May 182010
 

Jerry Toppazinni

On the golf course Jerry Toppazinni is a delightful companion. Over 18 holes in a charity tournament in Toronto he has lots of time to talk hockey–and his career with the Bruins (from 1952-53 through 1963-64).

“Did you know the Bruins’ Alumni honored me at their golf tournament in New Hampshire one summer?” he says. “All the old Bruins pick one guy who they feel represented what a Bruin should be. It felt good when Milt Schmidt, a man I’d played with, a man who’d coached me, came across the room and shook my hand. ‘Jerry, you really deserved it,’ he said. ‘You were one of the most honest players I ever worked with.”

“Did you have to make a speech?” I ask.

He laughs. “No way. They knew if they asked me to speak they’d never get me to sit down.”

“Jerry, you never won a Stanley Cup ring, did you?”

“No, but there’s an Englishman who may think I did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Henri Richard and I were playing golf one day with a businessman from London, England. He didn’t know that Henri Richard had won 11 Stanley Cups with Montreal. In fact, he didn’t know much about hockey at all. On one hole he said to me, ‘Jerry, how many Stanley Cup teams did you play on?’ And I said to him, ‘Well, between Henri Richard and myself, it was eleven.’”

Then he tells me a story that’s a complete surprise.

“I’m at the NHL meetings in Montreal one summer–it was 1973–and I don’t have a job in hockey. But I’m hoping for something. The Bruins at the time were trying to hire Don Cherry as their new coach. But Cherry was reluctant to move to Boston. He owned 25% of the Rochester franchise and he’s really popular there.

“So I get a call from Lynn Patrick, who was then general manager in St. Louis. He says, ‘Listen, Jerry. It’s obvious Cherry is not going to Boston. You’d be ideal for that job. I spoke to Harry (Sinden) about you. Are you interested in coaching the Bruins?’ I said, ‘You kidding? Of course I’m interested.’

“So Lynn calls Sinden and I get word that Harry wants to see me. I meet with Harry and he tells me Cherry isn’t taking the job, that he wants me to take it. He tells me not to say a word to anybody about the job for a couple of days. He tells me he’ll meet me in his office back in Boston. ‘We’ll work out all the details then,’ he says. ‘We’ll arrange a press conference and you’ll be the next coach of the Boston Bruins.’

“Boy, was I happy. Wow! Coach of the Bruins. Thank you very much, Harry.

“That night we go out for some drinks. Don Cherry was in the group and I start telling him how stupid he was not to take the Boston job. Hey, what do I care now that Harry’s chosen me for the position. The more we drink the more I tell him what a dummy he is to stay in Rochester.”

“I was living in Springfield then and the next morning I’m driving back home with my friend Walt Atanas. At noon we stop at some roadside joint and go inside for a bite to eat. Over coffee Walt says, ‘Jerry, I’m worried about you. No job, no prospects. I wish I could help you land something for the winter.’

“Of course I hadn’t told Walt about my conversation with Harry. I’d promised not to breathe a word of it. I just grinned and said, ‘Walt, don’t worry about old Topper. I always land on my feet. I’m going to be just fine. You’re going to be reading a lot about me in the next few days.’”

“I was about to order a sandwich when I looked up at the TV set on the wall and there was a sports bulletin. The announcer says, ‘Don Cherry has just signed a contract to coach the Boston Bruins.’

“Well, s… I turned to Walter and I said, ‘Walter, on the other hand, I might be able to use all the help I can get this winter.’

“And that’s a true story.”

When I stop laughing, I ask Jerry if there was a single performance as a Bruin that stands out in his memory.

He grins. “Well, not many people know this but I’m the only player in history to score four goals in a game—one that ended in a 2-2 tie.”

“What?”

He begins to laugh. “One night I scored two goals against Montreal and two goals against my own team. The last two were accidental of course. But that’s one helluva record, isn’t it?’

  One Response to “Talking with Topper”

  1. Topper… what a great Bruin alumni… in the summer of ’87 this die-hard Bruin fan landed in a northern Ontario town for a wedding. A local hears I am a Bruin fan and he says you should check out this restaurant… owned by a retired Bruin “Toppa-something-or-other”. I can’t believe it. I head over unannounced and hope that I can have a cold pint and shake the hand of Topper. Enter the bar and there he is. Nervously, I introduce myself, tell him I am a fan… and it was like I was a long lost friend… the conversation quickly moves towards “playing days” and Topper says “Lets go to my office”. Off we go and boxes of stuff come out… clippings, letters, etc.. Well after more than an hour I have to excuse myself, I ask if I could have my picture taken with him outside by the “B” logo… he says “Sure, but just one sec.” Topper picks up the phone and dials a number “Hello Leo… I am with a great Bruin fan here… I want you to meet him on Sunday when he he is passing through your town.” Topper hangs up the phone and says “Paul on your way home you will stop at this address and meet with Leo Labine”. I am stunned. That Sunday I pull up at the address and there is another Bruin legend waiting to receive me… off to the family room we go… and the boxes of fond memories appear. Incredible.

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