We’re at the Skatium, a hockey rink in Fort Myers. It’s a Friday morning in early March, 2010. The dressing room is crowded with old farts getting suited up when a fellow I haven’t seen in 25 years pushes his way through the door.
“Brian, I’m Jim Dorey,” he says, grinning down at me.
“Hell, I know who you are,” I reply. “How could I ever forget Jim Dorey.”
I introduce him to the others, saying, “Guys, this gent set a record for penalties in his first NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens. What was it, Jim, 38 minutes in penalties? I broadcast the game with Bill Hewitt that night on Hockey Night in Canada and I’ll never forget it. You battled all of the tough guys on the Pittsburgh Penguins, one after the other.”
He smiles. “No, it was more than 38 minutes. It was 48 minutes by the time they added up all the five minute fighting penalties, the misconducts and the game misconducts.”
“Holy shit!” someone says.
“Got your skates with you? I ask Jim. “You can play today.”
“Nah, no skates. Maybe another time. I heard you were here and I just stopped by to say hello.”
I feel honoured. He hands me a business card. Dorey and Tolgyesi Insurance Brokers, Kingston, Ontario.
Good—there’s an email address.
We chat briefly about old times and then he is gone.
I drive home thinking of Jim Dorey and how good it was to see him again. I laugh out loud recalling his rookie season and his very first game. He fought about eight Penguins that night and got tossed from the game. He told me once that he sat in the dressing room alone, nursing sore knuckles and shaking his head in disbelief, wondering what the hell he’d done, how he could be so undisciplined, convinced that Punch Imlach was going to send him so far down in the minors he’d never re-surface.
A door swung open but he wouldn’t look up. He cringed when he heard footsteps enter the room. King Clancy, then Imlach. He braced himself for a verbal barrage from Imlach. But it was Clancy who spoke first.
“That’s the kind of fight we like to see,” the King cackled, slapping him on the back. “What a debut!”
“You beat the crap out of couple a Penguins,” chuckled Imlach. “Here’s a hundred bucks. Get the hell out of here before the media comes in.”
He grabbed the money and ran, relieved to know he would be back to fight another day. And the day after that. He rang up 200 penalty minutes in his rookie season and became a fan favourite in Toronto.
In 1971-72, veteran defenseman Tim Horton, a former Leaf but then a Ranger, whispered in manager Emile Francis’ ear. “Get me Dorey from the Leafs. He’ll be my defense partner. You won’t regret it.”
Dorey was traded to New York for an obscure winger–Pierre Jarry, I believe–and donned the Ranger red, white and blue. But only for a game. A single game! The WHA was about to debut and Dorey was offered a bundle to jump leagues. He deserted New York and joined the New England Whalers, more than doubling his Rangers salary. In leaving, he did his former Ranger teammates a huge service, especially the famous GAG (Goal a Game) Line of Rod Gilbert, Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle. And defenemasn Brad Park, of course. Ranger management feared the team’s best players would follow Dorey’s lead and jump leagues. Francis simply couldn’t afford to loose the GAG Line and Park. When Dorey bolted, their salaries jumped more than 100 per cent, moving from less than one hundred thousand a year to two hundred and fifty thousand. All the other Rangers got salary hikes.
Thanks Jim, they must have said. Your stay in Gotham made us all wealthy.
I’ll save some of my favourite Jim Dorey stories for another day.
Next week I’m arranging a hockey luncheon in Naples featuring a select few: Ted Lindsay, John (Goose) MacCormack, a former Leaf and Hab will be there. Both are 84. Minor league scoring star Len Thornson (500 career goals with Fort Wayne) and one or two others are committed. Bill Christian, star of the 1960 U.S Olympic Team, gold medal winners at Squaw Valley sent his regrets. He’ll be back in his home state of Minnesota that day for a hockey function. Dorey says he may be able to join us. What a bonus that will be.