It’s sometimes hard to picture the mild mannered and gracious gentleman that is Reggie Leach as a high-scoring, hard drinking member of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Broad Street Bullies, that rough and tumble hockey team that seemed to dominate hockey in the mid-1970s. But Mr. Leach, who has lived on Manitoulin in recent years at Aundeck Omni Kaning with his wife Dawn Madahbee-Leach and is Manitoulin’s latest soon-to-be inductee into the Order of Canada, played an important role on not only the Flyers’ roster but also that of the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and the California Golden Seals.
Known as the Riverton Rifle and by the (now politically incorrect) nickname of “The Chief,” Mr. Leach won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player in a playoff series in 1976 as the first, and to date only, non-goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy while not playing on the winning team. He was the Second Team All Star in 1976, an NHL All Star in both 1976 and 1980, he wears a Stanley Cup Ring from his 1975 stint with the Philadelphia Flyers and was a member of the 1976 Canada Cup Team Canada squad. He scored the most goals in the 1975-76 season (61) and led the Flyers to their Stanley Cup appearance that year.
He played 934 career NHL games, scoring 381 goals and 285 assists for 666 points: not the biggest total, but when added to his other accomplishments, a pretty significant ledger nonetheless.
Mr. Leach’s hockey records are manifest, some still stand, and he was quite rightly inducted into the Philadelphia Flyers and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.
In his younger years, Reggie Leach was one of the most prolific scorers in the Western Junior Hockey League and the list of awards and honours he garnered as a junior player are more than impressive.
Other jurisdictions have honoured Mr. Leach, last year he was named a member of the Order of Manitoba, his home province; this spring he was awarded an honourary Ph.D. by Brock University and addressed the graduating class and a story in this week’s paper announces the Manitoulin Island resident is to be named to the Order of Canada.
So how is it Reggie Leach is not in the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame?
Mr. Leach is among the first to admit that his off-ice behaviour
wasn’t stellar during his younger years, a fact that he uses to good effect when mentoring younger players as an elder statesman of the sport these days. Mr. Leach recognized his challenges and, like the tough hockey player he has proved himself to be, stood up to those demons and crosschecked them into the boards by entering rehab in 1985 and has followed the path of sobriety for the three decades since.
Since then, the Riverton Rifle has largely dedicated himself to helping youth find a better path forward in life than he did and stands testament to how to live the good life.
It might behove the selection panel for the Hockey Hall of Fame to sit down and watch a screening of Indian Horse, the movie in which he plays an inspirational role and which might place some deeper context on all that he has accomplished in his life. There are some members of the Hockey Hall of Fame whose off-ice transgressions easily overmatch those of Mr. Leach with far less provocation.
Mr. Leach would be among the first to refute any excuses given for his youthful transgressions, being a strong proponent of taking responsibility, but the atmosphere for a young Indigenous hockey player in the 1970s was demonstrably toxic and it is hard to believe it wouldn’t have played a role choosing the paths taken.
Reggie Leach should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, based on both his accomplishments while on the ice and the incredibly positive role he has played in guiding youth to a life well lived since leaving “The Show.”