An all-world hockey player and a world-renowned scientist were inducted into Orillia’s Hall of Fame Monday night.
Rick Ley, who returned to his hometown from Massachusetts, and Jeff Hutchings, who came back to his birthplace from Halifax, each said they were humbled to be honoured as they were celebrated at a jam-packed civic reception prior to their official induction ceremony at city hall.
“I am just thrilled,” said Hutchings, after giving an eloquent acceptance speech before many of his old schoolmates from Hillcrest Public School and Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute.
He said he received a letter in the mail a few months ago from the City of Orillia. Inside was a pamphlet about the Hall of Fame. “At first, I wasn’t quite sure it was real,” he quipped. But after confirming the news, he said he was “deeply touched” by the recognition.
It certainly isn’t the first impressive recognition for the Orillia scientist.
In addition to being Chair of a 2012 Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on Marine Biodiversity (and member of a 2001 Expert Panel on genetically modified foods), he chaired Canada's national science body (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) responsible, by law, for advising the Canadian federal Minister of the Environment on species at risk of extinction.
Hutchings is also the Past-President and Co-Founder of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Academy of Science) in 2015. In 2017, he was awarded the international A.G. Huntsman Award for Excellence in the Marine Sciences. He was elected Fellow of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 2018.
“Of all the honours I’ve received … you know, honestly, this means more than all of those things,” Hutchings told OrilliaMatters. “(The) other rewards don’t link you to your community, they don’t link you to where you grew up, to your friends and family – this does. It’s almost one of those things one can’t really put into words very adequately.”
While Hutchings used his education to make his mark, Ley chose hockey to make his.
Like all Orillia boys of his vintage, he played Y’s Men hockey first and then skated for his Central School team. He then began to play rep hockey and was often seen walking to the Community Centre; he used to beg the rink manager to let him on the ice.
In his speech Monday night, he credited that manager, Mr. Davies, for helping him on his path to success.
“A lot of people helped me along the way but one of the most important was Mr. Davies,” explained Ley. “He gave me a lock and a key and a box to put my equipment in so I didn’t have to lug it up that hill every time.”
He also spoke about the local volunteers who organized the games, coached and drove kids to games in other cities. He said “Orillia is and was a great city” as he recalled an idyllic youth in which he played baseball and fished in the summer and played hockey in the winter.
When he was just 15, Ley left Orillia to play in what is now known as the Ontario Hockey League for the Niagara Falls Flyers. Before he left Niagara Falls, he had become team captain and won a pair of Memorial Cups.
Ley was drafted 16th overall in 1966 by the Toronto Maple Leafs and became a mainstay on the Leafs’ blue-line for four strong NHL seasons. He them jumped to the upstart World Hockey Association (WHA), inking a lucrative contract to help fortify the New England Whalers.
It was a great move for Ley, who played for the Whalers for their entire seven-year WHA existence. He quickly became the team’s leader and captain and led the squad to an Avco Cup. He was also selected to play for Canada in the WHA’s Summit Series in 1974, was twice selected as a league all-star and was named the league’s top defenceman once.
Upon his retirement, he became one of just three players in franchise history to have his number retired. He was inducted into the Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame. But being recognized back at home is special, said Ley.
“This is a tremendous honour that I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Ley, who is remembered as a fierce competitor who went on to become a demanding coach whose teams played sound hockey. He served in various bench capacities at several levels, culminating with long NHL coaching stints in Hartford, Vancouver and Toronto.
“I had a 34-year long and exciting career playing and as coach and I often say I got paid to do something I love,” Ley said. “This love of the sport and the talent and determination … was born and nurtured here in Orillia, for which I’m very thankful.”
Hutchings is thankful he ultimately chose science. A trumpet player and lover of music, he considered pursuing music at post-secondary school. While he gave up on that, he has never shed his nickname from those days.
Many of his friends on hand Monday night referred to him as Rock – the nickname given to him in Grade 8 by his classmate Wes Brennan. Brennan, who created comic books that included many of his friends, referred to Hutchings as Rock after actor Rock Hudson when the class mounted a production of 'Oh Susanna.'
“The nickname has stuck,” joked Hutchings. As has those friendships forged on playgrounds, stages and classrooms more than four decades ago.
Established in 1964, the Orillia Hall of Fame Award is presented to individuals who have received national or international recognition in their field of excellence. Past Hall of Fame inductees include Gordon Lightfoot, Stephen Leacock, and recent inductees The Honorable Doug Lewis, and Bob McDonald.