90 years old, sharp as a tack

Leafs legend and Parksville resident Howie Meeker recalls events from 60 years ago with amazing detail

Giddy Leafs fan John Harding with Leafs legend Howie Meeker earlier this year.

Some call him The Cool Dude.

Others know him as a dedicated husband to the absolutely delightful Leah, father, grandfather, great grandfather and philanthropist. Or you might know him as the guy who has a nice glass of wine for you, or some screech if you have the nerve. Or maybe you have tried his secret-recipe lox.

Perhaps you know him as the man on watch over the French Creek estuary area, making sure there’s no illegal crab or bivalve harvesting happening. Or the bird-lover.

Me? I call him Mr. Meeker.

Howie Meeker turned 90 yesterday. We should all be as sharp as him when we are 90 years old.

I was fortunate enough to meet him a few months ago, and I was nervous as hell. You see, when you’re a die-hard fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you don’t get to meet many people who wore that jersey — the best-looking uniform in all of pro sports — and raised the Stanley Cup.

Yes, I brought my Leafs jersey to our meeting and yes he signed it. I was trying to be cool about it all, but inside I was downright giddy.

If you’re over 40 years old, your first thoughts of Mr. Meeker will likely be his work on Hockey Night in Canada. He was an innovator with what’s come to be known as the telestrator, breaking down the nuances of the game (“Back it up, back it up, right there . . . Golly Gee Willickers, ya gotta shoot the puck!”).

There is so much more to The Cool Dude. As we approach Remembrance Day, it’s important to note his service to our country in the Armed Forces during the Second World War. His short stint in the House of Commons, while he was still playing in the NHL is nothing short of remarkable — he won a by-election in 1951 and did not seek re-election in 1953. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

There are some great biographies in print about Mr. Meeker. I cannot do his life’s work justice here. But I would like to share a bit about Mr. Meeker, the Leaf.

He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1947. He was a member of Leafs teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951. He played eight seasons for the Leafs, scoring 89 goals and adding 111 assists in 388 regular season and playoff games. He also had 377 penalty minutes.

The winning goal in the 1951 Stanley Cup final was scored by Bill Barilko. Mr. Meeker told me the story of that goal with amazing detail, like it happened yesterday (I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night). He remembers taking a hit behind the net to make a play that led to Barilko’s goal.

That Stanley Cup moment is important to Leafs fans. Anyone who is a fan of the Tragically Hip knows the story of Barilko, who disappeared on a fishing trip the summer after scoring that goal. The Leafs, despite an excellent lineup, did not win the Cup again until Barilko’s body was found, 11 years later.

I shook the hand of, and shared some wine with, a player who won four Cups with the Leafs, the player who fed Bill Barilko the pass that won the 1951 Stanley Cup for the Leafs. Unreal.

Thank-you Mr. Meeker and Happy Birthday.