Second oldest ex-NHLer passes torch

KRISTA SEGGEWISS and JIM CRESSMAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

A two-time Stanley Cup winner and the man who nicknamed Maurice Richard the Rocket passed away yesterday morning in London after battling liver cancer.

At 94, Ray Getliffe was believed to be the second-oldest living NHL alumnus.

"He ate, slept and talked hockey," daughter Lorna Yurchuk said. "He loved every minute of it."

Former New York Ranger and Chicago Blackhawk Clint Smith, born Dec. 12, 1913, is reported to be the oldest living NHL alumnus.

Getliffe, born in Galt on April 3, 1914, moved to London when he was six. He played hockey growing up and graduated from South collegiate.

He was spotted by a scout and went to the New York Rangers' training camp, but the Boston Bruins purchased his rights before he had a chance to play with New York.

He won the Stanley Cup in 1939 with the Bruins and again in 1944 with the Montreal Canadiens, with whom he spent six seasons.

Getliffe hung the Rocket nickname on Richard during a practice.

"I'm on the bench sitting beside Murph Campbell and Elmer Lach passed the puck to the kid (Richard)," Getliffe once said. "He took off on a beeline for the net and I said to Murph: 'That kid went in there like a rocket!' "

A newspaper reporter was sitting behind the bench and heard the offhand remark. The nickname appeared in print the next day.

Getliffe loved to talk hockey. One of his favourite stories involved a game in Montreal against Boston.

He scored five goals that night, said son John Getliffe, an Ontario Court Justice. "The next night, he was back in Boston and it was quiet for the national anthem. A fan yelled down, 'Getliffe, you can score five more tonight and still be a bum!' "

Getliffe played nine seasons in the NHL before a bad knee forced him to retire at age 31.

He then went into business in Montreal and golf became his passion. He played in the Canadian Open twice and was president of the Quebec Golf Association and Royal Canadian Golf Association.

"He had a longer golf career than a hockey career," said Lorna Yurchuk. "Until a few years ago, he was still golfing three to four times a week and the younger ones would ask him for tips."

Getliffe was inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. In the summer of 2005, after the NHL lockout was settled, the league decided to honour 40 of its oldest alumni by letting them have the Cup for a day.

London went one step further and organized Ray Day.

"He always said one of the highlights of his life was when they brought the Stanley Cup to London," said Bruce Huff, chairperson of the Hall of Fame.

"Back when Ray played, the players never got to have the Cup for a party like they do now. Five or six years ago the Canadiens alumni sent him a Stanley Cup ring, something else the players never got back then. He never took it off."

Despite his illustrious sports career, his children recalled a family man who loved people. He was married to Lorna, 95, for 74 years, a union that produced two children, seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

There were a few perks growing up with a hockey star for a dad. "I sometimes got free sticks," said John.

Visitation is Wednesday, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Westview Funeral Chapel, with a memorial service Thursday at 3 p.m.


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