Documentary: Mike "Shakey" Walton
Mike “Shakey” Walton was one of the NHL’s 1st rebels, a talented but complicated player whose strange career was part soap opera, part mystery thriller, part Shakespearean drama. Through it all, Walton won two Stanley Cups, dominated the WHA and is the only NHL player traded on the recommendation of a psychologist.
Walton played alongside some of the game’s greatest legends AND it’s most notorious oddballs; he's remembered for his tantalizing skills that were often overshadowed by his outrageous -- and nearly fatal -- off-ice escapades.
Here's the story of the enigma that was Mike “Shakey” Walton -- one of hockey’s most unforgettable characters.
A native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Mike Walton inherited his nickname "Shakey" from his father, Bob Walton, who would shake his head to throw off opponents as a standout hockey player in England.
Mike Walton first played junior hockey with the famed St. Michael's Majors in 1961-62 with a team that eventually won the Memorial Cup.
The St. Michael's program was discontinued in 1962 and the players transferred to the McNeil Catholic Secondary School, where Walton scored 22 goals in 38 games as the Maroons won the Metro Junior A League championship.
For the 1963-64 season Walton joined the Toronto Marlboros and he continued to progress, with 41 goals and 92 points in 53 games. He added 26 points in 12 playoff games as the Marlboros brought home the second Memorial Cup of Walton's young career.
Mike's first pro season came in the Central Pro League for the Tulsa Oilers in 1964-65 where he was named CPHL's rookie of the year. He also made the 1st All-Star team, recording 40 goals and 84 points in 68 games
The next season Mike was selected as the rookie of the year in the AHL while playing for the Rochester Americans. He racked up 35 goals and 86 points in 68 games and was rewarded with a brief six-game NHL call-up to Toronto.
In 1966-67, he split the season between Rochester and Toronto playing 31 NHL games and joining yellow youngsters Ron Ellis and Peter Stemkowski on the "Old Fellows Athletic Club" that captured the famous 1967 Stanley Cup championship. Walton’s 4 goals and 7 points were key to the Leafs Stanley Cup run.
By 1968-69 Mike established himself as a sure-fire NHLer when he scored 30 goals in his first full season. Walton was selected to the NHL’s mid-season All Star team.
Mike cracked the 20 goal plateau the following two seasons but his outgoing and OUTSPOKEN style angered Maple Leafs management, particularly coach Punch Imlach and team president Stafford Smythe. Also at issue was the fact that Walton's agent was Alan Eagleson, who helped establish the NHL Players' Association. Further complicating matters was Walton's marriage to Smythe's niece, and Conn Smythe's granddaughter, Candace.
Walton eventually “quit” the Leafs and was suspended, but NHL commissioner Clarence Campbell reversed the decision. On the recommendation of a league-appointed psychiatrist named Dr. Ron Stokes, the Leafs agreed to trade Walton, who was diagnosed with depression. Although he now had a reputation as being moody, streaky and difficult to coach, he remained in high demand throughout the rest of the NHL.
On February 1, 1971 he was finally traded in a blockbuster three-way deal that saw Walton, Bruce Gamble and a 1st round draft pick first shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers for 2nd round draft pick in 1971 (Rick Kehoe) and G Bernie Parent.
That same day, Philadelphia shipped Walton to Boston for Danny Schock and Rick MacLeish.
In 1971 the Bruins were the kings of Boston and the local media was waiting for Walton as soon as he arrived in Boston.
The 1970-71 Bruins roster was deep and talented. Mike fought for ice time and scored just three goals in 28 games.
But He regained his confidence and scoring touch in 1971-72 with 28 goals and 56 points and collected another 12 points in 15 playoff games as the Bruins swept to the Stanley Cup championship.
His time with the Bruins would also allow him to develop a friendship with teammate Bobby Orr. The two would become roommates on the road and they even formed a business partnership in the form of the Orr-Walton Sports Camp for kids each summer.
Walton raced off to a hot start in 1972-73 scoring 21 goals by mid season. Unfortunately, his career-year was ruined by a frightening accident at the team hotel in St. Louis, when, during some horseplay, Walton was tripped and crashed through a plate glass door. He suffered severe cuts which required 200 stitches and lost five pints of blood, which put his life in jeopardy for a time. He would recover in time to finish the season, but he’d scored just 4 goals in 16 games.
Walton loved Boston but when his contract expired, he turned down the Bruins’ three-year $330,000 contract offer and jumped to the World Hockey Association’s Minnesota Fighting Saints, who offered him a 3-year deal at $500,000. As a bonus, the Saints also signed Mike’s brother, Rob Walton.
The free-wheeling Mike Walton was a perfect match for the wide-open WHA and expectations were high.
FREED OF ANY DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBILITIES or ice time limitations, Walton exceeded all expectations in 1973-74, recording 6 hat tricks on his way to a league-leading 57 goals. In addition, he earned 60 assists for 117 total points and won the Bill Hunter Trophy as the WHA’s top point-getter.
Interestingly, only nine of his goals came on the powerplay but an additional nine were scored while the Saints were shorthanded.
Walton was also the MVP of the WHA All Star game in St. Paul, scoring 3 goals in front of a big home crowd. Aside from that game, the streaky Walton did not score a goal in the month of January -- but he made up for it with a torrid late season surge:
Off the ice, he almost became the 1st hockey player to drown in full gear.
During the 1974 playoffs, the Fighting Saints defeated the Edmonton Oilers in five games before an engaging in a BARE-KNUCKLED war with Gordie Howe’s Houston Aeros, in a series which saw Houston win in six games. The bloody series introduced the hockey world to the unique talents of Gordie “Machine Gun” Gallant and Billy Goldthorpe, who’d soon be immortalized as model for Ogie Olgelthorpe in the film SLAPSHOT.
The Saints ultimately lost the series 4-2, with the finale on home ice in St. Paul. A devastated Walton bolted from the arena to drown his sorrows in a local tavern -- while remaining in full uniform.
Walton’s mood would improve in the off-season thanks to a walkaway clause in his Saints contract that allowed him to leave the team after one year. The franchise renegotiated his contract and extended it for five years at a substantial increase.
Prior to the 1974-75 campaign, Walton was chosen to play for Team Canada in the 1974 Summit Series vs. the Soviet Union.
The only concern coach Billy Harris had was, which Mike Walton would show up? The Walton who had torn the WHA apart in 1973-74 or the moody, indifferent man who had worn out his welcome in Toronto and coasted through numerous WHA games?
Unfortunately for Team Canada it was the second Mike Walton who showed up. He appeared uninterested during training camp, played well in Game 1 (picking up an assist) and then "vanished." By the end of Game 5 his play was so bad it appeared he had given up and Harris pulled him out of the lineup for games 6 and 7. "Shakey" was probably the biggest single disappointment for Team Canada in the Summit.
The 1974-75 WHA season would see the Fighting Saints further commit to toughness by adding the likes of Curt Brackenbury, Bill Butters and three bespectacled kids from Virginia, Minnesota -- the Carlson brothers -- who began the season in the North American League with the Johnstown Jets.
For some reason, 5-8, 170 lb Walton decided to test the toughest Carlson brother -- Jack -- in a pre-season game between the Saints and the Jets.
Walton’s second season with Minnesota was nearly as successful as his first, as he scored 48 goals and 93 points plus an additional 10 goals and 17 points in 12 playoff games.
As usual Walton could be either the best -- or the worst -- player the ice … depending on his mood:
Walton also added to his lore with two additional incidents in 1974-75. First, in San Diego he clobbered fan with his stick. Later he’d get involved in a fight with a teammate during game, confusing referee Bill Friday, who commented that he couldn't call major penalty on teammates.
The 1975-76 edition of the Minnesota Fighting Saints was their best yet as they added added legends Davey Keon and Johnny McKenzie plus rookie Paul Holmgren. Walton scored as his usual pace and the Saints were championship contenders.
Unfortunately, ownership was unable able to pay the bills and the team went without salaries for several weeks. The team finally disbanded in February 1976, but Walton had already departed for the NHL Vancouver Canucks, who had acquired his rights from the Boston Bruins in 1974.
His torrid scoring continued in the NHL as he scored 8 goals and 16 points in just 10 games with the Canucks.
After an injury-plagued and ineffective 1976-77 season marked by a drunk driving arrest, Walton rebounded to lead the Canucks in scoring in 1977-78 despite playing just 65 games.
Frustrated with Walton’s inconsistent effort and disinterest in the defensive end of the ice, Vancouver traded him to the St. Louis Blues for a paltry price of a 4th rd. draft pick.
In 1978-79, Walton would quickly wear out his welcome in St. Louis and was briefly re-acquired by the Boston Bruins and eventually ended up with the Chicago Blackhawks -- His 5th stop of the season.
Walton scored his last NHL goal on April 22, 1979 vs. the NY Islanders:
After a season in Europe, Walton called it quits and eventually became a successful real estate agent and an active member of the Maple leafs Alumni.
Perhaps, Mike Walton’s hockey career was less than it could have been. But he was an electrifying talent and one of the most fascinating characters of the 1960s and 70s.
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