Jeffrey died Monday at age 81.
An almost indestructible forward, Jeffrey played 368 regular-season games for the Detroit Red Wings, Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers. He had 101 points (39 goals, 62 assists), and 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 38 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
That Jeffrey even made it to the NHL was a minor miracle.
He was playing junior hockey for the Red Wings’ affiliate in Hamilton, Ontario in 1960-61 when he sustained a charley horse so severe that he couldn’t bend his knee. It was the first of a long list of injuries from which Jeffrey would recover; he underwent anywhere from nine to 14 knee surgeries, depending on the source.
Detroit’s Larry Jeffrey slides into the goal post behind Toronto goalie Johnny Bower. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame
“It just kept causing me problems every year after that, probably because in those days they didn’t have the equipment to look after severe injuries,” Jeffrey said of the charley horse, as quoted by hockey historian Joe Pelletier. “They had a shower and a hose and that was your whirlpool-type thing. You held the hose to cause stimulation to the charley horse.”
When calcium deposits developed, Jeffrey was brought to Detroit for treatment. He recalled the joys of that.
“One doctor got my shoulder and held me, the other got on my leg and just literally grabbed it and bent it with his weight,” he said. “They gave me a mild sedative. I remember everything about it. When he gave my knee the pressure, it was just like breaking bones. It was very painful. I heard the cracking. I thought they broke my leg rather than the adhesions. “
One doctor suggested that Jeffrey might not walk without aid, but he had other ideas. He turned pro with Edmonton of the Western Hockey League in 1961-62 and was named the league’s rookie of the year after he had 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) and 80 penalty minutes in 48 games.
Detroit’s Larry Jeffrey tries to shove the puck past Toronto goalie Johnny Bower during the 1964 Stanley Cup Final, with Maple Leafs forward Frank Mahovlich helping out. Michael Sr. Burns/Hockey Hall of Fame
He also made his NHL debut that season with the Red Wings. He played 18 games, but his first truly was one for the books.
Arriving from Edmonton on Feb. 11, 1962, Jeffrey was whisked from the airport to Olympia Stadium by police for a game against the Maple Leafs, arriving minutes before face-off. He laced his skates, sprinted to the bench, then scored his first NHL goal, at 2:33 of the second period, assisted by Bill Gadsby and Norm Ullman. It was the Red Wings’ fourth goal in a 5-0 victory.
It wouldn’t be Jeffrey’s most notable goal with Detroit.
In 1963-64, on a line mostly with Ullman and Floyd Smith, he had 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 58 games. That in itself was remarkable, given that Jeffrey had undergone surgery the previous season after his knee was shredded in a collision with Boston defenseman Ted Green.
Jeffrey wore countless knee braces during the next half-dozen years.
Larry Jeffrey poses for a Detroit Red Wings portrait at Maple Leaf Gardens. That photo would be used for 1963-64 (center) and 1964-65 Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup promotional giveaways. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame; Bee Hives courtesy Aubrey Ferguson
Trailing the Maple Leafs 1-0 in the 1964 Stanley Cup Final, Jeffrey scored off a pass from Gordie Howe at 7:52 of overtime in Game 2, beating Toronto goalie Johnny Bower to give Detroit a 5-4 win. The Maple Leafs, however, won their third consecutive championship, beating the Red Wings in a seven-game Final after having defeated them in five the previous year.
Jeffrey would be part of a blockbuster trade on May 20, 1965, packaged in an eight-player deal that saw him sent to Toronto with Aut Erickson, Eddie Joyal, Lowell MacDonald and Marcel Pronovost in exchange for Andy Bathgate, Billy Harris and Gary Jarrett .
Jeffrey played 20 games for the Maple Leafs in 1965-66, spending most of the season with Rochester in the American Hockey League. In 1966-67 he played 56 games for the Maple Leafs and matched his NHL-best with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists).
But he’d be on the outside looking in come the Final against the heavily favored Montreal Canadiens, having undergone surgery for torn knee ligaments after tangling with Chicago’s Stan Mikita in the semifinal. On crutches, Jeffrey would celebrate Toronto’s upset championship.
Larry Jeffrey (second row down, second from the right) was a member of the 1967 Stanley Cup-winning Toronto Maple Leafs. MacDonald Stewart/Hockey Hall of Fame
Left unprotected in the 1967 expansion draft, Jeffrey was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 6, and later that day was traded to the New York Rangers for four players.
Jeffrey played two seasons with the Rangers before he was traded back to the Red Wings on June 17, 1969, for Terry Sawchuk and Sandy Snow. A final injury would end his career at age 29, his kneecap crushed during a preseason game against Cleveland.
“His kneecap is the size of a quarter,” Red Wings coach Sid Abel told columnist Joe Falls, as reported by Bob Duff of Detroithockeynow.com. “I doubt Larry will ever be able to play again.”
“Sid’s wrong, the kneecap is the size of a nickel,” he said. “But I’ll play again. At least I hope I will. I just can’t give up. I’m too young for that.”
Jeffrey trained all season with the Red Wings but never saw game action.
He would scout for the NHL for the next eight years before leaving the game in 1978, working with his family on a 120-acre farm north of his hometown of Goderich, Ontario, where he raised racehorses and Hereford cattle. Jeffrey was larger than life everywhere he went for his devotion to Huron County, his good humor and his work for charity.
“Everyone in our community was touched in some way by Larry Jeffrey and we’ve lost, I guess, our hockey hero,” Goderich Mayor John Grace said upon Jeffrey’s death. “There is nobody in the community who didn’t know Larry and he really was a true icon in Goderich.”