Russ Conway, who received the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1999 and was a 1992 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his work in exposing the criminal conduct of former NHL Players’ Association executive director Alan Eagleson, has passed away at 70.
“He was the most dogged journalist that you could ever find,” said Peter Caruso, Conway’s longtime friend and attorney, who announced the death of the veteran journalist on Tuesday. “To a fault, he was particular, he was thorough and he was the classic journalist who would leave no stone unturned.”
Conway’s reporting into Eagleson’s actions as boss of the players’ union, which began shortly after the 20-year reunion of the 1970 Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins, uncovered the corrupt dealings of the now-disgraced player agent. According to an excerpt of D’Arcy Jenish’s The NHL: A Centennial History published in the National Post, Conway’s investigation spanned more than 15 months and saw him interview upwards of 200 individuals, make some 1,600 phone calls and comb through more than 150 documents. Fellow Ferguson Award-winning journalist Michael Farber wrote in a February 1996 Sports Illustrated feature that Conway developed sources not only inside the NHL front office and throughout the league, but also inside Eagleson’s law office in Toronto.
Conway began to reveal his findings in a series titled Cracking the Ice: Intrigue and Conflict in the World of Big-Time Hockey, alleging that Eagleson had embezzled money and defrauded players. The series, which earned Conway a Pulitzer Prize nomination, led to investigations into Eagleson’s conduct by the FBI and RCMP. In 1994, the FBI charged Eagleson with racketeering, obstruction of justice, embezzlement and fraud, while the RCMP charged him with fraud and theft. In January 1998, Eagleson agreed to a deal that saw him plead guilty to three counts of mail fraud in the United States and accept an 18-month sentence for similar charges in Canada. He served sixth months in a Toronto prison.
As a result of the charges and plea, Eagleson, who had been a member of parliament in Ontario for several years, was disbarred in Canada, removed from the Order of Canada, to which he had been named for his work in hockey, and resigned from the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had been elected to the Hall in 1989 in the builder category.
“That was the highlight of (Conway’s) career,” Caruso said. “He was proud to have all the retired hockey players get their pensions. Russ is really a legend in the hockey world and hockey history.”
Conway, who passed away at his home in Haverhill, Mass., where he had spent his career with The Eagle-Tribune, was also an auto-racing enthusiast and inducted into the New England Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.
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