Leswick Knew How to Launch “The Rocket!”

by | Feb 15, 2023

Leswick Knew How to Launch “The Rocket!”

by | Feb 15, 2023

Tony Leswick was born in March, 1923, in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. He was the seventh of nine children born to Jim and Mary Leswick and learned how to play hockey from his three older brothers who had varying degrees of success in the sport. Nick, the oldest was banned from playing hockey in Humboldt for life for hitting an opposing player over the head with his stick. Jack, the second eldest, made it to the NHL with the Chicago Black Hawks where he won a Stanley Cup in 1934. Unfortunately he drowned that summer while on a road trip with his amateur baseball team. A third brother, Pete, spent most of his career in the minor leagues, but did see limited action with the New York Americans and Boston Bruins.

After playing Junior hockey with the Saskatoon Quakers, Tony turned pro at age 19, with the Cleveland Barons in 1942. He served two years in the Royal Canadian Navy and was then selected by the Rangers in June 1945 in the Inter-League Draft.

Tony came along at just the right time for the Rangers who were in search of new blood. World War II was ending and general manager Frank Boucher was realizing that many of his players who were returning from military duty had lost a step or two and weren’t able to keep up to the pace of the NHL any longer. Enter Leswick, who was just the kind of player the Blueshirts needed.

Tony made his NHL debut in 1945 at the age of 22, notching 15 goals with nine assists in 50 games. His presence also added an element of feistiness to the line-up, something the Blueshirts were sorely lacking at the time.

Leswick, was a relentless checker and a pest, an agitator. He specialized in getting under opponents skin and getting them off their game, especially players like Ted “Teeder” Kennedy, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsey. However his favorite target was Maurice Richard, who he derisively called “Firecracker,” which irritated “the Rocket” to no end. In the words of veteran referee Bill Chadwick,  “Leswick could bring out the worst in a saint.”

Tony was small, 5-7, 160 pounds, but tough. He did a little boxing in his native Saskatchewan, and never backed down from anybody, leading the Blueshirts in penalties in 1947-48, 1948-49 and 1950-51.

One game in particular illustrates the effect Leswick had on Richard. On January 7. 1950 the Rangers traveled to Montreal to take on the Canadiens in a battle for second place in the standings. Trailing 1-0 going into the third period, the Blueshirts scored two  unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead. With just twenty seconds remaining in the match, Richard, who had already been called for three minor penalties, was lured into taking a fourth by Leswick, which lit the Rocket’s fuse.

When the final buzzer sounded, Richard jumped out of the penalty box and made a bee-line for Leswick and started swinging. They were separated a number of times but Richard managed to break free and go after his nemesis again. At one point even taking a wild swing at Rangers’ coach Lynn Patrick.

Leswick was a competitor and hated to lose a fight and when he did, he vowed to get revenge which almost got him into trouble with the police one night after a particularly rough game against Boston.

Tony had taken a beating from Bruin defenseman Fern Flamen and was still steaming as he and teammate Don “Bones” Raleigh had their post-game meal at a restaurant near the Garden.

“Next time Boston’s here I’m gonna kill him,” growled Tony. “He’s always got his stick up around your neck, digging away. I’ll pound his head through the ice.”

Unfortunately the conversation was overheard by a nearby diner, who, hearing the words “kill him” and “stick up,” thought Leswick and Raleigh were a couple of mobsters and called the cops. The police arrived quickly and seeing the two well-dressed but scarred gentlemen, didn’t believe that they were hockey players. It finally took a call to Boucher to convince the cops to allow the pair to go on their way.

But Leswick was not just a pest, he could put points on the board as well.

He led the Rangers in goals twice (1946-47 and 1947-48 – tied with Buddy O’Connor). He also led in points twice, (1946-47 and 1949-50, tied with Edgar Laprade) and tied with Don Raleigh for the most assists in 1949-50.  He also scored 17 game winning goals for the Rangers and added seven more while with Detroit.

Tony was also a solid playoff performer tying Phil Watson for the team lead in goals and points in 1947-48. And in 1950, Leswick came within inches of winning the Stanley Cup for the Rangers when his shot in overtime in the seventh game of the finals hit the post behind Harry Lumley right before Pete Babando scored the game winner against Chuck Rayner.

But following the 1950-51 season Frank Boucher was looking for more scoring and dealt Leswick to Detroit in exchange for Gaye Stewart.  It was not one of Boucher’s better deals. Stewart, who was a proven goal scorer with Toronto, Chicago as well as Detroit was a disappointment in New York and was claimed on waivers by Montreal early the next season.

Meanwhile Leswick played five more seasons with the Red Wings and won three Stanley Cups in the process, even scoring the Cup winning goal in overtime against the Canadiens in 1954. That goal was one of five game winners he scored in the playoffs for both the Rangers and Red Wings.

Leswick was traded to Chicago in May 1955 and  resurfaced with the Red Wings the next season. He also played with Edmonton and Vancouver of the WHL before retiring in 1960.

Overall in 740 regular season NHL games across a dozen seasons, Tony scored 165 goals (including 24 game-winners), with 159 assists, 902 PIM and played in six All-Star games. In 59 playoff games Tony recorded 13 goals, (five game-winners), with 10 assists and 101 PIM, as well as winning three Stanley Cups he won with Detroit.

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