For years, the Sudbury Wolves name has been synonymous with hockey in this northern Ontario community. But back in the early 1960s, there was nary a sight of junior hockey to be found in the area — under the longtime moniker or any other name.
The late Leo Gasparini was part of a group of dedicated hockey men who revived the junior game in the north. Born in Sudbury in 1922, Gasparini played locally before packing his bags and heading south.
“In his stints in the States, he played with Don Cherry, under (coach) Eddie Shore,” Leo’s eldest son, Randy Gasparini said. “He was a journeyman.”
Stops in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Buffalo, San Diego, Houston and Boston over seven years suggest that description was more than accurate.
Returning home for a stint, Gasparini eventually became even more well-known for his hockey involvement on the ownership and management side, as part of a group that purchased and founded the Louisville Rebels in 1957.
While Randy and his four younger siblings knew some of their father’s involvement in hockey, the age of easy access to information was still a long ways away.
“He was in Louisville at the time and I was being taken care of by my grandparents,” Randy said. “He never spoke about it too much, he was never home.”
In fact, Gasparini was putting the pieces in place for what would be back-to-back championship seasons in Louisville as the Rebels captured the IHL’s Turner Cup in both 1958 and 1959.
“The money he made from playing hockey, apparently he saved it up,” Randy said. “They started (the team) on a shoestring budget. I don’t know how they did it.”
Gasparini was eventually named a “Kentucky Colonel,” the highest title of honour bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, for the attention he brought to Louisville via hockey success.
Gasparini and his wife (Simone Paquette) made their way back to Sudbury, this time for good. Yet his entrepreneurial spirit, both as a businessman and hockey fanatic, could not be contained.
After an impressive run of junior hockey success through the 1930s and 1940s, the Wolves had given way to the senior hockey ranks, but the Eastern Pro Hockey League came and went.
On July 29, 1962, Gasparini was among a group of hockey folk meeting at the Espanola Hotel, looking to revive the junior hockey ranks in northern Ontario.
As junior hockey re-emerged on the local scene, Randy recalled more vivid memories. “I think the fans were so starved for anything,” he said. “My dad put together some really good teams. I think he stayed involved for about 10 years or so.”
Operating, once again, with limited financial backing, Gasparini tapped into the contacts he had made along the way. Given that the Louisville Rebels had provided a minor-league affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks during their brief tenure, Gasparini managed to secure donated uniforms from Bill Wirtz, owner of the NHL team, in order to outfit his Sudbury side.
During the 1965-66 season, Gasparini and coach Marcel Clements iced a team that featured captain Mike Buba, Garrett Cull, Gord Dailey, Bruce Hatton and Kas Lysionek, among others. By the early 1970s, the Wolves/Cubs junior team had merged with the transferred franchise that owner Bud Burke had purchased and moved from Niagara Falls and the legacy of the club as a member of the OHA/OHL had begun.
Still heavily involved in the community, Leo Gasparini passed away in 1995, gone but not forgotten.
Posted by Laurel Myers