By: John Sparenberg
Speedy is a term that has been used to describe many professional hockey players throughout the history of the game, and many of the all-time NHL greats of the game like Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, and Wayne Gretzky, all fit the speedy moniker and could bring the noise level of the crowds to a deafening level when they turned on the jets.
Former Hershey Bears’ great Tim Tookey, who was hobbled by knee and ankle injuries during the course of his illustrious career, never had an abundance of speed and had a quiet demeanor, but utilizing his smarts and savvy, his play brought the crowds at HERSHEYPARK Arena to it’s feet on many occasions, and rightfully eventually earned him the honor of having his number nine hung from the rafters and a place in the AHL Hall of Fame.
Tookey, who was selected by the Washington Capitals with their fourth pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, the same draft that saw the Caps also select forwards Errol Rausse, and Harvie Pocza, along with defensive stalwart Greg Theberge, all of whom spent substantial time in their careers with the Chocolate and White started out his professional career with the Bears in the 1980-81 after finishing up his junior career the prior campaign with the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League, setting a then team record by registering 141 points (58 goals, 83 assists).
In his rookie season, the Edmonton, Alberta native skated in 29 games with the Caps, netting ten goals, including his first one on December 20, 1980 in the old Capital Centre in Landover, Md. against the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Pete Peeters, who tended the crease for the Bears in a two-game stint a few years later. He also donned the Bears’ colors for 47 outings, registering 58 points and 129 penalty minutes, the only time in his career that he reached the century mark in that category.
Tookey’s sophomore was also split between the nation’s capital and the Chocolate Capital, but ended in Fredericton, New Brunswick with the Fredericton Express of the AHL after he was traded to the Quebec Nordiques, the parent club of the Express in an in-season trade.
After a couple of seasons with the Nordiques, Tookey signed a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 1983. In two seasons with the Pens’ organization, with the exception of games, Tookey spent all of his time playing in “Charm City” for the Baltimore Skipjacks, bitter rivals of the Bears, and was coached by a man many longtime Bears fans remember fondly from his playing days in Hershey, Gene Ubriaco.
“Tim was a very good player. Often we were a little short on players and talent, and so I had to use him like you can’t believe. He had a couple of looks in the NHL before that, but with me he played all the time. He killed penalties, played power plays, and he could really handle the puck. When I had him, he was on his way, and he certainly helped me a lot, but when he worked in Hershey he became a legend.”
Tookey played an instrumental in helping Ubriaco guide his Baltimore charges to a berth in the 1985 Calder Cup Finals, averaging just under a point per game in the regular season in 74 games, and better than a point per game in 15 post-season encounters, but in the end, it proved to be not enough as the Skipjacks’ hopes for their first Calder Cup Championship were capsized by a young, then unknown goaltender in the finals.
“I’ve got nothing but respect for Gene. I think he was a player’s coach. He was a friend of ours, and it wasn’t just a job for him. He realized we were humans, and thankfully he gave me a great opportunity to play and show my talents. We had a heck of hockey team that year and it was a great run we went on, and we just fell a little short against Montreal’s farm team in Sherbrooke. They had a kid named Patrick Roy in goal that year, and look at the legend he is now. ”
The next season, Tookey came back to the Bears for his second stint with the club when the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bears’ new NHL affiliate inked him to a free-agent deal. That campaign saw the talented centerman return to the Calder Cup Finals for a second straight year, but once again he fell just short in his “Quest for the Cup”, as the Bears were grounded by the Adirondack Red Wings.
“Moving onto Hershey again was a great experience and playing for John Paddock was a good thing. He was a family man, and worried about what was off the ice as well as on”, said Tookey, who scored 97 points in the regular season. “Again, we had a great run but ran into a team that had a lot of guys who ended up playing in the NHL for Detroit. One of them is now coaching the Washington Capitals, Adam Oates. We gave it everything we had, but there were guys hurt, and we fell a little short again, but it was a great year.”
Despite the team setback that the Bears suffered being banished by Adirondack, Tookey, who scored 19 points in 18 post-season contests was given individual acclaim for his stellar stats, being named the recipient of the Jack Butterfield Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. By claiming the hardware, first awarded in 1984, Tookey earned the distinction of becoming the only player on a non-Cup winning team to win the Trophy, a distinction that he still holds to this day.
On a personal note, things got even better for Tookey the following season when he devastated the AHL and demolished his previous professional season highs, leading the AHL in scoring in 1986-87 with 124 points by lighting the lamp on 51 separate occasions and aiding and abetting on 73 others, the 124 points still stand to this day as a Bears’ team record for points earned in a single season.
“When I first got there the year before, I started on the third or fourth line, and then Philly traded Len Hachborn away. That gave me an opportunity to move up the ladder. (In 1986-87) John Paddock gave me a chance to play with Ray Allison and Ross Fitzpatrick. It was probably one of the most fun times I’ve ever had playing the game. They weren’t just great hockey players, but they became good friends. We had so much playing on and off the ice, our families and everything. We had a bunch of great guys on that team, and it’s one of those years you’ll never forget. Probably one of the biggest thrills you can have as a hockey player is 50 goals in a season in any league. I’ll never forget the 50th. Don Nachbaur and I were killing a penalty and he blocked a shot and gave me a chance for a breakaway. I skated down and made the shot. I’ll never forget what Don did there, because that was a special play that will stay in my head for the rest of my life.”
No longer fitting into the Flyers’ plans, Tookey was claimed by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1987 NHL Waiver Draft and spent the next two seasons in the Kings’ and Pittsburgh Penguins’ organizations before returning to Flyers again as a free agent in the summer of 1989.
Tookey’s first two seasons after signing consisted of two injury plagued seasons for the man who ironically earned an associate’s degree in “Prevention of Athletic Injuries” from Portland (Oregon) Community College during his junior hockey days, and while those injuries kept him off the ice for a substantial part of time, it did allow him for plenty of quality time with Dan “Beaker” Stuck.
“I was around as a stick boy in the early 80s when he first came in. Everyone’s personality’s different, and when you got to know him, he opened up when he was around his comfort zone. When he was around the rink and in the locker room, he was a totally different person. I’ve been the trainer for the Bears for 25 years, but I’ve only skated three times and one of those times was with him. I put on the goalie stuff in the outdoor rink at the arena. He was hurt and I went out there to put the pads on so he could take some shots. That’s one of the only times I’ve skated in my life. I was very close with him.”
Tookey rebounded with a fine season in the 1991-92 season, playing in all 80-games and eclipsing the 100-point plateau with a 105 point season, but nearly didn’t make it back for another season when the Flyers initially balked at the Bears’ plans to bring back the very popular player, again citing that he was no longer a legitimate NHL prospect. Eventually, a deal was brokered between the Bears and Flyers that saw the clubs evenly split his salary, and he responded with another 100-point season (108), and then spent an additional season in Hershey before joining the Providence Bruins as a player-assistant coach for the 1994-95 season.
As fate would have it, Tookey and the P-Bruins had the Bears as their opponents in their opener that season and the stoked up Tookey potted a pair of goal and added a helper for the Bruins in that encounter.
“I think you are always amped up a bit when you go against your old team and teammates, even when I went from Baltimore to Hershey, you want to go back and beat your old teammates. It gives you a boost to play. I was lucky to get on a line (in Providence) where there were a lot of talented hockey players. My goals (beating Mike McHugh to the front of the net and fishing out a rebound from a sea of players in the crease) were more being in the right place at the right time. It was a nice feeling to win that hockey game.”
That season with the P-Bruins turned out to be Tookey’s last one as a player, and as a coach, and he retired as the fourth-leading scorer in AHL history with 974 points (353 goals, 621 assists) on his AHL resume, to go along with 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 106 NHL encounters.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to (pursue a professional coaching career), but there are only so many coaching jobs. I think every man that plays the game wants to pursue a coaching career, but it just didn’t work out for me. I coached at junior levels and I still coach today in AA in Alberta.” The cards aren’t always meant to fall the same for everybody. It just wasn’t meant to be for me.”
Originally Tookey and his family had planned to settle in the Hershey area after retirement, but those plans changed and he and his family eventually headed out west to begin his post-playing career pursuits.
“I had an opportunity to come and coach here in Arizona, so I moved out here and my daughter was excited to see somewhere else, and so was my wife. We just took the opportunity, but it just wasn’t in the cards and didn’t work out. The financial situation in Arizona is not good, and there’s not a lot of work for people, so it fell through. We own a home here in Arizona and we reside here, but I work in Canada. I got home to Canada for most of the year and sneak down here whenever I can to be with my girls. My daughter Trista is going to the University of Arizona in Tucson and is in her third year studying physics, and my wife (of 31 years) Susan has a great job here working for a lawyer, and I install ceiling sprinklers. I had to go back to school for three years, and I made it through after all those years. I’m just becoming a journeyman in the next couple of weeks. It’s some hard work, but it keeps me in shape.”
Tookey once had ambitions of become a professional singer and songwriter in his younger years, and now at the age of 52 and nearly 20 years removed from skating in his last professional game on the hockey stage, he no longer pursues the life on the singing stage either, but he is still very much a music man at heart.
“I still play and have fun and write songs, but now they’re more for just myself and my family, but I’ve always loved music, and always will. I bought my daughter a guitar for her birthday last year. She’s going to college and trying to learn how to play a little bit, too. Music will always be in my heart and something I’ll always do.”
Any Bears fan that had the pleasure of seeing Tookey perform at HERSHEYPARK Arena will surely break into a smile remembering back fondly to those days recalling when the familiar tune of “Took” often echoed through that hallowed hall.