Sunday, July 1, 2012
With the relative lack of significant historical events in hockey history in the month of July, it's time to reprise a different approach to the heart of summer. For the fourth consecutive year, every day in July we are going to feature a jersey with a number on the back which matches the current date, from 1 to 31.
It's a chance for us to showcase some jerseys that aren't related to a Stanley Cup victory, a milestone goal or a player's birthday. We call it "July by the Numbers".
For July 1st, we kick things off with a jersey which carries the #1, and it could not be more appropriate for a Sunday.
Les Costello played for the St. Michael's Majors in Canadian junior hockey for three seasons beginning in 1944-45, a season in which he impressed as a rookie with 11 goals and 19 points in 17 games. He would go on to score a further 7 goals and 14 points in 9 playoff games as the Majors would secure the prestigious Memorial Cup as champions of Canadian junior hockey.
The St. Michael's Majors Costello
The following season Costello reached the 40 point mark in only 24 games, which included 17 goals. St. Michael's reached the Memorial Cup Finals once again, only to fall in the 7th and deciding game as Costello added 18 more points in 11 games.
His final season of junior hockey was his most impressive, as he scored 29 goals in 29 games on his way to a total of 62 points. The Majors then regained the Memorial Cup by sweeping the Moose Jaw Canucks as Costello rang up 12 goals in 10 games, totaling 21 points in all.
Costello then graduated to the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League for the 1947-48 season, making the transition to professional hockey with ease, as he set a career high with 32 goals. His dream of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs then came true, and in the best way possible, as he joined the Maple Leafs for the 1948 playoffs, seeing action in 5 games, scoring a pair of goals and 4 total points as Toronto captured the Stanley Cup by defeating the Detroit Red Wings in a four game sweep, earning Costello his name on the Stanley Cup before he had ever played in a regular season NHL game!
It was tough to crack the lineup of a veteran championship club, and Costello found himself dividing the following season between the Hornets (46 games) and the Maple Leafs (15).
He spent the entire 1949-50 season with Pittsburgh, but was called up for one playoff game by the Maple Leafs, which would be his final game as a professional, as he would retire from pro hockey to attend seminary school, becoming an ordained Catholic priest in 1957.
Six years later, Costello and fellow priest Brian McKee formed "The Flying Fathers", a hockey playing team of priests for what was originally supposed to be a one-off game organized to raise money for one of McKee's altar boys who lost an eye playing hockey.
They proved so successful, that the team became a popular attraction, not unlike a hockey version of basketball's Harlem Globetrotters, due to their comedic approach to the game, which often included stunts such as turning their goal around the wrong way or covering it with a sheet of clear plexiglass while play was at the other end of the ice. Silly penalty calls and pies in the face were also part of the act to keep the fans entertained.
The Flying Fathers would eventually play for over 40 years, raising more than $4 million for charity, including a record $240,000 at a single game held in Toronto.
In all, the Flying Fathers have now played over 1,000 games against amateur teams and NHL old-timers squads all over Canada and occasionally in the United States and Europe, including once playing in front of 15,396 fans in Vancouver.
Sadly, Father Costello died in 2002 at the age of 74 from complications after being hit in the head by a puck and falling back and hitting his head on the ice during a Flying Fathers game.
Today's featured jersey is a 1965 Flying Fathers jersey, which features the whimsical Flying Fathers crest which hints at the hijinks which was soon to follow on the ice.