Birth: Toronto, Ontario, January 21, 1938
Died: August 25, 2001
Career Highlights1962, ‘63, ‘64 - Stanley Cup – Toronto Maple Leafs
1966-67 - Canada’s National Hockey Team at World Championships
1968-69 - Player-coach for IFK Helsinki team in Finland
1969-70 - Detroit Red Wings
1970-72 - St. Louis Blues
1973-74 - WHA Toronto Toros
Carl Brewer was hockey’s most critical thinker. With incredible tenacity, he constantly questioned anything he didn’t agree with, from the actions of fellow players to the demands of coaches. He is most famous, however, for questioning the dealings of NHL owners and launching an epic legal battle over misdirected pension funds. Brewer’s outstanding performance as a defenseman on the ice pales in comparison to his performance as a defender of rights in the courts as he sought justice for NHL alumni.
Brewer’s playing career followed a circuitous path. He went in and out of retirement several times and even had his amateur status reinstated for a brief period. Brewer began his career with the Toronto Marlboros and after earning a Memorial Cup and an MVP award, became a regular with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1957. He was instrumental in helping the Leafs secure three consecutive Stanley Cup victories between 1962 and 1964. Brewer’s rocky relationship with coach Punch Imlach, however, eventually led to his first retirement in 1965.
After acrimonious negotiations with the NHL, Brewer succeeded in regaining his amateur player status in 1966, allowing him to join Canada’s National Team. He competed at the 1967 World Championship and won recognition as the best defenseman at the tournament.
Brewer was soon after appointed as player-coach for the IHL team in Muskegon, Michigan. In 1968, he was invited further afield to coach the IFK Helsinki team in Finland and, within a year, led this team to its first league championship. He aided the development of hockey in Finland to such an extent that Finns regard him as the “Father of Hockey” in their country.
In 1969, Brewer returned to North America for one season with the Detroit Red Wings, two seasons with the St. Louis Blues, and one season with the WHA’s Toronto Toros. He retired once more in 1974, but, out of determination “to die a Maple Leaf,” found himself back on the ice with Toronto for one final season in 1979-80.
Throughout his career, Brewer kept up his studies at McMaster University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Helsinki, earning a BA in Political Science and French in 1967. His education combined with his travels in international competition and coaching gave Brewer a broad and worldly perspective that was uncommon.
In 1991, Brewer’s critical mind fell to the NHL’s pension program. He felt that retired players were not getting their due, and upon further investigation discovered that the league’s owners had been diverting portions of the NHL personnel’s pension funds into their own pockets for decades. Brewer launched a lawsuit against the league that eventually lead to a Supreme Court ruling for the reimbursement of over $40 million to players, coaches, trainers, referees, general managers, and executives.
This lawsuit also led to the conviction of NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Alan Eagleson on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Eagleson served time in jail, and the Players’ Association was subsequently re-organized, putting it under direct control of the players. Because of Brewer, all NHL personnel now enjoy a more financially secure retirement and can have confidence in a representative association that operates in their best interests.