Newest Members of the London Knights Hall of Fame
The newest members of the Don Brankley London Knights Hall of Fame had their plaques unveiled at a special ceremony in the Budweiser Gardens yesterday. The six – former players Garry Unger, Reg Thomas, Brian Bradley, Chris Kelly, and Dylan Hunter, along with scout John McDonald – were also introduced in a pre-game ceremony on Tuesday night before the London Knights took on the visiting Guelph Storm. The Storm would score three unanswered third period goals en-route to a 3-1 victory over the Knights, ending London’s 10 game winning streak.
Unger played his junior B hockey in his hometown of Calgary for a team called the Buffaloes. Deciding that he wished to pursue a career as a hockey player, he figured he needed to play major junior A hockey in either Ontario or Quebec. His NHL rights were owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs (even though he was from Calgary), so he headed to Toronto to try out for the Toronto Marlboros for the 1966-67 season.
However, that team was pretty stacked with talent and Unger was in danger of not making the team. That is when the GM of the Marlies, Jim Gregory, offered Unger two choices. He could either head back home to Calgary (where the Western Hockey Major Junior A League was just starting up) or he could play in London for the junior A Nationals. Unger, who had no idea where London even was, decided that staying in Ontario was better for his future in the game.
He wound up playing 48 games in the 1966-67 season for the London Nationals (the forerunners of the Knights) and racked up 38 goals and 73 points. And when his junior season was over, he was sent to the Tulsa Oilers of the CPHL where in 2 games at the minor pro level, he bagged two goals.
Just before the 1967-68 season, Unger hurt his knee and missed most of training camp for the Leafs. When he felt ready to get back on the ice, the Leafs sent him to London to play and see how his knee was. He would play two more games for London, scoring 4 goals and adding an assist before the Leafs decided he was ready for the pros on a full-time basis. First it was back to Tulsa for 9 games (3 goals, 8 points), followed by a promotion to the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans (where one of his teammates was Don Cherry) where he played 5 games, scoring one goal and adding three assists.
Finally, he was ready and was called up to the big club. He would play in 15 games for the Leafs (although, as Unger told me in the interview I did with him, he essentially had a season ticket for those games – on the bench – as he did not play much). But his NHL career had started and he would not miss another game for over 11 years.
On March 3, 1968 Unger was traded to the Detroit Red Wings where he was put on a line with Gordie Howe and his career would take off. He scored 42 goals in the 1969-70 season, his highest single season goal total of his career.
On February 6, 1971 he was traded again, this time to the St. Louis Blues. He would spend just over 8 seasons there and he would score 30 or more goals in 8 straight years for the Blues and never miss a game. As a matter of fact, Unger would go on to play 914 consecutive games, which was a record at the time (which has since been broken by only one player – Doug Jarvis who played 964 consecutive games).
But his streak would end on December 21, 1979 back in his old St. Louis stomping grounds. He had been traded to the Atlanta Flames at the start of the 1979-80 season and everywhere he went, sports reporters would ask about the consecutive games streak. Flames head coach Al McNeil was starting to feel that the streak was overshadowing the performance of the team, so he decided to put an end to it. In Unger’s first game back in St Louis since the pre-season trade, he spent the entire game on the bench. He was dressed and on the bench for the game. The crowd was calling out his name as the third period progressed and even his teammates offered to let Unger take one of their shifts. But McNeil would not let him get on the ice and when the buzzer sounded on a 7-2 win for Atlanta, Unger’s 914 consecutive game streak had ended (you can listen to the interview to hear what Unger had to say about the streak and about how it ended).
The 1980-81 season started with Unger now playing for the Los Angeles Kings. After 58 games, he was traded one last time, this time to the Edmonton Oilers. He would play parts of 3 seasons with the Oilers and was able to see a team full of young players – Wayne Greztky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe -- that was on the rise. However he did not stay long enough to be part of their first Stanley Cup win in 1984. Unger would end his career with 1105 games, 413 goals, 391 assists and 804 points. But no Stanley Cups.
After a couple of years out of hockey, Unger was given the opportunity to play in Britain (teams in the league could have up to three “imports” and Unger would be one of them). He spent a season with the Dundee Rockets of the British first division league. He calmly scored 86 goals and 134 points in 35 games. He had hoped to stay for a second season, but Dundee did not have a house that he could stay in so that he could bring his family with him from Canada. However, a division 2 team, the Peterborough Pirates, said they could get him a house and so he signed with them and brought his family over from Canada. The team had hopes that having Unger on their roster would allow them to win their league and be promoted to the division 1 league.
And it worked! You will be somewhat astounded by the numbers he put up that season (1986-87) at the age of 39: 95 goals, 143 assists and 238 points – in just 30 games! That an average of 3 goals and 8 points a game! He would play one more season for Peterborough (a mere 81 points in 32 games) before retiring from the game he loved for good.
Unger also represented his country on two occasions. He played for Team Canada at the World Hockey Championships in 1978 and 1979, with the 1978 team winning a bronze medal.
And if you think people have sort of forgotten about Gary Unger, think again. In addition to the London Knights recognizing his career in London and in the NHL by inducting him into the Don Brankley Hall of Fame, Unger was also part of the recent NHL all-star game festivities in St Louis where the 72 year old found himself signing autographs (he estimates about 10,000 autgraphs) and posing for photos with fans from all generations.
Thomas is from Lambeth and was originally drafted by the Kitchener Rangers. But he told them he would not report and so they ultimately, and somewhat reluctantly, traded him to London. Thomas would play three seasons for the Knights, scoring 309 points in just 180 games (including 52 goals and 135 points in his final season, 1972-73).
He was drafted in the second round of the 1973 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, who told him that he would spend two years with their minor league club in Dallas before being called up to the big club. Thomas had other plans. He had also been drafted by the Los Angeles Sharks of the fledgling World Hockey Association for their second season and so he signed with them and headed to the WHA (you can listen to my interview with Reg Thomas to see how he felt – essentially a farm boy -- living and playing hockey in the city of angels.)
The Sharks moved to Detroit the very next season and became the Michigan Stag (1974-75). They would not finish the season there as the league had to step in buy the team. They would finish out that lost season in Baltimore, where their game day jerseys did not even have a team crest on the front (just a number on the back AND front of the jersey, sort of like a jersey that would be worn in practice). Thomas then moved onto the Indianapolis Racers for two and half seasons. Halfway through the 1977-78 season, he was traded to the Cincinnati Stingers. In his (and the league’s) final season, Thomas would have his best year in the WHA, playing all 80 games with 32 goals and 71 points.
With the WHA folding, Thomas’ rights reverted back to the Blackhawks. The Edmonton Oilers then picked Thomas in the NHL expansion draft. However, Oilers coach and GM Glen Sather made a rather low ball offer to Thomas, which he would not accept. The Oilers then traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 1979-80 season began. Thomas would start the season in the AHL playing in Moncton for the New Brunswick Hawks.
On December 13, 1979 he was traded to the Quebec Nordiques and a few days later he made his NHL debut. He would play 39 games with Quebec scoring 9 goals and adding 7 assists, playing on a line with fellow anglophones Robbie Ftorek and Jamie Hislop. But these would be his only games in the NHL. Having a high scoring all-English speaking line on a team that was based in Quebec City did not go over well with team management nor the local media. On top of that, the Stastny brothers were on their way over, defecting from Czechoslovakia. It was down to the minor leagues for Thomas for the 1980-81 season, playing in the AHL for the Nova Scotia Voyageurs.
In the summer of 1981, Thomas was traded by Quebec back to Toronto. But he would never suit up for the Leafs, spending the 1981-82 season in the Central Hockey League with the Cincinnati Tigers (listen to my interview with Thomas as he speaks glowingly of his second stint in Cincinnati – and why not, as he had his best ever pro season with 47 goals and 110 points). The 1982-83 season saw Thomas move up a league to the American Hockey League with the St. Catherines Saints. But despite a good season – 35 goals and 92 points – he was not called up to the Leafs.
After two seasons playing in Austria, Thomas finally retired from professional hockey. He now runs a family farmers market near Lambeth with his wife and four children (all of who played hockey at various levels, although not at the pro level). That is when he is not enjoying the sunshine in Florida during the winter!
Drafted second overall by the London Knights in 1981, Bradley would play 4 seasons with London, scoring 373 points (3rd most in team history). He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1983 NHL draft by Calgary. He would go on to play 651 games in the NHL for Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Tampa. He would lead the Lightning in scoring in their expansion season of 1992-93 with 86 points (next highest point total on the team was 56!). He also played for Canada at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Kelly played three and a half seasons for London (1997-2001) playing a total of 216 games before being traded to Sudbury in his final season. He led the Knights to the OHL finals in 1999 before losing in game 7 to Belleville. He was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 3rd round of the 1999 NHL draft. After four seasons in the minors and lots of negative thoughts about whether he would ever make the NHL, Kelly was finally made the Senators roster for the 2005-06 season and he essentially has never looked back. He would end up playing 845 NHL games as more of a defensive centre. He would win a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Boston Bruins. Kelly also help Canada win a bronze medal at the Winter Olympic games in 2018 in Pyeongchang, Korea.
Hunter is the son of current Knights head coach Dale Hunter. He is the all-time leader in games played for the Knights with 315. He had back to back 100-point seasons in 2004-05 and 2005-06 where he had 158 assists over those two seasons. Hunter was part of the Canadian Hockey League’s “Team of the Century” as he helped lead the 2004-05 London Knights to their first Memorial Cup.
Hunter was drafted in the 9th round in the 2004 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Although he would never suit up for the Sabres, or get into any NHL games, he did play 5 seasons in the American Hockey league with the Rochester Americans, Portland Pirates and Milwaukee Admirals, along with playing some games in the East Coast Hockey League with the Utah Grizzlies and the Cincinnati Cyclones from 2006 to 2011. He returned to the Knights in 2011 where he has been an assistant coach for his father Dale.
McDonald is a former long-time scout for the Knights having been hired by the Hunter brothers (Dale and Mark) when they bought the team in 2000. And he goes back even further with the Hunters, as he was the person who suggested that the Brantford Alexanders of the OHL take Mark in the OHL draft back in 1979 (which they did). McDonald helped build the Memorial Cup championship team of 2004-05 and his scouting abilities have helped keep the Knights competitive year after year since. He becomes the first person to be inducted into the London Knights Hall of Fame as a builder.