Nearly 50 years ago, someone believed William Chalmers didn’t have a chance to continue his life, much less a career in hockey.
After he underwent surgery for cancerous lymph gland, a priest came to Chalmers’ bedside at a hospital in Omaha to deliver last rites. But cancer, Chalmers’ son said, wasn’t going to take his father at an uncharacteristically young age in 1963.
“He beat it,” Bill Chalmers said. “He got 30 extra years out of his life, to live his life and to support his family.”
When the Omaha Knights of the International Hockey League relocated to Toledo in 1963, Chalmers made the move with the organization, and ultimately became one of the Toledo Blades’ prolific players. Chalmers, better known as “Chick,” will be honored when the Toledo Walleye host their alumni game against the Fort Wayne Komets alumni at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Huntington Center, as part of the Toledo Hockey Heritage Weekend.
“Chick was chosen because of a Blade photo of him scoring against the Komets,” said Mike Keedy, the Walleye manager of special events. “It came down to that fact that the Walleye were playing the Komets on Sunday, and, to wrap it all up, that we were having the alumni game against the Komets.”
In his 17-year professional career, Chick Chalmers played only one NHL game, with the New York Rangers during the 1953-1954 season; his NHL career ended when he was tripped and went head-first into the boards, fracturing his skull.
The injury didn’t deter Chalmers from his pursuit of playing hockey. According to the Blade’s archives, Chalmers scored 1,235 points and is second all-time in assists (843) and fourth all-time in scoring in 15 IHL seasons with Troy, Louisville, Omaha, Des Moines and Toledo’s Blades and Hornets.
“Hockey was a big thing here in the 1960s,” Bill Chalmers said. “It’s exploded the way it is now, with technology, even with the new arena in Toledo. But in the 1960s, they always packed the Sports Arena. That was the heyday, as far as I’m concerned.”
After his playing career ended in 1971, Chick Chalmers and his family settled in Toledo and he remained involved in hockey, whether it was coaching his children or playing in a senior hockey league. Yet in the summer of 1994, doctors found that Chick Chalmers had a brain tumor and found cancer in his back.
For months, Bill Chalmers said, his father remained in denial of the disease that eventually took his life in December, 1994, when he was 60 years old.
“He thought he could beat anything,” said Bill Chalmers, a Toledo resident who works in construction management for ProMedica Health System. “It took a lot of discussion to make him understand he wasn’t going to beat it.”
At 12 years old, Ryan Chalmers also hung onto the belief that because his grandfather had cheated death once, he would be able to do it again.
“But he didn’t make it the second time,” Ryan Chalmers said. “Still, I guess he was a fighter.”
For years Toledo alumni hockey games would come and go, and Bill Chalmers harbored a belief that an organization had forgotten about his father.
But Chick Chalmers’ grandson felt differently.
“He’s been relentless in pursuing this, to make sure he wasn’t forgotten, or that his legacy wasn’t forgotten,” Bill Chalmers said. “I sensed it was going to be forgotten. We weren’t contacted about this weekend until Ryan took the ball and ran with it.”
In January, Ryan Chalmers reached out to the Walleye via email about sitting with the families of other Toledo hockey alumni for Sunday’s events. Keedy answered less than a day later.
“I told him, we’d love to have you at the game this Sunday, and for you to drop the puck in honor of your grandfather,” Keedy said.
Keedy, who is in his second year of working with the Toledo hockey alumni — from the Blades, the Hornets, the Goaldiggers, and the Storm — helped select a photo of Chick Chalmers from The Blade’s newspaper archives that will be incorporated into a poster and distributed to fans on Sunday at the Huntington Center. Keedy said this is the first year the Walleye have hosted an alumni game, and he expects 25 former players and coaches to participate.
“This is the first year we’ve really reached out to the alums and put some ownership on their end, and that was the first step,” Keedy said. “Organizing a team was our goal. And moving forward, that’s definitely something we want to do — get more families of players involved and get a better grasp of the history and the players.”
When Chick Chalmers skated at the Toledo Sports Arena, being a hockey player wasn’t a lucrative career: It was an avocation. In fact, Chick Chalmers worked construction in the summer in order to make ends meet for his family in each offseason — clearly well before the modern era of hockey, in which players are followed on Twitter, have commercial endorsements, and earn seven-figure salaries.
“Everybody looked at him at special events like he was a god, but he had a regular job, and he had a family, and he just happened to be good at hockey,” Ryan Chalmers said of his grandfather. “And that’s awesome. I think about and think, if he didn’t do that, then I wouldn’t be here.
“You know what’s funny? I don’t think my grandfather would have wanted all of this. He’d want to come to the game and talk to his buddies and some of the old players. But I get excited about it, when people remember these old guys and these memories, and that they celebrate it.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.