Long-time hockey player and coach John Brophy, who spent most of his career in the hard-knocks minor leagues, set a record in the Eastern Hockey League with nearly 4,000 penalty minutes as a player, and was allegedly part of the inspiration for Paul Newman’s character Reg Dunlop in Slap Shot (although the Dunlop tie is disputed, with Jonathon Jackson‘s 2010 book on the making of the movie saying that it’s more likely Dunlop was based on Dick Roberge), passed away Monday at the age of 83. Many spectacular tributes to Brophy, who also won more games as a coach at all levels than anyone apart from Scotty Bowman, have started to roll in, and one of the most interesting is a very focused one from Harry Minium of the Norfolk-based Virginian-Pilot. Minium talks about the remarkable minor hockey phenomenon Brophy created as head coach of the Hampton Roads Admirals over 11 seasons beginning in 1989, including stories of how he would charge opponents and even threw a hacksaw at a fan, but also stories of how much he did to promote the sport, how he led the team to an against-all-odds championship, how thoughtful he was at times, and how he would regularly give his flashy clothes away to arena staff. The best story of all comes from a threat Brophy delivered to Minium himself, though:
Everyone seems to have a Brophy story, so here’s mine:
At one point, he became convinced I was fomenting discontent among his players. I wasn’t, but once Broph got something into his head, he could not be dissuaded.
He came off the ice after practice at Scope, approached me as I was talking with Ukrainian forward Alex Alexeev and threatened to “take my (bleeping) head off” with the hockey stick he was waving menacingly.
“Bleeping” is a word that we who covered the Admirals used a lot when we quoted Brophy, who used curse words as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. But I digress.
I said something like, “Put the stick down, Broph. If you hit me, I’m going to write about it and you’re going to get fired.”
Brophy liked to test the character of his players. Years later, it occurred to me that he was testing mine. I think I did OK.
He put down the stick and skated away. Later that night, after the Admirals won a game at Scope, he talked to me as if nothing untoward happened.
That’s a classic, and it seems perfectly in character for Brophy, who once delivered 72 f-bombs in a two-minute rant to reporters covering the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs (he was the head coach of that team from 1986-1988). He also taught Leafs’ players how to play tough by repeatedly cross-checking them in practice:
Sean McIndoe shares another legendary Brophy story:
Val James (the player getting pitchforked in that practice clip) tells a John Brophy story. https://t.co/hWYMnAgdHt pic.twitter.com/wPPj7bdnRl
— Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) May 23, 2016
As McIndoe writes at Sportsnet, we really never will see another one like Brophy. He was an incredible character, and one who left a huge mark on the game, from Toronto to Hollywood to Hampton Roads.