No. 3 Alex Faulkner

Robin
Robin Short
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First Newfoundlander to make NHL still a legend

It's been nearly 50 years since that extraordinary Thursday evening in early December at the old Montreal Forum, yet Alex Faulkner remains defined as the first Newfoundlander to play in the National Hockey League.

Few remember, however, Faulkner won the Herder Memorial Trophy a couple of times, won the provincial senior hockey scoring title, and one of the finest to lace up a pair of skates within Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bishop's Falls native Alex Faulkner laces up his skates for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Faulkner played his first National Hockey League game with the Leafs on Dec. 7, 1961 against the Montreal Canadiens. He wore sweater No.8.

It's been nearly 50 years since that extraordinary Thursday evening in early December at the old Montreal Forum, yet Alex Faulkner remains defined as the first Newfoundlander to play in the National Hockey League.

Few remember, however, Faulkner won the Herder Memorial Trophy a couple of times, won the provincial senior hockey scoring title, and one of the finest to lace up a pair of skates within Newfoundland and Labrador.

But to generations from this province, Faulkner is forever known as a pioneer for hockey-playing Newfoundlanders and for that reason, is the No. 3 choice in The Telegram's compilation of the province's all-time Top 10 athletes.

One of the famous hockey-playing Faulkner's of Bishop's Falls - Newfoundland hockey's First Family - Alex's story begins like so many more from back in the day, of boys with crew cuts and hand-me-down leather CCMs learning the game not within the structured and too-often rigid realm of minor hockey, but amidst the biting wind on the ponds and rivers like, in Faulkner's case, the Exploits.

But his story takes a different path unlike, say, Mike Kelly or Jimmy Dawe.

For on Dec. 7, 1961, Faulkner forever engraved his spot within the annals of Newfoundland history when he tugged on a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, with No. 8 on the back, for a game against the Montreal Canadiens, winners of the five previous Stanley Cup championships.

Faulkner's road to the NHL began in 1960 when, at Prince of Wales Arena, his Conception Bay CeeBees dropped by to play Howie Meeker's Guards.

Meeker's old coach from his days with the Leafs, King Clancy, was in town and took in the game in what was then a brand new rink.

Clancy liked the little blonde centreman and another fellow on the ice, a stalwart defenceman who logged a ton of icetime ... chap named George Faulkner, the older of the two brothers. Story goes Clancy had Ray Miron, Toronto's Eastern league affiliate coach, contact the Faulkner boys. George Faulkner wasn't interested in the pros, having been-there, done-that. Besides, he was still Montreal's property.

Alex could be swayed, but only if the Leafs could guarantee him a five-game tryout with Rochester of the AHL.

After playing a Saturday night home game for the CeeBees, Faulkner left S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium and reported to Maple Leaf Gardens for a couple of workouts with the Maple Leafs.

On Christmas Day, 1960, Faulkner played his first American Hockey League with the Amerks. Twenty-two days late, he signed his first professional hockey contract.

Faulkner would finish the '60-'61 season with five goals and 18 points in 41 games. The next year, however, Faulkner opened the season with guns blazing and was among the AHL's scoring leaders. In Toronto, Dave Keon was sidelined by injury and the call was put out to Rochester for a replacement.

That relief turned out to be Alex Faulkner, from Bishop's Falls, NL.

"I'll tell you how exciting it was," Faulkner recalled in a 1995 Telegram feature, "I sat in the airport in Rochester and missed my plane. I was reading a paper.

"That will give you an indication I wasn't all that nervous. I had to take a taxi over to Syracuse to pick up a flight to Montreal."

Faulkner got a couple of shifts. On one of those, he was decked by Al MacNeil, another Maritimer, after Red Kelly fed the Newfoundlander a suicide pass.

"All the big guys you know of - Beliveau, Plante, Moore, Harvey - they all played. But after going to the American league, it was just one more step up the ladder," Faulkner recounted.

"And by this time, I felt like I could play in the NHL. The very first scrimmage I had with Toronto the year before, it was the year Frank (Mahovlich) had the big 48-goal year.

"I'm playing with Billy Harris and he gives me the puck and I go in. I fake a drop pass to him and (Tim) Horton stops to pick off my pass. Of course, I don't pass it and I go around Horton and have a shot on (Johnny) Bower.

"I didn't score, but I knew if Horton would go for that, somebody else would as well. That was the first indication I had that, hey, maybe I can (play)."

Right after that game in Montreal, Faulkner and goalie Gerry Cheevers were returned to Rochester.

Over the summer, Faulkner was left unprotected by Toronto and the Detroit Red Wings snapped him up.

He made the Wings and would spend the entire 1962-63 season in Detroit, scoring 10 goals and 10 assists in 70 games.

But he saved his best for last. During the playoffs that year, the Wings went all the way to the Cup final and Faulkner had five goals in eight games.

His best outing came in Detroit's only win in the series (the Leafs took the final 4-1) when he netted a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 win. He was interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada after the game.

"Bob Cole put it this way," Faulkner recalled. "We were sitting in the dressing room and he looked at me and said, 'I'd much rather be in Newfoundland tonight. There's a lot of excitement there.'

"The way it was up there, one fella gets a goal one night, and the next night somebody else and the next night somebody else.

"There's no big deal. But it was a big deal for me because ... I mean, it was me. I couldn't believe my luck. It was a Stanley Cup final game, and I scored two goals."

The next season, Faulkner would be hobbled by injuries and limited to 30 NHL games.

And that would be it.

Faulkner returned home for the 1964-65 season to rejoin the CeeBees.

He would win the scoring title with 22 goals and 79 points, two more than the legendary Corner Brook Royals playing-coach Frank 'Danky' Dorrington.

The CeeBees lost only two games that year and would go on to win their third of four Herder Memorial Trophies.

Faulkner led all scorers in the final with 10 goals and 21 points, four more than older brother George.

Alex Faulkner would return to the pro ranks, spending a year in Memphis of the Central Pro league (he led the Wings in scoring) and three with San Diego of the Western Hockey League.

He returned to Newfoundland to close out his playing career, including a stint with the St. John's Capitals.

Away from the arena, the panelists also lauded Faulkner for his skill on the soccer pitch.

But to generations of Newfoundlanders, Alex Faulkner will always be remembered for his play on the ice.

And the first Newfoundlander to call himself a National Hockey League player.

rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: National Hockey League, Montreal Forum, Toronto Maple Leafs American Hockey League Montreal Canadiens Prince of Wales Arena Detroit Red Wings Western Hockey League

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Toronto, Rochester Montreal S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium Maple Leaf Gardens Detroit Syracuse Canada Memphis San Diego St. John's

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Stephen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Oh no,

    I forsee Gushue in the top 2. This can't be happening!

  • Jeff
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Top 10 Sporting Achievements not 10 Best Athletes
    This has been mentioned by a couple of others and I totally agree.
    I have a pretty good feeling that #1 on this list will be someone who's sporting achievment is unmatched and therefore would be deserving of that spot if it were based on achievement.
    However comparing that person athletically to someone like Paul McCloy is absurd.

  • Capture the Flag
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Last week G -Money hit it right on. There's nothing bigger than Olympic gold. So therefore if that logic is used the # 2 spot will go Olympic Silver medallist from the 1996 Olympic Games Rower Maria Maunder and the #1 spot will go to Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam, as they ALL won Olympic GOLD That then give the list a female also.

  • M
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    OK Thinker But this only rates as on the list to Top 10 Sporting Achievements not 10 Best Athletes and this is true. ther are many more deserving athletes who are better ATHLETES than what have been listed. FACT.

  • M
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Nice Story. The first Nflder in the NHL. Nice little story, nice accomplishment. Some one had to claim that honour, but to say that makes you the 3rd best athlete of all time in the Province I don't think so. Actually his NHL career was only brief. Many more Nflders had longer and more more accomplished NHL careers. As G-Money from St. John's, NL wrote last week this would be on the list to Top 10 Sporting Achievements not 10 Best Athletes

  • Thinker
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Ya, sure ML, maybe the whole top ten should be NHL hockey players!!

    Alex Faulkner is most deserved. A true natural athlete!

    He didn't have the 10 years or more of minor hockey-coaching-enclosed rinks-weight training, hockey equipment etc. that recent players have. It's a feat in itself to train yourself on ponds, without all those things as Alex did and make it to NHL. He was a self-made player. He obviously had natural athletic ability, strength and determination to exceed..

    Try getting boys today to play hockey on ponds with substandard equipment, no proper coaching and see how many would make the NHL. It would be one in a million! And Alex was one!

    Congrats Alex and great choice by Tele.

  • Capture the Flag
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Where are the comments I posted earlier. Perhaps I am right on the top 2 and you will not post them as I may spoil the hype. I smell censorship as I did play within the rules.

  • Don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    To Thinker .....they were all self made players in Alex's day. Most of those guys grew up learning to play on outdoor rinks and ponds. I don't agree with Faulkner's pick as the 3rd best athlete of all time for our province. Tony White of Grand Falls scored 25 goals for Washington in 1976 (two hat-trick games) and Faulkner only scored about 15 goals in the NHL altogether. His brother George was a better hockey player. Finally, it looks like Gushue will be number 1. I don't like that either.

  • Thinker
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Yes, Don - all were self made BUT ONLY Alex made NHL. He had that certain elite hockey ability that no one else had at the time.

    Re. Sporting Achievements vs. best athletes - maybe Tele could run another for best sporting achievements. For example best sporting achievements could be teams. After all a team could be the best but not necessarily have a best athlete. Teams vs. best athlete is like comparing apples and oranges.

    Curlers athletic ability combined could not possibly match any of the individual athletic ability of those already mentioned. Surely if Curling Gold gets a spot it will be the TEAM and certainly not any one individual player. Good on Curling for winning Gold, but when was it considered a sport?

    Good choices Tele! It's must be difficult to just list ten. Someone has to be 1st and really does it matter? Just to make the list is most impressive.

    Congratulations to all of them and I am sure there are another ten who would be just as deserving.

  • Stephen
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Oh no,

    I forsee Gushue in the top 2. This can't be happening!

  • Jeff
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Top 10 Sporting Achievements not 10 Best Athletes
    This has been mentioned by a couple of others and I totally agree.
    I have a pretty good feeling that #1 on this list will be someone who's sporting achievment is unmatched and therefore would be deserving of that spot if it were based on achievement.
    However comparing that person athletically to someone like Paul McCloy is absurd.

  • Capture the Flag
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Last week G -Money hit it right on. There's nothing bigger than Olympic gold. So therefore if that logic is used the # 2 spot will go Olympic Silver medallist from the 1996 Olympic Games Rower Maria Maunder and the #1 spot will go to Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam, as they ALL won Olympic GOLD That then give the list a female also.

  • M
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    OK Thinker But this only rates as on the list to Top 10 Sporting Achievements not 10 Best Athletes and this is true. ther are many more deserving athletes who are better ATHLETES than what have been listed. FACT.

  • M
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Nice Story. The first Nflder in the NHL. Nice little story, nice accomplishment. Some one had to claim that honour, but to say that makes you the 3rd best athlete of all time in the Province I don't think so. Actually his NHL career was only brief. Many more Nflders had longer and more more accomplished NHL careers. As G-Money from St. John's, NL wrote last week this would be on the list to Top 10 Sporting Achievements not 10 Best Athletes

  • Thinker
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    Ya, sure ML, maybe the whole top ten should be NHL hockey players!!

    Alex Faulkner is most deserved. A true natural athlete!

    He didn't have the 10 years or more of minor hockey-coaching-enclosed rinks-weight training, hockey equipment etc. that recent players have. It's a feat in itself to train yourself on ponds, without all those things as Alex did and make it to NHL. He was a self-made player. He obviously had natural athletic ability, strength and determination to exceed..

    Try getting boys today to play hockey on ponds with substandard equipment, no proper coaching and see how many would make the NHL. It would be one in a million! And Alex was one!

    Congrats Alex and great choice by Tele.

  • Capture the Flag
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Where are the comments I posted earlier. Perhaps I am right on the top 2 and you will not post them as I may spoil the hype. I smell censorship as I did play within the rules.

  • Don
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    To Thinker .....they were all self made players in Alex's day. Most of those guys grew up learning to play on outdoor rinks and ponds. I don't agree with Faulkner's pick as the 3rd best athlete of all time for our province. Tony White of Grand Falls scored 25 goals for Washington in 1976 (two hat-trick games) and Faulkner only scored about 15 goals in the NHL altogether. His brother George was a better hockey player. Finally, it looks like Gushue will be number 1. I don't like that either.

  • Thinker
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Yes, Don - all were self made BUT ONLY Alex made NHL. He had that certain elite hockey ability that no one else had at the time.

    Re. Sporting Achievements vs. best athletes - maybe Tele could run another for best sporting achievements. For example best sporting achievements could be teams. After all a team could be the best but not necessarily have a best athlete. Teams vs. best athlete is like comparing apples and oranges.

    Curlers athletic ability combined could not possibly match any of the individual athletic ability of those already mentioned. Surely if Curling Gold gets a spot it will be the TEAM and certainly not any one individual player. Good on Curling for winning Gold, but when was it considered a sport?

    Good choices Tele! It's must be difficult to just list ten. Someone has to be 1st and really does it matter? Just to make the list is most impressive.

    Congratulations to all of them and I am sure there are another ten who would be just as deserving.