July 14, 2013

Leo Boivin

When you think of premier bodycheckers in hockey you think of Tim Horton, Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman and Scott Stevens. Well Leo Boivin belongs in this category as well. Boivin was known for his explosive hits to break up rushes, and he almost always skated away with the puck.

In fact Tim Horton himself claimed that Boivin was the toughest defenseman to beat in the entire league. This is somewhat amazing considering "Fireplug" stood only 5'8" tall and weighed anywhere from 170-185 pounds

Boivin was born and raised in Prescott, Ontario, a small town near the St. Lawrence river. Like many youngsters in the area, the River was a big part of Leo's childhood. In the summer he would swim and fish there. But it was the winter came that really made Leo happy. That's when the river would freeze over, and water became a host to hockey.

"We had many a hockey game on the St. Lawrence River. We had some open air rinks close by and anytime the river was frozen, we'd go there and skate too. I remember being skates since I could walk," Leo told Brian McFalone in his excellent book "Over The Glass And Into the Crowd."

Leo Boivin started his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951-52 where he played in only 2 NHL games. Then he was sent down to the AHL. He began in the NHL full time the next year. He remained in Toronto until 1955 when he got traded to the Boston Bruins. It was in Boston where he really became a top notch defensemen. He starred in Boston for 11 years. Leo helped Boston get into the cup finals in 1957 and 1958 where they lost both times to Montreal.

Boston then fell on some hard times when they finished in last place for three years straight. Boivin was on the move once again this time to the Detroit Red Wings. He helped the Wings to the Cup finals in his first year there. Leo then went on to play for Pittsburgh and Minnesota. The North Stars released him in the summer of 1970, and instead of taking an offer to join Punch Imlach's Buffalo Sabres, Leo opted to retire.

When Boivin, who captained the Bruins from 1963 to 1966, retired he finished with 72 goals and 250 assists for 322 points and 1192 PIM. But fans will always remember him for his body checking skills. Foster Hewitt said it best when he described this particular play involving Boivin and the great Frank Mahovlich.

"Mahovlich has a breakaway! He's at the Boston blue line. Only Boivin between him and the goal. Big Frank dekes left. Now he shifts right, trying to sweep around the burly Boston defenseman . . . WHAMMO! `Uh-oh! Boivin catches No. 27 with a wicked hip check. Frank does a cartwheel. Now Boivin has the puck . . . ''

He remained active in the sport after retirement, serving as a coach and a scout. He even briefly coach the St. Louis Blues twice. In both stints he was filling in as an interim coach, but he preferred to scout. After a decade in St. Louis Boivin followed Emile Francis to Hartford and scouted for the Whalers until he retired as a scout in 1993.

Enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986, Leo has been enjoying retirement life since the early 1990s. After years of travel as a scout he rarely leaves his home back near the St. Lawrence River. Life is a complete circle for Leo. He grew up care free along the St. Lawrence, and now he's back there.

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