January 09, 2010

Zellio Toppazzini

Rhode Island is not the first state to come to mind when thinking of hockey history. But they do have a rich history, thanks to Providence's long association with the American Hockey League. The Reds joined the AHL in 1940, but actually predated the AHL all the way back to 1926. The Reds would cease to exist in 1977, but AHL hockey returned to Providence in 1992 when the Boston Bruins set up their farm team there.

The greatest name in Providence hockey history has to be "The Topper," Zellio Toppazzini.

Toppazzini played 12 seasons with the Providence Reds back in the 1950s and 1960s. The native of Copper Cliff, Ontario had his best season in 1955-56. Playing on a line with Paul Larivee and Camille Henry, he led the entire AHL in scoring, and led the Reds to the Calder Cup championship. He did it all with "his elegant and seemingly effortless style of play."

In his Rhode Island career he amassed 279 goals, 448 assists and 727 points in 650 regular season games, and another 16-28-44 in the playoffs. All are team records.

The Reds' Heritage Society
named Topper as Providence's player of the 20th century, and even honoured as such by the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Senate.

Upon retiring from hockey Topper made Rhode Island his home. He first tried his hand coaching at Providence's other legendary hockey team - the Providence College Friars - but was replaced by Lou Lamoreillo. Toppazzini would become a sales rep for an automotive parts company while staying in the game as a highly respected referee at the youth and high school level.

Of course, Zellio had his chance in the NHL, but unlike his brother Jerry he never really stuck. He played in 123 NHL games with Boston, New York and Chicago.


Anonymous said...

Would have been and could been an all-time great in the NHL as well.
Big, strong, tough athlete and a very clean player who respected the game well before respecting the game was popular. Had the Rangers not dealt Topper to Providence he may have very well become a New York Ranger Legend.

Anonymous said...

Back in the 50's there was no difference between the quality of players in the NHL and AHL...this is why NHL teams traded with AHL teams. Topper was a true gentleman on and off the ice.

Look at Toppers numbers as a 19 year old with the Rangers. Had he stayed in NY there's no question he would have been a New York Ranger Legend as he was in Providence.

The Rat said...

Confirm or deny: this is the same guy who started the Topper's Pizza chain? That's what I've heard, but I can't find anything on their web site about it.

Anonymous said...

According to a close family member of his, he did not start the Topper's pizza chain. Sorry to disappoint you!!!