One of Flin Flon’s brightest lights on the ice has gone out. According to multiple sources, including several of his former teams, hometown boy Gerry Hart has died.
An inductee in the Flin Flon Bomber Hall of Fame and one of a small number of players to have his number retired by the club and a member of sports halls of fame in both Manitoba and New York state, Hart’s death was announced May 12. He was 75 years old.
“Hart was a huge ambassador of the community of Flin Flon and the Bombers. We would like to send our condolences to the Hart family,” read an announcement from the Bombers May 13.
A defensive defenceman par excellence in his prime, Hart was rarely the biggest or heaviest player on the ice but would earn his space, both on the ice and on teams. Hart played for the Bombers for five seasons, starting aged just 16 in 1964. From there, Hart would join the team through both the Saskatchewan and Manitoba junior leagues and on to major junior, playing with the Bombers in what would later become the Western Hockey League in 1967-68. Alongside fellow hometown boy Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach and others, Hart wore the captain’s “C” for two years and would play for a Memorial Cup in 1967 before heading down Highway 10 on a date with the dream of pro hockey. Hart would become one of 20 players born in Flin Flon to make his way to the NHL.
Undrafted in the NHL, Hart took a long and circuitous route to the show, playing for minor league teams in Baltimore, in Virginia and Fort Worth, Texas while scratching for ice time with the Detroit Red Wings. Hart got his big break in 1972, when he was picked in an expansion draft by the then-new New York Islanders.
Hart would play seven seasons on Long Island as one of the team’s top defenders, taking them from an expansion squad to a contender. Hart left the team in 1979 in another expansion draft, getting snapped up by the nascent Quebec Nordiques, just before the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups, and bounced along with a couple of teams. Hart retired from professional hockey in 1982 as a member of the St. Louis Blues, having played 730 NHL games, scoring 29 goals, putting up 179 points and ending up with 1,240 minutes in penalties.
For most of the rest of his life, Hart would split his time between the Flin Flon area, where he would return for summers, and Long Island, where he and his family set down roots.
Merely telling stories of his time on the ice would only be telling part of Hart’s story. Off the ice, Hart made a living off his business interests, allowing him and his family to live comfortably into his retirement from the game. Hart got involved with real estate and insurance. Hart and business partners opened a recreation complex on Long Island in the 1990s, including hockey rinks and day camps. Hart sold the business off in 2004, but stayed active in both communities - he was involved with local charities on Long Island, including the Companions in Courage Foundation (CIC), a charity supporting hospitalized children started by fellow Islander alum Pat LaFontaine.
“Hartie was one-of-a-kind. The native of Flin Flon made Long Island his home and did more to grow the game here than almost anyone I know. His assists to local pediatric patients may be his greatest legacy. Rest in peace, number 2,” reads a statement from CIC issued after Hart’s passing.
“The children of Long Island never had a better friend.”
According to the New York Post, Hart’s family has requested donations to the CIC, the Unsung Siblings Foundation and to the Clark Gillies Foundation.
Hart stayed active throughout his life, often spending his summers either on his bike, paddling or on the golf course - Hart’s name would often be found on the leaderboards of the Phantom Lake Golf Club’s senior open. Hart would even return on occasion to the ice of the rink he and others helped build the legacy of, suiting up at the Roller Goodwin Memorial Hockey Tournament several times.
“Gerry was one of my idols growing up in Flin Flon. It’s such a huge blow to lose him at such a young age. One of a kind. I’m going to miss our summer visits at the lake,” said Kim Davis, a fellow Flin Flonner, former Bomber, NHL player and ex-commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Hart’s number 4 sweater was retired in 2001 and is one of six jerseys to have been retired by the team - in the rink’s rafters, the banner commemorating Hart sits in between those honouring Clarke and Leach. A road north of the Whitney Forum - located not far from both the rink he spent so much time in and from where his parents first met -
was renamed in Hart’s honour in 2010.
"Being recognized by your hometown for anything is a pretty special privilege. It's one thing to be recognized as an athlete or a politician or whatever, but I think to be recognized by your fellow citizens as a contributor to the community is a real honour for me,” said Hart at the street’s unveiling.
"Flin Flon has been as good to me as any place ever could have been.”