The Coach with the Killer Instinct

The man started to coach me in Pee -Wee. He was a big man.

Kirkland Quebec

Over six feet tall and easily weighing in at 240 lbs. Imposing at first sight but seemingly a pussycat under the rough body builder surface.A chesire  smile went along with a receding blonde hairline. He had rosy – pink cheeks.

Our coach did not know much about coaching. That was the irony. Everyone loved the man who stood part stoically and part animated behind our bench. He would yell at referees and moments later – tell off-color jokes to our team as we sat on the hardened bench. Riddles that were inappropriate for our age. Thirteen year olds loved that about him. He was a man-child. An overgrown teenager sporting a gaping fur coat and a foot-long cigar pertuding from his smiling lips.He was our Peter Pan and his wife – Nicole , hockey’s version of Tinkerbell.

Our coach was originally from Philadelphia. His wife was a native Quebecer. They met somewhere and settled into Kirkland, Qc – a quaint Suburbian paradise west of Montreal. The duo had three kids. Billy Jr. was the oldest and one of my teammates. Paul was in the middle and Tiffany was the youngest – six when I first met her . As bombastic and outgoing as Bill Sr. was – Nicole and the three kids were polar opposites.

Nicole was a gentle Mom. Her blonde hair angelic in it’s appearance.Blue eyes gazed lovingly at her children and husband. The very same blue eyes that glanced downward when she spoke to anyone else. A shy woman. A gentle woman with a comforting smile who became our team’s adopted Mom.

The first time we fell in love with our coach was approximately two weeks into the season.There were several players on my team ( myself included ) who did not come from a rich background. Not all of us could afford great equipment. Escpecially not the fancy Tuck blades that had just hit the market. Plastic – covered gems. The ultimate treasure for a young boy dreaming of Stanley Cup glory.

Our coach arrived at one of our practices one morning. In his hands he carried twenty sticks. Brand new , top-of-the-line sticks. Sherwood PMPs. He informed us that if were going to win – we must have the best equipment money could buy. It was Christmas in September . The Easter Bunny had arrived early and never have there been fifteen -odd children more happy than to enjoy the chocolate. Once the practice was over , our coach then informed us that we were all going to McDonalds – his treat ! Off we went. A minor -league hockey team invading the famous restaurant chain. A Pee-Wee team acting like the NHLers we were – if only for that day.

Stomachs were full and hearts fuller. We sat around our Santa Claus. He made us laugh and he made us proud to be part of his team.In the background , our Moms and Dads shook their heads in disbelief of this generous man. Bill then informed me and three of my mates that we were now headed to the sports store to be fitted with the best skates. ” We must look like a team !” Exclaimed the man with the gigantic chest and heart to match. Off we went. To be fitted with skates. Ice-cutting machines fitted with Tuck blades.

Rich Man – Poor Man

We found out , as the season progressed , that our coach was a chemist. A rich man. Bill and his family had the best of everything.

Big Screen Television

Bill Jr. , Paul and Tiffany had the best toys. Nicole the best appliances. Bill Sr.? The best electronics on the market. Everyone on the team jumped at the chance to visit our coach and his home. Visits that were encouraged by our gentle giant. Nicole would roll her eyes at her husband ‘s generosity yet the petite woman seemed more than happy to play Mom for her adoptive family. Paul ( who was ten at the time) rolled with the punches and Tiffany loved us all. What little girl would not be happy to have all these big brothers playing with her? Bill Jr. was the only one who was not happy.

Our coach’s son was a skinny guy. Not like his Dad at all. He seemed sickly. A nervous type that seeked approval from all of us. A kid who seemed annoyed by his Father and all his gifts. I remember thinking once that Bill Jr. did not care about his wealth. He seemed lonely. I could not understand why this young version of Barney Fife – was not the happiest kid in the world. Perhaps it was because my Father had died when I was twelve that I could not perceive the young Bill’s unrest. I tried to be-friend him and did hang out with him. I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed his company. More times than not – after school was boring until Bill Sr. came home driving his silver Trans-Am.

The Plane

One week-end in December , our team along with our cousins ( the Kirkland Bantam and Midget teams ), were headed to Toronto to play in a tournament. We would all be meeting at the Kirkland arena on Friday afternoon where a bus would take us to the airport. We were flying and for some of us – it would be the first time in the air. I was terrified at the prospect of my two feet leaving the safety of Mother Earth.

As the day drew nearer – my nerves became more frayed. I never told anyone how afraid I was. I did not want anyone to laugh at me. All the kids on my team seemed unafraid and happy to be leaving the ground. My fears left me feeling like an oddball. I pretended to be excited and none knew of the terror and panic that was building each and every day .Until the yellow vehicle  left for the airport.

The bus had arrived at the arena. The teams had been standing around for about a half hour. Everyone was laughing and joking inside and outside the front door. All of our bags lay in the vestibule . I tried to hide my nervousness , trips to the bathroom became more and more common. I ate chocolate bars and drank cokes. Slowly I withdrew from the crowd and toward the rear. Everyone was excited and they grabbed their equipment and headed to the bus. Everyone except me. Knowing the confusion would aid – I grabbed my bag and my stick. Instead of the front door , I went out the back. I picked up my pace for fear that someone would see me. I went as fast as I could and dove over the top of a snowbank. Hidden from view , I waited for the bus to depart. Calm for the first time in weeks.

As I arrived home about two hours later – soaked-wet and freezing , I knew my Mom would be furious. I wondered if I may be better off freezing to death than to face the wrath of my Mother and probably my coach.

Sheepishly I opened the door and stepped in. My frozen equipment sounded like a rock hitting the floor. My Mom came out of the kitchen. She looked at me. Instead of anger – a look of confusion was the mask she wore. After an explanation was given and a hug delivered – my Mom made me some tea and we sat at the table. She understood why I did not want to tell the team but was hurt that I did not confide in her. After a warm bath , I settled onto the couch with my dog Barney and a blanket. My Mom scolded me a little.Apparently the bus waited as they looked for me. I said I was sorry.

An hour later , there was a knock on the door. It was my coach – William ‘Bill’ Layer. He walked into the den and looked at me. That chesire grin of his lighting up the room like a fire on a cold evening. ” C ‘mon ‘ Keene Get Green’ ( his pet name for me ) – we are going to Toronto ! ” He then turned to my Mom and said ; ” You too ‘ Mrs. Keene Get Green’ , pack your bags ! You are coming too !”

I was supposed to be billeted with one of the Toronto players and the parents that were making the trip – staying at hotels. ” I can’t ! ” Said my mom somewhat embarrassed. ” I can’t afford it !”

Bill Layer looked at my Mom. His smile growing bigger than life. ” Mrs Keene Get Green …pack your bags ! You are going to Toronto ! Bring a nice dress – you may meet a man !” My coach looked at me and gave me a big wink. We both started laughing and moments later – my Mom joined in …

Shoot to Thrill

Bill , my Mom and I drove to Toronto in a Trans Am. My coach paid for my Mom’s hotel room and all of her meals. My Mom had not done much in the two years since my Dad died. She had a great time and was even asked on a date by former player agent Alan Eagleson ! (luckily for her and me – she said no ). My coach was already a great guy. Now he was superman to me and my Mother.

AA Hockey

The following year I was a better player. Good enough to move up from A hockey to AA. I had mixed emotions. I wanted to play inter-city and improve my chances ( so I thought ) to make the NHL. On the other glove – I wanted to stay with my coach.

I played AA and visited with my coach from time to time. I still hung round with his son Bill once in a while yet my displeasure with his contempt for his father made it difficult. The following season I played Bantam hockey and found myself on the A team with Bill Layer as my coach once again. The same thing happened my second year of Bantam – to AA I went and was once more away from Layer. The following year – for the final time it turned out , I was back in A with Bill my coach once more.

It had been three seasons of gifts , laughter and generosity beyond belief. In between there were no championships ( with Bill ) yet a couple of first place finishes. There were many times that myself and my teammates would shake our heads at Bill’s hockey sense. One time – I had been so mad at this fellow , I refused to speak to him for three games. I was furious because it was the end of a game and he had not put our best scorer onto the ice when we were down by a goal. Time after time he would tell me a joke or offer me a drink of coke in an attempt to make up. A trifecta of games and I was so irate  – I would turn my head or walk away. Just before the fourth game – I was sitting in the stands and watching the game being played before my game. Bill came up and sat down beside me. Without saying a word , he reached into his pocket and pulled out one of his patented cigars. He handed it my way and said with that big voice of his ; ” Keene Get Green ?” I broke out in laughter and that was the end of the feud …

Keene Get Green !

During the summer – Bill called all of us and informed the team that he was moving to Glens Falls , New York. He said he was moving because he did not like the drugs and the bad influences that were making their way into the West Island. We were sad yet we knew also that the end of our minor league playing days were also drawing near. We were happy because he asked if we would all help him move. A week-end in Glens Falls , a pretty picturesque village in upstate New York.

Most of the team went to help him. Probably eight of us including my best friend Denis. It was during the move that Bill said something that we laugh at to this day.

Denis and I were in the truck and were attempting to put this big barrel onto a dolly. It was huge and awkward. We were cursing it and finally we had hold of it – wheeling it into Bill’s garage. On top of the barrel , written in ink , was the word Hanflock . ” What the f*ck is Hanflock?” We wondered …

At that moment , Bill came by – carrying a box. We asked him the obvious question. ” Bill – what the hell is in here …? ” He paused for a second , peering at us through the big horned -rimmed glasses he wore and replied with his chesire grin: ” Hanflock ….! ”

The End

Bill Layer was a big part of my teen years. He taught me a lot about life. He showed me compassion and generosity – the likes I have not seen since. The man left a lasting impression on everyone he met. We all missed him as the years went on. We all grew up and apart from our coach, his wife Nicole , Billy Jr., Paul and Tiffany.

On September 7 1989 ( my birthday )  – Bill Layer shot his daughter Tiffany ( 15 ) in the leg and went on to kill Nicole with a shotgun. He burned her body afterwards. Paul and Bill Jr. were both away at college at the time.

All those years amid the generosity and the kindness , Bill Layer was an abusive father and husband. Pistol -whipping Nicole on several occasions and  beating Bill Jr. almost daily.

Bill Layer Jr. was my teammate starting in Pee-Wee. He was not a big man.He tried to speak to me. I wish I heard what he had to say …

Read the newspaper report 

See what Knuckles has to say about the Coyotes Hallowe’en party  and his Habs – Bruins recap !

Read Kevin ‘s always informative Habs site – Eye on the Prize 

Don’t forget – check out who I think is the Habs’ best and worst player of the week …

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