players, this job will only get tougher if you don’t.” I took the advice as gospel and in that first season, many of those Leafs also became friends, were guests in our home, and in the time since I have often written about those close personal encounters in columns and books.

Pat Quinn was the subject of a chapter in “Into the Empty Net,” a book filled with stories of the fun side of hockey, and one that’s prominent is the famous hit on Bobby Orr. What most people were not aware of was the second devastating hit by Quinn on Orr only a month later. Allow me to edit down and condense that story of the “second coming.”

Orr was motoring through centre with Paul Henderson on his tail… trying to clutch and hamper… and Orr had his hands full. Pat… lined up Number 4 and drilled him as he crossed the blue line… After the game, in the Bruins dressing room Red Burnett of the Star asked Orr, “how’s it feel to get hit by that dummy… again?” casting a little salt on Orr’s open mental sores.

“Only been hit twice like that in my life, Red. He can’t be that dumb,” Bobby answered carefully.

I’ve always admired Orr’s remark, and its basic acceptance of fact.

Back to the hallway in Guelph. After we’d caught up on the exploits and pastimes of James McKenny, Dave Keon, George Armstrong, and those long-time friends and teammates, I chided him about his next hockey task, fast approaching. “Aren’t you the guy they said didn’t handle young players very well?”

It was one of the face-saving attempts given by the Suits at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment when Quinn was fired as coach in 2006. That’s right, the “brains” of the day canned the same guy who had put the Leafs in the playoffs six of his seven seasons behind the bench.

But the “orderly facial transformation” returned and grinning he replied, “we’ll see.”

It meant the same man who took the Under 18 Team Canada to gold in 2008, was now in charge of the cream of Canadian teenagers.  And we did “see” a gold medal 2009 World Junior Championship.

As someone who often writes about “the game,” it’s problems, it’s future, the waste of talent and talented people that it seemingly tolerates, it appears the good ol’ hockey game has suffered a terrible blow, and loss, with his passing.

Today, after all the words are broadcast and written, plus miles of video history have been shown, I have this feeling he’s wearing that mischievous Irish smile and looking down on us poor souls trying to figure out what to do now?

John Brian Patrick Quinn, Order of Canada, NHL journeyman player, brilliant coach, reluctant GM, educated game builder and game changer.

Pat, old friend, we’ll miss you. May the wind always be at your back.