Several hundred people, many wearing Boston Bruins t-shirts, packed the Beef 'n Bird Tavern April 29 to celebrate Jerry Toppazzini's life, telling stories about his life and laughing.
It's exactly how the NHL star and Copper Cliff native wanted it.
“This here is typical Jerry,” Jerry's brother, Ted Toppazzini, said.
“He was adamant he didn't want people to mourn his death. He wanted them to celebrate his life. That's what they're doing here today. Jerry enjoyed life, and he wants other people to enjoy it as well.”
Jerry, 81, passed away recently at the Maison Vale Hospice.
He is survived by his second wife, Rosemarie, and children Cheryll, Anthony, Mark and Lino, stepdaughter Francesca, grandchildren Phil, Julianna and Abigail, step-grandchildren Lauren and Patrick, and siblings Norma, Delphy and Ted.
He is predeceased by his first wife, Dolly, and brother, Zellio.
Jerry spent 12 years playing in the NHL.
His NHL career started in 1952 with the Boston Bruins. He then played with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1953-1955 and the Detroit Red Wings from 1955-56, and returned to play with the Boston Bruins until 1964.
After his NHL career, he became an OHL coach. He was named coach of the year in 1976 while leading the Sudbury Wolves.
Jerry is also known as a local businessman. He purchased the Belvedere Hotel on Lorne Street, now known as the Beef 'n Bird, in 1977. It is still family owned and operated.
Ted said he heard his brother tell “a million” stories about his NHL career over the years, although he's sure a lot of them have been embellished.
“I always remember his story about his first game in the NHL,” he said.
“He said he was playing in Montreal, and his job was to shadow Maurice Richard. He shadowed him. In the third period, they were facing off. He turned to Maurice Richard, and he said, 'Maybe you should be covering me.”
“Maurice said 'You the flash in the pan.' That's what he called Jerry every time they met. They became pretty good friends.”
Ted said his brother was an aggressive and determined hockey player.
Perhaps that goes back to his childhood, when he often challenged the authority of his older brother, Zellio, he said.
“It was his determination to win, to do things, that made him the hockey player he was,” Ted said.
“He understood the mechanics of the game, the necessity of teamwork — stuff like that. Jerry was personable, but he could be be demanding of his teammates. He was an excellent team player.”
Ted said he always had a special bond with his brothers. He said he finds it difficult that both Jerry and Zellio, who passed away in 2001, are gone.
“I always had my two brothers,” he said. “I've lost Jerry now, and I'm all alone. It's very difficult for me to face the world without him, because he's always been there for me.”
Jerry's son, Anthony Toppazzini, said he doesn't remember much about his father's NHL career, as he was quite young at the time.
What he knows comes from family stories, photos and newspaper clippings.
“Jerry had a wonderful career,” he said. “He had a lot of longevity, and played in the league for awhile. His heart was with the Boston Bruins. For his era, he was one of the better hockey players.”
He describes his father as “caring, giving, special, outgoing and fun,” and said he's going to miss him very much.
“When you walked in the room, everybody had a smile on their face,” Anthony said. “Nobody could tell a story like he could. He was just a special man.”
In lieu of flowers, the Toppazzini family is asking for donations to the Maison Vale Hospice.
Posted by Heidi Ulrichsen