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Backchecking: Former Leaf, Hawk Dave Hutchison giving back

Bob Probert and Dave Hutchison are just two of several former NHL players to visit the troops overseas.

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Bob Probert and Dave Hutchison are just two of several former NHL players to visit the troops overseas.

BY KEVIN GLEW

There’s tough and then there’s Dave Hutchison tough.

The rugged defenseman shattered almost every bone in his face during his NHL career. He even played with his jaw wired shut for six weeks during the 1975-76 season.

And yes, he could fight; evidence of this has been preserved on YouTube. But in talking with the now 56-year-old Hutchison about his career and numerous charitable endeavors, it’s clear his heart is bigger than his fists.

It’s also easy to understand why he’s been successful in his second career, selling real estate for Re/Max in London and Dorchester, Ont. His hair now short and gray rather than long and black, ‘Hutch’ is candid, loyal and instantly likable, the kind of guy you’d love to have on your team and sit and have a beer with after the game.

Hutchison is praised by both Darryl Sittler and Borje Salming (his defense partner in Toronto) in their biographies and was one of the first people thanked by Doug Wilson - his defense partner in Chicago - after Wilson received the Norris Trophy in 1982.

“I would play with Willie (Wilson) or Borje and give them a little more room,” reflected Hutchison during a recent interview. “I’d be looking over their shoulder for guys who were being rough with them.”

The tough-as-nails defenseman played his minor hockey in London, Ont. Tragically, his dad, the biggest influence on his career, died of a heart attack when he was just 52. Only 17 at the time of his father’s death, Hutchison played junior for his hometown London Knights with a heavy heart.

His solid defensive play would convince both the World Hockey Association’s Miami Screaming Eagles (which would move to Philadelphia and become the Blazers before they ever played a game) and the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings to draft him in 1972. Initially, Hutchison opted for the WHA.

“I played in the WHA for three or four times the money that the Kings offered me,” he said.

After two seasons in the WHA, Hutchison headed to Los Angeles for the 1974-75 campaign.

“I got some good coaching from Bob Pulford in Los Angeles,” Hutchison said. “I credit him for making my career last a little longer and turning me into a better player. He taught me how to be a role player, to stay within my limits as a defenseman.

“At one point in time, I wasn’t allowed to hang on to the puck for more than one second. I learned that if was going to play in the NHL I wasn’t going to be a Bobby Orr stickhandling-style defenseman. I was going to be the guy who was going to clear the front of the net and hit hard in the corners.”

It was in L.A. where Hutchison would establish himself as one of the league’s premier fighters.

“I was trying to protect my teammates,” said Hutchison. “I was having the time of my life, doing something that I loved doing – scrapping. It was fun. I practiced it. I shadowboxed in the mirror all the time. I really tried to hone my art as a fighter.”

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Hutchison’s pugilistic prowess was challenged in the 1975 playoffs by another swinger, Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams. The Leafs’ long-time tough guy ran over Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon and Hutchison came to his netminder’s defense. This was one of three confrontations between the two enforcers and when Hutchison was dealt to Toronto in June of 1978, many wondered how he would co-exist with Williams.

“When I came to Toronto, Tiger was one of the first guys to come over and shake my hand to welcome me,” said Hutchison, adding he’s now good friends with Williams.

In joining the Leafs, Hutchison would toil under the infamous Harold Ballard regime.

“Nobody knew it, but Harold was giving a lot of money away to charity,” Hutchison said. “He treated his players like his sons.”

Hutchison would play a season-and-a-half in Toronto before being dealt to Chicago. Paired with Wilson, Hutchison was a key contributor to a Blackhawks team that advanced to the semifinals in the 1982 playoffs.

The reliable defender landed in New Jersey for the Devils’ inaugural 1982-83 campaign and hung up the blades for the first time after that season. However, he was coaxed out of retirement by the Leafs, who had lost a couple of defensemen to injuries. Hutchison would play 47 NHL games for Toronto in 1983-84 before calling it quits for good.

After his playing career, he returned to London and obtained his real estate license. ‘Hutch’ now lives in Dorchester, Ont., a small community east of London.

For 20 years he has been organizing a charity golf tournament in the Dorchester area. The initial beneficiary of the event was The Sunshine Foundation, but proceeds now go to prostate cancer research. Hutchison also suits up regularly for the Toronto Maple Leafs alumni and the NHL Oldtimers. Both of these groups support various charities.

Hutchison is one of the many NHL alumni to fly to Afghanistan to boost the morale of troops. On these trips, several ex-NHLers compete against the soldiers in ball hockey games.

“I have a real close spot in my heart now for the soldiers,” said Hutchison, who has made two trips now.

That’s not surprising. Hutchison may be one of the toughest guys ever to play in the NHL, but off the ice, Hutchison proves to be more of a lover and less of a fighter.

TheHockeyNews.com’s Backchecking feature examines the lives of former NHLers after their hockey careers finished. Click HERE to read more profiles.

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