Howie Meeker, right, and wife Leah. (File photo)

Howie Meeker, right, and wife Leah. (File photo)

Canadian hockey and broadcasting legend Howie Meeker dies at age 97

Longtime B.C. resident starred with Toronto Maple Leafs, HNIC

Canadian hockey and broadcasting legend Howie Meeker has died at the age of 97.

Meeker played eight years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1947. He was a member of Toronto teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951. He finished his NHL career with 89 goals and adding 111 assists in 388 regular season and playoff games, adding 377 penalty minutes. He continued to play pro hockey on and off for another 15 years at a variety of levels including the American Hockey League and Newfoundland Senior League, among others.

He spent two years as a Progressive Conservative MP while he played for Toronto. In June 1951, Meeker won the federal by-election in the Ontario riding of Waterloo South but did not seek re-election in the 1953 election.

On January 8, 1947, Meeker became one of 44 players to score five goals or more in one game.

Meeker replaced King Clancy as coach of the Maple Leafs in April 1956. He went 21-34-15 in his one season behind the bench before moving upstairs to become GM the next season.

Meeker is especially well-known to generations of Canadian hockey fans for his turn as an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada. With his familiar calls of “Golly gee” and “keep your stick on the ice” and “stop it right there”, he was both an entertainer and a teacher.

He was the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award winner in 1998 for excellence in hockey broadcasting and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998 as a broadcaster.

“Howie was Howie. And he set the bar, no question about it,” fellow “Hockey Night in Canada” commentator Dick Irvin once said.

Meeker, oft clad in a CBC powder blue jacket, was hard to miss. He was the Don Cherry of his time, although he kept his focus on hockey.

During the ’70s, he offered up drills and tips during his “Howie Meeker Hockey School” sessions on CBC.

He later wrote another book called “Golly Gee — It’s Me: The Howie Meeker Story.” And he never ran short of opinions on how to improve the game he loved.

In 2010, Meeker was named a Member of the Order of Canada and was also inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

He ran hockey schools and camps across Canada and the U.S. for many years, and is beloved in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region on Vancouver Island. Parksville’s hockey arena is named after him.

Born in Kitchener, Ont., Meeker’s childhood entry into hockey was helped by the fact that his father had a Coca-Cola route that employed several NHL players during the summer.

New York Rangers defenceman Ott Heller gave the young Meeker his first hockey stick.

“I’ve had a hockey stick in my hand quite a bit in the last 75 years,” he said in 2002, recalling the memory. “I must have been four or five at that time.”

Meeker played junior hockey for the Stratford Kroehlers and the Brantford Lions before serving in the Second World War during which he was badly injured by a grenade in training.

“I was very lucky to get out of that with as little damage to my leg as what happened, but it blew me up about eight feet,” he recalled.

He missed D-Day because of that.

“A lot of my very close friends didn’t come back,” he told Leafs Insider.

Meeker was also a well-known philanthropist, honoured for more than 40 years of support of Special Olympics by being inducted into the Special Olympics B.C. (SOBC) Hall of Fame.

Whatever his age, Meeker had some advice to give.

In 2015, when he received an honorary doctor of laws at Memorial University’s convocation, he told the students that it was 20 years living in Newfoundland — he left in the mid-70s — that taught him balance in life was essential.

“I hope you young ladies and gentleman have learned how to live by living here in St. John’s or in Newfoundland. Take it with you. Because all work and no play is not very good,” Meeker said to applause.

Meeker followed his own advice.

“If I had been born a multi-millionaire, I’d have paid someone to do what I’ve done all my life,” he said in a 2013 CBC interview.

Meeker had six children with his first wife Grace – they were married for 55 years before she died of cancer. He remarried, living with wife Leah in Parksville, where they were active in fundraising for the B.C. Guide Dog Services.

In his later years, he dutifully watched over the French Creek estuary area, making sure there was no illegal crab or bivalve harvesting ongoing.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

READ MORE: Howie Meeker honoured for work with Special Olympics

READ MORE: Howie Meeker marks Canada Day, Order of Canada

READ MORE: 90 years old, sharp as a tack

– NEWS Staff, with files from Canadian Press

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