Wednesday

Leo Boivin

When you think of premier bodycheckers in hockey you think of Tim Horton, Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman and Scott Stevens. Well Leo Boivin belongs in this category as well. Boivin was known for his explosive hits to break up rushes, and he almost always skated away with the puck.

In fact Tim Horton himself claimed that Boivin was the toughest defenseman to beat in the entire league. This is somewhat amazing considering "Fireplug" stood only 5'8" tall and weighed anywhere from 170-185 pounds

Boivin was born and raised in Prescott, Ontario, a small town near the St. Lawrence river. Like many youngsters in the area, the River was a big part of Leo's childhood. In the summer he would swim and fish there. But it was the winter came that really made Leo happy. That's when the river would freeze over, and water became a host to hockey.

"We had many a hockey game on the St. Lawrence River. We had some open air rinks close by and anytime the river was frozen, we'd go there and skate too. I remember being skates since I could walk," Leo told Brian McFalone in his excellent book "Over The Glass And Into the Crowd."

Leo Boivin started his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951-52 where he played in only 2 NHL games. Then he was sent down to the AHL. He began in the NHL full time the next year. He remained in Toronto until 1955 when he got traded to the Boston Bruins. It was in Boston where he really became a top notch defensemen. He starred in Boston for 11 years. Leo helped Boston get into the cup finals in 1957 and 1958 where they lost both times to Montreal.

Boston then fell on some hard times when they finished in last place for three years straight. Boivin was on the move once again this time to the Detroit Red Wings. He helped the Wings to the Cup finals in his first year there. Leo then went on to play for Pittsburgh and Minnesota. The North Stars released him in the summer of 1970, and instead of taking an offer to join Punch Imlach's Buffalo Sabres, Leo opted to retire.

When Boivin, who captained the Bruins from 1963 to 1966, retired he finished with 72 goals and 250 assists for 322 points and 1192 PIM. But fans will always remember him for his body checking skills. Foster Hewitt said it best when he described this particular play involving Boivin and the great Frank Mahovlich.

"Mahovlich has a breakaway! He's at the Boston blue line. Only Boivin between him and the goal. Big Frank dekes left. Now he shifts right, trying to sweep around the burly Boston defenseman . . . WHAMMO! `Uh-oh! Boivin catches No. 27 with a wicked hip check. Frank does a cartwheel. Now Boivin has the puck . . . ''

He remained active in the sport after retirement, serving as a coach and a scout. He even briefly coach the St. Louis Blues twice. In both stints he was filling in as an interim coach, but he preferred to scout. After a decade in St. Louis Boivin followed Emile Francis to Hartford and scouted for the Whalers until he retired as a scout in 1993.

Enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986, Leo has been enjoying retirement life since the early 1990s. After years of travel as a scout he rarely leaves his home back near the St. Lawrence River. Life is a complete circle for Leo. He grew up care free along the St. Lawrence, and now he's back there.

9 comments:

penaltykiller9,  4:06 AM  

The Bruins could sure use a Leo Boivin style defenseman nowadays.One of the greatest tributes to Boivin is that when a rare open ice hip check is seen in today's game the name Leo Boivin is brought up immediately by the older fans

Anonymous,  6:18 PM  

I grew up in Leo's home town and have been a Bruins fan my whole life. Leo is the best of the best. he always had time to help out with the minor hockey teams and even today he is a great icon in my home town! A couple months ago he autographed an original hockey card for my 11 year old son. He always has time for the fans!

Anonymous,  10:35 PM  

im 42 years old and grew up in Leos home town in prescott and still live in prescott. i live 2 blocks over from the Leo Boivin community centre. Leo was a real tough guy and didnt take shit from anyone he played against. i still see Leo once a year

Armon 3:40 PM  

Thank you guy's very much for letting us "younger folk's" hear the other side of Leo Boivin! I think it is alway's great to hear some of the old stories of hockey's golden years. Even better would be to hear about hockey's early days. Not many people left from those day's. Make's me appreciate people like you guy's even more. You are a treasure trove of knowledge! Thanks again!

Anonymous,  9:32 AM  

I was a Bostononian and rabid Bruins fan in my early teens in the late '50s. Early on,it was clear that I wasn't NHL material. I was in awe of Leo's mid-ice "down-low" body checking that sent the rusher cartwheeling over his short body. The other guy never got up fighting, Leo was too far away, and both teams felt like applauding. At a preseason open practice at the old Garden, Leo let me sit near him on the bench and asked my help to retie his skates. He was so kind to my friend and me and told us to take a couple of minimally cracked sticks. I'm 66 now, helping teach the town 4-6 yr old "Ice-Mice" the rudiments of hockey. I wear a town jersey with my name on the back and #20. When asked about the number, I say "it's Leo Boivin's #. You aare too young to know him but he must be the same decent and kind human being to have the rink/community centre in his hometown named for him." There is no greater tribute to an athlete.
NPS, MD
Senior Endocrinologist, Children's Hospital Boston
Asst. Professor, Harvard Med Schl

Anonymous,  6:35 AM  

I had a chance to see Leo a lot during my days with the Hartford Whalers. Always an upbeat and classy individual. Luckily, he never hip-checked me in the hallway.

Mark Willand

sweetygirl3 6:02 AM  

Leo Boivin is an amazing person in my life... Never really thought of him as someone famous at all ( always knew him as the best Grandpa in the world). I grew up always knowing of him as my grandpa but never actually realizing I have a famous one!!! I learned throughout the years that, through determination you can succeed in life and get where you want. Grandpa (Leo Boivin) is a true inspiration in my life. He had a passion for hockey and he got where he wanted. He is an absolutely amazing person and has the biggest heart you will ever know!! Good job Grandpa on all your successes in life, and thanks for being a wonderful icon in my life.... Luv you xoxo- Alanna

Anonymous,  11:26 AM  

Leo was a great defenseman and one of the hardest hitters to skate on NHL ice. I saw him a number of times in the old Montreal Forum. Needless to say the Richard brothers were on the receiving end of several of his brutal open ice hip checks. Unlike the bangers of today his checks were vicious but clean. Seeing him in person was like watching a fire hydrant on skates. Unfortunately very few NHL'ers can utilize the hip check as he did. Perhaps Leo ought to teach up and coming players this lost art. The game of hockey would be much more exciting and better for it. Great to see him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Derek 11:29 AM  

That is a great read Alanna - Thanks for posting - nice to hear of the man behind the legend. Hope he has many great years to spend with you.

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