May 05, 2016

Dale Rolfe

Dale Rolfe was a tall (6'4") and rangy defenseman who never fulfilled the expectations that he had when he came out of the Juniors. He was an outstanding all-round athlete in high school, where he played hockey, football and basketball, participated in track and field and raced canoes.

Early on Dale's biggest adversary was his attitude. He was a sensitive, moody, almost withdrawn fellow. He didn't feel very comfortable among fans and writers. He often seemed uninspired and unemotional on the ice. Another problem with Dale was that he never developed a proper pattern of play.

Dale had the skills, he was an unusually swift skater for his size, he could handle the puck pretty well and had a wicked shot. But all of his coaches wanted Dale to use his size and hit more, but Dale once said "I'm not a body-checker. Coaches and others look at me and assume I should be, but it's not my style. I use my long arms and stick a lot. I just do the job as best I can".

Dale belonged to Boston as an amateur and spent four seasons between the ages 17-20 with the Barrie Flyers of the junior "A" Ontario Hockey Association (OHA). He scored 18 goals in his first season with Barrie. In his final season with Barrie he was named to the All-Star team.

After that he got two games in pro play with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Eastern Pro League (EPHL) and then Rolfe got his first taste of NHL action with Boston. His tenure in Boston only lasted for three games in where he was used very sparingly. That was at the end of the 1960 season and was the last appearance he made in the NHL for almost eight years.

He turned pro full-time in the 1961-62 season with the Portland Buckaroos of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Dale helped the Bucks win the championship but was shifted to Hershey of the American Hockey League (AHL), and at the end of that season (1962-63) he was traded to Springfield with Bruce Gamble, Terry Gray and Randy Miller for defenseman Bob McCord.

Eddie Shore, who then was the owner, manager and coach of Springfield, always demanded a steep price for his prospects, such as he received for McCord. Dale played four seasons for Shore at Springfield and during that time he was sought by several NHL clubs who, however, would not pay the price Shore asked for him. Several others were in the same boat. As we all know, Shore was a tough man who ran his team of players as if they were a platoon of recruits being turned into marines by a sadistic drill instructor. Dale was one of many who squirmed under Shore's methods and he was unhappy because he was denied big-time opportunity by the retired defense immortal. Dale learned considerable defense from Shore though, and was named to the first all-star team in 1967, overshadowing teammate Bill White. Later the players rebelled against Shore and he sold the operating rights to Jack Kent Cooke for $ 900,000.

Dale admitted that he was disappointed to have been stuck in Springfield. "I played with Bill White at Springfield, and both of us felt we were better than many defensemen in the NHL. But Shore wouldn't let us go unless he got something like $ 50,000 and five or six players in the trade", Dale said.

With expansion around the corner it gave Dale the break that he needed. Los Angeles acquired Springfield contracts, including Rolfe's in 1967. After his three games with Boston almost eight years earlier, Dale was to play another 506 NHL games for Los Angeles, Detroit and NY Rangers.

LA's coach Red Kelly tried Dale at forward in training camp before switching him back to defense when the season opened. With Dale's fine offensive burst and skating ability he could have been a fine forward, but his position was defense so it was difficult to make the transition. After a couple of years in LA, Dale was traded to Detroit early in 1970. After a short stint in Detroit, Dale was once again traded.

New York was his last destination and he saw a lot of ice time from the beginning, mainly because of injuries to Rod Seiling and Brad Park. That first season with the Rangers (70-71), Dale was paired with legendary Tim Horton in the playoffs. Dale, who had squirmed under Shore's diabolic training methods and his insistence that defensemen "sit down" when skating backwards, suddenly put Shore's theories to practical application and was very good when it counted most.

Teammate and Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park only had good things to say about Dale. "Normally, he plays the left and I play the right, but he can play both sides. When he takes off with the puck he reminds me of a runaway train barreling up the ice. I'm happy to have him on my side." Park said. He also added "Dale is the fastest skater I have ever seen and one of the best defensemen I have ever played with."

Dale had to wait a long time to get back in the NHL, but it turned out pretty well for him after all.

1 comment:

Joseph Stevano said...

Excellent article! Thank you!