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Hockey Leo Reise: Former Red Wings defenceman had the lucky touch

At 6 feet, 205 pounds, Leo Reise was a battleship presence on the ice.

The Globe and Mail archives

Leo Reise Jr, a burly hockey defenceman, was more bruiser than sniper, yet he scored several key playoff goals for his Detroit Red Wings.

Mr. Reise, who died at 93, twice won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings alongside such celebrated teammates as Red Kelly, Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe.

At 6 feet, 205 pounds, Mr. Reise was one of the largest players of his era, a battleship presence on his own blue-line. His physical style of play earned him a spot on the roster in four All-Star Games.

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It was said that Mr. Reise, readily identifiable on the ice for his size, hawk nose and shock of blond hair, was born to hockey, as his father had been a professional defenceman in the 1920s despite having lost sight in his right eye.

Leo Charles Reise was born on June 7, 1922, at Stoney Creek, Ont., to Christine (née Wilson) and Leopold Adolph Emile Reise. At the time of the boy's birth, the senior Mr. Reise was playing defence for the Hamilton Tigers, a short-lived franchise in the young NHL, while also operating a fruit orchard. He later skated for the NHL's New York Americans and New York Rangers.

Young Leo learned the game by tagging along when his father coached amateur hockey in Ontario. He played junior hockey with the Brantford Lions and Guelph Biltmores. At age 20, he enlisted in the navy, spending the war years playing on service teams in Halifax, Victoria and Winnipeg.

In 1945, the Chicago Black Hawks signed the demobilized defenceman, who had picked up the wartime nickname Radar Reise. He spent most of the first post-war season with the Kansas City Pla-Mors farm team, though he did follow his father into the NHL with an undistinguished six-game tryout with Chicago. In later years, Mr. Reise would be incorrectly described as part of the first father-son team in the NHL. (Lester Patrick's sons, Muzz and Lynn, had earlier followed him into the NHL, while Bert Lindsay preceded his son, Ted.)

In 1946, Chicago traded Mr. Reise to Detroit, where he would enjoy six solid seasons while paired on defence with the likes of Black Jack Stewart, Red Kelly and Marcel Pronovost, all three of whom would be later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

While the stay-at-home defenceman never scored more than five goals in a full NHL campaign, he showed a lucky touch around the net in the playoffs. His long, looping backhanded shot while playing a man short proved to be the winner when Detroit eliminated Montreal in 1949 to advance to the Stanley Cup finals, where they would be swept by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In the 1950 playoffs, Mr. Reise played in 14 games, registering no assists but scoring two goals, both of them overtime winners in a bloody and memorable semifinal series against the Maple Leafs. Detroit's star forward, Mr. Howe, had suffered a serious head injury in the opening game, spending the rest of the playoffs in the hospital. A retaliatory brawl in the second game set the tone for the remainder of the series.

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In Game 4, Mr. Reise scored in the second overtime period with a shot that bounced off an opponent's leg and stick before deflecting into the goal behind Walter (Turk) Broda.

"I never saw the puck until it hit the net and bounced back out between my feet," the goalie said after the game. "I looked down and there it was."

The bitter series went to a seventh game, which was scoreless after regulation. Finally, at 8:39 of sudden-death overtime, Mr. Reise took a pass from George Gee before rifling "a searing blast" between Mr. Broda's pad and the goal post. The goal sent the Red Wings into the Stanley Cup final, where they would defeat the New York Rangers in double overtime of Game 7.

Mr. Reise was the scapegoat in the opening game of Detroit's 1951 playoff campaign, as Rocket Richard stole the puck off his stick before beating Terry Sawchuck in the fourth overtime period for a 3-2 victory. Mr. Reise had scored earlier in the game. The Canadiens went on to eliminate the Red Wings.

In 1952, the Red Wings and Leafs again met in a semifinal series. The opening game set a record for penalties. Mr. Reise's contribution included a fistfight with Jim Thomson for which he was assessed a minor penalty for interference, a major for fighting and a misconduct, a total of 17 penalty minutes. Oh, and the Red Wings won by 3-0.

The Red Wings went on to eliminate Toronto once again before defeating the Canadiens to win Mr. Reise and his teammates their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

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The defenceman was traded in the offseason to the Rangers, where he would play for two seasons. In 494 regular season NHL games, Mr. Reise scored 28 goals with 81 assists and 399 penalty minutes. He had eight goals and five assists in 52 playoff games.

After retiring from hockey, he managed a wholesale plumbing and heating business and later became a partner in Willpak Industries of Oakville, Ont., which manufactures car, truck and van accessories. He was a rare member of his generation of hockey players to gain a formal education, completing a business degree at McMaster University in Hamilton in 1972, before becoming a certified general accountant in 1981. He retired in 1994.

Mr. Reise, a resident of Ancaster, Ont., died in Hamilton on July 26. He leaves the former Geraldine Muntz, his wife of 72 years. He also leaves three sons, seven grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and two sisters.

In 1992, he was one of seven retired players who put their names on a lawsuit claiming the NHL wrongfully took pension money. The suit won about $43-million. Mr. Reise, who had been successful in business, said at the time he did not need the money, but knew many former teammates and opponents who did.

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