Grandpa Played Pro Hockey (or so he said)


James Milks

Grandpa Played Pro Hockey (or so he said)

Posted November 15, 2015

Viewed 4566 times

   Unidentified person in a Bruins uniform from the late 1920s
Unidentified person in a Bruins uniform from the late 1920s. Photo credit: Art Ross III

   Anyone with an avid interest in hockey statistics or the accuracy of team rosters has surely raised their eyebrows at one time or another. Perhaps it was a draft claim, or dates and teams that didn't make sense, or someone claiming to have made it all the way to the NHL, when you are almost certain they never left the minors.

   Perhaps the most notable case in recent memory is that of Supreme Court of Canada appointee Marc Nadon, who claimed before a committee reviewing his appointment that he had been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings at age 14. It was later clarified, thanks in part to SIHR members, that he had played for the St-Jerome Alouettes, a Junior A team whose midget affiliates were part of the Red Wings’ farm team network. “So he did play in the Red Wings’ system. But that is quite different from being drafted or signing a contract with the Red Wings.” explained Jean-Patrice Martel in a National Post article in 2013.

   Ottawa real estate broker Paul Rushforth, who had a great minor-pro career in North America and Europe, was at one time a little too liberal with his radio ads in which he said “...when I was in the NHL...” as he related his winning on the ice to his ability to move houses. The ads were later changed to say pro-hockey instead of NHL.   

   But the situation doesn't only apply to the elite level. On two separate occasions at work following employee house league games, I overheard colleagues saying “He played major junior hockey back in the day” as a way of explaining why two co-workers were far and away better than their teammates. Naturally this piqued my interest, so I first queried the SIHR database. Nothing. Time to start poking around.

   It didn't take long to learn that one had been invited to the Ottawa 67s (OHL) training camp, but that he had “blown out his knee” before attending. The second says he did attend the Beauport Harfangs (QMJHL) training camp, but was cut. So the truth is a little different than what everyone believes, but the myth continues at work. I won't tell.

   A similar thing occurred one year at my son's bantam baseball tryouts. For reasons I can't explain, the coach felt it was necessary to mention that he played pro-hockey as a goalie for the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA. Really? “Remember to check that when you get home” I thought to myself. Even if he is stretching the truth, there will surely be stats from his junior hockey playing days available. As you may have already guessed, my research proved unsuccessful. Nothing.

   A few practices later I took the opportunity to ask a few questions, explaining that I had a lot of interest in hockey history. Another blown knee. Exactly when and where was not made clear. Oh well, the boys won the regionals and went to the provincials, and can forever tell their friends that their coach was a former pro hockey player.

   The following list, which was once a page on the original SIHR website was compiled by SIHR members, and features people purported to have played professional hockey, some even at the highest level. So far, the official record of their hockey exploits remain unknown.

Jim Grundy
The US Trotting Association ran an obituary for Jim Grundy wherein it stated "Mr. Grundy, a native of Manitoba, was born into a harness racing family, but developed a love for hockey. His skating skills saw him rise to the American Hockey League's Cleveland Barons, then one of the sport's top pro teams, but a knee injury in 1958 took him off the ice and put him into a sulky, full-time."

John E. Bessler 
The obituary of John Edwin “JB” Bessler, 82, who passed away peacefully at his home on Wednesday, March 7, 2007, contained the following: " Some of John's highlights were playing professional hockey for the Chicago Blackhawks and refereeing hockey for the Pekin Stars and the Milwaukee Admirals." The obituary was published in the Orlando Sentinel on March 12, 2007.

Robert Kilburn (Bob) Martin
A death notice in The Hamilton Spectator of Saturday, June 9, 2006 lists the death of Robert Kilburn (Bob) Martin on Wednesday, June 6, 2006 in his 62nd year.

It claims he played hockey for the Junior Canadiens and with the Boston Bruins and later became a WHA and OHA referee. Here is the clip: "Bob was always a sports enthusiast. He played hockey in Italy as a teenager; played for the Jr. Canadians and had a brief stint as a Boston Bruin. When Bob gave up playing the game he went on to referee in the WHA and Jr. A hockey. He achieved his level 5 in teaching and certifying referees."

The annual "We Remember" section of the Hamilton Spectator on December 27 stated the following:

"Martin was president of the Hamilton and Area Curling Association and was past president of the Burlington Curling Club. He was also one of the chief organizers of the 2007 Tim Hortons Brier, which was held at Copps Coliseum in March. Martin also had a career in professional hockey. He played in Italy and in the Central Professional Hockey League and later became a referee in the World Hockey Association."

SIHR has records of two players named Robert Martin and one named Bob Martin, but the timelines with this person are not inline with the players listed in our database. No published hockey statistics source lists anyone by this name as having played for any of these teams. Scott Surgent's book The Complete World Hockey Association, which lists WHA referees & linesmen, makes no mention of him either.

Donald Edwin (Don) Mason
The Winnipeg Free Press and Regina Leader Post of Saturday, May 17th, 2008, both had an obituary for Donald Edwin (Don) Mason, 64, who passed away in Regina. It states that he played in the NHL, but there is no record of a Don Mason ever having played in the league.

It may be the Don Mason, who was born in Winnipeg (no birth date was provided in the obituary), and is shown in the SIHR database as having played goal for the Winnipeg Rangers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League from 1961-62 to 63-64.

Willard (Bill) Pickering
The Winnipeg Free Press of March 9th, 2007, had an obituary for Willard (Bill) Pickering born in Cobalt, Ont. in 1933, died March 5, 2008 in Winnipeg. It states that he grew up in Kirkland Lake and was a noted hockey player in the IHL with the Toledo Blades and Fort Wayne Komets. However, there is no listing of him in either the SIHR data base or the Internet Hockey player data base.

Donald "Bucky" Buchanan
An obituary in the Sacramento Bee on June 13, 2006, reads as follows:

(1931-2006) Don passed peacefully at home on June 10, 2006. A native Canadian, at 16 he immigrated to the United States to play professional hockey for the New York Rangers. After becoming a U.S. citizen, he served in the Korean War. An avid golfer, he lived many years in San Diego and played and worked at Torrey Pines Golf Course. He is survived by his beloved wife Joan and her family, his brother Jim and wife Jackie, and sister Lori and her husband Nibs. A real man's man, he had many male friends all over North America. He was a longtime member of the Elks and Lions Clubs. A devout Christian, he was an AA sponsor for many years. At his request, no funeral services will be held. A celebration of his life will be held in San Diego at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Salvation Army.

There was a Ralph "Bucky" Buchanan played for the Rangers in 1948-49, but was born in 1922 and died in 2005. A goalie named Bucky Buchanan played for the Ottawa RCAF team in 1950-51. 

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About Losthockey

Between 1999 and 2003, I operated a website called losthockey.com where I posted profiles of obscure NHL players.

In the days before online databases, newspapers and vital records, I spent hours digging through microfilm, cold calling, and mailing letters in the hopes of uncovering leads. Sometimes I would get lucky and locate family members who were willing to share their relative's story.

Like all things on the internet, my work was appropriated and reproduced on websites such as findagrave.com (especially by this person) and in books, often verbatim, always uncredited.

So I have decided to reclaim my work by posting the profiles here, but with extra context detailing the process I followed. Enjoy!