‘Appropriate’ is a much-used word in our time. For example, when I voice an opinion someone is sure to say, “That’s not appropriate.”
The end of the year, however, is the most appropriate time to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to those treasured personalities who have moved on to, well, I’m not quite sure where.
Just before Christmas former Montreal Canadien Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup winner Dickie Moore died in Montreal.
If you are under fifty five years of age that may not mean that much to you.
But the Moore family left their mark on me.
The first time I remember seeing the Moore name in Montreal is probably when I was about six. A nearby establishment that I loved to frequent had its owner’s name on its masthead: Dickie Moore’s Dairy Queen. “Who’s Dickie Moore?” I asked my mother, who in that time was my own personal Google Search.
“He’s a hockey player,” came the answer. I didn’t know much about that, because in those Precambrian days a boy couldn’t sign up for hockey until he was eight years old. I guess the older generation of that time held the quaint notion that maybe you shouldn’t commit your kid to something until he or she actually showed an interest in such an activity. Little did I know that I would later get to know Dickie. That pleasure came about through the close association I developed with his older brother Jimmy.
It was the spring of 1975 and a friend named Cam was watching me playing passionately for the Dorval Jets in a Junior ‘B’ playoff round. He was impressed enough to divert me from my talks with Providence College in Rhode Island to make a trip with him to Lennoxville, Quebec where Bishop’s University was located.
“Our coach is Jimmy Moore, Dickie’s older brother”, Cam informed me. “He’s the greatest coach. You’ll love him.”
Cam and I made the two hour drive to Lennoxville from our West Island homes later that spring. Cam always called me Davey and it was with that moniker that he introduced me to my future coach.
That was how Jimmy would address me for the next thirty eight years.
I didn’t know what kind of impression I made during my first encounter. Years later Jimmy would fill me in as he told the story that before he met me he asked Cam if I drank. “Oh, he’ll have a beer, maybe two,” Jimmy recounted that Cam had told him. “Jesus Christ, I could hardly sit down all afternoon as I was running back and forth to the fridge getting Davey more beers.”
Maybe Jimmy exaggerated a little. My mother certainly hopes so. Jimmy always had a well-stocked fridge to entertain his hockey players even if he didn’t drink himself.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he later told me. “For awhile it got so bad that when I came up to a traffic light and it was red I had to turn off and get myself a beer.”
I don’t think it was ever that bad. But Jimmy always held onto that locker room/ barroom camaraderie. He was never happier that when he had a bunch of us players up to his house on Academy Street in Lennoxville for supper that always included as many steaks as hungry hockey players in their early twenties could consume. His buddy Bruce Coulter, the Bishop’s Gaiters very successful football coach was a frequent guest. He would bring along a couple of his players, some of them future CFLers. They sure could eat. Jimmy did the barbequing, his vivacious wife Barbara did the rest.
It was as easy to love Barbara as much as we did Jimmy. Both were from the hardscrabble area of Montreal known as Park Extension and she had lived through, and put up with a lot, through Jimmy’s long career in hockey’s minor leagues. Jimmy had once been a top prospect before Dickie, and both had an Irishman’s aversion to being pushed around.
“Frank Selke Sr. was the General-Manager of the Montreal Canadiens at the time. That was the era long before expansion in the NHL and certainly before the free-agency of today,”she told me one night. “Those old NHL owners and G-Ms owned the players lock, stock and barrel. Even Gordie Howe was afraid of saying anything to his coach Jack Adams. Adams used to walk around the dressing room before games with train tickets to minor league towns in his breast pocket, just to remind players where they might end up after a bad game. Old Selke wanted Jimmy to sign a particular contract. Jim didn’t think it was anything near what he was worth, and you know Jimmy. He stuck to his guns. Selke told him to sign that contract, or he would never see the NHL again. That’s how I came to spend a lot of years in Cleveland, Ohio.”
Both Barbara and Jimmy made the best of it, however. The two had attended a lot of wild parties, where characters such as the notorious drunken ex-NHLer Howie Young would literally enter parties by swinging in on a chandelier. Fred Shero, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Stanley Cup winning coach of the 1970s had also been a teammate. Barbara told me that even as a player one could tell he had the coaching gene, as he could sit and talk hockey strategy by the hour. No one could tell at that time that he would win his two Stanley Cups not through his strategy sessions however, but by getting his Broad Street Bullies to beat up the rest of the league, player by player. Jimmy was also a collector of one-liners that he had picked up from a variety of hockey folk. Once while I was hopping over the boards for a shift, the toe of my skate caught a teammate’s shoulder and I landed, ingloriously, face first on the ice below.
Jimmy enjoyed it immensely. “You can’t swim there, Davey, it’s frozen,” he cackled, as I struggled, red-faced to my feet. He also liked to remind wingers of their defensive responsibilities.
“You don’t just go one way,” he would remind lazy backcheckers. “You gotta go up and down, just like a toilet seat.” He later told me he had heard those lines many times from King Clancy, the old Maple Leafs’ great, who had spent years coaching in the minor leagues.
Dickie would often meet us in Montreal when we would play at McGill or Concordia University. He ‘d come out to dinner, sometimes bringing along other Montreal hockey personalities such as John Ferguson. Dickie was a multi-millionaire by that time, having expanded his two Dairy Queens to a large construction equipment rental business. Even my hockey-playing children never lost sight of Dickie’s name, because the change shacks where we put on our skates at Mutchmoor Park in Ottawa had his logo on them. Over the decades he had provided jobs for dozens of old hockey players who had found themselves down on their luck. Jimmy told me that it was not always an easy transition.
“They’d phone Dickie when they should have been going to work, saying that they had an Old-Timers’ game to play that day. Dickie would say, “Jesus Christ, do you want to work or do you want to play hockey ?” Jimmy would smile, shake his head and mutter, “Dickie should know the answer to that !”
I last saw Jimmy a few months before he died, when I was in Lennoxville at a Bishop’s University Homecoming. While Barbara was as sharp and as effervescent as ever, Jimmy was in the throes of Alzheimer’s. He brightened up when we talked about the old days and the guys who had so joyously played for him, and then I asked him how Dickie was doing.
Jimmy couldn’t hear the question but Barbara later whispered that Dickie wasn’t doing much better than Jim. Jim died in January of 2014 and Dickie followed almost two years later. Ron Maclean on his broadcast of ‘Hometown Hockey’ last Sunday night mentioned the deaths of both brothers, adding that Jimmy, although the lesser-known of the two, was a legend in the Sherbrooke area.
Jimmy and Barbara had come to my wedding in 1987, making the ten hour drive to New Brunswick to join in the festivities. Later that night I thanked him and told him how much it meant to me for him to be there.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, Davey,” was his reply.
And I wouldn’t have missed for the world the impression the two brothers left on me.