It was a year ago this week when I met an almost mythical legend in hockey history.
He seemed like a regular guy.
We shook hands – you could shake hands in that pre-pandemic era – and exchanged pleasantries for a few seconds. I got his autograph on the book written about his life, The Real Ogie (Burnstown Publishing House), by Liam Maguire.
We were at Rideau View Golf Club in Manotick, a small village south of Ottawa, on a Sunday afternoon in April 2019. We all had a pint while we watched Tiger Woods win the Masters. Outside, the rain was drumming on the windows and puddles covered the fairways and greens.
The ‘regular guy’ happened to be the most violent athlete who ever lived. You may have never heard of Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe, but chances are you have heard of the famous movie character who was based on him.
I keep thinking of Denis Lemieux, the Chiefs’ goalie in Slap Shot, speaking with his thick French-Canadian accent.
“Oh no. It’s Ogie Oglethorpe. I thought he was banned for life.”
Yes, the larger-than-life character who seems to have defined the olden days of tough-guy hockey, Ogie Oglethorpe, was inspired by “Goldie.”
Goldie is in his mid-60s now, and even though he is well onto the back nine, you just know that he would go at the drop of a dime. Yet, there was a warmth and a smile when we met and shook hands – a humble kindness and an innocent disposition. Shaking his hand was kind of like having your fist swallowed by Gary Carter’s catcher’s mitt. But there was a genuine quality about this man. He was raw, and he was real. All of us in the room were refined table syrup sold on grocery store shelves. He dripped straight from the tree into the pail.
Yet, in his time, his name alone made everyone quiver. His opponents were terrified to face him. Many of his teammates were terrified to practice with him. If he even looked into the crowd, spectators would scramble.
The stories about Goldie are legendary. He was kicked out of elementary school in his hometown of Hornepayne, Ontario for trying to throw another boy out of a second-floor window. The window wouldn’t open wide enough, and the Principal came into the room and intervened before the other boy would take a steep plunge into a snowbank.
By the time Goldie hit Grade 9, he had to move to Thunder Bay. He was not allowed to register for high school in Hornepayne because of his track record of fighting.
Goldie was arrested 20 times before his 18th birthday. He has been in and out of jail. He was once shot by a drug dealer. Among his 500-plus off-ice fights includes a scrap against mafia members in Baltimore. He was also stabbed, started brawls on tarmacs that have resulted in flights being postponed, and deported from the United States. He was suspended from six pro leagues, three senior leagues, and the NAHL – the league that the Federal League in Slap Shot was based on – actually did ban him for life.
Nancy Dowd, who wrote the screenplay for Slap Shot, created Ogie Oglethorpe from the reputation that Goldthorpe had forged. She wrote about creating the character in the opening of Maguire’s new book, The Real Ogie.
“When I first came to Johnstown, maybe even before, I had heard the rumors of someone very intimidating. His name alone caused brave men to tremble. The possibility of facing him on the ice suggested catastrophe, loss, and grievous bodily harm. This was long before the Internet, long before Google…
“Goldie played hockey with a frontier sense of justice and integrity. He had lines that you did not cross and if you did transgress he would exact revenge no matter how long it took. He started his professional career in 1973 and it ended in 1984. During that time he created a prototype for the hockey enforcer. The movie Slapshot, with its character Ogie Oglethorpe, immortalized him in hockey circles.”
The cover of the book is perfect. It’s a photo of Goldie, angry and being restrained by an official, during a WHA game when he played for the Minnesota Fighting Saints.
“He’s actually yelling at Gordie Howe in that photo,” Maguire said. Howe, at the time, played for the WHA’s Houston Aeros with his sons, Mark and Marty. “He’s telling Gordie Howe that he just kicked the s— out of his two kids and that he was coming for him next.”
Legendary sports broadcaster Bob Costas was the announcer for the Syracuse Blazers of the NAHL when Goldie played there. He was a 21-year-old senior at Syracuse University. Goldie was a 20-year-old rookie with the Blazers. They remain, friends, today.
Costas has always been a huge fan of Slap Shot.
“The movie is terrific and Ogie Oglethorpe brought his near namesake to a larger audience and further enhanced his place in hockey lore,” Costas wrote in the forward of the book. “All good. But trust me. Ogie was nowhere near as ferocious, as intimidating, or as unforgettable, as the genuine article.
“Bill Goldthorpe is one of the truly unique characters in the history of sports.”
After meeting Goldie, I thanked him for taking the time to meet all of us who attended the book signing event.
He was gracious, humble, and appreciative.
At home, I still have my VHS copy of Slap Shot, autographed by the Hanson Brothers, but I am not sure if a VHS machine is compatible with our new 4K Smart TV.
I wonder if the kids can help me figure out how to hook up the old VCR. It’s not like they have anything else to do these days…
Jeff Morris is a former ESPN.com columnist and is a three-time Ontario Community Newspaper Association Columnist of the Year award winner.