Loss of a legend

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

BILLY WARWICK: 1924-2007

When it's time for the national anthem at tonight's opener of a new Oiler season, a moment of silence will be asked for a man most of today's players probably never heard of before.

The year 1955, when he was a household name in Canada, was a long time ago.

But if they listen to the words of the P.A. announcer, maybe today's players will understand why they are being asked to remove their helmets a few seconds early:

"Hockey fans, tonight, as we prepare to sing the national anthem, we take the chance to recognize the passing of one of Edmonton's hockey legends," the announcement will begin.

'PASSION FOR HOCKEY'

"Billy Warwick had a passion for hockey every day of his life. He was a star player from an athletic family. He coached the Edmonton Oil Kings for a time, then served as a colourful colour commentator on Oil King, Oilers, and other sports broadcasts while developing the famous Edmonton publication Billy's Guide and patrolling the sports press boxes in Edmonton for 50 years.

"Before we remove our hats and proudly sing the national anthems - we pause to salute the passing of a wonderful Edmonton sportsman - Billy Warwick."

Warwick died of heart failure at 5 a.m. yesterday at the Glenrose Hospital.

He was 83. And he was, indeed, one of the most colourful men ever to grace the Edmonton sports scene.

"We've lost a lot of them lately," said CHED's Bryan Hall, who had a long run with Jackie Parker as his colourman for football games and Warwick on his Edmonton Flyer and junior Oil King hockey broadcasts.

"True characters," said Hall.

"Jackie. Bill Hunter. Wes Montgomery. Jack Berry. Waldo Ranson ... we've lost a lot of them these past few years.

"Billy, (and his brothers) Grant and Dickie opened Warwick's Fine Foods, forerunner of a sports bar in the 50s," Hall remembered of the place which was said to be the first bar to have live nightly entertainment.

"Everybody in Edmonton knew Billy. He wore a tweedy hat and a three-quarters topcoat and was kind of a Columbo-type of guy.

"When he worked the broadcasts with me, it was like listening to him talk on the street. He had an opinion on everything and and laughed all the time.

"When I visited him in the hospital he even made fun of his heart only working at 25% efficiency.

"You couldn't have a conversation with Billy without him laughing."

Billy and the Warwick brothers became household names in Canada in 1955.

The year before, the Russians had won their first World Hockey Championship. The Penticton Vees, starring Billy, Grant and Dick, won the Allen Cup and the right to represent Canada in the '55 world championships in Germany.

RECLAIMED TITLE

They reclaimed the world title for Canada, if ever so briefly, by winning all eight games with a goal differential of 66-6.

Billy scored 14 goals and seven assists.

"He led the team and the tournament. Dad never mentioned it but I know he always followed it every year after that and I know he was pretty proud of it," said son Bill Jr.

"I remember he thought it was quite something that even Wayne Gretzky never broke his record. Gretzky had 20 points in one of the Canada Cups."

Warwick made big news in Canada many years later when he produced the trophy they won in 1955.

When the Russians won the title the following year, Warwick didn't want to give it back so he had a replica made to ship them.

A former New York Ranger, Warwick was a longtime pro boxing referee, once owned the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the AJHL and was heavily involved in minor hockey in the Edmonton bedroom community.

He published Billy's Guide, an entertainment and restaurant magazine, for 28 years. Ironically, he started the publication from his hospital bed while recovering from double bypass surgery after having had a heart attack.

Brother Dick, now of Victoria, has become the last living member of the sporting family of 10 kids which included sister Millie, who last November passed away as well.

Millie played for the Rockford Peaches in the wartime women's baseball league made famous by the movie League Of Their Own. She's in Cooperstown, in the Baseball Hall of Fame, with that group.

Millie married Ranger goaltender Ken McAuley of Edmonton. His claim to fame was playing the entire 60 minutes in goal of a 15-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings one night. After the game Billy Warwick presented him with the goal light.

Billy Warwick lit the lamp a lot in his days. And he brought a great deal of light into a great many people's lives in the time since. He deserves the moment of silence in a big-league hockey arena to reflect on the life and times of a true Edmonton sports legend.


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