January 10, 2016

Don Awrey

This is Don Awrey. His off and on ice personalities were like kind of like Jekyll and Hyde.

Off the ice you would have trouble finding a kinder, easy-smiling and soft spoken man, the kind of person who is easy to get along with.

On the ice he was a mean and miserable S.O.B., not afraid to bend the rules designed to stop him from using his hands, feet, a well positioned stick and his nasty high elbows to stop an opponent.

Awrey was the consummate team player who always put the team's fortunes ahead of any personal accomplishments. He was a classic defensive defenseman who got the same kick out of blocking a shot as of scoring a goal.

Awrey was paired together with the legendary Bobby Orr from time to time. As a "stay at home" defenseman, Awrey's attention to the back end allowed Orr to visit the offensive zone frequently. And Orr did so very frequently.

Awrey enjoyed being paired with the player many believe to be the best of all time.

"I knew what my role was and what Bobby's was," recalled Don. "Bobby was a special type of player. To see Bobby play the game either as his defensive partner or sitting on the bench, there were never enough words to describe him. There was no doubt in my mind that he was head and shoulders above any other player in the league before or during his time."

Beyond a lengthy point shot, Awrey never worried too much about offense himself. He once went 153 games between scoring goals.

Don almost didn't play hockey, much less walk, because of a congenital back condition. He was faced with an operation which gave him only a 50% chance to walk again. Don took the chance and the surgery was a success.

Don was spotted by the Bruins while playing junior B hockey in Waterloo. They then shipped him to the famed Niagara Falls Flyers of the OHA where he played between 1960-63, where he played with the likes of Gary Dornhoefer, Terry Crisp, Jean-Paul Parise, and Ron Schock

Don then went on to play for the Boston Bruins, but at first he had trouble being a regular on the team. Everybody agreed that Don had great speed and mobility but that he lacked, at that stage of his career, aggressiveness. During the 1965-66 season he played all the 70 games and was used as both a defenseman and left wing.

He was sent down to Hershey (AHL) in 1966-67 where coach Frank Mathers took him under his wing and built up Don's confidence and let him mature. Don impressed general manager Milt Schmidt so much that he protected him in the expansion draft. This surprise caused some eyebrow lifting. Schmidt said that he wanted a fast-moving defenseman who could carry the puck and who could get back in time to defend, and he believed Don was the man.

A great boost to Don's morale was that he was paired together with the tough Ted Green on the blue line. Don became a meanie on defense. He made it his business to get a piece of every opposition puck-carrier.

"I was not well-liked by most of the guys I played against, especially the right wingers," Don said. "Guys going into the corners with me would try to punish me at the same time. So when that happened I would just raise my elbows a little to protect myself. I used to have some pretty good battles in those corners. And there is one player I can pick out who really gave me the roughest time and that was Bill Fairbairn. Billy and I used to beat the living daylights out of each other in the corners. We never made things easy on each other. If Billy went into the corner first, I would really give it to him. And if I went into the corner first he would really give it to me. But we never really had any physical fights against each other. "

Don's proudest moment of his career came in 1972 when he was chosen to play for Team Canada in the Summit Series against the Russians.

"That was probably the greatest thrill for me. To be chosen to play for your country is a great honour. When I got the call, the poor guy who asked me if I wanted to play on the team didn't even get the question out of his mouth when I said ´sure, when do I report ? ´ That's how bad I wanted to play in the series. "

Along the way Don also won two Stanley Cups with Boston in 1970 and 72 but was denied a third with Montreal, despite playing 72 regular season games and being dressed (but scratched) for four Stanley Cup final games in 1976.

"Playing on two Stanley Cup winners in Boston was great, although I did play on a third Stanley Cup team in Montreal (75-76) but never got my name on the Cup itself. I missed the last two or three games of the season and never got into a playoff game, my name wasn't on the Cup. Ironically, a year or two later they changed that rule. But I guess that's life. " Don said.

Aside from his stints in Boston and Montreal he also played for St.Louis, Pittsburgh, NY Rangers and finally for Colorado Rockies in 1978-79. This great shot blocking defenseman wasn't flashy but he was very tough to get around and he did his job admirably. Don Awrey was a classy and classic defenseman.

After retirement Awrey worked at a variety of odd jobs before settling in on starting his own charter bus company specializing in transporting Boston fans to Montreal to watch games at the old Montreal Forum. He did well in that venture, allowing himself to retiring and since has enjoyed traveling all across America, particularly between homes in Massachusetts and Florida, in his RV. He works part time as a delivery driver of biohazard waste from medical centers in Fort Myers, Florida.


Unknown said...

I attended high school with Don, and watched him play for the Waterloo Siskins, and the Niagara Falls Flyers. I lost touch with him when he went to Boston, but in the summer of 1965 I took a summer job with the City of Waterloo City Works Department. On the first day I walked in, I see Don and moved forward to greet him and simultaneously he stepped forward, and gripped my upper arms, his arms fully extended, and he lifted me off the ground and let my feet dangle a foot above the groud. He greeted me with " Bowman, how are you you old bu**er."
I was all of 21 years old at the time. So I end up screaming at him, "put me down, you bas***d!" Laughing, he let me dangle for another half minute. Finally he put me down and we shook hands.
He had arms like trees. Each summer he worked with the tar and chip gang, shovelling gravel all day in the heat of the summer, to stay in shape. I weighed 154 pounds at the time and he lifted me full arm extended and held me out there for close to a minute. I haven't seen him in 52 years. He is one of a kind.

Anonymous said...

I am a soccer fan equally as a hockey fan, and I call getting sent off with a red card in soccer, despite it being a different goal-scoring sport than ice hockey, "doing a Don Awrey", because I remember him as an ice hockey defenseman who seemed to be always fighting, and you get banned from the rest of the game in soccer for much less than in ice hockey.