Leafs rokie Nazem Kadri has a fan in former Canuck Ed Hatoum. (Canadian Press)
Ed Hatoum, 63, is an original Vancouver Canuck and proud of it. He still regularly patrols right wing for the Canucks alumni team.
He also frequently tunes in to watch the Canucks play and the Toronto Maple Leafs, too. But before Canucks fanatics admonish Hatoum for his duplicity, please read the explanation. Hatoum was born in Beirut, Lebanon. The Maple Leafs have a young rookie in Nazem Kadri, who is of Lebanese decent. Hatoum wishes nothing but the best for Kadri as he does the Canucks.
"He even looks like me when I was that age with the dark hair and eyebrows," Hatoum said from his Vancouver home. "He's had some tough luck so far. He's made a lot of good plays, but doesn't have much to show for it."
Unfortunately for Kadri, he was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game in the Maple Leafs' 6-3 loss at home to the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday. But Hatoum can relate. Earning a regular spot in the NHL did not come easy for him, either.
Learned the game in Ottawa
Hatoum moved from Beirut to Canada when he was nine. His family settled in the Ottawa area. Hatoum loved sports and wanted to learn how to skate. A cousin, who would become a radio personality Gary Michaels in the Nation's Capital, gave Hatoum his first pair of skates. He was a natural and soon was skating circles round his friends at pick-up games across the street in McNabb Park.
A few years later, when Hatoum was a teenager toiling with the Ottawa Montagnards, he was scouted by the Hamilton Red Wings and wound up in the Steel City for four years. Eventually after a half-season playing in Forth Worth, he was promoted to the Detroit Red Wings and scored his first goal. Hatoum vividly recalls that milestone night in Dec. 1968.
"It was the game after Gordie Howe scored his 700th in Pittsburgh [against Penguins goalie Les Binkley]," Hatoum said. "I scored at the Detroit Olympia on New York Rangers goalie Eddie Giacomin. Pete Stemkowski and Dean Prentice assisted on the goal, and Gordie came up to me after I scored and said 'you only have 699 to catch up to me.'"
Hatoum was 21 and his future was bright. But in those days, with only a dozen teams in the NHL, it was difficult to land a regular gig. So after only 21 games over two seasons with Detroit, the Canucks plucked Hatoum in the expansion draft.
Maybe this was his chance. Vancouver's first coach, Hal Laycoe, liked Hatoum's efficient game. Laycoe had Hatoum on his top line in the Canucks' first training camp alongside Orland Kurtenbach and Wayne Maki. But Hatoum suffered a separated shoulder in training camp and as a result never really got a shot with the Canucks.
"In those days it was different," he said. "You didn't recover as quickly from injuries. Nowadays, they have the ability to treat you properly and get you back out there quickly."
'Sports came easy to me'
After his 26-game stint with the 1970-71 Canucks, Hatoum bounced around the WHA for a few more seasons and finished his playing career in senior hockey with the Nelson (B.C.) Maple Leafs and eventually wound up coaching them. He could have continued to play or coach, but it was time to make a living. So he returned to Ottawa and purchased his brother's auto-body business.
"Sports came easy to me," said Hatoum, who also played football in high school, was an accomplished racquet ball player and now beats his friends on the golf course. "I wish school came easy to me. I would have been a doctor or a dentist."
Hatoum returned to Vancouver eight years ago and remains in the car business, only now he buys and sells wholesale automobiles. He was there earlier this season when the Canucks, who are celebrating their 40th season, honoured members from the inaugural team.
"We've all changed, that's for sure," said Hatoum of the reunion.
The Canucks and Kadri keeps Hatoum interested in hockey. Kadri was queried last week if he knows who Hatoum was. "I really had not heard of him until I got drafted," Kadri said. "[But] I don't know much about him."
Maybe Kadri, who has gone 16 games without a goal, can take some inspiration from Hatoum's story because Hatoum will be watching.
"I'd like him to stay healthy," Hatoum said, when asked if he had advice for the young Toronto forward. "I wish him all the luck in the world."
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