Hockey legend Lysiak passes away at 63

Tom Lysiak
Tom Lysiak

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

High Prairie’s most famous hockey player and three-time NHL all-star has died.

Thomas James “Tom” Lysiak died May 30 after a battle with leukemia. He was 63.

Tom was born April 22, 1953 in High Prairie to Joe and Anne Lysiak. Tom was an outstanding hockey player and his tremendous talents were soon recognized by all who watched him play.

“I started playing hockey as soon as I was old enough to join an organized team,” said Lysiak in an Aug. 8, 1973 South Peace News interview.

“There was no special reason for playing hockey except for the fact that it’s Canada’s game and almost every young Canadian participates.”

Lysiak played until junior age in High Prairie and thought the High Prairie Regals would be his next step.

“But the coach from the Kamloops Rockets from B.C. came up and asked me to sign on with them,” says Lysiak.
He did but heard little the next few months. All of a sudden he heard he was traded by the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Medicine Hat Tigers.

“Even now I’m still puzzled how I was moved around like that without even knowing,” said Lysiak. One thing I do know, that was the last I ever heard from either Kamloops or Edmonton.”

Lysiak joined the Medicine Hat Tigers in 1970-71. His second year [1971-72] in the Western Canada Hockey League he led in scoring with 46-97-143 points in only 68 games. He repeated the feat the next season [1972-73] with 58-96-154 points. As a result, Lysiak was awarded the Bob Clarke Trophy as the WCHL’s leading scorer.

In 1972-73, the Tigers won the WCHL title and played in the Memorial Cup in the world-famous Montreal Forum.
Teammates included Lanny McDonald and the three Gassof brothers, Ken, Bob and Brad. Also playing on the team, and well-known to local residents, were Leif Jacobsen, Lloyd Stevens, and Sam Clegg.

Lysiak was drafted second overall in the 1973 NHL draft by the Atlanta Flames. Coach Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion was quoted by Lysiak after the draft as saying, “he tells me we’ll be spending time after practice improving my shot and accuracy around the net.”

Ironically, Lysiak could have ended up with the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens, but after talks with the Habs before the draft he let them know he did not want play there. The New York Islanders had the first overall pick and were taking Denis Potvin. Montreal had the second pick which was assuredly Lysiak.

Lysiak surmised he would first have to play in the minors with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs in Halifax. It was a place he did not want to go.

“Their farm team could probably beat most of the NPHL pro teams. The Canadiens are so loaded with power, that would mean, if I were [drafted by Montreal] there would be no way I could get as much ice time as I could in Atlanta.”

He also told South Peace News in 2014 that he was actually very close and prepared to go to the World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros if drafted by Montreal. Houston drafted Lysiak in the second round of the 1973 WHA draft.
If Lysiak had gone to Montreal, he would have surely won multiple Stanley Cups.

“I have no regrets,” said Lysiak in 2014. “I had a great career and made many friends. You can’t go through life wondering ‘what if.’”

Lysiak also added more to the story in Jan. 30, 1974 South Peace news interview.

“But I didn’t want to play in Montreal. They’re prejudiced up there against players who aren’t French and while Lysiak sounds funny, it sure doesn’t sound French.”

Montreal coach Scotty Bowman called Lysiak repeatedly during his final junior season to ask him to play in Montreal but he declined.

Lysiak’s agent, Dick Sorkin, also advised Lysiak on the matter.

“He told me to start telling everybody who’d listen that I didn’t want play in Canada,” he said. So whenever a newspaper or someone would talk with me [while he was playing his final year in Medicine Hat], I would tell them that I wasn’t going to play for any team in Canada. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. Sometimes I had trouble thinking up bad things to say about the places.”

Lysiak joined the Atlanta Flames for the 1973–74 NHL season, just the second year for the franchise, and scored a team-high 64 points. He helped the team to its first playoff berth and finished second in the voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy [top rookie].

Lysiak led the Flames in scoring in each of his five full seasons with the team and represented the Flames in three consecutive NHL All-Star Games [1975, 1976, and 1977]. He served as the Flames’ team captain during the 1977–78 and 1978–79 seasons, but was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in an unpopular multiplayer deal [eight players were involved, the largest number in NHL history at the time] midway through the 1978–79 season.

Lysiak is the Atlanta Flames’ all-time leader for assists with 276 and points with 431. He ranks second in goals with 155. He had 21 two-goal games with the Flames and one hat trick.

Lysiak played seven full seasons for Chicago and in 1980–81 led the team in scoring with 76 points, including a career-high 55 assists. The next season, 1981–82, he matched his top point-scoring season in Atlanta with 82 points and scored a career-high 32 goals.

On Oct. 30, 1983, while a member of the Black Hawks, Lysiak tripped linesman Ron Foyt during a game against the Hartford Whalers. For the incident, the NHL imposed a 20-game suspension, one of the longest in league history.

After his retirement in 1986, Lysiak worked in the landscaping, real estate and construction industries in the Atlanta area. He played 13 seasons in the NHL.

In 2012, he was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

His daughter, Jessica Lee “Jessie” Lysiak, finished in the top three on Season 4 of the US version of MasterChef. She is married to San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, who is currently playing in the Stanley Cup final.
Lysiak was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2013.

“Tom is definitely considered to be, by many people, the greatest Tiger player of all time,” Tigers president Darrell Maser said in a statement after his death.

“It saddens me to the core of my being to write this post. My dad lost his battle with leukemia today and has gone to be with the Lord now,” wrote Lysiak’s daughter, Jessie Lysiak Braun, on Twitter on May 30.

The funeral was held June 2 at the Chapel of J.C. Harwell and Son Funeral Home in Atlanta, Georgia, with Rev. Rob Raynor officiating. Interment was held at Arlington Memorial Park in Sandy Springs.

Tom is survived by his wife: Melinda Lysiak; daughter and son-in-law Jessica and Justin Braun; his granddaughter,
Madison; his mother, Anne Lysiak Gaetz; his sister, Janice Storowat- sky; and his brother, Chester Lysiak; along with a host of other family and friends.
Tom Lysiak Statistics
Season Team                        League    GP    G    A    Pts    PIM
1970-71 Medicine Hat Tigers    WCHL    60    14    16    30    112
1971-72 Medicine Hat Tigers    WCHL    68    46    97    143    96
1972-73 Medicine Hat Tigers    WCHL    67    58    96    154   104
1973-74 Atlanta Flames              NHL    77    19    45     64     54
1974-75 Atlanta Flames              NHL    77    25    52     77     73
1975-76 Atlanta Flames              NHL    80    31    51     82     60
1976-77 Atlanta Flames              NHL    79    30    51     81     52
1977-78 Atlanta Flames              NHL    80    27    42     69     54
1978-79 Atlanta Flames              NHL    52    23    35     58     36
1978-79 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    14     0     10    10      14
1979-80 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    77    26    43     69     31
1980-81 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    72    21    55     76     20
1981-82 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    71    32    50     82     84
1982-83 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    61    23    38     61     27
1983-84 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    54    17    30     47     35
1984-85 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    74    16    30     46     13
1985-86 Chicago Blackhawks      NHL    51     2     19     21     14
NHL Totals                                          919   292  551   843    567
WCHL Totals                                       195   118  209   327    312

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