Dave Elston, the Canadian National Hockey League cartoonist, was a ‘gentleman in business’

Dave Elston is a semi-retired artist living in Calgary With his wife, Kaeda, their cat, Annie, and their horse, 26-year-old Bebe, who was housed in a nearby stable, Elston is prompted to describe her affectionately as: “the most expensive ornamental plant in the world.”

A wall in the basement of their home demonstrates how far his influence once expanded, not just to a stable across town, but across North America. For most of his career, Elston is best known for being the only full-time editorial sports cartoonist in Canada, and has a collection of autographs and framed memorabilia on display from the same NHL Characters who were once paid to skewer.

His work was featured in Canadian newspapers, as well as hockey news, and for a time, as an animated short on “Hockey Night in Canada” radio shows. He’s twice left art school, and his ability to tell a story in one frame still makes his work instantly recognizable to readers of a certain age.

“He’s a brilliant guy,” said NHL executive Brian Burke.

“Fantastic,” said retired striker Tim Hunter.

“It must be Canada Medal man,” TSN host Jay Unret said.

Elston, aged 63, attended what was then Alberta College of Art with his dreams of becoming a commercial artist. Soon he felt out of place. The work that was judged to contain caricatures was criticized, rather than praised. And besides, he also loved sports.

In 1980, he reached out to his former high school football coach, who was an editor at the recently launched Calgary Sun. (Elston said he’s 5 feet 2 feet tall, and when he was running backwards, someone nicknamed him a “quick fire hydrant.”)

The newspaper gave him $25 per carton.

Within a few years, Elston wanted to expand his reach by spreading his work throughout Canada. He sent bundles of his cartoons to small newspapers across the country. He had a package left after his mail spree, and in a lark he decided to send it to The Hockey News, in Toronto.

Bob Mackenzie was the editor-in-chief. He had only been in the business for two years when the package landed on his desk. He wanted to separate the publication from the idea that it was the editorial arm of the NHL — Ken Mackenzie (no relation) founded the newspaper in 1947 while working in the league — and felt an editorial cartoonist would help the cause.

He hired Elston, and gave him the freedom to edit.

“He’s been gigantic in terms of the impact he’s had on The Hockey News,” said McKenzie, now semi-retired from the NHL within TSN.

Dave Elston


Unpublished cartoon of Dave Elston by Conor MacDavid. (Courtesy of Dave Elston)

His favorite Elston cartoonist was Wayne Gretzky and the coach who misjudged his influence behind the bench. Robbie Vtoric was the coach of the team Los Angeles Kings In the late ’80s, Gretsky’s playing time was cut short, and he went even further The Great One Seat For part of a game in November 1988.

MacKenzie can still imagine the animation. Framed as one of the Three Wise Men, Ftorek argues, staring at the manger: “I don’t know, it looks to me just like another child.”

“It was pretty cool,” said McKenzie. “It was one of the best cartoons I’ve ever seen.”

Hunter, a longtime NHL striker, has also been a frequent inspiration. Now 61, he admitted that his “famous nose” made him an easy mark. But he was also his favorite Elston cartoon star.

He was playing for Canucks that season. In the frame, the Vancouver coach is looking at a box of right breathing nasal strips, which some players have used because they thought it boosted their performance on the ice. The coach noticed that the fresh box was empty and asked who had pulled out all the bandages.

“I have about 10 on my nose, and he’s holding an empty box,” Hunter said with a laugh. “I mean, this is just a classic.”

A few years later, while Hunter was wrapping up his NHL career playing with San Jose Sharks, Elston had a brief animated appearance on “Hockey Night in Canada” early in the season. With music from the movie “Jaws” playing in the background, the cartoon showed what appeared to be the fin of a shark swimming through a pool toward the Stanley Cup.

“This thing hits the Stanley Cup,” Hunter said. “It appears to me: I was swimming on my back.”

said Burke, who is now head of hockey operations with Pittsburgh penguins.

Burke said he sent Elston a handwritten letter of appreciation after seeing a cartoon in 1989, after a series of playoffs between Vancouver and Calgary. The Flames took the lead after an extra goal in Game 7 – eventually winning the Stanley Cup – but Elston’s tire showed how exhausted the two teams were and hit.

It was a sign of respect for the Canucks, with whom Burke was working.

“He was making fun of someone, but he was doing it in such a way that you can’t be angry with him,” Burke said. “He was really a gentleman in a company where you had to be a bit dumb.”

Burke is now also a co-star on his own animated series. With host Jeff Marek, he appeared in Sportsnet’s animated short.Hey PorkyAvailable online. (Niels Pritz is the artist behind the series, with Emil Delek and Jason Harding as creative lead.)

“I can walk around in my stories,” Burke said. “I can explain things. Elston had one shot.”

“It was like an alternative comic, but in a mainstream publication,” said Onrait, the TSN anchor. “You can’t pass one of his comics without stopping and paying attention to it because of this unique style.”

Onrait has a personalized Elston cartoon framed in his office. He said it was a gift arranged by his wife. It shows a man pushing a stroller with a TSN sign below the text: “Baby Onrait says his first word.”

The speech bubble coming from the carriage is Classic Onrait exclamation In bold letters: “Bobrovsky!!”

Onrett grew up in Edmonton at the height of the “Battle of Alberta” when he was oiled It appears that the Flames meet every spring to decide which team will advance to win the Stanley Cup. He said Elston was a major component of that era in Calgary.

“A very important artist in the history of that city,” he said. “I don’t think it’s overrated. I don’t think I’m exaggerating it. I really think he was not only a great artist, but he was also very dated at the time – especially at that time in the ’80s, when the teams were so good.”

If an NHL player reaches out to request a hard copy of his work, Elston said he usually sends two copies in the mail: one for the player, and one for the player to sign and send back. He said most of his subjects seemed to get the joke.

Most said, but not all.

He said, “I had the weird one where someone would come up to me and go: ‘Oh, you did a cartoon of me when I was playing football for the Stampeders.’” Then I would go: “Oh yeah?” and they would say, “I didn’t like it.”

He paused to laugh: “I’m kind of like,” Well, are you hitting on me now? “

In 1991, Flames forward Doug Gilmour landed an Elston cartoon after being awarded $750,000 in judging in salary. It was just before the December holidays, and according to Vancouver County, the cartoon showed Gilmore asking for charity with a sign: “Young couple, one child, father earning $750,000.”

Gilmore was reportedly not happy with his portrayal, but he never communicated with the artist.

“His wife did,” Elston said. not happy. I’ll leave it at that.”

He said he still paints now and then, mostly for his own amusement. He said he’s open to new projects, but otherwise he’s settling into the life of retirees. His wife, Kaeda, is also retired.

“I am grateful that I got to that beautiful spot where I was able to Make a career out of itAnd he stopped laughing again. “Or I think I’ll find out.”

(Top image: Courtesy of Dave Elston)

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