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March 31, 2009

Bullet Joe Simpson

This is Joe Simpson. He was was dubbed Bullet Joe by a reporter due to his darting moves on the ice, and because of his military past. He was a Canadian hero on the battle-scarred fields of Belgium during World War I. Twice wounded, he received the Military Medal as a member of the 43rd Cameron Highlanders.

Born August 13, 1893 in Selkirk Manitoba, Joe Simpson played his amateur hockey with the Winnipeg Victorias. He later joined Winnipeg's 61st Battalion team and helped him win the Allan Cup in 1916, emblematic of senior hockey supremacy in Canada.

Simpson had to put hockey on hold for the next two years, but after the war Simpson returned to Manitoba where he picked up his Senior hockey career.

Two years later Simpson moved west and turned professional, joining the WCHL's Edmonton Eskimos. But first he needed his father's permission.

Legend has it the Eskimos offered Simpson $3,000 to turn pro, a significant sum in those days. Simpson, who was in a Winnipeg pool hall at the time, chalked up his cue and said he would go if the team could convince his father to let him go.

Simpson was allowed to head west, and became the franchise's cornerstone for the next six strong season.

In 1925 infamous bootlegger Big Bill Dwyer, owner of the New York Americans, brought Simpson to the National Hockey League. Simpson, along with New York native Billy Burch, was one of the first outstanding gate attractions, and thus partly responsible for making New York a hockey hotbed that it is today.

Simpson enjoyed 6 solid years in New York, scoring 21 goals and 40 points in his career. Those were pretty good numbers for a defenseman at that point. The Amerks publicity team tried to portray him as a trap-liner from 450 miles north of Edmonton who travelled to New York city by dog sled and toboggan and guarded by friendly Indians.

A defenseman, Simpson was a lightweight weighing as little as 155lbs, but he played like he was 200lbs. Bill Corum, a columnist of the New York Journal-American, described Simpson as "a rollicking, rocking man, flashing down the rink with the puck on the end of his stick." None other than hockey legend Newsy Lalonde once declared Simpson as "the greatest living hockey player.

Simpson retired in 1931 and turned to the management side of things. He first coached the New Haven Eagles minor league team and later managed the Americans until 1935.

Before stepping behind the bench Simpson returned home to Winnipeg for one last on-ice hurrah. He was part of the Winnipeg Hockey Club team that represented Canada at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, winning the gold medal.

Elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962, Simpson suffered a severe heart attack in the late 1940s, leaving Simpson in bad shape.

"I was laid up for two years." said Simpson. "I was really down when Art (Coulter) took me in."

Coulter, a stalwart defenseman in his own right and fellow Hall of Famer from New York (though with the Rangers), owned a hardware shop in Florida.

"He gave me a job selling skates in his hardware store, four hours a day. It may sound funny, selling skates in Florida, but Coral Gables, at that time, had an arena."

Bullet Joe Simpson died on Christmas Day, 1973.

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