The Riverton Rifle: Reggie Leach on his life, book and lessons learned
Leach's autobiography debuted one week ago in his hometown of Riverton, Man.
Reggie Leach is a hockey legend, and one who remembers others who guided him long before his life on the ice.
In fact, stories about those people – especially the ones he met in Riverton, Man. where his life started – make up his autobiography, The Riverton Rifle: My story – Straight Shooting on Hockey and on Life, which was released one week ago.
"[Riverton's] where I learned everything," Leach told CBC.
When he was growing up in the community, it was home to 750 people, and Leach's First Nations family was one of as few as four or five there. But, that doesn't mean he felt isolated.
"I had real good friends … Two guys, Freddie and Eddie … they sort of took me under their wings. They were 18 years old or 21 years old and here I was a … 9-year-old little native kid," he said.
Riverton is also where Leach met the coach who gave him his first pair of CCM tacks and told him he had to leave town.
"He sat down with me one day when I was … 16 years old at the time and talked to me about life … what's going to happen if I didn't get out of Riverton," Leach said.
"And, you know, you're at that age 15, 16 years old, you're starting to get into a lot of things you're not supposed to be and he's the one who got me out of Riverton into Flin Flon … Where I met Bobby Clarke."
Leach arrived in Flin Flon one May to work before going to training camp, which started in September.
"I met a very special family up there. They actually took me in one night because they didn't know what to do with me," Leach said, laughing.
"I'm over there sitting at the bus depot and they owned the bus depot and the restaurant and they said, 'Oh, come on home. We'll look after you for a night, we got a room.' Two years later, I was still there in the same room."
Then, Leach met Bobby Clarke.
"I was actually in [ice hockey arena] the Whitney forum … shooting pucks against the boards. There was no ice yet, I was just shooting them. And [Clarke] came in and we introduced each other and ever since then we've been friends. We've always been together."
From Flin Flon to Boston
But, it wasn't long before Leach was leaving the Flin Flon community, too: In 1970, he was drafted by the Boston Bruins.
"I don't even remember when I got drafted. I don't even know where I was … You're watching them on T.V. and next thing you know you're sitting in the same room as Orr and Esposito and Cashman was my first roommate in training camp and … you're just in awe. Here I am, a little kid out of Flin Flon …" he said.
Against the backdrop of small communities, Leach's dreams of playing in the NHL were vivid, and regularly on his mind as his whole family observed big games.
"Coming out of a small community like myself, you always had heroes," he said.
"Gordie Howe was my idol at that time … On the radio, the family would listen. Actually, it was Sunday nights. I remember Sunday nights the most."
Once Leach got there, though, he was exposed to something he and his family did not tune into the games to listen to: Racism.
Still, he remembers the good he took from it.
"Patty Ginnell, my coach in Flin Flon he says, 'Reg, don't worry about all these people that are yelling at you and the players yelling on the ice … The reason they're yelling at you, you're doing something right," he said.
"I always had those guys chasing me all the time so; I had the puck most of the time … I turned it into a positive thing."
Turning to something positive also meant turning away from professional hockey eventually. In 1985, Leach had just gotten out of rehab when he was invited to start playing again.
"I skated for a couple weeks and tried to get back in shape again and then I started thinking about all the stuff that I learned … " he said.
"Then I said … 'You know what, I'm not going to do it because what's going to happen with me is that once I'm going to start hanging around with the players and everything else … I'm going to lose my sobriety sooner or later. So, I took that life instead because I didn't want to go back to the same place where I came from."
Leach acknowledged that his life had been "exciting," but not without "ups and downs." The book, which documents most of it, he said, had been a thought for years but he didn't feel ready to write it or even comfortable with the idea until recently.
"Mainly probably because of my grandkids now, I want to leave something for them," he said.
Them, and kids who are struggling, he added.
"I learned by my mistakes growing up as a young kid and I put that all in the book and where I corrected it and moved on with my life."
Leach will be at two Wal-Marts in Winnipeg on Sunday to promote the book. The first, at 1665 Kenaston Boulevard, between 2 and 3:30 p.m. and the second, at 2370 McPhillips, between 4 and 5:30 p.m.