Ex-Maroons player, coach Leyte passes away

Copper Leyte is kissed by granddaughter Kennidy Castien upon his induction into the Chatham Sports...

Copper Leyte is kissed by granddaughter Kennidy Castien upon his induction into the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. (Daily News File Photo)

MARK MALONE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:18 PM ET

Arthur Wilson (Copper) Leyte enjoyed a Hall of Fame-worthy hockey career before he ever got to Chatham.

He played with Jean Beliveau, went to the Montreal Canadiens training camp, competed for the Memorial Cup and was a star in the Maritimes.

Then he joined the Maroons and wrote a few more chapters in his hockey life.

He helped the senior team win its only Allan Cup, coached the junior team and was inducted into the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame.

Leyte, a towering defenceman nicknamed for his red hair, died Sunday at age 82 at Riverview Gardens.

He is survived by his wife Mary, seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“I'll never forget just how proud he was as a person and a player and a family man,” close friend and former Maroons teammate George Aitken said. “He was so proud of Mary and his family.”

Leyte was inducted into the Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association's Hall of Fame in 1998. He was a native of Buchans, Nfld.

No less a source than Beliveau, the legendary Canadien, has called him the first Newfoundland junior to play in Quebec.

Leyte was the second-line centre behind Beliveau when the Quebec Citadelles lost to the Barrie Flyers in the 1951 Memorial Cup playoffs.

Leyte and Beliveau also played together for Punch Imlach on the Quebec Aces senior team the next two seasons and went to the Canadiens training camp.

Canadiens GM Frank Selke wanted to sign Leyte and send him to their AHL farm team in Cincinnati. However, Leyte insisted on honouring his contract with the Aces.

“Maybe it was because of my upbringing,” he said to The Daily News in 2004 before his Chatham Sports Hall of Fame induction. “If you say something, you do it. You make a promise, you keep it.”

The Aces had so many talented centres, Leyte was shifted to defence. He spent the rest of his career at both positions.

NHL expansion came too late for him. Leyte could have played in the league if there were more than six teams, Aitken said.

“Copper had just such great talent,” Aitken said. “He stood out with his size. ... He was a great shot and he could handle the puck.”

After playing more senior hockey around the Maritimes, Leyte was lured west in 1956 when Sr. Maroons coach Murph Chamberlain promised him a job in Chatham.

He retired in 1961, one year after the Maroons won their only Canadian senior championship.

“He was a very solid bodychecker and instrumental in us winning the Allan Cup,” former teammate Joe Malo said. “... He had a great shot. He could shoot the puck well and pass the puck well.”

Leyte spent some time on a line with Malo and Fred Pletsch. He had a knack for threading passes to an open linemate.

“The guys who were playing with him were lucky,” Aitken said. “He had the ability to spring you loose.”

Leyte kept opponents on their toes with his thunderous checks. And if anyone crossed him, he'd let them know.

“He also had the ability to give you that look,” Aitken said. “You knew you were in trouble if he gave you that look.”

He coached the Jr. Maroons for five seasons in the 1960s and coached in the Chatham Minor Hockey Association for more than a decade.

When he wasn't busy with hockey, what did he do around the house? “As little as possible,” his wife Mary said, laughing.

Leyte, who suffered the past few years from dementia, loved watching kids play baseball and softball. He loved to golf. And, most of all, he loved his family.

“He was a great dad and an even better grandfather,” Mary Leyte said. “He loved his kids and he loved his grandkids.”

Visitation will be Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Hinnegan-Peseski Funeral Home. The funeral will be Thursday at St. Ursula's at 11 a.m.

Donations to the Canadian Diabetes Association or Outreach for Hunger would be appreciated.

 


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