When Alex Faulkner debuted with the Toronto Maple Leafs in November, 1961, he became the first resident of Newfoundland to play in the National Hockey League. By doing so he inadvertently became a "Newfie" legend.
Up until the 1960s, Newfoundland was rarely scouted by the hockey world for undiscovered talents. A sparse population combined with a primative hockey program made it unnecessary to really scout the area.
So how did Alex Faulkner get discovered? Well the now famous Conception Bay All Stars, better known as the CeeBees, was created and became a hockey powerhouse in Newfoundland. The team, formed largely by Alex's brother George, was playing an exhibition game in 1960 against a St. John's Senior team that was coached by former Toronto Maple Leaf player Howie Meeker. Alex, a gifted offensive sparkplug, played great and left an ever lasting impression on Meeker. Howie would quickly recommend Alex to his old buddy King Clancy, who at that time was Toronto's assistant general manager.
Alex, a tiny but fearless center, was brought to Toronto to practice with the Maple Leafs. Alex remembers it well.
"You have never seen a finer bunch of gentlemen on one team than what was on that Maple Leaf team. They were fantastic to me. The first guy I ever skated with in practice was Red Kelly. Afterwards, I had a chat with (coach and GM) Punch Imlach, and he said, 'If you spend a year and a half in the American League, my bet is that you can play here.'"
Toronto offered Faulkner a spot with their AHL farm team in Rochester. Faulkner spent most his first season as a pro practicing as he needed to adjust from "Newfie hockey" to the professional ranks. But in his second season in Rochester, Faulkner exploded to score 73 points in 65 points and even got his first call up to the NHL, however he rarely skated in his first NHL game.
In the summer of 1962, Faulkner wasn't protected by the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings acquired his rights. For Faulkner, it was a good move.
"I was more than happy about (being released), because Toronto had Dave Keon, Red Kelly, Bob Pulford and Billy Harris as their centers. I wasn't going beat out of any of them." recalled Faulkner.
Faulkner was able to step into the Detroit Red Wings lineup the following season. Playing on a third line with Larry Jeffrey and Bruce McGregor, Alex had a good rookie season, scoring 10 goals and 20 points in 70 games while playing on the checking line. However Alex was able to make a name for himself in the 1963 playoffs. With Andre Pronovost replacing Jeffrey, Alex exploded offensively. Alex scored 5 goals in 8 playoff games, including three goals (two game winners) against Chicago's Glenn Hall in the semifinals before going on to the finals against Alex's old team, the Maple Leafs. Alex scored 1 goal against the Leafs. It was a game winner in the only game Detroit won in that season.
Finally, Faulkner had made it big, and Newfoundland could not have been any more proud. When he returned to "the Rock", they named a day "Alex Faulkner Day." Schools closed as there was a huge parade for Alex. Premier Joey Smallwood, the ultimate Newfie legend, greeted Alex with gold cufflinks
"It was unreal," Faulkner recalled years later. "They had a ticker-tape parade and dinners and I was half scared to death. Just two years earlier I had been playing at Harbour Grace."
Faulkner returned to Detroit for the 1963-64 season, and was quickly brought back to reality. Alex played in only 30 games as a broken hand and ankle ligament damage all but ruined his season.
Detroit asked Alex to start the 1964-65 season in the minor leagues, something which did not interest Alex. He opted to return to the CeeBees for the next two seasons. When the NHL announced expansion for 1967, Alex figured he may get some interest from the new teams, and opted to return to the mainland, and playing for 4 seasons with Red Wings farm teams in Memphis and San Diego.
When Alex retired from pro hockey in 1970, he returned to "the rock" and remained active in amateur and senior hockey in Newfoundland. He played at the senior level well into his 40s and played in amateur leagues and oldtimers games well into his 60s!
As with most legends, Alex is a bigger legend now than he was during his career.
"I know without question that I was never as good as most Newfoundlanders think I was," stated Alex.