Frontenacs 50th: Whatever became of …
The final installment in my daily series that recalled the story of the 1962-63 Kingston Frontenacs, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of their Eastern Professional Hockey League championship season:
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Kingston won its first professional hockey championship in 1963 and the city’s reward was to lose the team.
The Eastern Professional Hockey League, which struggled to subsist as a four-team entity — and had one of those teams relocate in mid-season — folded that summer as the National Hockey League moved its farm teams to the U.S. midwest.
When the Syracuse Braves moved to St. Louis a month into the 1962-63 season, it proved to be the toe testing the water. The team drew well in St. Louis and when EPHL teams played interlocking games with International league teams in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Omaha, they drew crowds of 4,000 and more. That was more than double the typical crowd in Kingston, Hull, Ottawa or Sudbury and the NHL masters essentially moved the league south, renamed it the Central Professional Hockey League and set up shop in St. Louis, Indianapolis and former IHL outposts of Omaha, St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Many members of that Kingston team went on to distinguished — even Hall of Fame — hockey careers. Here’s a brief look at what became of them:
Bruce Gamble, goaltender: After playing a year and a half in the NHL with Boston before landing in Kingston, for the next three years Gamble bounced between the American Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he had four shutouts in a five-game stretch in March, 1966. He sat out the entire 1964-65 season, rather than play for Eddie Shore’s Springfield Indians, but he returned to the NHL in 1966, playing 23 games for Toronto in its last Stanley Cup season. After the NHL expanded in the spring of 1967 he spent the next three and a half years in Toronto. Dealt to Philadelphia in the deal that sent Bernie Parent to the Leafs midway through the 1970-71 season, Gamble collapsed during a game in February, 1972. He finished the game but it was later determined that he’d suffered a heart attack and he never played professionally again. Ten years later, Gamble suffered another heart attack and died, at the age of 44.
Pat Stapleton, defenceman: Another player who had played a season and a half in Boston before being exiled to Kingston, Whitey — so called for his blond hair —ended the 1962-63 season with 10 goals, 49 points and 92 penalty minutes in 49 regular-season games and four goals and six points in five playoff games. He made his way back to the NHL with Chicago in 1966 and was with the Blackhawks until 1973, when he left for the World Hockey Association. He played 15 seasons in the big leagues and is one of only two players to have played for Canada in both Summit Series with the Soviet Union, in 1972 and 1974. After he retired, Stapleton farmed and coached for many years with the junior B team in Strathroy, Ont.
Randy Miller, defenceman: Played three years in Kingston, scoring 15 goals in 68 games with the Frontenacs in their championship season. He played 10 more years of professional hockey, most of it with Springfield of the AHL, and never made it to the NHL.
Harry Sinden, defenceman, captain and playing assistant coach: In his last of three seasons with the Frontenacs, he had 10 goals and 66 points — just six points shy of his league record 72 points, recorded the previous year — and he was named the league’s most valuable player. He played for the team the next three seasons, after it left Kingston for Minneapolis and then Oklahoma City. Harry never played in the NHL but in 1966 he was named coach of the Boston Bruins, which he coached for the next four years, culminating in a Stanley Cup championship in 1970, Boston’s first in 30 years. He resigned shortly thereafter and was out of hockey when he was called to coach Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series with the Soviet Union. Two of his former Kingston teammates, Pat Stapleton and Jean-Paul Parise, were selected to play on that team. Harry later returned to the Bruins. He was their general manager for 28 seasons, team president for 17, and he remains active as a senior advisor to the owner. In 1983, Sinden was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
Cliff Pennington, centre: Had 21 goals and 62 points in 39 regular season games, then two goals and nine assists in five playoff games after being sent to Kingston part-way through the season from Boston. Though he’d played for Canada’s Olympic silver-medal team in 1960 and spent the following season with the Bruins, Cliff never got back to the NHL. Within two years he was in the low minors, where he continued to be a prolific scorer. Most valuable player in the International Hockey League with Des Moines in 1970, he finished his pro career in 1974 with Sun Coast in the Southern Hockey League. Cliff is a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.
Don Blackburn, left wing: Led the Frontenacs in scoring in their championship season, his third in Kingston, with 42 goals and 96 points in 67 games, and was named a first-team league all-star. Don spent the next four years in the American Hockey League before playing a full season with the expansion Philadelphia Flyers in 1967-68. The next several seasons were divided among the AHL, NHL and World Hockey Association, where he had his best major-league season in 1973-74 with the New England Whalers (20 goals, 59 points). He finished his playing career in 1976, having scored 23 times in 185 NHL games. Don coached the Hartford Whalers into the playoffs in their first NHL season but he was fired midway through the next year.
Jeannot Gilbert, centre: Had 34 goals and 87 assists and was leading the league in scoring when he was recalled to the Boston Bruins in the final month of the regular schedule. He stayed with the team the next year, when it relocated to Minneapolis, then spent nine years in the American Hockey League, eight of them with Hershey. He was the league’s top scorer and helped Hershey win the Calder Cup in 1969. He had one assist in two short stints in the NHL with Boston, totalling nine games, and was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 1967 NHL expansion draft but never played for the Penguins. Jeannot ended his professional career after two seasons with Quebec of the World Hockey Association, his best a 17-goal, 56-point campaign in 1973-74.
Gerry (Red) Ouellette, right wing: One of two players to play in Kingston for all four years of the EPHL’s existence, he had 31 goals and 73 points in 61 games before a broken thumb in the final month of the regular season sidelined him for the duration. Red went south with the team and played two years in Minneapolis and then six years with Buffalo of the American Hockey League, where he was captain of the team that won the Calder Cup in 1970. The next year he was captain and leading playoff scorer of the Omaha team that won the Central Hockey League title. Red played 34 games in the NHL 1960-61 but never got back. He retired to the Campbellton, N.B., Tigers, with whom he won the Hardy Cup as Canadian intermediate champion three times — 1972, 1977 and 1988 — the last two as coach.
Dick Cherry, left wing: The only hometown boy on the Frontenacs, Dick played just a partial schedule (53 games) since he was in his first year of teaching elementary school, at Rideau Heights. Nonetheless, he had 28 goals and 60 points and then six goals and nine points in the five playoff games. He did not play professional hockey the next three years, returned to join the Frontenacs’ reincarnation in Oklahoma City in 1966 — the year before the NHL’s expansion — and two years later he was in the NHL with Philadelphia. He spent the next two years with the Flyers, then another year with Oklahoma City before he retired to Kingston, where he played three seasons of senior A hockey with the Aces and Napanee Comets while he resumed his teaching career. Dick later became an elementary school principal and when he retired he joined the junior Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, who he still serves as a scout.
Pete Panagabko, right wing: One of two players to play all four EPHL seasons in Kingston, Pete had 15 goals and 56 points in 59 regular-season games, then four goals in five playoff games. He spent the next five years with a number of teams in the Western and Central Professional leagues, before retiring to Barrie, Ont., from where, as a member of the senior A Flyers, he often returned to Kingston to bedevil the hometown Aces.
Billy Knibbs, centre: A rookie pro with Kingston, Billy went south with the team to Minneapolis the next year and in 1964 he graduated to the Bruins, where he scored seven goals in 51 games. That was the end of his NHL career, however, and Billy spent the next 10 seasons in the minor leagues, mostly the American league with Baltimore, Buffalo, Providence and Rochester. He helped the Omaha Knights win the Central Hockey League championship in 1971 before he retired in 1975 and became an accountant. He died in Midland, Ont., after a lengthy illness in 2006 at the age of 64.
Bobby Leiter, centre: Was leading the league in scoring with 15 goals and 38 points 20 games into his second season in Kingston when he was recalled to Boston, never to return. He spent the next several years bouncing between the Bruins and Hershey of the American Hockey League, during which time he had to deal with a bout of tuberculosis and a broken arm, before he returned to the NHL full-time with Pittsburgh in 1971. Drafted by Atlanta when that team was formed the following year, Bob played the next three and a half seasons with the Flames, enjoying back-to-back 26-goal seasons, 1972-74, before ending his professional career with Calgary of the World Hockey Association in 1976. He finished with 98 goals in a 447-game NHL career and is a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.
Wayne Connelly, right wing: Another of the players who spent the previous season in the NHL with Boston but was dispatched to Kingston early in the year, Wayne had 10 goals and 34 points in 34 games with the Frontenacs in a stint shortened by an ankle injury. He returned to collect five points in five playoff games. He spent 26 games the next year with Boston but spent most of the next three seasons with San Francisco of the Western league before returning to Boston in 1966, where he scored the goal on which Bobby Orr got his first NHL point. Selected by his old general manager, Wren Blair, in Minnesota in the 1967 expansion draft, Connelly had 35 goals in the North Stars’ first season in the NHL, where he stayed for the next four years while also playing for Detroit, St. Louis and Vancouver. He returned to Minnesota with the Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association in 1972 and had seasons of 40, 42 and 38 goals. He ended his big-league career in 1977 with 200 goals and over 600 points in 909 games, 543 of them in the NHL. He retired to Lake Kenogami, near Kirkland Lake, Ont., where for many years he ran a successful magazine distributorship.
Jean-Paul Parise, left wing: In his first professional season, J.P. had 11 goals and 28 points in 64 games for the Frontenacs. He spent most of the next four years in the Central league with Minneapolis and Oklahoma City, with two cups of coffee in Boston, before reaching the NHL to stay midway through the 1967-68 season, when he was reunited with his old Kingston general manager, Wren Blair, in Minnesota. He spent the next six and a half years with the North Stars, during which time he also played for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, scoring two goals and two assists in six games. Then followed three and a half years with the New York Islanders. In 14 NHL seasons, comprising 890 games, J.P. scored 238 goals and had 594 points, adding 27 goals and 58 points in 86 Stanley Cup playoff games. He retired in 1979 as the North Stars’ all-time assist leader and went on to coach, for many years as an assistant in Minnesota and also one year as head coach in Salt Lake City of the Central league. He was later hockey director at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prep school in Faribault, Minn., where such players as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews played. A son, Zach Parise, is a star in the NHL today.
Wayne Schultz, defence-left wing: Had six goals and 24 points in 59 games in his only full season in Kingston, and he played in all five playoff games. He went with the team when it relocated to Minneapolis for the next two seasons, then spent the next eight seasons in the American league, mostly with Springfield and Cleveland. He had his best season with Springfield in 1971-72, with 24 goals and 56 points in 74 games, but he never made it to the NHL.
Ken Stephanson, defenceman: In his second season with the Frontenacs, Ken played all 72 regular-season games, scoring four goals among his 22 points. He also led the team with 136 minutes in penalties. He went with the team to Minneapolis and played there for two years, then spent two years in the American league before he joined the Canadian national team in the fall of 1968. He was with the Nats for two years, until that team was disbanded when Canada withdrew from international competition in 1969. Ken resurfaced as an original member of the Ottawa Nationals in the first year of the World Hockey Association, 1972. He was traded to Winnipeg the following season but missed all of the 1974-75 season with back problems and subsequently retired.
Ed Westfall, defence: After spending the previous season in Boston, Ed began the year in Kingston before being recalled to the Bruins 21 games into the EPHL season. He had five goals and 21 points in that time, and he spent the final 48 games of the season in Boston, where he stayed for the next nine years, winning Stanley Cups with the Bruins in 1970 and 1972. After seven seasons with the New York Islanders, Ed retired in 1979 having scored 231 goals and 625 points in 1,226 NHL games. His best season came after the Bruins made him a forward, in 1970-71, when he had 25 goals and 59 points. He scored the first goal in Islanders team history and was their captain for most of his time in New York. He won the Bill Masterson trophy in 1977 for his dedication to the sport. After he retired, he spent 20 years as a colour commentator on Islanders telecasts. He now works as a corporate client co-ordinator with Advance Commercial Movers in New York, and he was inducted into the Islanders Hall of Fame in 2011.
Ron Willy, right wing: Scored 10 goals and 16 points in 57 games in his first professional season. He split the next year between Minneapolis of the Central Professional league and Springfield of the American league, before settling in the Eastern league for the next six years. He retired in 1970 having never played a game in the NHL.
Jim Kozie, centre: Began his first professional hockey season in Kingston and wound up splitting it between the Frontenacs, with whom he had seven goals and 15 points in 25 games, and Charlotte of the Eastern league. He played one more year of professional hockey in Charlotte.
Wren Blair, general manager-coach: From Kingston, Blair eventually made his way to Minnesota, where he was the first manager and coach of the expansion NHL North Stars. When he left Minnesota, he established the Saginaw Gears of the International Hockey League and won championships there in 1977 and 1981. In between, he served a year as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL. After many years out of hockey, Blair spearheaded a group that purchased the Kingston Raiders of the Ontario Hockey League and renamed them the Frontenacs. Often credited with keeping the junior team in Kingston, he sold it to the Springer family in 1998. A member of the Whitby and Saginaw County sports halls of fame, The Bird died on Jan. 2 this year, at the age of 87.