Botchford: Wayne Maki a fighter to the end


Wayne Maki scores a goal in a 1971 game against the Boston Bruins.

Wayne Maki scores a goal in a 1971 game against the Boston Bruins.

Photograph by: Archives, PNG

More on This Story


It’s not like NHL teams didn’t have access to doctors in 1972. It’s just, well, it wasn’t anything like it is today.

“Now, they have a doctor for everything. You name it. Have a hangnail? A paper cut? There’s a doctor for it,” says 75-year-old Ron “Chico” Maki, who spent 15 years playing for the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Back then, they had one guy who looked after everything.”

Back then, Chico’s brother, Wayne Maki, was the Vancouver Canucks’ best left winger, a 27-year-old who grew up poor in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and proved to be as tough as a tortoise shell on the ice.

Back then, Chico recalls, the “one guy who looked after everything” suggested Wayne was faking an injury when he was complaining of excruciating headaches midway through the 1972-73 season.

“It floored me,” Chico says. “They kept saying he was faking his injuries.

“They finally sent him home in the middle of a road trip. When he got off that plane, he started walking toward the engine. His equilibrium was gone.”

Not long after, a brain tumour which required immediate surgery was discovered. He “lost three-quarters” of his brain because of the cancer, Chico says.

Coincidentally, the day after the surgery, the Blackhawks were in town to play the Canucks. It brought Chico to his brother’s bedside.

“I walked into the hospital room and he was on his side, his head turned the other way,” Chico says. “I didn’t say anything and he said: ‘Hey Harp.’”

That was Wayne’s nickname for Chico, another reference to the Marx Brothers. He could sense his brother in the room without seeing or hearing him.

It makes sense. These two sons of a steelworker, who had six other siblings, were more than brothers. They were best friends.

Chico was five years older, and remembers sticking Wayne in net when they were growing up together. They would beat the crap out of each other, and have a lot of fun doing it.

In the NHL, they had just one shift against each other.

“He took a run at me,” Chico recalls. “I knew he was coming. I moved out of the way and he hit the boards.”

After the brain surgery, Wayne started losing his memory. He would never play again, though he kept telling Chico he was coming back to the NHL.

They gave him six months to live, but it was 17 months until he passed away.

“He was one tough son of a bitch,” Chico says. “He just loved to play hockey.”

Although Wayne spent just two-and-a-half seasons with the expansion Canucks, Chico isn’t surprised at all that he has made the list of the 101 greatest Canucks.

“He was a good skater with a helluva shot,” Chico says. “He wasn’t afraid. He’d take on the big guys. He fought them. Not like some guys.”

Chico is surprised, however, when it’s mentioned the Canucks unofficially retired Wayne’s No. 11 days after he died.

“You better check your facts on that,” Chico says. “There was a big hullabaloo when Mr. Wonderful came to town.”

Mr. Wonderful, of course, is Mark Messier. He chose to wear No. 11 during his Canucks career and Vancouver let him do it without ever reaching out to the Makis to ask for their blessing.

It infuriated Wayne’s family, who found out Messier was going to wear 11 when they saw him in his Canucks jersey on the news.

When then-GM Pat Quinn finally contacted them, he told the Makis they should “be honoured” by Mr. Wonderful.

Well, they weren’t.

Before the Canucks claimed Wayne in the 1970 expansion draft, he had become infamous with the St. Louis Blues for a horrifying, stick-swinging battle in 1969 with Ted Green of the Boston Bruins, one of the toughest players in the league.

In a preseason game, Green swung his stick at Wayne, who returned fire, thwacking Green on his unprotected head, leaving him unconscious. It is one of the most dreadful incidents in NHL history.

The pair were charged with assault and later exonerated.

There is no video of the incident but it was reported Green had narrowly missed Wayne’s head with his initial swing.

“Have you ever seen the photo of Wayne after that?” Chico asks.

I have not.

“There is a photo that shows he was hit first. Ask the players who were sitting right next to Wayne. They saw what happened,” Chico says.

“Green wasn’t an angel. He was a mean SOB. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

The brothers talked about the incident once. Chico, the veteran, told his rookie brother not to say anything to the press. He never brought it up again.

“I’m sure he thought about it all the time, especially when he played the Boston Bruins when it was like 10-on-1,” Chico says.

Wayne would endure hell every time he played the Bruins, who were set on avenging the incident. They would run him every shift.

But, as the story goes, Wayne refused to be a healthy scratch for any of those Boston games.

It was that kind of attitude that earned his place among the 101 greatest Canucks of all time.

Wayne Maki scores a goal in a 1971 game against the Boston Bruins.

Wayne Maki scores a goal in a 1971 game against the Boston Bruins.

Photograph by: Archives, PNG

We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
Your voice