Canadian hockey icon Howie Meeker dies at age 97

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Howie Meeker, who went from Stanley Cup-winner to Canadian hockey icon as a colourful TV hockey analyst who wore his heart on his sleeve, has died. He was 97.

A spokesman for the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed via email that Meeker died on Sunday. There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement Sunday evening, commending Meeker for his accomplishments as a player, broadcaster, and educator for the game of hockey.

"Howie Meeker spent his long and remarkable life playing, teaching and broadcasting the game of hockey and serving his country with incredible enthusiasm." Bettman said.

Different generations had different memories of Meeker, but almost all involved hockey. He played it, talked about it and taught it.

The Maple Leafs said Meeker had been their oldest alumnus. He was given a standing ovation Sept. 15, 2019, when he attended a team alumni game in St. John's, N.L.

As an NHL player, Meeker won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in 1947 -- the same year Gordie Howe entered the league -- and went on to play in three all-star games and hoist four Stanley Cups in eight seasons with the Maple Leafs.

Most famously, he passed the puck to Bill Barilko for the 1951 Cup overtime winner against Montreal.

Amazingly the winger spent two years as a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament while playing for the Leafs.

In June 1951 he won a byelection in the riding of Waterloo South. He did not run in the August 1953 federal election.

Meeker replaced King Clancy as coach of the Maple Leafs in April 1956. He went 21-34-15 in his one season behind the bench before moving upstairs to become GM the next season.

While Meeker's NHL playing career was over at 30 after 346 games -- with 83 goals, 102 assists and 329 penalty minutes -- he continued to play pro hockey on and off for another 15 years at a variety of levels including the American Hockey League and Newfoundland Senior League, among others.

He retired from playing after the 1968-69 campaign and kept skating into his 80s.

-- with files from CTV News --