Friday, November 5, 2010

Eddie Litzenberger dies at the age of 78.

By: Ron "Scoreboard" Johnston

"Big Eddie", as he was well-known was born July 15, 1932, in Neudorf, Saskatchewan, a small town 35 miles southwest of Melville. He died Monday, November 1, 2010, in Toronto, Ontario and buried at the Riverside Cemetery, Etobicoke, Ontario. Ed told me in (2000), "I coached in the Etobicoke Midget League. My team missed first place by one point."

Litzenberger was a National Hockey League player of significant repute in the 1950's and 1960's. He was a rangy centre who also played some right wing. At 6'4 and 205 lbs, Litzenberger was a giant player in his era.

Back in 1999 I contacted Eddie by telephone to obtain his permission to submit his name as an inductee for the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. For the next four years, I communicated with him by phone and letters. In those years I enjoyed our becoming close and learning a lot more about him. To me, he was one of the best Regina Pats in his area. (Photo: Ron "Scoreboard" Johnston - Collection)

Ed played his minor hockey in Weyburn. Litzenberger was a junior standout with the Regina Pats (twice helping the WHL team reach the Memorial Cup). In 1953, the Regina Leader Post, Saturday, April 19, issue carried the following quote, "Eddie Litzenberger played his farewell game in Regina. The 195 pound lanky Regina Pat player was one of the greatest goal scorers to ever wear the Regina Pats colours."

He was invited to the Montreal Canadiens training camp in 1952, although he certainly did not plan on an NHL career. Eddie mentioned to me,"I went down to the University of Colorado and registered. Then I went to the Montreal training camp and they offered me a contract and I kind of forsook my college degree." He jumped right into the NHL with Montreal.

Despite their promise, the Canadiens mysteriously "sold" Litzenberger's playing rights to the floundering Chicago Black Hawks. It was the "Help The Hawks Plan" as Litzenberger described it, a deliberate attempt by the NHL to stock the Chicago team with good players to rescue them from their terrible struggles.

"I cried real tears," said Litzenberger of the trade to Chicago. The night before he had scored the game winning goal for Montreal, and then his world was turned upside down. "You become a little bit of an instrument but I look back with affection. It gave me a chance to learn what (life) was all about."

Litzenberger was a significant factor in the Black Hawks resurgence, leading the way with class and distinction, not to mention goals.

Despite the mid-season trade Litzenberger would earn the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year, scoring 40 points in the final 40 games. Served as the team's Captain during the 1958-59 and 1960-61 seasons. Gangly but deceptive, he would go on to become a regular linemate of Bobby Hull (with Lorne Ferguson), a 6 time All Star Game participant and score 32 or more goals in three consecutive seasons.

Perhaps most importantly, he was the leader of the Hawks, named team captain, and he led by example with hard work and pure class. Though his scoring had dried up, he helped complete the Black Hawks return to glory by leading the team to the Stanley Cup Championship in 1961!

Litzenberger had to overcome personal tragedy to enjoy that Championship. A year earlier he and his wife were in a serious car accident, hitting a viaduct on icy roads. His wife, who was driving, died while he suffered cracked ribs, contusions of the liver, and a bad concussion.

After the Cup win, Litzenberger remarried but he was never the same player on the ice. The Hawks traded off their team captain after that Stanley Cup Championship. Litzenberger briefly went to Detroit (playing in 32 games) before finding a home in Toronto. It could not have been better timing for Litzenberger. His veteran presence helped secure the rise of the Toronto Maple Leafs dynasty. Litzenberger and the Leafs won the next three Stanley Cups - in 1962, 1963 and 1964! (Photo: Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame 36th Annual Induction Dinner)

By the third championship Litzenberger had become a bit player with the Leafs. He continued to play in a mentoring role with the Leafs farm teams in Rochester, where he would win two Calder Trophy Championships in 1965 and 1966. Litzenberger is the only player who won a league championship title in six consecutive seasons!

Ed said, "My last two years were with the Rochester Americans in 1964-1965 to 1965-66 and we won the Calder Cup as American League Champions. So, all included, I was a lucky guy being on six consecutive championship teams in a row, three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Black Hawks, and one with Toronto Maple Leafs. After playing with Rochester I could have gone to Los Angeles but decided to retire from hockey. Instead I went to New York and became a stock broker."

Litzenberger sensed it was time to leave the ice in 1966. He retired with 178 goals and had 238 assists in 618 regular season games. In the playoffs he scored 5 goals and had 13 assists in 40 games.

He is still recognized by hockey fans and says, "I think probably the one thing that delights me more than anything is that they never really knew me as anything except a gentleman." Eddie was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, June 15, 2002.