Canadian Sports Legends: Where Are They Now? .... Bob Gainey

Hockey Dec 03, 2020

Robert Michael Gainey was born on December 13, 1953 in one of Canada’s preeminent hockey towns – Peterborough, Ontario.  

Gainey started skating at a young age and while he does not readily acknowledge it, he grew up being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.  It was the inspiration of watching Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada that would drive Bob and his buddies to spend all of their spare time on the ice – both indoors and out.

It was a natural choice for Gainey to join the OHL’s Peterborough Petes as a local player in 1971.  The Petes have sent more players to the NHL than any other major junior franchise in Canada., including big names such as Eric & Jordan Staal, Mike Fisher, Cory Stillman, Chris Pronger, Steve Yzerman, Mike Ricci, Tie Domi, Larry Murphy, and The Great One – Wayne Gretzky (albeit he only played three games as a call-up for the Petes).    The legends didn’t just sit on the bench, but also stood behind it – legendary NHL coaches Scotty Bowman, Roger Neilson, Steve Yzerman, and Chris Pronger all coached the Petes.   It was on Roger Neilson's watch, that Gainey spent two years making his mark in the OHL.  The hometown boy flourished in his local rink, watched by family & friends while he was able to live at home and graduate from his local high school.  It was at Peterborough’s Memorial Centre that Gainey met his wife Cathy while she served as an ‘usherette’. On the ice, it was Bob’s ability to shut down the opposing team’s best players that most impressed NHL scouts, but it was Habs GM Sam Pollock who knew an NHL'er when he saw one. He made sure the Habs chose Gainey 8th overall in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft.

Gainey immediately jumped into Montreal’s starting lineup as he became a pivotal member of the legendary Habs team of the mid-70’s.   Called the world's best all-around player by Soviet national team coach Viktor Tikhonov, Gainey brought many elements to the Canadiens  - the burly left winger was a tenacious competitor, relentless checker and respected team leader.   During his 16 year storied career with the Habs, Gainey won five Stanley Cups, played 1,160 regular-season games, scored 239 goals and had 501 points.   It is assumed that the Frank Selke Trophy (for the NHL’s top Defensive Forward) was established with Gainey in mind and Bob was its recipient for the first four years.

Gainey also proudly wore the Red & White representing Canada in many international competitions including the Canada Cup in 1976 (winners) and 1981(runners up) and World Championships in 1982 and 86 (Both bronze medal wins)

As Gainey’s playing days wound down, he started thinking about how he could provide his family with an adventure while starting the next chapter of his hockey career as a coach. After the 1989 season (the Habs had just lost to the Flames in the Cup Final), Gainey retired  from the NHL and moved the family to France to join the Epinal Ecureuils (Squirrels) of the French 1B National Division as a Player-Coach.  That spring he received numerous phone calls from executives in the NHL who knew that Bob would be an outstanding NHL coach.  It was a call from Bobby Clarke that enticed Gainey back to the NHL as he took on the Head Coaching job for the Minnesota North Stars in 1990.  In his second season behind the bench he led the team to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and in 1992 he also took on the job of General Manager (holding both roles until 1996).   In 1997 he drafted his son Steve 77th overall in the entry draft.  In 1999 Gainey earned his sixth Stanley Cup ring as GM of the Dallas Stars.

In 2003 Gainey made his return to the Montreal Forum, taking on the job of Habs’ GM and in 2006 (and again in 2009) stepped in as interim Head Coach.  Bob continued to be associated with the red, white and blue until 2012, when he parted ways with his cherished Habs.  Bob went on to act as consultant for both the Blues and the Stars.

Gainey’s career highlights and achievements include:

  • Stanley Cup championships in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986 (as Player), 1999 (as GM).
  • Winner of first four Frank J. Selke Trophy awards - 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981.
  • Selected to the NHL All-Star Game in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981.
  • Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1979.
  • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.
  • In 1998, Gainey was ranked number 86 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
  • His #23 was retired by the Montreal Canadiens on February 23, 2008.

What’s Bob doing now?

Sadly, Bob and his family have had to endure close family tragedies since he retired from the NHL – his wife Cathy passed away in 1995 at the age of 39 after battling cancer and a year later his daughter Laura was swept overboard in the middle of the Atlantic while working on a tall ship.  It is these tragedies that have formed Bob’s desire to give back to the community.  In 2008 the family established the Gainey Foundation in honour of Cathy and Laura. – the foundation supports a range of causes important to the family.   Most recently Gainey auctioned off 66 pieces of his NHL memorabilia (including five Stanley Cup rings)  raising over $300,000 for charities.  In 2018 Bob decided to head home to Peterborough (he was already a full-time summer resident in cottage country just north of Peterborough) to take on a consulting role with the Peterborough Petes … a fitting next move for this hockey legend.

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