Over the years, as the Ontario Hockey League has more and more evolved into being run like a big business — and there is nothing wrong with that — it has also taken on a boring and bland side with dull, monotonous coaches who act as though they might be physics or chemistry teachers in white lab coats and reading rehearsed scripts out of a text book.
In short, today’s OHL coaches certainly lack the colour, character and rousing personality of many of their predecessors from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the early part of the 2000 decade.
With due respect, it says here that there is not a single coach in today’s 20-team OHL who are luminaries in dealing with the media with colourful quotes as their forerunners once did.
In fact, most of today’s OHL coaches are about as exciting as a breakfast of dry toast and day-old coffee.
They certainly do not come close to having the stage presence of former OHL coaches of high profile and entertainment such as Brian Kilrea, Bert Templeton, Wayne Maxner, Larry Mavety, Bill Laforge, Brad Smith et al — not to mention three former Soo Greyhound bench bosses in Muzz MacPherson, Terry Crisp and Don Boyd.
Let us dwell on those three former Greyhound coaches for a thousand words or so.
MacPherson, who coached the Greyhounds from 1975 to 1978, was a literal quote machine.
He once referred to the arch-rival Sudbury Wolves (who sported green and white colours back then) as “a bunch of green fairies. I don’t know why they call them the big, bad Wolves because if you ask me, they are a team of pretty boys in green dresses.”
Another time, I was unable to use a portion of a tape recorded interview with Muzz for CKCY Radio. And that was because of what he replied when I asked him why a certain Greyhound player had been benched. “Because he’s out of shape, he’s chicken shit, and he can’t skate,” Muzz said, in a rather matter-of-fact manner.
On another occasion, during the 1975-1976 season, Muzz came up with another dandy sound byte for radio after the Greyhounds had traded skilled center Ed Smith to the Hamilton Fincups in a straight up deal for Tony Horvath, a bruising defenseman who was known for fighting and inciting brawls more than anything else.
When I asked about the reasoning behind the trade, Muzz was quick to reply: “We have enough skilled players … and we wanted another goon to go with (Tim) Coulis, (Bill) Roach and (Mike) Rusin. So we traded Smith for Horvath. No team in the league is going to mess with us now. You think we were tough before this trade? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet, kid.”
Muzz, who passed away several years ago, remains, to this day, the most colourful hockey coach that I have ever interviewed.
As for Crisp, who coached the Greyhounds to a remarkable 227 regular season victories over a five-year span between 1980 and 1985, he was no slouch for talking it up either. And not just to newspaper writers or on the radio.
I happened to be at a Greyhound practice on an occasion when I wanted to interview Crisp for a story on an upcoming game. As a rather lame practice was ending, Crisp skated off the ice in a huff and towards the steps that led down to the Greyhound dressing room. Seeing me standing there, alongside Greyhounds general manager Sam McMaster, Crisp delivered two rapid-fire statements.
To me, Crisp simply said that he would be back upstairs in 10 minutes and we could conduct the interview then. And to McMaster, who essentially was Crisp’s boss, the fiery redhead spat: “Get on the phone and see what you can get for (a Hounds player whose name I won’t mention here.) I don’t care if all you can get for him is a bag of pucks. I want him the f–k out of here!”
On another occasion, following a home-ice loss to star goalie Allan Bester and the Brantford Alexanders, Crisp was particularly upset with the play of his own net-minder. When I asked him if he was planning to make a goal-tending change from his faltering starter for the next game, Crisp quickly replied: “First I am going to send him to the eye doctor. I think he needs glasses because some of those goals that he let in tonight my grandmother could have stopped. And she doesn’t see all that well.”
Over to Boyd, who coached the London Knights for three seasons before taking over the helm of the Greyhounds in 1986, he had many moments of motor mouth magic of his own as Soo coach.
A former goalie himself from his playing days, Boyd was asked about the play of his own puck-stopper following a home ice loss. “He needs to get his game together … or we’re going to see if he likes playing for Sudbury. I am fat, bald and 40 pounds overweight and I can play better than that kid,” Boyd responded.
Another time, as the Greyhound coach, Boyd strolled into his team’s dressing room before a game, and adorned with an old World War 2 army helmet on his head, explained to his startled, wide-eyed players: “Get ready, men. We are going to war.”
And Boyd, like Crisp, also saved a few barbs for coaches of opposing teams.
Boyd once referred to rival coach Wayne Maxner, then of the London Knights, as “Wayne Ego. He begins every sentence with ‘I’ and ends it with ‘me.’ No one loves Max more than Max loves himself.”
Crisp was also known to fire a salvo or two at a rival coach.
Once, after hearing that Kitchener Rangers coach Joe Crozier — who had spent several years prior coaching in the National Hockey League with both the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs — was complaining about several tactics used by the Greyhounds, Crisp retorted: “That’s Cryin’ Joe Crozier for you. He’s always crying about something. He should stick to coaching his own team instead of worrying about mine.”
Just as I do when I think of MacPherson, I laugh and smile to myself when I think of Crisp and Boyd.
Over the years, I had more than one verbal altercation with both Crisp and Boyd — always about something that I had written in the Sault This Week.
And I don’t mind saying that I would go out of my way to be the instigator.
Back then, Sault This Week (which had just changed its name from Shopper News) was a newspaper without any local sports coverage whatsoever when I came on board in February of 1982.
And, wanting to get the paper into the local spotlight and become alternative reading to the Sault Star and its splendid Greyhound beat writers such as Steve Cooney and Steve Buist, I took to a form of hard-hitting writing that drew plenty of attention on many fronts.
Those were the days — and the times have changed in many ways.