Reggie Leach is an Ojibwe hockey player who was nicknamed the Riverton Rifle for his lethal slapshots during his 13 seasons in the NHL. His career highlights include a league championship Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975 and a career high of 61 goals with the Flyers during the 1975-76 campaign.
Despite his achievements on the ice, at times Leach’s excessive drinking undermined his success. His drinking led to not only the breakup of his first marriage but also the end of his pro career. It also landed him a New Jersey treatment facility in 1985. Today, recovered, remarried and at peace, he derives more satisfaction from his life than during his years of stardom. Leach has detailed his life story in a new memoir, The Riverton Rifle, published this month by Greystone Books.
“You don’t go blaming other people for your mistakes,” said Leach, who has been sober for 30 years, to ICTMN. “You learn from your mistakes and you go on. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, it’s going to be a hard life for you.”
Following his playing days and that rehab stint, Leach had various jobs and businesses, including working as a car salesman and starting a successful landscaping company.
Though Leach played his last NHL game more than three decades ago, he’s still heavily involved in hockey. A good chunk of Leach’s time goes to helping out at the Shoot to Score hockey schools, primarily run by his son Jaime, also a former NHL player and back-to-back Stanley Cup champion winner for the Pittsburgh Penguins in ’91 and ’92.
This marks the ninth season of operations for the Shoot to Score school programs, which are held across Canada and the United States. About 2,000 youngsters will attend the various schools this year. This week a Shoot to Score program will be held in the small Northwest Territories town of Fort Smith.
During the early years of the program, people from First Nation communities would often sponsor a handful of kids so that they could attend a hockey school in a faraway location.
The father-son team pride themselves on being ambassadors for First Nations people and First Nations hockey. “We get to travel all over the place,” said Leach, who since 2007 has lived in Ontario, in the First Nation community of Aundeck Omni Kaning on Manitoulin Island, with his wife, Dawn.
“We came up with this idea that we would go to them,” Leach said. “We could have 100 kids at the camp in the same community for the price of sending three or four of them to an out-of-town camp. I don’t think anybody had done this before.”
Though he had appeared at numerous hockey schools during his playing days, Leach said it is his son who continues to teach him on how to be a better instructor.
“I’m just a helper at the schools,” he said. “The most important thing for me is I’m learning from him how to teach hockey. I always had a good shot but before I wouldn’t be able to tell you how to make your shot better. But now I know things like transferring the weight for your shot. I have learned that from my son.”
Besides on-ice instruction, Leach is also a highly sought motivational speaker. He takes time at each camp to talk to the participants about his life story and making the right choices and the perils of alcohol and drugs.
“The NHL is just a small part of my life,” he says. “I’m more proud of what I’ve done after hockey.”