Friday, June 11, 2010

Lou Jankowski, hockey player (1931-2010)

Lou Jankowski played 127 NHL games with the Chicago Black Hawks and the Detroit Red Wings. He spent most of his career in the minor leagues with such teams as the Buffalo Bisons.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 8, 2010

Lou Jankowski scored goals by the bushelful.

The native of Regina went east to play junior hockey, leading his league in scoring. Later, he terrorized goaltenders in Western Canada with his marksmanship.

His prowess earned him a shot at a job in the National Hockey League. The goals continued to come, but not quite as frequently. After a full season and parts of two others, Jankowski was demoted to the minors, where he crafted a stellar reputation as a sharp-shooting forward with a gentlemanly demeanor.

Hanging up his skates after 18 professional seasons, he became a longtime scout for three NHL teams, as well as for the league’s central scouting bureau.

Louis Casimer Jankowski was born on June 27, 1931, at Regina. He attended high school in Hamilton, Ont., where he excelled at baseball and football. At age 16, he helped the Aerovox hockey team claim the Sutherland Cup as Ontario junior-B champions. He scored five goals and four assists in nine playoff games.

He spent three seasons with the Oshawa (Ont.) Generals. In his final campaign as a junior, he was placed on a line with stylish centreman Alex Delvecchio, of Fort William, Ont. (now Thunder Bay). Their potent offence earned the duo a reputation as the “payoff pair” for the Generals.

Mr. Delvecchio, a future star, was seen as a playmaker, while his goal-scoring linemate was heralded by sportswriters as the “hat-trick kid,” so often did he score three goals in a game. The centre averaged a goal per game, while his right-winger led the league with 65 markers in 54 games.

Both forwards earned one-game tryouts with the Detroit Red Wings that season. Mr. Delvecchio did not score a point, while Mr. Jankowski recorded an assist. yet, it was Mr. Delvecchio who would go on to enjoy a brilliant, 23-season NHL career, all with the Detroit Red Wings, on his way to being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Mr. Jankowski’s professional career would be more peripatetic and less distinguished, though not without honours. At the end of his junior career, the high-scoring forward finished second in voting for the Albert (Red) Tilson Memorial Trophy as Ontario junior hockey’s “most valuable and gentlemanly” player. The coveted award, donated by the Globe and Mail in honour of a star junior player who had been killed in action during the Second World War, went to Glenn Hall, a goaltender who would also go on to enjoy a Hockey Hall of Fame career.

A solid athlete at 6-feet, 180-pounds, Mr. Jankowski was a versatile forward capable of handling assignments at centre, or on either wing.

After a year with the Indianapolis Capitols of the American Hockey League, he at last got a longer tryout with the NHL’s Red Wings. Detroit had built a dynasty and the rookie forward suffered from a lack of ice time, managing only a goal and two assists in limited action in 22 games.

In the summer of 1953, Mr. Jankowski and two other players were sold to the Chicago Black Hawks, moving from hockey’s penthouse to the basement. The Hawks suffered on the ice and at the gate. Mr. Jankowski displayed some of his scoring touch, notching 15 goals in 68 games.

He broke a bone in his big toe in training camp in 1954. After recovering, his output tailed off and he was demoted to the minors with the Buffalo Bisons. He had played 127 NHL games (with 19 goals and 18 assists and just 15 minutes in penalties), but his NHL career was at an end. He spent the following 14 seasons in the minors.

In 1958, he joined the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Hockey League, quickly establishing himself as the circuit’s top marksman. He led the league in goals in his first three seasons, including a spectacular 57-goal performance in the 1960-61 season. The record-setting tally earned him most-valuable player honours, including a cheque for $500 from a sponsoring liquor company.

He again led the league in goals with 41 for the Denver Invaders in 1963-64, the same campaign in which he won the Fred J. Hume Cup as most gentlemanly player.

He later skated for the Victoria Maple Leafs, Phoenix Roadrunners, Denver Spurs, and Amarillo (Tex.) Wranglers, for whom he was a playing coach.

Mr. Jankowski took a coaching job in New Jersey, but quit after four months, resigning due to the stress of the job.

He could not stay away from the hockey rink, however, and began a lengthy career as a scout in 1972 with the St. Louis Blues. He also prowled the back roads looking for talent for the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, for whom he was employed for 15 years, based in Calgary,

A 1985 expedition saw him evaluating teenaged talent at a hockey tournament at the unlikely hockey outpost of Baton Rouge, La.

“We don’t encourage a kid leaving school to play in the pros,” Mr. Jankowski told the local Morning Advocate newspaper. “Our team has the philosophy of letting them get their education. We don’t interfere with the boy’s education at all.”

His passion for hockey was shared with his family. One of his sons, Ryan Jankowski, is assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting for the New York Islanders.

Mr. Jankowski retired to Florida, where he became a regular at home games of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was known to regale press-box regulars with tales about the rough-and-tumble days of pro hockey, when the top league had only six teams, none farther south than New York City.

A moment of silence was held in his memory before the puck was dropped for a game pitting the Lightning against the visiting Carolina Hurricane.

Louis Casimer Jankowski was born on June 27, 1931, at Regina. He died on March 21 at Clearwater, Fla. He leaves his wife Roseanna; a brother; a daughter; two sons; and, eight grandchildren.

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