Ron Ellis, 1945-2024
by Andrew PODNIEKS|12 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / HHOF Images
Ron Ellis, a lifelong member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a key member of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series, and a longtime member of staff at the Hockey Hall of Fame, passed away May 11 at the age of 79.
Over and above his playing career and his work with the Hockey Hall of Fame, it was impossible for anyone who met him, knew him, or worked with him not to use the word “nice” in any description of his character. Liked and admired, he was a genuine person through and through, beloved in whatever world he inhabited.
Like so many, the NHL Alumni Association took to X (formerly Twitter) to mourn Ellis’s passing. “The NHL Alumni Association is heartbroken to learn that Stanley Cup Champion and 2024 NHLAA ‘Keith Magnuson Man of the Year’ Award recipient, Ron Ellis, has passed away at the age of 79… Ellis’s contributions philanthropically were global and impactful through his work with many charities and mental health initiatives. He dedicated his life, post hockey, to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and could be found each day smiling while he led guests through the great museum archives proudly.”
“So sad to hear of Ron Ellis’s passing,” Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson added. “We worked together at the Hockey Hall of Fame for the 5 years I was there. You couldn’t meet a more genuinely caring and lovely man.”
“Devastated by the news of the passing of Ron Ellis today,” added John Bower, son of legend Johnny Bower. “He was a kind friend to everyone including yours truly. Always asked about the family, how life was going to make sure I was well not just physically but mentally as well. He’s joined the Leafs alumni in the sky. RIP Ron.”
Ellis played his entire 16-year career with the Leafs, starting briefly with the 1963-64 season and culminating in 1967 when he helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, the last of the Original Six and the last, to date, in franchise history.
Ellis retired in 1975 but came out of retirement to play in the 1977 IIHF Men’s World Championship in Austria. This was a monumental moment in international hockey history as Canada was returning to international competition for the first time since 1969. Ellis was joined by the likes of Phil and Tony Esposito, Rod Gilbert, and Carol Vadnais. He enjoyed himself so much that he returned to the Leafs for four more seasons, retiring in 1981 after having played 1,034 regular-season games with the team, one of only five players in team history to do so.
But Ellis’s greatest glory came mid-career, at the 1972 Summit Series. Coach Harry Sinden put three young stars together on a line—Ellis, Paul Henderson, Bobby Clarke—and together they were the team’s best line and the only line that played all eight games.
Ellis received a unique compliment during his playing days. Ace Bailey worked Leafs games for decades after having his career come to a sudden end in 1933, after which his number 6 was retired, never to be worn again. But Ace was such a fan of Ellis he asked him to wear #6, which Ellis did, for the rest of his career.
After retiring, Ellis opened a sporting goods store but later was hired by the Hockey Hall of Fame as the Director of Public Affairs. The Hall could not have chosen a more respected and charismatic person for the job. He started in 1992, moving up to the position of Assistant to the President. He retired in 2019.
He will be mourned by the hockey world, but he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.