‘Humble’ Ehman to take his place among AHL legends

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

Gerry Ehman, the man they called “Tex,” did a lot of building during his long hockey career.

He built a family. Built a playing career. Helped to build an NHL dynasty.

Ehman, who passed away in 2006 at age 73, will be recognized and remembered for his contributions to the American Hockey League when he is inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame on Monday.

“He was quiet,” remembered his daughter, Teresa. “He was very humble. He didn’t go and talk about hockey. He came from very humble prairie roots.”

For a career would that feature two Calder Cup championships, five Stanley Cup titles and even more stories, it had humble beginnings as well. Growing up in Cudworth, Sask., Ehman lost his father when he was 17 and his older brother joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, leaving Gerry, his mother and five younger sisters at home to support. Ehman played with the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League but had an eye on a legal career, just like his father. But those plans changed when the family’s main breadwinner passed away.

There was no money, and no time to pursue an education. Hockey – at least indirectly – could provide a way to support a family. Ehman’s playing deal with the Bombers included an above-ground job in the mining business. The region’s vast mineral deposits had helped to build the northern Manitoba community that was founded in 1927.

“He always loved hockey, but he wasn’t sitting there going, ‘I want to be an NHL player. I want to play in the big leagues,’” Teresa said. “His choice was sort of defined by the circumstances, and I think the weight of responsibility fell very early on my dad’s shoulders in his family.

“He just had a lot put on him when he was very young, and he just did it like so many people at that time. He was a pretty special guy.”

Off to the mines – and the rink – Ehman went. A year later he spent part of the 1952-53 season in the AHL with the St. Louis Flyers, and so began a journey that would eventually take him to the NHL, skating for the Boston Bruins in the 1957-58 season.

This was a tough man, as were so many players of that era. With only six NHL clubs, openings were few. You played through injuries. You endured grueling travel and a demanding schedule. If you didn’t, there were plenty of players who would. Summers were hardly leisurely, either; Ehman spent his in the muskeg of northern Saskatchewan pounding power poles into the ground to support his family.

Whatever needed to be done, on or off the ice, Ehman always did it.

“You had to be mentally tough and really resilient,” Teresa said, “and you had to demonstrate your game and play through hardship, be it your own physical injuries, being away from your family, or whatever the case was.”

Ehman played parts of 11 seasons in the AHL including seven with the Rochester Americans, where he had some of his greatest success. He posted six 30-goal seasons, won an AHL scoring title, and captured two Calder Cups. He also lifted the Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1964. In all, he played 654 AHL games and compiled 676 points (311 goals, 365 assists) along with nods as a First Team or Second Team AHL All-Star four times in his career.

Like so many players of that era, Ehman got his big break when the NHL expanded by six teams in 1967. He ended up with the Oakland Seals and immediately produced 19- and 21-goal performances in his first two seasons there. The Seals struggled, but even in his final season Ehman put up 18 goals. His NHL time finished with 429 games and 214 points (96 goals, 118 points).

After his playing days ended in 1971, Ehman went into the scouting business. Seals executive Bill Torrey saw potential in Ehman. So did his former Amerks teammate, Al Arbour. Ehman first went to the St. Louis Blues, where Arbour was head coach, before they reunited with Torrey with the expansion New York Islanders in 1972. Ehman’s scouting and management career was highlighted by four consecutive Stanley Cup championships during the Isles’ dynasty.

Teresa was old enough to take away memories like the Islanders’ first Stanley Cup title in 1980.

“Those were such incredibly amazing years,” Teresa said. “Our memories of those years are pretty powerful. I remember even when they won the first year and continued, my dad was just so happy. He really was just so, so happy yet still pretty humble about it. It’s a team. The organization is a team.

“It’s just the way he was.”

Ehman’s wife, Lorraine, raised four children, and he continued to work. He criss-crossed Western Canada and elsewhere looking for that next potential NHL player. With that came a punishing travel schedule, long stretches away from home, and the pressure of getting those picks right both to build a hockey team and feed a family.

“It’s so intense,” Teresa said. “When it’s your livelihood, it’s different. It’s not just a game.”

The Ehman family had an opportunity to reconnect with their Rochester roots when Gerry was inducted into the Amerks Hall of Fame in 1987. By then Teresa was attending the University of Guelph, just a short ride away from Rochester. Her parents picked her up and the three continued on to Rochester. Arbour was there on the ice that night in Rochester to greet Ehman, who was never one to show much emotion.

But inside, he was intense.

“It was a really special time for my dad,” Teresa said. “I think he was really very humbled by it, really appreciated getting the call back to Rochester and reconnecting with people. It raises all those memories and things he went through at the time, and I think inside he was really happy about it and really honored by it.”

Now the extended Ehman family – including Teresa and her older brothers, Dale, Bryan and Bruce – has another opportunity to honor Gerry. For as much as hockey took Ehman around the world, his AHL Hall of Fame induction will take place in San Jose, a short drive from where his NHL break in Oakland came.

“It’s like pushing a reset button again, to stop and think about our dad and what he was able to accomplish all very quietly,” Teresa explained. “For us it’s a chance to think about how much our dad meant to us and how much he also gave up.

“We’re very honored and very proud of him.”