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The careers of NHL players come to an end in various ways. It is said that when “King” Clancy called it quits after but six games in the fall of 1936, it was because Conn Smythe forced him into that decision. He was not a happy camper!
In September of 1963 the Canadien’s Dickie Moore attended training camp to try out his ailing knees. In short order he gave up the attempt to continue playing, saying that his legs were just too far gone.
His long-time teammate, Henri Richard, spoke to the press during the summer of 1975 in a restaurant about his lengthy tenure in the Big Time coming to an end. Quietly, he took the microphone, and with halting voice announced: “After 20 years I believe a good thing has come to an end—and this is the day!”
On April 18, 1999, the game’s all-time goal-scoring icon, Wayne Gretzky, waved to the crowd in Madison Square Garden during an on-ice farewell, as he played his last game in the NHL.
Like a number of pucksters Chris Pronger was forced to linger for four years, hoping that he could recover from an injury that had idled him since November 2011, when a stick in the eye, then a concussion put him on the shelf. In the fall of 2015 he finally succumbed to the inevitable. His career was finished.
In all of these cases there was an accompanying sadness—but there was an orderliness about it. With a number other hockeyists, however, it has suddenly been a case of “I quit!” With some it has been a temporary move—with others it has spelled “finis” to their occupation on the pay-for-play shinny scene.
In mid-January of this year a disgruntled Johnathan Drouin decided to pack his bags and leave the AHL Syracuse Crunch to head back to the Montreal area to await a trade, because when he reported to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s minor-league affiliate he believed a deal was imminent.
But the 20-year-old No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013 was not the first to make such an impulse move.
One of the first instances of this knee-jerk action took place in February of 1922. “Moose” Johnson, who is remembered for his long reach, enhanced by a 99-inch stick, was enjoying a long stay in the PCHA as a member of the Victoria Aristocrats. He had been a very popular player wherever he skated, going back to his days with the Montreal Wanderers. Although he had known jeers from time to time, for no apparent reason the local fans started to boo him. It rubbed him the wrong way, and he called it a day. As mentioned, some player’s decisions of this kind were not permanent. Four years later he hooked up with the AHA Minneapolis Millers for one season—then for a very brief stay with Portland Buckaroos of the PCHL, before hanging them up for good.
According to Eric Zweig, in his book Art Ross, two years later, Bruin’s goalie Hec Fowler also pulled an “emergency exit” stunt. On December 22, 1924 Boston hosted Toronto, losing to the visitors for the sixth straight defeat in the young season. Four of those defeats were by lopsided scores—including that one—10-1. There had been general dissatisfaction with the Beantown backstop, including accusations that he was actually letting pucks in on purpose. Ross had even called him up on the carpet to challenge him. And, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he softened the rebuke with, “….but I guess you gave it the best you had!”
To which Fowler was supposed to have answered with: “Like h--- I did!’
At any rate, after the ninth goal Ross reported: “In the middle of the third period he just left the ice. He went into the dressing room, changed into street clothes, and left the arena!”
That was the end of Hec’s hockey career.
Vezina Trophy winner, Normie Smith, who was the playoff hero in Detroit’s 1936 Stanley Cup triumph, missed the finals the next post-season due to an elbow injury. As a result his replacement, Earl Robertson, starred in the Motor City’s second championship victory. Whether this newcomer’s success entered into his decision is not clear—but after a 2-0 loss to the Rangers on November 15, 1938, as journalist extraordinaire Brian McFarlane put it—“he bolted the team after that game in New York”.
He failed to show up the following day, and was AWOL on the train trip to play the Habs on the 17th. Harvey Teno was hurriedly called up from Pittsburgh to replace him, and he was fined $150. , suspended, and demoted to the Steel City to replace the minor leaguer. The straw that broke the camels’ back was Jolly Jack’s purchase of “Tiny” Thompson from Boston to fill the vacancy. His conclusion was that his hockey career was over. However, in 1943, Adams called him out of retirement to help during World War II’s player shortage. He dressed to only five contests that campaign, and for one the next, then packed it in for good.
Jean Baptiste Pusie was one of the most famous “flakes” in pro hockey history. Knowing his antics, on and off the ice—during his 61-game stay in the NHL, or in the minors—it would be assumed that his name should also be connected with the “I quit!” syndrome. It is!
While playing for the St. Louis Flyers of the AHA he was involved in a donnybrook in Wichita on February 4, 1939. That incident in the Kansas arena was a doozy; and he left that engagement with a bang—literally. He was hit on the head with a steel chair, compliments of an irate spectator, was arrested, and released on a $500 bond.
But he just walked out and went home to Canada. He resented being reprimanded by his team’s goalie, Hub Nelson, who accused him of failing to block a shot earlier in that same match. Amazingly, after two years in the PCHL, he returned, not only to the AHA, but those same Flyers, for 35 games, in 1941-42.
Carl Brewer was one of the most naturally talented skaters to compete in shinny’s most elite fraternity. But like many to whom athletics came easily, he had a temperamental side. He hated flying. He once claimed that he despised it so much he would not even send a letter air mail.
In October 1965 he suddenly left the Maple Leafs’ training camp in Peterborough. In fact, he exited during a pre-season exhibition game with the Boston Bruins. When interviewed he maintained that the issue was not money—he was not “holding out”.
His decision to quit was “for personal reasons”. He referred to that fact that it “takes a lot of sacrifice to be a hockey player”, and, at that point he “didn’t know if he could handle it!”
He enrolled in McMaster University and played for Canada’s National Team for one season. He then moved to the IHL Muskegon Mohawks for one year; and went overseas to Helsinki for 20 games in 1968-69. He returned to the NHL the following campaign sporting the Red Wing colours. After portions of two schedules with St. Louis, a full season with the WHA Toronto Toros and part of one more with the Maple Leafs, he retired.
What knees did to Bobby Orr, nerves did to Bill Durnan, arguably one of the most skilled twine-tenders ever to strap on a pair of pads. His Vezina Trophy award in 1950 was his sixth in seven years—an incomparable record (Jacques Plante earned this honour one more time, but it took him 17 seasons). Only in 1948 did he give way to Turk Broda, both in that achievement and the league’s first All Star selection.
He was a holler guy, always shouting encouragement and instructions to his teammates, the reason his leadership qualities were demonstrated by his appointment at team captain. He was one of only a handful of NHL goalies ever to wear a “C” on his chest.
During the 1949-50 semifinals against the Rangers, losing the first three games only added pressure to his frazzled state of mind. So, previous to the fourth match he had requested that Coach Dick Irvin replace him with Gerry McNeil. The ambidextrous icon walked into the dressing room and was asked by Irvin to take McNeil into the ante-room and buoy him up. The sympathetic bench boss later peeked in and found both in tears. Durnan, with a shaking voice and trembling hands was saying: “Don’t worry, Gerry, everything will be alright!”
He never played again. He claimed his “nerves were shot!” They were on edge and he didn’t want to crack up all at once, and wanted to enjoy family life while he was alright.
Mike Walton was not the first eccentric hockey player loaded with talent who did not always put out, and he would not be the last. Like the proverbial “girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead (when she was good she was good—when she was bad she was horrid)”. When he was motivated few could equal his talent—when he was indifferent, he frustrated management, teammates, and fans. In his first season with the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints, he led the league in scoring. But when he couldn’t care less being sent to the farm was only a step away.
Twice while with the Maple Leafs he “walked off the job”. The first time was in February 1969. Manager Punch Imlach (who didn’t know how to deal with skaters according to the personalities) suspended him. It was smoothed over within a week. But the second time his dereliction of duty saw him in dry dock from December 2, 1970 through March 31, 1971. That resulted in a trade, which took him through Philadelphia to Boston. On that occasion a psychiatrist recommend he be removed from Toronto for his mental health sake.
But the third incident was more typical of his flakey disposition. While with the Saints he was so upset with the team’s losing effort that he just walked off the ice, bypassed the dressing room, got someone to grab his car keys for him, dashed out the arena back door, and disappeared into the night. It is said his pals found him later, tossing a few back in a bar, still in full uniform.
Marcel Dionne always had to be handled with kid gloves. He was emotional and tended to be thin-skinned. It was no great surprise then, when in mid-December of 1972, he failed to show up for a game against Vancouver. The report was that “he just walked out!” At a practice the day before the tilt with the Canucks, Coach Johnny Wilson ordered him off the ice because he “wasn’t giving 100%”. The former player became impatient with the Red Wings’ leading scorer “because he wasn’t putting out”. He told him he could come back when he was ready to do so. “If guys won’t work, there’s the door!” He was suspended for his absenteeism—but reinstated a short while later.
Denis Dupere was a journeyman forward who skated for five different NHL sextets. Typical of second-stringers, he spent his share of time in the minors. Twice he can be said to have made the headlines. The first was when he came to the Leafs to complete the deal which moved Tim Horton to the Rangers.
The other was when the Toronto press tagged him “the mystery man”. The reference betrayed the fact that it was a mystery where he was. He had walked out of practice previous to a scheduled match against the California Golden Seals on January 17, 1973. Norm Ullman, his roommate, related how he just packed his suitcase, ignored questions about why and where, and left for the Oakland airport. Manager Jim Gregory followed him, managed to gain access to the plane to talk to him, but returned empty handed. He reported that “he had been taking pills to curb his appetite in order to lose weight—and these were causing depression.” Dupere would only say he was having problems and needed to get away by himself. He was depressed over the team’s showing lately, and upset with his own play. He eventually did return to the fold, with blessing from management —but everyone involved was close-mouthed about the details
Few can match the flare of Doug Favell’s exit on December 11, 1973. The St. Louis Blues were bombarding the Maple Leaf’s goal tender, in a losing cause which ended up 7-3 in favour of the Missouri sextet. Coach Red Kelly commented that the stable duo of Jim McKenney and Brian Glennie were having their worst night on the blue line since he took over the mentoring reins. Finally at 27 minutes, the disgusted netminder flung his stick into the corner and walked off the ice. Dunc Wilson was forced to fill the gap for the remaining 33 minutes. Ken McKenzie, in his Passing the Puck column in the Hockey News, quipped: “He must have remembered another night against the Blues, when Red Berenson scored six goals against him!”
With the eccentric Favell, however, he rebounded from his frustration. He was in the net eight days later—a 5-3 win against the California Golden Seals.
Henry Boucha is best remembered for getting the short end of the stick when the wrong end of a stick brandished by Dave Forbes inflicted a serious eye injury. The result of the clash was a broken orbital bone and blurry vision. The dust up which resulted from Boucha’s running Forbes into the boards with his stick high took place on January 4, 1975.
He attempted a comeback with the WHA’s Minnesota Flying Saints the next fall. But what he perceived to be a breach of contract prompted him to sign with the Kansas City Scouts of the NHL. On February 20th he suddenly abandoned the team bench during the third frame of a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He didn’t accompany the team to Indianapolis the following night, but headed directly to Kansas City. He claimed the Saints were trying to peddle his services even though he had a “no trade” clause in his contract with them.
Goalie Al Smith’s sudden departure from the employ of the Buffalo Sabres was anything but low key. On February 13, 1977, Coach Floyd Smith was called into Manager Punch Imlach’s office previous to that night’s match and was asked whom he intended to start in goal. When he answered “Al Smith”, the blunt Imlach countered with, “Start Edwards”. The fact that the bench boss had already promised the former he was on deck made no difference. Punch wanted to see how the inexperienced Don Edwards would fare under fire. The coach was, in fact, ordered to inform the geared up Smith that he would not be playing after all.
Al Smith’s next move was described by writer Scott Young as “flamboyant”. Standing behind the bench he waited until the Anthem was played, then skated to (owner) Seymour Knox’s box, gave a little wave, said “Hey, Seymour, see you later!”. He skated right off the ice, into the dressing room, took of his equipment, and left.
He said he was retiring, and returning to school. But the next fall he was in the WHA. Eventually he returned to the NHL with Hartford and Colorado.
Every deserter’s story does not have the kind of happy ending that goaltender Michel Dion’s does. The WHA refugee was picked by the Quebec Nordiques when they gained entry to the NHL. The new kids on the Adam’s Division block were struggling in their second season. And, as is often the case, the man guarding the twine takes the brunt of the fan’s disappointment. In mid-December, the Montréal-Nord, Quebec native stormed off the ice in the middle of the game and did a vanishing act, in protest for the way the paying customers were constantly getting on his back and booing him. “In effect”, he said later, “You are telling them you’ve had enough of them!”
He admitted that, having been suspended for his action, he felt his career was over; that “this is the end!” He did however don the fleur-de-lis again one more time, but was quickly traded to the Winnipeg Jets. Pittsburgh picked up his contract for 1981-82, and his spirits and his career revived. Two years after his walk-out, he was playing in the league’s All Star game.
Bryan Fogarty finds a slot in this compilation for two reasons: he played 156 games in the NHL, and often made the headlines because he was constantly in trouble. This resulted in a number of demotions to the minors, despite the fact that he was loaded with natural ability—affirmed by his being selected as the Canadian Major Junior Player and Defenseman of the year in 1989. He broke Bobby Orr’s records in that league, and was tagged as “an extremely talented”. But his battles with booze are legendary, and he never came close to reaching his potential. While with the Nordiques he spent the last part of the 1990-91 campaign in detox. Even after retirement he was arrested for drug possession following breaking in to a local high school.
But he is also in focus because his act of truancy took place not once, but twice. In 1993 while toiling with Pittsburgh’s farm team, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, he went AWOL. During the suspension which resulted he was charged with assault in a Steel City bar. Three seasons later, while skating for the Manitoba Moose he walked out in the middle of a game. His biography does not include a rebound as Dion’s did. His continuing life style resulted in premature death.
It almost seems superfluous to mention Patrick Roy’s dramatic exit from the Big Time. On December 2, 1995 the visiting Red Wings continued to bombard the Canadiens’ twine tender with shot after shot. When the score reached 7-1 coach Mario Tremblay signaled Pat Jablonski to loosen up. Shortly after that, Roy made a routine save, and was greeted with mock cheering.
He raised both arms in a mock salute in response. Shortly after the game’s 31-minute-mark, the ninth puck got past him.
Jablonski was on his way—as was Roy—headed for the bench. It short order he announced to the team’s President: “This is my last game in Montreal”. The rest is history.
The first two months of the year 2001 spotlight the final defections to be recorded in this missive. The first involved the high-strung Ed Belfour. When his coach, Ken Hitchcock decided to start Marty Turco in a game against Boston on January 6, 2001, Eddie made it clear that he intended to be between the pipes when the puck was dropped. He had refused to go on the ice as backup for rookie Turco at the morning skate, resulting in a war of words with his bench boss. Right then and there he made a rash decision. He left without so much as an “adieu”, and didn’t stop until he hopped on a jet back to Dallas.
“Crazy Eddie”, as he was sometimes called, was in the lineup on the 10th—having to eat humble pie as Turco’s back-up. He suffered a loss against Detroit on the 12th; then was back in good form in a win over Tampa Bay two nights later.
Perhaps the most bizarre scenario connected to a self-styled dispatching took place just six weeks after Mr. Belfour’s exit. It involved Pavel Bure and the 2001 NHL All Star Game. The Toronto Star summed it up succinctly: “That the (NHL) All Star game is glorified shinny was personified in the attitude of Pavel Bure, who left the bench midway through the third period because ‘he had a plane to catch’”
He tried to cover his devil-may-care evaluation of the contest by saying he felt a “twinge in his groin”. But that could not explain the fact that he had a flight pre-booked, which was scheduled to leave Denver for Miami three hours after the opening faceoff. The game was long because of interviews, etc., but that unplanned delay in its finish cannot justify that obvious—he had pre-arranged fleeing the coop.
Common denominators are evident: frustration at fan reaction; a loss of motivation to continue; personal “problems” sometimes associated with the “nerves” or depression; criticism from within the organization; or a sense of failure. Whatever the reason, the aforementioned and others not profiled here just felt they just could not continue. Fortunately a number of them were able to pick up the pieces and return to the fray.
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