Les Strongman’s name is synonymous with Nottingham Panthers for whom the tall Canadian played over 500 games, winning three league titles and scoring over 700 points between 1946 and 1960.
The six-foot, two-inch, left winger was one of 12 Canadians who formed the Panthers’ first league team in 1946-47, the first season after World War Two. He took the transatlantic trip on the Cunard liner ‘Aquitania’ as a way of avoiding his policeman’s beat in Winnipeg where the winter temperature drops to minus 25 degrees C.
From then until professional hockey collapsed at the end of 1959-60, Strongman spent eleven years at Nottingham in two different spells, captaining the team in 1950-51 when they won the first of three league titles in six seasons. He also scored a crucial goal in the 1959-60 finals of the British Championship play-off against Brighton Tigers.
A big fan favourite in Nottingham, Strongman was always recognisable from his white helmet, which he took to wearing after his skull was fractured in 1950. Some believed this was a career-ending injury, but he made a remarkable recovery and was soon back on the ice.
His years in Nottingham were broken in 1948-49 when a brief attack of homesickness sent him back to Canada for a year on the Saskatoon Quakers. He also tried his hand at coaching in Zurich, Switzerland during part of season 1955-56.
In two terms with Wembley Lions, he was a key player when they topped the British National League in 1956-57 and won the Autumn Cup the next year.
When Nottingham Ice Stadium suddenly ceased to promote ice hockey, it was a huge blow as he later told Nottingham’s Evening Post: “My only regret is that the Panthers stopped in 1960 and we had to wait 20 years for hockey to start again,” he said.
He filled in the time with a coaching post in Malmo, Sweden for five seasons before returning to join his old Panthers team-mates Rupe Fresher, Art Hodgins and Lawson Neil on the revived Wembley Lions for the 1965-66 campaign. He stayed until the Lions played their last ever game at the Empire Pool in November 1968.
After settling down to run a newsagents in Lower Parliament Street, when the Ice Stadium re-opened for hockey in 1980, Les was back as the first coach of the reformed but amateur Panthers. He mentored them for 69 games over two seasons, chalking up a win percentage of 62.3.
When he stepped down from the Panthers’ bench, he coached the second team Trojans and took a keen interest in the youth development programme. He served on the club’s management committee for many years and was later a director. On 22 March 2000 he was a guest of honour at the Ice Stadium’s last game.
Fellow Hall of Famer Sonny Rost described him as: “A coach’s dream and a nightmare for the opposition. He was a tireless back-checker, a visionary playmaker and deadly goal scorer. A tall player with long arms, once he got those legs in gear, there was no chance of catching him.”
During his professional career with the Panthers and Lions, he played 632 games, scoring 907 points (519 goals) and was assessed 372 penalty minutes. He was selected to the All-Star ‘A’ team four times and the ‘B’ team three times.
Leslie Howard Strongman was born on 23 August 1924 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and died on 8 August 2019 in Edmonton, Alberta, where he had retired to be with his son and daughter. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.