‘Red’s a great am­bas­sador’

Kelly one of many sym­bols of Leafs’ long con­nec­tion to mil­i­tary

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - SPORTS - JOSHUA CLIP­PER­TON

TORONTO — Red Kelly did his part to sup­port Cana­dian forces over­seas dur­ing the Sec­ond World War by work­ing on the fam­ily farm when he wasn’t play­ing hockey.

Just 12 years old when hos­til­i­ties broke out in 1939, Kelly won­ders to this day what might have been had the con­flict stretched be­yond 1945.

“We got a plaque for con­tribut­ing to the war with the food,” the 91-year-old Hall of Famer re­called. “I was too young (to fight).

“If it had gone on an­other year or two, it might have been dif­fer­ent.”

Kelly, whose NHL ca­reer started in 1947 and stretched 20 sea­sons with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, later trav­elled to visit sol­diers serv­ing in the Korean War, even pro­vid­ing an in-per­son film nar­ra­tion of one of Detroit’s Stan­ley Cup vic­to­ries.

“I spent some time with them,” Kelly said. “Sleep­ing in the tents out there — five blan­kets over top of you and four un­der­neath — it got pretty cold at night.”

Traded to Toronto dur­ing the 1959-60 cam­paign, Kelly joined a group of fel­low alumni and cur­rent play­ers at the city’s Sun­ny­brook Vet­er­ans Cen­tre this week ahead of Sun­day’s Re­mem­brance Day that will mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War.

The de­fence­man/cen- tre, for­mer coach and mem­ber of Par­lia­ment even re­con­nected with a Korean War vet at Sun­ny­brook who re­mem­bered his visit to see the troops.

Kelly sat with vets in wheel­chairs and their fam­i­lies, signed au­to­graphs, told sto­ries and posed for pic­tures.

“It’s fab­u­lous to see all these peo­ple,” said the eight-time Cup win­ner from Sim­coe, Ont. “(What) they did for you dur­ing the war, they fought for your coun­try, they went through all kinds of con­di­tions.

“I got to see some of it, but I didn’t have to go through it.”

Some of Toronto’s cur­rent play­ers mar­velled that Kelly still makes time to visit vet­er­ans.

“He’s a leg­end,” winger Con­nor Brown said. “He was my grandpa’s favourite. It’s pretty cool. For him to give his time at 91 is pretty spe­cial.”

While many pro­fes­sional sports teams visit hospi­tals and hold mil­i­tary ap­pre­ci­a­tion nights, the Leafs’ his­tory with the armed ser­vices stretches back to the fran­chise’s early days.

Conn Smythe bought the club in 1927 and changed its name from the St. Pa­tricks to the Maple Leafs as a nod to his First World War reg­i­ment’s in­signia.

“I heard that story a few years ago and found it pretty re­mark­able,” Toronto cen­tre Nazem Kadri said. “It just goes to show you the tra­di­tion of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the con­nec­tion with mil­i­tary and that re­la­tion­ship they’ve had.”

Smythe, who served as coach un­til 1931 and gen­eral man­ager un­til 1957, en­listed again in the Sec­ond World War in his mid40s, but was wounded and even­tu­ally sent home on a hos­pi­tal ship.

“Conn Smythe was the ul­ti­mate monar­chist,” Toronto his­to­rian Paul Patskou said. “We served in two World Wars. He made sure that his play­ers also en­listed in one way or an­other.

“He took care of the sol­diers af­ter the war. Just an amaz­ing man.”

Hall of Fame goalie Johnny Bower, who died last De­cem­ber at 93, lied about his age and en­listed at just 16 to fight in the Sec­ond World War be­fore his ca­reer with the Leafs even got started, while cen­tre Syl Apps put his play­ing days on hold to serve — just two ex­am­ples of the Toronto play­ers and fel­low NHLers that signed up.

The Leafs and their alumni were at Sun­ny­brook to help with “Op­er­a­tion Raise a Flag,” which en­cour­ages mes­sages of thanks and do­na­tions to sup­port the 475 vet­er­ans liv­ing at the fa­cil­ity.

“They ’ve made a lot of sac­ri­fices for us to be able to live freely,” Kadri said. “You start to un­der­stand as time goes on not to take life for granted. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for us to come out and show our re­spect.”

“The tra­di­tion has al­ways moved for­ward,” for­mer Leafs star Dar­ryl Sit­tler added. “I re­spect those guys that fought in the First World War and the Sec­ond World War where they left the game to go fight for their coun­try.

“The re­spect and the ap­pre­ci­a­tion, it’s im­por­tant to keep it go­ing.”

And like the play­ers cur­rently wear­ing blue and white for Toronto, the 68-year-old Sit­tler is blown away by Kelly’s con­tin­ued pres­ence at these events.

“Red’s a great am­bas­sador,” he said. “I watched Red as a player, had him as a coach, watched him as a politi­cian and as man of in­tegrity in the com­mu­nity.

“We can all learn from peo­ple like him.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Maple Leafs great Leonard (Red) Kelly was a teenager dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Kelly did his part to sup­port Cana­dian forces over­seas by work­ing on the fam­ily farm when he wasn’t play­ing hockey. “We got a plaque for con­tribut­ing to the war with the food,” the 91-year-old Hall of Famer re­calls. “I was too young (to fight).”

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