Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't go by the the First Impression

From the time we are young, the importance of making a good first impression is drummed into our everyday life.

On the evening of November 21, 1942 hockey fans in Toronto had their first opportunity to watch a rookie play his first regular season game at Maple Leaf Gardens. Making the Canadiens wartime roster that fall was a right winger from the Montreal Sr. Canadiens of the QSHL - Maurice Richard.

Along with his teammates, Richard was eager to make a good first impression in this early season contest.

In the first period, forwards Ray Getliffe and Buddy O'Connor both hit the post, giving Montreal their best scoring chances, The Leafs scored twice, 27 seconds apart, on goals by Dave "Sweeney" Schriner and Gaye Stewart.

In the second and third periods, the Montreal defence of Jack Portland, Leo Lamoureux, Tony Graboski, and Butch Bouchard couldn't handle the Toronto attack.

As Habs coach, Dick Irvin, put it "We had a fair team until we lost 5 defencemen. Now look at us."

Reports made mention that the only NHL caliber  player for the Canadiens was Buddy O'Connor. The line of Gordie Drillon, Ken Reardon and Toe Blake were not providing sufficient scoring power.

The top line for the Leafs on the night was Billy Taylor (2pts), Schriner (3pts), and Lorne Carr (2 pts). Toronto lead 4-0 after 2 periods on goals by Bob Davidson and Syl Apps.

Goaltender Paul Bibeault of Montreal didn't get much support in the third period, allowing goals by Carr, Norman "Bud" Poile, Schriner, and Mel Hill.

The final score was 8-0 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Turk Broda registered the shutout stopping 33 shots. Bibeault, as the score would indicate, was busy in the Canadiens goal, facing 42 shots.

The Leafs defence was lead by Bobby Copp who assisted on 2 goals. Also, he received 2 stitches on his head. In an attempt to block a shot,  he went down too early, and paid a price for his miscalculation - a puck to the head.

As for Maurice Richard, his first NHL game at the Gardens was a non-event. He made no impression what so ever.

A newspaper report summed up Richard's performance in a short paragraph which read "Gaye Stewart overshadowed one of his rookie competitors, Maurice Richard, by as far as from here to Montreal."

At the conclusion of the season, Stewart would top the voting and be named the NHL Rookie of the Year.

November 1942

Richard's participation in the '42-43 season, was cut short when he suffered a broken ankle in a collision with Boston defenceman Jack Crawford. In 15 games, he posted 5 goals and 6 assists.

It wouldn't take Maurice Richard too long to make a gigantic impression on Leaf fans. This happened the following season,  in the opening round of the 1944 playoffs.

In game 2, at the Montreal Forum, Richard scored 5 goals in the Habs 5-1 victory. He was named the first, second and third star. The Canadiens closed out the series against the Leafs with an 11-0 win. Then, in the finals they beat Chicago in 4 straight to capture their first Stanley Cup in 13 years.

Of note, goalie Paul Bibeault was signed by the Leafs in December of 1943, after being discharged from the Military. He started game 1 of that series for the Leafs against the Canadiens. The Leafs were out shot 61 to 23, but managed to defeat Montreal 3-1.

As for that first impression resulting from Richard's initial game at MLG, well,  never mind. It was a rookie mistake on the part of Toronto fans and media.

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