As told to: Dave BidiniFor the first few years, Harold Ballard didn’t know my name. He called me ‘Bob.’ But I liked him well enough. I once told him, “I don’t care what you pay me, as long as you sign my cheques,” and he thought that was pretty hilarious, so we got along well. (Playing for the 70s Leafs) was a great time in my life. We had a crazy team. I think we hospitalized Howie (Jim McKenny) one night in Oakland after a night of drinking. There were lots of late nights and lots of brawls. One game in Atlanta, Dave Hucthison was fighting two guys and, at one point, I remember him freeing his arm and reaching over to the boards to take a drink from a water bottle before continuing to pound on someone. Because I’d come out of the discipline-first system of the Montreal Junior Canadiens, it was all new to me. During my first brawl, I looked down the ice– I was on the bench at the time– and saw (Mike) Palmateer slapping his stick on the ice and yelling at me. I came off the bench and dove on to the pile.
Red Kelly had a thing called Pyramid Power: a six by seven-foot giant pyramid in the middle of the dressing room that we all sat under, one by one, before our games against Philly. There was a rumour that (Flyers coach) Fred Shero made his own to counter-act ours, but no one is sure. Red also believed in something called ‘Biorhythms.’ He’d do a player’s biorhythm before the game and if it didn’t look good, he wouldn’t play him. In his own way, Roger Neilson, our next coach, followed in the same tradition. One day, he carted us up to the University of Waterloo to do V02 testing, which measured your aerobic capacity. I was young enough that I sort of understood what he was doing, but some of the older guys looked at each other as if asking: “Just what in God’s name is this supposed to do?”
I used to show up late for the games. Well, not late, but not early. Sittler, on the other hand, liked to be there before the rink opened. The night he got his 10 points, I was supposed to pick him up, but I slept late. I raced over there but had to stop for gas, delaying us even more. We got there just before the puck dropped, and everything Sittler did that night, worked. He scored six goals, four assists, which is still a record. I told him after, “See, I told you: you shouldn’t get to the rink so early.”
After hockey, I realized I didn’t know anything about anything. I’d been traded to LA, my kids were 2 and 4 years old, and because I knew what it was like play in Toronto– how hard it is for a family to hear about their husband or father six months out of the year– I decided to stay out west. Because I’d been bought out by LA, I had some money to get by, but I was still pretty lost. I decided to get my real estate license at a time when California was growing (in the early 80s) and I did okay. There are transitional programs in place now for players, but, in those days, once you were gone, you were gone. Teams didn’t want to know about you; the league didn’t want to know about you. You were out in the world, and you had to make it all over again.
I’ve played guitar since I was 11 years old. My sister played the piano, and she hated it, so I started to plink around on it, and that led to guitar. I’m self-taught. I grew up with Brian Greenaway from April Wine. We went to highschool together. We’d sit in my room, and he’d show me how to play E and A and G, and that’s how I started. I also jammed around with the Dionne twins who played with Champagne, as well as musician Kenny McBride. When I came to Toronto, I was introduced to Doug Riley (Dr. Music) through Bob Lucier, the pedal steel guitarist who played with Tommy Hunter. I used to hang out in the studios in Toronto with Moe Koffman, Tommy Ambrose, Mary Trudell. We’d go down to Harry’s Steakhouse with Lightfoot, and hang out with the Good Brothers. I used to jam with Terry Clements and the legendary Red Shea, Lightfoot’s guitar player. I went to every concert at the Gardens, and, before that, the Forum. You couldn’t keep me away. I lived for music, and, in a way, I still do.
DAVE BIDINI is the co-creator of ‘Slapshot Diaries’ as well as a writer/musician/columnist from Toronto and the author of 12 books.
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