Eddie Shack, one of the most beloved of all Maple Leafs, died Saturday night from throat cancer at age 83.
A colourful winger known as “The Entertainer,” he was a member of the last four Toronto teams to win the Stanley Cup, and scored the winning goal, an accidental deflection off his rear end, in 1963.
An agitator and brawler who infuriated opponents, Shack was described in a story in The Globe and Mail in 1965 as the “pride and joy of Maple Leafs fans.” A year later, he was celebrated in a song that quickly rose to the top of Toronto’s musical charts ahead of singles by the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
The recording by The Secrets began with “Clear the track, here comes Shack, he knocks ‘em down, and he gives ‘em a whack.”
He once knocked out two New York Rangers on one play, gave Gordie Howe a concussion and head-butted Montreal’s Henri Richard during a scuffle in a playoff game. Later, Henri’s brother, Maurice, told Shack, who had a pronounced nose, “Thank God you never hit my brother with your nose or you would have split him in two.”
In perhaps his most famous hockey fight, Shack and Larry Zeidel of the Philadelphia Flyers swung their sticks at one another as referees looked on helplessly.
“I think people from the generation after he [left the team] knew him for his wit and as Eddie the Entertainer,” Brendan Shanahan, the president and alternate governor of the Maple Leafs, said. “But he was also quite a successful player.”
Shack played for Toronto twice during an NHL career that spanned 17 years and also included stints with the Rangers, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins.
He won Stanley Cups with Toronto in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967, and last played in the league for the Maple Leafs during the 1974-75 season.
The team announced his death on social media Sunday morning.
“The Maple Leafs are deeply saddened by the passing of Eddie Shack,” the club said in a statement. “Eddie entertained fans on the ice for nine seasons and for decades off of it. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Shack underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 1997. The disease returned this year in his throat, and he received radiation treatments in the spring.
“When you are 83 and get difficult news, it kind of takes you back a little bit,” Shack’s nephew, Peter Woitowich, said by phone from Sudbury, Ont. ”He lost his appetite and got weak and ended up in the hospital.
“He was making a little progress, but that can only go so far.”
The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Shack was born in Sudbury, on Feb. 11, 1937. A poor student but promising hockey player, he dropped out of school to work as a butcher and shovelled coal but jumped at a chance to play for the Guelph Biltmores of the Ontario Hockey Association as a 15-year-old. He played for the Biltmores for five seasons, and led them to an appearance in the Memorial Cup the last year.
In 1958, New York signed him and assigned him to its AHL team in Providence, R.I., but called him up to the NHL after half a year. He played for the Rangers in parts of three seasons before being traded to Toronto in November of 1960.
He remained with Maple Leafs until he was dealt to Boston shortly after the team won the 1967 Stanley Cup, and then returned to Toronto in an exchange with Pittsburgh in the summer of 1973.
Shack finished with 239 goals, 226 assists and 1,439 penalty minutes over 1,047 regular-season contests, and also played in 74 playoff games.
Spectators at Maple Leaf Gardens would chant “We want Shack” as the third-line forward sat on the bench, and he would occasionally indulge them by standing with arms raised to get them to chant louder.
Shanahan shot a commercial with him before the 1998 Olympics, and got to know him better in recent years.
“He was always the same character you saw on TV,” Shanahan said. “He would fill the room. You could hear his laughter down the hallway.”
In 1963, Shack scored the Cup-winning goal at Maple Leaf Gardens in Game 5 against the Detroit Red Wings. He claimed afterwards that the puck had deflected off his backside as he was trying get out of the way.
It led to Toronto’s second straight Stanley Cup title, and led to head coach Punch Imlach, owner Harold Ballard and team president Stafford Smythe being tossed into the showers after the game. The team soon took part in a victory parade along Bay Street and had a reception at City Hall.
“Sometimes it is tough living with a legend,” Woitowich said. “To get 10 feet in Toronto with him would take about an hour because so many people would stop him.
“When you are a teenager, you roll your eyes. When you are 40, you appreciate it.”
Shack met his wife, Norma Givens, when she worked at the Eaton’s across from the Empress Hotel in Peterborough, Ont., where the team held its training camps. The couple married in 1962 and had two children.
Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date.
Tributes began to pour in Sunday from across the league, and even from Quebec Premier François Legault.
“[I] salute the late Eddie Shack with the sentiments of many fans and teams for which he didn’t play: We loved to hate him,” Legault‘s post on Twitter said.
The NHL also issued a statement on social media.
“The NHL is mourning the passing of four-time Stanley Cup champion Eddie Shack,” it said. “A fierce competitor on the ice, [he] was a perennial fan favourite whose personality earned him the moniker ‘The Entertainer.‘ ”
Dick Duff, who was a teammate of Shack in Toronto, Buffalo and Los Angeles, recalled him as a very effective player.
“He had a basic street instinct, and he didn’t mind doing what he had to,” Duff, 82, said. “He played to the fans and did things other guys wouldn’t do. He was kind of unpredictable. He was a concern if you played against him.”
Duff remembers being picked up by Shack in a dune buggy at the Los Angeles airport after he was traded to the Kings. He laughed when he recalled him selling souvenirs signed by his teammates.
“He was a shrewd bugger,” Duff said. “He once told me, ‘I can’t read or write but I can count.' He was a fun guy to have around.”
After he retired, Shack co-owned the Vaughan Valley Golf Club, established the Eddie Shack Donuts chain and became a spokesman for numerous companies, including Esso, Journey’s End Hotels, and The Pop Shoppe, a soft drink brand.
Shack’s wife had been able to visit him in the North York Hospital, where he died. Other family members were unable to see him because of safety restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s a terrible time,” Woitowich said. “A lot of people are in this same situation. It is heartbreaking.”
In his youth, Woitowich was the recipient of many of his uncle’s hockey sticks. He got to see him play in person after Shack rejoined the Maple Leafs at the end of his career.
“Hockey has got character,” Woitowich said. “Eddie Shack was a character.”