Andy Gilpin skated right up to the day he died. That’s a major accomplishment when you consider he was 93.
Born in Montreal on September 30, 1920, he played Junior A hockey in Westmount at the same time as the iconic Rocket Richard. And from those meagre beginnings he would become part of one of the greatest stories in Canadian hockey history – a story written by the Olympic and World champion RCAF Flyers in 1948.
Andy joined the Canadian Air Force in the late 1940s and among his postings were two that would have a great impact on his life. The first was in Victoria, B.C. where he met his wife Ellen and the second was in Whitehorse, Yukon where he was among the top scorers in the local senior hockey league.
When Dr. Sandy Watson was assembling the Flyers lineup from players across the country in preparation for the Olympic tournament in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Andy received an invitation to join the team.
Sandy who had played and witnessed several of the European teams of the day while in Britain, knew there were players or equal or better calibre in air bases throughout Canada. He convinced the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association who originally planned to skip the Olympics to give him approval to organize a team.
The detractors were many. A 7-0 exhibition drubbing by McGill University sent shivers of doubt across the country and the team was given no hope of winning in Switzerland following a subsequent loss to the Army. There were calls for the team to be scrapped and replaced with collegiate players. They’ll be Swiss cheese one scribe decried.
Gilpin recalls that the Canadian team were joined by their United States counterparts as they crossed the Atlantic aboard the Queen Elizabeth. “About midway in the trip they were bragging and saying we didn’t have a chance against them. Well, we only beat them 12-3 so they had to pull in their horns a bit.”
The Flyers went on to go undefeated in the round-robin with seven wins and a tie. Goalkeeper Murray Dowey posted five shutouts in eight games. This gave them Olympic gold. The Flyers followed this with a month-long exhibition tour of Europe where they won 31 of 42 games.
After retirement the Gilpins moved to Grand Bend then to London where Andy suited up for the Huff ‘N Puff Seniors. After Ellen died in 2000 Andy dusted off his blades again and skated weekly right up to the time of his death.
He was proud of the Flyers’ induction into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 2008 and of being recognized by Hockey Canada and the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Canadian Forces Sports Hall of Fame named the Flyers the greatest sports team in military history.
Andy was honoured as a London Hockey’s Man of Distinction in 2005. He was revered by the gang at RCAF 427 Wing and by his fellow skaters at Nichols arena. In typical Andy fashion he walked to the ambulance when it arrived at his home last March. Sadly, a heart attack overpowered him en route to the hospital.
A unique treasure for sure. The London Sports Hall of Fame is pleased to welcome Andy Gilpin, a true legend, into the fold.