By Claude McIntosh
CORNWALL, Ontario - In the spring of 1976 when Don Cherry wanted to toughen up his already rugged Bruins with a role player, he didn't have to engage the services of an employment agency.
Cherry, after convincing a (very) skeptical general manager Harry Sinden, put out a call to a player he coached in Rochester, the AHL Americans, who was just cut loose by the St. Louis Blues, who selected him in the seventh round of the 1973 draft. The Blues deemed his hockey skills as mediocre and his skating less than sub-par.
Cherry figured the Blues were under-rating the player. Besides, he had a benchful of guys who could skate and score. The Bruins flamboyant coach didn't rate John Wensink as tough, he listed him as tougher than tough, tailored made for his bruising Bruins in an NHL era when they weren't taking any prisoners.
The ex-Cornwall Royals left winger who grew up in Maxville (he was born in Pincher Creek, Alta.) didn't disappoint Cherry, or the boisterous gallery gods at the old Boston Garden.
Wensink didn't waste anytime submitting his enforcer credentials, taking on all comers. One of his historic battles was against Flyers tough guy Bob "Battleship" Kelly, with Wensink winning a drawn-out decision.
During a game in Minnesota he skated to within a couple feet of the North Stars bench and challenged the entire team. The Stars, who had watched their enforcer smitten by Wensink, stayed glued to the bench.
Wensink showed he could pack some offensive punch, too. In the 1978-79 season he scored 28 goals for the Bruins. Ironically, Cherry claimed the goal-scoring spree hurt his pro career, that he forgot the role that got him to the NHL. However, the stats show that in his 28-goal season Wensink wasn't exactly a Lady Bing Trophy candidate, spending 106 minutes in the penalty box.
He played his third and final season in a Bruins' uniform in 1979-80, scoring nine goals and piling up penalty minutes. He finished his NHL career with Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Rockies and New Jersey Devils before spending two seasons playing in Holland from where his parents had immigrated to Canada.
On Friday, Sept. 13 Wensink will be on the receiving end of some pretty good jabs ... verbal of course, and for a good cause: it's the Children's Treatment Centre John Wensink roast at the New Parkway Hotel.
The roasters include two NHL Hall of Famers, defenceman Brad Park and goaltender Gerry Cheevers. Then there is Rick Middleton, Terry O'Reilly and Bob Plager. Kelly Chase, ex-NHLer turned radio broadcaster, will serve as master of ceremonies. Middleton had five 40-goal seasons, O'Reilly played his entire NHL career with the Bruins and Plager has been with the St. Louis Blues since they came into the league in 1968 (traded by the Rangers). As he puts it, he has done everything but drive the Zamboni.
To say Park is pulling out all stops to take part in the roast would be an understatement. He isn't taking an easy route to the event. Park is flying to Los Angeles from Boston on Sept. 12 for a medical appointment, grabbing an overnight flight from L.A. to Toronto then hopping on a Friday morning connecting flight to Montreal where he will be driven to Cornwall, hopefully in time for a pre-roast catnap.
Of course, the icing on the cake for the night would have been Cherry but he doesn't make public appearances these days, not even in his hometown of Kingston, but even without the legendary Grapes on hand, it's an all-star lineup.