As the pre-season schedule continues to dwindle down, one can only wait in eager anticipation for opening night. It has reached the stage where everyone, including players, are ready to shout "Enough Already". Imagine the thrill of waving a magic hockey stick and having the regular season start immediately. Okay, why waist a wish on such a trivial matter (How about all the Canadian NHL teams making the playoffs!).
Instead of wishful thinking, I popped a video into the old VCR and went back in time to the Leafs opener in 1964. Watching these classic games is like seeing an old friend after a long absence. The Boston Bruins vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs - Maple Leaf Gardens - October 17th, 1964.
To set the scene, some background information helps to establish the state of these two clubs as they enter the 1964-65 season. The Maple Leafs are defending Stanley Cup champions. A couple of adjustments have been implemented - rookie Ron Ellis has cracked the roster; Terry Sawchuk is joining Johnny Bower between the pipes; Dickie Moore is attempting a comeback. Boston General Manager, Lynn Patrick, didn't hold back any punches when assessing his team. The Bruins required improvement from Tom Johnston, Gary Dornhoefer, Orland Kurtenbach and Ab McDonald. On the positive side, Patrick was impressed with Leo Boivin, Ron Schock (A rookie from the Niagara Falls Flyers), Murrary Oliver and Ted Green.
This being a Hockey Night In Canada telecast, meant the family gathered around the TV missed the opening ceremonies taking place at the Gardens. Most of the first period was not on the air because HNIC started a half hour later than the game. Over the years, these celebrations have become a grand tradition at at Maple Leaf Gardens. The 48th Highlanders performing the Road to Isles march and The Maple Leaf Forever. Leaf goalie Johnny Bower being presented the J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup. Named after the first President of MLG, it was an in-house award given to the Leafs MVP.
The Honorable W. Earl Rowe, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, was on duty posing for a picture with the China Wall. Also, President Stafford Smythe took part and was loudly booed as he walked across the ice. The ceremonial faceoff was between Boston captain Leo Boivin and his counterpart George Armstrong. Centre ice was flooded with photographers who used actual flashbulbs.
Fortunately, someone at Hockey Night In Canada had the foresight to film these festivities. Some 40 years on, many witnessed the pre-game activities and complete play by play for the very first time.
As usual, the first period was joined in progress, just after Ron Ellis scored his first NHL goal at 12:17. The opening remarks by Bill Hewitt were "Ellis has just scored..." as the players were taking their positions for the drop of the puck at centre ice. The national audience had already missed Murrary Oliver's powerplay goal to open the scoring. The first period came to a close with the Leafs up 2-1, with Eddie Shack netting the the go ahead tally.
In the intermission there was an interview with Red Kelly. This unique feature was filmed at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Kelly, a liberal MP, was in attendance representing Prime Minister Lester Pearson. Behind the microphone was HNIC host Ward Cornell.
The second intermission contained an interesting live chat with new Leaf Dickie Moore. In street clothes, Moore was flanked by veteran broadcasters Jack Dennett and Ed Fitkin. A filmed piece showed Moore working out with his new teammates at practice. It not only looked strange viewing the former Hab in a Leaf jersey, but wearing #16, not the familiar #12.
For the 1964-65 season, several new rule changes were introduced. One being no body contact on faceoffs. The league painted the t-formation inside all faceoff circles. A player taking the draw could not pass his horizontal line in the"t" when the puck was dropped. The intention was for sticks to come into contact with the puck, not two players butt-heading each other. One of Punch Imlach's favourite maneuvers was to have a physical defenceman take the faceoff in the defensive zone. Imlach's instructions were clear - forget the puck and set your sights on the opposing centre. In the game against Boston, Carl Brewer was called for faceoff interference at 9:06 of the third period.
The second rule concerned goalies. To keep the action moving, the netminders were advised not to freeze the puck. This rule was full of contradictions as was evident in the Leafs home opener. In the second period, referee John Ashley assessed a minor penalty to Johnny Bower for deliberately holding the puck. Then, at 19:44 of the third period, Eddie Johnston was tagged for throwing the puck ahead. A clear case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Over the final 2 periods, the Maple Leafs dominated the play and skated off with a 7-2 victory. Red Kelly scored 2 goals, 1 assist, and was named the first star. Ron Ellis and Kent Douglas were the second and third stars. Mention should be given to Frank Mahovlich who potted 2 goals and an assist.
Now, some thoughts and observations on this wonderful telecast from October 17th, 1964...
- The broadcast was filmed in glorious black & white, bringing back fond memories. Saturday evenings stretched out on the floor in front of the TV. The same question (due to the staggered viewing time) being asked each week "Do you think the Leafs are winning?"
-The slower pace of the game. The up and down movement of the players staying in their lanes with limited criss-crossing.
-The smaller goalie equipment. Both Bower and Johnston being exposed. Late in the game, Bower took a puck off his right shoulder and you could see him grimace with pain.
-The only players wearing helmets were both on Toronto - Red Kelly and the late Billy Harris.
-The occasional sound of organ music.
-The use of 2 cameras during the telecast. A high level vantage point mostly to follow the play by play. A low level camera to capture an offender heading to the penalty box, followed by a Punch Imlach rant at the Leaf bench.
-No crowd shots. This despite many patrons being smartly dressed, with most gentlemen in shirt and tie.
-No advertising signage on the boards.
-The high level camera often revealing upcoming events at the north (Rita Pavone Nov 2) and south (Dave Clark Five Oct 25) ends of the Gardens. Rita Pavone was a 17 year old Italian singer and the Dave Clark Five were a British band.
-The limited use of graphics. Mainly used to show the out of town scores. The over sized lettering filling most of the screen. On this Saturday night, Montreal was hosting New York, and Detroit was visiting Chicago.
-The best use of graphics was for the three stars selection. The players skating out from the visitors bench to centre ice, would have their image framed in a star.
-Tommy Williams the only American player in the NHL (Boston) at the time.
-The soothing voice of PA announcer Paul Morris. There was literally no difference between a penalty call or a Leaf/Bruins goal.
-A bell would ring at the conclusion of each period. How many times in their careers did Foster and Bill call out "The bell rings to end...".
I think I hear a bell ringing.