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ECHL Hall-of-Famer Brophy a real inspiration

by Evan Weiner /
The ECHL is adding four members to the league's Hall of Fame in January, and one of them is former Toronto Maple Leafs coach John Brophy. He will enter the Hall along with Blake Cullen, Tom Nemeth and Rod Taylor.

The ECHL Hall of Fame exists in cyberspace, as there is no physical building that houses plaques, trophies and other memorabilia, but wherever it exists, Brophy belongs as one of the most colorful characters in hockey history.

Brophy won three ECHL titles with Hampton Roads in 1991, 1992 and 1998, and the ECHL Coach of the Year award is named after the legendary Eastern Hockey League tough guy. Brophy started in Baltimore way back in 1955 and ended his EHL career in 1973 with the Jersey Devils. Brophy played with Baltimore, Charlotte, New Haven, Long Island, Philadelphia, back to Long Island, New Haven again, then another time with the Long Island Ducks and finished up at the Cherry Hill Arena.
Brophy is the poster boy for the Eastern Hockey League, a low-budget loop that featured a who's who of hockey's tough guys. Brophy picked up virtually all of his 3,839 career penalty minutes in his EHL tenure, and that doesn't include suspensions.
When the EHL folded after the 1972-73 season, Brophy went back to Long Island and coached the North American Hockey League's Long Island Cougars in 1973-74. The NAHL had teams in Binghamton, Cape Cod, Johnstown, Long Island, Maine (Lewiston), Mohawk Valley, N.Y. (Utica) and Syracuse and would eventually become famous in hockey circles as the league that spawned the movie Slap Shot. The Johnstown Jets became the Charlestown Chiefs and Brophy -- or maybe Tommy McVie -- morphed into Reggie Dunlop.
It is thought that Brophy was the inspiration for the Reggie Dunlop character in the movie. If that is so, then it has been a big year for Brophy as the AHL's Syracuse Crunch retired Dunlop's No. 7 in October as Blazers ownership decided to honor the late Paul Newman, who played Dunlop in the movie.
McVie played only one year in the EHL -- he was the player-coach of the Johnstown Jets in 1972-73 -- and saw Brophy in the twilight of his career. But McVie heard all of the stories of Brophy, Don Perry, Blake Ball and the guys who toiled in what was considered hockey's lowest level league and also the toughest circuit in all of hockey.
"I went down to the Eastern Hockey League and went there as a player-coach. Brophy was there, Kevin Morrison. They were all there. It was quite a league," said McVie. "Imagine John Brophy played 20 years in the Eastern Hockey League. Can you imagine traveling on those buses, stick fighting every night for 20 years?
Brophy was suspended in 1967-68 for a half season for knocking down a referee. That led him to coaching, but he wanted to leave Commack, Long Island, and got himself traded to the New Haven Blades, a team that was coached by another tough-as-nails guy, Don Perry. Perry and Brophy had been teammates in New Haven and Long Island and were known to cause some mayhem, which in the EHL was a common occurrence.
"Don Perry was a big tough guy," McVie said. "Big in those years (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), everybody was about my size and he was way bigger. He pretty much owned the league."
Other guys who McVie heard about included Ball.
"A big tough guy -- he was a little scary too," McVie said of Ball. "They were all in that league. They were all there."
When Slap Shot came out, it brought back vivid memories of the EHL for McVie.
"Actually, they had to make a movie out of it," said McVie. "It was like a true story. You take him (Dunlop) going there and myself going there (Johnstown), after playing, being a playing coach. It was just exactly like that. The locker room was the same locker room we were in, the stall where I coached out of was where Paul Newman was."
Brophy and Perry ended up coaching in the NHL along with McVie. Perry was behind the bench for 118 games with the Los Angeles Kings between 1981 and 1983 and won one playoff round in 1982. Perry coached Brophy in 1968-69. Brophy would eventually coach the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1986 and lasted 193 games. His Maple Leafs won a playoff series in 1987.
Guys like McVie, Brophy and Perry probably never should have made it to the NHL as they were career minor leagues. McVie was better than either Brophy and Perry as he played in the much higher Western Hockey League, which was a repository for one time NHL players who either were too old or lost a step and for younger players who were too small for the six-team league. But McVie, Brophy and Perry were hockey lifers who took whatever job was available to keep going.
"Imagine John Brophy played 20 years in the Eastern Hockey League. Can you imagine traveling on those buses, stick fighting every night for 20 years? Unbelievable." -- Tommy McVie
"The only way you could get a job in those years was to be a player-coach," said McVie, who was talking about the late 1960s and early 1970s. "The only thing you could do is go down there and play in the lowest league and I went down to the Eastern Hockey League as player-coach."
McVie made it quickly to the NHL. After one year in Johnstown, he went to Dayton in 1974-75 again as a player-coach and was named the Washington Caps coach in 1975-76. McVie's 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets won the final WHA championship.

Oddly enough, three Capitals coaches -- McVie, Danny Belisle and Bruce Boudreau -- all have links to the EHL/NAHL and Slap Shot. McVie coached Johnstown just before the movie was written, Belisle coached Syracuse and got himself in the movie and was in the fight scene squaring off against Newman/Dunlop and Boudreau's apartment was used as Dunlop's apartment.
Brophy never did quite get the coaching bug out of his system after Toronto fired him. He went to the East Coast Hockey League's Hampton Roads Admirals in 1989 and stayed there until 2000. In 2001, he coached the Wheeling Nailers and lasted until 2003. In 2006-07, at the age of 73, he coached the Southern Professional Hockey League's Richmond Renegades. He won 1,027 games behind the bench in the EHL, NAHL, Southern Hockey League, American Hockey League, the World Hockey Association, the original Central Hockey League, the ECHL and the SPHL. Brophy was a hockey lifer.
Brophy and his fellow inductees will be honored at a luncheon in Reading, Pa., on Jan. 21.

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