Leonard Patrick "Red" Kelly, CM - Born July 9, 1927 in Simcoe, Ontario - Died May 2, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario was a Canadian ice Hockey defenceman / centre and coach. Kelly is also a former Liberal Member of Parliament.
Kelly attended St. Michael's College School, and played for their teams, The St. Michael's Midgets in 1943-44 where Kelly made the team on the third line, and won the midget championship that year , St. Michael's Buzzers in 1944-45 and won the B championship, and then the St. Michael's Majors from 1945 to 1947. Kelly was encouraged to refine his style by his Majors coach, former Maple Leaf great Joe Primeau, where Kelly helped his St. Michael's Majors win the 1947 Memorial Cup championship.
Although the Majors were usually a talent pipeline for the Maple Leafs, the NHL club passed on Kelly after a scout predicted he would not last 20 games in the NHL.
"They (teams in the NHL) had lists in those days. They could leave you on for a year (but) then they'd have to sign you to something in order to keep you on their list. A lot of the guys on St. Mike's were on the Maple Leafs' list. Some of the boys had been sent there by the Maple Leafs from up North. I wasn't sent there by anybody. The first thing I knew anything was when I was playing Junior B, I got a call from the principal and he said there was a Detroit scout there so would I come down, he'd like to meet with me. So I went down and Carson Cooper -- 'Shovel Shot' Cooper -- was there. He had me on the Detroit list, which I didn't even know, and he wanted me to sign so they could put me on the next list. I was tickled pink that anybody wanted me. I didn't hesitate about signing!"
After winning the Memorial Cup with St. Mike's, Detroit invited Kelly to their training camp in the fall of 1947. "The first training camp I ever went to was the first year. It was in Kitchener-Waterloo. I was slated to go down to Indianapolis or Omaha - one of the farm teams. When training camp ended, they said I was going to Detroit as the fifth defenseman. They had some great defensemen - Bill Quackenbush, Jack Stewart, Leo Reise, Doug McCaig -- so when you're a fifth defenseman in those days, four defensemen played and the fifth one only got in occasionally," smiles Kelly. But fate intervened. "At Christmas-time, Doug McCaig broke his leg and I got to play on a regular basis. They thought I could do the job and when Doug got better, they traded him to Chicago. My partner was Bill Quackenbush. We roomed together on the road. I'm the rookie, so I got to get the cabs and I got to close the window in the morning when it's cold. But it was a great experience playing with those all-star defensemen. You learned a lot right off the bat."
The difficult transition from junior to the NHL was made easier with the assistance of the Red Wings' coach and a grounding in Hockey fundamentals. "I had a coach, Tommy Ivan, who was quite similar to (St. Mike's coach) Joe Primeau in his manner," agrees Red. "Joe was Gentleman Joe and could really teach you. He taught me how to move from forward to defense and how to turn to take the guy coming down against you at thirty miles per hour when you're backing up at ten. You've got to turn and go with him. He showed me how to make that turn. I worked on it. He never shouted, never ranted and raved. He was very quiet. Tommy Ivan didn't teach me the things that Joe did, but Tommy Ivan's manner was much like Joe's. Never shouted. Never ranted and raved. Very quiet but very authoritative too. I was lucky. Tommy knew the systems and he trained you in those systems - how to play your position, where to play. I was lucky to have those kind of coaches. Joe Primeau had trained me very well, like all his players, so when I went to the NHL, I had been taught the things I should have been taught and I didn't have to learn them when I went up there. I never had to play in the minors."
Some of Kelly's lessons were not only what to do on the ice, but how to stay on the ice. "I had a temper. I had red hair," Kelly laughs. "I was the welterweight boxing champ at St. Mike's. I could take care of myself. Joe Primeau taught me you don't win games in the penalty box. You've got to stay on the ice. Players would try to get you off the ice sometimes but you're more valuable to a team when you're on the ice."
That first season, the Red Wings went to the Stanley Cup final, but were defeated by the Maple Leafs. Detroit advanced to the finals again in 1948-49, but again were thwarted by Toronto.
Kelly enjoyed his first of four Stanley Cup championships with Detroit in 1950. That season, Red scored fifteen goals and was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team.
Kelly established himself as one of the league's premier defensemen, and was chosen for a First All-Star berth in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1957, and to the Second All-Star Team in 1956. Detroit was enjoying a renaissance and after capturing the Stanley Cup in 1950, collected the championship again in 1952, 1954 and 1955. In 1956, they were beaten in the final by Montreal, who were embarking on their own dynasty at that point.
After four Stanley Cup championships, eight All-Star selections, a Norris Trophy (the first ever) as best defenseman and three Lady Byng awards, Red was devastated to be traded to the New York Rangers on February 5, 1960. With Kelly went Billy McNeill, while Bill Gadsby and Eddie Shack were ticketed for Detroit. But there was a hitch - both Kelly and McNeill refused to report to New York. "Twelve and a half years in Detroit and then they trade you. I thought I was out of hockey. I retired," admits Kelly. "I thought my Hockey days were over. When I started playing in the league, I thought, 'If you have a ten year career, that's a long career.' I played twelve and a half years and thought, 'That's it. Now I gotta earn a living.' I started to work the next day with a tool company. But Hockey was my whole life. I loved Hockey ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper."
The trade was voided, but Maple Leafs' general manager Punch Imlach asked permission to talk Kelly into renouncing his retirement. In a clandestine meeting, conducted in tandem with assistant GM King Clancy, Red agreed to join the Maple Leafs, and on February 10, Toronto sent Marc Reaume to Detroit to complete the transaction. "When I had the contract talk with Imlach, we talked most of the day and then it went until midnight before we agreed. Nothing was ever said about where I was going to play or anything until after I agreed to come to Toronto. Toronto was playing Montreal the next night. They had to fly my skates in from Detroit for that game. After I signed, I told Punch, 'I've been off skates for ten days or so. I'd hate to make a mistake out there and cause a goal,' and Punch said, 'Red, how would you feel about playing centre?' I said, 'Great! No problem.' I didn't care where I played as long as I was playing hockey. He said, 'If we're going to win the Stanley Cup, we 're going to have to go through Montreal. I need somebody to check Beliveau.' He said, 'How would you feel if I started you against Beliveau?' I just said, 'Fine. Great. Love it!'"
Kelly was delighted with the situation in Toronto. He was going to an organization that dearly wanted him and that had a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup. But Toronto was also his childhood favourite and was located close to his family in Simcoe. "When I went to Toronto, after I agreed to everything with the contract, I was going out the room and (King) Clancy said, 'Red, how would you like to wear Number 4?' I said, 'That'd be great!' Well, he had asked my wife - I didn't know this - when Clancy was trying to reach me, he talked to her (Andra) and he asked her if there was anything he could do for her. She said, 'Yes. You could give my husband Number 4!' I was tickled pink of course. I had the Number 4 for nineteen years." Red continues, "I was really happy to come to Toronto. I played my junior Hockey in Toronto. They had a big crowd the opening night and they really applauded and cheered when I came onto the ice. It made the hair on the back of my head stand up because it was such a great feeling to think that they really welcomed me in Toronto."
In his first season in blue and white, Red and the Leafs went to the finals but lost to Montreal. The next season, they finished second for a second straight season, but Detroit defeated the Maple Leafs in the semi-finals. Kelly's role at centre ice made him not only a versatile performer but an invaluable one, too. The NHL recognized his worth by awarding Kelly the Lady Byng for a fourth time in 1961.
Toronto finally achieved its goal in 1962, collecting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1951. It was a superb year for Kelly, who recalls how busy he was. "I went into politics in '62 because Mike (Lester) Pearson asked me. I was really green; I didn't really have any experience in politics but I thought, 'If I can help get Lester Pearson elected, it'll be great for the country.' I thought, 'Here was twelve years with Detroit and I was gone. I've got to think of my future.' I had to prepare for it. You never knew if it might happen again. I decided to run and got elected in '62 and we won the (Stanley) Cup in '62 and we had a baby in '62." Kelly was elected as Liberal Member of Parliament in the York West region of Toronto, which necessitated flying to Ottawa on a weekly basis. But Red combined Hockey and politics into a highly successful, if not frantic career. "We had another election in '63 because we were a minority government and we defeated (John) Diefenbaker on a vote of confidence. We came back as the government in a minority position in '63 , in which his Progressive Conservative opponent was future NHL agent Alan Eagleson, and we won the Cup again in '63." The pace accelerated that much more in '64. "We won the Cup in '64 and my wife and I had another baby in '64. Conn (named after former Leaf owner, Conn Smythe) was born at the end of January. In the last game (of the Stanley Cup final), I had my knee frozen and I passed out in the shower after the game. They took me to the hospital on a stretcher. Mr. Pearson (the prime minister) was at the game and he came into the dressing room and I didn't even get to see him. I had to be in Ottawa the next day at 2PM so I was down on crutches and didn't get to be part of any of the celebration. Harold Ballard brought the Cup and a couple bottles of champagne and a photographer out to my house and they took a picture of my family around the Cup. I put Conn in the Cup and they took a picture. And the look on Conn's face - he did the whole load in the Cup! Our family always chuckles when they see guys drinking the champagne out of the Cup."
Kelly was thirty-nine years old and in the twilight of his career during the 1966-67 season. That year, the Maple Leafs were loaded with older players - Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk, Allan Stanley, Tim Horton, Marcel Pronovost and George Armstrong to name but a few. It is no coincidence that each has since been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The team battled hard and surprised the Hockey world by defeating the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup. "That was the fourth Cup for us and my eighth," states Kelly proudly. "We were the 'over the hill gang.' We upset Chicago, then Montreal. They offered me a four-year contract to stay and play for the Maple Leafs, but I realized I couldn't do what I used to do. I could skate as fast, I could keep up with the guys -- I was always a good skater, that wasn't the problem. You don't recover quite as fast and who knows - what if a year down the road I couldn't cut it? Well, they said, 'You could be a ticket taker or this or that,' but I thought, 'No, I'd rather go out on top. We had just won and I wanted to go out when I wanted to go out rather when someone tells you you can't cut it anymore."
Red Kelly retired, winning the final NHL game he ever played.
Larry Regan and (Los Angeles owner) Jack Kent Cooke approached Kelly about coaching. They didn't have a rink in L.A. and had to play in Long Beach for so many games before the Forum was ready in February.
Under rookie coach Kelly, Los Angeles did very well in its inaugural season, with a team that featured forwards Eddie Joyal, Bill Flett and Lowell MacDonald, Bill White and Dale Rolfe on defense and old pal Terry Sawchuk in goal. "We split .500 against those old clubs. I was really proud of those guys I coached out there."
Red lasted two seasons in Los Angeles, then joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as head coach from 1969-70 until midway through the 1972-73 season. After being fired, Kelly didn't have to wait long before he was summoned to coach again. "When I was in Pittsburgh, I got a call from Millhaven Penitentiary (in Kingston) from Mr. Ballard," Kelly chuckles. "He was serving time up there. He asked me if I'd be interested in coaching in Toronto. I think I'm the only coach who's been hired by somebody incarcerated!"
Kelly coached the Maple Leafs from the 1973–74 season to 1976–77. The team earned a playoff berth in all four seasons with Kelly as head coach but got eliminated in the quarterfinals each time.Kelly was fired at the end of the 1976-1977 season, ending 30 consecutive years at ice level in the NHL.
In 1,316 regular season games, he scored 281 goals and 542 assists for 823 points. At the time of his retirement, he was seventh all time in career points, fifth in assists, 13th in goals, and second only to Gordie Howe in games played. In 164 playoff games, he scored 33 goals and 59 assists for 92 points.
Kelly coached 742 regular season games during his NHL career of which his team won 278, lost 300 and tied 134. He coached 62 NHL playoff games winning 24 of these.
Kelly is the only player to be part of two of the nine dynasties recognized by the NHL in its history.
Leonard Patrick "Red" Kelly was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.
- First Winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman 1953-54.
- Lady Byng Trophy Winner in 1951, 1953 and 1954 as the NHL's most gentlemanly player
- Named a First Team All-Star on defense in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1957.
- Named a Second Team All-Star on defense in 1950 and 1956.
- Named was engraved on the Stanley Cup in 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955 (with Detroit)
- Named was engraved on the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967 (with Toronto)
- In 1998, he was ranked number 22 on The - Hockey News' list of the 100 greatest Hockey players.
- In 2001, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
- Inducted to the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
In January 2017, Kelly was part of the first group of players to be named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history.