Pictou Advocate sports

In cold arenas with Gerry Regan


The Gerald A. Regan who I knew best — and remember fondly — wasn’t the Member of Parliament for Halifax, the premier of Nova Scotia, or the man who faced court charges in later years.

He was, instead, the radio sportscaster, the sports promoter and, above all, the “bird-dog” scout for the Boston Bruins.

It was long ago, when he was in his pre-political career, when we were rivals looking for young players striving to make it to professional hockey. I was in a similar position, scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Thoughts of those times in the early 1960s were on my mind when I learned of his death at the age of 91.

Gerry had been scouting for the Bruins since the mid-1950s and a Cape Bretoner by the name of Howie Wadden had the same task with the Detroit Red Wings. I was just beginning what was a seven-year stint with the Leafs.

I ran into Wadden only a couple of times, but Gerry and I spent quite a few evenings together in cold rinks in various Nova Scotia communities.

In Pictou County, we’d be watching games at New Glasgow Stadium and Stellarton Memorial Rink. Once we met up at the Hector Arena down in Pictou.

The first time I met Gerry was at the tail end of the 1955-56 hockey season. He was already a bright young lawyer and I was in grade 12, writing local sports for The Evening News.

The Bruins missed the Stanley Cup playoffs and Regan the sportscaster convinced the Boston club to tour the Maritimes. They played 17 games, including one at New Glasgow Stadium.

Through Gerry, I was able to visit the Bruins dressing room where I had my photo taken with Terry Sawchuk, the guy I still consider the best goaltender ever. It was the first time I was photographed with an NHL star, a big thrill to a 17-year-old.

It was a few years after that when Gerry and I began watching games together.

In his obituary last week, it told of his lifelong love for sports through which he “forged many meaningful friendships.”

It was in 1961 that he and I started seeing games together, prior to the first NHL expansion and the birth of the universal draft. Young prospects could be scouted by NHL organizations and signed as soon as the players were 18 years of age.

I had been hired by Toronto’s head scout, Bob Davidson, a former Leafs star himself in the 1930s and early ’40s. There were some great perks – September visits to the Leafs training camp in Peterborough, and attendance at the Stanley Cup playoffs, including title-clinching games in three of Toronto’s championship years.

Following games in the county, Gerry and I, along with then Evening News sports editor Ricky Fraser, often spent interesting late evenings downtown at the Coffee Pot, the closest thing there was to a Tim Hortons. Sometimes Gerry would talk about politics, though there was never a hint he’d enter that world a couple years later.

A few seasons earlier, Gerry almost got Thorburn’s Lowell MacDonald on a Bruins contract. A technicality, however, prevented that from taking place.

Gerry and I both missed getting Lowell.

The talented winger, who was showing promise to become the first full-time NHL player from Pictou County, had just come off a provincial championship with East Pictou Rural High School in 1958-59.

Gerry had watched Lowell and, convinced the kid was a sure thing for the pros, arranged a unique kind of “showing” for the brass in Boston.

So Gerry and Lowell, accompanied by Lowell’s father, Johnny (Governor) MacDonald, and Ricky Fraser, were off to Beantown. The Bruins were in the middle of a playoff series with the Leafs.

Lowell took to Boston Garden ice alone and auditioned for general manager Lynn Patrick, head coach Milt Schmidt and chief scout Harold (Baldy) Cotton. They liked what they saw.

The plan was for Lowell to join the Bruins the next season, probably practising with the NHLers while attending Boston College.

It never happened.

Back in New Glasgow, Ricky had the green light from Boston to write a story for the News. That triggered the problem.

NHL president Clarence Campbell got wind of the article and ruled that Boston erred in conducting the MacDonald ice appearance.

Boston lost the rights to Lowell and he wound up with the Detroit Red Wings after Wadden stepped in with a contract.

I still wasn’t into scouting then. Lowell, years later, said if I had been involved at that time, he might very well have signed a Toronto contract.

A scouting loss before I even started.

A few years later, however, I won one over the man who would become Nova Scotia’s premier.

The target: Brookfield goalie Lyle Carter.

While Lyle was playing junior hockey with Trenton, Gerry and I both got on his trail. There couldn’t be an immediate contract signing because the netminder was still just 17.

I knew the day Lyle would be eligible.

On his 18th birthday, I arrived in Brookfield, a contract in hand. Lyle and some school friends were playing road hockey in front of the Carter home. I had to wait for the battle to end.

Soon after, Lyle signed a Leafs contract.

Ironically, Lyle returned to Pictou County in 1964-65 to play for the Maritime senior champion New Glasgow Rangers. It would be another seven years before he performed in 15 NHL games with the 1971-72 California Golden Seals.

By then, Gerry had switched to the political arena, served as Member of Parliament for Halifax, became provincial Liberal leader in 1965, MLA for Halifax Needham in 1967, and premier in 1970.

In history, Gerald A. Regan will be primarily remembered as a politician.

But, for me, he’ll still be the man I sat with in those cold rinks almost 60 years ago.