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Dick Gamble, 89, was the model for the tin players in a famous table-top hockey game

Dick Gamble’s name is engraved on the Stanley Cup and it hangs from the rafters at the arena in Rochester, N.Y.

Mr. Gamble, who has died at 89, had a 21-season professional career, an achievement of note for a rare National Hockey League (NHL) player to hail from New Brunswick. For all his success on ice, he received little recognition for what might be his lasting contribution to sports lore as the model for the tin players of a table-top hockey game.

A 6-foot, 178-pound left winger known for an accurate shot, Mr. Gamble broke into the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, helping the storied club win a Stanley Cup championship in 1953.

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The bulk of his career was spent in the minor professional American Hockey League (AHL), one level below the NHL. The forward was a top scorer for the Rochester Americans, guiding the club to three championships in the mid-1960s.

At the advanced age of 38, he led the AHL in scoring. He played for another three full seasons before hanging up his skates for a job as coach.

A long-faced man with deep-set eyes, a battered nose and jug ears, Mr. Gamble was said to carry a look of perpetual grievance, earning him the nickname Grumps.

Dick Gamble hockey card from the 1950s.

Courtesy of Dennis Kane

Richard Frank Gamble was born in Moncton on Nov. 16, 1928, to the former Frances Louisa Lane, a farmer’s daughter from Prosser Brook, N.B., and Frank Ernest Gamble, an immigrant from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. The father came to Canada at the age of 13 in 1908 to work on a farm in Saskatchewan. He served in the army during the First World War and afterward laboured for the Canadian National Railway. Young Dick played shinny on the frozen sloughs near the rail yards where his father worked.

“My father didn’t want me to become a hockey player,” the athlete once told the sports writer Eddie St. Pierre. “He was concerned I might wind up a hockey bum.”

The sharpshooting forward led his junior Moncton Bruins to the Maritime title and Eddie Drillon, an NHL scoring star also from Moncton, recommended the player to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs passed, feeling the player was too small and needed seasoning. The teenager put in three more seasons of junior with the Oshawa Generals in Ontario followed by two campaigns with the Quebec Aces.

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The Canadiens added the rookie to their roster for the 1951-52 season and he responded by scoring 23 goals in 64 games. The stellar performance was overshadowed by three other superb rookies Montreal added that season in Dollard St. Laurent, Dickie Moore and Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, who won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. The latter two forwards went on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Dick Gamble's image on an Eagle Toys table-top hockey game from the 1950s.

André Rivest

The following season the Canadiens finished in second place in the regular season. They eliminated the fourth-place Chicago Black Hawks in a seven-game semi-final series with Mr. Gamble scoring the game-winning goal in a 4-3 comeback in Game 2. Despite his heroics, the winger was benched by coach Dick Irvin Sr. in the finals against the Boston Bruins, who were defeated in five games, earning Mr. Gamble a place on the Stanley Cup despite having watched the triumph in street clothes.

He would be traded to Chicago for part of a season before returning to the Canadiens, where a precipitous drop in scoring led to a demotion to the minors that would last for the final 15 seasons of his career, except for three games of spot duty with the NHL Maple Leafs.

The winger regained his scoring touch in the AHL. After scoring 40 goals for the Buffalo Bisons in 1960-61, Mr. Gamble demanded a salary increase. Instead, he was traded to Rochester, where he would record seasons of 39, 35, 34, 48, 47 and 46 goals for the Amerks. The durable forward, who rarely missed a game, won the scoring title with 98 points in 71 games in 1965-66, also earning honours as the league’s most valuable player.

He added duties as the teams playing coach two years later, hanging up his skates after scoring just one goal in eight games to start the 1969-70 season. While his NHL totals were unimpressive with 41 goals and 41 assists in 195 games, his 892 points in 898 AHL games remains the fifth-best in league history more than 45 years after he retired.

He had less success behind the bench and in the office as the Amerks’ general manager, a position he held for a year before fired in 1971.

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He became a recreational vehicle salesman in Caledonia, N.Y. In 1963, he opened a summer hockey camp, one of the first of its kind, in Bowmanville, Ont., where he joined goalie Gerry Cheevers and defenceman Larry Hillman in teaching youngsters the fundamentals of the game.

Mr. Gamble has been inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame at Fredericton (1984) and the American Hockey League Hall of Fame (2007). His name was added to the Moncton Wall of Fame in 1986 and the Walk of Fame in Rochester in 2000.

In 1999, the Amerks retired his No. 9 sweater in tribute to him and to Jody Gage, a star player who inherited the number.

Mr. Gamble died on March 22 in hospital in Rochester. He leaves the former Marcia McNish, his wife of 45 years; a daughter; three sons; five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

As prolific a scorer as he was on the ice, Mr. Gamble – or at least his likeness – scored countless goals in table-hockey games played across the land. In the 1950s, Eagle Toys Ltd. of Montreal unveiled a version of the game featuring tin players in the livery of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. It was revealed in Michael McKinley’s 2006 book Hockey: A People’s History that the model for the defencemen and forwards was Mr. Gamble, who was rendered on competing teams of identical quintets as a brunette with Montreal and a strawberry blond with Toronto.

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