MP, ear muffs, pyramid power and other short stories

by Evan Weiner /

Red Kelly won two Stanley Cups with the Leafs, while serving as a member of Parliament.
There aren't many players in NHL history who were on more Stanley Cup championship teams or won more individual awards than Red Kelly, who excelled as a defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings and a center with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kelly also dabbled in politics. During his tenure with the Maple Leafs he decided to run for a seat in the Canadian Parliament in 1962.

Kelly won and for three years, Leonard Kelly was a Liberal Member of Parliament for the Toronto-area riding of York West while playing for the Maple Leafs, which meant that he had to juggle politics with hockey.

The way Kelly saw it, there really wasn't much difference between a hockey game and a session of Parliament.

"We had a guy stand up in the gallery (at the House of Commons at Parliament in Ottawa) and throw a carton of blood at the Associate Minister of Finance on the other side and it splashed and blood splattered all over and it reminded me very much of a hockey game in Chicago, mostly Chicago and Montreal when they threw the toe rubbers. In Chicago, they used to throw the money and the rabbits," Kelly laughed. "In Detroit it was the octopus, and Montreal it was the rubbers at the end of the year there when they didn't need them anymore.

"We had some exciting times no question. The Parliament certainly reminds you a lot of hockey in that the referee is the Speaker of the House, the linesmen were sort of like the Sergeant of Arms, if there are any problems they would throw a member out of the House and, of course, the floor of the House of Commons was more slippery than any ice I ever skated on. And there is nobody who can stickhandle like a member of Parliament, let me tell you. No hockey player can match the stickhandling of a member of the House."

Kelly's two careers meant he had to be in two different places at once during the day, Maple Leafs’ practice in Toronto and at the House of Commons in Ottawa. That caused some problems.

"Well, I had to be in Ottawa every day and used to fly back and forth to Toronto. I used to practice in Ottawa over in Hull, Quebec. I used to rent the ice and practice by myself sometimes and then I would fly back. I really didn't miss too much ice time because I rented the ice to practice by myself."

Kelly's Maple Leafs teammates didn't bother him with their problems, but the pilots who flew Kelly back and forth between Toronto and Ottawa were not shy at expressing their opinions about Canadian politics or asking Kelly to help solve some of their problems.

Kelly ended his political career in 1965 and ended his playing career in 1967. He was part of four Stanley Cup Championship teams between 1961-62 and 1966-67. Toronto won two Cups while Kelly was commuting back and forth between Toronto and Ottawa.

Kelly's political career served him well or at least gave him a solid foundation for his next career -- coaching. Kelly was the first coach of the Los Angeles Kings in 1967 and would eventually become the coach in Pittsburgh and Toronto. One of Kelly's ideas as a coaching motivational tool sounds as if it came right out of Parliament. In St. Louis on Jan. 3, 1970, Kelly had his Pittsburgh Penguins players sitting on the bench wearing earmuffs. And it wasn't because the St. Louis Arena was cold.

"The crowd was so boisterous and loud in St. Louis and it went right into the players box so they could not hear what was going on in the game,” Kelly recalled. “I thought it distracted the players from the game and we couldn't win in St. Louis, so I bought them all earmuffs. I said we will try this and see how it works. The players and I wore earmuffs and they went on the ice and took them off, but on the bench they had them on.

"The players couldn't hear (the fans) with the earmuffs on. We didn't worry about the looks, it was just the noise we wanted to deaden out."

The earmuffs didn't work. The Blues won 6-0.

Kelly's motivational coaching ideas actually started while he was behind the Kings bench.

"One time we came into New York and I had my brother-in-law buy me a Cat O' Nine Tails (whip),” Kelly said. “We were playing against the Rangers and having some problems and the papers were saying I was too easy on my players, I wasn't tough enough. My players were a little tight because we were having a tough time winning. So, we went into the dressing room just before the game, just before they were to go onto the ice. I had given them a little pep talk and they got up and got ready to go out and I told them to wait a minute. They are all standing around me I said; ‘They are accusing me of being too easy on you fellows, not tough enough but that's all going to change for now on!’ and I whipped out this Cat O' Nine Tails out and I give it a whack and it sounded like a gun going off. Whack! Right in front of them. They all jumped back and laughed and then they went out and played a hell of a period. They were all loose."

The motivation worked for a period, but Kelly was gone after two years in Los Angeles.

Kelly finished his coaching career in Toronto, a team owned by Harold Ballard, and needed to find something to take his players’ minds off the bombastic owner. He found what he was looking for in Pyramid Power.

"Harold liked to be on the front page of every paper and sometimes he would distract my players from thinking about the game,” Kelly said. “I tried to get them motivated so they would forget all about Harold and think about hockey. So, I brought in Pyramid Power and they all started talking about pyramids and Pyramid Power and their minds got on that and what it could do. Darryl Sittler put his sticks under the pyramid and he scored 10 points that night (On Feb. 7, 1976, Sittler scored six goals and added four assists against the Boston Bruins) and from then on, all the players believed the pyramids had the extra power. So, I had them stuck up under the benches so the power would emanate from a third way up in the pyramid and go through the apex of it and right up into the players.

"Once they started to believe in it, they forgot all about Harold and it affected their play and it was good."

Kelly's Maple Leafs lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers, which forced the coach to come up with a new idea the next season. Viola! Positive and negative ions and pools of water in the Maple Leafs dressing room.

"There's negative ions and positive ions and I guess the quickest and easiest way to explain that is if you see a stagnant pool of water, that is positive ions and if you see a fresh sparkling water, you get a lot of negative ions and negative ions make you feel good," Kelly said. "Negative ions make you feel good and that is why the Romans used to have their fountains inside the house because it created negative ions and that was good for you.”

The negative ions didn’t work. Kelly’s team was once again beaten by the Flyers and Kelly’s coaching career ended with that loss.

Today, it is doubtful in the 30-team NHL that a player could combine a political and hockey career simultaneously unless he was with either the Ottawa Senators or Washington Capitals. Even then that might be difficult with all of the travel. Kelly was a unique character in NHL history, an All-Star defenseman who late in his career became a solid center while serving his country in Parliament.