In his hard-nosed, uncompromising style, Bert Templeton produced winning junior hockey teams and NHL players during a coaching career that spanned over a quarter-century. Templeton, a coach in the OHL for 26 years, died of cancer yesterday morning at 63. He was diagnosed with metastatic renal cell carcinoma in June.
Templeton suffered a serious fall in hospital in Sudbury last Saturday. His back was broken in three places and he was left paralysed from the chest down.
News broke of Templeton's kidney cancer in July. In October, he had a kidney removed.
Templeton's prognosis worsened last month when Templeton was told the cancer was spreading from his lower back into other areas, including his lungs and spine. A large tumour had developed in the middle of Templeton's back.
Templeton coached the Hamilton Fincups to a Memorial Cup title in 1976 and also to a silver medal in 1977 at the world junior championship in the days before Canada sent a national team.
Templeton was also behind the bench for the North Bay Centennials when they won the OHL title in 1994.
"His name should be put up there with Brian Kilrea's in terms of his overall commitment to junior hockey," former player Nick Kypreos recently told The Free Press.
"Bert's passion for the game is right up there with some of the great names in hockey like Brian Kilrea and Roger Neilson. He's a lifer. All three of those men were born to teach."
The native of Irvine, Scotland, compiled a career coaching record of 907-678-148 with major junior teams in North Bay, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Barrie.
In a foray in the pro ranks, he was coach of the American Hockey League's Nova Scotia Voyageurs from 1979 to 1981.
"If you came and played for Bert Templeton, you learned discipline, you learned respect and you became a better person than when you went in," said longtime Ottawa 67's coach Kilrea, who was an OHL coaching peer but also a good friend of Templeton's. "And you were also a better hockey player for it.
"Those are the things he'll leave behind and the people that met him and know him would be thankful they did."
As fate would have it, Kilrea collected his historic 1,000th career OHL win against Templeton's Sudbury Wolves last March.
"As the seconds were counting down, I was being congratulated by my assistant coaches and players and when I looked up Bert was already at our bench with his whole team behind him," Kilrea recalled. "And that's a moment I'll always remember.
"I felt very proud."
Vancouver Canucks head coach Marc Crawford remembers coaching against Templeton in the 1980s when Crawford was in Cornwall and Templeton began a long and successful run in North Bay with the Centennials.
"It's very sad," Crawford said yesterday after practice in Vancouver. "He was a really good major junior coach for a lot of years. He was a real dedicated man to the game. It's a sad loss.
"I knew Bert really well and was a real admirer of his. We coached against each other and I thought of him as a friend. It's sad he succumbed to the cancer."
Wolves captain Zack Stortini, a Sudbury native who Templeton drafted in the second round of the 2001 OHL draft, said Templeton taught him more than just hockey.
"It was a great honour to be named captain by a coach like Bert, and it really helped my career out quite a bit," Stortini said. "He was a good man and really taught me to take responsibility for my actions on and off the ice.
"He was a straight shooter, and whatever he said, he did."
Former NHL player Mike Foligno, who took over as the Wolves' head coach and general manager this season, said Templeton helped define the sport of hockey.
"He was a great asset to this game for many years and many players benefited from his coaching. He loved to do it for a long, long time and his passing is a great loss for junior hockey."