The threat of an open-ice hit delivered by Brian Glennie was as fearsome as an incoming artillery shell. Sometimes he missed, to the relief of the target, but when he did not the results could be devastating.
The long-time Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman was regarded as the best body checker in the National Hockey League in the 1970s, an era remembered now for its violence.
Mr. Glennie, who has died at 73, was not a dirty player, though he had a tendency to lift an elbow while delivering a check. He earned the nickname Blunt for the unsubtle nature of his style of play. The poet Al Purdy described him as “a blueline basher and hammer made of flesh.”
In nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, the stay-at-home Mr. Glennie was often paired with a flashier and better-skating defensive partner, including Tim Horton, Jim McKenny, Ian Turnbull (who once scored five goals in a game), and the Swedish star Borje Salming.
“You could drag a wino off the street,” Mr. Glennie once said, “and he’d look good alongside Salming.”
The Leafs did not win a Stanley Cup in his nine seasons with the club, though he did win a Memorial Cup junior championship as captain of the Toronto Marlboros. He also won a bronze medal playing for Canada at the 1968 Winter Olympics.
Four years later, he was named to Team Canada for the legendary Summit Series after Dallas Smith turned down an invitation so he could harvest wheat on his Manitoba farm. Mr. Glennie did not skate in the eight games against the Soviet Union, though he was an eager participant in practices and played in exhibitions against Sweden and Czechoslovakia. Mr. Glennie joined other members of the storied team in being inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
Brian Alexander Glennie was born in Toronto on Aug. 29, 1946, to the former Irene Savage and Alexander Glennie. His mother was a secretary at a law firm, while his father held supervisory positions with an oil company. He played youth hockey for a team sponsored by Bick’s Pickles and coached by Roger Neilson, an innovative hockey mind who, many years later, again coached the defenceman with the Leafs.
At 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds, Mr. Glennie established himself as a dependable defender with the Toronto Marlboros. He was named captain for the 1966-67 season and led the team to a Memorial Cup title by defeating the Thetford Mines (Que.) Canadiens and the Port Arthur (Ont.) Marrs in the playoffs. In nine games, Mr. Glennie scored two goals and nine assists.
Several players on the roster went on to enjoy NHL careers, including fellow defenceman Mike Pelyk with the Maple Leafs and Brad Park, who had a hall-of-fame career with the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings.
The Marlies’ triumph in Centennial Year was overshadowed by the parent Maple Leafs defeating the favoured Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup, a prize that has since eluded the team.
Mr. Glennie, a university student, was recruited for Canada’s national hockey team, which finished in third place at the Olympic Games in Grenoble, France. The defenceman recorded an assist and 10 penalty minutes in seven games, during which Canadian goalies Ken Broderick and Wayne Stephenson surrendered just 15 goals.
After a season in the minor leagues with the Tulsa Oilers and Rochester Americans, Mr. Glennie made his debut with Toronto in the 1969-70 season. While he played in 52 games, he saw limited action as the team’s seventh defenceman and would not get regular shifts until his third season.
“I was one that didn’t know Glennie was that good,” Maple Leafs coach King Clancy said in 1972. “But he’s improved 100 per cent. It just proves that if you give a guy a chance, the kid will come up smelling like roses.”
One of his biggest fans was Toronto goalie Jacques Plante, who appreciated Mr. Glennie’s positioning and shot blocking.
The defenceman’s roughhouse body checks did not go unanswered by opponents. After he delivered a tough but legal hit against Detroit’s Bryan Hextall in a game at Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov. 5, 1975, Mr. Glennie was attacked from behind with a right-handed sucker-punch by Dan Maloney (obituary, Nov. 25, 2018). The blow concussed the Leafs player, who crumpled to the ice only to have Mr. Maloney punch him again before lifting and dropping him like a ragdoll.
The Detroit player was acquitted by a jury of assault causing bodily harm. Two years later, Dangerous Dan, as he was known, was traded to Toronto, becoming Mr. Glennie’s teammate.
Slowed by injury and suffering a bad back, Toronto traded Mr. Glennie to the Los Angeles Kings, with whom he would play only 18 games before retiring. In 572 NHL games, he scored 14 goals with 100 assists.
Over the seasons, his numerous injuries included torn knee ligaments, a groin pull, separated ribs, torn ligaments in his right hand and constant pain in his back. He needed operations on both shoulders and played with a harness keeping his right arm in place.
“Every time I was hit my arm would dislocate, and then go back into place,” he told Mr. Purdy in a 1975 interview. That was not the worst of it. “I hit somebody along the boards, heard this tremendous snap, and went out like a light.” He awoke in hospital to discover his right leg in a cast.
After retiring from hockey, Mr. Glennie opened a bar and restaurant called Wheels inside a converted Supertest service station. He also worked for the York Litho printing company in Toronto. He later retired to Port Carling in Ontario’s scenic Muskoka Lakes region. In recent years, during which he battled numerous ailments, many dating from his time as a hockey professional, he lived in Ottawa to be nearer to his grandchildren.
Mr. Glennie died in hospital on Feb. 7. He leaves two adult children, two granddaughters and a brother.
He wore No. 24 throughout his NHL career. Later in his career, he wore a bubble helmet and a white horse-collar neck brace, which from the stands looked like a towel draped around his neck. As the 1970s progressed, he became ever more hirsute, first growing a handlebar mustache, then allowing his hair to grow long and unruly. By the end of his career, he looked so unkempt as to resemble a U.S. Civil War veteran.
His hard-nosed approach made him popular with Toronto fans and hated by fans on the road. During the 1978 playoffs against the New York Islanders, uncouth patrons at Nassau Coliseum chanted a scatological, three-word declaration as to Mr. Glennie’s dining preferences.
That same year, he appeared with teammate Lanny McDonald in a humorous television commercial for Swanson’s Hungry-Man frozen dinners. Mr. Glennie is depicted as being so wild and hungry he tears off the door of a kitchen’s freezer to get at the treats inside.