Monday

Carl Brewer

Carl Brewer was a crafty devil. One of Brewer's tricks was to cut out the palms of his hockey gloves. Opposing forwards who dared to skate into Toronto's slot always complained they could never shake off Brewer once he grabbed on. Remember this was long before the NHL's obstruction crackdown, and such grappling in front of the net was allowed. Often with the old gloves you couldn't grab on too tightly and forwards would know when to jerk free. But the dastardly Brewer got around that, always keeping his combatant off balance and off stride. At least until referee Vern Buffey discovered the trick.

That story was just one of many examples of how Brewer was both a thinker and a rebel, and always controversial. It started out with many incidents like this on the ice, but soon continued off of it.

Punch Imlach had a love-hate relationship with Brewer. The Leafs GM-coach knew how valuable he was to the Leafs on the ice, but the two butted heads over many issues over the years, but none more so than Brewer's introducing of Alan Eagleson and subsequently other player agents to the NHL. Brewer was a significant driving factor in Eagleson's ascendancy to power in hockey, which is greatly ironic considering Brewer helped to bring down the former hockey czar on fraud charges in the 1990s.

In addition, early in his career he was very standoffish with the media and fans. He seemed to want to avoid the pressures associated with the limelight of being one of the best hockey players in the world. He even clashed with teammates on occasion, most notably once blowing up with goalie Johnny Bower.

Brewer was an extremely principled man, almost to a fault. Paradoxically he would use all that attention he supposedly hated time and time again to fight for what he believed in. For example, Brewer first threatened to retire after his sophomore season in 1960, because the Leafs would not pay him $100 to cover some medical expenses. He announced through the media he would play football that season for McMaster University in nearby Hamilton. Brewer was already taking courses there towards a bachelor of arts degree. The Leafs reportedly gave Brewer $200.

Lost in all the controversies is the fact that Carl Brewer was an excellent defender. Brewer was part of three Stanley Cup championships in Toronto. Often pairing with Bobby Baun, the four time all star epitomized the thinking man's defenseman. He had a perfect poke check and was a brilliant passer out of his own zone. Baun took care of much of the rough stuff, even though Brewer had a blustery reputation as one of hockey's baddest men.

The tandem of Brewer and Baun was one of the best defense tandems the NHL has ever seen, and they always had the Leafs in contention for the Stanley Cup. The Leafs could win many Stanley Cups some believed. But Brewer did not share the same visions as the Leafs and their fans. He shocked the hockey world when he quit the Leafs in 1965, choosing to complete his bachelor of arts degree at the University of Toronto.

That was just the beginning of bizarre career moves, at least in the eyes of the hockey establishment and hockey fans. One of the best defensemen in the game just upped and left to the U of T. He would return to hockey though, struggling to regain his amateur status so he could skate with the Canadian national team for two years. He would then be a player-coach with Muskegon in the International Hockey League before accomplishing the same role with HIFK Helsinki and the Finnish national team! Imagine one of Canada's top defensemen quitting the NHL in the late 1960s to coach in Finland!

Somewhere along the line Brewer's pendulum of disenchantment swung back the other way, as he decided he needed to return to the evils of the NHL and all of his enemies that he once escaped.

Surprisingly Leafs boss Punch Imlach did not stand in Brewer's way. Imlach was in a position to blacklist Brewer, which was something the hockey powers, especially Imlach, were known to do. But Imlach moved Brewer to Detroit in a blockbuster trade which also involved Frank Mahovlich, Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson.

Brewer lasted a season in Detroit, posting career highs for assists and points in the more offensive league. Yet Brewer left the Wings at season's end, opting to take a job with the KOHO hockey stick company. Brewer returned to the ice only after the Wings traded him to St. Louis late in the 1970-71 season. He would play 61 games with Scotty Bowman's Blues over two seasons, before quitting again, off to work on one of his many business ventures he would dream up. Yet he would return to hockey again, this time back to Toronto in 1973-74, and play a season with the WHA Toronto Toros.

Brewer stayed in the business world after that season, leaving NHL circles completely unsure what to think of him. Yet, six years later, he would return, crazily enough with Punch Imlach's Maple Leafs. The 41 year old would play 20 games, collecting 5 assists.

"I guess I've always had it on my mind, to die a Maple Leaf," he said.

The NHL had not heard the last of Carl Brewer though. Over the years he grew suspicious of Alan Eagleson. Brewer and his long time partner Susan Foster supplied much information to journalist Russ Conway, who authored a report on how Eagleson misused the players' trust and their money. Soon they went to the FBI, and brought perhaps the most powerful man in hockey down.

The bringing down of Eagleson is Carl Brewer's lasting legacy. But he should also be remembered as a loose cannon who always kept the pot boiling. He should also be remembered as one of the best defensemen of his day. That, it seems, it is always overlooked due to all the turmoil he caused.

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