Twenty-ninth in a series of pioneer profiles
Former Nelson Maple Leafs goaltender and local businessman Gus Adams has died at 77.
Though well known for his hockey exploits and as the father of an NHL star, friends and former teammates say they remember his jovial nature most.
Born Costadinos Adam in Greece, he added the S to his surname and was always known as Gus.
His father died when he was about ten, and his mother, unable to support her seven children, sent him and a brother to live with relatives in Brandon, Man.
“I’m sure it was very traumatic for a 10 year old coming to a new country, not knowing the language, not even knowing his aunt and uncle,” says son Greg.
Gus started playing hockey around age 12, but couldn’t skate, so was put in goal.
“He had such a passion for the game that it didn’t take him long to catch on,” Greg says. “To be part of the hockey team was all he wanted. Playing goal was the opportunity for him.”
Adams played junior with Brandon and Lethbridge before coming to Nelson in 1955. For three seasons he was the senior Maple Leafs’ top goalie.
“It was just a fantastic time back in those days,” he recalled in a 2005 interview with the Nelson Daily News. “We had fantastic rivalries with Trail, Kimberley, and Spokane. Hockey was the buzz of the community. I remember people lining up right along Baker Street waiting to get tickets [at Cutler’s News].”
Adams also played a year in Rossland before he was recruited by Streatham of the British league. However, he was refused permission to land because he didn’t have a work permit. After a day stuck on the boat, the matter was resolved, and he enjoyed a stellar season.
Adams then returned to Nelson and played a few more years in goal before taking over as team manager from 1965-71 and 1973-75.
Although frequently pitted against Trail Smoke Eaters goaltender Seth Martin, the two were actually close friends.
“He was a stand-up goaler and covered the angles well,” Martin says. “One time we played the Montreal Canadiens old-timers in Trail. I didn’t do very well in the first half, but Gus played very well in the last half. I never heard the end of that one!”
Off the ice, Adams was a salesman for Mel Buerge’s Ford dealership, and later had his own Honda dealership. Martin says his forthcoming personality made him well suited to the job.
“Every time I met him, he always made me laugh. He could tell jokes and say things to put you at ease — and then, of course, he’d sell you a car.”
Teammate and longtime neighbour Leroy Mowery agrees: “Once you met him, you never forget him. He was a fun-loving, joke-telling, high-energy person.”
Adams also bought in to the Lord Nelson Hotel (now the New Grand), where the restaurant was known as Gussy’s.
“He was very hard working,” Mowery says. “He worked seven days a week for a long time.”
At 39, he returned to Greece for the first time and was reunited with his mother and twin sister.
Though he was property of the New York Rangers, Adams never saw the NHL. But he lived the dream vicariously through son Greg, and often travelled to see him play. When Greg scored the double overtime goal that sent Vancouver to the 1994 Stanley Cup final, Gus wept for joy.
“Gus Adams told me it was the most exciting moment of his life,” Canucks play-by-play broadcaster Jim Robson recalled in 2005 in The Vancouver Sun. “He said everybody was coming up to him and hugging him and there were tears running down his face.”
“I think he may have enjoyed it more than I did,” Greg confirms. “Those highlights in my career he might have been even more proud of and had more pleasure out of than me.”
Greg, who was also nicknamed Gus, says he owes much of his success to his father, “not only in what he taught me, but in just the inspiration he supplied and wanting to please him.” Although the elder Adams didn’t coach minor hockey, “we always had a backyard rink. He always taught us stuff out there and played with us. That’s where he had the most effect.”
Gus also passed his love of golf on to his children and was an excellent gardener.
In recent years, he and wife Darlene wintered with their daughter Tracey in Bellingham, but returned to Nelson in the summer.
Adams passed away September 1 at his home on the North Shore following a lengthy illness.
He’s survived by his wife, daughter, and sons Greg, Jamie, Jeff, and Gus Jr., as well as a sister in Toronto and three sisters in Greece.
A well-attended memorial was held last Sunday at the New Grand Hotel.
Previous installments in this series