HodgePodge by Charlie Hodge
I truly have a catch can of HodgePodge columns to catch up with from since the holidays including a 2023 year ‘best of people and business’, restaurant reviews, an old schoolteacher saga, and thoughts about the loss of former NHL player and friend Gene Carr.
Carr was a junior A superstar with the Kelowna Buckaroo’s who not only turned a lot of heads with pucks when he scored but also turned a lot of heads wherever he went.
Glen Frey of the Eagles referred to his good friend Geno as his, “California’s blue-eyed- blond hair hockey hottie.” Many suggest it was Geno that inspired Frey’s writing of Eagle’s song the New kid in Town’ is back in town.
Carr’s death shortly after surgery last month was not a complete shock but certainly stings. His heart failed the stress of the traumatic back surgery pain he suffered the past few years and – not handling all the pain well.
In the past few years, however, Gene met with a daughter for the first time and re connected with his former wife. The visits meant healing for all.
While the past few months have been harsh pain wise on Geno, I can recall the attempted grin on his face when we last parted. “Life is good Charlie and I’m thankful. I pinch myself when I think about the life I’ve led, people I’ve met or got to know, experiences I’ve had. Much of it is because of hockey and where it took me. It’s (life) great!”
A blond hair, blue eyed, handsome hockey player out of Nanaimo who dazzled even more on the ice than off. He was pure poetry on hockey skates, cutting the ice like few players ever saw before in junior hockey.
Aside from his gifted agility, balance, and speed on the blades Gene had outstanding hand-eye coordination and a feel for the game. He was a slick stick-handler and precision passer, skills that projected him to the NHL.
Certainly, some of his natural talent may have been genetic since father Red Carr was a former pro player who spent the 1948-49 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was Dad, in fact, that decided Gene needed to leave home to hone his skills further and that Kelowna was the place to go.
“He walked up to me and said, ‘Tomorrow you’re going to Kelowna to play hockey. You’ve learned what you can here you need to learn more. My friend Don Culley is there, he can help you.'”
“I was 16 and homesick,” Gene recalled during an interview a few years back.
“If things had worked out differently I could still be there today.” Carr said with a twinge of melancholy.
“The hockey was wonderful as well. We had a great bunch of guys on the two clubs I played with (1967-1969). A real mixture of Canadian boys from across the country. Larry Lenarduzzi, Gomer Pyle, the Strong brothers, Pat McMahon, Dave Cousins. Then my wingers were Butch Deadmarsh and Cliff McKay. Man were they fun to play with.”
His skills naturally attracted the attention he was hoping for and he spent the following two seasons lighting up the scoreboard for the Flin Flon Bombers. In two seasons there Carr scored 58 goals and tallied 119 assists for 177 points in just 122 games.
No one was surprised when the St. Louis Blues drafted him fourth overall in the NHL amateur draft. Some were surprised however when the Blues traded Carr to the New York Rangers just 15 games into the season
It was never a great fit. Carr was largely played on left wing due to the Ranger depth down the middle. In addition he suffered two significant injuries to his spine. Though he kept quiet about it.
“You kept your mouth shut about that stuff. It was your living. You did not always want the trainer knowing you were hurt cause you might lose a shift. Lose to many shifts you might lose your job.
“It’s harder for players to hide than now. They are watched close by lots of staff. I’m sure lots of them try and fight through the pain.”
Partway through the 1973-74 season Gene was traded to Los Angeles for a first round draft (Ron Duguay). The trade significantly impacted Gene’s life both on the ice and off. Over the next four seasons Gene was largely used for penalty killing largely due to his quick speed and sense of the game. Otherwise due to depth up front from the likes of Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, Butch Goring, Charlie Simmer …Gene was delegated to third or fourth line work. That was a blessing in disguise as his body continued to be pelted with injures.
Carr remained a fan favourite despite his lack of ice time, partly because of his flamboyant lifestyle off the ice. Soon after the LA trade Carr was interviewed on radio and when the DJ asked the “new kid in town” who his favourite band was Gene replied it was a “relatively new band on the scene The Eagles”. That response inspired a lifelong friendship with one of the radio listeners – Eagle singer songwriter Glenn Frey. It also inspired the opening lyrics to Frey’s song New Kid in Town, an Eagle hit.
“Glenn was a hockey fan, a Detroit area boy I think. He bundled up a couple of albums and sent them to me at the Forum with a note. Turns out he had already seen me play a game or two and so he wrote ‘Geno. If you love my music as much as I love watching you play hockey then we have to meet.’ I called him the next day and we were instant friends,” Geno told me.
Frey often attended Kings games and sometimes wore Carr’s #12 jersey while playing concerts.
“We shared a lot. Good times and bad. He used to call me Hockey Hollywood. Most of my friends over the years have been musicians, many of them through Glenn. Certainly I met some neat folks through him: Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh of course, Elvis, Jimmy Cagney, Bob Hope. But Glenn was a special man and good friend and I miss him dearly,” Carr said.
Perhaps you are now visiting again.
Frey assisted Gene in getting out of LA as well. Carr had missed much of the 1975-76 season due to surgery needed to remove fluid that had built up on his spine. Once he was healed though he sat on the bench a lot. It drove Carr crazy.
“I loved LA but I wanted to play hockey and was not getting the chance in LA. I knew my injuries were taking their toll and I wanted to show what I could do, given the chance, for one season. I loved LA but I also hated Bob Pulford. Pulford was a jerk.
“Irving Azof was my manager, thanks to Glenn, and so during the summer Irving went to the owners and said, ‘Either you trade Gene or the Eagles will never play the Forum again’.”
Five games into the new season Carr wound up playing with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I was thrilled. All I wanted was a chance to prove myself.” Carr scored 56 points including 19 goals, silencing the critics.
But the pain drain was getting too much. A free agent Gene signed on with the Atlanta Flames – a move he now questions.
“I probably never should have tried to play, but it is hard to quit the game you love. It is hard to admit the body just cannot take the abuse any longer.”
Unfortunately – nothing lasts forever Geno. Including you, miss you my friend.