Elliott: Kingston 10-year-olds were right on O'Ree in 1960

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By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network

We knew.

All of us nine and 10-year-olds who went to Kingston Frontenacs games and practices at the Memorial Centre in Kingston during the 1959-60 season knew.

We knew that Willie O’Ree was a Hall of Famer.

We could tell by the way he skated against the Sudbury Wolves, Montreal Royals, Trois-Rivieres Lions, Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds and our hated rivals, the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens.
 
Our scope of the hockey world wasn’t that wide -- we got to see Hockey Night in Canada after Murray Westgate did the Esso opening at 8:30 and then we learned from either Danny Gallivan or Foster Hewitt in the gondola.

But we knew our Frontenacs and we knew O’Ree (Fredericton, NB) would one day have his plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

That day came on Tuesday when all-time winningest goaltender Martin Brodeur (Montreal, Que.), Jayna Hefford (Kingston, Ont.), Martin St. Louis (Laval, Que.), Russian Alexander Yakushev and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman were elected.

Of course, we also figured Orval Tessier (Cornwall, Ont.), Cal Gardner (Transcona, Man.), Gerry Ouellette (Grand Falls, NB), Stan Maxwell (Turo, NS), Skippy Teal (Ridgeway, Ont.), Reg Fleming (Montreal, Que.) Buddy Boone (Kirkland Lake, Ont.), Peter Panagabko (Norquay, Sask.) and Normie Jacques (Quebec City, Que.) all belonged too.

You know the Bruins crest with the 'B' in the centre of a hub? Well the Kingston crest was the same except there was a 'K' in the middle.

 Willie O'Ree with Boston Bruins general manager Lynn Patrick, left, and coach Milt Schmidt before his NHL debut at the Montreal Forum on Jan. 21, 1958.

Willie O'Ree with Boston Bruins general manager Lynn Patrick, left, and coach Milt Schmidt before his NHL debut at the Montreal Forum on Jan. 21, 1958.

I don't remember if we knew O'Ree had broken the NHL's colour barrier two years before, appearing in two games with the Boston Bruins, we just knew he could skate. Reallllly fast.  

Since Kingston was a Boston Bruins farm club in the Eastern Professional Hockey League, we also figured Bruins like Bronco Horvath (Port Colborne, Ont.), Vic Stasiuk (Lethbridge, Alta.), Johnny Bucyk (Edmonton, Alta.), Doug Mohns (Capreol, Ont.), Jerry Toppazzini (Copper Cliff, Ont.), Leo Boivin (Prescott, Ont.), Fleming Mackell (Montreal, Que.) and Fernie Flaman (Dysart, Sask) would be honoured the same way. Some we were right about: like Bucyk, Boivin and Stasiuk.

A quick story about Stasiuk: he was managing a ball team in Calgary and his pitcher was getting knocked around pretty good. My father said to my uncle Rusty, “Is Stasiuk going to leave him out there to die?” Another base hit and out came Stasiuk for a visit.

He left him in and headed back to the dugout, the dugout we were sitting directly behind. My Uncle Rusty stood and yelled “HEY STASIUK ... ARE YOU GOING TO LEAVE HIM OUT THERE TO DIE?”

Stasiuk looked directly at us ... and I thought at me ... that was awful. My uncle had disgraced me in front of one of my Bruins faves.

Two years later O'Ree played 43 games for the 1960-61 Bruins. 

* * *
But back to Kingston. Our Frontenacs finished last in the six-team, first-year league despite the scoring of Orval Tessier. Tessier scored 59 goals with 67 assists for 126 points. Later he coached the Cornwall Royals who went 47-13-2 to win the Memorial Cup.

For scout Gord Wood (Kingston, Ont.), the former Kingston Ponies 1B, who won three Memorial Cup rings: in 1972 he helped Tessier win the Memorial Cup with Gary MacGregor (Kingston, Ont.), Bob Murray (Kingston, Ont.), John Wensink (Cornwall, Ont.) and Gary Running (Kingston, Ont.).

And in 1980 Wood worked for coach Doug Carpenter and the next season 1981 it was Bob Kilger, when Doug Gilmour (Kingston, Ont.) was starting his career.

Back to the Frontenacs, centreman Cal Gardner was the player coach scoring 32 goals and setting up 61 for 93 points. 

A couple of years ago we were in New Brunswick and I asked “who is the best hockey player from around here?”

My daughter-in-law, Sarah’s nephew was quick with the answer saying: “I am,” said Alex Sirois said jokingly, who was maybe a bantam. 

I asked Sarah’s father, Walter Dee and he quickly said “Red Ouellette.”

Not Gerry Ouellette? Yep. Ouellette was another speedy winger scoring 77 points, including 35 goals.  

We liked Stan Maxwell, Skippy Teal, Buddy Boone, Peter Panagabko and Reggie Fleming who would fight at the drop of the puck.

But we knew Willie O’Ree -- with 21 goals and 25 assists and 46 points in 50 games -- was good enough to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.