Monday

Brian "Spinner" Spencer

The life of Brian "Spinner" Spencer was turbulent, fast and tragic.

He grew up in the Canadian backwoods and as every kid in Canada he dreamed of becoming a hockey pro, spending many hours in the local rinks.

Brian's energetic gung-ho style was appreciated by his junior teams and coaches. He went on to play for the Calgary Centennials in the WHL 1967-68 and did quite well. The following season he played for both the Estevan Bruins and Swift Current Broncos (WHL), scoring almost a point per game combined with his aggressive in-your-face hockey.

Brian attended Toronto Maple Leafs training camp in 1969 but didn't make the final cut. He was assigned to the farm team in Tulsa where he played most of the season. He got his first recall to the Maple Leafs on December 9, 1969 but didn't play. He had to wait until March 14, 1970 before he made his debut (vs. Boston 2-1). Brian saw the odd shift in another 8 games that season.

The next season Brian was a regular in Toronto for most part of the season. Unfortunately tragedy struck, and it would haunt Brian for the rest of his life. Brian told his parents that he would be a second period guest during Hockey Night In Canada's telecast of the Leafs game against Chicago on December 12, 1970. Brian's parents were extremely proud to have a son in the NHL, especially his father Roy.

When Brian's father discovered that the CBC affiliate near the family's Fort St.James home was carrying the Vancouver-California game instead, he became enraged. He drove over two hours to Prince George Television station CKPG and held employees hostage with his pistol and forced them to cut the transmission power. After a short while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived and a shootout followed. Roy Spencer was shot and killed at the age of 57.

The death of his father hit Brian hard and it hurt Brian for the rest of his life according to people around him, although he tried not to show it. It was his father's dream to have one of his sons playing hockey. Brian's twin brother Byron did not make it, but Brian did, and it made his father almost burst of pride.

Brian split the 1971-72 season between Toronto and Tulsa. He was then left unprotected in the 1972 expansion draft and was picked by NY Islanders. Brian spent the next 1½ years on Long Island before being traded to Buffalo on March 10, 1974.

Brian had his best offensive production in a Sabres uniform when he had 41 points, including 12 goals, in 1974-75. Brian played well in Buffalo and was extremely popular with the fans. His hustle, aggressive play and ability to hit was something the fans loved. Brian developed to a pretty good all-around player.

Traded to Pittsburgh in September 1977, his offensive production fell as he became more specialized as a checking forward. Brian's last NHL season came in 1978-79 when he played 7 games for Pittsburgh. He then finished his playing career in the AHL (Binghamton, Springfield and Hershey) and retired after the 1979-80 season.

The story about Spinner Spencer should end here, but unfortunately his life after hockey became a mess. Brian moved to Palm Beach, Florida right after he retired. He met the wrong kind of people in Florida and got involved with drugs and crime. He moved in with a prostitute who worked for an escort service. She accused Brian of committing a 1982 murder against a Palm Beach Gardens restaurateur named Michael Dalfo.

Brian was arrested for a first degree murder in January 1987 but was acquitted in October 1987 after a 10-month trial. Needless to say, Brian didn't feel much better after that experience. In February 1988 Brian visited former Leaf teammate Jim McKenny, a friend of Brian who at the time was working as a Toronto sportscaster. Jim noticed how disillusioned Brian was.

"He walked down a lot of avenues people have never been. He experienced a lot of things people never have, " McKenny said later. " He thought he was the only bad person in the NHL, he felt he was the only person who failed. But I told him there were 200 other guys who messed up worse than he thought he had. I told him he shouldn't feel guilty. It's really tough to re-establish yourself after hockey. He was all alone. When he came here he was amazed at the interest of people. He was surprised people still cared about him. He thought he was the scum of the earth. But he really picked up when he visited Toronto. He wasn't your run-of-the-mill NHL'er. He was inquisitive about everything."

A book about Brian's life named Gross Misconduct: The life of Spinner Spencer by Martin O'Malley was due to be released and Brian was very happy about it. Finally his life seemed to turn around for the better.

But that never happened in Spencer's lifetime. On the night of June 2, 1988, Brian and his friend Gregory Scott Cook cruised around Riviera Beach, allegedly to buy a rock of cocaine. (which was later denied). After having made the buy they stopped a couple of blocks away when a stranger in a white car pulled up, walked to the driver's side window, demanded money (reportedly getting as little as $ 3) and shot the 38-year old Brian in the heart.

Cook, who escaped uninjured, rushed Brian to a nearby fire station. The paramedics took Brian to St. Mary's hospital in West Palm Beach where he was pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m. June 3, 1988.

Brian's hectic life came to an abrupt end just as he was turning his life around. The curly haired Spencer was survived by his twin brother Byron, mother Irene, his two ex-wives, Linda and Janet plus his five children, Andrea, Nicole, Kristin, Jason and Jarret.

Hockey fans will always remember that curly hair and wide smile on his face when he hustled down the ice to nail somebody to the boards, his energetic style that earned him the nickname "Spinner". People will always remember "Spinner", on the contrary to what he always thought.

2 comments:

Anonymous,  9:30 PM  

I played hockey with Brian in Kitimat, even then he had the world by the tail. Talented hockey player, good looking, leader among the guys. I think living the high life for so long it was hard to adjust to a "normal" life after the NHL.

Anonymous,  7:09 AM  

He was a friend. Janet, his x wife and I lived together with his two boys. When he visited the boys he stayed with us... He was a great guy, his boys amazing, we still keep in touch. Janet died shortly after Brian. Sad end to the glorious 1980s.

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