The ‘Philly welcome’ and other hockey tales

John Mahoney/Montreal Gazette

Montreal Gazette hockey writer Pat Hickey in the press box at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

It was a nice Honda Accord. Sure, it had more than 300,000 clicks and was almost a decade old – but it was paid for.

And it might never have been a story if not for being parked, with its Quebec licence plate in full view, in a rival town touted as the city of brotherly love.

As long-time Montreal Gazette sports reporter Pat Hickey, MA’78, tells the tale, he emerged from Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Centre hockey’s Eastern Conference playoffs in 2010 – the Canadiens won, 5-1 – to find his car had been the target of a ‘Philly welcome.’

Beer cans on the hood and roof. Hubcap broken off. One windshield wiper missing and the other one bent. Cracked windshield. Punctured tire.

And that Quebec licence plate: gone.

“The next day was busy,” Hickey explained in his new book, If These Walls Could Talk: Montreal Canadiens: Stories from the Montreal Canadiens Ice, Locker Room and Press Box.

“Between practices, I filed a police report, bought a new tire and wipers and called Canadian Customs for assurance I could get back into the country without a licence plate,” Hickey said.

The story went viral and a culprit was eventually charged and ordered to pay restitution to Hickey.

Over the next year or so, the vandal sent the hockey writer occasional cheques, which Hickey donated to charity.

The book is filled with anecdotes about one of the most successful teams in NHL history and about its legendary players: GuyLafleur, Patrick Roy, Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau and P.K. Subban.

Born in New York, Hickey took his first foray north of the border playing basketball at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, NS, where he the journalism bug first bit him.

Hickey soon landed the sports beat at the (now defunct) Montreal Star in 1965, before heading to the Toronto Suna decade later.

He then decided to head back to the classroom, coming to Western to earn his MA in Journalism.

“I had already been 13 years in the business, but what I wanted to do was teach and thought it would be good to get a masters,” said Hickey, who continued working full time at the Sun while at Western.

“It reinvigorated me. I had a good year. It was interesting being around younger people and getting a different perspective. People were quite welcoming.”

While on campus, Hickey forged a friendship with Clark Davey, a member of the first graduating class in Journalism at Western in 1948 and a man who would become a mentor and confidante for decades to come. While at The Globe and Mail, Davey called Hickey to help him launch a sports tabloid.

He later spent a short time in Vancouver – “I hated Vancouver and I don’t think they particularly liked me” – before returning to Toronto where he became deputy national editor at the Toronto Star. Hickey recalled the electives he took at Western – in particular, economics and political science –which he found invaluable in that new non-sports role.

Hickey returned to sports the following year when Davey, by then the publisher at the Montreal Gazette, convinced him to return as sports editor. He was covering the Canadiens a few years later, where he remains to this day.

His latest book is not his first venture into the publishing world. He wrote 100 Things Every Canadiens Fan Should Know and Do Before They Die in 2015.

Even earlier, while at Western, he profiled famed Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiakfor a book that had been in the hands of a Russian publishing company before being bought by a U.S. company that translated it into English and then sold the book to a Canadian publisher.

“My job was to try and make it serviceable, since it was mostly about 1972 (the famous Canada/Russia hockey series). In 1978 it was old news. So I sat down with Vlad in Hartford one afternoon and added a chapter,” recalled Hickey.

But If These Wall Could Talk was much easier to put together, he added.

“It was a little easier going back and checking, especially when your memory is not quite what it was,” joked Hickey. “It’s a lot more personable than the other books I’ve done. There is a sense of pride when you get it back, that you’ve accomplished something. Then comes the first feedback, particularly from colleagues and new people in the business. It’s gratifying when people like it.”

A big chunk of this book talks about his relationship with Subban, who now plays for Nashville. “Whenever you had a conversation with him you were going to get a story,” he said.

The late Jean Beliveau, one of the most respected players in history, was also a guaranteed story.

“He was a good friend and one of the things I like about Jean was talking about things other than sports,” said Hickey, noting Beliveau was well-read for someone whose formal education ended before he graduated from high school. “He was always interested in religion and history. Whenever he recommended a book it was worth tracking it down.”

The league has changed over the years and, “you have fewer personal relationships with the players. It’s a different time.”

But it’s a time he still enjoys.

“My long-time colleague, Mike Farber, and I used to say we have the greatest job in the world. It’s not like working for a living. It’s been great.”