Playing hockey in the National Hockey League and winning the Stanley Cup is the quintessential Canadian story of success. That is only when you win “the Cup” once. What do you call it when a boy from Simcoe/Port Dover Ontario plays for 20 years and wins the Stanley Cup eight times? You call it The ‘Red’ Kelly Story.
Hockey has changed over 100 years, a read of Stephen Harper’s A Great Game, Bobby Orr’s My Story or Wayne Gretzky’s 99: Stories of the Game demonstrate that evolution since the original six. In The Red Kelly Story, the doubling of the league following the Leaf’s Cup win in 1967 seems like eons ago compared to the recent expansion of the league with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Leonard ‘Red’ Kelly is the NHL’s original gentleman and winner of 8 Stanley Cups – that none were won with the Montreal Canadians is a testament to his ability to make a team better simply by stepping on the ice. There are few like him who as a player, team Captain, Coach and General Manager had the respect of almost everyone he played with and against.
But Kelly also knew what he stood for and took the consequences in stride. His banishment from Detroit following his decision to retire rather than to accept a trade to the New York Rangers is an example. Then GM Jack Adams and years later President Alex Delvecchio refused to retire his number 4. But for every instance of rejection there are dozens of rewards. His election to the Hockey Hall of Fame only two years after retiring for good and helping the Maple Leafs win their last Stanley Cup is recognition of his status in the NHL.
So consider what he accomplished and then add another full-time job to his duties that also included being a father of four. In 1962 he ran, at the request of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, and was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Toronto riding of York West, he was re-elected again 1963. He stepped down as the MP in 1965 following the debate and final vote creating a new Canadian flag.
The NHL was much simpler then with a fixed schedule which made it easier to be both in Ottawa on Parliament Hill and on the ice in Maple Leaf Gardens. In the three seasons he was serving in Ottawa, Kelly only missed 4 regular season games. Even Kelly was not aware of what the double duty was doing to him; he still dominated on the ice. Only going into the 1965-66 season when he was ‘only’ a hockey player was he able to see how being an MP had affected his game. Over a 20 year career as a player he only missed 64 games, and played 9 complete seasons.
However it’s also his post playing career that demonstrates his ability to understand the game and influence players to perform better. Through 10 years of coaching he made the playoffs, with teams that should not have been in them 8 times. Just as in his playing career where he missed the playoffs twice, he missed two post seasons coaching – one year, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was fired before the season ended. His coaching career is most memorable for the season of pyramid power while coaching the Maple Leafs during the 1976 playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers.
There is not a lot of controversy in the life of Red Kelly, but that’s okay. The Red Kelly Story is one of determination that had a successful career as a tobacco farmer in Simcoe Ontario, as a Hall of Famer in the NHL and to have a family where his success and dedication as a Parliamentarian and father has turned each of his children into being strong and dedicated people in their own careers.
At times it is good to read about a life that works out alright and makes it through the struggles we all may face. Red Kelly was no angel and was not handed anything without having a work ethic that had him earn all he has. We all don’t have stories like The Red Kelly Story, so it’s good to read one like it, if only to reinforce that hard word, faith and family have its rewards.
The Red Kelly Story is a hockey story that cannot be replicated. Hockey today at 100 years is not the same as it was when the NHL was a young 30 years old in 1947 when Red Kelly broke into the league.
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