July 26, 2015

Bad News Bilodeau

Bad News Bilodeau's name suggests he grappled in Quebec's rich wrestling scene back in the day.

Grapple he did, but it was on the ice, most notably with the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA and the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA and NHL.

Bilodeau, known as Gilles to his mother, was a tough and fearless hockey player. Not that he used his bruised hands to put the puck in the net very often. He was far more likely to use his stick in, well, more liberal ways.

And no one on the ice was safe. Not even a teenage phenom named Wayne Gretzky. Fortunately Gretzky's close friend Garnet "Ace" Bailey was looking out for the kid.

“One night during my rookie year, we were in Quebec City, and this huge guy, Gilles Bilodeau, kept running me, knocking me around,” Wayne Gretzky told Sports Illustrated magazine. “I weighed around 146 pounds, and Bilodeau must have been 220. Ace didn’t get a lot of ice time that night — in those days you didn’t use fourth-line players much — and he was getting angrier and angrier at Bilodeau. Finally, Ace told me, ‘Next time you have the puck, get that guy to chase you and skate in front of our bench.’

“So I did that, and a second after I went by, I heard the whistle blow and I looked back. Bilodeau was flat on the ice, and Ace and the other guys were all looking into the stands as if someone had thrown something at Bilodeau and they were trying to figure out what had happened. Ace had clocked him with his stick when he skated past.”

That took guts. To anger Bilodeau, who was earlier nicknamed Tarzan and Zombie, took lots of guts and not very many brains.

In another incident Bilodeau needed to be subdued off the ice by mace-wielding policemen. He later had to appear in court, charged with second degree assault, a felony, as well as misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest. The unimpressed judge compared him to a bum.

Bilodeau grew up in Saguenay on his parents dairy farm. He played on the frozen sloughs and in the barn, often against his eight siblings. Even those games were take-no-prisoner affairs.

After a season of junior, Bilodeau quickly earned his reputation as one of hockey's toughest - and craziest - bad men. In his first year pro with the the Beauce Jaros (NAHL) he had 451 penalty minutes in just 58 games. The next year he was with the Charlotte Checkers (SHL) for only 28 games and collected an unthinkable 242 minutes in the box.

That aggression level earned him a call up the big leagues with Birmingham. By 1978 he went home signing with Quebec. Remember this was the 1970s. The Philadelphia Flyers were better known as the Broad Street Bullies, brawling their way to consecutive Stanley Cup championships. Players like Bilodeau were in demand.

When the WHA folded and the Quebec Noridques joined the National Hockey League, Bilodeau mustered only one assist in nine game and a relatively behaved 25 penalty minutes.

Bilodeau worked as self employed contractor after his hockey days were done, building decks and painting homes.

Bilodeau died in 2008 at the early age of 53. Autopsy results showed he had passed away from undiagnosed pancreatic cancer.

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