March 25, 2016

Real Chevrefils

In the early 1950s all of Quebec and to some extent was awed by a sensational junior player named Jean Beliveau. Beliveau, of course, went on to become one of the greatest players in hockey history. At that time he quite possibly had the greatest amateur career hockey has ever known - a title that arguably still stands today.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, there was a junior player named Real Chevrefils who was every bit as good.

While all hockey fans know Jean Beliveau, you might be hard pressed to find fans who know Real Chevrefils story. Maybe that's because Chevrefils played in Boston rather than Canada. More likely it's because Chevrefils NHL promise was never fulfilled.

And it was all due to alcohol.

Happ Emms discovered Chevrefils in Northern Ontario and brought him to the Barrie Flyers in 1948. It was not long before he showed how good he was.

How good? He helped Barrie reach the Memorial Cup final in his rookie season. By 1951 Chevrefils delivered Canada's junior championship to Barrie, defeating Beliveau's Quebec team along the way.

The Bruins knew they had something special. Lynn Patrick, the Bruins GM at the time, proclaimed that Chevy "will be an all-star within three years, and within five years be one of the best left wings ever to play in the league."

"No one could touch him, and he proved that against Quebec," said Barrie teammate and future NHLer Jim Morrison in Bill Boyd's excellent book All Roads Lead To Hockey. "He was outstanding - skating, stickhandling, shooting. He read the play well, instinctively. That's what makes what happened to him so awful."

Chevy insisted he never drank in junior hockey, but was introduced to it in his rookie season as a professional. Despite having a season of junior hockey eligibility left, Chevrefils headed to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. The Bears had a lot of veterans on their team, who tried forgetting their bumps and bruises by tipping the bottle. The easy going Chevrefils was pressured to start, and just couldn't stop.

Not that it affected his play too much early on. He scored 20 goals in 34 games as a AHL rookie, and then was called up to the Bruins for the second half of the season. He showed reasonably well in Boston, too, scoring eight goals and 25 points in 33 games.

Injuries also prevented Chevrefils from fulfilling his promise. He lost almost his entire third NHL season due to a badly broken leg. Chevrefils only played one full season in the NHL - 1956-57. That year he scored 31 goals and was named to the NHL's Second All Star Team. But he followed that up with 74 games spread over two seasons. The Bruins had had enough of his drinking and he was out of the league.

Chevrefils actually had two stints with the Bruins. He was a real key piece in the shocking 1955 trade that saw goaltending great Terry Sawchuk leave Detroit. Very few people knew back then that the two teams were swapping each other's troubled superstars. Jack Adams, the Red Wings general manager, tried to get Chevrefils some help but to no avail, and traded him back to the Bruins half a year later.

Chevrefils bounced around the minor leagues, chasing pay checks. He ended up settling in Windsor, Ontario where he helped the Bulldogs senior hockey team win the Allan Cup in 1963.

Chevy stayed in Windsor until his death in 1981. He was just 48 years old. By that time no one really knew he was once one of hockey's greatest stars. He was only known as a polite alcoholic who frequented the local mission and hospitals.

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