Riley honours Barilko’s legacy
‘Hockey players are like a band of brothers’
Hockey players are like a band of brothers. When one’s in need, others will reach out to help.
So when former NHLer Bill Riley saw a segment on Bill Barilko during a recent Hockey Night in Canada broadcast and saw the condition of his grave he knew he had to do something to make it right.
Barilko was 24 when he was killed in a plane crash in northern Ontario in 1951, four months after he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His body wasn’t recovered until 1962 near Cochrane, Ont. — the first time the Leafs won the cup since Barilko’s disappearance.
“There’s a brotherhood among us former players and there are times in our lives when we all need a little help and guidance and what I saw there was a brother who needed a hand,” said Riley, who played in the NHL with the Washington Capitals from 1976-79. “I always had this believe that I would never ask anyone do anything for me that I wouldn’t do for them. I felt this is something I had to do.
“As soon as I saw that gravestone I knew I had to clean it up, even if I had
to drive there to do it myself and then I realized my daughter, Tracey, lives in Timmins.”
At first, Tracey Riley thought his father had lost his mind when he called her and asked her to find Barilko’s headstone.
“I wondered ‘what is this man up to now?’” she said. “When he called he was really emotional, I could hear it in his voice. There was no way I could say no.”
Tracey, who moved to Timmins last year, learned about Barilko’s story from a Rogers Hometown Hockey segment filmed in the community.
“I geared myself up with some cleaning supplies, rubber gloves and a brush and off I went. I found a map of the cemetery and found his grave. I have to admit I was feeling really weird because I didn’t know him, but when I got there I knew exactly what he was talking about because the headstone was covered in moss,” she said. “As I sat down to clean it I couldn’t help but feel pride for what my father wanted done and I have to admit that I found myself talking to him (Barilko). It made sense to me because I’m sure my dad was thinking when it’s his turn, who’s going to look after his headstone.”
After cleaning Barilko’s headstone, she also cleaned the adjacent gravesites of his parents. She’s not sure if Barilko has family in Timmins.
Riley said he’s always been a huge fan of The Tragically Hip and grew up a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is also knows the song “50 Mission Cap” almost word for word. The song, released in 1993, tells the story of Barilko, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951 and was killed in a plane crash a little over four months later at age 24.
His body was not found until 1962, when the Leafs again won the cup – the first since Barilko’s death.
“In a way Bill Barilko was like me. He played a hard-nosed style of hockey in the winter and in the summer he grabbed the fishing pole and went fishing,” Riley said. “I felt it was something I had to do for a fellow hockey player.”
Barilko also reminded Riley of his son, Billy Jr., who was killed in a motor vehicle accident in 2011 in Moncton. He was 35.
“They were so much alike. He was a young curly-haired fellow so full of life. He was living the dream of playing in the National Hockey League and fishing and unfortunately his plane went down and it took a long time for them to find him,” Riley said. “For Billy Jr., he was the same in many ways. He was so passionate about hockey when he played and he was so young and so full of life. But that was all taken away from him, just like Bill Barilko. ”5XJUUFS
Tracey Riley sits in front of Bill Barilko’s headstone in Timmins, Ont. On Thursday she cleaned Barilko’s headstone at the request of her father, Bill Riley.