SLY email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-10-09 published
Smooth defenceman got high by winning
Denied National Hockey League stardom, he won Olympic silver and studied on the side
By Tom HAWTHORN, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S9
Darryl SLY never won a Stanley Cup and never held a permanent job in the National Hockey League. His career statistics were uninspiring - 79 games played, one goal, two assists.
A versatile player known as Slippery Sly for his smooth skating, he played professionally for 22 seasons and worked behind the bench as a coach for several more. Over those years, he wore sweaters for towns that no longer exist (Galt, Ontario, now Cambridge) and for teams long defunct (the original Iowa Stars).
Mr. SLY was a valuable asset on any hockey roster. As an amateur, he skated for Canada at the 1960 Winter Olympics (winning a silver medal), and he represented his country at the 1961 world championships (winning gold). As a professional, he helped a powerhouse Rochester Americans squad win three consecutive Calder Cup titles in the mid-1960s.
Originally a forward with a good touch around the net, he was converted into a defenceman whose tenacious play made him a favourite of goaltenders.
With Rochester, he was paired on the ice and in road hotel rooms with a pugnacious defenceman of equal heart but lesser skill: "Darryl SLY carried me for six years, his skating was that good," said Don Cherry, who went on to greater success as a hockey commentator. "Whenever the puck was dumped into our end, I'd say, 'Go get it, Darryl.' "
But success eluded Mr. SLY in hockey's premier league. He played only two games in the pre-expansion National Hockey League and, after the league doubled in teams, he dressed for only 77 games with Toronto, Minnesota and Vancouver.
Darryl Hayward SLY learned his hockey in his hometown, a popular Ontario resort on Georgian Bay. He led the Collingwood Cubs to the Ontario juvenile-A title shortly before his 17th birthday. It would be the first championship of many.
He spent the following three seasons in Toronto at Saint Michael's College School, the Catholic institution that graduated more hockey players than priests. His teammates included Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich. Coached by Rev. David Bauer, the boys were tutored to combine academic achievement with athletic endeavour. Mr. SLY attended teachers college in his final season with the St. Mike's Majors, during which he served as team captain. St. Mike's lost to Peterborough in the junior-A finals.
The National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs offered Mr. SLY a $3,500 salary with a $1,500 signing bonus, an attractive sum on its own, all the more so for a graduating student contemplating a career as a teacher. Instead, he accepted Father Bauer's advice to remain an amateur, playing for the Kitchener-Waterloo (Ont.) Dutchmen, a senior team.
The Dutchies were coached by Bill Durnan, the former Montreal Canadiens goaltender, but he quit after a losing streak. Bobby Bauer, an National Hockey League star and the brother of Father Bauer, was reluctantly pressed into service.
The Dutchmen were chosen to represent Canada at the Olympics after the Allan Cup-winning Whitby (Ont.) Dunlops declined. The Dunlops bolstered the Dutchies' lineup by contributing a forward line and defenceman Harry Sinden, who would be named captain of the Olympic squad.
The team travelled by bus for two weeks, playing exhibitions across Western Canada before arriving at Squaw Valley, California.
His lone goal in the Olympic tournament came when he opened the scoring against Czechoslovakia, a tally that would be the game-winner as Canada posted a 4-0 victory. He also earned an assist.
The team's hopes for a gold medal diminished when the U.S. team, cheered on by 8,000 partisans, scored a 2-1 upset. The decisive goal was scored by Paul Johnson, who was being covered on the play by Mr. SLY.
The Americans went on to strike gold and the Canadians had to make do with silver.
Mr. SLY played for the Galt Terriers the following season, a team formed from the remnants of the Dutchmen. The team nearly folded at Christmas, struggling in last place. Midway through the season, Mr. SLY was invited to temporarily join the Trail (B.C.) Smoke Eaters. The club had been chosen to represent Canada at the world championships in Switzerland.
Granted a three-month leave from his job as a teacher in Elmira, Ontario, Mr. SLY began an odyssey that saw him travel to British Columbia for a few games before flying back through Toronto on his way to Europe.
The Smoke Eaters went undefeated in the tournament at Geneva, the only blemish a 1-1 tie with the Czechs. The Canadians clinched the championship with a 5-1 victory over the Soviets. Afterward, a reporter found an exhausted Mr. SLY slumped on a bench in the dressing room. He said he was "bushed, but I am about the happiest guy in the world."
After his 10-week hiatus with the Trail team, the world-beating defenceman returned to the Galt blueline. His return was a happy one - he had four goals and six assists in 12 Allan Cup playoff games, helping his team claim the national senior title. An ecstatic home crowd prevented the victors from reaching their dressing room for 20 minutes after the game. The championship came just six weeks after his return from overseas.
Mr. SLY then turned professional with the Rochester Americans, an American Hockey League team that was home for seven seasons. Although playing in a minor league, the Amerks, as they were known, were widely regarded as being strong enough to compete in the six-team National Hockey League.
Rochester won three consecutive Calder Cups as league champs with a roster packed with high-calibre talent, from National Hockey League players winding up their careers to young stars with promising futures. The team also produced future National Hockey League coaches in Mr. Cherry and fellow defenceman Al Arbour.
A Maple Leafs' call-up in December of 1965 lasted just two games, with Mr. SLY assigned penalty-killing duties. It was not an auspicious debut.
Despite his many road trips, Mr. SLY completed English studies at Saint_John Fisher College in Rochester in 1966. Newspapers carried stories on his achievement, so rare was an educated skater. "Darryl Sly," The Globe and Mail noted, "is one hockey player who is improving by degrees."
The doubling of the National Hockey League before the 1967-68 season gave Mr. SLY hope he would be drafted by one of the six new American teams. Instead, he was passed over.
"My chances of making the National Hockey League would have been a lot better. My pay, too," he said while at Toronto's training camp, which, as usual, boasted a surfeit of quality defencemen. He saw limited action in 17 games with the Leafs that season, recording no points.
His rights were transferred to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League after the club purchased the Syracuse franchise.
He took on the role of assistant coach even as he maintained a regular spot on the ice. The Canucks won eight consecutive playoff games to claim the Lester Patrick Cup as league champion.
The National Hockey League's Minnesota North Stars spent $30,000 to pluck Mr. SLY from the Canucks in the 1969 inter-league draft. He scored his lone National Hockey League goal while wearing Minnesota's sweater for 29 games.
He returned to Vancouver the following season, as the new Canucks National Hockey League franchise grabbed him in the expansion draft. He was Vancouver's sixth pick and third defenceman, after Gary Doak and Pat Quinn.
By 1971, he was again playing senior hockey in Ontario as the playing coach of the Barrie Flyers. He led them to four Allan Cup finals in five seasons - losing to Spokane in 1972 and 1976, and to Thunder Bay, Ontario, in 1975. The Flyers took the senior championship by knocking off the Cranbrook (B.C.) Royals in 1974.
In 1973, his old team, the Rochester Americans, asked him to return for a single game to fill a hole on defence. Mr. SLY responded by playing perhaps the greatest game of his career, scoring a goal and adding two assists in a 3-3 tie.
After hanging up his skates at 39, Mr. SLY took up the coaching reins of the amateur Collingwood Shipbuilders, winning an intermediate-A title in 1983 and a senior-A title in 1987.
Mr. SLY was prominent in his hometown as a real-estate developer and owner of the Blue Mountain Chrysler automobile dealership. He was inducted into the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and was an inaugural member of the Amerks Hall of Fame in 1986.
Mr. SLY once told The Globe's Nora McCabe that he enjoyed coaching unpaid players who, like him, simply loved hockey. "Some guys drink and some guys take dope to get high," he said. "Amateur hockey players get high by winning."
Darryl SLY was born April 3, 1939, in Collingwood, Ontario He died of cancer August 28, 2007, in Collingwood. He was 68. He leaves his wife, Sylvia (McCLURE,) a daughter, two sons, five grandchildren and two brothers. He was predeceased by two brothers.
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