Last month I happened upon a book that I would strongly recommend to everyone who loves and cares about the game of hockey. It tells no tales of great goals scored or Stanley Cups won, but is essential reading for reasons dealing with the behind the scenes games. It will educate you much more about the people running the game than the usual hockey bio.
The book is called "Game Misconduct" by Russ Conway, a Boston sportswriter. It chronicles the dirty deeds of defamed Canadian hockey czar Alan Eagleson in minute detail. I'll give most of it away here and now, but don't be deterred from reading it should you ever come across it.
Oddly enough, Tapeleg at JAHL posted about the book just as I began reading my copy. A neighbor of mine had given me Marvin Miller's "A Whole Different Ballgame" just a week prior and mentioned he had a hockey book named "Gross Misconduct" for me. As I recalled the movie of this same name, I did a blog story on it's subject, Brian "Spinner" Spencer, that attracted some attention. When the neighbour brought me Conway's Eagleson expose, with the similar title, I was thrilled as much as I was surprised. The Miller book gathered dust for a bit.
(As an aside, I just gotta say something about living in a small town. My neighbour buddy, who passed the book along, is the son of the man who established the Cornwall Royals franchise in the 1960's. This is the junior team that groomed such stars as Dale Hawerchuk, Owen Nolan, and Doug Gilmour before they tore up the NHL. Soon as I get my mits on any interesting tidbits, you'll read it here first!)
The story of Alan Eagleson's rise and fall is a many pronged tale of betrayal and deception.
If you have ever seen an old Western movie that finds an unsuspecting stranger in town arrested by a sheriff and thrown in jail, you'll get the Alan Eagleson story real quick. The stranger, innocent and seeking justice, heads to the mayor and judge, only to find that all three authorities are one person.
Eagleson rose to prominance as a player agent for Bobby Orr, and rode that role to become head of the NHLPA, among other distinguished titles. A lawyer by trade, Eagleson eventually came to hold so much power within the game in Canada, that many of his moves and motives went unquestioned for three decades. Little did a country at large know that Eagleson was essentially a thief in a suit, pocketing and profiteering from every aspect from player insurance to international hockey tournaments.
While his stature as an agent grew in the late 1960's, Eagleson also became involved in politics as a Progressive Conservative Party president. His smooth demeanor and sly tactics allowed him to place many a politician in his back pocket over the years, including future (at the time) Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a scumbag if there ever was one.
In short, the Eagle had dirt on just about anyone affiliated with a political party or a courtroom to run. It enabled him a free pass to get away with just about every corrupt crime you can imagine.
(Another odd aside with a local twist, the Conway book makes mention of a former Cornwall mayor, Ed Lumley, who has a local arena named after him. I've met the white haired gent a few times - he's a good guy, no dirt on him here. Conway drops the name of a person likely to be Cornwall's next mayor, Bob Kilger. Yes, that is Toronto Maple Leafs Chad Kilger's father, former NHL ref, and coach of the Royals last Memorial Cup in 1981. No dirt on him is mentioned in Conway's book, but there are local allegations that follow his name around. I'll post on him come the November 23rd election, should he win as expected.)
The crimes of Eagleson are well documented by Conway. As Eagleson came to wear a myriad of conflicting hats, his esteem amongst an unsuspecting NHLPA grew and declined all at once. Though many commended him for bringing Canadian hockey to the international fore, he was quietly being viewed as being in bed with individual NHL team owners. Being a player rep, while serving as the head of the NHLPA was suspect enough. Little did many know he was also in charge of the insurance companies that settled their pension issues. To top it off, he basically ran Hockey Canada - under the table. Few knew he was the insurance rep for Air Canada. Hidden as an investor with the company, he was double dipping the Ontario government for insurance claims while paying out little to nothing while being reimbursed by the Canadian government while giving players flight coverage - it was a lucrative scheme. Conspiring with relatives, friends and allies in comapnies he co-owned, he basically contracted work at unreasonable sums and fees out to himself.
His bullying tactics for fending off naysayers during these decades is almost legendary in its deceit. As he unassumingly corrupted those within his inner circles, he became harder to take down.
In the long run, he made fools out of just about everyone he associated with or befriended.
Conway's book mentions names still involved in NHL goings on. It irks me to know that they still are in the league.
The book was published in the mid 1990's while Eagleson remained a fugitive to American justice. Perhaps the books only flaw is that it was published too soon to tell of Eagleson's epilogue.
Conway's writtings gained noteriety while a group of NHL oldtimers fought valliantly for due pension plan increases, beginning in 1988. Former Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman Carl Brewer is the unlikely unsung hero of the whole sordid tale. Along with his wife, Sue Foster, Brewer relentlessly pursued Eagleson's crimes with fearless determination.
Brewer was initially seen as a reckless, loose cannon rebel, who was put off by the NHL at every turn. While his accusations fell on deaf ears league wide, he recruited allies in the fight for money the league planned to use for the benefit of the current players pension plan in a new CBA.
In other words, oldtimers money was being claimed by the current NHL regime, and being promised upon retirement to the present days players. Brewer, noting a surplus in his pension payouts, questioned a 24 million dollar kitty the NHL unilaterally decided was theirs to keep and do with as they wished.
Brewer was outraged! Since when does pension money not belong to the pensioners.
Eagleson then tricked a government politicain into believing he acted on all players behalf as head of the NHLPA, in order to loophole his way around a law stating that pension recipients must be on an overseeing committee representing the said pension.
The Eagleson ruse set back the oldtimers for close to five years. Eagleson's eventual slipknot lay in the fact that he no longer represented former players, who could not be current NHLPA members as retirees. When Brewer helped bring this to light, through Conway's pieces in a Boston paper, all hell broke loose.
In order to silence mounting critics, NHLPA head Eagleson made his most glaring mistake. As former players began speaking publically in the media, Eagleson shuddered. As a silencing tactic, the lawyer hat Eagleson wore decided to file suit against former players he felt had slandered what he thought was the NHLPA's good name. Conway's good friend Orr was first in line. Next was Gordie Howe.
Can you envision a worse bad move, public relations speaking? The tide of public opinion quickly swayed in the players favor as the suits never made it to court.
By now, both the FBI and RCMP had Eagleson under investigation. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police stuttered and staggered at every turn in attempts to delay and avoid releasing details of whatever Eagleson information they claimed they were trying to investigate. Eagleson's connections in government, including a son-in-law in the RCMP, gearjammed the proceding investigation for years.
A lawsuit originated by Brewer and Foster tilted in the oldtimers favor. It was appealed and eventually thrown out of court. An investigation into alledged wrongdoings by Eagleson in regards to Canada Cup rink board advertising monies had the NHLPA head scheming to revert Swiss bank account transaction when he was caught red handed undoing dirty deeds. Certain parties involved in the coverup bailed on Eagleson, exposing his manoevering and backtracking. The FBI filed charges.
The RCMP O.D.'ed on Sleep EZ.
All hell then began to break loose north of the U.S. border. Before every grain of shit hit the fan, Eagleson withdrew his membership in the Hockey Hall Of Fame, fearing a more public repercussion and humiliation. Hockey greats Orr, Howe, Henri Richard, and Frank Mahovlich, among many, all threatened to ask the Hall that it exclude them instead, should they remain alongside inductee Eagleson. The Canadian government officially stripped Eagleson of his "Order Of Canada" merit, the highest honor the country gives a common citizen. (They've yet to get to Celine Dion - I'm quietly working on it!)
Eagleson cowardly refrained from entering the U.S. while it seized every asset known to him. He tried in vain to fight for his name in Canada, but his bed was made. In 1998 he finally appeared in a Boston court. He was guilty as charged. His sentencing and exportation back to Canada became conditional upon his trial later that year in hockey country. Little if any, of the RCMP's investigations were brought forth in prosecuting him. The U.S. justice system had fined him a million dollars and ordered him brought back to the States should he receive anything less than an 18 month sentence in Canada.
Unsurprisingly, Eagleson was handed an 18 month sentence in Canada. Minumum time served was set at three months. He served six.
An atrocity! Justice in my mind, has yet to be served
Were I to be confronted with Eagleson in a hockey arena with a scoopfull of practice pucks, I'd aim for the jewels! Trust me, you won't find him there.
I'd serve more time for my rendering of justice!
Read the Conway book, check out "Finding Bobby Orr", and don't skip Brewers's accounting of the enire fiasco from the POV of a screwed over oldtimer who helped shape the game.