Monday, February 21, 2011

The Death of Tim Horton

Like many Canadians of a certain vintage*, I first became aware of Tim Horton when visiting one of the many stores across the country that bear his name... To an earlier generation, though, Horton's name would have been familiar for the amazing 24 seasons** he played in the National Hockey League, during which time his defensive skills benefited the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo Sabres.

PhotobucketGenerally acknowledged as the strongest man in hockey, he appeared in 486 consecutive regular-season games between February 1961 and February 1968 - an NHL record for a defenceman until it was broken by Kārlis Skrastiņš in February 2007. That he began this epic run in the midst of his 11th season makes it even more epic, in my opinion, but that it also came after suffering a broken leg and jaw*** - having been checked by Bill Gadsby of the New York Rangers during a game in March 1955 - must have made Horton seem immortal among his colleagues...

Horton may have begun to believe the hype himself, because on this day in 1974 - while traveling through St. Catharines along Queen Elizabeth Way from Toronto to his home in Buffalo following a game - he lost control of his De Tomaso Pantera sports car (a gift from Sabres' GM George 'Punch' Imlach), struck a concrete culvert at Twelve Mile Creek, and flipped the vehicle. Horton wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and was ejected; he was later pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. Eyewitnesses estimate he'd been traveling at a speed of 160 kph (100 mph), and he may have also been multiply intoxicated, having been given Dexamyl for a recent injury. An autopsy report, released in 2005, also indicated his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

And so ended one of the greatest careers in hockey... His early death meant that he wasn't present when, in 1977, he was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame; it also prevented Horton from seeing the company he'd started in 1964 become Canada's largest restaurant chain, with more than 2700 franchises here and 80 across the American Northeast as well.

*Forty and younger, thank you very much!
**Including four
Stanley Cup championships!
***The kind of injuries generally considered catastrophic enough to end a career.
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