Monday, April 5, 2010

The Short Career Of Bill McCreary Jr.

It’s one of hockey’s greatest myths.

I hear it all the time.

“Have I ever told you about the time Gretzky got hit by that Leaf…”, some old hockey fan would tell me at a bar.

“Toronto’s Billy McCreary catches Wayne with his head down and crunches Wayne with a beauty! Funny thing folks, Billy never played another shift in the National Hockey League!” Don Cherry in Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em III.

McCreary hit the Great One and never played another shift in the national Hockey League. He was blacklisted!

So goes the legend.

The reality is that game in question was not Bill McCreary’s last game. And no he did not become a linesman after he retired. It was his second NHL game, actually. And he had ten more games to play in the NHL after the hit on Gretzky.

William McCreary Jr. was born on April 15, 1960 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Not a big or tall player, 6 feet and 190 pounds, he was selected 114th overall in the 1979 Entry Draft.

He came from a hockey family. Here’s where it gets confusing.

His father, William, played parts of four seasons (27 games) with the Rangers, Wings and Canadians. In the summer of ’67, the elder McCreary was traded to the expansion St. Louis Blues, where he embarked on a useful four seasons, even leading the league in short-handed goals in 67/68.

Also in the ‘67 expansion, Uncle Keith McCreary was plucked from the Montreal Canadians by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Later traded to Atlanta, Keith managed three 20 goal seasons.

Another uncle, Ron Attwell played 22 games with St Louis and New York that same season.

Cousin Bob Attwell made his debut in 1979/80, playing seven games that year and 15 more the next.

His other cousin, Bill McCreary, from Guelph, is the referee!

The next year was also Bill Jr. debut. Drafted in the sixth round, he found himself in one of the most famous drafts ever. It was the same draft where the Edmonton Oilers took Kevin Lowe 21st, Mark Messier 48th and Glen Anderson 69th. The draft also produced such standouts as Rob Ramage(1st), Mike Foligno(3rd) Mike Gardner(4th), Rick Vaive(5th), Ray Bourque(8th), Mike Ramsey(11th), Brian Propp(14th) and Michelle Goulet (20th)

McCreary was discovered by Leaf GM Gerry McNamara at the age of 15. At the time, Bill was attending a hockey camp in Halliburton. Coincidentally, Wayne Gretzky served as an instructor at this same camp in 1982.

At the age of 16 with the Cleveland Junior Barons of the GLJHL in 1976/77, McCreary scored 26 goals and 26 assists in 40 games. The following year was his big breakthrough which saw him net 51 goals and 123 points in 40 games. That’s three points a game for those keeping track!

McCreary attended Akron University and Colgate University, His time in Colgate saw him net 44 points in 24 games his first season. He added 7 goals and 13 assists in 9 games the next.

Then he started his professional career at New Brunswick Hawks (AHL) in 1980/81. He showed a little bit of everything there, scoring 19 goals and adding 24 assists in 61games. His toughness earned him 120 penalty minutes.

Called up in December, he played his first game on December 30 in a 5-3 loss against St Louis. He number, by the way, was 28.

Then came his second game on January 3, 1981. It was a road game against Edmonton. Here’s where McCreary made his mark.

McCreary caught a still teenager with his head down as he crossed the ice near the Leafs blue line. And at this point we know who I’m talking about. The hit seemed to knock the wind out of Gretzky, who staggered a bit before coming to a rest on the ice.

Gretzky finished the game with a goal and two assists, on his way to a record 109 assists and 164 points. The Oilers won the game, 4-1. Both NHL records were ones that Gretzky himself would topple in years to come. McCreary, for his part, said that he figured the Oilers would come back at him for that. Oddly enough, no one fought him right there or for the rest of the game.

The rest of Bill’s career has been forgotten by everyone. But there were some highlights along the way. Not only did he play the next game (very next day, actually) against Calgary, but McCreary scored his first and (as it turns out) only NHL. Coincidentally, the Leafs #99, Wilf Paiement, got the assist (along with Sittler) as Toronto took an 8-5 loss. The goalie was Reggie Lemelin.

On January 7th, during an 8-2 loss to Winnipeg, McCreary took his first ever penalty in the second period.

Now there was a January 14, 1981 game between Toronto and Edmonton. I’m not sure if McCreary played in it, but this seems to be the game that everyone assumes the hit happened. I don’t get it, because this was a home game for the Leafs and the hit happened in a road game. The Oilers won this game as well, 7-4, with Gretzky getting two goals and an assist.

McCreary did, play again. In a 2-2 tie with Vancouver on January 20, he took another minor penalty. Thus even if that hit on Wayne occurred in the January 14th game, here is proof that he continued his NHL life.

His last game for the Leafs was on January 30th 1981, one month and 11 games after his first game. He finished his NHL career with 12 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists, 7 shots on goal, a -6 rating and 4 penalty minutes.

McCreary spend 81/82 in Cincinnati of the CHL. In 69 games, he netted 8 goals and 27 assists in 69 games and dropped his penalty total to 61 minutes. But never again did he return to the NHL. His finished his career playing five seasons with the IHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in 87/88.

"The information used herein was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by The Hockey Summary Project. For more information about the Hockey Summary Project please visit:



"Hockey Summary Project." Hockey Summary Project. N.p., 10 Jan. 2001. Web. 05 Apr. 2010,

Matheson, Jim. "Gretzky The Star Of His Own Show." Edmonton Journal. Edmonton. 05. Jan. 1981. C1. Web (Archive). 05 Apr. 2010.,,1606796&dq=bill+mccreary&hl=en

Podnieks, Andrew. The Essential Blue And White Book: A Toronto Maple Leafs Factbook. Vancouver: Greystone, 2001. Print.,861705&dq=bill+mccreary&hl=en


  1. I had the honor of being a teammate of Bills during those two seasons in Cleveland for the 77 and 78 seasons.

    He was a fantastic skater as well as a powerful winger.

  2. I went to school with Bill in Guelph at GCVI and he was an amazing person to say the least. Standup guy in every aspect.