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Original Six star gave to hockey fans

'Bones' led Rangers to Stanley Cup finals

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Don Raleigh was an NHL hockey player, a gardener, a cottager and a tennis player, but everybody knew him as "Bones."

The man who broke in with the 1943-44 New York Rangers as a 17-year-old and scored 101 goals in a 10-year NHL career died on Sunday in Kingston, Ont., at the age of 86. Ranked No. 32 on the all-time list of New York Rangers in the book 100 Ranger Greats, Raleigh earned his nickname because he was skinny -- his playing weight was about 150 pounds.

His son, Jack Raleigh, confirmed his dad had been in failing health for a couple of years and had recently suffered a fall. "We made the decision to withdraw life support. It was very peaceful," he said.

Raleigh, who was born in Kenora but lived most of his life in Winnipeg, was proud of having played in the Original Six NHL teams. His one regret was never getting to lift the Stanley Cup over his head. He came close in 1950, when the Rangers lost to the Detroit Red Wings in double overtime in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

Raleigh had scored consecutive overtime winners in games 4 and 5 -- putting the Rangers up three games to two -- and legend has it he hit the crossbar in extra time in Game 7.

One of Raleigh's oldest friends, Sam Fabro, grew up playing hockey with him in Winnipeg. Both are members of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.

"He was a pretty good player. He wasn't a Maurice Richard, but he did his share. He was a good athlete all around," Fabro said.

Away from the arena, Raleigh was a past-president of the Lindsay Street Garden Club. He also enjoyed the family cottage in Sandy Hook.

Even though he hadn't scored a professional goal in more than a half-century, Raleigh continued to receive hockey cards, pictures and other memorabilia from fans requesting his signature, even while in a nursing home in Kingston, where his son lives.

"Parkinson's (disease) made it difficult to write, but he'd scrawl his signature and I'd include a little note saying that's the best he could do. He always wanted to give back to the fans," Jack Raleigh said.

Bones Raleigh told the Free Press three years ago his ongoing popularity, and that of other veterans, was because they played in the pre-expansion era.

"There are some people who think the Original Six was the cat's meow," he said. "No. 2, we're a vanishing breed."

Raleigh was a member of the Winnipeg Winter Club for more than a half-century. Rob Guthrie, the club's general manager, said a lot of members didn't know he had played for the Rangers.

"He was very unassuming. He would never tell you he played in the Original Six; he just went about his business. A lot of people didn't know him as anybody but the guy with the colourful socks and mismatching outfits on the tennis court. A lot of people had no idea he was captain of the Rangers until we inducted him into our Wall of Fame and put his poster on the wall," he said.

Raleigh sat in the stands from time to time while the club's members played hockey on Saturday afternoons.

"It felt like an honour. He had his eye on you and he knew who you were. He was always so friendly with everyone. He always had a little gleam in his eye when the women were around," Guthrie said.

Raleigh was predeceased by his wife, Janice Pitblado, in 2006.

A celebration of his life will be held in Winnipeg later this month, with details to be announced at a future date.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2012 A6

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