Sunday 21 April 2013

A Bush Plane, A Fishing Trip & A Hockey Legend

"Bill Barilko disappeared that summer, 
He was on a fishing trip.
The last goal he ever scored,
won the leafs the Cup.
They didn't win another till 1962
The year he was discovered."
(Tragically Hip's "Fifty Mission Cap")

Bill Barilko was the son of Eastern European immigrants who had escaped the oppression of the Nazis during World War II.  They settled in Timmins, Ontario where his dad worked in the mines.  In those days, Timmins youth had two career choices:  either go down to the mines to work or go to the arena to become a hockey player.  Bill dreamed of the latter, but as a child he didn't even know how to skate.  He and his sister used to "play hockey" at home using a ruler and marbles.  They would listen to Foster Hewitt's broadcast from Maple Leaf gardens every Saturday night and imagine they were in the stands.

When Bill reached his teens, he finally learned how to skate.  With hand me down skates he tried out for the minor leagues and signed a deal with a Hollywood team.  But it wasn't long before Bill got the tryout of his life with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1947.  Bill, playing on defence, soon got the reputation of being hard hitting which earned him the nickname "Bashin' Bill".  

Photo courtesy

Bill Barilko racked up victory after victory with the Maple Leafs, bringing home three Stanley Cups by the 1950-51 season.  Toronto was matched up with the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup playoffs that year, only the second time in history.  Both teams played their hearts out and every game went into overtime.  It was during the fifth and deciding game that Barilko really turned it on.  The teams were tied 2-2 as they went into overtime.  The clock ticked minute....two minutes.  At 2:53 "Bashin' Bill" took a pass.  He leaned in for a shot, which he hit with such force, he fell over.  The puck went into the goal, winning the Leafs the game.  Head coach Tommy Ivan and his Leafs sipped from the Stanley Cup that night.  Dick Irwin and his Canadiens went home, defeated.  

Photo courtesy 

Riding a high that Spring and Summer, Barilko tried to enjoy his vacation.  In August, his dentist Henry Hudson invited him on a fishing trip to James Bay.  Dr. Hudson, an amateur pilot, flew them to their destination.  On the way home, the plane crashed without a trace.  Although a crew was dispatched to find the missing plane, its mission was fruitless.

Map courtesy

Eleven years passed by.  Eleven years in which the Toronto Maple Leafs did not win another Stanley Cup.  Then, in 1962, the Leafs won the Cup one more time, this time against the Chicago Black Hawks.  Later that year, a small plane flew over Cochrane, Ontario and spotted the remains of a crash.  Further investigation revealed that it was Bill Barilko and Henry Hudson.  Their remains were brought home and they finally had a proper burial. Barilko's number 5 was permanently retired by the NHL.  And he remains one of the great legends of hockey. 

Photo of plane wreck courtesy

In the 1990's, Gordon Downie of "The Tragically Hip", found a Bill Barilko hockey card in his Fifty Mission Cap (similar to the caps that World War II pilots wore who had flown 50 successful missions) and wrote a song about it.  And the rest is history.  

Hockey card image courtesy

Note:  For more infomation, read Barilko:  Without a Trace by Kevin Shea.

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