Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.
February 15, 2007
(TORONTO) -- Red Kelly is looking at the picture of the Leafs 1967 Stanley Cup-winning team and musing the way older people do.
"That front row is getting a little thin," he said. And then he rhymes off absent friends, King Clancy, Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton.
A gentleman farmer from Simcoe, Ontario, 79-nine-year-old Red Kelly holds to the rural, unsentimental view of death, and of life. He is a reserved man who never swears, a gentleman who only fought when no other option existed. But he moved with a bloodless efficiency over 20 NHL seasons. On the rare occasions Kelly dropped his gloves, he annihilated his opponents. He was kind by choice, not out of weakness and when someone mistook his dignity for weakness, there was an enormous price to pay.
That is how he came to be a Maple Leafs, a central figure in the Leafs four Stanley Cup in the 1960s and one of the most noteworthy figures to be recognized in Saturday's pre-game ceremonies honouring the Leafs 1967 Cup winners.
In 1957, Red Wings general manager Jack Adams traded his great captain Ted Lindsay for organizing a player's association. He chose Red Kelly, his star defenceman, to wear the C.
Kelly grudgingly accepted the letter. But Adams found in Kelly a player just as determined to bring the concerns and desires of the players to the attention of management.
"If they wanted someone who would be quiet," Kelly said. "They didn't get it."
Kelly lasted two more seasons but when he innocently told a Toronto newspaper reporter that he had played through the spring with a serious foot injury, the imperious Adams, tired of Kelly's audacity. He traded him to the sad-sack New York Rangers.
Red Kelly did what no one did. He said no and retired on the spot. "Most players don't get 10 years in the NHL and I had thirteen and a half." he said. "I thought I was going to have to go out and get a job."
Commissioner Clarence Campbell interceded and pressured Kelly to accept the trade. He still said no. Finally, Leafs coach/GM Punch Imlach pitched a deal.
In Toronto, Kelly would push his life and career in new directions. A great admirer of former Prime Minister Lester Pearson, he won election as a Liberal Member of Parliament and for three years commuted from Ottawa for practices and games.
And he played centre. "We knew the road to the Stanley Cup went through Montreal," Kelly has said. "Punch thought we needed someone to go up against Jean Beliveau."
As the Gardens faithful chanted down the seconds at Maple Leaf Gardens May 2, 1967, Kelly knew his eighth Stanley Cup would be his last.
"Stafford Smythe (Leafs upper executive) offered me a four-year deal but I thought, ' what happens in two years if I can't cut it,' Kelly remembered. " I had decided before the final game that it was time to leave."
Kelly would coach the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and then, from 1975-1977, the Maple Leafs.
He remembers 1967 as a year the Leafs desire and experience stopped a marvellous Montreal team.
Imlach, Kelly said, was never better behind the bench. His makeshift line of Pete Stemkowski, Jim Pappin and Bob Pulford dominated the playoffs.
"We had a little bit of everything, young guys, old guys, great goaltending. And we had that important ingredient, we wouldn't quit," said Red Kelly, an expert on the subject. "That's why we won it in the end."