BRAMPTON, Ont. (Apr. 15) — On an afternoon in which close friends, relatives and former colleagues were invited to commemorate the life of National Hockey League referee Ron Wicks, I kept my eyes peeled for the Brampton Fire Chief. Had Michael Clark poked his head into the dining hall at the Brampton Golf and Country Club on Friday, the Wicks memorial may have ended before it began.
Roughly 300 people shoehorned into the L–shaped room — my guess being 50 to 60 more than could safely evacuate in the event of an emergency. As it were, the ceremony came off without a hitch and Wicks, who died on Apr. 1 of liver cancer, probably enjoyed every minute from above. His former officiating colleagues were out en masse — including the oldest surviving NHL referee, Bill Friday, who worked from 1960 to 1972; then from 1972 to 1979 in the World Hockey Association. Also on hand were referees and linesmen from Wicks’ era (1960–1986): Bruce Hood, Bryan Lewis, Bob Myers, Ron Hoggarth, Terry Gregson, Ron Ego, Willard Norris, Ray Scapinello, Leon Stickle, Ron Asselstine and Angelo D’Amico (representing his late father, John D’Amico, among the greatest linesmen of all time). Greg Kimmerly, who just retired after a 22–season career as a referee, came by, as did NHL executive and former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Jim Gregory. Joe Bowen, the radio voice of the Maple Leafs since 1982, was also in the room.
So many people were lined up to enter the hall that the formal part of the commemoration — scheduled for 2 p.m. — didn’t begin til 3:15. Wicks’ closest friend, Bruce Hood, emceed the event; speakers included Ron’s widow, Barb Wicks, and their children, Brian and Lisa. Former colleagues Bryan Lewis, Will Norris and Terry Gregson also spoke as did Joe Bowen. It was my honor and privilege to be on hand, having developed a close friendship with Ron in the last two years of his life. I will always cherish the moments spent with Ron in his room at Brampton Civic Hospital (accompanying Hood and Ron Asselstine) four days before he died.
Likely observing his wishes, there were few tears and many smiles at the golf club that Wicks frequented. He chose to not have a funeral; instead donating his body to science and his eyes to a fortunate person still among us (prompting the anticipated crack about a referee, of all people, handing over his sight).
Hockey archivist Paul Patskou assembled a video montage of Ron’s TV games, including the 1962 NHL All–Star Game at Maple Leaf Gardens; the 1963 Stanley Cup semifinals between Toronto and Montreal at the Gardens, and the famous Soviet Wings–Sabres exhibition “friendly” at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium on Jan. 4, 1976 (the good guys romped, 12–6). Ron, himself, was shown speaking while still healthy, which brought a tear to his widow, Barb. All three members of Ron’s immediate family — Barb, Brian and Lisa — held it together and spoke beautifully about their late husband and father.
I pranced about the memorial with my trusty NIKON:
RON COULDN’T HAVE CHOSEN A MORE PERFECT WEATHER DAY AT HIS BELOVED GOLF COURSE.
A PHOTO COLLAGE OF THE LONG–TIME REFEREE AND HIS NHL–ISSUED JERSEY.
JIM GREGORY ALWAYS REPRESENTS THE NHL WITH DIGNITY AND CLASS. AMONG THE MOST BELOVED PEOPLE IN THE GAME, THE FORMER GM OF THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (1969–79) IS FLANKED HERE BY EX–REFEREE BRYAN LEWIS (1967–86, LEFT) AND LINESMAN RAY SCAPINELLO (1971–2004).
MORE OF RON’S CLOSE BUDDIES… LEFT–TO–RIGHT: FORMER NHL LINESMAN WILLARD NORRIS (1967–85); REFEREE RON HOGGARTH (1971–94) AND REFEREE TERRY GREGSON (1979–2004), WHO LATER BECAME THE NHL’s DIRECTOR OF OFFICIATING.
BRYAN LEWIS PICTURED HERE AT LEFT WITH EX–LINESMAN LEON STICKLE (1969–97) AND THE DEAN OF NHL REFEREES, BILL FRIDAY (RIGHT), WHO WORKED IN THE 1960’s, PRIOR TO EXPANSION, WITH LATE COLLEAGUES FRANK UDVARI, JOHN ASHLEY, ART SKOV AND VERN BUFFEY.
RON HOGGARTH (LEFT) CHATS WITH BILL FRIDAY WHILE FORMER NHL LINESMAN AND REFEREE BOB MYERS (1970’s AND 80’s) LOOKS ON.
LONG–TIME LINESMAN RON EGO (NHL 1967–72 / WHA 1972–79) POSES, LEFT, WITH BRYAN LEWIS. AND FROM THE CURRENT GROUP OF NHL REFEREES: GREG KIMMERLY (RIGHT), WHO JUST RETIRED AFTER A 22–YEAR CAREER.
RON WICKS’ CHILDREN, BRIAN AND LISA, BEGAN THE FORMAL PROCEEDINGS.
BARBARA WICKS SPOKE ELOQUENTLY ABOUT HER LATE HUSBAND.
THE EMCEE WAS BRUCE HOOD (ABOVE AND BELOW), A FELLOW NHL REFEREE FROM 1963 TO 1984 AND RON WICKS’ CLOSEST PAL. BRUCE WAS THE REFEREE (AND RON EGO ONE OF THE LINESMAN) FOR THE MOTHER’S DAY 1970 GAME IN WHICH BOBBY ORR SCORED HIS LEGENDARY STANLEY CUP–WINNING GOAL IN OVERTIME TO BEAT ST. LOUIS.
BRYAN LEWIS STEPPED TO THE MICROPHONE: “I’D LIKE TO SPEAK HONORABLY AND AT LENGTH ABOUT ALL OF RON WICKS’ FINE TRAITS,” HE SAID, BEFORE ADDING, “THANK YOU… THAT IS ALL.” HIS QUIP BROUGHT DOWN THE HOUSE, INCLUDING BARB WICKS AND BRUCE HOOD (BELOW). HE THEN DID SPEAK AT LENGTH ABOUT HIS FORMER PAL.
WILL NORRIS (LEFT) AND TERRY GREGSON ALSO SPOKE. NORRIS TOLD A STORY ABOUT WORKING WITH RON WICKS DURING A CHICAGO AT OAKLAND GAME IN THE LATE–60’s. BLACK HAWKS’ COACH BILLY REAY WAS SPORTING A NEW AND EXPENSIVE PAIR OF SHOES THAT RON STEPPED ON DURING A POST–GAME DISPUTE. REAY REQUESTED THAT HE “GET OFF” HIS SHOE, WHICH RON DID. BUT, NOT BEFORE SLIDING HIS SHARP SKATE BLADE OVER THE TOP.
IT WAS STANDING ROOM ONLY IN THE BRAMPTON GOLF CLUB DINING ROOM.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS RADIO VOICE JOE BOWEN THANKED ALL THE FORMER REFEREES FOR “HATING” THE BLUE–AND–WHITE… THEN THE CURRENT REFS FOR DOING THE SAME AND “KEEPING ME FROM CALLING PLAYOFF GAMES THE PAST TEN YEARS.” THE ROOM CACKLED.
A BEAUTIFUL GOLF DAY (ABOVE) ENDED WITH A GORGEOUS SUNSET (BELOW) FOR A TRULY WONDERFUL PERSON. REST EASY, RON WICKS. I’M BETTER FOR HAVING KNOWN YOU.