Doug Gilmour played his first five seasons in St. Louis, so getting to watch the Blues hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in the NHL franchise’s first 52 years earlier this month was pretty special.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Gilmour, who will be one of the featured guests at this Monday’s third-annual Timmins Rock NHL Celebrity
Dinner at the Porcupine Dante Club.
“I am a hockey fan and I just cheer for the players I like, but I have a lot of friends still in St. Louis, so I was pretty excited for them — especially one man, Bob Plager.
“His brother Barclay coached us and he ended up passing away from a brain tumour when Jacques Demers was coaching.”
Bob — the middle of three hockey playing Plager brothers from nearby Kirkland Lake — broke into the NHL with the New York Rangers in the six-team era, but spent 10 seasons in a Blues’ uniform following expansion and coached part of the 1992-93 campaign.
Barcley, the oldest of the three brothers, also played 10 seasons St. Louis and coached parts of four campaigns. He passed away in February of 1988 at the age of 46.
The youngest brother, Bill, who also played for the Blues, the Minnesota North Stars and the Atlanta Flames, passed away in January of 2016 at the age of 70.
“There are a lot good people in St. Louis and it (Stanley Cup championship) was well deserved,” Gilmour said.
After five seasons in a Blues uniform, Gilmour was traded to the Calgary Flames along with Mark Hunter, Steve Bozek and Michael Dark in exchange for Mike Bullard, Craig Coxe and Tim Corkery in the summer of 1998.
A very successful first year with the Flames culminated in Calgary winning the Stanley Cup in 1989.
“These guys had been building the team after losing against Edmonton for many years,” Gilmour said.
“Just going there that year and the leadership and talent they had on that hockey club, with Lanny (McDonald) and (Jim) Peplinkski and Timmy Hunter. You had the young guys, (Joe) Nieuwendyk, (Gary) Roberts and we had Haken Loob who played on that line.
“I had played with (Rob) Ramage in St. Louis and obviously Joey Mullen, who I got partnered with that year.
“It was just a fun year. We won the President’s Trophy and we went against Vancouver in the first round and that was our toughest test.
“We found a way to win and from there, we beat L.A. in four, Chicago in five and Montreal in six.
“It was pretty special times.”
Gilmour, of course, had no idea at the time that it would be the only time in his playing career that he would get to hoist the Stanley Cup.
“You take it for granted,” he said.
“That was my sixth year and we won the Cup. I ended up playing 14 more and never won another one.
“When you are at that stage and that age, you think OK, we are going to win another one and we had a pretty good team in Calgary. It kind of got blown up a couple of years later.
“It was too bad because we had a lot of leadership there. Our fourth line centre half-way through that year was a kid named Theo Fleury, who obviously went on to have a great career and was a very skilled player.
“We had a reunion a couple of years back where we got to see everybody who is still here on earth with us and it was fun to catch up.”
In the midst of his fourth season with the Flames, Gilmour was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Kent Manderville and Rick Wamsley in exchange for Gary Leeman, Craig Berube, Michel Petit, Alexander Godynyuk and Jeff Reese.
Coincidentally, Berube is now the head coach of the Blues and he was behind the bench as St. Louis claimed its first Stanley Cup title.
“It (the trade) was exciting,” Gilmour said.
“I had to look at it in different ways. I was pretty much coming home. I am from Kingston.
“So, I was pretty excited about it. It is always hard leaving a team, but to go in there and they obviously hadn’t done well for years, to me was a step forward.
“I got there that year and we came up a little bit short of the playoffs, but (Toronto general manager) Cliff (Fletcher) made a change and brought in Pat Burns the next year.
“Again, we had a lot of leadership with Mike Krzyzewski, Mike Folino, Bob Rouse, you go down the line with the guys we had there.
“Wendel (Clark) was the captain, but we had other leaders in that dressing room.
“It was a fun year. I know Burnsy won a cup in New Jersey, but he always said his favourite team he coached was us.”
While a second Stanley Cup championship continued to elude Gilmour, he and his Maple Leaf teammates did come close in the 1993 playoffs, as they reached the Campbell Conference final before being derailed by Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.
“It was frustrating and it is always tough to lose,” Gilmour said.
“We played seven games every series and, not to say we were tired, but it kind of caught up to us.
“Obviously, with No. 99 (Gretzky) on the other side, he says (Game 7) was one of the best games he ever played. He had a hat-trick and some assists that game and got the breaks you need.”
Not surprisingly, Gilmour considers Gretzky one of the best players he has ever played against.
“Going to the 1987 Canada Cup, it was sort of Mario Lemieux’s coming out party,” he said.
“Playing against him, he was a big man with great hands and pretty good speed, but Gretz was by far, for me, the years I had to play against him and it started off in St. Louis where wherever he went I went and then at the Canada Cup we would pull the nets up to the blue-lines and we would go around the ice three minutes one way and three minutes the other way and yah we had Mike Gartner who could skate, Paul Coffey and Glenn Anderson, all these guys, but Gretz, when he turned, he was just very explosive.
“People say he never got hit, but people tried to hit him, believe me. I was one of them. He was a tough guy to get a hold of.”
Gilmour still holds the Maple Leafs’ record for most assists in a season (95 in 1992-93), most points in a season (127 in 1992-93) and most assists in a single game (six on Feb. 13, 1993), a mark he shares with Babe Pratt (Jan. 18, 1944).
With offensively talented players like John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner currently on the Maple Leafs roster, Gilmour realizes, however, it might just be a matter of time until his records are eclipsed.
“These guys are all skilled guys,” he said.
“I watched Mitch grow up and Matthews is another big body who has great skill and J.T. is just a solid player all around.
“Records are made to be broken, but as I say that, don’t look at Gretzky’s records because I don’t think they will be broken.”
Gilmour’s playing days came to an end following the 2002-03 NHL season, but his love for the game didn’t end there.
In 2006, he became a player development advisor with the Maple Leafs and he then became an assistant coach with Toronto ’s AHL farm club, the Marlies, in 2008.
“I learned the trade with the Marlies and then I got a call to go to Kingston, which is my home town and when you leave town at an early age, my parents were getting up there in age and I decided to leave and go to Kingston and coach,” he said.
“I got to spend a good five years with my dad before he passed on and eight or nine with my mom.”
Gilmour held the coaching reigns with the OHL’s Frontenacs for three seasons before moving upstairs to before the squad’s general manager and then team president.
“It has been a fun ride,” he said.
“The reason I moved upstairs to become president is when I had the book tour (in support of his book Killer: My Life In Hockey), I wasn’t around as much and it wasn’t fair,” he said.
“So, I relinquished my GM duties, but they wanted me to stay on and work with the GM and that is kind of what I am doing.”
The move to president has also allowed Gilmour time to make appearance like the one he will make in Timmins on Monday at the third-annual Timmins Rock NHL Celebrity Dinner.
“During the season, I don’t do that many,” he said.
“It is mainly during the summer.”
When it comes to questions, the one he hears more than any other has to do with the non-call in Game 6 of the Toronto vs. Los Angeles playoff series from 1993 when Gretzky was not penalized for a high stick.
“If you were to tell me we get Game 7 at home and if we win that we get to go to the Stanley Cup finals and I would take those chances, but the best player in the world beat us.”
As one might expect, there are plenty of memories that stick in Gilmour’s mind from his lengthy and prestigious NHL career, including his first goal and hoisting the Stanley Cup.
One of the most memorable, however, is the double-overtime wrap-around goal he scored on Curtis Joseph and the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the 1993 Norris Division finals.
“When you first start, your first goal you ever score is pretty exciting and for me, I think it took me 10 or 11 games,” Gilmour said.
“During my time in Toronto, we had pretty good success, not the ultimate success, but that goal is something I will always cherish and I do a lot of things with Cujo (Joseph) and he always tells me, ‘You know you scored other goals,’ but it was a pretty special time at that point.
“You see the reaction for the Raptors in Toronto and throughout Canada and those days, back then, were pretty special for us. We were watch the (Toronto Blue) Jays win and we had a pretty good run, as well.”
Gilmour has never been to Timmins, but his son Tyson made the trek to the City with the Heart of Gold a number of times during his two-year stint with the NOJHL’s Powassan Voodoos.
“Tyson was a late bloomer and a good-sized kid,” Gilmour said.
“He has great skills and just had to work on his conditioning and his feet a little bit.
“He had a great year with the (OJHL’s) Wellington Dukes and he is committed to NCAA Division III SUNY-Geneseo, about 45 minutes past Buffalo, which is great for me because I live in Burlington now.
“So, I will be less than two hours away from going to see him play this year.”
Gilmour, of course, also had the opportunity to play with the Timmins Tornado, Steve Sullivan, when both were members of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I am all excited to visit Timmins,” he said.
“Rod Black is coming, as well, which is pretty cool, with him being part of the Raptors broadcasts.”
Rock president Ted Gooch confirms there are still tickets, going for $75 each, available at KIA of Timmins and the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre.
He also notes there will be limited number available at the door, as well.
NOJHL NOTES — The fourth-annual Timmins Rock Golf Tournament will be held at Spruce Needles Golf Course on Thursday, Aug. 15. That is the day before training camp opens for the NOJHL squad, with many Rock players, new and old, expected to attend the event. As with past tournaments, a number of former NHL players — including a “high-profile Toronto Maple Leaf” — will be in attendance, as well.