During the first half of the 1970s, the scouting staff for the Toronto Maple Leafs really worked the corners in search of talent.
In 1970, scout Johnny Bower, the legendary Leafs netminder, found winger Errol Thompson playing senior hockey in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Three years later, scout Gerry McNamara helped land free-agent defenseman Borje Salming and forward Inge Hammarstrom from Sweden, commonplace today, but a rarity in that era.
Perhaps Toronto’s most off-the-wall addition, though, was defenseman Claire Alexander. Alexander was 27 and playing senior hockey for the Orillia Terriers when the Leafs got him to agree to a five-game amateur tryout with their Tulsa Central Hockey League minor-league club in January 1973.
Alexander gave pro hockey a one-season whirl, splitting the 1966-67 campaign between two Eastern League teams, the Knoxville Knights and Johnstown Jets. He decided that wasn’t the life for him, and returned home to Collingwood, Ont. to work as a milkman by day and play senior hockey at night.
“I loved that job,” Alexander told the Daily Oklahoman in 1975 of his milk delivery route. “I was my own boss and you’re outside all day.
“What more could you ask?”
On This Day 1974:
Claire Alexander played his first #Leafs game. Claire was power play specialist. Known as "The Milkman" Claire still delivered dairy products in the off season.#LeafsForever #LeafsNation #tml #TMLtalk @MapleLeafs @LeafsAlumni @cityoforillia pic.twitter.com/pK7AXXuAdG
— D. S. M. (@SalmingandMe) November 30, 2018
Alexander scored five goals during his five-game tryout with Tulsa. Then he went home and resumed his milk run and on-ice duties with the Orillia Terriers, helping them win the 1972-73 Allan Cap.
The Leafs, though, weren’t easily deterred. On Sept. 1, 1973, they signed Alexander to a free-agent contract. He played that season with the CHL’s Oklahoma City Blazers. Alexander was named CHL rookie of the year and defenseman of the year after posting 23-37-60 numbers in 73 games.
43 yrs ago, Leafs blasted North Stars 9-2 at the Met Center thanks in part to rookie D-man Claire Alexander's only career hat trick. The longtime Southern Ontario senior men's hockey player made the jump to the pros well into his 20's. pic.twitter.com/ZiMKxR8DNA
— O-Pee-Chee Stars (@opeecheestars) February 25, 2018
The following season, Alexander earned a ticket to the show. He played 42 games for the Leafs in 1974-75, netting 7 goals and dishing 11 assists. On Feb. 25, 1975, Alexander tallied a hat-trick in a 9-2 win over the Minnesota North Stars, the first Leafs defender to do so since Hap Day in 1929.
The Milkman, as he became known, spent three seasons with the Leafs and one with the Vancouver Canucks. He finished his North American pro career with the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers in 1978-79, where his teammates included Wayne Gretzky.