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.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Jason said...

Thank you for the complimentary tribute to Brian, my father. Life is lived forward, but often only understood looking backward. Thank you also to anyone reading this, hockey fans and friends that helped my dad and those who contribute to the legacy of the hockey.

Respectfully,

Jason L. Spencer
house.merchant@hotmail.com

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason,

I knew your father because he would come in Tony Roma's on PB Lakes Blvd in WPB(back in the day). He was incredibly nice to me. One time he had a beautiful woman with him. It may have been your mother. He was a classy man. Brian would come over to my friend Tim's house to watch hockey (when it was on occasionally).
I hope your family is well.

Sincerely

Paul Fields
pf5084@gmail.com

11:03 PM  
Blogger Woody said...

That's a fantastic writeup on Spinner! He was a childhood hero of mine. I used to stand at the (much lower) glass and watch the Pens during warmup. He flipped a puck over the glass for me and a hero was born. During subsequent games when I was there, he would come over and elbow the glass by my face during warmup and scare me every time. (Hey I was five and he was...well tough as nails). I was sad to see him go!

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew Brian annd Byron at a private school near Nanaimo,B.C.on Jinglepot road... When I was there I had the pleasure to know them both..I was 3 yrs. younger and used to get into alot of fights with others there that were a lot older than me and used to get the sh_t beat out of me..I never gave up,I was stubborn...Anyways Brian would come and help me out..I am a native and I think maybe one of the reasons he helped me..When I got out I came back home to Hope,B.C. my hometown. I was surprised one day near the bus depot here Brian was heading to a hockey school he said was passing through..and I was walking by..He called me and had said that to me he was happy I had finally got out and if I was doing okay...I told him I was and was glad to see him...from then on I never missed one of his games on TV..I was glad to watch him play...In the movies I have seen of him was all together a different person...In the private school he was a kind and caring person as well as his brother...anyways you don't see people like him any more...was good to know him and his brother...

1:21 AM  
Blogger andi said...

Jason,

I loved your father, he was a wonderful man and touched my life in ways he, and you, will never know. He inspired me and comforted me at some really low points in my life. To me he was so much more than a a hockey player and I try to pass on the kindness he gave me to others. I still feel blessed to have known him, even just a little.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Brian's hectic life came to an abrupt end just as he was turning his life around.' Lets get real here. He was unemployed, dating prostitutes and murdered after buying crack. Where is the 'turning his life around' part? He was a violent guy living a violent life. He may have shown some resemblence to a kind person at times but, he had all the ear marks of having an anti-social personality,violent,impulsive, emotional instability, lack of empathy.Remember what him and his brother would do for fun? Drown cats, hook seagulls to fishing rods to fly them like a kite, get old native women drunk and then have sex with them...ya, they were a hoot and real kind. And finally, how does Spencer rate being posted in Hockey Tough Guys? Whom of note did he fight in the NHL? How many times did he fight? Look at his PIMS. Far from tough guy penalty minutes, most of which were for tripping,and interference. He did his fighting on the streets and in bars, not in the NHL. Tough guy? How about psychopath.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said many things about this man after reading what Brians Son commented..my question would be WHY WOULD ANYONE post something so mean about Jasons Father...remember the saying IF YOU DONT HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY THEN SAY NOTHING AT ALL.Brain had hard times, mental issues that he was trying hard to work out. Do NOT hurt his child because his Father had an illness

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew Brian from his days in Buffalo. I remember hanging out with him and many of the other Sabres on Sundays nights at a bar owned and named Jerry Korabs. He briefly dated my sister and another girl who I also dated. They were great times and he was always great to be around. I still remember hearing the news of his passing and how sad I felt

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father knew Brian and played hockey with him for a time in Kitimat BC when he came to live there for a while. My Father always spoke of how kind a person Brian was but also unpradictable and crazy he was at times as well. Brain and my father would get caught cutting class (school) numerous times and sneaking into the arena (KIR) to practice. My fathers says Brian would sneak into the arena most nights long after the arena closed and skate all night. To the point the RCMP would even bother with him anymore. Terrace, BC just a short drive from Kitimat had the Terrace Centennials, Brian went onto play for their Major JR A team the Calgary Centennials. That being said The small northern towns of both Terrace and Kitimat, BC also claim Brian as there own, he was loved more than he knows. I write this today from Brian "Spinner" Spencer's true home town of Fort St James as my 15 year old son takes part in a Midget tournament here. I am happy to report that there are many items proudly on display in the Fort St James arena pertaining to Brian and his 10 year NHL career. The town is very proud of Brain and his hockey career. I have enjoyed the stories my father has shared with me about the true and unique entertainer Brian (Spinner) Spencer.

Shayne Braid...

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Andy Nowicki said...

In 1967 I met Brian at the International Hockey School in Nelson British Columbnia We were both 18 and hit it off...Brian played up and I played in the net...Brian was very popular and the hardest worker in the Camp He was well dresses and well spoken and the girls in Town took notice..Contrary to suggestions Brian was short of money this did not seem to be the case and he spent 4 weeks at the Camp wheras I left after two weeks...He and I were briefly team mates on the Calgaary Centennials in the WCHL ...There was a lot of good in Spinner

1:23 AM  

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