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Horvath remembered for talent, toughness, character

Center who died at age 89 played for five of NHL's Original Six in 1950s, '60s

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

Bronco Horvath was overtaken for the Art Ross Trophy in 1959-60 by a single point on the final day of the regular season. But the statistics don't tell the whole story.

What Boston Bruins Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk wants you to know is this: Horvath, who died Tuesday at age 89 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, showed plenty of courage just to take a run at the NHL's point-scoring race during the final 20 minutes of the 70th and final game of the season.

The 5-5 final score between the Bruins and the visiting Chicago Black Hawks on March 20, 1960, was less important to the 13,675 fans at Boston Garden than who scored and who got the assists.

When the puck dropped for the opening face-off, Horvath led Chicago forward Bobby Hull by a single point (80-79) in the race for the Art Ross. With 39 goals and 41 assists, Horvath clung to the slimmest of leads over Hull, who had 38 goals and 41 assists.

Boston Bruins center Bronco Horvath scores on Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Johnny Bower, Horvath's linemate John Bucyk in the background.

 

"Bronco got hurt that night and had to go to the hospital for X-rays," Bucyk said, recalling a single detail from nearly six decades ago, one game among the 1,540 Bucyk played during his 23 NHL seasons. "I think it was his jaw, if I'm not wrong."

Bucyk's memory is precise to the finest detail. Horvath took a shot to the face late in the first period and was immediately sent to hospital for tests. While he was being X-rayed, Hull scored his 39th goal of the season on a backhand shot 5:48 into the second period to pull even with 80 points.

With X-rays not showing the suspected fracture, Horvath raced back to the Garden, laced up his skates again and emerged from the dressing room for the third period. Bruins fans roared their support.

"We tried to help him as best we could," said Bucyk, who with fellow wing Vic Stasiuk spent the entire period trying to feed their center. "But there was only so much we could do."

At 13:01 of the third, Eric Nesterenko converted a Hull pass from the corner past Bruins goalie Don Simmons to give the "Golden Jet" the point he needed to edge Horvath in the Art Ross race, winning his first of three scoring titles and the $1,000 bonus that went with it. Horvath played two fewer games than Hull that 1959-60 season -- and on this night, one fewer period.

Boston's famed "Uke Line" crowds the Toronto net. From left: John Bucyk, Vic Stasiuk and Bronco Horvath.

 

"Bronco was the centerman for myself and Vic [Stasiuk], the goal-scorer, and he could really shoot that puck," Bucyk said of the threesome that was dubbed the "Uke Line" for their Ukrainian ancestry. "He'd position himself and he had a quick release that would surprise a lot of goaltenders.

"I talked to Bronco a few times a year. He lived down at the Cape, quite a ways away (70 miles southeast from the Bruins' TD Garden), but we stayed in touch. We'd call each other to see how we were doing. I knew he was fading the last few months, he was in tough shape."

Horvath played 420 games from 1955-56 through 1962-63 for five of the NHL's Original Six; the Detroit Red Wings were the only team he missed. After his mid-1950s start with the New York Rangers, he played a single game with the Montreal Canadiens, then moved to the Bruins for four seasons before suiting up for the Black Hawks, the Rangers again, and finally the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Horvath also played four seasons for Rochester in the American Hockey League before returning to the NHL with the expansion Minnesota North Stars for 14 games in 1967-68. That led to a final few years in Rochester, with whom he won three Calder Cup championships.

Bronco Horvath chases the puck after an attack at the Toronto net.

 

In 434 NHL games, Horvath had 326 points (141 goals, 185 assists); 18 of his goals were game-winners, 48 came on the power play.

The native of Port Colborne, Ontario, moved into junior, minor pro and high-school coaching and player development after his retirement. He was elected to the AHL Hall of Fame in 2015.

Bucyk remembers his late friend as more than just a talented player.

"Bronco was a character, too," he said. "In the dressing room and out of the room, he was just a terrific person."

And Bucyk, the future Bruins captain, was the least surprised of anyone by Horvath's swollen-faced return to third-period action nearly 60 years ago, gunning for the scoring title with the Bruins out of Stanley Cup Playoff contention.

Bruins teammates Bronco Horvath (left) and Doug Mohns wearing primitive helmets to protect their fractured jaws in 1958.

 

Bucyk was also in the lineup for Boston on Oct. 18, 1958, when Horvath and teammate Doug Mohns each went down with a fractured jaw in a game against Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Bruins furiously charged that the Maple Leafs were wearing illegal elbow pads, not covered by the requisite half-inch of sponge or foam rubber.

Ten years later, in the twilight of his career with Tulsa in the Central Professional Hockey League at age 37, Horvath took his place at center ice. He paid little attention to a thumb that was broken in three places.

 

The Horvath family will greet visitors from 10 a.m. to 12 noon ET on Saturday, Dec. 28 at the Hallett Funeral Home, 273 Station Ave., South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. A graveyard service will follow in Chandler Gray Cemetery, 161 Old Mill Way, West Yarmouth.

Photos: HHoF Images

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