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'Pierre was Bobby Orr before Bobby Orr'

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

Pierre Pilote, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961, died in Barrie on Saturday. Pilote, who lived in the Wyevale area following retirement, was 85 years old. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILE PHOTO

Pierre Pilote, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961, died in Barrie on Saturday. Pilote, who lived in the Wyevale area following retirement, was 85 years old. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILE PHOTO

Area hockey fans are mourning the loss of a National Hockey League legend.

Hall of Fame defenceman Pierre Pilote died Saturday in Barrie at age 85 following a battle with cancer.

While Pilote was born in Quebec, he moved with his family to Ontario as a teenager. The father of four and his late wife, Annie, eventually settled in Wyevale, near Midland.

Pilote led the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 1961 and also collected the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's best defenceman three times.

“The man was a hockey legend,” said Penetanguishene resident L. Waxy Gregoire, who co-wrote a book on Pilote with friend David Dupuis entitled Heart of the Blackhawks: The Pierre Pilote Story.

“We'd become pretty tight and had a lot of laughs together,” Gregoire added. “He was easy to talk to. He really built a lot of friendships.”

He said Pilote exemplified hard work and researched almost everything he did “whether it was planting tomatoes or (playing) the stock market” to ensure he got it right the first time.

“He was nobody's fool,” Gregoire said. “He was very methodical.”

Pilote played a total of 14 seasons in the NHL, from 1955-1969, 13 of those with the Blackhawks and one — his final season — with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Blackhawks organization issued a statement offering its condolences to Pilote's family, including children Denise, Pierre Jr., Renée and David, along with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as his companion, June Gerdes-Beard.

“He will be remembered for his toughness, leadership and reliability on the ice — as proven by his captaincy and streak of 376 consecutive games played,” the statement read. “We will forever be grateful for his incredible contribution to the Blackhawks and the game of hockey.”

Pilote served as team captain of the Blackhawks following their Stanley Cup winning season in 1961 to 1968. He played in 821 games and scored 477 points (77 goals, 400 assists) for Chicago.

He was traded to the Leafs from Chicago in 1968 for Jim Pappin.

Pilote added three goals and 18 assists to his career numbers during his one season in Toronto.

"Pierre was Bobby Orr before Bobby Orr," Glenn Hall, the Blackhawks' Hall of Fame goalie, said on the Blackhawks' website.

Pilote was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975, with Chicago retiring his No. 3 sweater in 2008.

But besides his North American hockey exploits, Pilote also served as the ambassador for the Penetanguishene Sports Hall of Fame.

Gregoire said Pilote was always accommodating to fans and continued to be active by participating in charity golf tournaments as well as alumni and Hockey Hall of Fame events.

“Even last year, he attended Fergie Jenkins' golf tournament,” Gregoire said, noting Pilote always thought he'd bounce back from cancer. “He just did a (hockey) card signing a month ago.”

But even during friendly golf tournaments, Gregoire said Pilote was always prepared and would practise at the driving range and putting green beforehand.

“Pierre wasn't going to be embarrassed. You don't get to the top of the totem pole without practice.”

andrewphilips@live.ca

 



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