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Our Annual Ed Sweeney Letter: Five Men Who Deserve Induction

This year, Geraldine Heaney, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan will be inducted into Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. Fred Shero was also elected to the Hall in the builder’s category. Who can argue?

When I was young, the Hockey Hall of Fame was the coolest thing in the world to me. My mom and dad would take me to the CNE to see the Hall and the great players, players my dad had told me stories about — Eddie Shore, Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliet, Newsy Lalonde, Fred “Cyclone” Taylor and on and on.

UnknownToday, it’s just not the same. The people who run it, run it to keep Torontonians and Americans happy. The people who run it have forgotten true greatness, true fame.

My old friend Ed Sweeney, God rest his soul, knew that, too. Ed never got emotional about the Hall’s mistakes — and make no mistake, the Hall has made plenty of mistakes — but he did like to poke the bear every year. The day the inductees were announced, Ed sent out his “letter.” He wrote it for nearly a decade. It was polite and respectful. And because my friend can’t do it anymore, I will once again take up the gauntlet.

The late Mr. Sweeney’s was written on behalf of five hockey legends with ties to Manitoba in order to alert Bill Hay or Jim Gregory or Harry Sinden or somebody on the Hall of Fame selection committee, to the fact that to the hockey historians in this part of Canada, the Toronto-based Hall is still a sad Eastern/American joke.

For more than a decade, Sweeney kept a list of five men, coaches, builders and players who should be in the Hall, but for reasons he could just never understand, have been consistently ignored by the people who made the Hall’s final selections.

For those who don’t know, Sweeney was an old baseball player and bowling champion (he used to set pins at Billy Mosienko Lanes in Winnipeg’s North End) who has always had that deep, abiding love for hockey that only a Canadian can have. He’s the former curator of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and was, for a long time, an active member of the Canadian Association for Hockey Research.

Once again this year, I have taken it upon myself to offer up Mr. Sweeney’s annual letter to the Hall, a letter that includes the names of five people who should be in the Hall, but have been left out for reasons I simply don’t want to consider. This year, however, on behalf of a group of Manitobans organized by John K. Samson, lead singer for Winnipeg’s Weakerthans, I have added a name of my own.

Here, once again, is “Sweeney’s List”… (with an addition at the end)

Butchie.

Butchie.

Robert “Butch Goring: He played 16 years with L.A., Boston and the New York Islanders. Was a Masterton, Lady Byng and Conn Smythe Trophy winner and helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cups in the early 1980s. He was also a good coach and an award winner. “If Clark Gillies is in the Hall, then Butch Goring should be in the Hall,” said Sweeney.

Hell, if Dave Keon is in the Hall, then Butch Goring should be in the Hall. Just compare their careers.

There is an outstanding profile of Goring at http://www.legendsofhockey.net:8080/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/SearchPlayer.jsp?player=12752

“Ironman” Murray Murdoch.

Murray Murdoch: The NHL’s original Ironman, Murdoch played 11 years with the New York Rangers from 1926-27 to 1936-37, won two Stanley Cups and never missed a game. There is a tremendous profile of Murdoch at http://www.newyorkrangers.com/tradition/bio.asp?Player=Murdoch

Billy Reay

Billy Reay

Billy Reay: “Most people don’t believe me when I tell them Billy Reay is NOT in the Hall of Fame,” Sweeney always said. Reay retired as one of only two players to win a Memorial Cup, an Allan Cup and a Stanley Cup (with the Canadiens) and after retiring as a player he went on to coach the Chicago Blackhawks. He left coaching in 1976 with 598 wins — at the time, the second most in NHL history.

Old Bulwarks

Old Bulwarks

Lorne Chabot: Port Arthur’s “Old Bulwarks” won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers and had 73 shutouts in his career back when the NHL was in its infancy. There is a fine profile of Chabot at

http://www.legendsofhockey.net:8080/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/SearchPlayer.jsp?player=18462

John Ferguson: “Even if you don’t count the fact, he was the best fighter in the NHL and a pretty good player during his time, John has to be in the Hall as a builder,” said Sweeney. “He was assistant GM with Team Canada ’72 and then GM of the Rangers. He built the Winnipeg Jets and had a lot to do with building the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks of today.”

He was also a man who revered the game and held to its hughest esteem. He was a hockey man and there are plenty of people in the Hall who saw it as a way to earn a living and little more. Fergie sold the game every minute of his life and for that alone, he should be rewarded.

The Riverton Rifle.

The Riverton Rifle.

Reggie “The Riverton Rifle” Leach: For those who aren’t aware—and in Manitoba, there shouldn’t be many—Reggie (The Riverton Rifle) Leach, now 62, was one of the greatest hockey players ever produced in this province. And not only was he a great First Nations player, he was a great NHL star, no matter his background.

Leach played for 14 seasons in the NHL for four different teams, but his greatest successes came when he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. In 1975, he was part of the Flyers Stanley Cup-winning team, but it was the next spring, when the Flyers lost the final to Montreal, that Leach showed his true greatness.

The Rifle scored an unprecedented 19 goals in 16 games and was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. His 19 goals was a record (he scored five in one game) that still stands today, but amazingly, his proudest NHL memory came when his son Jamie, who played with the Pittsburgh Penguins during their Stanley Cup wins in 1990 and 199l, won the Cup. As a result, Reggie and Jamie are the first, and so far only, Aboriginal father and son to be Stanley Cup winners.

Although he lives at Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island, where he is engaged to former Chief, now councilor, Dawn Madahbee, he is still a proud member of the Berens River First Nation and still plays hockey in First Nations tournaments. He often plays with son Jamie, now a Winnipeg golf professional. He and Jamie also operate “Shoot to Score” Hockey Schools right across Canada. He’s famous.

You can read his hockey story at: http://www.legendsofhockey.net/ LegendsOfHockey/jsp/SearchPlayer.jsp?player=13337.

I hope someone out there in the big Eastern city will remember Goring, Murdoch, Chabot, Reay, Ferguson and Leach. One of the Hall’s 18 selection committee members can nominate a candidate and perhaps next year they’ll remember true greatness.

On behalf of the late Ed Sweeney, I hope that this coming year the Hall’s gatekeepers will think about the things that make a Hall of Fame great, not just popular to the Toronto media.

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