July 10, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Wild Bill Ezinicki

Three time Stanley Cup champion Wild Bill Ezinicki passed away in 2012. He was 88 years old.

Ezinicki was a Claude Lemieux-like player with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1947, 1948 and 1949. The Winnipeg native was a key player in Oshawa's Memorial Cup win in 1944, as well.

A hard hitting checker who played bigger than his actual size, Ezinicki played a total 368 games over parts of 9 NHL seasons. He scored 79 goals and 184 points while accumulating over 700 minutes in penalties.

Stan Fischler described Ezinicki in his 1975 Hockey Encyclopedia as follows:

"Wild Bill Ezinicki had sinewy arms and a body that bulged from daily weightlifting. He had a passion for free skating that was outdone only by his passion for bodychecking. He also had a passion for tape, winding reams of it around his stick and around his knees and legs until they bulged grotesquely."

That's not exactly the normal memory of a hockey player. But the 5'10" 170lb powder keg was not exactly a normal player. Hence the nickname "Wild Bill."

He was far from the biggest player on the ice but he played as if he was. He happily flung his body at any player in an opposing sweater. It made him adored in Toronto but made him an easy to hate villain everywhere else. Legend has it a woman in New York once jammed a hat pin into Ezinicki's backside as he bent over for a faceoff.

Hated as he may have been, he had the respect of his peers.

"He's a tough little guy," said Montreal's Ken Reardon, about as tough a NHL player as there ever was. "But he's definitely not dirty. He can check and pester you and sometimes hurt you, and he can make you made, but he's not dirty. Because he's short, he can hurt. Those low bodychecks of his enable him to throw his shoulder into your stomach."

I'm not sure if Reardon's famed teammate Rocket Richard respected Ezinicki nearly as much. The two had a heated rivalry, which once saw the Rocket club the Leafs agitator over the head with his stick, resulting in 8 stitches.

Undoubtedly that hurt, but Ezinicki may have made $40 for his troubles. Fischler said Ezinicki had taken out a policy that paid him $5 for every stitch resulting from a hockey injury!

Ezinicki also had a few wars with Detroit's bad boy Terrible Ted Lindsay. Ezinicki once suffered 19 stitches and broken teeth at the hands (and stick) of Lindsay. All in a days work for Wild Bill Ezinicki.

Ezinicki left Toronto in 1950, playing a couple of seasons in Boston and later reappearing with the Rangers in New York. In retirement he settled near Boston and became a notable golf champion and pro.

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