Not many NHL players can say that they showed up late, scored a goal and received a 10-minute misconduct in their first NHL game. But for former left winger Larry Jeffrey, that was exactly what happened when the Red Wings called him up to debut in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he scored his first goal on Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower, Jeffrey didn’t just gain the respect of his teammates, he sparked the beginning of a career that would plateau with a Stanley Cup championship.
“I scored my first goal against Toronto,” Jeffrey said. “My first game, my first goal. I’ll never forget. And they called me a whiz kid. He thought I was going to the right and I turned and went to the left and put it in the empty net.”
Jeffrey’s goal at Olympia Stadium helped the Wings to a 5-0 victory over Toronto. While the forward went on to play another 17 games that season, it was his debut game – on Feb. 11, 1962 – that ended up being the most eventful.
“I got my first 10-minute misconduct for calling the linesman a name,” Jeffrey said. “He claimed I was off-side and of course I didn’t think so. He blew the whistle and I told him what I thought about it. He reported me and I was sent to the box.”
Jeffrey’s misconduct marked the first 293 total penalty minutes that he accumulated over the course of his eight-season NHL career. In addition to a 10 minute penalty, the rookie was also charged a fine for his misconduct, which Wings general manager Jack Adams generously paid.
“After the game Mr. Adams came over to me,” Jeffrey recalled, “and he said, ‘What did you say?’ So I told him, and he said, ‘I’ll pay this one but that’s the last.’ So I got my first break with him – $25.”
Prior to his NHL debut, Jeffrey had been playing with the Edmonton Flyers of the WHL for the majority of the 1961-62 season. Like so many other players who are recalled from the minors within a moment’s notice, he had to travel overnight from Edmonton in order to make it to his first game, barely arriving at the arena in time to play.
“I had played the night before in Edmonton and I got the news that I was coming to Detroit,” Jeffrey said. “The police officer met me at the Detroit airport and brought me to the Olympia. The game had already started by the time I got my equipment on. The games started back in those days at seven o’clock and I didn’t get to the Olympia until about 6:30. So that was a wild day. I got my first goal, my first 10-minute misconduct and flew all night.”
Having picked up five goals and three assists in his first 18 games, Jeffrey was poised to have his career take off the following season, but an injury in training camp hampered his development. Torn ligaments in his knee were the first of many lower body injuries that the forward sustained throughout his career.
Despite the injury, Jeffrey managed to skate in 53 games during the 1962-63 season with the help of a knee brace, a crude apparatus that locked his leg into place while playing.
“I had to wear just about any kind of brace that was out there to support my knee,” Jeffrey said. “We didn’t have trainers like they have today and so I was fitted with an aluminum brace that bends and then you’d lock with wing nuts on the side. It would be locked in and you’d bend your knee at a certain degree so that your leg wasn’t locked straight.”
Playing with a brace, draining the fluid after every game and receiving occasional cortisone shots weren’t the worst of Jeffrey’s problems. Another testament to his toughness came when adhesions from a former charley horse developed on his thigh, in the same leg that had the torn ligaments, requiring an extremely painful treatment.
Despite the injuries, Jeffrey managed to contribute in a number of historical postseason games, including the 1964 Stanley Cup finals. In overtime of Game 2, Jeffrey scored on an assist from Gordie Howe, giving the Wings their first victory of the series.
But four games later, Leafs defenseman Bob Baun scored another OT goal that gave Toronto the momentum it needed to capture the Stanley Cup in Game 7.
“I thought we were on our way to the Stanley Cup,” said Jeffrey, who picked up one goal and six assists during that playoff run. “I scored my overtime goal and then the next game, I was skating, Baun scored with the broken ankle. And then we mailed them the next game in Toronto because we didn’t show up to play.”
But it was with Toronto, three years later, that Jeffrey finally captured his first championship. Traded from Detroit in May 1965, Jeffrey split time between the Leafs and the Rochester Americans for a season before settling in Toronto and winning the Cup in 1967.
As for his ties to Detroit, Jeffrey remembers that, despite having friends on his old team, it was necessary to hold some grudges while wearing the Leafs jersey.
“Whenever you got traded you had friends where you came from,” Jeffrey said. “In Detroit it was a very tight-knit bunch of guys and when you moved to Toronto you had all new guys and you’re playing against them, you’ve got to hate them in order to beat them.”