It's been a rather tough month for the world of hockey. Ten days ago, we saw coaching great Pat Burns finally succumb to the cancer that has been plaguing his body for the last few years, and today we find out that sportswriter and NHL reporter Jim Kelley has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 61. Kelley was a long-time newspaper reporter for the Buffalo News, and could recently be found contributing articles to Sportsnet.ca, FOXSports.com, and ESPN.com. Kelley's work in the NHL earned him the Elmer Ferguson Award in 2004 when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and that legendary career of bringing the hard-hitting stories will cease.
I'll admit that I always found Kelley's stories on Sportsnet.ca to be a little contentious, but the man was paid to deliver the big stories for the website. He was seemingly always hard on the Maple Leafs, especially Brian Burke, but he never held back when he thought a story should be told. I respect him for his candor and style, and he deserves a moment of silence for his incredible body of work.
Sportsnet.ca's Mark Spector, another of Sportsnet's stable of hockey writers, had these kinds words to say about Kelley today:
"'To any writer of my generation, Jim was old school. A column, sidebar and notes were considered a regular day on the beat for Jimmy at the Buffalo News - 1700 words boss? No trouble just get it all in. There, Jim became to Sabres fans what Frank Orr was in Toronto and Jim Matheson still is in Edmonton: a workhorse, who gave you a laugh every day while keeping you up on your team,' said Spector.Even Kelley's own biography stated that his views were his own, and often may have caused a few people to push back against him:
"'He was that veteran scribe who could sniff out a misdirection play from some coach or organization faster than you could say 'Hull's foot was in the crease.' He would break the story the team didn't want broken, and had a legendary dust-up with Dominik Hasek because of it. In his last year, when he realized his days were few, he shared much with me whenever I'd call or email. So eloquent, so oozing perspective.
"'He filed his final column at 1:30 am on the day he passed. This, dear readers, was a sports writer's sports writer.'"
"Most of you who have read me know I have strong opinions on the game and the people in it. Being of a certain age I don't worry much about what those people think. I write what I believe and let the chips fall where they may. That angers some people including some of you who read me regularly, but I didn't get into the business to make friends, I got in it to tell stories and, now, to give opinions based on what I've seen and learned in what is now a professional lifetime in the sport.It is that last paragraph that we, the readers, will lose out on one of the game's most trusted eyes and voice. Jim Kelley is a Hockey Hall of Fame writer, a man of integrity and conviction, and a true fan of the game of hockey. Those ingredients sometimes would cause him to write some pretty sensational stuff, but his views on the game were always ones that I respected because of his experience.
"I like offence, appreciate good defence and great goaltending and lean toward larger nets, even less obstruction and a limit on the kind of stupid actions that too often disgrace the game and the many good people in it.
"I don't ask you to agree with what I write, but I would hope you read it with an open mind, think about what's being said and, hopefully, realize that there is always more than one way to see the game."
Another hockey legend has passed on. You may not have liked Jim Kelley or his writing, but his views on the game were his own and they prompted discussion. That, readers, is why this hockey great will be missed by me.
Rest in peace, Mr. Kelley. Your words will live on forever.
Until next time, raise your sticks in Mr. Kelley's honour!