Whether it was by plane, bus, car, boat, train or bicycle, few NHL players logged as many miles as Larry Hillman, whose father even had trouble keeping track of him.
“I said I can’t help it if everyone wants me!” Hillman said in Frank Pagnucco’s ‘Heroes: Stars of Hockey’s Golden Era’. “I took the positive attitude rather than the negative.”
During his 24-season hockey career, Hillman played for 17 teams in four different leagues. He split many of those years between the NHL and minor leagues, but always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. Hillman has six Stanley Cup championships under his belt to prove it.
The Kirkland Lake, Ontario, native began playing for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires in 1953. Hillman made his AHL and NHL debuts the following season, splitting his time between the Buffalo Bisons and the Red Wings. The 1954-55 season wasn’t a bad time for Hillman to be called up by Detroit. Led by Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe and Al Arbour, the Wings won their fourth Stanley Cup in six seasons. Hillman played in six regular-season games and three playoff games en route to his first NHL title.
Not only did Hillman win the Stanley Cup during his first NHL season, but he also became the youngest player to have his name engraved on the trophy, surpassing forward Gaye Stewart, who at 18 years, nine months and 21 days, won the Cup with the Leafs in 1942. Hillman became the youngest at 18 years, two months and nine days old, and since the current NHL rules state a player must be 18 years old by Sept. 15 in order to play in the league, his record won’t be broken anytime soon.
The defenseman left Detroit in 1957 and played for the Boston Bruins and the organization’s farm teams for the next four years. In 1961, Hillman went to Toronto where he bounced back and forth between the Maple Leafs and minor leagues. But he always made it back to Toronto just in time, winning four of his six Stanley Cups in blue and white. Two of those championships came against a team he was very familiar with.
After winning the Stanley Cup with Toronto in 1962, Hillman and the Leafs met the Red Wings in the finals for the next two seasons. Toronto won the 1963 series over Detroit 4-1 with the help of Hall of Famers Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly, Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, Andy Bathgate and Tim Horton. Even though Hillman only played in five regular-season games, his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup for the second time.
The following season, Detroit and Toronto met in the finals again and battled in a seven-game series. Hillman was on the ice for 11 of the 14 playoff games, helping the Leafs win their third straight championship.
“I think I logged the most ice-time outside of the goaltenders,” Hillman said in Damien Cox and Gord Stellick’s ‘67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Era’. “I started every period, played the power play, took faceoffs and was out there in most critical situations.”
Hillman won his final championship with Toronto in 1967 in a seven-game series against archrival Montreal. The Maple Leafs haven’t won another Stanley Cup since that series 45 years ago, but Hillman has. He signed with the Minnesota North Stars in 1968 and was traded to the Montreal Canadians where he won his sixth and final Stanley Cup in 1969. The defenseman is only one of 10 players to win the Cup with three different teams.
The traveling continued after Hillman won his final championship. He played for the Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres, finishing his NHL career having played for eight of the league’s 16 teams. Following the 1973 season, Hillman left the NHL for the WHA, playing two seasons for the Cleveland Crusaders and one for the Winnipeg Jets. He won the WHA’s Avco Cup in his single season with the Jets and the final season of his career.
Hillman hung up his skates after the 1976 season, but he wasn’t quite finished with the sport. He was hired as the head coach of the Jets following his playing days, where he led Winnipeg to its second Avco Cup championship in his first season. Hillman coached Winnipeg for two seasons before his final retirement.
It was a career worth celebrating. In 26 years, Hillman played hockey for 24, coached for two, won two Avco Cups and lifted the Stanley Cup six times. He had played for half of the NHL’s teams and nine other teams in the OHL, AHL and WHA. It was a scenic but successful career and Hillman wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The six Stanley Cups were well worth the miles.