GZOWSKI firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2002-12-11 published
The greater glory of a former National Hockey League player turned Flying Father
By Roy MacGREGOR Wednesday, December 11, 2002 -- Print Edition, Page A2
Statistics, they say, don't tell the whole story.
In Les COSTELLO's case, they barely touch it.
The one he picked up yesterday will complete a 74-year run: Feb. 16, 1928, to Dec. 10, 2002.
The National Hockey League record book will say, equally forever: one season, 15 games, two goals, three assists -- but even here the numbers will cover only a small portion of Les COSTELLO's remarkable story.
He played but part of one year after having come up, a scrawny 158-pounder from South Porcupine, Ontario, to join the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1948 Stanley Cup playoffs. Just turned 20, he would score two goals and two assists in only five playoff games to help the Leafs to the Stanley Cup as the best hockey team in the world.
He played with Teeder KENNEDY, Howie MEEKER and Syl APPS, and might have played for years had he not simply packed up his equipment in the spring of 1950 and left for the seminary, certain he would rather be a priest than a player, a young man in search of quite different glory.
Some said he could have been a great one.
Yesterday, when Les COSTELLO died in Toronto -- having been in a coma since falling on the ice a week earlier in a charity hockey game -- they said he had indeed become a great one.
I will not pretend to have known him well. My only acquaintance with him, oddly enough, was on the ice, though he last played in the National Hockey League the year I was born. But twice, once in 1983, and then again a few years ago, I was lucky enough to be on the ice opposite the Flying Fathers, the madcap, charming and yes, highly talented -- hockey team that Reverend Les COSTELLO helped put together in the early 1960s to raise money for charity.
In 1983 that cause was the Jocelyn Lovell Trust Fund. LOVELL, an Olympic cyclist, had been run off the road by a dump truck while training and would never race again. National Hockey League hall-of-famer Ken DRYDEN helped launch a campaign to raise money for the injured athlete and had combined a number of former hockey stars -- among them Gordie HOWE, Andy BATHGATE, Paul HENDERSON, Frank MAHOVLICH and Eddie SHACK -- with some oddball additions that included artist Ken DANBY, lacrosse legend Jack BIONDA, a certain sports media hack and, as coach, broadcaster Peter GZOWSKI.
Contrary to expectations, however, the old hockey greats were not the stars of the game. That belonged, almost exclusively, to Les COSTELLO and his madcap, slapstick hijinks. Perhaps you had to be there but, rest assured, the funniest person on the ice was not Mr. SHACK and the slickest not Mr. BATHGATE. Les COSTELLO might even have been more physical than Mr. HOWE. And just for the record, he did not take the Lord's name in vain during the game. He did, however, use just about every other method of swearing.
What was astonishing about that game was that Les COSTELLO had only recently learned to skate again. A few winters earlier he had become lost in the bush while hunting and lost all but two of his toes to frostbite.
No one remembers the score of that long-ago game, but all who were there remember the good-hearted Costello, his continual laughter, his bag of tricks -- and the cheque for $30,000 he and Ken DRYDEN turned over to Jocelyn LOVELL that night.
They talk about the importance of heart in hockey, but some of those who leave the game behind have even bigger hearts. Les COSTELLO returned to Northern Ontario, where he became a legend of a different sort in Schumacher, close by Timmins and his boyhood home of South Porcupine. He kept up his connections to hockey through younger brother Murray, who played several years in the National Hockey League and later served as president of the Canadian Hockey Association, and also with his Flying Fathers, who became to hockey what the Harlem Globetrotters have always been to basketball.
He was renowned as a priest for his terrible jokes, and insisted on leading off his weekly sermons with one -- at times being less than discretionary in his choice of opener. But if he was unpredictable in behaviour, he was totally predictable in reaction: If anyone needed help, he would be there for them. He set up a mission and gave out food and furniture to those in need. The rectory door at St. Alphonsus was never locked. There was always room at the inn, no matter what a person's faith or lack of faith.
"My philosophy is simple," he once said. "Bring happiness and joy into the lives of everyone you meet.
"Not a bad philosophy, I figure."
Not bad at all.
And, oh yes, one more statistic just to round things out.
Amount raised for charity: $4-million.
G... Names GZ... Names GZO... Names Welcome Home
GZOWSKI - All Categories in OGSPI