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Ottawa’s Liam Maguire – The Rise of Hockey Trivia’s One True King

Every hockey fan loves to dabble in a little hockey trivia. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup win was in 1967.

Daniel Alfredsson was the longest serving captain in Ottawa Senators’ history. And the last Canadian team to win the Cup was Montreal in 1993.

For Ottawa hockey historian Liam Maguire, that’s child play. Hit him with easy trivia like that and he’ll happily give you the answers. But then he’ll take you down a rabbit hole, filled with topical trivia that seems to run 50 layers deep, making you wonder if he’s just making things up – that is, until you fact check and realize he’s right about everything.

Maguire’s passion for the sport and its trivia has taken him down a decades-long path, with more than 2500 public appearances all across Canada and appearing on virtually every national radio and TV show including Hockey Night in Canada. He’s worked with 65 Hockey Hall of Fame members at numerous functions, fundraisers, dinners and charities.

The Montreal Canadiens, Team Canada, and a cold Molson Export (or ten) all hold a special place in Maguire’s heart.

For those that know Maguire, even just a little, his most endearing quality may be this: Few people are ever happier to see you than Liam. When Maguire greets you, he lights up like you’re a teammate who just scored the game winning goal. He offers a beaming smile, a firm handshake and with that extra thick, booming Ottawa Valley brogue, he’ll almost certainly be excited to ask you, “How’s she goin’, buddy?”

Things have gone very well for Maguire, who’s carved out a nice career as an author, broadcaster and guest speaker, thanks largely to a life-long infatuation with hockey trivia, blossoming from of a hockey-crazy childhood.

“It was hockey cards,” Maguire remembers. “Collecting hockey cards and the information on the back of them. It just became a badge of honour to know your favourite team’s players and stats. That’s where the hockey trivia began.”

So, how and when did it go from hobby to passion?

“The key guy there was Phil Byrne, one of my closest, dearest friends,” Maguire said. “He came to my school (St. Leonard’s) in grade four. He was a Leaf fan, which is ironic because now he absolutely hates them. He’s a massive Sens fan. Phil was incredibly gifted, academically – just really, really smart. We used to ride the bus together and on Monday mornings he’d ask me who was leading every NHL team in scoring. And he used to piss me off because I couldn’t get them all. But he always knew them all. It was unbelievable.

“He’s the one that got me focused. I thought to myself, “I gotta at least match Phil. I can’t lose to him every single Monday morning on the bus, which I think I did for like 26 consecutive Mondays or something. So, it started with the hockey cards, the love of the sport, and then it morphed into something more after I met Phil.”

It’s not remotely a stretch to refer to Maguire as the king of NHL trivia, a coronation he informally sought at age 14 when he put an ad in The Hockey News, looking for challengers to his throne.

“Yeah, I put it out there,” said Maguire. “Pre-internet, it was much harder. But I ran that ad for a couple of months when I was 14. The ad read:

Hey, my name’s Liam Maguire. I’m from Kars, Ontario. I’m the NHL expert of the world. You want to try and take me on? Write me a letter to this address.

“I thought to myself, this is great. I’m now going to be able to connect with hockey fans all over the world. And my Dad could pay for me to travel to them and I’ll go and I’ll kick their asses. My Dad said, “Son, I’m not paying you one red dime. Now get out there and shovel that driveway.”

But has anyone ever come close to taking down the king? Claiming the crown? Challenging the chief?

“The best I ever came across was Jerry Rochon from Trois-Rivières,” Maguire said. “It took me a long time to track him down and when I finally got his home number and I phoned him at home I said, ‘Jerry, my name’s Liam Maguire.’ There was dead silence on the other end.

“Finally, he said, ‘I knew I was going to get this call eventually.’ I basically said, ‘Jerry, you sound like a super nice guy, but there’s only room for one of us at the top, so we’re gonna have to settle this.’ He drove down to Ottawa and came on the air with me on my radio show at the time. He came to our place for dinner, he brought my wife a really nice bottle of wine and we had a fabulous dinner.

“The next day, we went to the Ottawa Public Library and we were there for four hours comparing research techniques. He showed me what he did. I showed him what I did and it was fabulous. Absolutely fantastic. And then we went at it toe to toe on the air for an hour. It was a contest, there was going to be a winner, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be Jerry. There’s just no way I could allow it. I had to beat him and I did. But he was really good, man.

“He’s the best I’ve ever come across for sure.”

So, what’s the secret of Maguire’s success? How does he so effortlessly retain volumes of hockey information that he can call up at the drop of a hat?

“Well, I am blessed with a great memory,” Maguire said. “I inherited it from my mom’s side of the family. But my dad had a very good memory as well. So, I inherited those skills – absolutely. And with hockey, it seemed to come easy to me.

“When I started at 14 or 15 to take it to a pretty insane level, if I wanted to burn something into my memory, I seemed to have the ability to do that, even over and above what the average person with a good memory seems to be able to do.”

“There’s probably a thousand people in Ottawa with better memories than me. But mine is very good. And when it comes to this one thing, the history of hockey – specifically the NHL – I think I’m as good as anybody drawing a breath.”

Maguire’s trivia mind is probably at its sharpest when the subject matter is his beloved Montreal Canadiens. It’s hard to imagine a bigger Habs’ fan than Maguire, who came up in the 60s and 70s, at a time when Stanley Cups in Montreal came easy. He’s befriended a number of players from the 70s dynasty years, including his favourite player, Yvan Cournoyer.

He even found a way to combine his love for hockey with the love of his life, famously asking his ex-wife to marry him at centre ice in the old Montreal Forum. It happened in 1993, the last year Montreal would win a Cup.

“It was a very whirlwind romance,” Maguire remembers. “Things happened very quickly and I was pretty confident she was going to say yes. So, I was thinking I gotta do something here sort of befitting my character. So, I decided it had to be at the Forum.

“We got out to center ice, I got down on one knee and I said, ‘I’ve got a trivia question for you and the answer is yes. I’m the only guy to do that. In the 71-year history of the Montreal Forum, when it was open for NHL hockey, I’m the only guy to propose at centre ice.

Liam and Liz are no longer married but remain great friends and they are the parents of two fantastic children, Rory and Shanna.

If figures that Ottawa’s King of NHL Trivia, who’s still going as strong as ever, would be the answer to at least one great hockey trivia question himself.

By Steve Warne

Photography by Sean Sisk