Sudbury loses one of its own, mourns the loss of hockey legend Eddie Shack
It’s a sad day for the hockey world as one of its most colourful figures, Eddie Shack, passes away at age 83, following a battle with cancer.
While the city of Sudbury is mourning the loss of one of its own, social media saw an outpouring of support from players, fans and hockey clubs far beyond the nickel city.
Shack was famous for his larger than life persona, pure physicality that only slightly shadowed his ability to make plays and score goals on the ice. Dubbed “The Entertainer”—Shack was blue-collar Sudbury from head-to-toe, sporting the iconic cowboy hat with a mustache to match.
Born-and-raised in the city’s west end, he grew up on the outdoor rink at what was then the Riverside Playground. Dropping out of school at any early age without the ability to read or write, he worked as a meat-cutter before clearing the track for a career in the NHL.
“I think for a town like Sudbury or any other Northern Ontario community not necessarily just Sudbury, a lot of that resonates with people who do those kinds of jobs and do that kind of work” said local hockey historian and author Mike Commito.
“When they see a player like that who they can see themselves in and he plays an entertaining style of game they like to see, ultimately I think that kind of transcends everything else that he does, whether you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs or not, I think you can respect his humble beginnings and makes you want to really root for somebody like that.”
His style of play gave rise to movies like Slap Shot and showcased the roughneck side of the sport at a time when there were no helmets to pull off before a fight.
While Shack’s reputation for physicality literally defined hard-nosed, his ability to score goals cannot be overlooked, netting twenty plus goals with five different NHL teams, including a game winner for the Maple Leafs in the 1963 Stanley Cup Final.
His career stats over 17 seasons are something of a myth now-a-days with 465 points by way of 239 goals and 226 assists, all-the-while still logging over 1400 penalty minutes.
With his nickname coming in part from his work on the ice, his humour and antics off the ice were also the stuff of legend.
“I think he was a guy that many would consider a ‘glue guy’ where he kept things light, he liked to do things to keep things loose in the dressing room. I remember this story, I think it was from his book where he talked about the time when Johnny Bower made a $5 dollar bet with him that he wouldn’t ride on the airport luggage carousel to get a rise from the guys,” said Commito, referring to a story from Shack’s 2019 book titled ‘Hockey’s Most Entertaining Stories.’
Commito, who authored the book Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice, points to stories like these as part of The Entertainer’s contribution to creating a winning culture on-and-off the ice.
“If you look at a lot of these teams, you may have teams where not everybody liked each-other and that’s fine, like any work environment not everybody has to like each-other, but I think ultimately you need to have somebody in there who has that type of presence, who can bring that group together and share a joke when a joke needs to be shared,” explained Commito.
Few sports careers are worthy of celebrating in a song but “Clear the Track” performed by Douglas Rankine with The Secrets earned Shack several top spots on Toronto music charts in 1966 while the Montreal Canadiens earned top spot in the NHL that year.
"Clear the track, here comes Shack. He knocks ‘em down and he gives 'em a whack. He can scores goals, he's got a knack. Eddie, Eddie Shack."
The song was originally penned by broadcaster Brian McFarlane.
In addition to having his name engraved on Lord Stanley under the team name, The Maple Leafs recognized Shack as a core piece of the 60s dynasty and the organization honoured him with No. 68 on their 100 greatest players list.
Among his list of accolades and accomplishments, seldom mentioned is the work he’s done advocating for child literacy across Ontario –a cause that held a direct connection to his own challenges.
“I don’t think there is anything in Sudbury that pays homage to Eddie Shack,” said Commito when asked if he thinks a petition will be started to change a street name.
“But now more than ever would be a good time to reflect on all of his contributions to the community and the hockey world and find some way to honour him.”