(Photo by John Mahler/Toronto Star)
Allan Bester saw 40-plus shots a game on a regular basis as a 19-year-old Leafs freshman, who lived the NHL dream on a nightmare Maple Leafs team in 1980s. Thirty years later, he lives to tell the tale.
By Richard Kamchen
Fans of Allan Bester can be forgiven if they assumed the ex-Toronto Maple Leaf netminder had become a twitching mercurial recluse in retirement. Who wouldn’t after experiencing the trauma of being a fish under siege in the Leafs’ barrel during Toronto’s dark days in the 1980s? Don Cherry wasn’t exaggerating much when he quipped Bester had seen “more rubber than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada highway.” Bester rountinely faced 40-plus shots a game as his introduction to the NHL.
“For years I’d been stopping pucks in my sleep and punching my wife in the face,” Bester jokes.
Now a sales manager with the Waldorf Astoria Orlando/Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek hotels in Orlando, Fla., Bester, 50, hasn’t changed a great deal from the chatty, effervescent 19-year-old rookie who emerged as a promising prospect after getting called up as an emergency replacement in 1983. He made five strong starts in place of Mike Palmateer before returning to junior, but with the Leafs going nowhere, with one win and a tie in 13 games in January, and the fans booing Palmateer while chanting Bester’s name, owner Harold Ballard ordered GM Gerry McNamara to bring the kid back.
“I played 25 games in a row from that point on,” Bester says. “I played 32 out of a possible 36 while I was there and I saw a lot of shots. I averaged 38 shots against per game. It was a real baptism by fire.”
Not surprisingly for a heralded would-be Leafs saviour, the good times didn’t last. Bester shouldered most of the blame for a quick playoff exit against the Blues in 1989-90 and Peter Ing replaced him the following season. By the trade deadline, he was sporting enemy red and white colors. But with Tim Cheveldae entrenched in goal, Bester was soon toiling in the American League. Rather than sulk, he took Adirondack to the AHL final, winning playoff MVP honors as the Baby Wings won the Calder Cup in 1992.
“He was just a rock,” says teammate Mike Sillinger. “Absolutely focused that nothing was going to get by him.”
After retiring, Bester worked five years at the Holiday Inn, representing five hotels as sales manager, and then went to Marriott, handling 10 hotels as an account executive. He spent two years at Royal Plaza, where he successfully head-manned efforts to bring in more sports business, before taking on his new job.
“All through my career in hockey and job in hotels, I never really had a plan,” Bester says. “Opportunities just presented themselves because of my work ethic. My personal drive to be the best I could be helped me rise to each occasion.”
When not at work or replying to fan mail he continues to receive, Bester is often roaming a golf course and puffing the occasional cigar in hot and sunny Orlando. It’s there that he enjoyed his last hurrah, taking the Solar Bears to the International League final in 1996. Also that year, he made a surprising return to the NHL, joining a Dallas Stars club desperate for someone to fill in for their injured tandem of Andy Moog and Darcy Wakaluk. Bester played solidly in a 10-game stint, going 4-5-1 while recording a 3.00 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. He finished his NHL career 73-99-17, with a 4.01 GAA and .883 SP.
His still has ties to the Solar Bears. After a 15-year absence from the ice, Bester strapped on the pads in a charity match before an Orlando game. He recorded a shutout.
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