John Brophy was a tough defenceman who played 18 seasons in the Eastern Hockey League, racking up nearly 4,000 career penalty minutes between 1955 and 1973—the most in EHL history—playing parts of nine seasons with the Long Island Ducks and retiring at the age of 40. On August 5, 1967, Brophy was involved in a car crash. He survived but his passenger, Dorothea Schiavone, was killed. He had a part as a referee in a Schaeffer Beer commercial which aired for about five years on various New York television stations. Brophy had briefly been player-coach with the Ducks in the 1968–69 season, and became a full-time coach following his retirement as a player. He coached the Hampton Gulls for four seasons until the team folded during the 1977–78 season. He then joined the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association as assistant to coach Glen Sonmor, becoming head coach in 1978–79 when Sonmor joined the Minnesota North Stars. His team finished last in the league, but included several future NHL stars at the beginning of their professional careers: Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet, Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg, and Gaston Gingras, as well as a 36-year-old Paul Henderson. Even though his team was the only one in the league not to make the playoffs, Brophy was awarded the Robert Schmertz Memorial Trophy as the WHA’s coach of the year. After the collapse of the WHA, Birmingham moved to the Central Hockey League and Brophy coached the team for another two seasons. In 1981, Brophy was hired by the Montreal Canadiens to return home and coach their AHL affiliate, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. He held the job for three seasons.
John Brophy then joined the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, first as an assistant coach with the Leafs, then briefly as head coach of the Leafs’ AHL team, the St. Catharines Saints, and then as head coach of the Leafs for the 1986–87 season. The Leafs showed some promise during Brophy’s first season as coach, despite finishing the year with a losing record, but it all went downhill from there with an embarrassing season in 1987–88. Brophy feuded with general manager Gerry McNamara, who tried to have Brophy fired but ended up being fired himself. After an equally poor start to the 1988–89 season, and despite being a favorite of Leafs owner Harold Ballard, Brophy was fired in December 1988, 33 games into the season. Brophy then found a home in Norfolk, Virginia with the Hampton Roads Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League. He coached the team for 11 seasons, from 1989 to 2000, winning the league championship in 1991, 1992, and 1998. The Admirals did not have a losing season with Brophy behind the bench. After a game in January 1999, a fight broke out on the ice, and fans were throwing batteries. Brophy was accused of assaulting two security guards, but the guards said they were trying to keep him away from the Roanoke fans. In the end, Brophy pleaded guilty, was fined $1,000, and suspended for six games.
On June 25, 2000, John Brophy was badly injured in a car accident near New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. He was listed in critical condition with a broken leg and a head injury. Brophy had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. After a successful recuperation, Brophy returned to the ECHL in 2001 as coach of the Wheeling Nailers for two seasons and retired. The ECHL’s coach of the year award was renamed the John Brophy Award in 2003. As of 2006, Brophy is the all-time leader among ECHL coaches in regular season wins (480), playoff games (94) and playoff wins (55) and was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2004–05, he coached his hometown junior team, the Antigonish Bulldogs of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League. For 2006–07, at age 73, he went back to Virginia as head coach of the Richmond Renegades of the Southern Professional Hockey League. As a professional hockey coach, Brophy has accumulated 1,027 victories, the second highest amount in all of professional hockey, behind only Scotty Bowman. After one season with the Richmond Renegades, it was announced that Brophy would be released from his contract. His replacement in Richmond was former team captain Brian Goudie. John Brophy died in his sleep at his home in Antigonish on the morning of May 23, 2016 from a long-illness, aged 83.
- January, 20, 1933
- Antigonish, Nova Scotia
- May, 23, 2016
- Antigonish, Nova Scotia