Archives

Red Kelly, NHL great and former member of Parliament, too

In 1962, while he still played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Red Kelly ran for parliament, serving as MP for Toronto's York West riding until 1965.

For 3 years, hockey great Red Kelly sat in the House of Commons while he skated for the NHL

Red Kelly, an eight-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, died on Thursday at 91 years old. (Hannah Yoon/Canadian Press)

When Red Kelly's number four is retired by the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 1, it will be the second such honour bestowed on the NHL great — the number four he wore for the Toronto Maple Leafs was retired in 2016.  

Len "Red" Kelly is seen on the ice, while wearing his Detroit Red Wings uniform, in 1955. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Kelly played as a defenceman for the Red Wings from 1947 until he was traded to Toronto in 1959. 

When he was interviewed by Midday host Tina Srebotnjak well after his playing days were over, she asked him about his early years in the NHL, and he recalled his start with the Red Wings.

"Do you remember ... what your first game was like, your first moment as a real NHLer?" she asked him in 1994.

"It was awesome, really, on that ice, on that big ice and you know it was smooth, it was like ice cream without any chunks in it," Kelly said.  

"The crowds that were there in Olympia," he continued, "they were great hockey fans there and we had good teams."

And they were winning teams that he played with at the Detroit Olympia Stadium, eventually gaining four Stanley Cups, in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955.  

'Eight is a lot of Stanley Cups'

And as Srebotnjak pointed out, his additional four Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs make him special. 

"There's not many guys that can say that, eh?" she asked.   

"No, if you didn't play for Montreal," he laughed. "But yes, if you didn't play for Montreal for a long time, then eight is a lot of Stanley Cups," he agreed.

Red Kelly talks to Midday host Tina Srebotnjak in 1994 about his early days playing with the Detroit Red Wings. 1:12

Those trophies and Stanley Cups were not the only wins for Kelly during his time playing hockey.  

"You know Mr. Kelly, one of the most interesting things about you," Srebotnjak added, "is that at the same as you were a ... Stanley Cup winner, you were also a member of Parliament." 

"How did you manage those two worlds?" she asked.

"You couldn't do it today," Kelly said.

"But in those days we had six teams, we played our games Saturday night, Sunday night and Wednesday nights, only occasionally would we play a game Thursday and that would be in Montreal."

An admiration for Lester Pearson

Red Kelly talks to Midday about what it was like to play for the NHL and sit as an MP in Ottawa. 1:40

Srebotnjak wanted to know what drove him into politics, given that he was an NHL star.

The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate after their Stanley Cup win over the Chicago, 1962. From left are, goalie Don Simmons; Bobby Baun (21); William Stanley and his player son, Allan Stanley; Dick Duff (9), who scored the winning goal; and Red Kelly. (The Associated Press)

"I thought the world of Mr. [Lester] Pearson," he replied.  "And I thought anything I could do to help get Mr. Pearson elected would be good for Canada, so that's why really I ran."

But the years between 1962 and 1964 were personally and professionally full — with the birth of three of his children, two elections, and three Stanley Cup wins. 

When an election was called for November 1965, he decided to leave politics, and he retired from NHL play following the win of the 1967 Stanley Cup.

Kelly did bring his two very different career worlds together the first year he was MP for York West. 

At a Christmas party thrown for the House of Commons page boys, he presented each boy with an autographed hockey stick.

Hockey star and MP Leonard "Red" Kelly has a special gift for the page boys at their Christmas party. 0:37