Mr. 1967-1968 (Bob Graham)Nov 25, 2011 - 04:32 EST
It’s not every day you get to have a chat with someone who really does eat, sleep and breathe hockey. But that’s exactly the chance I got when I sat down to talk with Bob Graham.
Longtime fans might remember Bob from his very first year in the league, in 1967. He sported number 12 and guarded the blue line alongside defensive partner and good friend, Wes Rydall, on a 67’s team that was just as new to the league as they were.
When Bob talked about his time with the 67’s, he talked about the difficulties of coming into a brand new team. “We had a young team. A very good young team, but apparently it wasn’t near strong enough to put up with the guys who were 19 and 20 years old in the league.”
Despite finishing their first season with only six wins (and three ties) Bob has fond memories of his time with the 67’s. “The fans were great. We had a big thrill here. We played the Montreal Canadiens in an exhibition game. I think they had a packed house. It was a lot of fun.” As for the outcome of that game? “I don’t think we had too much of a chance,” Bob told me with a chuckle. “It was a fun game though.”
After spending time in the Nation’s Capital playing junior hockey, Bob headed to Nijmegen, Holland to play three seasons. At the time in Holland, teams played very short seasons with roughly only 30 games, and no playoffs. Bob remembered this as a far more relaxing experience compared to the North American style of semi-pro, or pro hockey.
When he returned to Canada, Bob continued his involvement in hockey by becoming an assistant coach for the University of Waterloo team. Times were different back then though, and there was less funding for players at this level. While Bob enjoyed his time as assistant coach, he didn’t like seeing schools unable to fairly compete because they couldn’t afford it. “It was hard to get players to come to the school because you had to pay for your own skates and things like that. You only had so many sticks and after you broke them, you were on your own. I remember going into the last few games of the year and everybody only had about one stick left. Some guys were borrowing sticks. It wasn’t pretty at the time.”
Bob also got involved with minor hockey in Kitchener, becoming a coach for many years. It’s an experience he described as frustrating but rewarding. “When somebody comes up to you 10 or 15 years after they played for you and they say ‘Hi Mr. Graham. How are you?’ and they tell you how much they enjoyed playing when you were coaching them. That’s the biggest payback you can get. But I guess the hardest part of coaching in minor hockey is having to deal with the parents. The kids have always been easy to deal with. It’s the parents. They pay the way though.”
The proud grandfather of five has been married to wife Diane for 42 years, is semi retired, working at a golf course, and continues his involvement in the sport he has so passionately loved his whole life by playing senior hockey, and refereeing in New Hamburg.
Bob and Diane recently made an appearance in Ottawa to take in his first 67’s game in town since his playing days here, 45 years ago. “I couldn’t get over the size of the city. I guess I’m more of a small town person. It’s a little bit intimidating. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. Now I can cross it off my bucket list.”
In the 1964 NHL Amateur Draft, the New York Rangers selected Bob third overall. “At that particular time there were only 24 guys drafted so it was a pretty nice feather in your cap.” Bob never did make the NHL though. “Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.”
Well Bob, I wouldn’t say things didn’t work out. From playing to coaching and everything in between, the sport has taken him on plenty of adventures in many places. It has obviously played a big role in his life, just like he has played a big role to hockey. Sometimes it’s not the bigger names making a difference... It’s guys like Bob, sitting quietly next to Diane in section 19, who are the true pillars of the sport.
Five things you wanted to know but were afraid to ask...
Q: Are you a dog person, or a cat person?
Q: What are you hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year?
A: I'm not sure... maybe new golf clubs.
Q: If you could eat anything right now, what would it be?
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
A: Jean Beliveau.
Q: What song would we most likely hear you proudly perform in the shower?
A: We are the Champions by Queen.