Riley hon­ours Bar­ilko’s legacy

‘Hockey play­ers are like a band of broth­ers’

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY DARRELL COLE

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

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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.

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