BOASTING a combination of skill and size, Joe Szura was a player who produced big numbers offensively over the course of his nearly 20-year career.
At six-foot-three and nearly 200 pounds, Szura grew up in the East End and starred for his hometown Fort William Columbus Canadiens side, helping them win a trio of Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League titles in 1957, ’58 and ’59.
Named the league’s top rookie in his first year, he paced TBJHL in scoring for two of his three seasons. In total, he amassed 133 points in 72 games, with the local Jr. Habs.
His efforts also guided Fort William all the way to the western Canadian final in 1957, before they fell to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Flin Flon Bombers.
No doubt having a good word put in by his junior coach Mickey Hennessy, who also scouted for the parent club, the Montreal Canadiens, Szura headed to the old Eastern Professional Hockey League and played for three years with the likes of the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, Montreal Royals and North Bay Trappers.
His play there saw Sam Pollock sign him to contract with the Habs NHL organization in February of 1960.
Of note, in his last year in the EPHL, his general manager in North Bay was fellow Lakehead native Louie Passador, who was also a legendary NHL scout.
Topping the Trappers offensively helped Szura earn a promotion to the American Hockey League in 1962 where he was a standout with the Cleveland Barons for five consecutive campaigns.
Among his highlights there was winning an AHL Calder Cup championship in 1963-64.
Coming off a 67-point campaign during the regular season, where he scored 23 times and assisted on 44 others in 72 outings, Szura was even better in the postseason.
There, he notched 13 goals, in just nine games, and helped set-up six others helping Cleveland go unbeaten with series sweeps of Rochester Americans (2-0) and Hershey Bears (3-0) before putting the broom to the favoured first place Quebec Aces (4-0).
In Game 1 versus Quebec, Szura tallied twice, including potting the game-winner on future Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Gump Worsley, in a 4-2 upset to help him establish an AHL record at the time, for most goals in the playoffs.
His postseason numbers saw him pace all AHL skaters in both markers, which were six more than his nearest rival, and points, as he was five better in that category.
Rarely missing any games during his time there, he was named a first team AHL All-Star in 1965-66 while producing at over a point-per-game clip.
While still a member of the Barons, but property of the Canadiens, he was claimed by the Oakland Seals in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft.
Szura was in the Seals’ line-up for their first-ever game, along with fellow city product Larry Cahan back on October 11, 1967, a 5-1 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Three nights later Szura slammed his initial NHL goal in a 6-0 dusting of the Minnesota North Stars at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
After a couple of years with the Seals, he returned to the AHL, suiting up for a trio of seasons.
In his final run in the AHL, he was the Baltimore Clippers leading goal-getter (38) and was second in scoring helping them advance all the way to the 1972 league final.
However, they fell to the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, who featured another Lakehead standout, Ron Busniuk, on their roster.
Not done there, stops in the World Hockey Association with the Los Angeles Sharks and Houston Aeros, saw him hoist the Avco Cup, alongside John Schella, as WHA title holders in 1974.
An honoured member of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, Szura appeared in over 1,000 games overall while accumulating 905 points as part of a run where he was among the top players the Lakehead ever produced.