Russ Conway, 70, Dies; His Reporting Led to a Hockey Boss’s Downfall

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Russ Conway, whose exposés in a Massachusetts newspaper uncovered corruption by the leader of the National Hockey League’s players’ union, and led to his convictions for fraud, died on Tuesday at his home in Haverhill, Mass. He was 70.

His lawyer, Peter Caruso, confirmed the death. He said Mr. Conway had received a diagnosis of heart disease a few years ago.

In 1991, after Mr. Conway had been covering the Boston Bruins for The Eagle-Tribune, a daily newspaper in North Andover, Mass., for many years, he published a five-part series detailing financial malfeasance by Alan Eagleson, the longtime executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association.

Over nearly a quarter-century, Mr. Eagleson had amassed immense influence, not only as the head of the union, but also as the agent for N.H.L. stars like the Bruins’ Bobby Orr and as the organizer of international tournaments like the Canada Cup.

“He was the self-proclaimed hockey czar,” Mr. Conway told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1995. “He was, in my estimation and that of many others, the most powerful man in hockey for quite some time.”

In his series, in subsequent articles and in a book, “Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey” (1995), Mr. Conway described how Mr. Eagleson, a lawyer, had capitalized on his decades of clout in professional hockey.

Mr. Eagleson, he wrote, had, among many things, skimmed money from players’ disability payments; lent union funds to friends and associates at favorable rates; and billed the union for personal expenses, including a London apartment and Wimbledon tickets.

He also reported that Mr. Eagleson had promised that the N.H.L. players’ pension fund would profit from the Canada Cup — which was held five times between 1976 and 1991 between teams from Europe, the United States and Canada — but that little was left after subtracting questionable expenses.

Mr. Conway was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting in 1992. (He lost to The Sacramento Bee for its series on primate research.)

More important, his reporting led the F.B.I. and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to open investigations into Mr. Eagleson. In 1994, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Boston on 32 counts of racketeering, fraud, obstruction of justice and embezzlement.

“No single person has done more for retired N.H.L. players than Russ Conway,” Paul V. Kelly, the lead federal prosecutor in the case, said in an email. Mr. Conway’s reporting, he added, “laid the foundation” for a new supplemental pension benefit for players and their widows.

On the day Mr. Eagleson pleaded guilty to three counts of mail fraud in 1998, Mr. Conway entered the courtroom to applause from former players, like Mr. Orr, who felt betrayed by Mr. Eagleson.

“It’s like being applauded in church,” Mr. Conway told the Canadian magazine Maclean’s soon after. “It was embarrassing.”

Mr. Eagleson’s plea deal let him avoid imprisonment in the United States, but he was required to repay the union nearly $700,000 in stolen funds. He received an 18-month sentence in Canada, where he also faced charges of fraud. He served six months.

He was also disbarred and resigned from the Hockey Hall of Fame — to which he had been elected in 1989 — when faced with a vote to expel him.

“The biggest reward wasn’t writing a book or seeing Eagleson go to jail,” told The Columbus Dispatch in 1999. “It was all the people who decided to stand up and tell their story.”

Mr. Conway was born on March, 27, 1949, in Haverhill. His father, Paul Jr., was the deputy chief of the Haverhill Fire Department. His mother, Betty (Georges) Conway, was a teacher.

In the late 1960s, while he was attending Northeastern University in Boston, Mr. Conway started working for The Eagle-Tribune. Very soon he was covering the Bruins, which he did for about 30 years, a span that included their Stanley Cup championships in 1970 and 1972.

By the 1980s he was hearing rumblings about Mr. Eagleson. But it was not until a 20th-anniversary reunion of the Bruins’ 1970 Stanley Cup team that he began hearing players talk about how bad their pensions were. Those complaints prompted Mr. Conway’s investigation.

“You couldn’t have replicated Russ’s work even if you turned a lot of people loose on the story,” Dan Warner, The Eagle-Tribune’s editor, told Sports Illustrated in 1996. “There are great ‘people’ reporters, and there are people who can follow a paper trail. Russ can do both.”

Mr. Conway received the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1999 for his reporting. He became The Eagle-Tribune’s executive editor that year and retired in 2004.

He also had a second career, promoting short-track car races on the East Coast from 1965 to 2013.

No immediate family members survive.

What Mr. Conway uncovered about Mr. Eagleson occasionally disgusted him. He recalled one player, Ed Kea, who suffered a brain injury when he was checked into the boards during a game in 1983 while he was with a minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues.

“Al Eagleson didn’t even have the common decency to go visit the family,” Mr. Conway told Maclean’s. “He wouldn’t aid them in the insurance process. He was gone. Crush up the cigarette pack, throw it out. Next!”


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