In Memory

James Duffy

Date of Death:  December 20, 2011

Residence at Time of Death:  Roseville, California

Family:   Wife Bonnie; two sons, Brian and Michael


Jim's life:

     They were Highland Park High's "hockey guys," building their winters around the toughest of sports in a community were it was tough just finding an opponent or organizing a game.  True, the city had plenty of hockey rinks, at Sunset Park, Lincoln, Braeside, Ravinia and Indian Trail.   But hockey wasn't included in the high school athletic program, which meant there was no coaching available and no equipment either.  Beyond that, Highland Park had no junior hockey league to play in.   If you wanted to play serious hockey you had to arrange the logistics yourself and buy your own equipment.  Throwing body checks was the easy part.

     The hockey guys loved the game so much they were willing to do all the off-ice arranging it took to play.  The core group was Wurm, Bruce, Clarkson, Joyce, Wolens, Hurley, Helding and of course Duffy, the stalwart goaltender.  On and off the ice Duffy, good looking, articulate, single-minded, was the star of this frozen cadre.  He played a position that required not only acrobatic agility, but no small amount of physical courage.  In those days before protective masks, a puck could re-arrange your face.

     Given the absence of coaches, trainers and managers, it fell to Jim to oversee all aspects of putting a team on the ice, down to the smallest detail.   Al Joyce remembers how Jim gave him money-saving advice on the best way to secure the tops of the long stockings that were part of the standard hockey uniform.   Like all hockey gear, the specially made snap-equipped belts big league players wore under their uniform pants to hold up the stockings were expensive.  Duffy, always on the prowl for innovations, found an alternative.  He advised Joyce and other teammates to go to the maternity department of a women's apparel shop and buy the oversized garter belts made for pregnant women.  They did the job and they were cheaper.  There is no record of how the sales clerks in the HP apparel stores reacted to the arrival of brawny hockey players at their cash registers.

     Jim's feistiness and dedication to his sport could also get him into trouble.  While he and his buddies were playing one night on Lake Forest ice, the police arrived to order them off.  An argument ensued, and Jim was carted off to the police station.   When the other hockey guys, summoned to post bail, arrived at the police station the first thing they saw was Jim's ice skates sitting in the middle of the floor.  He was in that four-sided penalty box called a jail.

     By their senior year the group had located and joined a new league in Wilmette.  They would car-pool to practices and games.   By chance their coach was one of the people employed by the Chicago Blackhawks NHL team to work the red light that went on when a goal was scored.  In those days, pro teams carried only one goalie on the roster, using trainers to fill in when there was an injury to a starter.  They were always looking for volunteers to play goalie in practice.  The Wilmette coach arranged for Jim to work out with the Hawks at a scrimmage in the old Chicago Stadium.

     The HPHS hockey guys were awed by sharing a locker-room with the pros, but Jim went out on the ice like he belonged there.   After stopping some routine shots, he found himself confronting every goalie's nightmare.  There at the far end of the ice was Blackhawk Bobby Hull, already a star and soon to be regarded as one of the top five players who ever lived.  His nickname was the "Golden Jet."   Now, with powerful leg strokes, he was gathering speed to make a breakaway rush on Jim's goal.   Jim's HP pals feared for his life; Hull had the fastest slapshot in all hockey, having been clocked at 110 miles per hour.

     The other Blackhawks, who were supposed to be defending against Hull, proceeded to skate out of his way.  It was obvious they were leaving Jim Duffy unprotected as part of a plot to unravel the kid.  But Jim never flinched and stood strong on his skates in front of his goal.   Hull made a move to fake his famous slapshot, but instead skated right at the goal and slid a short finesse shot into the net.   Jim got beat, but he hadn't headed for cover, as others would have.   When talking to friends, Jim often salted his conversations with the phrase, "No doubt about it."   On this day at Chicago Stadium there truly was "no doubt about it" -- he was a hockey player.

     That same year the Highland Park group, with Jim playing brilliantly in goal, won the first Illinois amateur hockey championship.  They beat Lake Forest Academy in the title game, 3 to 1.

     Jim briefly attended the University of North Dakota, then headed to Wisconsin, which was just starting to build a hockey team.   After he joined the team the Badgers upset favored MacAlester College, 3-1, and the Madison newspaper reported, "The superb goaltending of Jim Duffy played a major part in the Wisconsin victory.  Duffy was called upon to make 33 stops and many of them were on the spectacular side."

      At the end of the season Jim was named the most valuable player on the team.   After college he stayed active in his beloved sport as an official in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.  When he moved to California he became an off-ice official for the San Jose Sharks NHL team.

      The following story will come as no surprise to the hockey guys or other classmates who experienced Jim's easy going nature and sense of humor.   He was refereeing the NCAA championship series in 1975 when a group of rabid Minnesota fans showed up to cheer their team.  The group, which specialized in baiting the refs, waited for Jim to skate near their seats, then shouted his name.  When he turned to look, they held up a large rubber pig to display their contempt for officials.   The Associated Press reported that Jim "just cracked up"  over the pig stunt.   Was he able to handle ribbing with the same composure he displayed to the legendary Bobby Hull?   No doubt about it.

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01/12/12 10:31 AM #1    

William Bruce**

I had the great pleasure of playing a number of sports with "Jimmy", most notably hockey and baseball. Jim tried his hand at football, but his stature limited his success in this arena.  He was always trying for the SPECTACULAR, be it  save or a catch.  Jim and I used to spend hours at the old Ravinia school blacktop fenced area playing "spectacular catch" (Jimmy's name for it) -- and fastpitch against the old red brick warming house.  He was one of the good guys always smiling with those incredible white teeth of his.  I was saddened to read of Jim's passing he will be missed.  I'm sure heaven's hockey team will win a few more games with Jimmy in the nets.

Bill Bruce (Lippo)


01/31/12 08:55 PM #2    

Mavor Hedberg

Having attended HPHS for only a year and a half, only knew Jim a brief time, gravitating to him as we were both sports nuts. Didn't see him again until the late 60's when we played softball against each other in Glencoe.

Relatively recently learned as he entered UW---Madison, Sept. 1963 , I was basically just leaving (Jan. 1964). Then, he became the cornerstone in founding the now nationally recognized hockey program, becoming MVP in the process. 

Will never forget him-----such a sincere, exuberant, and fun guy to be around. 

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