For most of Monday, I had only on thought going through my head - the Leaf game being played that evening. Normally, such an event wouldn't register so predominantly in my thought process. However, there was a different slant that made the contest very interesting for me to view - the Maple Leafs were playing in Los Angeles! Say What? Why would this capture my imagination? Well, a flood of memories poured back to when I was a wee-lad.
Back in in 1967, the concept of NHL hockey in sunny southern California was as foreign as Palm trees in southern Ontario. As a youngster, everything about a Leafs trip to the west coast was fascinating. The late start to the game. The colourful home jersey of the Kings. The new players, not only with L.A., but those who composed the rosters for all the new expansion teams.
Another point of interest concerned former Leafs now with the Kings. Remember, Toronto was the defending Stanly Cup champions going into the initial year of expansion. In the summer, they made numerous changes via player transactions and retirements. And several ex-Leafs were now in the employ of the team owned by Toronto native Jack Kent Cooke. Most notable was Terry Sawchuk in net and Red Kelly behind the bench. Sawchuk, in particular, was a major factor behind the Blue & White knocking off Montreal in the final.
As expected in the land of Hollywood studios and televisions Big-3 Networks, there was a certain amount of glitz surrounding the event. In attendance were actor Ben Gazarra and from Let's Make a Deal, host Monty Hall. A large amount of folks from Toronto, now living on the coast, flocked to the Forum. This cheering section was lead by Canadian actor Larry Mann.
Right from the outset, the Kings grabbed control with defenceman Dale Rolfe scoring the first goal. Another former Leaf, Eddie Joyal, scored a pair in a 4-1 victory. The lone Toronto goal was scored by Bob Pulford. The star of the game was goalie Rutledge who turned in an excellent performance. Coach Kelly was as happy as punch (not Imlach!) at the terrific start of his club.
"Not bad for the team that was supposed to finish last, that didn't belong in the National Hockey League. And don't forget that was the Stanley Cup champions our guys beat. That's three out of seven we've taken from old teams (Chicago, Detroit, Toronto). That's proof we belong - and anywhere but in last place", said a happy Red Kelly.
In January of 2011, it was the Leafs who skated to victory with a 3-2 win. Still, I kept thinking back to the early years of expansion. The "Original 12" as I refer to this era. The thrill of watching new teams and players. Waiting by the mailbox for delivery of a fresh issue of the Hockey News, to keep track of all this new activity.
A very special time!