Larry Jeffrey, 81, part of last Toronto Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup team in 1967, had a Hamilton hockey tie


Published July 25, 2022 at 2:06 pm

Being a pro means being expected to play through pain. Larry Jeffrey literally soaked that up when he was a junior in Hamilton six decades ago, playing in the old Barton Street Arena.

Jeffrey, who played nine seasons in the NHL in the 1960s in spite of a skein of knee and leg injuries, died on July 18 at age 81 in his native Goderich, Ont., a small town on the shore of Lake Huron. A left wing, he had a career year for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their last Stanley Cup-winning season in 1967, although he was injured during the semifinal series against Chicago. Photos from the on-ice celebration at Maple Leaf Gardens show Jeffrey on crutches as Toronto captain George Armstrong accepted the Cup.

Hockey players of Jeffrey’s vintage came of age when the NHL had only six teams, 120 roster spots, and no entry draft. Clubs signed boys who showed potential and assigned them to sponsored junior teams. Jeffrey was just shy of turning 16 in 1956 when the Detroit Red Wings signed him and assigned him to a team in Hamilton.

‘Pouring water… onto a warm towel wrapped around his knee.’

Over five years in Hamilton, with teams known as the Bees, Tiger Cubs and Red Wings, Jeffrey developed into an all-around player. The old Barton Street Arena lent itself to a gritty style of play. On OHL Arena Guide, author Kevin Jordan says the arena had a “pathetically tiny” ice surface, but the “atmosphere (was) said to be incredible.”

During those years, Jeffrey’s leg and knee problems also began when a ligament was torn by a questionable check from Ted Green, the future Boston Bruins defenceman and Edmonton Oilers assistant coach during the Gretzky dynasty days.

Today, an athlete can have a minimally invasive knee surgery and be back on their feet in weeks. At that time, a knee injury could be career-ending. The major tech breakthrough that led to that development, fibreoptics and miniature TV cameras, did not come along until the early ’70s.

As the Shoreline Beacon detailed, the only physiotherapy he had was “pouring water from a black hose onto a warm towel wrapped around his knee.” Jeffrey had 14 knee operations over the course of his life.

The condition limited him to 406 NHL games with the Red Wings, Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers before he retired as a player at age 29. Jeffrey played in two Stanley Cup finals with Detroit — alongside inner-circle hall of famers Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk. Fellow Hamilton junior grad Paul Henderson, who scored the game-winning goals for Team Canada in Moscow in the final three games of the 1972 Summit Series, was also a Red Wings teammate.

Jeffrey was traded to Toronto in 1965. A season later, he had career highs of 11 goals and 28 points across 56 games.

Toronto finished third in that ’66-67 regular season. In the playoffs, they scored a six-game semifinal series win against star-studded Chicago, which featured hall of fame forwards Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, with Glenn Hall in goal.

That set up a Toronto-Montréal Canadiens final to cap the six-team era, also during the lead-up to Canada’s 1967 centennial celebrations and the Expo 67 world’s fair in Montréal. While Jeffrey was hobbled and unable to play, Toronto beat the Jean Béliveau-led Canadiens in six games. (The Canadiens won the first two Stanley Cups after expansion, and eight of the first 12.)

Eight players from the ’67 Maple Leafs are still alive. The youngest is right wing Ron Ellis, who is 77 years old..

Jeffrey retired as a player in 1970, after attempting a return to the Red Wings. As a Detroit Hockey Now article detailed, he said his “kneecap is the size of a nickel.”

After scouting for about a decade, Jeffrey and his wife Sharon (whom he was predeceased by) settled on a farm near Goderich, where Jeffrey raised Hereford cattle and standardbred race horses. The couple also had a burger and ice cream stand on the Goderich waterfront. Jeffrey was active in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization.

The Barton Street Arena, where Jeffrey and Paul Henderson skated for Hamilton teams, was torn down in 1976. That was a good decade and a half after the GM of a visiting team said, “This place looks like a converted factory chimney.” FirstOntario Centre opened seven years later.

(Cover photo via Arbor Memorial.)

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