Good Knight, Bill

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Bill Long, one of the Ontario Hockey League's legendary coaches, died in London on Monday. He was 88.

His career spanned three decades including a 12-year tenure with the London Knights, where he coached 539 games, compiling a 275-214-50 record.

He was named the league's top coach in 1976-77 when the Knights went to the final for the first time in franchise history against the Ottawa 67's.

But despite his winning record, Long couldn't bring a championship to the city.

"He was a gentleman in a kind of ungentlemanly sport at the time," recalled former NHLer Dennis Riggin, whose sons Larry and goalie Pat played for the Knights and went on to NHL careers of their own.

Larry, an assistant captain under Long, said "Bill was instrumental in helping a lot of us young guys in the game of hockey and the game of life."

In 1989, the OHL created the Bill Long Award that recognizes distinguished service to the league.

Recipients include Sherry Bassin, Brian Kilrea, Frank Bonello and Wren Blair and is only presented when the league feels there's a worthy recipient. It was last presented in 2003.

Rick Doyle, who played four years for Long and had kept in touch with him, remembers his former coach as a man of "integrity -- a man of his word."

"Bill was often criticized for not trading players," Doyle said. "Bill often felt a trade was not in the interests of the player, the person, because it interfered with his schooling.

"He made his mark. A lot of players went through him."

As a member of the Knights alumni, Doyle said he could say on their behalf that Long's passing marks a sad day and he'll be remembered by many.

Wayne Maxner knew Long, originally from Barrie, as a player and opposition coach.

"He helped me a lot when I was young, 15 and 16," said Maxner, who went to the Barrie Flyers where Long was working as a trainer for Hap Emms.

Long got into coaching because Emms didn't believe in Sunday hockey, so he had Long coach the Sunday games. Long went with Emms to the Niagara Falls Flyers and when Emms bowed out of coaching, Long took over.

Maxner, who coached the Detroit Red Wings, the Windsor Spitfires and the Knights later, remembers opposing Long in the OHL.

He specifically remembers a game that changed a rule. Long was sitting in Maxner's office in the Windsor Arena just prior to a game when word came that the teams were brawling during the warmup.

The two coaches had to rush out and separate their players. The league immediately ruled that linesmen had to oversee the warmups.

Long was recruited by Howard Darwin to coach the brand new Ottawa 67's in the centennial year. Darwin also owned the Knights and in 1972 he sent Long to London to take over the team.

Dennis Riggin said Darwin, living in Ottawa, was an absentee owner, so Long was "in complete control."

Knights trainer Don Brankley described Long as "the classiest man in hockey." Brankley said Long always told him he wanted to treat the players like a father.

"All the anecdotes are good," Brankley said. "There was nothing to dislike about Bill. He was a reserved gentleman. Some thought he was aloof, but he was just quiet.

"Bill Carroll thought his practices were boring -- going over the basics, basics, basics. When Carroll got to the New York Islanders, they were doing the same thing -- basics, basics basics."

Longevity marked the junior and NHL careers of defenceman Brad Marsh of London.

"Coaches from Bill's era did have an impact on our lives," Marsh said from Ottawa, where he now lives.

"As a young kid of 15, I was playing junior B and was called up at times to the Knights, so it was six years in junior in London.

"Back then we had to play until we were 20. He took us in as kids and we left as men."

Marsh thinks the pressures of hockey have switched since Long's days.

"Today, there's more pressure on the players and they're much more publicized. And they have their agents looking after them. There's less on the coaches today. Back then, we just played hockey and there was more pressure on the coaches to handle it all."

Long relinquished the Knights coaching in 1980, but continued on as GM when a then 26-year-old Paul McIntosh took over as coach.

"There was a big difference in age but we got along very well," McIntosh said. "He was a real experienced guy, a guy the players respected. He would give you advice if you asked."

Long eventually stepped down from the GM's job but remained with the franchise as a vice-president until retiring in the late 1980s.

He and his wife Dorothy continued to live in London.

"They had more connections with London because they were here for quite a few years," Brankley said. "London had become their adopted home."

A public service will be held at Barrie Union Cemetery on Friday at 2 p.m. Arrangements are with Steckley-Gooderham Funeral Homes at www.steckleygooderham.com.


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