Former Toronto Maple Leafs coach John Brophy passed away on Monday, May 23, 2016 in his native province of Nova Scotia. He had been living for some time in a retirement community in North Grant, Nova Scotia just outside of Antigonish where he was born on January 20, 1933. The former coach had spoken with a Canadian newspaper in January of 2015 about his experiences in coaching with the emphasis on his 1,000+ victories and even though some of the details were fuzzy he still had his with about him. He won his 1000th victory with the Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League. Coach Brophy has more wins in professional hockey than record holder Scotty Bowman.
He still talked about the fights. Those fights made him famous, not only as a coach but legend has it as Reggie Dunlop the movie character in Slap Shot. Brophy was a hard-nosed hockey player who spent 20 years playing in the minor leagues of hockey spending most of his time engaging in brawls that sometimes entered the stands. According to one site, Brophy even entered the stands to hit one fan who spit on Brophy, took the butt end of the stick to the fan’s teeth and instructed him to “now spit motherfucker!”
My memories of Brophy come from his experience at Toronto and of course the Hampton Roads Admirals, who made fighting an art form. During Brophy’s tenure with the Admirals as head coach, 11 years, they won 3 East Coast Hockey League Championships. The amazing thing is that they did it with toughness, grit and by beating the crap out of anyone who got in their way. The Admirals won fans in the Hampton Roads area by bringing the type of game that was purely out of Slap Shot. The Hanson brothers would have been proud. I’m convinced that is why I love Slap Shot as much as I do, other than the fact it’s absolutely hilarious.
In the second year of the Admirals back-to-back championships they featured goalies Byron Dafoe and Olaf Kolzig, both of whom would go on to fight as members of the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals respectively. During the game they fought in, everyone on the ice was involved in a brawl. One of the most captivating line brawls that I’ve ever seen. One can only imagine they learned how to drop the gloves from Brophy himself.
Brophy was a proud man who wanted his team to be strong and be capable of standing up for themselves and their teammates. He wanted them not to take any crap from anyone, show up for work every day and play hard. He made tough guys like Val James and Zenon Konopka tougher. He was extremely proud of what he did and all the wins notched.
I’ll never forget sitting in the Norfolk Scope behind the glass watching the Admirals. I’m pretty that little short guy who was sandwiched between two large Admiral players getting his ass beat will never forget it either, although he probably won’t forget the kid staring wide-eyed at him from the first row. Welcome to hockey kid. Welcome to hockey indeed. Thanks Coach Brophy for introducing me to the game, I’ll never forget all the lessons you’ve taught me.