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Montague: Angelo Bumbacco's death hits us all hard

In this special column, sports journalist Bill Montague looks back on the life of a humble and kind man who had an immense impact on hockey in the Sault and beyond

The text messages began to roll in around 9:39 p.m last night.

“Just letting you know that Angelo passed away tonight,” one said.

“Angelo passed away tonight. I’m so sad,” read another. “Greatest Hound ever. Once a Hound, always a Hound.”

It didn’t take long to process the information and when the name ‘Angelo’ was uttered, there really wasn’t any doubt. They did not have to say his last name. We all knew who they were talking about and to those of us that know him well, a sudden sadness filled our hearts.

Angelo Bumbacco, who would have turned 89 on Nov. 19, is perhaps the greatest ambassador for the sport of hockey this city has ever seen. His death leaves so many of us with such vivid and cherished memories. He was a humble and kind man. He would give you the shirt off his back. He was modest and unassuming, but most of all, he was a true gentleman.

From the moment I first landed in this city as an aggressive, bright-eyed reporter for The Sault Star way back when, Bumbacco welcomed me with open arms. He made me feel comfortable covering the team and even through some of the franchise’s darkest and most trying moments, when tensions rose high and when the coverage was negative, Bumbacco never held a grudge, never seemed to get mad at me and always greeted me with that smile of his and that booming ‘Hey Bill,” voice, as he began to ask me a question.

He will truly be missed. He will be missed for his insight and sense of humour. He will be missed for all that he has done for this city and this franchise when it comes to the sport of hockey. He will be missed in the GFL Memorial Gardens press room, where he sat in the same seat for nearly every game, and always flashed that smile, regardless of the pain or discomfort he was in.

He was one of a kind, that’s for sure.

I mean, we are not just talking about a flash in the pan general manager. We are talking about an icon. We are talking about a guy who helped bring the OHL to Sault Ste. Marie in 1972, a guy who drafted Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros and who at one point or another was this franchise’s coach, general manager, part owner, president and governor. He is unquestionably an iconic figure and he was the one guy you looked forward to seeing every time you walked into the press room, a room that was named in his honour and for good reason.

He’s a former winner of the H.P. Broughton Trophy as Sault Ste. Marie’s sportsperson of the year and a member of the Sault’s Hockey Hall of Fame. He also serves as chair of the Hall of Fame induction committee.

He scouted in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

But those are just some of the accolades. To many, he was so much more. He was a husband to Delores for 63 years, a loving and caring father to Leanne, Dennis, Denise and Annalise, not to mention a friend to thousands of others. He was like a dad to former NHL superstars Phil and Tony Esposito and he was respected so much by Gretzky that he was invited to the Great One’s wedding to Janet Jones.

He may not have been Muhammad Ali or Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan, but in Sault Ste. Marie there wasn’t an adult that didn’t recognize his face.

But what really distinguished Bumbacco from so many more is the fact you’d be hard pressed to find one person to say a bad word about him. You may not have liked or respected his opinion on a certain topic, but he wasn’t the type to shove that opinion down your throat.

He understood people and his personable demeanour and dogged determination is what landed Gretzky in Sault Ste. Marie when the Great One threatened not to come here.

He drafted Lindros in defiance of Eric’s parents, Bonnie and Carl, who warned him not to and when Lindros didn’t report, the Hounds traded him and used the pieces of that deal to build a dynasty as the Hounds went to three straight Memorial Cups from 1990-1993, winning it on their final try on home ice with a thrilling 4-2 win over the Peterborough Petes.

He was an influential figure among all OHL executives and was instrumental in convincing the Hounds to hire former player agent Kyle Dubas as Greyhounds GM at a time when many thought the Hounds needed a more mature and experienced person. Dubas is now GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

There was so much that Bumbacco witnessed during his long life on this earth, from the 33-0 record on home ice in 1984-1985 to the Save the Greyhounds campaign to the three straight trips to the Memorial Cup. He was here for the good, the bad and the ugly but he always stood tall, always faced the music and was as gracious in victory as he was in defeat.

And as we say goodbye to this great man, we can only reflect on the memories and hold onto them tighter today than ever before.

And through it all, there was always that one common denominator. Somewhere up high in the gondola, Angelo Bumbacco was looking down, keeping an eye on the players, managers and the fans.

And as sad of a day as today is, one has to think that when the puck drops on another season, Bumbacco will be up high in the heavens, keeping an eye on his beloved Greyhounds, just as he’s done for the last 48 years.

You may be gone Angelo, but your spirit will live on and on and on!