I am not saying that the average coach in today’s Ontario Hockey League is boring. (Even if my friend George Burnett of the Guelph Storm — who is the dean of OHL coaches — defines dullsville.) It is just that the OHL of today seems to be lacking the colourful characters of yesterday.
I have been covering the OHL since 1975 when I landed my first media job for erstwhile Sault Ste. Marie radio station CKCY. And there were no shortage of coaching characters when I was a rookie sportscaster reporting on the OHL during the 1975-1976 season.
There was the fiery, foul-mouthed, Muzz MacPherson, who led the Soo Greyhounds to their first-ever playoff spot in their fourth OHL season. And if MacPherson didn’t provide enough outrageous clips for the noon hour sports on CKCY, Hamilton Fincups coach Bert Templeton and Windsor Spitfires bench boss Wayne Maxner had a way of filling the young sportscaster’s cassette recorder with choice words that just begged to be on the radio.
MacPherson would eventually talk his way out of the Soo — and line the pockets of a divorce lawyer or two — but both Maxner and Templeton became legendary OHL coaches over decades with a number of teams.
Sadly, MacPherson and Templeton both passed away while still relatively young while Maxner can still be seen at OHL games of the London Knights.
Over the years, in addition to MacPherson, Templeton and Maxner, I encountered more than my share of OHL coaches, general managers and scouts who were an absolute treat to interview for the Sault This Week and — even better — have a beer or two with.
That list would include the likes of Joe Drago, Brian Kilrea, Larry Mavety, Don Boyd, Don MacAdam, Brad (Motor City Smitty) Smith, Joe McDonnell, Gary (Bad News) Agnew, Murray Nystrom, Jim Cherry and Gordie Wood, just to name a few.
Those were also the years when the OHL held its annual priority selections draft at a rink on the north end of Toronto with headquarters for the event at the Skyline Hotel on Dixon Road.
I can’t even estimate the number of beers that were consumed at the hotel bar and in team personnel suites and the number of lies that were told and trades that were made while, shall I say, under the influence. Let it be said that in this era of social media and phone cameras, OHL commissioner David Branch showed remarkable foresight many years back when he decided that the annual priority selections draft should be conducted via the printed results of the Internet.
Don’t me wrong, there are still a number of friendly, talkative, good-natured guys among today’s OHL coaches and general managers. But the colourful days of the “quote machine” coaches and GMs do seem to be a thing of the past.
These days, the only really good quotes are usually “off the record.”
Still, no one can take away the beers and the cheers and the colourful notes and quotes of the old days and old guys such as MacPherson, Templeton, Maxner, Drago, Kilrea, Mavety et al.