Had Odie (Norman) Lowe won a faceoff or two against Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt, his NHL career may have lasted more than four games.
Lowe, who will be inducted Nov. 7 into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame for a long career as a player and coach, was 20 when the New York Rangers summoned the smooth centre from the New York Rovers of the Eastern League.
Lowe and the Rangers tied the Montreal Canadiens 1-1 at Madison Square Garden that March 13 night.
Almost a year later, Odie pocketed five points as the Rovers won a matinee game at home on Feb. 26. That earned him a second call-up with the Rangers that night and he scored from the right side in the first minute versus the Bruins. Lowe assisted on the winner as New York won 4-3.
Said Ranger coach Lynn Patrick: “His all-around play Sunday against Boston was tremendous….He’s a smart, heady player and forechecked and did almost everything right.”
Lowe has the puck from his historic goal, but says it was hardly a beauty.
“I made sure it hit the goalie (Jack Gelineau) in the back end,” chuckled Lowe. “Everybody thought I was a hero. I killed my own chances with the Rangers. I was called up two or three weeks later and we were playing Milt Schmidt and the Bruins. He was a big, strong German type, strong as a bull. I don’t think I won a faceoff off him. Our goalie, Charlie Rayner, was yelling, ‘Get another centreman out there.’
“I had my chance and if I hadn’t run into that one episode, I might have made it.”
The Rangers bowed in seven games to the Red Wings in the 1950 Stanley Cup series, while Lowe led the Rovers to the Eastern title with 53 points in 44 games.
Rover coach Phil Watson was glad to get his top pivot back from the Rangers: “He’s the brainiest guy on the ice…has the extra sense to know where the puck will be. He passes beautifully.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Lowe played in nine different leagues, teaming up with future NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk to lead a formidable Winnipeg Rangers Junior A squad.
He later played for his father, also named Odie, sparking the Lethbridge Native Sons to the 1947 Alberta/B.C. Junior A crown and leading the team in scoring. Lowe finished his Junior career by ringing up 51 points and a Manitoba title with the Winnipeg Canadians.
Lowe’s father, a vagabond who made a living pitching in weekend baseball tournaments and working for a farmer, coached after his minor pro career ended.
Odie Jr. was scouted by George (Corky) Agar when playing senior hockey for Winnipeg Maroons in a 1954 Allan Cup series against the Penticton V’s with games held throughout the Valley.
Lowe had met Agar one year in Saskatoon and accepted an invitation to play senior for the Vernon Canadians. He compiled 43 goals and 91 points and another 37 playoff points as the Canadians won the ‘56 Allan Cup, rating an enormous downtown parade to celebrate the championship. Lowe fired 61 goals the next year for Vernon.
A few years later, he soon got into coaching. After guiding a Vernon Juvenile team to a provincial crown, Lowe became head coach of Vernon’s B.C. Junior League team.
The Essos claimed the 1969-70 and ‘71-72 season championships. John (Wire) Price and the late, great Wayne Dye were the only players on both those rosters.
“Odie was great to play for,” said Price, who lives in Vernon. “You worked your ass off for him and he knew when to give you hell. He was like a second father to me, him and Vern Dye too.”
Price, Ernie Gare Jr. and George Fargher lived with Bob and Helga Adshead in the ‘71-72 season, starting a bond that remains strong today. Price, Gare and Les Salo were the Essos’ big line with Price and Gare tying for the league scoring derby with 133 points that second title season. Price had four more goals so was declared the winner.
Said Lowe: “I couldn’t put one of them out to kill a penalty without the other because they wanted the points.”
Said Price: “Ernie and I were the playmakers and Les was the shooter. He had a great shot. Odie always told me I was too skinny and should be on the weights, but nobody was into lifting weights back then.”
The rough and tough Essos took a 2-0 series on the Weyburn Red Wings at Civic Arena in 1970 before losing the next four on the much bigger ice in Saskatchewan.
“Weyburn played Montreal Junior Canadiens for the Memorial Cup after they beat us because the leagues weren’t tiered then,” said Price. “Montreal (who swept the series at home) had 10 guys who made the NHL, guys like Gil Perreault, Jocelyn Guevremont and Bobby Lalonde.”
Lowe’s father was working in Cranbrook and sent the likes of Price, the late Kenny Pollen, Fargher and Don Murdoch to Vernon. Lowe knew the Quesnel arena manager Bill Ramsden, who recommended the Marsh and Gassoff brothers.
“We didn’t want to bring kids in, but we had to in order to be competitive.”
Vernon’s own Bob Mayer, today a 64-year-old school district carpenter, was Vernon’s captain that first title season. He was captain and league MVP.
“He (Odie) was a pretty good coach. He let me play my game and gave me all the ice time I needed. I had Barry Bleackley (defensive partner) so I could bugger off and he’d hold down the house. We did pretty good for the rat-trap group we had.”
Said Lowe on Mayer: “He was a just a good local kid who worked like hell and everybody else followed.”
Mayer has fond memories of being driven to games in part-owner Bill Roth’s Cadillac.
Lowe and Dye, along with major sponsor Ernie Kowal of Ernie’s Esso, where many players pumped gas, also loaded their cars with players and equipment.
Odie worked at an appliance business for a spell, then spent five years at Bibby’s Propane before 25 years with the city.
He’s 86, in decent health and golfs regularly at Hillview with his wife, Yvonne.
“She’s a retired nurse so she’s really looked after me. I met her skating at Priest Valley 20 years ago. Len Miller asked me to go skating and I didn’t really want to go so things worked out well.”
Lowe, a father of three, and those two Esso teams will join basketball officials guru Mel Briggeman of Vernon and Olympic swimmer Rick Say of Salmon Arm in this year’s induction class.