Over the course of 20 NHL seasons, Doug Gilmour carved out a reputation as one of the game’s top two-way forwards and he remains one of the most popular players of his generation nearly 15 years after retiring.
His professional odyssey was marked with stints in seven different jerseys and along the way, he managed to not only win the Stanley Cup, but also earned a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. This adventure has been chronicled in a new autobiography written with author Dan Robson entitled Killer: My Life In Hockey, which released in October and is expected to be a popular item, particularly among fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, heading into the holiday season.
Sportsology recently spoke with Gilmour about his book and he revealed what inspired him to finally share his story.
“It took about a year-and-a-half,” he said. “People had been after me for years to do it, and I never wanted to do it. Harper Collins was the last one, and I said, okay, let’s do it! The writer was great. Dan Robson was really great to work with. The biggest part about it, is when people talk about stories from the past and kind of reminisce, I had forgotten about it. So, it was fun to do, at the end of the day.”
Hailing from the hockey hotbed of Kingston, Ontario, Gilmour overcame the perception that a player needed great size to make it to the NHL. After starring for the junior Cornwall Royals in the early 1980s, Gilmour was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the seventh round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft and worked hard to fulfill his dream. Telling that part of his story was a bit of a challenge compared to tales of his exploits in the NHL.
“I think the biggest thing is, we had to figure out how. Playing with seven teams in the NHL, that part is kind of easy, but it was the growing up part in Kingston. Playing minor hockey and other sports, coming into Belleville with the Bulls, and going on to Cornwall. It was good. Dan really got into it, going back a bit further. With my parents, my Dad’s gone and my Mom has dementia, and she doesn’t have much time to go, either. I think going over it for the past year-and-a-half, it was a little bit of fun. For me, it was great memories. Some memories in there where you do the wrong things, mistakes as you’re growing up. Listening to other people’s stories that I forgot, like when my sister and I were walking on the ice. I forgot about that, but she told the story to Dan and that was a scary moment to this day.”
Gilmour, who made his debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 4, 1983, recalled his early days with the Blues.
“I don’t even know who I played the first game,” he laughed. “That’s how far you go back, right? I think I finally got a point in my 10th game or something like that. It could have been a bit earlier. I think my first goal was in my 10th game. It was surreal because I had a two-way contract and after 40 games, it became a one-way. I was counting down the numbers pretty quick. They couldn’t go by fast enough. I played a lot of exhibition games that year, too, and I think the biggest thing is training camps in those days were probably a good month. So, you were in training camp for over two weeks before you played an exhibition game. It was different times for us for sure.”
There is one treasure he is missing from that first year – a game-worn jersey – and he does mention in the book that it is something he is chasing.
“No, I haven’t found it,” he said. “We’ve looked. Somebody had a number nine, but nobody had 18. Our trainer at the time that did the jerseys was a guy named Frank Burns. Frankie ended up passing away about 20 years ago, so I have no idea where that jersey went.”
After five seasons in St. Louis, Gilmour was traded to the Calgary Flames. In 1988-89, he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal, but by the mid-way point of the 1991-92 season, his days there drew to a close as he became the centerpiece in a major multi-player trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In Toronto, Gilmour transitioned from star to superstar as his presence on the ice took a moribund club to serious contention. The 1992-93 season saw him set new franchise records for assists and points and in the playoffs, brought them within a hair’s breadth of getting back to the Stanley Cup Final. A controversial non-call following a high stick from Wayne Gretzky set forth a series of events that saw the Los Angeles Kings move on to the next round. Gilmour did end up with the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward and Toronto went to the third round again in 1993-94.
A member of the Maple Leafs for a few more seasons, he was incredibly popular with local fans and they were devastated when he was traded to the New Jersey Devils in 1996-97. Over the next few seasons, he had stops in Chicago, Buffalo, and Montreal before coming back to Toronto for a final game on March 13, 2003. Taking on the Flames that night, he suffered a career-ending injury and officially announced his retirement a few months later. In 2011, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Even though he is heavily involved in running the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, he still finds time to go to signings – but has some wariness toward autograph hounds looking to profit rather than collect.
“I go out and still do a couple shows a year. I’m not really at the rinks that much, and when I am at the rink with the junior team or at Leafs games, we kind of sneak in and sneak out. Certain events, like the Hall of Fame events, there’s a lot of them there. They’re smart. The days you were playing, we would fly to a game and go to another city and sometimes get in at 1:00 in the morning, and there they are at the hotel. They knew what time we were getting in.
“It’s frustrating, too, a lot of times because there are kids there that you want to sign for. Then, you have collectors that are trying to get four or five autographs off you. Once you do one, then they go back in the line and they come up with another card. Sometimes it’s not fair to the general public that just want cards signed for themselves.
“I think the more you talk about it when you’re a player, you see the same guys. You know who they are now. You can kind of give them one and go on and say, ‘come on, guys. Let’s get the other kids here.’ You really pay attention when you do sign.”
Gilmour, who is slated to appear at the Fall 2017 Sportcard & Memorabilia Expo, is also going to be busy over the coming months thanks to a book tour that is slated to take him across Canada. He is genuinely excited about the possibility of meeting many of the fans that cheered for him.
“When you go to the west coast or the east coast, they’re the people that don’t see you that often. I’m sure it might be a little different there. I don’t know what to expect, honestly. This is the first time I’ve done this and probably the last time I’ll do it. It’s been a long process, but I probably could have had another 200 pages and 50 of those pages more different pictures as well. We just had too much stuff.”