Gilbert, Walter Gretzky, Robert among deaths in hockey world in 2021


Here’s a look at some of those in the hockey world who died during the year, in chronological order:

John Muckler

Jan. 4 (age 86)

An NHL coach and executive, Muckler was part of the Edmonton Oilers teams that won the Stanley Cup five times from 1984-90, first as an assistant under Glen Sather in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. A year after Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 8, 1988, and with Sather choosing to focus on his general manager duties, Muckler guided the Oilers to their fifth championship in 1990, his first of two seasons as coach. He was 75-65 with 20 ties from 1989-91 before leaving to become director of hockey operations for the Buffalo Sabres. Muckler went on to coach the Sabres and New York Rangers, and as Ottawa Senators GM helped build the team that made it to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.

George Armstrong

Jan. 24 (age 90)

The Hockey Hall of Fame forward helped the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup four times in the 1960s and was one of the first players of Indigenous descent to play professional hockey. He played all 21 of his NHL seasons for the Maple Leafs, 12 as their captain, is one of the One Hundred Greatest Maple Leafs, had his No. 10 retired by Toronto, and is a member of Legends Row. Armstrong ended his NHL career owning Maple Leafs records for seasons and games played (1,188), during which he scored 713 points (296 goals, 417 assists). He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.

Ralph Backstrom

Feb. 7 (age 83)

The center was a six-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens who scored 639 points (278 goals, 361 assists) in 1,032 NHL games for the Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Black Hawks between 1956-57 and 1972-73. He won the 1959 Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year and would become Montreal’s No. 3 center behind Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard. 

Walter Gretzky

March 4 (age 82)

The father of Wayne Gretzky was affectionately known as “Canada’s Hockey Dad” and the most famous father in hockey history. Wayne was 7 months old when Walter and his wife, Phyllis, bought a home in Brantford, Ontario. It was in the backyard that Walter built the legendary rink where he would school Wayne on the fundamentals of hockey, his son having learned to skate about 12 miles away on the Nith River at his grandmother’s farm. Walter was close to every step of his son’s career, from his days as a minor hockey phenom through his professional debut in the World Hockey Association and into the NHL, where he won the Stanley Cup four times with the Edmonton Oilers, played for the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Rangers; and owns NHL records for most regular-season goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857). 

Video: Remembering the Great One’s father, Walter Gretzky

Mark Pavelich

March 4 (age 63)

The forward was part of the “Miracle on Ice” gold medal-winning men’s hockey team for the United States at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Pavelich scored seven points (one goal, six assists) in seven games. He had two assists, including one on Mike Eruzione’s game-winning goal, in the famed 4-3 win against the Soviet Union in the semifinals. He played seven NHL seasons, scoring 329 points (137 goals, 192 assists) in 355 games for the Rangers, Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks. His first four seasons were with the Rangers under Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 Olympic team. 

Bob Plager

March 24 (age 78)

An original member of the Blues, the defenseman became a fan favorite for his physical style of play and the many roles he filled with the team after retirement. The last surviving member of the three Plager brothers, all of whom helped define the early years of the franchise that entered the NHL in 1967, Bob is 10th in Blues history with 616 games played and 762 penalty minutes. He retired in 1978 having played 645 NHL games for the Rangers and Blues, and scoring 146 points (20 goals, 126 assists) with 800 penalty minutes. Plager was a large part of why the Blues went to the Stanley Cup Final their first three seasons, swept in 1968 and 1969 by the Canadiens, then in 1970 by the Boston Bruins, and his No. 5 is one of seven retired by St. Louis. He was named their 16th coach May 1, 1992, coaching them for 11 games (4-6 with one tie) to start the 1992-93 season.

Bobby Schmautz

March 28 (age 76)

The forward is best known for the overtime goal he scored for the Bruins in Game 4 of the 1978 Stanley Cup Final. The goal against goalie Ken Dryden at 6:22 of overtime gave the Bruins a 4-3 victory against the Canadiens at Boston Garden on May 21, 1978 to tie the best-of-7 series before Montreal won the Cup in six games. Schmautz began his NHL career in 1967-68 with the Chicago Black Hawks but came to prominence after he joined the expansion Vancouver Canucks in 1970-71. He scored 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 86 games in his first two seasons before a breakout season in 1972-73, when he led Vancouver with 71 points (38 goals, 33 assists) and 137 penalty minutes in 77 games. Schmautz was traded to the Bruins for forwards Fred O’Donnell, Chris Oddleifson and Mike Walton on Feb. 7, 1974. He scored at least 20 goals and had at least 62 penalty minutes in each of his five full seasons with Boston.

Johnny Peirson

April 16 (age 95)

The forward played his entire 11-season NHL career for the Bruins and scored 20 goals four times, including NHL career highs of 27 goals and 52 points in 1949-50. He helped Boston reach the Stanley Cup Final three times (1952-53, 1956-57, 1957-58), was a two-time NHL All Star (1950, 1951) and scored 326 points (153 goals, 173 assists) in 544 games. Peirson became a color commentator for the Bruins after his playing career and teamed with Fred Cusick to cover the teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972.

Miroslav Frycer

April 27 (age 61)

After Frycer played for Czechoslovakia at the 1980 Olympics, he played eight NHL seasons as a forward for the Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers. He scored a hat trick in his second NHL game for the Nordiques, a 6-4 win against the Maple Leafs on Oct. 17, 1981 and was traded to Toronto on March 9, 1982. Frycer scored at least 20 goals in his first three NHL seasons and led the Maple Leafs with 75 points (32 goals, 43 assists) in 1985-86. 

Gilles Lupien

May 18 (age 67)

Lupien played five NHL seasons for the Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers, and won the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1978 and 1979. He became an agent when he retired following the 1981-82 season, and represented NHL players including Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Steve Bernier, Corey Crawford and Sean Couturier. Lupien later owned Longueuil and Victoriaville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Tom Kurvers

June 21 (age 58)

The former NHL defenseman was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2019 despite not being a smoker. He had been assistant general manager of the Minnesota Wild since July 17, 2018, worked with the A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation for lung cancer awareness since his diagnosis, and ran in the 10K A Breath of Hope Lung Run/Walk Twin Cities in 2019, raising more than $100,000. Kurvers won the Hobey Baker Award given to the top men’s player in NCAA Division I ice hockey in 1984, when he scored 76 points (18 goals, 58 assists) in 43 games as a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He won the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1986, and scored 421 points (93 goals, 328 assists) in 659 NHL games for the Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders, Canucks, Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and Canadiens. Kurvers was a radio analyst, pro scout and director of player personnel for the Phoenix Coyotes, and assistant general manager, GM and senior adviser of the Tampa Bay Lightning before joining the Wild.

Rene Robert

June 22 (age 72)

Robert was best known as the right wing of the “French Connection” line for the Sabres during the 1970s. He skated with center Gilbert Perreault and left wing Richard Martin, and helped the Sabres reach the 1975 Stanley Cup Final in their fifth NHL season, when they lost in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers. That season Robert scored an NHL career-high 100 points (40 goals, 60 assists) and was named Sabres MVP. He scored 702 points (284 goals, 418 assists) in 744 NHL games for the Maple Leafs, Penguins, Sabres and Colorado Rockies, scoring 40 goals twice (1972-73, 1974-75). His most famous goal gave Buffalo a 5-4 win at 18:29 of overtime in Game 3 of the Final, one that featured several delays to skate off a fog that shrouded the ice, a bat circling the rink that caused a few additional delays, and a fan who tried to pick a fight with Flyers forward Dave Schultz.

Matiss Kivlenieks

July 4 (age 24)

The Columbus Blue Jackets goalie prospect died in an accident during a celebration in Michigan following the wedding of goaltending coach Manny Legace’s daughter, Sabrina. Kivlenieks worked his way up from Kalamazoo of the ECHL and Cleveland of the American Hockey League to make his NHL debut against the New York Rangers, a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19, 2020. He was 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in eight NHL games (six starts). Kivlenieks played for Latvia at the 2021 IIHF World Championship and was 1-1-2 with a 2.18 GAA, .922 save percentage and one shutout in four games.

Video: ARI@CBJ: Kivlenieks was honored before tonights game

Bryan “Bugsy” Watson

July 8 (age 78)

The defenseman played 877 NHL games for the Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Oakland Seals, Penguins, Blues and Washington Capitals in 16 seasons from 1963-79. He scored 152 points (17 goals, 135 assists) and had 2,214 penalty minutes, most in NHL history when he played his final game. He coached Gretzky with the Oilers in 1980-81, their second season in the NHL, and was 4-9-5 before being replaced by general manager Glen Sather.

Tony Esposito

Aug. 10 (age 78)

Esposito earned a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame with his brother, Phil Esposito, by winning more than 400 games with the Black Hawks and having perhaps the greatest season of any rookie goalie in NHL history. “Tony O” became an instant hit in Chicago by going 38-17 with eight ties, a 2.17 GAA and 15 shutouts, still the modern-day, single season record for an NHL goalie. He was voted winner of the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year, and the Vezina Trophy as best goalie for helping Chicago allow the fewest goals, and joined Phil, a center with the Bruins, as NHL First-Team All-Stars. He helped the Black Hawks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1971 and 1973, losing to the Canadiens each time. Esposito won the Vezina two more times (1971-72 and 1973-74), was 423-306 with 152 ties, a 2.93 GAA and 76 shutouts, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, four years after his brother. The Blackhawks retired his No. 35 on Nov. 20, 1988, then honored him again on March 19, 2008, by staging “Tony Esposito Night,” when was named a team ambassador.

Video: NHL Network remembers Tony Esposito

Rod Gilbert

Aug. 22 (age 80)

The Hall of Fame member played his entire 18-season NHL career for the Rangers, scoring 1,021 points (406 goals, 615 assists) in 1,065 regular-season games and 67 points (34 goals, 33 assists) in 79 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He ranks first in Rangers history in goals and points, is second in assists and third in games played. “Mr. Ranger” had back-to-back 77-point seasons in 1967-68 and 1968-69, then scored 30 goals for the first time in 1970-71. His breakout season came in 1971-72, when he joined Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield to form the “GAG (Goal-A-Game) Line.” Gilbert finished with 43 goals and 97 points and helped the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final, a six-game loss to the Bruins. He was the first player in Rangers history to have his number retired when his No. 7 went up the Garden rafters Oct. 14, 1979. Three years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Video: NHL Network remembers the legacy of Rod Gilbert

Jimmy Hayes

Aug. 23 (age 31)

Hayes played seven NHL seasons for four teams, scoring 109 points (54 goals, 55 assists) in 334 regular-season games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Bruins and New Jersey Devils. He helped Boston College win its second straight NCAA Division I championship in 2008, scoring 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 42 games as a sophomore, including an assist in a 5-0 win against Wisconsin in the title game. Among his teammates were Rangers forward Chris Kreider, Flyers forward Cam Atkinson and Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin. Hayes’ younger brother, Kevin Hayes, is a center for the Flyers. They were teammates at Boston College for the 2010-11 season. He was the cousin of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk and Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk

Video: NHL Tonight discusses Jimmy Hayes’ passing

Fred Stanfield

Sept. 13 (age 77)

Nicknamed “Steady Freddy” by Bruins fans, Stanfield scored at least 20 goals in six consecutive seasons. He skated between Johnny Bucyk and John McKenzie on Boston’s second line of the early 1970s, winning the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972, and scoring 616 points (211 goals, 405 assists) with 134 penalty minutes in 914 games in 14 NHL seasons. Stanfield scored 56 points (21 goals, 35 assists) in 106 playoff games, with 16 points in each of the Bruins’ two championship runs.

Lou Angotti

Sept. 16 (age 83)

Angotti was the first captain of the Flyers who played 10 NHL seasons and twice in the Stanley Cup Final for the Black Hawks (1971, 1973). The forward was named captain of the expansion Flyers after he was selected from Chicago in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft. He scored an NHL career-high 49 points (12 goals, 37 assists) to help Philadelphia win the West Division before losing to the Blues in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals. Angotti became a player-coach for the Blues after Jean-Guy Talbot was fired with 23 games remaining in the 1973-74 season. Angotti was fired nine games into 1974-75 (2-5-2) and went to the World Hockey Association to play 26 games for the Chicago Cougars. He returned to the NHL as Penguins coach in 1983-84 (16-58-6). The Toronto native is one of three Black Hawks with a four-point game in the Final (Stan Mikita, Game 5, 1973; Dustin Byfuglien, Game 5, 2010), scoring two goals with two assists in a 5-3 victory in Game 2 of the 1971 series. He scored 289 points (103 goals, 186 assists) in 653 regular-season games and 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 65 postseason games.

Leo Boivin

Oct. 16 (age 90)

The Hockey Hall of Famer was one of the hardest-hitting defensemen in the NHL throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and captain of the Bruins from 1963-66. Boivin finished his NHL career with 322 points (72 goals, 250 assists) in 1,150 games through 19 seasons and 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 54 playoff games. He remained active in hockey for many years after his retirement as a player, mostly as a scout, although he twice coached the Blues for brief stints. He worked with the Blues for a decade, then moved on to the Hartford Whalers before retiring in 1993.

Curt Ridley

Dec. 19 (age 70)

Ridley was a goalie who went 27-47-16 with a 3.88 goals-against average, .872 save percentage and one shutout in 104 NHL games for the Rangers, Canucks and Maple Leafs. He played two seasons for Portage of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and was the first player selected directly from Tier II Junior A when the Boston Bruins chose him in the second round (No. 28) of the 1971 NHL Draft.

Bob McCammon

Dec. 23 (age 80)

McCammon was 221-224-67 (ties) in eight seasons as an NHL coach, four each with the Flyers (1978-79, 1981-84) and Canucks (1987-91), and was voted runner-up for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year with Vancouver in 1988-89, behind Pat Burns of the Montreal Canadiens. He also was general manager of the Flyers in 1983-84, director of player development for the Edmonton Oilers when they won the Stanley Cup in 1987 and a scout for the Detroit Red Wings when they won the Cup in 2002 and 2008. McCammon played 11 seasons as a forward for Port Huron of the International Hockey League (1962-73). He also won back-to-back Calder Cup championships as coach of Maine in the American Hockey League (1978, 1979).

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