46 years later, Stanley Cup ring arrives in the mail at the Chapeau home of Chris Hayes
Wayne Cuddington/ Postmedia Network: Chris Hayes was a junior/pro hockey player who played one game for the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final in 1972. But he never got his ring. After a buddy (Hec Clouthier) started making inquiries, the Bruins sent him a diamond-encrusted ring a week ago, 46 years later.
CHAPEAU – Maybe today, of all days, we need a hockey story with a wonderful ending.
A few days ago, Chris Hayes, 71, answered the door at the family homestead in tiny Chapeau, Que., across the Ottawa River from Pembroke. It was late afternoon when he accepted the small parcel from a courier, sat alone near the fireplace and glanced at the photo of his late wife, Jo-Anne, on a shelf.
“I said, ‘Honey, I think I know what’s in this package. Let’s open it together.’ ”
Inside the bubble wrap was a jewelry case and, inside the case, there it was: the Stanley Cup ring he never received for a fleeting stint with the Boston Bruins during the playoff run in 1971-72.
“World Champions” it said around the 18 diamonds, his name engraved on the inside — a thing of beauty, if 46 years late. “I said, ‘OK honey. I’m going to try it on.’ I spoke to her like she was there.” (Jo-Anne died, cancer, in 2011.)
“I’m a pretty laid-back guy, but I guess you could say I’m quietly ecstatic about it.”
Hayes, a retired banker, played once with the Bruins that playoff season, April 23, 1972, a semifinal game against the St. Louis Blues in which Boston prevailed 7-2 to take a 3-0 lead in the series — eventually a sweep en route to taking on the New York Rangers in the final. (Boston won that series 4-2.)
According to the stat sheet, Hayes had no goals, assists or shots, but served a two-minute bench minor in the first period (too many men). His limited playing time was due to the powerhouse strength of the Bruins that year, many names belonging to hockey’s Rushmore in Beantown: Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge, Ace Bailey, Gerry Cheevers, many others.
“You could say I only played one, but it was a hard road to get there.”
Indeed, here was a kid from little Chapeau who played virtually no organized hockey until he made the junior-level Pembroke Lumber Kings at age 16, later spending three seasons with the Oshawa Generals, where he shared the ice with Orr, by then already a superstar.
He went on to play four years for Loyola College in Montreal. “I was playing for Loyola in March and wearing a Bruins jersey in September.” (He played a number of exhibition games for Boston.)
After the lone playoff appearance, Hayes was in the Boston system for a couple of more years, signing a “lucrative” contract. But injuries and a lineup stacked with left-wingers kept him out of the NHL.
It was a different era, obviously. Many players had jobs in the summer — he drove a truck in Arnprior — and player entitlements like rings were not top-of-mind.
“It never, ever came up,” he said, his focus firmly on making the Bruins in the fall of 1972. “I didn’t even know I was entitled to a ring.”
Well, fast-forward to the fall of 2017. One of his childhood friends is Hec Clouthier, 68, the one-time MP for the Upper Ottawa Valley, a man never to shy away from the impossible.
Clouthier saw something in the newspaper that twigged his memory about Hayes and the absent ring, a story he had long known about. In he dove, going directly to Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs. Before long, team president Cam Neely — himself a great player — was on the phone to Petawawa, where Clouthier lives.
Neely, according to Clouthier, checked out the story with Bucyk, still connected with the team. He confirmed it. There was a delay, said Clouthier, in order to find a ring-maker who could precisely reproduce the 1972 pattern. When he asked for Hayes’s ring size, Clouthier knew they were getting close.
“Then I get a call one day from Cam Neely saying, ‘Make sure Chris is home Thursday morning’.” The ring was on its way by FedEx.
Hayes is a humble sort and not the type to tell the world he shared the ice with the likes of Orr and Espo on one of the NHL’s most legendary teams.
“I wouldn’t know how to do that. I wasn’t raised that way.”
Still, he’s proud of his new keepsake, even letting friends try it on. He’s especially happy for his four children and grandchildren. And it’s more than the monetary value — possibly in excess of $20,000 — said Hayes.
“I look at that ring and it brings back so many memories. So many people you met along the way, not just the stars, but the trainers, the billets, people like that.”
He went on to play a season with the Boston Braves of the AHL, then the Albuquerque Six Guns, toyed with playing in the WHA, but injuries and time caught up. At age 28, he decided to get on with his life, working in banking in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
Clouthier, meanwhile, is the ebullient “ring-maker.”
“I said to my nephews (at a recent tournament in Chapeau), ‘Do you know there’s a man who lives 45 seconds from here who played with the Boston Bruins and Bobby Orr in the Stanley Cup (semi) finals?’
“It’s just been one of the best-kept secrets.”
Well, not today, not when the hockey world really needs a little glimmer on its hands.
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