Monday, September 13, 2010

He was the NHL's oldest rookie and he scored in seconds

Bob Barlow holds a stick autographed by the championship Victoria Maple Leafs team in 1966. He has turned part of a basement into a shrine honouring his hockey career. Photographs by Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail. BELOW: An elated Barlow celebrates his first NHL goal, scored just seconds after he stepped on the ice.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 13, 2010

VICTORIA

On hockey night, you can find white-haired Bob Barlow, 75, at the arena sitting in Section X, Row 8, Seat 14. He likes the seat designation, as it matches a uniform number he once wore.

Between periods, Barlow cruises the concourse at Bear Mountain Arena in suburban Colwood, greeting his cronies and handing out a free hockey card to children.

“I tell them dreams do come true if you work hard,” he said. “I tell them I finally realized my dream at 34.”

The colourful piece of cardboard features Barlow in the green, white and gold livery of the Minnesota North Stars. He wears No. 14 on his sleeves and a crew cut atop his head. The image comes from his O-Pee-Chee rookie card issued after he finally got a National Hockey League job after spending 15 seasons in the minor leagues.

All that training paid off. After a long apprenticeship, Barlow stepped on the ice on Oct. 12, 1969, as the oldest rookie in NHL history. Seconds later, he was on the scoresheet by firing a 30-foot shot past Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers.

A photograph captured him with both arms in the air in celebration, his toothless grin evidence of a lifetime spent dodging pucks and sticks.

“Took the puck to the bench, told (coach) Wren Blair, ‘What’s so hard about this league?’ ”

As his teammates laughed, Barlow added, “Why didn’t you bring me up a little sooner?”

Back in the 1960s, Barlow used a modest playoff bonus to put a down payment on the split-level rancher he still calls home. The basement includes a small wet bar decorated with memorabilia from his hockey career. Among the items is the puck from his first NHL goal, mounted on a small wooden base.

The basement includes pucks and pennants, stickers and programs, autographed hockey sticks and a library of hockey books.

He brought out a watchcase. Inside could be found jeweled rings from each of the five championships he won in the minors. He wears a different one each night he goes to the rink to watch junior hockey.

To play on a championship team — at any level, in any sport — is to be bonded with teammates forever.

The first pro title he won came with the old Victoria Maple Leafs in 1966. A city not known for exuberant public displays went nuts for the Toronto farm team as it battled the Portland Buckaroos for Western Hockey League supremacy.

Barlow lived in an duplex in Esquimalt in those days, waking each morning during the playoffs to see a new rhyming sign posted by a hockey-mad neighbour.

“Here will lie the Portland Bucs,” read one, “laid to rest by Barlow’s pucks.”

The hard-fought series included an incident during which Barlow tussled with defenceman Jim (Red Eye) Hay. Both miscreants were dispatched to the penalty box for two minutes to contemplate their misdeeds. As they caught their breath, a reporter overheard an exchange between two old friends.

“Whatcha doin’ after the series?’ Hay asked.

“Been thinin’ about goin’ to Portland,” Barlow replied.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“I just bought a big place,” Hay said helpfully.

“That so.”

“Yup. Be sure and bring the family and stay with us.”

“Okay,” Barlow said. “And thanks.”

With that, they returned to the ice to do battle.

Victoria won the series, Barlow leading all goal-scorers with 10.

The team flew home aboard a Viscount turboprop to be greeted at Pat Bay airport by about 100 fans and family members. At Memorial Arena, another 600 gathered beneath a marquee reading, LEAFS YOU ARE THE GREATEST. A junior band played. The crowd spilled out onto street, blocking traffic. A civic reception and a dinner were held that night.

“A great hockey team,” Barlow says of the Victoria squad.

A year later, two of his teammates were called up by Toronto as playoff reinforcements. Milan Marcetta and Autry Erickson, an Albertan who was named after cowboy singer Gene Autry, both got their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. Erickson qualified for the honour though he only ever wore Toronto’s storied blue-and-white sweater for a single game, making him one of the most obscure players to win the Cup.

Erickson died in Phoenix last month of stomach cancer, aged 72, his passing mostly going unnoticed. Even Barlow had not heard the sad news.

He nearly died himself three years ago after suffering a heart attack while doing yard work. Barlow was unconscious in hospital for three days. Doctors were worried about possible oxygen deprivation.

“They were ready to pull the plug when he woke up,” his wife, Marilyn, recalled.

They did not take into account an old athlete’s fighting spirit.

He now has a large bump near his collar bone beneath which rests a defibrillator. For a guy who often sported a black eye in his playing days, it looks like just another lump endured in a rough and tumble sport.

Barlow went hunting for another memento. It captures what it was like to be an ice warrior in those days.

Every month, he gets an NHL pension cheque. The total: $5.16.

He waits until he has three before cashing them. It saves on banking costs.


Five generations

Bob Barlow and his wife Marilyn (nee Mutrie) are at the heart of five generations of exceptional athletes.

Marilyn's grandfather, Lot Roe, was a world-class speed skater.

Her father, Dr. Ralph Dory Mutrie, was inducted into the North Bay (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 as a builder for his contributions to figure skating. He became active after Marilyn took up the sport. She continues to train yung skaters at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre outside Victoria. She was named coach of the year by Skate Canada in 1992.

Hugh Barlow, Bob's father, won the Allan Cup in 1947 with the Montreal Royals.

Bob and Marilyn's daughter, Wendy Barlow, was a world-class professional tennis player who competed at Wimbledon. She has been inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame. Today, Wendy Pattenden is president of Canadian Sport Centre Pacific.

Hillary Pattenden — Wendy's daughter and Bob and Marilyn's granddaughter — is an all-star goalie for the Mercyhurst College Lakers in Erie, Penn. It is her dream to play for Team Canada at the Olympics.

Wendy Pattenden is a junior at Mercyhurst College and a possible future star for Team Canada. Her grandfather, Bob Barlow, played pro hockey for 22 seasons.

1 comment:

Michael Joseph said...

There are countless talents that could easily have played walking the planet