The first time he faced the hopeful Detroit press last October after signing with the all-but-lost Red Wings, Carl Brewer tried to make one thing clear. "The name," he said, "is spelled C-A-R-L, not M-O-S-E-S." That left the problem of who was Carl, really. A lot of people had been wondering since the day in 1965 when, as an All-Star defenseman for Toronto, Brewer simply walked out of the Maple Leafs' training camp and never came back. Brewer, then 27 years old, said he just wasn't prepared to pay the price of big-league hockey anymore; also, he had started worrying about the next Saturday night's plane ride on Monday. Hockey fans across Canada thought they knew a better reason: like many of the Toronto players, Brewer was fed up with Punch Imlach, the team's stormy, demanding coach and general manager.
A serious, introspective man with clear blue eyes, a large nose and thinning hair, Brewer returned to the University of Toronto, where he finished work toward a degree in political science. Then he went off to play for Canada's national hockey team and later became player-coach of a minor league team in Muskegon, Mich. On March 3, 1968 the Red Wings and Maple Leafs announced the controversial seven-player deal that sent Norm Ullman to Toronto in exchange for Frank Mahovlich. Detroit also was granted one year to sign Brewer to a Red Wing contract. Otherwise, his body would revert back to Toronto.
Reaffirming his reasons for quitting, Brewer turned the Red Wings down and departed to coach a hockey team in Helsinki. He returned early last year, however, and on March 30—a scant 30 minutes before the deadline—Brewer signed with Detroit, reportedly for $70,000. The contract probably made him the best-paid player on the Red Wings except for Gordie Howe (who is playing despite a painful case of arthritis which has drained power from his shots). And now at midseason it looks as if Carl had the Moses thing wrong. Somebody has led the Wings out of hockey's wilderness into contention for a playoff spot. Somebody named B-R-E-W-E-R.
"My wife and I loved Europe," he said last week. "Actually, we planned on remaining there, perhaps moving on to Sweden or Switzerland or somewhere. But when she became pregnant with our second child, we wanted to have the baby back in Canada, so we returned. That's the only reason we came back. When I quit four years ago I was quitting the NHL—not Toronto, not Punch Imlach or anything else. I returned to the NHL because Sid Abel [ Detroit's coach and general manager] made me an offer I couldn't turn down."
Brewer insists he was surprised by the furor he caused by walking out on the Leafs. Only a Gordie Howe or a Jean Beliveau, he said, could have warranted the attention he was getting. Now he finds amusing the attempts so many writers and fans have made—and still are making—to figure him out. " 'Intelligent for a hockey player,' that's my favorite," he laughs. "Always there's that damning qualification."
Recalling the days when he was billed as the bad man of the NHL (he twice led the league in penalty minutes) Brewer said, "Writers would be apprehensive about meeting this fiendish animal. But after a game they'd come down, we'd talk and I'd see them calling me 'soft-spoken' and 'articulate.' All those penalties? Well, most of them were for holding, things like that. I told everyone it stemmed from childhood insecurity."
Brewer does not try to disguise the fact that he is not the same fiery player who in seven years helped the Leafs to a league championship, three second-place finishes and three Stanley Cups. Although his partner, Bobby Baun, did most of the heavy hitting, in those days Brewer was sneaky-tough. He used his stick to intimidate.
"I'm an intense person, and in such an atmosphere I played intensely," he said. "From the time I was growing up, it was hockey, hockey, hockey. When I was 19 the newspapers were already recording my every move, what I ate, what I did in my free time. I lived the game, so I lived winning. When I went over to Finland I took one look at what they were doing and said, this is all wrong. Their outlook was, one, it's a game; two, we're going to have fun; and three, we'll try to excel. I set out to show them how important winning was—but they wound up converting me. They feel if they do their very best, winning is secondary. I found out that that approach removed much unnecessary pressure from the game, and I wound up enjoying hockey more than I ever had before."
Brewer also enjoyed Muskegon. He cherished the long bus rides that every other minor-leaguer despises, because of the time they gave him to read, and he found it fulfilling to be a coach. "I could never coach in the NHL," he says, "because the players up here have been schooled so well all that's left for the coach to do is map strategy. In the minor leagues there's room for instruction, and there was in Finland, too. I draw a great deal of satisfaction from teaching the game of hockey."
In Detroit, Brewer is happy—for now. He lives in suburban Birmingham, within minutes of Mahovlich and Baun—his closest friends among the Leafs who preceded him to the Red Wings—and on the road the three are constant companions, as likely to be found in a museum or an art gallery as the hotel coffee shop. Brewer's fear of flying remains, but he is working on it, and the Red Wings let him take a train whenever the schedule permits.