By BILL BURT
Executive Sports Editor
---- — TORONTO — In November of 1999, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto awarded its prestigious Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for journalists to Russ Conway, The Eagle-Tribune’s executive sports editor, honoring his work exposing corruption in pro hockey at the highest levels.
Conway, who wrote a compelling book on the scandal, “Game Misconduct,” was honored in 1999 along with Wayne Gretzky, who was the only former player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame that year.
Tomorrow night, 14 years later, Conway will be back in Toronto adding to his list of awards, this time honored by the National Hockey League Alumni Association with its Keith McCreary 7th Man Award for his dedication to retired NHL players and their pension pay. McCreary, who died in December of 2003, was the long-time chairman of the NHL Alumni Association.
Conway, a former hockey writer, sports editor and investigative reporter for The Eagle-Tribune, is credited with helping former players receive a benefit plan that exceeded their, in many cases, “paltry” pensions. The NHL and the NHL Players Association agreed several months ago to pay $3 million into the fund each year over the next decade to help some of the oldest living former NHL players. Conway’s exposes of pension fund abuses were key to that agreement.
Conway’s work led to his being named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But he wasn’t finished.
He found that former stars were struggling to survive day to day and decided to do something about it.
“Ted Lindsay was the first to help start the union, and he and guys like Fernie Flaman paid for it by being traded or sent to the minors,” said Conway. “It wasn’t right. The players association and the NHL weren’t treating the former players right.”
Conway said that former NHL player Ron Murphy’s story touched a chord with him. Murphy played 19 years, including the last four with the Bruins. Murphy, who has long been retired and has a difficult time moving around due to five compressed disks incurred over his long career, was reported to be making only $8,400 per year from his NHL pension.
Because the NHL and NHLPA teamed up to add $6 million each year to the fund for players like Murphy, he will receive just under $33,000 this year.
“Sure, the money Ron will get isn’t an incredible amount, but it could be the difference between being able to live in an assisted living facility or getting nothing,” said Conway.
Conway said others share credit for the good news about the league and its current players taking a bigger role in caring for players who helped make the league what it is today.
“It takes a lot of people, a lot of people that care,” said Conway. “There are currently players, like (Pittsburgh’s) Sidney Crosby, who voiced their opinions. There are former players like Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Billy Guerin and Mike Gartner who made their voices heard. I’m just proud to have played a small part. ...
“Sue Foster, the longtime companion of Maple Leafs defenseman and three-time Stanley Cup winner Carl Brewer, was also extremely helpful putting together the senior player pension plan.”
As for the honor tomorrow night in Toronto, Conway is humbled.
“I really appreciate it, but it’s not about me,” he said. “This is about a lot of people care about people and care about the game.”
Conway in two Halls of Fame Did you know that Russ Conway, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999 with Wayne Gretzky, was inducted into the New England Racing Hall olf Fame in 2006? "I am as proud of that as I am the Hockey Hall of Fame," said Conway. "There are so many nice people in that sport as well, a sport I always loved, even before hockey."