Sunday, July 3, 2011

Barry Wilkins, hockey player (1947-2011)

Barry Wilkins shovels a backhander along the ice past goalie Denis DeJordy to score the first goal for the Vancouver Canucks in their National Hockey League debut. Wilkins, a tough defenceman, was playing only his ninth NHL game. It was his second career goal. The marker made him the answer to a trivia question and something of a folk hero to Vancouver's long-suffering fans.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 1, 2011

Barry Wilkins, who has died, aged 64, scored the first goal for the Vancouver Canucks in their National Hockey League debut.

The bruising defenceman, playing in only his ninth NHL game, showed the poise of a veteran sniper on the play. He performed a spinning manoeuvre followed by an unlikely rush to the net. A backhand shot fooled Denis DeJordy in the Los Angeles Kings net.

Wilkins scored at 2:14 of the third period, on an assist from Len Lunde. The Canucks went on to lose by 3-1 the historic game played at the Pacific Coliseum on Oct. 9, 1970.

“I was surprised it went in because I didn’t really get good wood on it,” Wilkins said in an interview last year. “I guess it just went in the right place.”

With his Beatles haircut and muttonchop sideburns, Wilkins was readily identifiable on the ice. Like so many of the original Canucks, he compensated for a lack of skill through hard work.
Barry Wilkins in 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee card.

Barry James Wilkins was born on Feb. 28, 1947, in Toronto. He played junior hockey with the Oshawa (Ont.) Generals, where he was a teammate of Bobby Orr.

He played eight games over three seasons with the NHL’s Boston Bruins, but could not break into a stellar defensive corps featuring Orr.

The Canucks selected Wilkins with their ninth pick in the 1970 expansion draft. With earlier selections, Vancouver chose defencemen Gary Doak, Darryl Sly, and Pat Quinn, a future coach and general manager for the team.

At 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, Wilkins was known for his bruising body checks. He spent four full seasons with the Canucks before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins early in the 1974-75 season. He later jumped to the World Hockey Association, where he skated for the Edmonton Oilers and Indianapolis Racers.

In 418 NHL games, he scored 27 goals with 125 assists. He was assessed 663 penalty minutes,a

After retiring from hockey, he moved to Arizona, where he worked for the Coca-Cola company.

He died of lung cancer on Sunday (June 26) at Chandler, Ariz. He leaves his wife, Marilyn; a son; two stepsons and a stepdaughter; nine grandchildren; and, two great-grandchildren.

Last year, Wilkins returned to Vancouver for events marking the club’s 40th anniversary. Joined at centre-ice by former captain Orland Kurtenbach, Wilkins, wearing a No. 4 sweater, dropped the puck for a ceremonial opening face-off. The disk was the one with which he had scored the Canucks’ first goal.

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