MONTREAL – Ray Getliffe, the man credited with dubbing Maurice Richard “The Rocket,” was a hard-hitting forward who slammed NHL opponents on his way to a pair of Stanley Cups.
Getliffe, who played 10 seasons with the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in the 1930s and 40s, died Sunday in London, Ont., at age 94.
He was the second-oldest living NHL alumnus, about four months younger than ex-New York Ranger and Chicago Blackhawk Clint Smith.
Getliffe’s son, John, said his father often recounted stories from his playing days. A favourite was the time he scored five goals for the Habs in 1943 at the Forum against the much-loathed Bruins.
The former left-winger always said the memorable night unfolded after Toe Blake fell ill and he was bumped up to the top line to play with Elmer Lach.
“He felt he could score 40 goals with a broom if he was playing with Elmer Lach,” John Getliffe told The Canadian Press on Monday.
The following night the teams met again at the Boston Garden, where a fan tried to throw the former Bruin off his game.
“While they were waiting for the anthem everybody had quieted down and some leather lung in the top row yelled, ‘Getliffe, you can score five more tonight and you’ll still be a bum,’ ” he said.
John Getliffe said his father felt he was fortunate to play the game for a decade.
“He enjoyed it all, it was a great experience and he always said if he had to do it all again, he’d do exactly the same thing,” recalled John.
At five foot 11 and 190 pounds, Getliffe was considered a big winger, his son said.
“His forte was body checking,” he said.
The Galt, Ont. native played from 1935-36 to 1944-45 and retired at age 31.
He had 136 goals and 250 points in 393 games and won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 1939 and again as a Hab in 1944.
But his best-known contribution to hockey lore may have been the moniker he is credited with giving to a young Canadiens teammate in 1942.
“I was sitting on the bench during a practice with Murph Chamberlain and Phil Watson,” Getliffe told the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Stanley Cup Journal three years ago. “(Elmer) Lach was on the ice with Richard and fed him a lovely pass.
“Richard got the puck and took off. I leaned over to Murph and said, ‘Wow, Richard took off like a rocket!’ Dink Carroll, he was a sportswriter with the (Montreal) Gazette, heard me and the next day in the paper wrote something about Richard skating like a rocket.
“It wasn’t too long after that Dink was using the nickname ‘The Rocket’ when he was writing about Maurice Richard.”
After retiring from the NHL, Getliffe officiated hockey and lacrosse and enjoyed a long, successful business career. He also found time to hone his impressive golf skills.
“My dad was very keen in golf and played golf longer than he ever played hockey,” John Getliffe said. “He loved his golf.”
He won numerous provincial tournaments and even played in the Canadian Open.
His son said Getliffe could regularly be found on the course until he was “92 and-a-half,” even though he was legally blind in his later years.
“There was no quit in him, he just kept on rolling,” John said.”We’re all very proud of what he did.”
In 2005, during the NHL lockout, the city of London held “Ray Day” in Getliffe’s honour.
Getliffe rode through town atop an antique fire truck, a perch he shared with the Stanley Cup.
John Getliffe said when his father was in the NHL, players did not get a day with the Cup as they do now.
“It was a spectacular day, he enjoyed it thoroughly,” he said.
Getliffe was married to his wife Lorna, 95, for 74 years. He also leaves behind seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.