Saturday, November 12, 2016

1931-1999 MEMORIES & DREAMS



This being Toronto's centennial season, there is no bigger or important date in Maple Leafs history than November 12, 1931. It was 85 years ago tonight that Maple Leaf Gardens opened and a new era began.

In their new building, the Leafs won the Stanley Cup on April 9, 1932, against the New York Rangers. They went on to capture ten more Cups with the last coming in 1967.

The Gardens was not only the domicile to Leaf captains (pictured below from left to right) Hap Day, Charlie Conacher, Red Horner ( Leaf owner/manager Conn Smythe), Syl Apps, Bob Davidson, Ted Kennedy and Sid Smith, but also was the hockey home for generations of Leaf fans.



On the radio, young and old used their imagination to visualize the play being called by Foster Hewitt from his post in the gondola. When television arrived in 1952, families gathered in the living room and had the chance to witness the action from the hockey shrine at Carlton and Church. It was as though they had their own seat in the greys or greens. Saturday was Hockey Night in Canada from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"OUR STORY, YOUR STORY"

O, land of blue unending skies,
Mountains strong and sparkling snow,
A scent of freedom in the wind,
O'er the emerald fields below,
For thee we brought or hopes, our dreams,
For thee we stand together,
Our land of peace, where proudly flies,
The Maple Leat Forever

-Revised lyrics by Vladimir Radian, 1997-


On October 23, 2016, the launch for "The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication 1917-2017" was held in Toronto.

The launch took place at the home of Mike Wilson and Debra Thuet, which is also the site of Wilson's incredible collection of Maple Leaf memorabilia. So, the surroundings were perfect for an afternoon of Leaf talk.

The focus on this occasion was author Kevin Shea and his latest effort. Unfortunately, his co-author, Jason Wilson, was unable to attend due to a previous commitment. 

Upon seeing and handling the "Official Centennial Publication" one quickly realizes the care and attention to detail behind its creation. You become aware of this when touching the raised Maple Leaf crest and lettering on the solid blue/grey hardcover. The cover is eloquently designed and void of any visible distractions.

And the attention to detail continues over the 375 pages of text. The Toronto Maple Leafs one hundred year story is nicely structured by featuring the different era's and decades. It begins with "The Noble Cause"(1917-18 to 1918-19) and ends with "Hope"(2015-16 and beyond).

Shea's solid and concise writing helps the reader connect with all the generations that make-up the Leafs story. It delves into an unknown past for many and recalls memories fans were able to experience. Shea, now with 14 books under-his-belt, delivered both an informative and fun read.

Concerning the unknown past, how many know that Toronto almost lost their NHL franchise in 1927. In the chapter "Blue and White" Shea documents how Conn Smythe and his associates came to the rescue and prevented the team from moving to Philadelphia.

Then, there are the personal stories of the players and what it meant to them to wear the Leafs' uniform. One of the most moving of these tales belongs to Kurt Walker, who skated for Toronto from 1976 to 1978. He told Kevin Shea about what happened before his first game at Maple Leaf Gardens. "These were the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I was now one of them! As I walked out to the ice surface with the team, I saw my dad standing in the runway with a big smile on his face. He leaned over to me and said, 'You made it! I love you!' I told my dad that I loved him, too."

There isn't a Leaf fan around that hasn't dreamed of sharing Walker's experience with their own father. 

Another delightful part of the book is the glorious photographs. For example, one page is dedicated to showing two separate pictures of the Leafs captains through the ages. It pays tribute to the men that led the team in the dressing room and on the ice.

If Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment decides to put together a time capsule to mark their one hundred year history, this book deserves a spot. It weaves together the complete story of the Maple Leaf Forever. 









Tuesday, October 18, 2016

INSIDE THE BOOK





It is called the wow-factor, that moment when you are struck right between the eyes. For fans visiting Mike Wilson's hockey collection, the wow-factor strikes as you descend down the stairs to the lower-level of his home. Then, when you reach the bottom, your feet don't know if they should turn left or right, as you're immediately surrounded by glorious memorabilia.

After making my first visit to see the dazzling works, I wrote, "Taking a tour of Mike's mementoes is similar to entering a time machine and travelling back to explore a bygone era." His work to preserve the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is absolutely amazing.

Now, Mike Wilson has made a portion of his collection available for everyone to see with the publication of his first book - Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan, Centennial Collector's  Edition, Toronto Maple Leaf Treasurers. Toronto Sun hockey writer Lance Hornby and historian/video archivist Paul Patskou are round out the writing team.

The book spans the entire history of Toronto's NHL franchise from 1917 to the present day. Each collectable has been smartly photographed and gives the reader an excellent visual perspective. The content fills 224 pages and is nicely laid-out.

During my first visit several years ago, the piece that floored me was the original turnstiles from Maple Leaf Gardens dating back to 1931. Happily, when I read the book, they were included. Anyone familiar with Wilson's collection knows there is a story behind each item. In the case of the turnstiles, his childhood memories are part of the story and he provided insight into this aspect.

"After days or even weeks of anticipating seeing my heroes play in person, these turnstiles were the only thing left between me, the seats and the ice surface," Wilson wrote in the book of the gateway to Maple Leaf heaven. "My dad and I would arrive early and stand under the clock in the main entrance off Carlton, watching the other team's players arrive."



Paul Patskou elaborated on the turnstiles. "Turnstiles are different than seats. While a fan may not be able to sit in certain seats, good and bad, everyone had to pass through the same turnstile."

Lance Hornby detailed the difficulties once Wilson took possession of the turnstiles. He explained how Wilson's friend, Mike Wekerle, best known for his work on the television show Dragon's Den, stored them in a vacant house he owned until the room was completed.

With each piece, Wilson provides a collectable ranking measured in pucks. The turnstiles were given a five-puck ranking, which is the highest.

Using this method of calculation, my ranking for Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan is five-pucks. It is both an informative and fun read for all hockey fans, not just those of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As the book only covers a portion of the collection, there is little doubt a sequel will be in the works!

And for Leaf fans looking to the future, this quote comes from Mike. "The only other thing I'd like to see in The Room is a big Leaf Stanley Cup celebration. That would be the ultimate."

Saturday, October 8, 2016

GIVING BACK

Johnny Bower (L) with Dick Duff

On September 28, 2016, the Original Six Alumni made their annual trip to visit the Veterans at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

A large gathering was on hand as event organizer, Al Shaw, introduced the players and former Leaf, Ron Hurst, entertained the crowd. A newcomer to the Sunnybrook visit was Darryl Sittler. Always a fan favourite, Sittler gave a short talk on his career and told several stories.

Back row (L-R) Johnny McCormack, Pete Conacher, Danny Lewicki, Johnny Bower, Bob Nevin, Darryl Sittler and Dick Duff. Front Row (L-R) Murray Westgate, Ivan Irwin, Sue Foster

Darryl Sittler












Saturday, September 10, 2016

BLUE LINES, GOAL LINES & BOTTOM LINES


In today's hockey world, agents, accountants, marketing and financial experts, and legal representatives have a say before a client signs on the dotted-line.

A new book from ECW Press written by Greg Oliver - Blue Lines, Goal Lines & Bottom Lines - Hockey Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt - shows how different the process was in the past.

For example, one can examine the National Hockey League Standard Player's Contract of Montreal Canadiens legend Doug Harvey. The contract, signed on September 25, 1948, contains only two additional clauses. Perhaps, the greatest defenceman in his era, Harvey insisted that he receive a five hundred dollar bonus if Montreal goalie, Bill Durnan, won the Vezina trophy. The second bonus, also for  five hundred dollars, was to be paid if Harvey made the First or Second All-Star Teams.

Then, there is the fascinating documenting of Henri Richard's first contract with the Canadiens. During talks between Richard and Montreal's managing director, Frank J. Selke,  a page from an old desk calendar was used to record the terms and finalize the negotiations. Several days later, the details were transferred to a Standard Contract and passed along to the NHL.

The opening pages immediately grabbed my attention, as they pertain to Wayne Gretzky's career. The documents range from his participation in the Quebec Pee Wee Hockey Tournament to his time in Edmonton.

In a "Questionnaire for Players" Jean Beliveau wrote that his hobbies were "golf & women." The document is dated April 22, 1952. Tidbits like Beliveau's answer and seeing the documents are the fun and entertaining part of the book. The informative part and background details are supplied in Oliver's text.

Opening up this book and flipping from one page to the next is like looking through a family scrapbook. Memories are quickly remembered by the older generation and the past can be shared with the younger generation. The vintage look of the contracts and historical documents nicely shines through and captures the time period from when they were created.

Broken down into five categories - The Great Ones, Management and Minor Leagues, The Original Six Era, Expansion, World Hockey Association - there is something of interest for every hockey fan. And the timing of this work is perfect taking into account the National Hockey League celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2006-17. The content allows the reader to walk through the rich history of the game.





Thursday, July 7, 2016

REMEMBERING "LEAPIN' LOUIE"


There is good news and there is bad news.  Usually, at the Original Six Alumni lunch, the news is all good. But at the July lunch, I was informed of some bad news. When Don Joyce told me that Louie Fontinato had passed away the day before on July 3, it was like taking a blow to the head.

 Last summer, Don arranged for Gary England and I to visit Louie in Guelph, Ontario, along with  Louie's former teammate Harry Howell. I've known Don and Gary since I first started attending the lunch several years ago. Although time had taken its toll on Fontinato, he was still the fiery individual I had read about when he played for the New York Rangers. Tough as nails, Louie was a physical force on the ice and he let his fists do his talking. During our visit, his hands were constantly in motion (as the above photo shows) when he told a story. It was a joy to watch the interaction between Louie and Harry Howell. While Louie did most of the talking, I could tell by watching Harry's eyes that he was taking in every word spoken by his longtime friend. Unfortunately, Howell's health has been in decline for the past couple of years. But it didn't seem to matter on that warm sunny afternoon.

These memories flashed before me when Don broke the bad news of Louie's passing. I now know what an opponent must have felt like when Fontinato tangled with them.




Here is a portion (unedited) of the news release put out by the Fontinato family:

Legendary Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers Tough Guy “Leapin” Lou Fontinato Passes Away Suddenly at Age 84

GUELPH, ONTARIO – It has only been three weeks since Gordie Howe’s demise, and now the other party involved in the famous Howe – Fontinato fight passed away on Sunday, July 3, 2016, in Guelph, Ontario.  The hockey fraternity has lost one of its most colourful and boisterous characters.

Louis Joseph "Leapin” Louie Fontinato (born January 20, 1932) was a defenseman in the National Hockey League with the New York Rangers from 1954 to 1961 and the Montreal Canadiens from 1961 to 1963.  Prior to the NHL, Fontinato played with the Vancouver Canucks and Saskatoon Quakers of the Western Hockey League.  In 1952/53, Fontinato played for the OHL’s Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, a team that most experts agree was one of the best junior hockey teams ever assembled.  Along with Lou Fontinato, future NHL players Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, and Eddie Shack all played for the Mad Hatters on that Memorial Cup winning team.

Lou Fontinato was a rugged defender and the most feared enforcer of his time.  He started his career with New York during the 1954-55 season.  The following year, he led the NHL in penalty minutes – the highest total ever at that time.  He also led the league in that category in 1957-58 and 1961-62 with Montreal.  While with the Rangers, Fontinato and Gordie Howe had a running feud that culminated in the now famous fight at Madison Square Garden on February 1, 1959.

Fontinato was eventually traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Hall-of-Fame great Doug Harvey at the tail end of his career.  Fontinato's career came to an abrupt and violent end in 1963 at the Montreal Forum.  After missing a check on left-winger Vic Hadfield of the Rangers behind the Montreal net, he slammed headfirst into the boards, broke his neck, and became paralyzed for a month.  After multiple spinal surgeries, Fontinato regained most of his motion.

After his retirement from the game due to his life-altering injury, Fontinato returned to his hometown of Guelph, Ontario, to raise beef cattle.  He spent the next 55 years doing what he loved best – actively working on his cattle farms. 

Lou Fontinato was recently admitted to Riverside Glen Nursing Home in Guelph, suffering from symptoms of dementia, and he passed away quietly in his sleep.  Fontinato is survived by two of his three children.  His daughter Paula Fontinato lives in Guelph and his son Roger Fontinato lives in Surrey, BC.  Louis Fontinato Jr. passed away on May 31, 1996.

His adult children, Paula and Roger, released the following comment:  “We appreciate the well wishes and condolences the family has received.  Our father will be greatly missed by his family, colleagues, and many friends.  We are grateful that he did not have to suffer through a long, debilitating, and difficult illness.”


Tough guy persona aside, Fontinato was known for his strong work ethic, his demanding nature, and contagious, boisterous personality, as well as for being a loyal teammate, an avid outdoorsman, an excellent cook, a world-class Bocce player, and Italian red wine-making aficionado. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

BY GEORGE!


Happy 86th birthday to former Toronto Maple Leaf captain George Armstrong . An unsung hero in the Leafs Stanley Cup run in the 1960s, Armstrong had the difficult task of being stuck in the middle between his teammates and Leafs coach and GM  Punch Imlach. A cool customer under pressure, "The Chief" managed to keep his team focused, despite Imlach's ruling with a heavy-hand. On the ice, Armstrong vigorously worked in the corners to dig out pucks and set-up plays.

 
The above photo of Armstrong was taken this past May at a tribute for his former linemate Tod Sloan.