Red Kelly, Gentleman Stalwart in a Run of Stanley Cups, Dies at 91
Leonard Patrick Kelly was born on July 9, 1927, in Simcoe, Ontario, where his family had a farm. He grew up a Maple Leafs fan and played hockey, in addition to boxing, at St. Michael’s. The Maple Leafs did not consider him a prospect, so the Red Wings signed him instead, and he made his N.H.L. debut with them in 1947 without playing in the minors.
Kelly joined with Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay (who died in March) and goalie Terry Sawchuk on teams that captured the Stanley Cup in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955.
He was traded to the Rangers in February 1960 in a four-player deal, but said he would retire instead. A few days later, the Red Wings sent him to Toronto in a revised deal that he accepted. In his first home game as a Maple Leaf, he received a rousing reception.
“There was such a roar that the hair on the back of my head stood straight up, like a violin string pulled tight as you can get it,” he told the Canadian website Sportsnet long afterward. “My life was back in hockey.”
Punch Imlach, the Leafs’ coach, switched Kelly from defense to center, in part to shadow the Montreal Canadiens’ brilliant center, Jean Beliveau, in their frequent matchups. Kelly also helped develop a young Frank Mahovlich, his linemate on left wing, into a star.
Kelly played with the Leafs’ championship teams in 1962, 1963 and 1964 and again in 1967, his last season as a player and the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup. By then Kelly was 39, a leader on a team that included the over-30 players Johnny Bower and Sawchuk in goal, George Armstrong at forward and Tim Horton, Allan Stanley and Marcel Pronovost on defense.