When Orr and Gretzky graced the ice together


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Bobby Orr’s pro hockey career ended early in the 1978-79 NHL season after he played six games for the Chicago Black Hawks. Wayne Gretzky’s pro career began that same season when he played eight games in the WHA for the Indianapolis Racers. Arguably the greatest defenceman and the greatest centre to ever play the game, the pair only played together once – in a game on April 25, 1980 at the Winnipeg Arena.

The hockey community had arranged a benefit game between a team of current and retired pros and primarily ex-members of Canada’s national team in support of Billy Heindl. The former Winnipeg hockey player was wheelchair-bound as a result of a suicide attempt. He had been trying to deal with a combination of physical and personal issues before he jumped off a Winnipeg bridge in the fall of 1979. All the participants covered their own expenses and the event raised more than $82,000 for a trust fund.

A crowd of more than 15,000 saw the Nats win 8-6, with alumni Fran Huck and Gerry Pinder scoring twice and Steve King once. Winnipeg Jet Bill Lesuk also tallied two, including the winner against Joe Daley, and ex-Jet Veli-Pekka Ketola had one goal plus two assists. Ketola also won the shoot-out contest and earned $1,500 for the North Kildonan Community Centre. The pro scorers were Morris Lukowich, Peter Sullivan, Bobby Leiter, Wally Kozak, Bob Birdsell and Heindl’s former Winnipeg junior Braves teammate, Barry Merrell.

Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame – Don Baizley Collection

Billy Heindl Jr. (centre) drops the puck between Bobby Orr (at right) and Barry MacKenzie, a former member of the Winnipeg-based Canadian national team. A benefit game in Heindl’s honour was played in Winnipeg on April 25, 1980.

In his game report for the Winnipeg Free Press, Reyn Davis wrote that despite the knee problems that forced his retirement from the NHL, Orr showed a “glimpse of grace and power” in the third period on a play near the Nats net, but his pass went behind Gretzky. Goalie Ken Dryden played with his former Nats teammates, but on the forward line. Ken Broderick played most of the game in goal.

Heindl, who played his minor hockey at Lord Roberts Community Club, had a nomadic hockey career. After his time with the Braves, he moved east to play his final junior season for the Oshawa Generals. Orr was his teammate on the team that lost the 1966 Canadian junior championship to the Edmonton Oil Kings. Following two seasons in the EHL with the Clinton Comets, he joined the Winnipeg-based national team and played in the 1969 world championship.

From the 1970-71 season until 1977, the speedy forward’s career saw him with teams in the AHL, NHL, WHA, NAHL and in Sweden and Germany. His brief NHL time included 18 games with the Minnesota North Stars and New York Rangers. Once he returned home, he coached the Steinbach Huskies to the 1979 Allan Cup final, but the Central Amateur Senior Hockey (CASH) League team lost to the Petrolia Squires.

Heindl later worked in an administrative position with the Canadian Paraplegic Association and helped raise funds for spinal cord research. In 1992, he died at age 45 in Richmond, B.C. His father Bill played for the Memorial Cup champion Winnipeg Rangers in 1941 and the champion Portage Terriers in 1942. A multi-sport athlete, Heindl Sr. was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 for baseball and football as well as hockey.

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The Children’s Hospital Book Market is holding a book sale at the St. Vital Shopping Centre on Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22. The sale will include a large selection of sports books. plus an almost complete collection of Winnipeg Jets programs from the WHA days. This columnist will be working the first shift in the sports section on Friday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. so drop by to say hello and buy some books or programs in support of a worthy cause.

T. Kent Morgan

T. Kent Morgan
Memories of Sport

Memories of Sport appears every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Kent Morgan can be contacted at 204-489-6641 or email:

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