Sports

Kelly banner unveiled at Port Dover arena

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

PORT DOVER - 

 Red Kelly’s stellar career in the NHL was celebrated in Port Dover this weekend.

Kelly was in Norfolk Saturday to sign copies of his new biography and watch as a banner that once hung in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto was unveiled at the Port Dover & Area Arena. As such, the banner is now in the care of Norfolk County.

“I was one of those fortunate kids who sat in front of the TV watching Red Kelly play on Hockey Night in Canada,” Norfolk Mayor Charlie Luke said in an interview.

“He’s a childhood idol of mine. How fortunate we are to have a guy like Red Kelly from Norfolk and what he accomplished. He’s a tough act to follow.”

Kelly, 90, grew up on a farm on St. John’s Road outside of Port Dover.

The future Hall-of-Famer went on to play 20 seasons in the National Hockey League. He won four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings as a defenceman and four more with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a centre.

Kelly also won a Norris Trophy as the league’s outstanding defenceman and three Lady Byng trophies for combining sportsmanship with a high level of skill.

Kelly resides in Toronto with his wife Andra.

He started his day in Port Dover signing copies of his new biography The Red Kelly Story. Sitting with him at the Lions Community Centre and signing autographs as well was Port Dover native Rick Wamsley, a netminder who won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.

A few hours later, they rolled out the red carpet for Kelly at the Port Dover & Area Arena. He stood at centre ice as Maple Leafs Sports unveiled the gigantic banner at the west end of the rink.

Kelly shared memories with the crowd of the first Port Dover arena, which was built on Nelson Street East in 1925. The old arena stood on ground now occupied by the Port Dover ambulance and fire station.

Kelly recalled how he and other players would warm up their equipment beside wood stoves at the centre of each dressing room. Kelly told youngsters to appreciate the Cadillac facilities they have today because such luxury was unheard of when he was young.

“Port Dover is a great hockey territory,” Kelly said. “Some great hockey players have come from this area. The talent is here. You never know what’s going to happen, so always believe in yourself. If you know in your head that you can do it, you do it. Keep the positive thoughts in your head and keep working.”

Maple Leaf Sports redesigned the banners of its legendary players as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ centennial celebration last year.

The club has repatriated the old banners to the home communities of its past great players. The Port Dover Minor Hockey Association was thrilled that this weekend’s ceremony coincided with the organization’s 75th anniversary celebration.

“Having Red here for our 75th anniversary was a real honour,” PDMHA president Pat Meahan said.

Saturday’s event ended with an alumni game featuring past members of the Port Dover minor hockey system.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com