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April 23, 2015

Pete Kelly

Pete Kelly's first NHL playoffs goal won the Stanley Cup for the Detroit Red Wings.

That was one of many fascinating facts in the life of Pete Kelly.

Kelly was born in St. Vital, Manitoba, on the outskirts of Winnipeg. Though his hockey career took him all over the map, he called Montreal and later the Canadian Maritimes home.

Kelly played his junior hockey in Montreal from 1929 through 1932, and played another season of senior hockey in the city in 1932-33.

He then moved to Prince Edward Island and starred in the Maritime Senior Hockey League for two seasons before the whole circuit fell victim to the Great Depression. The entire league folded mid-season.

Kelly decided it was as good a time as any to turn pro. Unlike most players even back in the 1930s, Pete Kelly did not have to apprentice in the minor leagues. He jumped immediately to the National Hockey League, playing 25 games (3 goals and 10 assists) with the now long-defunct St. Louis Eagles team.

The St. Louis team was short-lived. The former Senators of Ottawa had transferred there for only one season before they too had to fold due to economic hardship.

The NHL had a dispersal draft to divvy up the St. Louis roster. The New York Americans selected Kelly but traded him to Detroit the next day.

Kelly would play four seasons in Detroit, including on the Stanley Cup championship teams of 1936 and 1937. His goal in third period of the 3-2 win in game four of the 1936 finals gave the Red Wings not only the game but the Stanley Cup!

Kelly would lose his spot in Detroit and the NHL and become an AHL regular with the Pittsburgh Hornets to finish the decade. In the early 1940s he would return, briefly, to the NHL with the New York/Brooklyn Americans after a record breaking AHL season with Springfield. He led the entire AHL in scoring with an amazing 33 goals, 44 assists and 77 points in 46 games in 1941-42.

That season proved to Kelly's last professional season. He, like so many NHL players, joined Canada's military efforts in World War II, though his involvement was quite different. He didn't serve with the army or the navy or the air force. Rather he joined YMCA War Services, helping the troops in Canada's maritimes as well as in England. He would continue to play hockey while doing so, but a broken leg while playing in England all but ended his playing days.

In 1947 Kelly stepped behind the bench of the University of New Brunswick hockey team, a job he held for 20 years. He also served as the University's athletic director until his retirement in 1977. Three times he guided his hockey team to Maritimes hockey championships.

Kelly was also a notable golfer, winning several martime amateur championships both before and after the War. Not surprisingly Pete Kelly was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame.

Pete Kelly passed away on March 22nd, 2004. He was 90 years old. He was also the last surviving member of the St. Louis Eagles.

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