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Backchecking: Dorey made unforgettable debut

Jim Dorey had 617 PIMs in 431 WHL games and 553 in 232 NHL games. (THN Archives)

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Jim Dorey had 617 PIMs in 431 WHL games and 553 in 232 NHL games. (THN Archives)

 BY NEIL ACHARYA

Jim Dorey was largely unknown when he made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 16, 1968 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 21-year-old rookie defenseman left more than just an impression on his new club and the sold-out Maple Leaf Gardens crowd, however - by the end of the second period he would be known across the hockey world for setting the NHL single-game record with 48 penalty minutes.

What started out as a realization of the Canadian dream – “it was a Wednesday, the first day of the season and my dad was in Toronto to see me play,” recalled Dorey, now 60 – turned into a gong show. Dorey took two minor penalties in the first period. In the second, he had barely finished serving another before he got in altercations with nearly every Penguins player on the ice, late in the frame. 

“The next thing you know, I’m in four fights,” he said.

Dorey’s rap sheet for the night included two fighting majors, two misconducts, a game misconduct and a high-sticking minor; six of a record nine total penalties. It’s since been eclipsed by other NHL heavyweights, but remains a Leafs record.

“I remember being in the dressing room and thinking I would be through with the Leafs, probably be sent down to Rochester in the AHL,” Dorey recalled.

When King Clancy and Punch Imlach entered the dressing room, he was certain the writing was on the wall. 

What happened next took him by surprise.

Clancy was jumping up and down as Imlach, known as somewhat of a penny-pincher, rewarded Dorey for his aggressive play.

“Punch said, ‘That’s the kind of hockey I want,’ ” Dorey recalled. “He opened his wallet and gave me $100 and told me to get lost for the weekend.”

Imlach must have foreseen what would happen next. The incident was played over and over on television and extra reporters were assigned to cover the Leafs when they hit the road after playing the Penguins.

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“Everyone wanted a piece of me after that,” Dorey said.

Dorey was drafted in the fourth round by the Leafs in 1964. He patrolled the Toronto blueline for four seasons and has nothing but great memories. “The Leafs were a contending team, it was an honor to play for them. I knew other players wanted to, I realize that today more than ever.”

Dorey was traded to the New York Rangers late in 1971-72, which allowed him to play in the Stanley Cup final for the first time in his career. He lasted only one game against the Boston Bruins after an injury sidelined him for the rest of the series. The Bruins won the Cup in six games. 

“In my mind, I thought I would have been the difference in that series,” said Dorey, who scored his first NHL goal with the Leafs against the Rangers.

The next season, Dorey jumped to the new World Hockey Association. “When I jumped, it was big news in New York, I made some Rangers millionaires. I got a real good deal. My time in the WHA is special to me because I was a pioneer.”

Dorey won the inaugural Avco Cup with the New England Whalers in 1973 and another with the Quebec Nordiques in 1977. Dorey also played for the Toronto Toros and the AHL’s Philadelphia Firebirds and New Haven Nighthawks.

Dorey retired as a player in 1981. He settled in his hometown of Kingston, Ont. and twice filled in as the coach of the OHL’s Canadians in the 1980s. Dorey now works at Allstate Insurance.

He is a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni Association and is active in the local chapters of the Boys and Girls Rotary clubs.

He feels fortunate to have had the career he did.

“I lived a dream,” Dorey said.

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