Eddie Shack, Feisty Wing for Powerful Maple Leafs, Dies at 83

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He helped Toronto win four Stanley Cups in the ’60s, his pugnacity earning love in Toronto (and, no surprise, hatred in rival Montreal).

Credit...Doug Griffin/Toronto Star, via Getty Images
July 27, 2020, 5:46 p.m. ET

Eddie Shack, a colorful, pugnacious wing who became a fan favorite at Maple Leaf Gardens playing for Toronto’s four Stanley Cup championship teams of the 1960s, and who remained in the public eye as a pitchman on Canadian television sporting a cowboy hat and flowing mustache, died on Saturday in Toronto. He was 83.

Shack’s death, at a hospital, was announced by the Maple Leafs. He had been treated for throat cancer.

Shack played for 17 N.H.L. seasons, with six teams, and appeared in three All-Star Games. He scored the winning goal for Toronto in Game 5 of the 1963 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit, though he took no credit, saying the puck had caromed into the Red Wings’ net off his backside.

“He was a powerful skater,” Darryl Sittler, the captain of the Maple Leafs in Shack’s last season with them, told The Peterborough Examiner of Ontario. “His body was thick. His forearms. And he could score goals.”

Shack whipped up the home crowds, at times with help from family.

“If I wasn’t playing, my dad would stand up across from the Leafs’ bench and start yelling, ‘We want Shack!’” he told The Toronto Sun. “Then I’d stand up on the end of the bench on my side and start the cheer too.”

Shack was 6 feet 1 inches tall and 200 pounds or so, good size for a forward of his time.

His roughhousing inspired the 1966 novelty song “Clear the Track: Here Comes Shack,” written by the hockey broadcaster Brian McFarlane and sung by Douglas Rankine with The Secrets.

As the tune put it: “He knocks ’em down and he gives ’em a whack.”

Shack was known as the Entertainer for his exuberance and also as the Nose, for his prominent one.

In his memoir “Eddie Shack: Hockey’s Most Entertaining Stories” (2019), written with Ken Reid, Shack told of head-butting the Montreal Canadiens’ Henri Richard (who died in March) in a game in Toronto, then hearing from his big brother, Maurice the Rocket, when the Leafs were in Montreal. “Maurice said, ‘Thank God you never hit him with your nose or you would have split my brother in two.’”

After his playing days, Shack hawked, among other things, Schick razor blades (he once shaved off his mustache in a commercial) and The Pop Shoppe soft drinks, saying he had “a nose for value.” He was co-owner of a golf club and established the Eddie Shack Donuts chain.

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Credit...Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Edward Steven Philip Shack was born in Sudbury, Ontario, on Feb. 11, 1937, to Bill and Lena Shack, Ukrainian immigrants. His father was a crane operator. Eddie was ill for several years as a boy and missed school but was promoted from one grade to the next nonetheless, leaving him unable to read and write. He quit school at 15 and was signed by the Guelph Biltmores, a New York Rangers junior team.

Shack made his N.H.L. debut in the 1958-59 season with the Rangers, who traded him to the Maple Leafs in November 1960. He played for their Stanley Cup championship teams in 1962, ’63, ’64 and ’67.

He was later with the Boston Bruins, the Los Angeles Kings, the Buffalo Sabres, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Leafs again. He retired after the 1974-75 season with career totals of 239 goals, 226 assists and 1,431 penalty minutes in 1,047 regular-season games. He was in the N.H.L.’s top 10 in penalty minutes four times.

Though he was illiterate, Shack proved astute in drawing on his popularity for commercial opportunities. “He once told me, ‘I can’t read or write but I can count,’” his former Maple Leafs teammate Dick Duff told The Globe and Mail of Toronto. In his later years Shack was an advocate for literary programs in schools.

He and his wife, Norma (Givens) Shack, who survives him, had two children. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

For fans of the Canadiens, the Maple Leafs’ chief rival, Shack was a villain, as Quebec’s premier, François Legault, acknowledged wryly in paying tribute to him in a Twitter posting on his death.

He saluted Shack “with the sentiments of many fans and teams for which he didn’t play,” Mr. Legault said, adding, “We loved to hate him.”

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