After selling popular right wing Bill Ezinicki back to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January 1952, Boston Bruins general manager Art Ross made a prediction.
“He just loves golf more than anything else in the world,” Ross told the Globe. “Even played on New Year’s Day with a hockey game that night. . . . He has to make a living, but I don’t think he’ll do it playing hockey.”
Mr. Ezinicki went on to become a successful golf professional, competing in nine US Opens, and winning two New England PGA titles and three New England Senior PGA championships.
Mr. Ezinicki, head professional at The International Golf Club in Bolton from 1974 to 1996 and a three-time New England PGA Player of the Year, died Oct. 11 in Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester after a brief illness. He was 88 and lived in Bolton for many years.
Known as Ezzie to his friends and called Wild Bill on the ice for his spirited play and crunching checks, Mr. Ezinicki played for Toronto on three consecutive Stanley Cup-winning teams in the late 1940s. He was also a member of the Maple Leafs, Manitoba Sports, New England PGA, and Massachusetts golf halls of fame.
For “The Golf History of New England,” written by his close friend, Jack Mahoney, Mr. Ezinicki talked about the transition from hockey to golf.
“I think it’s tougher to win money out here than to play in Stanley Cup competition,” Mr. Ezinicki said. “In hockey, you sometimes get a second chance. You don’t here. One of the most difficult things for me to do when I started playing tournament golf was to pay an opposing player a compliment. It took me a while to learn that in golf the principal opponent is the course.”
In 1947, Mr. Ezinicki had a career-high 17 goals and 37 points for the Stanley Cup champion Leafs and was runner-up in the Canadian amateur golf championship to Frank Stranahan, who would go on to win nine PGA tour titles.
“Ezzie was incredibly fit and impeccably dressed,” Mahoney recalled. “He could walk 72 holes a day. He admired Ben Hogan, and, like Hogan, he was a perfectionist.”
Hogan and other golf legends such as Gary Player were among Mr. Ezinicki’s friends and admirers.
When Player was in Concord for the 2008 Bank of America Championship at Nashawtuc Country Club, International member Ed Hopke told him that Mr. Ezinicki was still at the club as professional emeritus. Player made a special visit to exchange hugs and reminisce.
In 1960, four years after retiring from hockey, Mr. Ezinicki won the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine opens. He also played several times on the Senior Tour, which is now called the Champions, at the Marlborough and Nashawtuc country clubs.
His success was all the more impressive because one of his thumbs had been surgically repaired, said Brian Lynch, a former International general manager who had earlier caddied for Mr. Ezinicki.
“He had to use a baseball grip on the club with his left hand,” said Lynch, general manager at Mount Pleasant Country Club in Boylston.
Mr. Ezinicki, who grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, got his first set of clubs at 10 and practiced his swing at a nearby dairy farm.
A standout on the 1944 Oshawa Generals team that won the Canadian junior championship, Mr. Ezinicki scored 84 goals and had 113 assists in 408 career National Hockey League games.
An Oshawa teammate, Ted Lindsay, became a star with the Detroit Red Wings, and they frequently clashed. They brawled during a January 1951 game at the Detroit Olympia, resulting in 19 stitches and a broken nose for Mr. Ezinicki, who was knocked to the ice.
All was not lost for Mr. Ezinicki, who was 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds. An insurance policy paid him $5 for every suture needed to close a cut.
“When Ezzie came here, we said, ‘Thank goodness, he’s on our side,’ ” recalled Milt Schmidt, the Bruins captain at the time. “He played on my line. Once, he tried to body-check an opponent and he accidentally ran into me, and I really felt it. I told him, ‘Ezzie, you’re wearing a different uniform now.’ ”
Mr. Ezinicki remained close to the Bruins organization and took pride when The International hosted the annual Boston Bruins Foundation charity tournament. After retiring, he still gave golf tips at the club, always starting with mastering the wedge shot.
Michael Kilcoyne, locker room manager at The International, broke in as an 11-year-old caddy shagging range balls for Mr. Ezinicki.
“If you tried to bring up his Stanley Cup days, Ezzie would say it was ancient history,” said Kilcoyne. “He was more interested in you. He was humble and on the quiet side and a great instructor.”
Until last year, Mr. Ezinicki lived directly across the street from the club’s main entrance. A decade ago, The International established in his honor its match play tournament, the William Ezinicki Cup.
Among his prior positions, Mr. Ezinicki was the first head pro at Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton and at New Seabury in Mashpee.
He was married for 52 years to the former Jane McPherson, who died in 2003. Services will be private for Mr. Ezinicki, who leaves two daughters, Julie Zammuto of Crescent Spur, British Columbia, and Claudia of Lancaster; and a sister, Carolyn Hamilton of Winnipeg.
“He was a caring father and husband, and we were so proud of him,” Julie said. “Dad enjoyed hockey, but golf was his passion. When I’ve gone through times in my life when I needed strength, I always thought of him.”