Former NHL all-star Dave Balon dies

Dave Balon, a 13-year NHL veteran who was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, died Tuesday at the age of 68.

Dave Balon, a 13-year NHL veteran who was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, died Tuesday at the age of 68.

The New York Rangers, Balon's first NHL team and the one with which he would enjoy his mostprosperous seasonsa decade later, confirmed his death.

"Davey was one of the most versatile players I ever coached," said Emile Francis, the longtime Rangers coach and general manager. "He was one of the best defensive forwards in the league, great in the corners and excellent on the power play."

The Saskatchewan native was living at the Herb Bassett nursing home near Prince Albert and had progressively lost his ability to speak over the last four years, according to a recent National Post report.

Born in Wakaw, Sask., Balon played junior hockey with the Prince Albert Mintos and gradually earned a spot with the Rangers, becoming a regular in 1962-63.

That off season he was part of a swap of big-name goaltenders, moving with Gump Worsley to Montreal in exchange for Jacques Plante.

Balon could play centre but spent most of his time on the left wing, and settled into a two-way role with the Canadiens, scoring more than 40 points on two occasions.

The five-foot-ten forward enjoyed consecutive Stanley Cup wins with Montreal and scored five points in nine playoff games for the 1966 championship team.

Like many players in 1966-67, Balon found himself on the move from an Original Six squad to one of the six expansion clubs, but he eventually prospered.

After one season with the Minnesota North Stars, Balon rejoined the Rangers.

Affectionately known as "Bozo" he often played on a line with Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn. Playing on the "Bulldog Line," Balon enjoyed consecutive 30-goal seasons and was named to the all-star team twice.

He was one of theTop 10NHL goal scorers in the 1970-71 season, finishing with a career-high 36. He potted four goals that season in a February game against Minnesota, and scored three goals on as many shots in a December win over the expansion Buffalo Sabres.

The Rangers reached the Stanley Cup final in 1972, but not before trading Balon to Vancouver for defenceman Gary Doak.

When the trade was reported, The New York Timeslauded Balon for his "extraordinary ability around the net, especially with rebounds."

After two seasons with the Canucks, Balon played nine games with the WHA's Quebec Nordiques before retiring in 1973.

His battle with MS curtailedhis coaching duties in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

He is survived by his wife Gwen, daughter Jodi and son Jeff.

With files from the Canadian Press