Former New York Rangers centreman Odie Lowe passed away at the age of 93 on June 29, 2021. I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed a half-hour phone call with Odie last year learning about his life in hockey. Enjoy this article as we salute Odie Lowe - a life well lived in the sport of hockey.
Norman Lowe was born in Winnipeg on April 15, 1928. Although his NHL career was short (a four-game stint with the New York Rangers), Lowe had an impact on hockey in Manitoba and later British Columbia where he has spent the last 65 years.
Lowe was hailed by the hockey world as "Odie," a nickname inherited from his father, who was a hockey player in his own right. In the 1920’s, Odie Sr. played in the Commercial Big Four league which had Eaton’s, Hudson’s Bay, CPR and CNR. After Odie was born, Odie Sr. went and played pro for a couple of seasons in the PCHL for the Seattle Eskimos, Victoria Cubs and Tacoma Tigers. He would join the coaching ranks after his pro career wrapped up with the Flin Flon Bombers and later coached across western Canada in various towns.
The younger Odie would follow in his father's footsteps when he started playing organized hockey in Winnipeg in 1938. And it didn't take him long to make a name for himself. He was a brilliant offensive player – a great goal scorer but an even better playmaker.
Growing up playing for the West End Orioles, Odie gives great credit to his West End coach Hoss Nicholson who guided him from bantam ranks up to juvenile with the Western Canadian championship Orioles of 1945.
The 5’8’’, 140-pound centreman had attended three New York Rangers camps by age nineteen as he had been in the club’s system since he was a young teenager.
Odie played for his dad in Lethbridge at eighteen and led the league in scoring, winning Alberta and BC junior titles in the process. The next season he tried joining the Brandon Elks but couldn’t get his release from Lethbridge to play anywhere except in Winnipeg, so he played junior hockey for the Winnipeg Canadiens until the New York Rangers told him to come play for their farm team.
Lowe played in four games with the Rangers spread out over the 1948-49 and 1949-50 seasons, which he split with their farm club, the New York Rovers.
Odie Jr. was later scouted by George Agar when playing senior hockey for Winnipeg Maroons in a 1954 Allan Cup series against the Penticton Vees with games held throughout the Okanagan Valley. Lowe soon after accepted an invitation to play senior for the Vernon Canadians. He compiled 43 goals and 91 points and another 37 playoff points as the Canadians won the 1956 Allan Cup over the Chatham Maroons.
A few years later, Odie Jr. soon got into coaching. After guiding a Vernon Juvenile team to a provincial crown, Lowe became head coach of Vernon’s B.C. Junior League team. Odie spent a lot of his life living in Vernon, British Columbia and because of his contributions to the game in BC, he’s a proud member of the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.
“I grew up in the West End around Furby Street and Notre Dame Avenue. I went to Somerset School which was right at the corner of Sherbrook/Notre Dame. And then I went to Hugh John MacDonald School which was grades 7-9. I then went to Daniel McIntyre Collegiate for about a year and played for their high school hockey team.”
“Winnipeg turned out some grade A hockey players in my time as we had the weather for it and had rinks all over town. Every year someone would round up a bunch of guys and build a rink; that’s just what we did. It was quite easy to go skating and play hockey. You almost had a team just by grabbing all the kids from your street.”
“When I was young I started skating on the sidewalks when it was cold. Where I lived there was always a rink. There was a rink over on Notre Dame and Sherbrook and a couple along the way as well. And then the West End Orioles rink is where I spent a lot of time out behind the Canada Bread building.”
“Naturally, as you grow older, you get a chance to play here or there and naturally that kept going as I was a kid. I got to the point of playing on a juvenile team that won the Manitoba title and that kind of started me on that path to playing pro hockey.”
“I grew up in a time when Winnipeg produced so many NHLers. We definitely had our share when Sawchuk and Bathgate were big. In junior, in those days, the NHL guys that owned you would send you down east where the hockey was more competitive. They’d get you with their top junior clubs and that’s what happened with a lot of the guys I knew.”
“I was a teammate of Terry Sawchuk’s on the 1945-46 Winnipeg Rangers junior team. We broke in together and Sawch was our goalkeeper. He was a great one and a nice kid. He went through the right chain in Detroit and earned his way up.”
1944-45 Juvenile Orioles team (Odie is bottom row, second from right)
Lowe didn’t go out east. Instead he went to Lethbridge and played junior hockey for the 1946-47 season on a team that his father was coaching.
“My dad coached me in junior one year when I was in Lethbridge and he helped a lot in that respect, but he was always travelling and trying to find a job and everything. He left my mom and never did come back to Winnipeg. He travelled up across the prairies and he ended up in Flin Flon where he turned out some good hockey players. He had to work for a living and he was always very busy working and coaching. The year he coached me he got a chance to coach in Lethbridge because he was working on the railway in Western Canada and it made sense that I go and play there for a season.”
Playing for the Lethbridge Native Sons, Lowe’s squad was knocked out in the Memorial Cup playdowns after winning their provincial championship.
“I came back the next year and made a few bucks with the Winnipeg Canadiens and had a chance to go to the New York Rangers camp, which I did for about four or five years on and off. The New York Rangers had my rights as I signed the C Form with them.”
The Rangers brought him to New York directly out of junior, but he would play primarily with the minor league New York Rovers for two seasons. He was emerging as a particularly dominant scorer by his second pro season, with 36 assists and 53 points in just 44 games. He would go on to lead all scorers in playoff scoring.
The Rangers had a great chain in those days. Frank Boucher was the boss and had a good system going. He had two or three of his old Rangers coaching like Clint Smith (St. Paul), Phil Watson (Rovers), etc. I had two good coaches in Smith and Watson. They both won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in the 1940’s.
“It was a great thrill playing in New York there’s no doubt about that. Playing with the New York Rovers we played Sunday afternoons at Madison Square Garden. I played two years for the Rovers and was brought up by the Rangers four nights over those two years. So I played four games in the NHL and it was all a very big thrill for myself.”
Lowe was 20 when the Rangers summoned him from the Rovers. Lowe and the Rangers tied the Montreal Canadiens 1-1 at Madison Square Garden in his NHL debut that March 13th, 1949 night.
Almost a year later, Odie pocketed five points as the Rovers won a matinee game at home on February 26th, 1950. That earned him a second call-up with the Rangers that night and he scored from the right side in the first minute of the game versus the Bruins. Lowe assisted on the winner as New York won 4-3.
Rangers coach Lynn Patrick said after the game: “His all-around play Sunday against Boston was tremendous. He’s a smart, heady player and forechecked and did almost everything right.”
Lowe has the puck from his historic goal, but says it was hardly a beauty.
“Our line started the game and I was up with another young rookie named Don Smith from Regina and I’ll be damned if I didn’t hit the puck at the right time and it went in the net off the bat. I made sure it hit the goalie, Jack Gelineau, in the back end. Everybody thought I was a hero. I killed my own chances with the Rangers. I was called up two or three weeks later and we were playing Milt Schmidt and the Bruins. He was a big, strong German type, strong as a bull. I don’t think I won a faceoff off him. Our goalie, Charlie Rayner, was yelling, ‘Get another centreman out there.’ I had my chance and if I hadn’t run into that one episode, I might have made it.”
The Rangers bowed in seven games to the Red Wings in the 1950 Stanley Cup series, while Lowe led the Rovers to the Eastern title with 53 points in 44 games. Rover coach Phil Watson was glad to get his top pivot back from the Rangers: “He’s the brainiest guy on the ice…has the extra sense to know where the puck will be. He passes beautifully.”
Unfortunately for Odie, he played in the Original Six days when NHL jobs were limited, especially for centreman. The Rangers only kept three centres on their roster and the position was filled by perennial All-Stars Edgar Laprade, Don Raleigh and Buddy O’Connor. And so, like many other players, Odie Lowe’s NHL career was trimmed short, only appearing in four games.
“I was lucky to get four games with the big club and get a goal and an assist until I ran into Schmidt and that was about the end of it. I came back home to Winnipeg in 1952 and played senior hockey. We tried to get senior hockey going in Winnipeg but it never caught on. Our Winnipeg Maroons team was too strong. Winnipeg got a lot of good players who came back home after playing pro in different parts of North America, so we had a really good team but not a great league going to play in at the time. We had about five or six guys that had come back from playing in the NHL like Bill Juzda and Pete Langelle, so we were an extremely strong senior team.”
“I had coached/played for the Winnipeg Maroons and we won all the way through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and we played against B.C. after that. We had to advance naturally and we won the title in a couple provinces before running into the Penticton Vees and they beat us in eight games. Honest to Christ we had a hell of a series with three ties in that best-of-seven.”
“Naturally after that a couple of the scouts from various clubs were looking for senior players so I bumped into a guy named George Agar who was coach of the Vernon team in BC and a great player in his day. He asked me to come out and play and so, well Christ I was in Winnipeg but not really happy there with no league and not making any money, so when he told me to come out to Vernon and they were going to pay me so much a week to play, away we go, I was gone.”
“We played in a good senior league in BC; there were four good teams there. And we played for the right to be Team Canada and played off with the Chatham Maroons. I also started coaching the minor league team in town. We won the midget title and had a good club here, and made a few bucks every year. I’ve made my home in Vernon ever since.”
“I was refereeing until I was 85 years old. I had to because we were all helping each other out to make things work. It was very exciting to referee, play and coach all at the same time. We won that BC title in juvenile and along comes a guy starting a BC junior league and he asked me to coach. I think I had six years of coaching, so I put back in quite a bit in the city in that respect.”
“They’re tearing the old Civic Arena in Vernon down because they have a new one and it kind of breaks your heart. I hate to see it go but then again time marches on. I was going to make sure I got a piece of cement from the old rink. It was there that Bill Juzda knocked himself out one night in the dressing room. We were all set to go out on the ice and he hit his bloody head on a big cement beam and knocked himself out. I was coaching the Maroons then in the playdowns in Vernon and Christ, we were starting the second period and he knocked himself out and we were down a defenseman for half of the bloody period. He just laid down on the floor for fifteen minutes collecting himself. I’ll never forget it!”
Despite living out on the west coast, Lowe has never forgotten his Manitoba roots.
“I was back in Winnipeg when my mom died and another time for a reunion about twenty years ago. That’s the last time I was back home. I haven’t been back to Winnipeg in a long time. I ran out of friends that lived there so I’m kind of finished over there I guess. It may have been twenty years since I’ve been back but I’m still a Blue Bombers and Jets fan and always will be!”
“I’ve made my home in Vernon all these years and It’s a nice little city. As much as I hate to say it, the weather is a lot better than in Winnipeg! We’re close to Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton; only fifty miles or so apart from all of them. I was treated good here and can’t complain, but I’ll always be a Winnipegger. That stuff never leaves you.”