How is it that such a player could get lost and play in the top minor league as its best player for 15 straight seasons after his final appearance in the NHL? The world of pro hockey during the six team era of the NHL was another world compared to how the game is today. With the sponsorship system in place, where junior aged players were signed to pro contracts that assigned their rights to the NHL team which sponsored their junior team, the NHL clubs had a massive number of players with NHL potential in their systems. With only six NHL teams, the competition to make the the big team and stay in the NHL was intense. Their always was an upcoming prospect or a young minor league player challenging for your position on the team.
With that much competion between players for jobs, not only did your performance on ice figure into your career, your relationship with the management was also a factor in what kind of stay in the NHL you would have. Management ruled hockey, and if a player didn't like it, then they could be banished into the minor leagues forever because there always was another guy to immediately step into the vacated position.
When Fred Glover signed with the OHA team in Galt in 1945 he became property of the Detroit Red Wings. After his first season in Galt, the Red Wings wanted him to move up the ladder in their system and offered him an official pro contract. Glover, because of the original type of contract he had signed, had the option to play another year in junior. When he decided to stay in Galt, the Red Wings weren't too happy with
their future prospect.
"Detroit offered me a pro contract," Glover explains, "they told me that certain players had signed and went pro for the same amount. I told them that it didn't make any difference to me because I had the option to return to junior. Right away, that put me high on their list as a trouble maker."
When Glover did finally turn pro he was sent to the Red Wing's farm team in Indianapolis where he had two stellar seasons, especially the second which saw him lead the league in goals. The next season he was on the big league club until near the end of the season when he was sent back down to Indianapolis.
Glover's stay in Detroit was extremely rocky. The Red Wings were managed by Jack Adams who ran the team in a ruthless manner. It was follow his way or else. In Glover, Adams had a player who had already challenged his authority. The team was in the middle of a run which would net four Stanley Cups in six seasons and Adams didn't need Glover's talents as much as a lesser club might. Glover sat on the bench and listened to Adams bark at him.
"In Detroit, you were always getting yelled at for something you didn't do," Glover remembers. "Half the time Adams would be yelling at the wrong guy. The players didn't have a chance in hell, you couldn't do anything but listen to it. If you didn't stay, then you could just go home. One game, I scored two goals and got one assist and all Adams did was chew on me about how I had only one hand on my stick. I just got sick of it all."
When the Red Wings farmed him out at the tail end of 1951-52, Glover went to Adams and told him that if his stay in Indianapolis was prolonged, then he wanted out of Detroit. Adams obliged by traded him to Chicago in the off season. The problem was that the Blackhawks were owned by the brother, and brother -in-law, of the owners of the Red Wings. Glover played even less in the Windy City and he was again banished to the AHL by mid-season. 1952-53 would be the last year he would ever play in the NHL.
The AHL back then was a very strong league. It's champions were dubbed "the seventh best team in hockey," but in reality, depending on the fortunes of the bottom rung NHL teams, the argument could be made that the best of the AHL was actually the fourth or fifth best team in all of hockey. The top franchise in the league was the Cleveland Barons. The Barons were for all intents and purposes an NHL team in a minor league. They ran their own farm system, drew well and were on par with any of the other US based NHL franchises at the time.
Glover's stay with Chicago's farm team in St. Louis lasted about two weeks before he was traded to Cleveland. The situation in Cleveland was unique for players, they were in the minors but playing with a major league franchise. "The minimum salary for a NHL players was $5,000 back then," Glover explains, "But, the AHL teams wouldn't meet that minimum, that was except in Cleveland. General Manager Jim Hendy had a policy where any player who came to the club from a NHL team got paid that salary. No other team did that. And, on top of that, you didn't get the verbal abuse you got in the NHL." Fred Glover had found a home on the shores of Lake Erie.
Glover had a chance to return to the NHL in 1954 with the Rangers. The scout who had known Glover in the Detroit organization had started working for the Rangers and through his recommendation they invited him to training camp. Glover didn't want to go, but he agreed after being badgered about that decision. "What a screwy camp that was," he said. "It was like a club, if you were in, you were okay. If not, you were considered an outsider. I went there wearing a knee brace because if I wore it I wouldn't have any problems with my knee, and I didn't. I told the trainer that, but right away, they thought I had a bum knee. So, by mutual agreement I went back to Cleveland. Hell, I didn't want to go there anyway. It was all the usual NHL garbage anyway."
As much as his off ice troubles defined the course of his career, his on ice career was defined by two words, "desire" and "guts". John Ferguson played with Glover in Cleveland for three seasons. "Glover influenced me a lot," he says. "He was the greatest competitor I ever saw. For example, even when he was badly hurt, he still insisted on playing. He'd be taped from head to foot and yet he's still be out there battling like nothing was wrong. I'll always remember his advice, 'never let anyone fight you off the puck.'"
"He also fought a lot because of his style," Ferguson recalls, "and he occasionally lost. I've seen him get whipped worse in fist fights than any other player I ever saw, but two minutes later Freddie would be up and at it, going after the guy who had just beaten him to a pulp. Just being around Glover was enough to pick up another player's spirit."
Not only did Glover have the drive to endear him to team mates and fans alike, he also had good hands which meant that he could score. Within no time at all Glover was the scourge of the AHL and the darling of the Cleveland fans. When Jackie Gordon became player coach of the team in 1956-57, Glover was named captain to take his place. By the time Gordon retired from coaching after 1961-62, Glover was not only the best player in the AHL, he was the heart and soul of the whole Cleveland operation.
Glover was named playing coach to replace Gordon in 1962-63 and after his first season as coach the Barons experienced a management squabble where a majority group of shareholders made a move to get rid of team President Paul Bright and Gordon who was now the General Manager. They wanted Glover to stay as coach and as they pushed on in their bid to restructure the front office, Glover informed them that he would quit if Bright and Gordon were replaced When the shareholders didn't heed Glover's warning, he quit as soon as they had gone public with the management change. Glover's retirement was catastrophic for the stockholders, not only did they stop the announced changes, they then sold the club to a group organized by Bright. Hockey in Cleveland couldn't thrive without Glover. The season that followed was perhaps the best of Glover's as a coach. He led the team to sweep of the Calder Cup in eight games, the only time in league history a team didn't lose a game in the playoffs.
Fred Glover finally left Cleveland with the start of the 1968-69 season. He was hired to coach the Oakland Seals of the NHL. It was an opportunity he couldn't pass on. The Seals of the year before were an embarrassment. Picked to be the best of the new expansion teams, the team was the worst and the players bickered under the strong hand of coach Bert Olmstead. With Glover the Seals were the most improved team in the league and zoomed to second place in the Western Division standings. A first round playoff loss could not hide the fact of a remarkable season and Glover was named Coach of the Year by The Hockey News.
The Oakland franchise was sore spot for the NHL, fans didn't show up during the dismal first season and still didn't come out to the rink despite the good reverse of fortune due to Glover's coaching. The attitude of the fans might have caught up with the players the following season because the team simply didn't play with quite the drive and determination as it had before. The Seals barely made it into the last playoff spot and quickly exited the playoffs again. With the situation desperate for money to refianance the team, the NHL Governor's leaped at the offer Charles O. Finley, the notorious owner of the baseball Oakland A's, made to purchase the team over the summer.
When Finley got control of the team in 70-71 he immediately changed the team's named to California, dressing the team in bright yellow and green uniforms, and made the players don white skates. The season turned into a stunning disaster with the team limping home to set a new record of futility with 53 losses. Glover's magic with the team had eroded and Finley spent the off season restructuring the front office by hiring Garry Young, director of player personal for the Bruins, to runthe club. The writing was on the wall for Glover and he lasted only three games into the following season before he was replaced by Vic Stasiuk.
Glover's unemployment lasted two weeks when the Los Angeles Kings made him only the second coach in NHL history to coach two teams in the same season. Unlike the first, Dick Irvin, who had guided the Leafs to Stanley Cup after being replaced in Chicago, Glover went the opposite way and lead the Kings into another last place finish. The Kings fired him at the conclusion of the regular season.
With the WHA starting up for 72-73, the Cleveland Crusaders of the WHA were more than willing to link the future of their team with the city's hockey history of the past and they hired Glover to a front office position. A position from which he resigned in a matter of two weeks. As he explained it, "I just didn't feel right stealing other team's players." Another Crusader official explained it this way, "Glover was hired while I was on a three week vacation. By the time I got back Freddie was gone."
Where Glover ended up was back in Oakland with the Seals. Charlie Finley and Garry Young had a falling out because Finley accused his GM/Coach of keeping some Seals from leaving for the WHA by signing them to contracts of which he hadn't approved. The point of contention between them grew to the point of where Finley pressed charges against Young and by mid-season he had fired him and Glover was back in to running the team. The Seals were decimated by defections to the WHA, losing a total of eight regulars and they finished last again. Ironically, the Crusaders were the team that had hit the Seals the most, signing away three players off the team.
When Finley had bought the Seals in 1970, the league finally thought it had solved the health of the failing franchise. By 1972, the NHL was pretty tired of Finley's antics in Oakland and saw the courtcase between him and Young as sure sign that he had no other intentions but to manage the Seals as a tax write off for his more profitable baseball operations. Whereas he had been a flamboyant and meddling operator of his baseball team, he was strictly a hands off owner with the hockey club. Infamous in the media for meddling in all aspects of his baseball team, Glover had this to say about his handling of the Seals, "Charlie doesn't meddle at all. I have no problem with him ever being in my office."
With his baseball team not as nearly solvent as it was when it was winning World Series in the early 70s, by the middle of the 1973-74 season Finley was making it well known that he had enough of the hockey club and the NHL Governors, desperate to rid themselves of him, bought the team outright. When the team was sold, Glover decided he had enough of the NHL and the sorry situation with the Seals. The management team the NHL was going to name to control the team eventually would have fired him, so Glover beat them to the punch and resigned right after the sale. With that, one of the greatest minor league players ever not to star in the NHL passed from any involvement with the game.
Special thanks to Patrick Houda