TORONTO — The roots for Doug Gilmour’s lengthy and in some ways unlikely NHL career were laid in Kingston, Ont., where he learned some tough but valuable lessons from his father.
While Gilmour’s autobiography “Killer — My Life in Hockey” (co-written with Dan Robson) tells his hockey story, it is very much a tribute to his parents.
“Dad was the pusher, in a good way. And then Mum was the support system,” Gilmour said in an interview.
At 13, Gilmour had to drink two cans of Ensure a day and work his way through plates of mashed potatoes in a bid to bulk up a scrawny body. Gilmour would try to shove the potatoes into his pocket, out of his father’s eyesight. His mother would just look the other way.
To this day, he still won’t eat mashed.
Generously listed at five foot 11 and 177 pounds, Gilmour never did get much bigger.
But that didn’t stop him making into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011 after a 20-year career that stretched from 1983 to 2003. An undersized forward with a mind to prove his doubters wrong, he started his career in St. Louis before playing for Calgary, Toronto, New Jersey, Buffalo, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto again.
He finished with 450 goals, 964 assists and 1,301 penalty minutes in 1,474 regular-season games.
Nicknamed Killer, Gilmour reveals in the book that rather than inspired by his style of hockey, the moniker came from St. Louis Blues captain Brian Sutter who thought his untamed eyes and wild hair made him look like a serial killer.
Gilmour says he turned down offers to write a book for 12 years after retiring.
He started to reconsider after his father Don died in September 2012. Then his mother Dolly was diagnosed with dementia. She passed away several months ago.
“I just wanted to thank them,” Gilmour said.
His one regret was that his parents didn’t get to read the book. On the plus side, after returning to Kingston to work with the OHL Frontenacs, he got to spend “five good years” with his father before he died.
“He didn’t change,” Gilmour said fondly. “He would criticize my coaching, he would criticize my GM job. (Wife) Sonya said to me ‘Don’t get mad at it because you’re going to miss this one day.’ And she was totally right.”
Reading the book, one marvels at the abuse Gilmour’s body took over his career.
As a Leaf, he was knocked out in a game against the Canucks and didn’t know day it was. How was he feeling, he was asked in the dressing room between periods?
“Better now,” Gilmour replied. “I’m ready to go back for the second period.”
The game was going into the third period, he was told. Gilmour remained in the locker room.
Gilmour endured pain-killing needles, not to mention foot, knee, shoulder and back surgeries. At one point, he would untie his skates on the bench after every shift because his feet hurt so much.
As a New Jersey Devil, he took an Eric Desjardins shot to the eye.
“It felt like a sharp needle going though my eye,” Gilmour writes. “Thank God it was only a backhand.”
He spent four days in hospital but was back on the ice a week and a half after the incident. He wore a visor for two periods before discarding it.
Today the 54-year-old Gilmour says the only thing that bothers him is his knee, a hangover of the last injury that reduced his second stint with the Leafs to just one game.
“For the most part, I get up every day and I feel pretty good. But can I run any more, long distance, how I used to train? No.”
But Gilmour still works out, using a stationary bike.
Gilmour regales his reader with stories from a different hockey era. When the Leafs hired Pat Burns, Gilmour recalls going out with his new coach to a strip joint and then a nearby pub to have some beers and discuss the team’s future.
Gilmour was immediately taken by Burns’s blue-collar approach. But the get together came at cost.
“I could barely stand up at the end,” he writes.
Gilmour does not open upon everything. He writes just one paragraph on allegations long ago of a sexual relationship with a teenage girl — a grand jury elected not to indict him.
“In August 1988, I faced false accusations, which did incredible harm to my family,” he writes. “It was crushing.”
Gilmour’s affection for the playoffs is plain to see. He devotes much of his hockey description to his years in the post-season. And he still get asked regularly about the unpenalized high stick he famously took from Wayne Gretzky in the 1993 playoffs.
As with the rest of his hockey career, he really has no regrets.
“I met a lot of good people along this ride inside of hockey. Every town that I played at.”
“Killer — My Life in Hockey,” with Dan Robson. HarperCollins, 318 pages, $33.99.