As told to: Joe PackTo me, Dave Keon was as classy a guy as I ever met in hockey. And I loved the way he played and conducted himself. He was quiet, he had his own way of doing things, but who cares, we were so lucky to have him on our team. To have been able to say that I knew him and had the joy of watching him play and finish his career with us – it was a great thing. He’s what every athlete oughta be.
Harry Neale always worshiped him and he never left once we got Keon. If I were a player, I wouldn’t want to look him in the eye knowing I hadn’t done my best.
Harold Ballard didn’t take the WHA seriously. Eddie Snider won two Stanley Cups during the early part of our league because he took us seriously. He said, “I’m keeping my guys, this thing’s here to stay.” Harold got indignant and the Boston Bruins got angry. It was mostly the Original Six who couldn’t believe that anybody would step on their turf. They had a monopoly for so long, they didn’t know what it was to compete. Harold lost a lot of good, young players, and not just by us.
Look back at the time: what does it say that Bobby Hull was estranged, Gordie Howe, Keon was estranged? Montreal had the highest regard for their history, and if you can’t take care of the players that made the franchise great, who are you going to take care of? Don’t think the players don’t notice that. Now Hull is back with the Blackhawks, and Gordie with Detroit, Bobby Orr’s got a prominent position in Boston, and I don’t know what Dave’s relationship is with the Leafs but they should have a statue out front for him. It’d be the greatest thing in the world they could do.
We helped abolish the reserve clause in players’ contracts which kept you bound to your team for life. The NHL challenged us in court and I remember it took the judge 20 minutes to look at it and throw it out. You then had free agency in some form and everything changed.
Harold was giving it to Gordie Howe and Keon for how old they were when we joined the NHL and played the Leafs on Halloween night, 1979. Jack Kelley said to me that this would be a fun game to go to so we just sat in regular seats. A few rows behind us was old Harold with King Clancy. We won 4-2 and Gordie and Keon both scored. The fans were mad, they turned around and were swearing at him. I took such delight in that game. Some people didn’t know how to keep their mouth shut. But what I liked was – to my friend John – Harold was very good to him at his end. That was good enough for me.
Going into the Whalers’ hall of fame was a great night for me and I hope for Dave, too. To be able to go in with him, you just couldn’t ask for anything more. There’s a painting of the two of us skating that they gave us. It was something to keep forever.
JOE PACK is a freelance writer based in Toronto and a rec-league rent-a-goalie.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *