Friends for life: a goalie and a coach

Julie & Cal. A comedy act? Partners in music? The couple next door? How about perhaps the most unusual friends in Canadian sports?

Julie was Julian Klymkiw and Cal was Cal Murphy. I once knew them both, but it was only after Julie passed away a couple of weeks ago that I learned, from his obituary, of their friendship.

Klymkiw was an old goalie, known mostly to old hockey fans and consumers of the beer he was hired to promote, Carling-O’Keefe. Murphy was a Hall of Fame football coach who made a habit of collecting Grey Cup rings…nine in 17 years, with three teams.

What Julie & Cal seemingly had in common was their birthplace, Winnipeg. Klymkiw was born two years before Murphy, and Murphy (he grew up in Vancouver) died 10 years before Klymkiw. Both battled heart issues. In 1999, a massive stroke hospitalized Klymkiw for six months, and Murphy was by his side every day before leaving to coach the Saskatchewan Roughriders. When the ’Riders played in Winnipeg, Klymkiw was standing on the sidelines.

His daughter Joanne remembered this week how Murphy ran across the field and embraced her dad: “Cal thought he was seeing things. He said he thought he had died and gone to heaven when he saw Julian Klymkiw on the 40-yard-line!”

Murphy was widely known. Klymkiw, not so much. My first memory of him was when he played goal for the Winnipeg Warriors in the Western League and later with the Winnipeg Maroons, Canada’s senior champions. He was a back-up goalie, sometimes the back-up to the back-up.

Then I became a sports writer, and we met. He was working for the brewery, and that beer-sports connection eventually led him to Cal Murphy. Julie was such a nice man, talented beyond the tools he needed to work in PR. His sad, droopy eyes seemed to make him your friend even before he was.

In today’s sports world, Klymkiw would have made headlines. He is one of 99 goalies to play in only one NHL game, and his was in New York. The Rangers’ goalie was Gump Worsley, who suffered a game-ending injury in the third period against Detroit. Teams carried only one goalie then. Back-ups could be Zamboni drivers or fans in the stands or trainers. Julie was the Red Wings’ assistant trainer. He played almost 19 minutes and stopped nine shots. Gordie Howe and Marcel Pronovost scored on him. The next game Klymkiw played, two years later, was with the Warroad Lakers.

When legendary goalie Ken Dryden and his brother Dave were playing ball hockey as little boys, they pretended to be Julian Klymkiw. In his book The Game, Dryden wrote: “He wore a clear, plexiglass mask that arched in front of his face. None of us had ever heard of him, and his unlikely name made us a little doubtful. But it turned out he was quite good.” After hearing his childhood hero had died, Dryden said: “He sure was fun to watch with his plexiglass mask.”

Had the NHL employed 64 goalies, as it does today, Julian Klymkiw would surely have been one. But then, his friendships may have been different. Julie & Cal may never have met.