Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Farewell to a fellow netminder

Boston, more rain

Heard from a good friend today that Chick DeAngelis recently passed away. The news was hardly shocking, but saddened me just the same. Our local rinks lost a true character when they lost Chickie. DeAngelis spent some six decades between the pipes. He was a medical marvel, and an inspiration to many, not just old goalies, but hockey players of every stripe. The following is a profile I wrote about Chick for The Hockey Magazine in 2002. Seems like yesterday. RIP, Chick.

The Golden-age Goalie

So, you think you've had a bad day on the ice? Missed a few open passes, an open net, or a defensive assignment that led to a goal or two? Maybe got a little banged up?

Now compare your bad day to the one Angelo "Chick" DeAngelis had on April 28, 1998. That was the day Chick's heart stopped. Cold. On the ice. Two days after his 68th birthday, playing in a stick practice with Bruins alumni at Hockeytown USA in Saugus, Mass., DeAngelis nearly dropped dead right in his goal crease.

"It was just a pick-up game," says DeAngelis, an East Boston native. "I was out there playing, and next thing I remember, I was in a hospital bed, four days later. I was just looking around, and I asked a nurse, 'what am I doing here?' "

According to retired State Sen. Robert Buell, who was also playing, State Trooper Dave O'Leary saved DeAngelis as stunned players, including Terry O'Reilly and Brad Park, looked on. Seconds after DeAngelis "collapsed on his face," Sgt. O'Leary rushed to his aid, recognizing the signs of a heart attack, started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and directed others to perform chest compressions, says Buell.

Once breathing, DeAngelis was transferred to Melrose Wakefield Hospital. Longtime friend James "Jay" DeMarco recalls that DeAngelis was upset, not because his game ended with an ambulance ride, but because the emergency medical staff had to cut off his favorite jersey to resuscitate him. The thought that his hockey playing days might be over never entered his mind. "He didn't care about the heart attack," says DeMarco. "He just wanted to know when he could get back in the net."

A week and a half later, doctors open up Chick's chest, and Roto-Rootered 60 years of heavy foods from his arteries during quadruple bypass surgery. "I asked them, 'If you're going to do surgery, I want to know if I'll be able to play hockey again. If not, then don't do it.' They told me 'You have to have the surgery. Your arteries are clogged. That's why you had the attack.' "

Within three months, Chick strapped the pads back on, and was back between the pipes at Hockeytown. "The doctor said to me, 'Take your time. Do a little here and there, because this thing takes about a year to heal.' I said 'We'll see.' Two months later, I felt fine, so I figured I'd try it out on the ice."

DeAngelis started slow - "only two or three times a week" - but was soon playing almost every weekday. "People were telling me my life would be over after the heart attack, to sit down and watch television the rest of my life," he says. "But that wasn't going to happen to me. I wasn't going to let the attack stop me. I was going to fight. And I beat it. And I'm still here."

Even today, at 72, DeAngelis still plays three to five times a week (usually after putting in an early morning shift at his family's bakery) in Saugus, Stoneham and Peabody, patrolling the goal line, never backing down, never shying away from the puck or the action. If he's got extra energy at the end of the day, he'll head to a local gym to work out on the treadmill or exercise bike.

"Chick is a legend," says Dave Fessenden, a regular at the noontime stick practice in Peabody, Mass.

"What can you say about a guy who loves the sport so much?" says John Cluett, 55, another Peabody regular. "He plays the game with enthusiasm and a lot of gusto. He doesn't ask for any quarter, and he doesn't give any quarter. I've never seen him duck, never heard him ask anyone to ease up."

A shade over five-feet tall, DeAngelis's head barely reaches above the crossbar. On that head you'll usually find a vintage Jacques Plante fiberglass mask, painted bright gold, tailored with custom padding (Chick's tried the newer, more popular cage/helmet combinations, but "I just can't get comfortable with them."). While the mask reminds some younger players of the homicidal Jason from the "Friday the 13th" horror movies, others, like Cluett, find themselves transported to another place and time.

"The first time I saw the old-style mask, I was thinking, 'Damn, that was one of the first things I recall about hockey,' " says the 55-year-old from Gloucester. "It brought me back to the '60s, and my high school hockey days."

Fessenden admits "I sat on the bench with him one day, and I said to him, just joking around, 'Chick, why don't you show these guys how tough you are and play without a mask.' And he said to me, 'I did that for 22 years.' That right there gives you some idea of the longevity he's had."

DeAngelis began playing in the 1940s, during the war years. "Once I learned to skate, I found that goaltending fascinated me," he says. "It looked like such a challenging position. And I've been playing the position ever since, for more than 55 years."

He's not particularly impressed with the current crop of pro goalies ("It's the equipment, it's a lot bigger. That's why these goalies are playing better."), but admits the game has gotten much quicker, even if players rely too much on the slap shot ("I try to tell kids to learn the wrist shot. The slap shot is much easier, one direct line - boom! But with the wrist shot, you don't know where it's going."). And his eyes still light up as he recalls the exploits of the great Glenn Hall, Turk Broda of the Maple Leafs, Bill Durnam of the Canadiens, and the Bruins' own Sugar Jim Henry and Frankie "Mr. Zero" Brimsek.

"He still refers to Tony Esposito as 'the kid who gets beat upstairs,' " says DeMarco, another East Boston goalie, with a laugh. "Tony O is my hero, but Chick will just say 'He's excellent down low, but you can beat him up top.' "

Which simply proves that DeAngelis not only loves to play, but he's a student of the game. ""He'll come to my games, and give me advice, like 'Jay, you're not cutting your angles down enough.' And I listen to every word he says, because it's backed up by 50 years of experience." That experience also provides a silver lining for the silver-haired set - the belief that they're never too old to play.

"I started skating again 8-9 years ago, and I was feeling a little guilty, playing hockey with a bunch of kids," says Fessenden, now 53. "When Chick showed up, I started thinking, 'Maybe I can just play hockey because I love it.' And that's the inspiration that he's given me - he's out there at his age, playing the toughest position on the ice, the most dangerous one. The biggest joke with my wife is that Chick's extended my career at least 20 years."

Others agree. "Just dragging all that gear through the door is an inspiration." says Cluett, with a smile.

"Chickie is proof that if you stick to your dreams, if you believe in something with a passion, you'll always stay young," says DeMarco. "He inspires me to want to play until my last days. That's what he wants - he wants to die right in the net."

Fortunately for those who've met DeAngelis during the past four years, his time didn't end on that fateful day in April, 1998.

All the best,