"Phil Maloney was never a very funny guy. But he made a lot of other guys look funny when he was skating around them and scoring those beautiful goals."
- Walter "Babe" Pratt
While many associate the heart of the Vancouver Canucks with either Stan Smyl or Trevor Linden, another generation will remember another such player. Phil Maloney was the original heart of the Canucks, long before they joined the NHL.
From 1954 through 1970, except for a two year hiatus with the Buffalo Bisons, Maloney starred with the Canucks of the old professional Western Hockey League. In total he skated for a dozen Canucks teams, some of them good, some of them mediocre and some of them down right forgetable. Some things never change in Vancouver.
Yet like Smyl and Linden after him, Phil Maloney's performance never wavered: consistent, conscientious and classy.
The dedicated, self-effacing star was far from a big man on skates. But he was built like a tree trunk, with thick shoulders and incredibly strong legs. It was a difficult task to knock Phil Maloney off of the puck.
The task was made nearly impossible when you added his natural hockey savvy to the mixture. He instinctually could draw defenses towards him as he weaved his way across the ice, the puck sure on his stick. Then at just the right time he would lay out a radar-true pass to a streaking winger for good scoring chance.
It was said Phil Maloney made more wings than aircraft manufacturer Boeing. When asked who were his favorite targets he carefully thought of Buddy Boone on right wing and Jimmy Baird on left wing, but held out special mention for one other player.
"The greatest winger i ever played with, bar none, was Jackie Mcleod. He had an uncanny instinct for positional play, he was smart and all you had to do was lay the puck out when he was trailing on his wing. He'd turn on a burst of speed and he was gone."
McLeod and Maloney clicked together nearly right away upon Maloney's arrival in Vancouver in 1956. Maloney challenged the century mark for points, while McLeod challenged the magical 50 goal plateau.
While he was a great minor league player in Vancouver and Buffalo (AHL), also playing with Pittsburgh (AHL) and hometown Ottawa (QHL), Phil Maloney never really stuck in the NHL. He did get into a total of 158 NHL games, an impressive number in those days of just six major league teams. He only played in one full season, 1949-50 as a 22 year old in Boston, even finishing as runner up to teammate Jack Gelineau as rookie of the year. The following season he would be traded to Toronto and was buried almost immediateley in their system. He would only get a handful of games a couple of seasons later. He would get another chance in the NHL late in the decade with Chicago.
Why did he not make it in the NHL. The dry, to-the-point Maloney once said "We aren't in the minor leagues because we skate too fast or shoot too straight."
Maloney would have no regrets, carving out a great career especially in Vancouver. His 923 points in 818 games is third best in WHL history. He also holds the record for most points in a WHL game - an amazing 8 thanks to 2 goals and 6 helpers. He was twice named as the WHL's most valuable player and in 1958 he led the Canucks to the WHL Championship and the Lester Patrick Trophy. He was also part of the 1969 championship, as well.
The Fox, as he was known to teammates, was a peaceful player, detesting bad penalties as a betrayal of team goals. Three times he was named as the WHL's most gentlemanly player. The opposition tried to physically intimidate Maloney, who once went an entire 70 game season without taking a penalty. Yet he would not shy away from the corners or high traffic areas, and was incredibly durable, only missing time with three injuries, two of them shoulder dislocations.
The third injury was far more serious, one that potentially could have ended his career that night. Maloney needed emergency eye surgery after a vicious assault by Larry Zeidel, a big minor league tough guy/crazy man. Zeidel blindsided Maloney with a cowardly suckerpunch from behind, shattering his cheek bone. With their star player crumpled on the ice, not a single Canucks player stood up to Zeidel.
The incident definitely made an impression on one member of the Canucks team. The team's young stick boy was horrified by this spectacle. A pretty good youth hockey player himself, he vowed that if anyone ever attacked his teammates he'd beat the holy crap out of them. That young stick boy did go onto play in the NHL. His name - John Ferguson, one of the most legendary NHL tough guys ever.
Maloney was forced into retirement earlier than he wanted to. Vancouver had just built the palacial Pacific Coliseum and were about to join the National Hockey League. Maloney would likely have made the inaugural team, but his tired legs told him it was time to retire in 1969.
Maloney would remain very prominent on the hockey scene in Vancouver, serving first as a scout and for parts of four seasons as a NHL coach. He would guid the Canucks to a 95-105-32 record from 1974 through 1977, making the Stanley Cup playoffs in both of Maloney's two full seasons as coach.
He also served as the team's general manager for three seasons.