Monday, June 6, 2011
Born in what was then Fort William, Ontario, later renamed Thunder Bay, Bob "Battleship" Kelly was born on this date in 1946. Kelly was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the 16th choice in the 1967 NHL Amateur Draft. Born John Robert Kelly, he was also referred to as J. Bob Kelly to differentiate him from former Philadelphia Flyer Bob "Hound Dog" Kelly who was active during the same time period.
His road to the NHL would take some time though, being first assigned to the Port Huron Flags of the IHL for the 1967-68 season. There, in 65 games, Kelly scored 11 goals and 26 assists but served notice of his toughness to go along with his 6' 2" 190 pound frame with 216 penalty minutes.
He divided the following season between Port Huron and the Columbus Checkers, but remarkably in 59 games he was only whistled for 55 penalty minutes. He spent the next two seasons with the AHL's Providence Reds, the first of which in 1969079 saw him only score but 2 goals and 7 points while his penalty minute total sank to just 28 minutes.
Halfway through his second season with Providence, Kelly became a member of the Des Moines Oak Leafs back in the IHL. Combined between the two teams that season, he scored 18 points while accumulating 89 penalty minutes.
Then a remarkable thing happened in 1971-72 when Battleship Kelly found his offensive game, He played three games with the Omaha Knights, scoring twice, and six games with the Oklahoma City Blazers, adding another goal before a return to Des Moines where his 26 goals in 55 games equalled his total from his entire career up to that season. He accomplished this while being a physical force, racking up 124 penalty minutes in his 55 games with the Oak Leafs.
He duplicated the feat the following season with 27 goals for the Rochester Americans under head coach Don Cherry, who certainly appreciated the element of toughness Kelly brought to the club. At season's end, Kelly's 62 points were second on the team while his 206 penalty minutes were tops for the Americans and second overall in the AHL.
That performance earned Kelly his first shot at the NHL when he became a member of the St. Louis Blues in 1973, making his NHL debut on October 10, 1973. After 37 games with the Blues, which included his first NHL goals with 9, Kelly was part of a six player trade at the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, oddly held in January of 1974 in an effort to prevent the rival WHA from tampering with the NHL club's draft choices.
His destination was the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final 30 games of the season. There he equalled the 17 points he had scored in St. Louis while adding 78 penalty minutes to the 45 he accumulated earlier in the season.
Kelly was a great fit for the Penguins, finishing second in the team in penalty minutes with 120 while his 27 goals were an NHL career high and fifth on the team and his +6 rating showed his value at both ends of the ice. He duplicated that effort again in 1975-76 with 25 goals, an NHL career best 55 points and 149 penalty minutes and a +4 rating.
After one more season in Pittsburgh, where he led the club in penalty minutes with 115, Kelly was signed by the Chicago Black Hawks as a free agent where he played in 1977-78 and 1978-79 to bring his NHL career to a close.
He finished his playing career with two games apiece with the Houston Apollos and Cincinnati Stingers, both of the CHL, in 1979-80 before retiring.
His final NHL totals were 425 games played, 87 goals and 109 assists for 196 points as well as both 687 penalty minutes and one of the best nicknames in league history.
Today's featured jersey is a 1973-74 Pittsburgh Penguins J. Bob "Battleship" Kelly jersey. This jersey was worn for only one season, as the Penguins darkened this jersey from it's original shade of powder blue to a medium blue for one season prior to changing to a all new, more modern striping template the following year.
One unique thing about the early Penguins jerseys were the fact their team logo was black, white and yellow, while the club's jerseys were powder blue and navy blue. It would take until 1980 before the teams jerseys would match the color of their logo and we cannot think of any other instance where the club's logo was an entirely different set of colors than their sweaters.
Here is Kelly, regarded as one of the best fighters while in the NHL, slugging it out with the Bruins hair pulling villain Jonathan Wensink.
Here Kelly, while with the Penguins, takes on Hank Nowak. Check out how they go down yet get back up again to throw some more haymakers. They don't let them fight like that anymore in today's scripted fights which adhere so closely to "the code".