Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Kurt Walker is the subject of this week’s Getting To Know. Walker recalls the story of one of the most memorable parties in the history of the Maple Leafs and speaks about a new organization which is helping former players.
Status: NHL defenseman from 1975-83 with Toronto
Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 200 pounds
DOB: June 10, 1954 In: Weymouth, MA Residence: Atlanta, GA.
First Hockey Memory: “It’s interesting, I can remember when I was four years old skating with my mother and father, I had double runners on. Once the ponds would freeze we would go out and skate. I was the first child, my dad played hockey. We would all go out and skate.”
Hockey Inspirations: “I grew up in the Bobby Orr era, I was absolutely amazed at what he could do, he transformed the game. I had the opportunity to play against him – he had been traded to Chicago. In the warm-ups skating by the centerline I felt a tap on my shin pad. I thought to myself, Oh boy, (Keith) Magnuson wants to fight. It was Bobby Orr – he said, ‘Kurt, welcome to the league.’ What an honor that was to me.”
First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: “As a young man I met Pat Quinn. Doug Mohns – played for Boston, had a hockey school. He was the first player I met.”
Greatest Sports Moment(s): “Probably the first shift that I ever played at Maple Leaf Gardens – 17,000 people there, six-million watching on TV. Scoring my first goal against Vancouver, which was on January 21 – and my daughter was born 25 years later on January 21, kind of interesting. And some of the legendary bench-clearing brawls that I started against the Flyers and Red Wings.”
Most Painful Moment: “Traded from Toronto to Los Angeles (’78)…”
Funniest Players Encountered: “Jim McKenny. Probably the funniest player to ever play the game. He could have been a stand-up comedian, he was that funny. He kept the guys loose before the game, he was beautiful.”
Toughest Competitors Encountered: “Back in those days there was a number of them. Stan Jonathan and Terry O’Reilly with the Boston Bruins. Dave Schultz and Bob Kelly with the Flyers. Nick Fotiu of the Rangers. There were a lot of tough players back in the day.”
Favorite NHL Uniforms: “Obviously, I love our uniform – Toronto. But I always loved the Blackhawks. And I actually had the opportunity to – Toronto and Chicago shared a minor league team in Dallas, the Dallas Blackhawks. I was injured and got sent down to Dallas to get in shape and I got to wear the Blackhawks uniform.”
Most Memorable Goal: “My first goal, it was a blast knee high. The goalie was hugging the post and the puck went in between his pad and the post. I think the goalie was Curt Ridley.”
Embarrassing Hockey Memory: “Maybe when I got my nose broken. No one likes to get his nose broken. It was a fight against Bert Wilson. He was the kind of guy you fought and pulled him in close. And I didn’t do that. He had long reach so that first punch he threw, he broke my nose. It happens.”
Strangest Games: “First time I was in Philadelphia, I started a bench-emptying brawl. I was assessed 44 minutes in penalties, which I think was a record for a short time. Darryl Sittler scored six goals and four assists in Boston – a record that still stands. Ian Turnbull scored five goals against the Red Wings in Toronto – he didn’t score a goal in the first period, all the goals came in the second and third periods. I played in those games. Two records that were never broken. I’m proud to have been a part of those games.”
Closest NHL Friend(s): “Two players – Richard Mulhern, played for Atlanta and Toronto. Bobby Sheehan – the first American to break into the NHL. Also, I was one of the first two Americans on the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens.”
Funny Hockey Memory: “Oh boy, a number of them. A lot of funny moments. I remember playing the Bruins. My house was seventeen miles south of the city. I had the idea to invite the team to my house after the game. We had five Cadillacs, my dad had one, my uncle had one and I think three neighbors had a Cadillac. Everybody on the team and the trainers all went to my house, which was not a huge house. We made it a party; every body had beer, wine, lobster, and steak. People in the neighborhood started showing up. It’s still referred to as one of the best all time Maple Leafs parties. Guys got drunk, passed out in the snow banks. One guy went back to the hotel and passed out in the elevator, and was going up and down in the elevator. Now it’s 35 years after and people still remember that party.”
Nicknames: “I was just Walk or Mr. Walker, either one. Nothing fancy.”
People Qualities Most Admired: “I suppose I like anyone who is truthful, willing to stand up for what they believe in. You have to believe in something and you have to stand up and show that. Especially what we’re trying to accomplish today with former players, it’s important to help former players in need. A year and a half ago we started a new association www.playershelpingplayers.com. Jim Dorey, who played for Toronto, came up with the idea. It’s starting to take off.”
Mark “Scoop” Malinowski’s latest book “Facing Nadal: Symposium Of A Champion” is available on Amazon.