Lutes, who played hockey for years in Orillia, died this week in car crash
Submitted Danny Lutes, left, led the Byers Bulldozers in scoring and was presented the top-scorer award by coach Bill Cartmill at an awards ceremony. The 1969-70 midget team was one of Canada's best and capped its stellar year by winning a national title in Manitoba.
Danny Lutes, perhaps the best hockey player of his era, died in a car crash earlier this week in Vancouver. He was 63.
“It’s devastating news,” said John Falcon, a long-time teammate of Lutes, a dynamic forward who lit up the scoreboard in the late 1960s and 1970s. “He was a fantastic hockey player, an ideal teammate and a great friend.”
Their coach during those halcyon days when they drew droves of fans to the Orillia Community Centre was Bill Cartmill, who helmed some of the most successful teams in the city’s history. And of all the players he coached, Lutes was at the top of the list.
“He was the best player or, at the very least, one of the best players I ever had,” said Cartmill. “He was exceptionally good.”
He was one of those players who made his teammates better, Cartmill said of the high-scoring centre who came of age during his midget year. That winter of 1969-70 was a magical hockey season for the Byers Bulldozers.
The impressive squad compiled a 49-13-2 record and, on a deep and talented team, Lutes led the way, sniping 89 goals and adding 63 assists in just 64 games. Along the way, the Bulldozers won the regional Silver Stick competition to punch their ticket to Port Huron to compete in the International Silver Stick, one of a handful of local teams to ever win the coveted crown. Lutes and teammates Tim Holder, Falcon and Bob Rowe were named to the North American All-Star team.
Because of its success, the team was invited to join the country’s other top midget teams in Dauphin, Man., at the Canadian midget championship. Orillia went undefeated at the tourney, winning a Canadian crown by edging Thunder Bay 3-2 in a thrilling finale. Lutes was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
But it wasn’t a goal that stands out in Cartmill’s mind. Rather, it was a memorable moment in the dying minutes of that thrilling national championship game he remembers as if it were yesterday.
“Bobby Rowe, a defenceman, scored a late goal to give us a 3-2 lead,” Cartmill recalled, images of that hard-fought battle before more than 2,000 fans in Manitoba crystal-clear four decades later. “I remember just after the goal, Danny skated over to the bench and asked me not to take him off the ice for those last 50 seconds. I said, ‘Danny, we don’t need any more goals.’”
Despite that, Cartmill went with his gut and allowed his superstar to stay on the ice even though he was renowned for scoring not for defending.
“He just dominated … He wouldn’t let the other team touch the puck. He skated over after it was all over – it was bedlam in the rink – and, he just looked at me and winked,” Cartmill said through tears. “It was just a little moment we shared. I’ll never forget that.”
Many who grew up in Orillia won’t soon forget Lutes and that team. In fact, the community rallied around the squad to help raise money so it could travel to Manitoba. The championship game was broadcast back to Orillia on CFOR, and more than 500 people welcomed the victorious squad home at a reception at the community centre.
“It was pretty exciting,” Lutes told the Packet & Times in a 2013 interview. “When I think of winning the MVP award in Manitoba, I think about the privilege we had. There’s a lot of pride … It was quite a year.”
Lutes, who was also a star running back for Park Street Collegiate Institute’s football team, was never able to replicate his success in the OHL, even though he was invited to try out twice and also participated in two NHL training camps for rookies. Instead, he returned to Orillia to star for both the city’s Jr. B and senior squads. In 106 games over four seasons of senior hockey with the Orillia Terriers, Lutes scored 68 goals and added 86 helpers.
“That was the highest quality of hockey I played,” he said. “We had a lot of ex-NHL and AHL guys … It was a strong team and great hockey.”
Wherever he played, he racked up a ton of points. But that was only part of what made him a rare talent, said Cartmill.
“He was a quiet guy, a coach’s dream,” said Cartmill. “He was never late, he would never miss a practice, he never whined and he had a sense of humour when you got to know him. It’s a sad day … It’s another one gone way too early.”
Lutes, who became an insurance adjuster in his final year with the Terriers, moved west in 2008 to join a larger insurance company and to be closer to one of his two adult daughters. He had lived in Nanaimo and Vancouver since, but returned to Orillia at least once a year to visit with his parents, siblings and friends.
“I went to see his parents (Wednesday) and they’re just devastated,” said Falcon. “It’s just so sad. He was such a great guy … I’m going to miss him.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.