January 18, 2016

Bill Lesuk

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

That is how you would have to sum up Bill Lesuk's hockey playing days in Winnipeg.

Bill Lesuk was a cagey veteran with a reputation as a hard working defensive forward. He was described as "the most honest player I've ever played with by none other than Bobby Clarke.

He had toiled with Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington in the early 1970s before fleeing for the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association.

Lesuk found a home with the Jets, playing a utility role while helping the team win Avoc Cup championships in 1976, 1978, and 1979.

The WHA folded in 1979, and the surviving teams - Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec and Winnipeg - merged with the NHL. But Lesuk was one of the very few Jets players to remain in Winnipeg, as the WHA rosters were torn apart as players had to return to the teams that owned their NHL rights.

The result? The once powerful WHA champions only won 20 games in their first year in the NHL.

Lesuk was a real leader with that team, as he was respected by his teammates. Unfortunately he was a healthy scratch often, and rarely used at all when he did dress. He finished his career with no goals and just one assists in 49 games.

"He inspires the team," said Winnipeg teammate Jude Drouin. "How many times have I seen him go through the pre-game warm up only to find that he isn't playing? Some guys would turn sour over that. But not Billy.

"As he would be taking his equipment off, he would be telling the guys to work hard, reminding them that they could win."

Lesuk, an honoured member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, would go on to become a long time scout for Winnipeg, Chicago and Boston.

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