Kevin Shea is the author of "Barilko: Without a Trace", the detailed story of Bill Barilko. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the legend of Bill Barilko. You'll see his name at the top of this site and you'll find a Barilko #5 Leafs jersey hanging in my closet.
Kevin Shea was nice enough to agree to an interview and here it is for your enjoyment.
Q: The story of Bill Barilko is legendary in these parts. Bill Barilko was only 24 years old with a mere five seasons under his belt. Had he lived, what kind of career do you think he would have had? How would history have viewed him today?
A: Bill was a good, solid defenseman who was developing well under Hap Day's (and later, Joe Primeau's) defensive system. Other than game films, I never saw Barilko play, but teammates of Bill's I trust (Howie Meeker, Ted Kennedy) insist he was an emerging All-Star and a potential Hall of Famer. I can't really comment too much, but even on his own blueline, he usually was only the second or third best defenseman on the team, behind Jim Thomson and often, Gus Mortson. My instinct is that Bill was incredibly popular with the fans and his teammates, but was destined to remain a reliable defenseman who would deliver eye-popping hits and clutch goals from time to time. But his goal on April 21, 1951 ensured that he would be remembered in Leaf history books. His death that summer cemented his legendary reputation in Canadian culture.
Q: Bill Barilko's #5 is one of only two jersey numbers retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Do you feel more numbers should be honoured in this fashion by the blue and white or should this remain reserved for those whose careers are ended tragically? I can think of a hand full of other numbers that should be retired. Can you imagine somebody wearing #93 again?
A: I like the Leafs' system of honouring numbers but really like to see exceptional players recognized by retirement of their number. With older franchises (like Toronto and Montreal), it takes a fair number of jersey numbers out of the loop, but why not? I find it odd to see less than legendary players sporting the #7, 9 or 27 for the Leafs, for example. Why not retire #14 for Keon and yes, 93 for Doug Gilmour while we're at it? It gives an aura of heritage and history that is so important in hockey.
Q: I'm looking at a Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup flag hanging in my basement right now. There's a gaping hole between 1951 and 1962. This, of course, is also the period of time Bill Barilko's body remained undiscovered. Do you believe the two facts are related?
A: I do. Bill Barilko was an immensely popular player, both with the fans but also with his teammates. It wasn't so much the loss of his talent that left a gaping hole, although that was certainly an issue, but it was was the loss of his spirit that left the void. The Leafs lost part of their soul when Barilko disappeared inexplicably. The team lost some of its cameraderie and fun with Bill gone, and regular media reports about the ongoing search drew the concern to the surface over and over. Combined with the retirement of Broda and (earlier), Apps, it took a decade to develop a new spirit -- one which held together for four more championships in the sixties and the second Leafs;' dynasty, partly anchored around Tim Horton -- Barilko's eventual replacement.
Q: Your book "Barilko: Without a Trace" has helped introduce the legend of Bill Barilko to a whole new audience. Why do you believe it's important we never forget Bill?
A: Hockey was a different game in that era. Players played for the passion; not the money. The system primarily found players in their mid to late teens, rather than nurturing kids 8 and 9 years old as is so often the case today. Bill achieved a dream that even HE couldn't have imagined ever coming to fruition. Poor kid, no equipment, lousy skater, bad eyesight, few prospects for a bright future, yet he found his way, miraculously and against all odds, to the NHL. Dreams can come true. Bill Barilko proved it.
Q: Back in October 2004, the film rights to your book were sold to Vancouver-based producer George Mendeluk. What's the current status of this project? Will Bill Barilko's story be coming to a cineplex near us any time soon?
A: Not soon. Films have long, arduous paths to reach completion. George Mendeluk, with some assistance from me, has written a proposal and a draft of the screenplay. It is circulating around and has garnered some strong and genuine interest. This is normal. When investors spend millions of dollars, they want to be fairly certain they will earn their money back. A few actors have shown interest, too. Even if the money fell into place quickly, which is unlikely to happen, it would still take more than a year to polish the script, cast the actors and shoot, edit and produce the film. There is no real timeline other than our own eagerness to see this film come to pass. Out of necessity, as we knew, George has had to continue his directing career while shopping this script. He is in Vancouver now working on a TV movie, but is working on his West Coast contacts (and meeting Howie Meeker) while he is there. Meeker is on Vancouver Island.
Q: Do you have any other Bill Barilko-inspired projects on the go?
A: Bill's sister Anne and I will be doing a three-hour seminar for the Learning Annex in Toronto on the evening of April 21 this year -- the anniversary of Bill's historic goal. Although I have purposely kept my involvement to zero, a group has put forward Bill Barilko's name as a possible Inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, too.
Q: The Tragically Hip brought this story to the masses with "Fifty Mission Cap". You, like myself, are a big fan of the band. What's your favourite Hip song?
A: Of course, I have always loved 'Fifty Mission Cap' and even more since writing this book, but my favourite Hip track is 'Courage.' In the early 90's, I was the Director of National Promotion for Universal Music Canada and worked on promoting the 'Road Apples' and (my favourite) 'Fully Completely' albums. 'Three Pistols' and 'Locked in the Trunk of a Car' are also favourite tracks. I love The Tragically Hip. Although I've lost some of my zeal for the band over the past few albums, they still are my favourite band of all time. And absolutely brilliant guys to both work with and talk hockey to!
Q: Will the Leafs ever win another cup? Please say they will...
A: I certainly hope they will...and in our lifetimes too. The lock-out will have dire consequences to the Leafs' roster. The year (or more) away will make an old team, ancient. Belfour, Roberts, Nieuwendyk, Mogilny and Leetch were to be the nucleus of a championship team, and on paper, it sounds like a Hall of Fame squad, but time lost will not be kind to the remaining years in the careers of these gentlemen. It hurts. A lot!
Q: Is there anything you'd like to share with the torontomike.com faithful?
A: I love your site and am very interested in your blogs on topics that are also relevant to me. For example, I too love Dr. Demento. Through the nineties, I worked extensively with 'Weird Al' Yankovic, who got his start on Dr. Demento's show.