By: Craig Eagles | Follow Me On Twitter @Eags37
Gerry “Red” Ouellette played in an era of the game that was defined by grit, toughness, and skill. The “honest player” from Grand Falls, New Brunswick, played the game the right way, taking the road less traveled all the way to the bright lights of the National Hockey League. “Being from a small community, it really came as a surprise to me,” Ouellette said of getting the opportunity to play in the NHL during the Original Six era.
During that era of the game, everything was earned, nothing was taken for granted, and the competition was fierce. “I only had one year of Junior B experience and had never played a Junior A game before playing in the old EPHL,” explained Ouellette.
“Being invited to the Bruins Training Camp was nerve-racking at the time,” confessed Ouellette. Did Ouellette ever think he would make it to the NHL at that time? “No,” Ouellette said with no hesitation.
“You always play the game and watch the big boys like Howe, Beliveau, and Rocket and people like that on TV, but to be honest with you, I just said, oh my God, what is it, but it was a great experience,” said a reflective Ouellette who still works out every day at the tender age of 82. “It was an education that cost me very little,” Ouellette said of his time in the National Hockey League. His time at hockey’s highest level continues to influence and impact his life.
“Having been there and what it has done for me in a career and things that I had to do back then like discipline is still helping me today,” confessed Ouellette of making the NHL. “It was a dream come true. When a rookie goes to a training camp when there (were) only six teams, some of the older guys say, ‘oh, that young fellow isn’t going to get my job. Johnny Bucyk, Leo Boivin, and Donald McKenney went out of their way to help me,” Ouellette went on to explain proudly.
The hard-nosed competitor cut his teeth in the old Eastern Professional Hockey League, where he played two seasons for the Kingston Frontenacs. Ouellette was a highly skilled gritty two-way player that had a knack for finding the net. The northern New Brunswick native put up impressive numbers in the EPHL before getting the call from the Boston Bruins in 1960-1961.
Ouellette played alongside fellow New Brunswicker Willie O’Ree during his brief but very memorable time with the Bruins. “Having the opportunity to play with Willie and having two guys from the province of New Brunswick play in the NHL when there were only six teams was quite special,” Ouellette explained.
Ouellette played thirty-four games for the B’s, lighting the lamp five times and adding four assists before the unthinkable happened. Unfortunately, Ouellette’s season was cut short by emergency appendectomy surgery in January of 1961. “Things were going really well at the time,” Ouellette said of his time in Boston before the incident.
“It came right after practice,” Ouellette remembers. “They rushed me to the hospital for an emergency operation. From there, the team didn’t look like it was going to make the playoffs, so the General Manager called me in when I was able to skate again and said that they wanted me to go down and help the Frontenacs get into the playoffs. Mr. Patrick said that the following year I would get a good crack at playing with the Bruins.” and “It’s 2021, and I’m still waiting for the phone call,” Ouellette said with a laugh.
November 3, 1960, will be a date that Ouellette will never forget. Ouellette fired a shot past legendary netminder Terry Sawchuk for his first NHL goal. Ouellette’s first NHL game in Detroit was a very memorable one on many levels.
“We called Gordie at the time Mr. Elbows, so it was my first shift, and I went into the corner, and someone hit me into the boards and probably could have killed me, but I remember coming off the boards, and I looked back and him smirking at me and saying ‘welcome to the league kid.” Ouellette’s interactions with Howe only got better as the game went on.
“With about two minutes left in the second period, I got a breakaway from the blue line in and I’m still shaking,” admitted Ouellette. “I scored, and I proceeded to go around the net, he must have known it was my first because he flipped it out of the net. I thought Milt Schmidt who was coaching at the time would make some line changes, but he never did. I go back to line up for the face off and feel a tap on my left pad.”
“I was still shaking at the face-off circle; I looked up and who’s next to me, but number nine Gordie himself. I can still feel his stick touch my left knee. He said, ‘nice goal, young fellow.” Ouellette still has that puck on display. Ouellette never returned to the NHL but went on to play professionally for another eleven seasons after making his NHL debut.
Ouellette left his mark at every stop along the way, epitomizing the word “leader” wherever he went. He had tremendous success with the Buffalo Bisons, where he served as team captain when the Bisons went on to capture the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Championship in 1970.
The Bisons folded in 1970 when the NHL Sabres began to play. The following season Gerry joined the Omaha Knights of the Central Hockey League, where he captained that team to the Adams Cup. After the 1970-71 season, Ouellette returned to his native New Brunswick and played on the Hardy Cup-winning Campbellton Tigers. He later coached the Tigers to two more Hardy Cup victories in 1977 and 1988. 34 NHL games, but a lifetime of hockey memories.
Gerry “Red” Ouellette reached hockey’s highest level when only a select few ever dreamed of it. Through it, all Red Ouellette never forgot his roots and the value of giving back to the game he loved.