Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sid Smith : Maple Leaf Forever Pt.2

On December 8, 1946, while playing for the Quebec Aces in the QSHL, Sid Smith was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

His first assignment in pro hockey was to join the Leafs farm team in Pittsburgh. During the 1946-47 season, Smith played in 23 games with the Hornets, scoring 12 goals and racking-up 17 points. In 1946-47, National Hockey League rules stipulated that movement by players from the minor leagues to the NHL had to be completed by February 10, 1947. With the passing of this date, there was very little activity by the Original Six franchises. The Buffalo Bisons of the AHL traded left winger Hub Macey to the Montreal Canadiens for right winger Bill Shill. The former had been purchased by Montreal from Hershey. The Boston Bruins recalled defenceman Clare Martin from the Boston Olympics. Also, they sold defenceman Allan Stanley to Providence. As for the Maple Leafs, they did make a couple of moves.

On February 2, 1947, the Maple Leafs called up defenceman Bill Barilko from the Hollywood Wolves (PCHL) and Sid Smith from the Pittsburgh Hornets. Barilko and Smith were summoned by Toronto, who a depleted line-up without defencemen Bob Goldham and Garth Boesch, along with forwards Vic Lynn and Joe Klukay.

The two new recruits made their NHL debut against Montreal on February 6, 1947, in the Forum. Game one for the two rookies saw Barilko taking aim at "Rocket" Richard and Smith getting acquainted with his new linemates - Ted Kennedy and Howie Meeker.

With no game scheduled on Friday, Sid Smith looked forward to his first home game in Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday February 8,1947. The visitors were Boston. In the third period, with an assist from Howie Meeker, Sid Smith would score his first National Hockey League goal. A newspaper account details the play.

"..out of one of these attacks, Meeker snaffles the puck, lays Sid Smith a pass. Smith hasn't seen much of the puck in his two games in the big time. He recognized it right away though and handled it as if he was born with a rubber plant in his mouth. He had a blond, burly and willing Fernand Flamon to out shuffle, and he did. Then from the wrong side backhanded a shot into the far corner.

Toronto defeated the Boston Bruins 5-2 with both Sid Smith and Bill Barilko netting their initial NHL goals.

The following season, 1947-48, would see Smith split his time between the Leafs (31 games) and Hornets (30 games). In the semi-finals, the Leafs opponent was Boston. In game two, Sid Smith faced his first adversity as a pro. While turning to react to an intercepted pass, he had a knee-on-knee collision with a Bruins defenceman. The result was torn ligaments. All Sid Smith could do was watch, as the Leafs advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. On April 14, 1948, Toronto would defeat Detroit 7-2, to sweep the series and capture Lord Stanley. Sid Smith would win his first Stanley Cup.

After a summer of rehab, Smith was prepared for training camp in the fall. Part of his conditioning regiment included returning to the baseball diamond. On June 24,1948, Smith played for Hank Goldup's "NHL Ball Players", and hit a home run to give his squad a 6-5 win. Smith didn't restrict his ball participation to benefit games. He was a member of the Prince of Wales team which were part of the Dovercourt Senior Softball League.

In 1948-49, Sid Smith was Pittsburgh bound. The Leafs, concerned over Smith's physical condition, didn't even bother inviting him to training camp. If Smith felt he had anything to prove to Leaf management, he let his play do his talking for him. In a truly awesome year in which he played 68 games, Smith scored 55 goals and 57 assists for 112 points. He would win the John B. Sollenberger Trophy (AHL leading scorer) and be selected to the AHL First All-Star Team. Sid Smith had made a huge statement. Holding a hot-hand, Smith was called up by Conn Smythe for the playoffs.

Smith first hit the ice in game four of the 1949 semi-finals versus Boston. Replacing Vic Lynn on the K-M-L Line (Kennedy-Meeker-Lynn), Smith proved once and for all that he belonged in Maple Leaf  Blue & White. Toronto defeated Boston 3-1 in game four and Smith scored two goals and an assist. In six playoff games, he would score five goals and two assists. It was another Stanley Cup final sweep for the Leafs over Detroit. Sid Smith's second taste of winning the big prize was much more sweeter and satisfying than his first.

Sid Smith's first full year in Toronto came in 1949-50. To put an exclamation point on the fact he belonged in the NHL, Smith lead the Leafs in scoring with 45 points (22G - 23A). He would reach/exceed  the scoring benchmark of 20 goals per season from 1949-50 to 1954-55. In the 1951 playoffs, Smith scored 7 goals in 11 games. His effort, along with Bill Barilko's famous goal, helped Toronto win another Stanley Cup.

His play resulted in just rewards. In 1951-52 he cracked the top-five in league scoring with 57 points. He was selected to the Second All-Star Team in 1951 and 1952. In 1952 and 1955, he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy. In 1954-55 he scored 33 goals and earned a spot on the First All-Star Team. With the retirement of Ted Kennedy, Smith had the honour of being named team captain for the 1955-56 campaign.

Sid Smith's final year in Toronto and the National Hockey League came in 1957-58. After 12 games, Smith left to become a player-coach with the Whitby Dunlops (OHA-Sr.).

Previously, I wrote that Sid Smith experienced the feeling of being a winner very early in his career. In 1943 he won a Juvenile title in the Toronto Hockey League. Smith would exit the game he loved so much in the same fashion. His two years in Whitby could not be scripted any better. In 1958, the Dunlops won the World Championship in Oslo, Norway. In 1959, they were crowned Senior Champions by winning the Allan Cup.

Sid Smith : A Maple Leaf Forever. From start to finish.

Tomorrow : Reflections on Sid Smith

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sid Smith : Maple Leaf Forever

Very early in his sporting life, a young Sid Smith (17) experienced the feeling of being a winner. Playing in the Juvenile Division of the THL (Toronto Hockey League), he skated along side Jim Cashburn and Red McLeish on a line which became known as the "Kid Line". The trio were the star attractions on Carmen Bush's Columbus Boy's Club entry in the THL. Lead by Smith and his linemates, Columbus captured the Juvenile championship. They posted an undefeated record of 17 victories and 1 tie. The team had a nice blend of offensive power (scoring 106 goals) and a sense of responsibility to protect their own zone (27 goals against). For Sid Smith, it was another learning experience under Carmen Bush. Smith had played much of his youth hockey under Bush. Smith, steadily gained skills that would assist him throughout his time in hockey.

Sid Smith's early exposure to winning wasn't limited to hockey. In September 1943, a baseball championship was added to the trophy case. Playing in the Juvenile Division of the Ontario Softball Association, Smith won a title with the Prince of Wales I.O.O.F.

In the 1943-44 hockey year, Smith played Junior "B" with Del La Salle Oaklands, a Catholic high school located in Toronto. Smith was referred to as an "import", since he didn't attend the school. He was getting his education at Central Commerce, another local high school. Hockey was the only reason for Smith turning his attention to another institution. While playing at Del, a significant occurrence took place, that Smith had no knowledge of. The Toronto Maple Leafs had placed Smith on their negotiation list.

The following year, Smith graduated to Junior "A" with Oshawa. The Generals were defending Memorial Cup champions, but most of the squad had moved on. There is little doubt, that Leafs management was responsible for his assignment in Oshawa. While playing for the Generals, Smith was coached by Leaf legend Charlie Conacher. At the conclusion of Oshawa's season, Smith and Barry Sullivan were loaned to the Porcupine Combines. The Porcupine club was battling St. Michael's for the OHA Junior "A" championship. Sid Smith would play 2 games for the Combines' and score a goal in each contest.

Still in the dark concerning the Leafs involvement in his career, Smith accepted an invite from Hershey to try out for the Bears (1945-46) in the American Hockey League. While in Hershey, Smith's father passed away and Sid returned to Toronto to attend to his grieving family. Sid Smith would eventually play hockey in '45-46, joining the Toronto Staffords, who were part of the OHA Senior League. The Staffords roster contained many former professional players including Rhys Thomson, Art Jackson, Jack Igoldsby and Don Willson.

In 1946-47, Sid Smith would don the jersey of the Quebec Aces in the Quebec Senior Hockey League. He would skate in 15 games with the Aces, scoring 12 goals and registering 17 points. In December of 1946, Quebec visited New York for a game against the Rovers. One of the individuals in attendance for the Aces versus Rovers match-up was Leaf scout Johnny Mitchell. He disclosed to Smith that Toronto was eyeing him all the way back to his time with Del La Salle. On December 8, 1946, Sid Smith was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent.

Tomorrow : Sid Smith turns pro.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29, 1964

One of the great things about all sports, is the story of an unknown athlete who suddenly emerges from nowhere. A quarterback who has to sub for an injured All-American. The Triple-A pitcher who fills in for the 20 game winner. The small forward who sinks 40 points in his first NBA game.

On March 29,1964, the hockey world witnessed such an occurrence in Chicago Stadium. And this was no meaningless regular season affair. The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Black Hawks were in the midst of playing game two of their Stanley Cup semi-final series.

Starting in net for Detroit was veteran Terry Sawchuk. The Wings would require solid netminding as they already dropped game one to Chicago. For the first five minutes of the opening period, Sawchuk held the Hawks off the scoreboard. At the same time, his work for the night came to a sudden halt. The eighth shot against Sawchuk was taken by Chicago centre Stan Mikita. The drive struck Sawchuk's left shoulder and caused a pinched nerve. After receiving medical attention, it was determined the Wings starting goalie couldn't continue.

This is where the hero of our story makes his grand appearance. He is ready to steal the spotlight and defend his position against all attacks. With his suite of armour in place, all that was left for him to do was fight the battle. His name - Bob Champoux.

Bob, who? That is exactly what the Chicago players and fans were asking when our hero skated out to defend the Wings cage. Could this unknown and untested shot blocker rise to the occasion and lead his team to victory in a must-win game? Certainly, the Hawks now had the advantage with a rookie patrolling the crease at the other end. Bob, who?

Bob Champoux

Well, let's answer that question. Bob Champoux had very little experience prior to skating onto the large stage of the Stanley Cup playoffs. His time in Major Junior hockey (OHA) was limited to eight games with the Montreal Jr. Canadiens in 1961-62. The following season, he returned to the Montreal Metro League, donning the pads for St-Jerome Alouettes. His only taste of professional hockey came in 1963-64 when Wings management assigned him to the Cincinnati Wings(CPHL). In the spring of 1964, he was branded as Detroit's spare goalie for the playoffs.

Detroit's number two goalie in their system was Roger Crozier. During the 1963-64 campaign, he played in 15 regular season games with the parent club. The bulk of his playing time was in Pittsburgh with the AHL Hornets. Being the number one goalie on the farm team, Crozier remained on the Pittsburgh roster at the start of the NHL semi-final series between Detroit and Chicago.

So, was our hero up to the task at hand? Detroit opened up a 3-0 lead in the second period. Chicago got back into the game on two goals scored by Red Hay. Then, the fun began. Detroit restored their three goal lead on goals by Gordie Howe and Norm Ullman. Detroit-5 Chicago-2. From this point on, our hero was under siege. Two goals, 33 seconds apart, by Eric Nesterenko, pulled Chicago to within one of Detroit.

As the above headline indicates, Bob Champoux was able to keep the snipers on Chicago at bay for the remainder of the final frame. The Wings defence, knowing that their young goalie was under fire, pulled together to support Champoux.

Final Score : Detroit-5 Chicago-4.

That game was Bob Campoux's one and only appearance in a Detroit uniform. He would go on to play in 17 games with the California Golden Seals in 1973-74. He posted a 2-11-3 record and a 5.20 average.

On March 29, 1964, he was the hero who suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Rest of the Story

On Friday, I wrote about the efforts of former NHL players in 1954 to assist in raising funds for a new arena in Toronto. The Oldtimers Team held a benefit game in Maple Leaf Gardens on April 12, 1954. As a result, $15,000 was added to the kitty and went towards the cost of construction.

Here is the rest of the story...

The official opening of Ted Reeve Arena took place on October 13, 1954. Ted Reeve was a sports columnist who worked for the Toronto Telegram. The paper eventually folded, but was resurrected as the current Toronto Sun. Reeve was the driving force behind the campaign to build a new arena in the city's east end. The effort was a combined community and government project, with fund raising beginning in the late 1940s. Delays were encountered due to a shortage of steel, however, this didn't dampen the spirit of residents living in the district.

Thus, when opening night became a reality, the community was ready to party. As expected, a slew of government dignitaries were on hand to tow the company line. In a symbolic move, Mayor Leslie Saunders passed the keys to the building to Donald MacGregor who was Chairman of the Board of Governors. Figure skaters Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul thrilled the capacity crowd with several routines. They were the Canadian Junior pairs figure skating champions. A brass band filled the arena with music.

The main attraction was an exhibition game between the Toronto Marlboros and St. Michael's Majors. Prior to the contest, King Clancy, Hap Day, Turk Broda, Stafford Smythe and Conn Smythe took part in a ceremonial faceoff. The game was dominated by St. Mike's. With goals coming from Ken Linesman, Pat Hannigan and Frank Mahovlich, the Majors blanked Toronto 3-0. Gerry MacNamara earned the shutout.

As for Ted Reeve, he wasn't able to take part in the festivities. The veteran sportswriter was on a trip out west and couldn't get back to Toronto for the opening.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Oldtimers 2011


Back in the late 1940s a community in Toronto's east end set their sights on building a new hockey arena. In 1950, the group began their fund raising campaign in earnest. During the initial drive $42,000 was collected through various events within the neighbourhood. A popular method of seeking financial commitment was by door to door canvassing. The local residents were attempting to contribute one-half of the expense which was required to construct the facility. The other 50% would come from the City of Toronto. The price tag was $250,000 with the arena being situated at Main and Gerrard streets.

Unfortunately, the project had to be put on hold due to a shortage of steel. Since no construction work was being conducted, the fund raising efforts were suspended. By 1953, the steel shortage had subsided and the fund drive got a green light to start up once again. To kick-start the reactivation process, a unique fund raising tool was implemented by those in charge - an Oldtimers hockey game.

On April 12, 1953, a star-studded roster of legendary NHL players hit the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens. The gate receipts would be distributed to the East Toronto Fund, in aid of the cost for building the new arena and matched by the City. Did I mention stars? A newspaper account mentions the following players as being participants - Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher, Busher Jackson (the Leafs famed Kid Line), Syl Apps, Turk Broda, Butch Keeling, Joe Carveth, Flash Hollett, Herbie Cain, Rhys Thompson, Normie Smith, Bill Cowley, "Doc" Smylie and Reg Noble. Okay, exhale. I can close my eyes and imagine the Kid Line, once again, working their magic. The image is in black & white and a tad fuzzy, but for a moment the mental visual streaks before my eyes.

The Kid Line - Conacher/Primeau/Jackson
 The final score was 6-4 for Team White over Team Red. The big winner though, was the arena fund which grew by $15,000. The community arena would open in 1954 and be named after a local resident, sportswriter Ted Reeve.

Oldtimers hockey, 1953.


Almost 58 years later, I find myself making the journey down to the intersection of Main & Gerrard. I try to imagine the vacant field which once occupied space on the north-east corner. However, I'm quickly distracted by the large edifice staring back at me - Ted Reeve Arena. The very arena which was responsible for that amazing gathering of Oldtimers in 1953.

As I take my seat in the old barn, a sense of history starts to overtake my thought process. The St. Michael's Majors and Toronto Marlboros played many games in this arena. Junior players getting their start and eventually moving on to the National Hockey League. The Maple Leafs, on occasion, would conduct practice at the community rink. Although the calendar read March 19, 2011, I couldn't help but think of April 12, 1953 and the Oldtimers Game.

The on going relationship between Ted Reeve Arena  and Oldtimers hockey is truly awesome. Last weekend, I attended the 25th annual Oldtimers Game between the NHL Alumni and the Amalgemated Transit Union.

The NHL Alumni  iced a pretty impressive team.

Dan Daoust  Montreal/Toronto 522GP 87G 167A 254PTS

Bill Derlago  Vancouver/Toronto/Boston/Winnipeg/Quebec 555GP 189G 227A 416PTS

Gilbert Dionne  Montreal/Philadelphia/Florida 223GP 61G 79A 140PTS

Lou Franceschetti  Washington/Toronto/Buffalo 459GP 59G 81A 140PTS

Mike Krushelnyski  Boston/Edmonton/Los Angeles/Toronto,Detroit 897GP 241G 328A 569PTS

Tim Taylor  Detroit/Boston/NYR/Tampa 746GP 73G 94A 167PTS

Claude Lemieux  Montreal/New Jersey/Colorado/Phoenix/Dallas/San Jose 1,215GP 379G 407A 786PTS

Dennis Maruk  California/Cleveland/Minnesota/Washington 888GP 356G 522A 878PTS

Bryan Muir  Edmonton/Chicago/Tampa/Colorado/Los Angeles/Washington 279GP 16G 37A 53PTS

Rick Vaive  Vancouver/Toronto/Chicago/Buffalo 876GP 441G 347A 788PTS

Mark Laforest  Detroit/Philadelphia/Toronto/Ottawa 103GP 25-54-4 4.22 Avg

Norm Ullman  (Coach) Detroit/Toronto 1410GP 490G 739A 1229PTS HOF-1982

Dave Hutchison  (Referee) Los Angeles/Toronto/Chicago/New Jersey 584GP 19G 97A 116PTS

Mark Laforest stretching prior to the game

Bill Derlago in the warm-up

All proceeds from the contest were going to benefit multiple sclerosis research. The youngsters in the crowd kept their eyes glued on the former NHL stars. Claude Lemieux, a 3-time Stanley Cup champion and winner of the 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy, playing like he could easily make the transition back to big league hockey. For many on the Alumni, the skill-set was still in high gear - making accurate passes, finding open ice and making plays that didn't seem possible.

It was wonderful to see that the foundation for Oldtimers Games hasn't been cracked with the passing of time. All the funds went to charity and it was a fun experience for all involved. Everyone roared when the poor player scoring the first goal against Mark Laforest had his picture taken at centre ice. He was surrounded by the NHL Alumni. Just as the photographer yelled "C-H-E-E-S-E" his face was smothered with a cream pie.

The atmosphere in the building was like attending a school or family reunion. Most of the blue coloured seats, with silver number plates, were filled by a Mom, Dad, little Joey and little Julie. The other family was the NHL Alumni. You could almost hear them exchanging war stories and preparing for another battle on the ice.

Taking all this in, I happened to glance upward. I first noticed the snack bar, bustling with hungry spectators. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted them - the steel supports,  criss-crossing in every direction.

For a brief moment, 1954 and 2011 were intertwined. Hockey Then and Now.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Old Boys of St. Mike's

Yesterday, I wrote about the origins of Oldtimers hockey dating back to the early 1950s. Right from the outset, the purpose of these games was to raise funds for charities and community concerns. The charter members even went so far as to include this aspect into their constitution. Also, games of this nature were meant to be a fun experience for everyone involved. For the players, it was an opportunity to give something back to the fans who supported them in their playing days. For spectators attending a game in a non-NHL city, it was often their first chance to witness in person the greats of the game.

By the 1960s, the traditional Oldtimers format was still in operation and raising money for the needy within various communities. However, there was another version of the 'Oldtimers Game" which was becoming popular with players and fans. The Alumni Game.

In the fall of 1960, there was a big reason for a major celebration at St. Michael's College School in Toronto. For many years, the school's hockey team was partially sponsored by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who placed their prospects on the St. Michael's Majors. The Leafs other junior club was the Toronto Marlboros. Why the cause for celebration? Well, on the evening of November 7, 1960, the school officially opened their new arena. To christen the new facility, they decided that a contest featuring the old and new would be fitting. The current St. Mike's squad versus a roster composed of former players who attended the school and played hockey. In other words, the Majors would be playing an Alumni Team. They were named the "Old Boys".

Within the Old Boys, there was a further mix of old and new. Players such as Frank Mavolich, Dick Duff, Red Kelly and Dave Keon were active players still participating in National Hockey League action. Then, there were the retired stars who still had the game in their blood. Former Detroit Red Wing, Ted Lindsay, was available having just hung-up his skates. To the delight of Maple Leaf fans, defencemen Jimmy Thomson and Gus Mortson were reunited on the Old Boys blueline. It was Thomson's first venture on skates since he retired in 1958. Father Les Costello a former Leaf, who left hockey to enter the priesthood, was a popular member of the Old Boys. Father Costello was a founding member of the Flying Fathers. This team would tour the country and raise a ton of money for charity.

Jimmy Thomson

Gus Mortson

The game was officiated by two legends. Maurice "Rocket" Richard of Montreal fame and Toronto Maple Leaf icon King Clancy shared the duties. It was the Rocket who provided the best line of the night during his speech, which took place following the first period.

"Maybe you're giving me a good hand because I'm not playing against the Leafs. Anyway, I thank you for the way I've always been treated in Toronto. I hope St. Mike's is developing some good hockey players and that they will play for the Montreal Canadiens", Richard was quoted as saying.

As the above headline indicates, the game didn't go as planned for the Old Boys. The St. Michael's Majors got outstanding goaltending from Dave Dryden and coasted to a 5-2 win. Scoring for the Majors were Duncan MacDonald, Darryl Sly (an import), Larry Keenan, Bruce Draper and defenceman Arnie Brown. Of note, no active NHL player on the Old Boys was able to out maneuver Dryden, who's brilliant effort was one of the highlights of St. Mike's victory. The goals for the Old Boys were scored by Ted Lindsay and Bill Dineen of the Cleveland Barons.

Music for the opening ceremonies was provided courtesy of the school band. There appeared to be two ceremonial opening faceoffs. One included former player and coach Paul McNamara dropping the puck between Jack Aldridge (President of the Quarterback Club) and Peter D'Agostino (President of the Old Boys Association). The other faceoff was more traditional with Maurice Richard dropping the puck between the two captains - Terry O'Malley (St. Mike's) and Father Costello (Old Boys). There was even a trade after the first period. Father David Bauer, coach of the Majors, "sold" Dave Keon and Bob McNight to his counterpart on the Old Boys, Father Ted Flanigan.

The estimated crowd of 1,500 fans had come to see the new arena and watch an entertaining hockey game. There is little doubt that with names like Mahovlich, Keon, Kelly and Duff in the line-up, there was added incentive. Jimmy Thomson and Gus Mortson were icing on the cake.

Oldtimers wearing Old Boys uniforms.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oldtimers Hockey

With each passing year, one tends to reflect on the past. The same question popping up in your thoughts - What if I had done this or that? Sure we all have regrets. From a hockey point of view, I still shake my head at missed opportunities. I recall seeing King Clancy and Ace Bailey at Leaf games in Maple Leaf Gardens, but it never crossed my mind to have a picture taken with them or to collect an autograph.

One regret I don't have was attending my first Oldtimers Game on March 23, 1980. The game was held in Maple Leaf Gardens and featured, for the most part, former players who played for Toronto and Montreal. The initial attraction was seeing the likes of Frank Mahovlich and Jean Beliveau, stars who I watched as a youngster. As the years have passed, I truly appreciate the fact I witnessed guys like Ivan Irwin, Wally Stanowski, Sid Smith, Cal Gardner, Pete Conacher, Ken Mosdell and Dickie Moore perform.

In retrospect, the line-up of talent for both teams represented decades of hockey history.


2. Ivan Irwin D
3. Harry Howell D
4. Bob Wall D
6. Wally Stanowski D
7. Norm Ullman C
8. Sid Smith LW
9 Andy Bathgate C
10. Keith McCreary LW
11. Bob Nevin RW
14. Pierre Pilote D
12. George Morrison LW
17. Cal Gardner C
19. Peter Conacher LW
20. Larry Carriere D
21. Mike Pelyk D
22. Jim Pappin RW
23. Eddie Shack LW
24. Dick Duff LW
27. Frank Mahovlich LW
1. Johnny Bower G
29. Marv Edwards G
Coaches : Punch Imlach - Bobby Baun


2. Claude Laforge LW
3. J.C. Tremblay D
4. Jean Beliveau C
5. Leon Rochefort RW
7. Bill Hicke RW
8. Jean-Guy Gendron RW
14. Claude Provost RW
15. Robert Rousseau C
16. Henri Richard C
17. Jean-Guy Talbot D
18. Ken Mosdell C
19. Dollard St. Laurent D
20. Phil Goyette C
21. Gilles Marotte D
22. John Ferguson LW
23. Andre Pronovost LW
24. Junior Langlois D
29. Dickie Moore LW
1. Lorne Worsley G
30. Gerry Desjardins G
31. Claude Lussier G
Coach : Claude Lavoie

Both teams were padded with players who never donned their colours. For example, Ivan Irwin and Harry Howell never wore the Blue & White of Toronto. Gilles Marotte and Gerry Desjardins never suited up for Montreal. In the case of George Morrison, he didn't even play in the Original Six era. He skated for the St. Louis Blues in 1970-71 and 1971-72. Of note is defenceman Larry Carriere. His final NHL season was in 1977-78. Following the Oldtimers Game on March 23, 1980, he signed a 5-game tryout contract (April 5, 1980) with Toronto. Upon his return to the NHL, he played in 2 games and recorded 1 assist.

The referee was Red Storey with Bill Friday and Maurice "Rocket" Richard serving as linesmen. And leave it to Red Storey to hand out some gems in the penalty department. Eddie Shack was assessed a penalty for "Not being tough enough to knock the referee down." Montreal was awarded a penalty shot as a result of an infraction. No big deal, right? Think again. The player taking the penalty shot was Habs goalie Gump Worsley. Of course, he scored on his counterpart in the Leaf goal Johnny Bower. There was more fun. Ivan Irwin flipping out and losing his wig. Norm Ullman, implementing a double-bladed stick. Punch Imlach pouring a bucket of water over Red Storey!

The concept of organized Oldtimers hockey was hatched in the early 1950s. At first, it was meant to be a one-time event. The inaugural Oldtimers Game took place on January 25, 1952. Originally scheduled to be played in Bala, Ontario, the venue was switched to a larger rink in Bracebridge, Ontario. The demand for tickets was that huge. The gate receipts would go to the Bala Lions Club and Canadian Legion. The Oldtimers, Team White and Team Red, held a joint training camp at Maple Leaf Gardens. The first venture in Bracebridge was so successful, a second game was arranged to be played in Peterborough, Ontario on February 16, 1952. Lionel Conacher was elected as President of the National Hockey League Oldtimers Association. Their constitution called for 100% of the funds raised being turned over to charities. After the first outing, the group received 25 requests for future games. In 1959, after a lull in competition, former Leaf Sid Smith rejuvenated the format with a game benefiting the United Appeal.

Here is a picture from the early 1950s. The players are listed below.

 Back row, left to right : Bob Haggert (trainer), Ross Knipfel, Lorne Dugid, Lionel Conacher, Earl Robertson, Charlie Conacher, Dit Clapper and Doug Smylie. Front row : Yank Boyd, Jack Stafford, Turk Broda, Bert Conacher, Rhys Thompson and Roy Conacher.

As for the game in 1980, it was a typical Oldtimers affair. In a high-scoring contest, Toronto defeated Montreal 8-7. It certainly wasn't a disappointment seeing the Big "M" play again. He scored 2 goals for Toronto.

With the passage of time, I savor the fact I kept my souvenir program (above) from March 23, 1980. Over the years, I have met and talked with a number of players who participated in the Oldtimers Game. My research work has filled in their past history and accomplishments. Irwin, Stanowski, Smith, Gardner, Conacher, Mosdell and Moore are no longer just names in a program. They have lost the tag of simply being Oldtimers.

Regrets? One. Too bad I wasn't older and wiser in 1980. How does that old saying go, "If only I knew then, what I know now." In the same vain, I'm grateful to all those who have documented the rich history of the game, thus connecting the dots from one generation to another.

Over the next couple of days, we will explore a different version of an "Oldtimers Game" and how the current game shapes up.

Tomorrow : The Old Boys of St. Mike's
Friday : Oldtimers 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Big-Time Radio arrives at Maple Leaf Gardens

When most of us hear radio and Maple Leaf Gardens referred to in the same breath, we think of Foster Hewitt and his hockey broadcasts. His play by play brought the game into homes across the Nation. Another show which gathered huge ratings across Canada was Fibber McGee and Molly. On the evening of October 30, 1945, their broadcast originated from Maple Leaf Gardens. For those who subscribe to Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, they are re-broadcasting the episode on their Radio Classics channel (Sirius 118/XM 164).

Jim (Fibber) and Marian (Molly) Jorden broke into radio with a local show in Chicago (WJBO) during the 1925 season. Prior to radio, they toured across North America with a vaudeville act. The Fibber McGee and Molly series started in 1935. For three decades it was a top-rated show in both the U.S. and Canada. The show revolves around Fibber & Molly and their daily lives, which are intertwined with friends and neighbours in the fictional town of Wistful Vista.

The show from Maple Leaf Gardens was huge news at the time. The couple arrived in Toronto on Friday October 26, 1945, in advance of their broadcast the following Tuesday. They were mobbed by fans at Union Station who wanted to greet the two popular radio stars.

The purpose of their visit to Canada and the broadcast from Maple Leaf Gardens was outlined in the following editorial published in the Globe and Mail.

In times of stress people search for humor, for entertainment which is pleasant, friendly. When to that type of amusement is added a family homey approach, folks are given real enjoyment. That quality is one reason why Fibber McGee and Molly are so popular in their radio broadcasts.
 Tonight that couple, who give weekly enjoyment to millions, will perform at the Maple Leaf Gardens in aid of the Ninth Victory Loan campaign. It will be a show for all ages, and give as much pleasure to the bobby soxers as it does to their parents.
 There are those who have complained about American film, stage and radio personages coming to Canada to aid Victory Loan campaigns. They say that it gives the impression of ballyhoo. Whatever foundation there may be for these objections, the fact is that these artists do help remind people that the Victory Loan is in full swing. They do more than that. They, like Fibber McGee and Molly, remind their multitude of listeners of the purpose of those campaigns while helping to create a spirit of co-operation.
 Mr. Harry Sedgwick, who was responsible for bringing Fibber McGee and Molly to Toronto for the Toronto Public Relations Division of the National War Finance Committee, has done a useful piece of work. For there is not the slightest doubt that they will assist the War Finance Committee in reaching the Victory Loan objective.
 There is an unusual aspect about the radio program of Fibber McGee and Molly other than it's straight entertainment value. This is in the manner in which the plot of the program promotes the campaign it is supporting. The sale of bonds is but one. Others have been gas rationing, waste, special campaigns of all sorts. The program has a unique skill for integrating the patriotic theme with straight entertainment.
 Canada welcomes Fibber McGee and Molly. May their reception tonight be as warm as the feeling their many listeners have for them.

The show begins with announcer Harlow Wilcox voicing the opening introduction, "From the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario and in conjunction with the Ninth Victory Loan we bring you the Johnson Wax Program with Fibber McGee and Molly." At this point, a giant ovation is heard from the spectators who packed the Gardens. The episode is titled "Fibber the Sculptor". There is one reference to hockey in the show. Fibber is advised to stop wasting his time with the sculpting and get out and do something. The Doctor tells him to go skating, but quickly changes his instructions. Fibber reminds Doc Gamble that he once played for the Peoria Bullfrogs. This causes Molly to clip "Golly what a goalie".

If you get the chance, check it out. The episode is available at several sites on the web as a free download. It provides some insight into the era and is an example of the type of entertainment enjoyed by those who played in the Original Six during that time period.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Barilko. For hockey fans no further explanation is necessary. His name forever linked to one of the most dramatic and important goals in hockey history. 1951 Stanley Cup final. Game Five. Overtime. Howie Meeker attempts to pass the puck, from behind the Montreal net, to Harry Watson. The puck bounces off Butch Bouchard's skate. Bill Barilko pursues the loose puck. Look, up in the sky! Number 5, Billy Barilko is gliding over the ice surface and putting the puck in flight towards it's intended target. At 2:53 of overtime, the projectile lands behind Habs netminder Gerry McNeil. Mission accomplished. Toronto has won the Stanley Cup.

In anticipation of the 60th anniversary (April 21, 1951) of "the goal", Toronto held a pre-game celebration at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday evening. With public address announcer Andy Frost having the honours, Barilko's sister, Anne Barilko-Klisanich, was introduced and escorted to centre ice by her son Barry. They were followed by Barilko's teammate on the 1951 Stanley Cup team, Howie Meeker. All three took part in a ceremonial faceoff between Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle.

Of particular interest was Meeker. This man simply gets it and is able to see the big picture. He has the raw ability to strip away all the B.S. and nonsense. Thanks to Hockey Night In Canada, the winner of hockey's 1947 Calder Trophy was wired for sound.

His comments to Dion Phaneuf exemplified his pride in being a Toronto Maple Leaf. He told the Leaf captain, "Welcome to Toronto big fella. It's a hell of a City. It's a great jersey you're wearing." Howie Meeker, after all these years, still understands and holds dear what it means to wear the Blue & White.

A tragic plane accident cut Bill Barilko's life short in the summer of 1951. His career in the National Hockey League was nothing short of brilliant.

Right from the get-go, Barilko made an impression. Called up by the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Hollywood Wolves on February 2, 1947, a newspaper headline hailed his arrival - LEAFS' SOS TO MINORS GET BARILKO AND SMITH. The Smith in this case was Leaf winger Sid Smith. In his first game, February 6, 1947, versus Montreal in the Forum, Barilko let it be known he was a force that other teams would have to reckon with. "Bill Barilko struck his first major league blow, a heavy bodycheck on Maurice Richard", wrote a scribe in his game report.

Bill Barilko played in 252 regular season games, all with Toronto. His time in a Leaf uniform spanned from 1946-47 to 1950-51. He registered 62 points - 26 goals and 36 assists. He racked up 456 penalty minutes. In playoff action, he skated in 47 contests, scoring 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points. His penalty minutes reached 104.

Barilko's nickname, "Bashing Bill", best describes his style of play. His bone-rattling bodychecks kept the opposition on their toes, Also, Barilko mastered the fine art of shot-blocking. He didn't hesitate to engage in the transition game. Often, he would lead a play up ice and become involved in the offensive action. On occasion, he would be caught out of position, which didn't sit well with coaches Hap Day and Joe Primeau. Not to mention Leaf boss Conn Smythe.

This brings us to "the goal" scored on April 21st. Imagine if Barlko didn't have the creative instincts to enter the Montreal zone and take a gamble that he could make a play. Was Cal Gardner (he was in the vicinity) in a position to take control of the puck? Fortunately for Leaf fans, Barilko capitalized on the situation and started his flight into NHL history.

In his short National Hockey League career, Bill Barilko won four Stanley Cups. He played in three All-Star Games.

Only one question remains. Why isn't Bill Barilko enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Keeper of the Goal and Rink

If one travels around the City of Toronto, they are bound to pass a number of construction projects. These developments are mostly condominiums or large housing communities. Very seldom, is there news relating to a hockey arena/complex being built. The last major construction in this regard was the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, Ontario The lack of ice time has been a major headache for many hockey organizations within the City. The rise of woman's hockey and industrial leagues, has caused a constant battle to secure decent hours relating to ice rental.

Last week, came news of the Leaside Arena Expansion Project. A second rink will be built beside Leaside Memorial Community Gardens. The Leaside Gardens was built in 1952 and is home to the Leaside Skating Club, Leaside Hockey Association and Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association.

Here is an interesting piece of trivia concerning Leaside Gardens. In March of 1952, it was announced that former Leaf goaltender, Phil Stein, would be the first manager of the new facility. At the time, Stein was the Assistant Recreation Director in Leaside.

Phil Stein was a native of Toronto, born on September 13, 1913. His youth was spent playing in the St. Joseph's and Leslie Grove playground in the east end. In the 1930-31 season, he joined the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey Association. For most of his professional career, he played in the I-AHL/AHL with Syracuse, Providence and New Haven.

The 1939-40 campaign was an important year in Stein's hockey resume. As property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was loaned to Omaha (AHA). He played in 6 games with the Omaha Knights, posting a 2.67 average. In mid-January of 1940, Stein got the call that every player hopes to answer. He was being called up by the big-league club and would play in a National Hockey League contest.

On the night of January 18, 1940, the Maple Leafs played host to the Detroit Red Wings. Due to an injury suffered by starting netminder Turk Broda, Phil Stein occupied the Leafs goal crease in Maple Leaf Gardens. Stein performed admirably, only allowing two Detroit goals in a 2-2 draw. He was beaten by the Wings Gus Giesebrecht and Syd Howe. Detroit had taken a 2-0 second period lead, but the Leafs bounced back in the final frame, getting goals from Gus Marker and Bingo Kampman.

The reviews in the press were positive relating to Stein's first venture into NHL action.

The way some of the boys performed in the first 40 minutes you would think that they had discovered a stranger in the Leaf cage and had decided to see for themselves whether or not the newcomer knew anything about stopping pucks. Not that the Wings had that many shots on goal, but certainly there was a total absence of smart defensive work. "Give the Rangers that many scoring chances and they would have a dozen goals in a period," said one rail-bird during a rest period. He wasn't far from right either.
 Stein had no chance whatever on the two shots that breezed past him. Both were well-executed efforts as far as they went, although they could have been stopped had Phil's "team-mates" been lending any sort of a helping hand.

Phil Stein was scheduled to start the next Leaf game (Jan.20/40) against the New York Americans. It would be his second straight start at home. However, fate stepped in and changed the plans for Stein and Broda. During the warm-up, Billy Taylor's shot struck Stein on the chin and opened a nasty gash. The Leaf goalie required stitches and medical treatment treatment from team physician Dr. Rush. It was determined that Broda would replace Stein in the Leaf goal.

The following week, Stein was loaned to the Providence Reds (International-American Hockey League). Reds goalie Paul Goodman, was summoned by the Chicago Black Hawks to replace a struggling Mike Karakas. Ultimately, Karakas was returned to Chicago after a salary dispute with Providence.

Phil Stein would conclude his career with a two year stint (1940-41 to 1941-42) in the American Hockey League tending goal in New Haven. Also, he played a season, 1942-43, of local hockey in Toronto.

The official opening of Leaside Gardens took place on October 6, 1952. The brand spanking new edifice was christened with a Blue (Toronto Maple Leafs) and White (Pittsburgh Hornets/AHL) game. Ted Kennedy of the Leafs and Willie Marshall of Pttsburgh took part in the ceremonial face-off. Before a packed house of 2,005 spectators, the two teams skated to a 2-2 tie.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wearing of the Green

Exactly 77 years ago, hockey fans in Toronto were preparing to celebrate everything Irish. In this case, everything Irish would be one Francis Michael Clancy. Although Clancy never suited-up for the Toronto St. Pats, he did the have the opportunity to wear "Toronto Green".

On St. Patrick's Day, March 17,1934, the game between Toronto and New York Rangers was declared as being "Clancy Night".

Maple Leaf Gardens ("Where Sports History Is Made"), was a beehive of activity on the day in question. At 3:00pm, a junior playoff game was scheduled between New Liskeard and St. Michael's ("Can The Northerns Topple The Mighty "Mikes"?"). This was followed by the NHL action at 8:30pm. The above ad promised a "parade of floats and community singing of Irish songs." The Gardens crowd wouldn't be disappointed.

Kin Clancy became a Toronto Maple Leaf on October 11, 1930. Conn Smythe paid a steep-price for the star defenceman, sending Art Smith, Eric Pettinger and $35,000 to the Ottawa Senators. Clancy quickly became a fan favourite, putting his heart and soul into every performance.

A newspaper report described Clancy's style of play in this manner - "Clancy again showed the customers why the $35,000 the Leafs expended for him wasn't ill spent. He was up and around and attending to his own business and butting into everybody eles'. And with it all, he just showed that little extra finish which makes him a Clancy and keeps him above the others, who are just defencemen."

On St. Patrick's Day 1934, Toronto was ready to salute their number one Irishman. Maple Leaf Gardens was decorated to the tilt, with green and orange bunting. The Knights of Columbus Band and Choir filled the air with Irish tunes. And did I mention floats? Each float, in a pre-game ceremony, had a specific theme which was related to Clancy and his ancestry.

The first float was pulled out by New York Ranger star Ching Johnson. The float was a replica of a giant potato. When Johnson opened the door to the contraption, four players from the St. Michael's Buzzers came out. The remaining floats would follow this pattern of bringing an expectation that Clancy would emerge, then elevating the anticipation level when he failed to materialize. The subsequent floats included - Harold Cotton popping out of a high-hat; Ken Doraty filtering out of a pipe; George Hainsworth stepping out of a boot; Tom Daly, the Leafs trainer, in ginger-beer bottle; Red Horner in a boxing glove; New York Ranger Bill Cook in a shamrock; a harp with Joe Primeau.

Of course, the show-stopper was left for the finale. With Leaf captain Hap Day having the honours, he yanked a large throne to centre ice. Majestically perched on the throne, draped in distinguished robes, a crown firmly mounted on his head and wearing a white beard, was Francis Michael "King" Clancy. His teammates rubbed black shoe polish on Clancy's face to give him the authentic "Ole King Cole" look. Clancy and his family received gifts from the Board of Directors (Maple Leaf Gardens), Knights of Columbus, General Motors and his fellow players on the Maple Leafs.

As previously noted, Clancy did have the chance to wear "Toronto Green". In the first period, he wore a green uniform, but changed to the traditional Leaf outfit for the middle frame.

The luck of the Irish was with Toronto and King Clancy. They defeated New York 3-2.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Hall of Fame Day

On February 11, 2011, the Morrison family celebrated the induction of Rod and Don Morrison into the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame. The two brothers played together for a portion of the 1945-46 NHL season with Detroit. In December 2010, Hockey Then and Now, highlighted Rod and Don's time in Detroit with a piece titled Brother Act. This was followed up in February with a story concerning their playing time in Omaha and subsequent return after hanging up their skates. In anticipation of the induction festivities, this story was featured under the heading Rod and Don Morrison to enter Hall.

For an update, Hockey Then and Now, submitted a series of questions to Rod Morrison's son, also named Rod. The interview provides further insight into the life and times of Omaha's two new Hall of Fame inductees.

Your Dad was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. As a youngster, did he have a favourite team/player?

 He was an all-sports fan with a great appreciation for baseball, hockey, football and basketball. Growing up in Nebraska, we followed the Big Red and were huge College Football fans. From what I recall, he was an enormous fan of the famed Production Line of the Detroit Red Wings that he rubbed shoulders with. Teddy Lindsay, Black Jack Stewart, Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk were the names he most fondly spoke of. He was tickled beyond belief to tell the story of when all those big hockey stars went and visited their Dad back in Saskatoon.

What memories do you have of your Dad's playing career?

 Well, remember I was born in 1964. This was quite a ways from his playing days. He passionately shared his hockey playing days and all the memories of that sport with us.

Were you able to watch him play in the NHL?

 No, unfortunately, only in paper clippings, pictures and stories.

Did your Dad play other sports?

 He was a pretty fair baseball player and would shoot hoops with me. I think though he was just real focused on hockey as a kid. He was a darn good golfer as well and definitely passed that on to me.

Your Uncle Don played professional hockey - tell us about his career.

 My Uncle had a little more longevity and was a real smart player. Some of the old timers were at the banquet and said that as well. They compared my Dad and Uncle and their playing styles, and described my Dad as a player with a lot of speed and energy, and my Uncle as a little more hard-nosed and smart, savvy player.

Were there "hockey people" in attendance at the induction ceremony?

 Bill Swarbrick played for the two brothers in the 60s. His brother George Swarbrick, played for the Knights in the 70s, but he too knew of their hockey pedigree. They were both there and part of the weekend celebration.
 The man that was most inspiring is Motto McLean, a member of the Knights all the way back in 1947 and again in 1961. This guy had an unbelievable memory and churned out stories like you can't believe. He really knew the Morrison brothers as he played for them and also worked under their ownership at their construction company in the summers. He remembered us as kids and was just a very interesting man to meet. He is a fellow Scotsman like the Morrisons' and is, and was an instrumental in the Hall of Fame nomination.
 One more important person is Gary Anderson. He is sort of the unofficial expert on all things hockey in Omaha. He wrote and published a book called "When they were the Knights". He organized the whole agenda and dinner and event. He played for the UNO Mavericks. He is an important guy back there that is really connected.

Did your Dad and Uncle push each other to be better players - were they competitive?

 Boy, did they compete. They competed at everything. It never stopped. They owned the businesses together, golfed together, fished and hunted together, raised families together, travelled together, if it had anything to do with competition - they did it and did it well.

Did your Dad enjoy being Vice-President of the Omaha Knights and Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum?

 Very much so and was extremely proud of the team they fielded and the excitement it generated in the community. The attendance at the rink was exceptional with regular sellouts commonplace, and they were real proud of this.

After leaving the game, what interests did your Dad pursue?

 Mainly, a home building business was his best and most successful business enterprise. He was a small business owner with my Uncle in the 50s and 60s that was very successful in Omaha. After a nine year stay in California, we moved back to Omaha in 1975 and he re-started his home building business. He corroborated with my Uncle here as well by sharing thoughts on home design, land deals, and development projects. He owned and managed this construction company until his retirement in 1986.

Being raised in a hockey environment, did you feel any pressure to follow in your Dad's footsteps - did you play hockey?

 Good question. My Dad was great at never pressuring us to do sports and always keep your life in perspective with work, family, education, and God playing an important aspect. That being said, growing up in Southern California as a kid in the 70s, I played football, baseball and basketball. I wish I would have pursued hockey and played that too. Perhaps, I just felt like doing my own thing? I played baseball in College and was a pretty decent pitcher.

Do you follow the current NHL - favourite team/player?

 I like the Colorado Avalanche the best and really liked them when Sakic, Forsberg, Roy and Dury were at the top of their game. I would say my all-time favourite in hockey would be Mr. Hockey himself. I met him once, and the incredible power and skill he displayed for almost four decades was something we don't see but maybe once in a generation - in any sport. My Dad would marvel at Gordie and spoke of him as being a scratch golfer, the best competitor of all-time, and would literally take your head off on the ice.

It must have been a proud moment to have your Dad and Uncle inducted into the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Gordie Howe - tell us how the day went.

 It was a very special moment for me and for our family. I especially was grateful to speak (and really speak on behalf of both of those guys) and say some special things that I wanted to. I intertwined your initial piece on brother chemistry they initially had on the ice (pretty obvious): and then spoke of the chemistry those two dudes had with the home building business they shared, fishing for northerns and walleyes up in "God's Country", and our families that were blessed by their shared lives. It was about a 5 minute talk, and after the initial bout of nerves - I brought down the house. It was very moving and something I will cherish for a lifetime. I felt their presence with me and I know they would be very, very proud of the whole deal.
 We also went to the hockey game between Wisconsin and UNO that night. It was a great game with UNO winning. Our family was given a round of applause in between periods. Very nice way to honor them as well.

The Morrison family gather for a day of celebration

Rod Morrison addresses the crowd
Doreen Morrison, the widow of Don, shares her memories
Once again, congratulations to the entire Morrison family on the accomplishments of Rod and Don. Their place in hockey history forever enshrined in the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame. Their sense of family passed down to another generation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Tale of...What If?

Yesterday, I wrote about Elmer Lach's brief time in Toronto with the Maple Leafs. In April 1937, Lach was invited to participate in a post-season drill held in Maple Leaf Gardens. As fate would have it, Lach's long-term future wasn't with the Leafs. Ultimately, the speedy center signed as a free agent with Montreal and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Today's tale of "What If" , involves another Toronto connection - George Armstrong.

Like many youngsters in the Toronto Maple Leafs system, George Armstrong's goal was to become a member of the big-league club. In 1949-50, "The Chief", while playing for the Toronto Marlies, was summoned on two occasions - December 3, 1949 & December 24, 1949 - by Leaf brass. Armstrong pulled the Maple Leaf crest over his shoulders and skated in his first two National Hockey League games. He would go on to play in 1,185 more games wearing the colours of the Blue & White. His time with Toronto would span 21 seasons. He still holds the club record for most regular season games/seasons (1.187/21) played as a Leaf. Another team record held by "Army" is assists by a right winger (417) and points (713). He was team captain on four Stanly Cup champion squads - 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967. To cap off his long run, Armstrong was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.

In what would have been an amazing twist, George Armstrong was almost lost by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The culprits in this case were Jack Adams and the Detroit Red Wings. Here's how the story unfolded.

In 1950, Conn Smythe was certain Armstrong had the skills to become a full-pledged member of the Leafs. At the time, Armstrong was playing for the Pittsburg Hornets in the American Hockey League. As per NHL regulations, once promoted by Smythe, his name had to be transferred from the Hornets list to the Leafs. This is where the situation becomes tricky. When Armstrong's name was removed from the AHL list, there was a brief period of time prior to it appearing on the Leafs list. The procedure required two separate contacts with league offices - AHL & NHL. Before Armstrong's name could be added by Toronto, Detroit stepped in and put him on their list!

The Maple Leafs filed an appeal and the league determined that a clerical mix up was the root of the problem. The time gap between one league contacting the other, was the only reason Armstrong's name was left hanging in the wind.

There is some background as to why Detroit may have targeted the Leafs. Prior to the Armstrong incident, the Leafs attempted to "steal" a player off the Wings protected list. In order to make room for this unnamed player, the Leafs removed Oshawa General Bep Guidolin from their list. However, Detroit sought an appeal and the NHL ruled clerical error was the reason for the player being exposed. Hap Day immediately moved to place Guidolin back on his list, but he was too late. The Boston Bruins grabbed the rights to the Generals player.

The ruling would pay dividends for the Leafs down the road. When the Armstrong matter occurred, Leaf management implemented the same defense used by Detroit. It enabled them to retain a player who became a huge part of their success.

George Armstrong would score his first National Hockey League goal in a game played on February 9, 1952. The Leafs were hosting goalie Gerry McNeil and the Montreal Canadiens. The following newspaper account details Armstrong's magical moment.

His goal was a lulu. He took Bentley's pass in full flight, brushing big Butch Bouchard aside as he stormed around him, then fired a low one that McNeil got his skate on but couldn't handle. Big George jumped two feet in the air, let go a war-whoop that was drowned in the tremendous cheer that greeted the rookie's goal. He and Danny Lewicki could keep Max Bentley young enough to stay around for a few more seasons. Armstrong's goal proved to be the winner.

Of note, Armstrong scored the final goal in the Original Six era. In the 1967 final, he scored into an empty net, ensuring the Leafs victory and being crowned as the final Stanley Cup champions of hockey's Golden Age.

Fitting information for a blog which deals extensively with the Original Six era.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Elmer Lach...What If?

Friday's story detailed the accomplishments of Montreal Canadiens speedy center Elmer Lach. The Montreal faithful, saluted him with an "Official Night" on March 8, 1952. They showered Lach with gifts to show their appreciation. Today, the story continues...

In the current NHL, a playoff defeat marks the conclusion of play for both players and their loyal supporters. Following a loss, team members clear out their lockers and participate in exit interviews with the coach and general manager.

In the 1937 playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs faced the New York Rangers in Quarter-Final action. The best-of-three series opened in Maple Leaf Gardens and New York left Toronto with a 3-0 victory. Two day's later, on March 25, 1937, the Rangers ended Toronto's Stanley Cup hopes by recording a 2-1 win.

Unlike Today's NHL, there was no mass dispersal for those on the Maple Leafs roster. Instead, the club conducted a number of "post-season drills" at their home rink. Under the watchful eye of Conn Smythe, these drills did hold some significance. For example, it was determined that right winger Charlie Conacher, who played in only 15 games during the '36-37 season (due to a wrist injury), would be an integral part in the plans of club management. Smythe was quoted as saying, "Charlie is still the best right winger in the league, and he'll stay up there (on the first line). I think with Metz (Nick) and Davidson (Bob) to work with him, much of our problem is solved."

On April 5, 1937, three new faces took part in the drills. One name, in particular, stands out. When you read his name in newspaper accounts of the drills, a question immediately comes to mind - What if? What if Elmer Lach remained as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

In the 1937-38 campaign, Toronto had three natural centers on their squad - Syl Apps, Murph Chamberlain and Bill Thoms. Apps and Chamberlain were 22 years of age, while Thoms was 27. Apps was coming off his rookie season ('36-37), in which he recorded 45 points in 48 games, including 16 goals. Chamberlain was entering his rookie year ('37-38), signing with the Leafs after capturing the Allan Cup (Sudbury Frood Mines) during the spring 0f 1937. The veteran in the group was Bill Thoms, who joined the Leafs in 1932-33.

It certainly would appear as though there was an opportunity for Lach to gain a roster spot with Toronto. He spent the previous season ('36-37) playing for the Weyburn Beavers of the S-SSHL. In 23 games he registered 16 goals and 6 assists for 22 points. Although younger than Chamberlain and lacking pro experience, it is possible Lach could have battled the Shawville, Quebec native for one of the center positions. They were both unproven NHL rookies who would be joining a team with little depth up the middle.

The newspaper account of Lach's participation in the April 1937 Leaf drill, provides a glimpse of his potential. It points out he is under 20 and "he was moving along at a great clip in center ice."

So why didn't Elmer Lach become a fixture in Toronto instead of Montreal? In his memoirs, written with Scott Young, Conn Smythe shed some light on this situation.

"I brought Elmer Lach to Toronto to go to St. Michael's College and he agreed to sign with me, but he deserted - went back out west without a word to me - and played senior a while before going to star in Montreal for many years", wrote Smythe concerning his experience with Lach.

A 1941 report indicates it was Leaf coach Dick Irvin who was behind bringing Lach to Toronto in 1937. In addition to Lach, Irvin was instrumental in having forward Doug Bentley and defenceman Harvey Barnes join Lach as the newcomers in 1937. All four individuals called the Province of Saskatchewan home, thus it was likely Irvin had sources who informed him of talent back home. Bentley, would go on to star with the Chicago Black Hawks.

As for Elmer Lach, he returned to the Weyburn Beavers in 1937-38 and continued his career in senior hockey. His final year of amateur competition came in 1939-40 with the Moose Jaw Millers (S-SSHL). On October 24, 1940, Lach was signed by the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent. The credit for "discovering" Elmer Lach is often bestowed upon Habs scout Paul Haynes. However, taking into account his time in Toronto, Dick Irvin must have had some influence in the matter..

Previously, it was raised - what if circumstances had changed the course of history for Lach and all those who cheered for him in a Canadiens jersey? The answer would bring despair in Montreal and joy in Toronto. Imagine the Punch Line without Lach. Imagine Elmer Lach not scoring the huge overtime goal (noted in the previous story) on April 16, 1953, versus the Boston Bruins. The goal so wonderfully described in Dick Irvin's book "Now Back to you Dick".

The Cup-winning play was started by Mazur when he lugged the puck into the Boston zone. He was checked behind the net. Schmidt picked up the puck and when he saw Richard swooping toward him to forecheck, passed it to his left, towards the boards. Lach intercepted in the faceoff circle, turned and let a shot go. Elmer's shot didn't strike fear into the heart of a goaltender, but it was accurate and cleanly beat the Bruins' goalie Jim Henry.

Imagine Lach and Bentley in Leaf uniforms, joining the likes of Apps, Kennedy, Davidson, Meeker and company.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gifts for Elmer

For Elmer Lach, it wouldn't be just another game with the Montreal Canadiens in the Forum. The contest, played on March 8, 1952, was officially tagged as "Elmer Lach Night". A group of fans and sports writers were put in charge of gathering a collection of gifts which would be presented to Lach between the second and third periods.

Lach, who was in the late stages of his career (he would play 2 more seasons in Montreal), had achieved major success in a Canadiens uniform - Art Ross Trophy (1945, 1948), First All-Star Team (1945, 1948, 1952), Second All-Star Team (1944, 1946), Hart Trophy (1945). While patrolling the centre position, Lach was responsible for distributing the puck to his line mates - Rocket Richard and Toe Blake. The trio would form one of hockey's most famous line combinations - The Punch Line. In this union, Lach's skating, passing and puck handling skills were front and centre. In February 1952, Lach would leap over Bill Cowley to become the all-time leader in NHL scoring (549 points). In a 7-0 win over Chicago, Lach scored a goal and collected 3 assists, giving him 550 points.

Another characteristic associated with Lach was his toughness. Several times, he suffered significant injuries, but battled back to continue his career. Following his rookie campaign, Lach skated in only one game during the 1941-42 season due to a serious elbow injury. In a game against Toronto in 1947, he suffered a skull fracture and in 1949 a broken jaw.

His finest season came in 1944-45. He lead the league in points (80) and assists (54). Maurice Richard would become the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in one season. The Rocket, often being the recipient of Lach's crisp and accurate passes, which resulted in Number 9 adding to his goal total.

Elmer Lach captured 3 Stanley Cups - 1944, 1946, 1953 - in Montreal. One of his final great moments occurred during the 1953 final. In overtime, he scored the Cup winning goal against the Boston Bruins. With starting goalie, Sugar Jim Henry, out of the line-up due to injury, the Bruins were only able to win one game in the final. Boston replaced Henry with Hershey's Gordon "Red" Henry. Lach's overtime tally gave the Habs a 1-0 victory.

So, the stage was set for "Elmer Lach Night" on March 8, 1952. Lach was joined at centre-ice by his wife and received a thunderous ovation from the 14,452 fans who crammed every available inch in the Forum. Then, Lach was showered with gifts - a convertible car, television set, combination radio/phonograph, rowboat, washing machine, clothes and furniture. One gift, in particular, spoke volumes about what the fans in Quebec thought about Lach. The young patients in Children's Memorial Hospital sent a box of golf balls for their hero. Following a round of speeches, several players took a spin around the ice in Lach's new wheels. The trio was composed of Butch Bouchard, Bill Mosienko (Chicago) and Toe Blake. Mosienko and the Hawks played Lach and the Canadiens to a 4-4 tie.

Elmer Lach played his entire National Hockey League career, 14 seasons (1940-41 to 1953-54), with the Montreal Canadiens. What if circumstances had changed the course of history for Lach and all those who cheered for him in a Canadiens jersey?


Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Scoring Machine

In a stellar National Hockey League career, one season certainly stands out when examining the achievements of Andy Bathgate - 1958-59. Dominating the centre-ice position, Bathgate played the full schedule, 70 games, and scored 40 goals. He accumulated 48 assists giving him 88 points on the season. Bathgate's brilliant year resulted in a First All-Star Team selection. The ultimate recognition of his skill level, came with the announcement he won the Hart Trophy as the league MVP.

Bathgate would once again enjoy individual success of some note during the 1962-63 season. Facing the Leafs in a contest played on January 2, 1963, Bathgate tied a National Hockey League record for scoring in 9 consecutive games. This put him in elite company, sharing the record with Bernie Geoffrion and Rocket Richard. The record-tying goal couldn't be classified as being a masterpiece. While attempting to pass the puck across the goal, Bathgate's pass was accidentally poked into the Leaf goal by Red Kelly.

This set-up a Saturday evening tilt against the Habs in the Montreal Forum. Bathgate would be going head-to-head against his nemesis - Jacques Plante. In this battle, Bathgate would skate away with the advantage. In a 2-2 tie, number 9 of the Rangers would score both New York goals. Each tally came as a result of a Bathgate slap shot beating Plante. On the first goal, which broke the record, Bathgate took a pass off the boards from line mate Earl Ingarfield. Bathgate told the assembled media the puck was on end when he blasted it towards the Canadiens goal. As a result, the puck resembled a knuckle ball.

At the time, the National Hockey League voiced concern relating to records which were already established. In particular, Harry "Punch" Broadbent's 16 game streak in 1921-22; Joe Malone's 14 game streak in 1917-18; Newsy LaLonde's 13 game streak in 1920-21; Cy Denneny's 12 game streak in 1917-18. In it's wisdom, the league classified Bathgate's feat as being "a modern-day record", which covers the time since the NHL took control of the Stanley Cup (1926).

Bathgate's ability to extend the record was met with a roadblock the following night in Madison Square Garden. In a rematch against Montreal, no Ranger, including Bathgate, was successful in putting a puck past Plante. The visitors out shot New York 42-18. Leading Montreal to a 6-0 victory was Ralph Backstrom who netted 2 goals and added an assist. Of note, Bathgate's streak would begin against Montreal (Dec.15/62) and also come to a close versus Plante and company.

On February 22, 1964, Andy Bathgate was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Don McKenny. Going the other way was Arnie Brown, Bill Collins, Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and Rod Seiling.

One of his biggest goals in a Leaf jersey would come during the 1964 Stanley Cup finals. Bathgate recovered a loose puck at the Leafs blue line after a "pinching" Al Langlois couldn't handle the puck. Bathgate skated down the right side and put a quick shot past Wing goalie Terry Sawchuk giving the Leafs a 1-0 lead. The goal was scored at 3:04 of the first period.

The Bathgate effort would prove to be the game winning goal in a 4-0 win. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Andy Bathgate had captured the Stanley Cup as the Leafs were victorious in game 7.

Andy Bathgate was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rivalry : Then and Now

It is always exciting to attend a National Hockey League game as ticket availability is often at a premium. Being a fan of the Original Six era, it is a special event when one of the Leafs rivals from the pre-expansion age rolls into Toronto. Such was the case last Saturday with the defending Stanley Cup champions, Chicago Blackhawks, in town.

As the above photos indicate, even the Maple Leafs promotion department was able to grasp the importance of an Original Six match-up. A visit by the Hawks has consistently been a hot ticket in Leaf land. Dating back to November 12, 1931, when Chicago helped open Maple Leaf Gardens, fans of the Blue & White have eagerly anticipated their trips to the city. In the 1960s, the Hawks were a powerful offensive club with the likes of superstar Bobby Hull and a supporting cast which included Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote on defence and Glenn Hall in goal.

While watching the warm-up, I couldn't help but visualize how the atmosphere was back-in-the-day. I recall going to a number of games when Chicago played at Maple Leaf Gardens. My most vivid memory is of Bobby Hull, reaching over the glass and signing autographs for young fans who gathered around the boards. The "Golden Jet" would be bombarded with items ranging from game programs to scraps of paper with coffee stains on them. Then, watching Hull and Leafs left winger, Frank Mahovlich, attempting to out-do each other with glorious end-to-end rushes.

During most of the game on Saturday, my focus shifted back and forth. The current Hawk line of Toews-Sharp-Kane, being interchanged with the Scooter Line of Mikita-Mohns-Wharram. Netminder Corey Crawford standing in for Glenn Hall, stopping Mikhail Grabowski on a penalty shot. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith following in the tradition of Pierre Pilote.

HOCKEY THEN. Saturday March 5, 1966. Maple Leaf Gardens. Chicago vs. Toronto.

It was billed as Bobby Hull Night, but Bruce Gamble and Dave Keon won all the prizes Saturday at Maple Leaf Gardens.
 While Hull was firing 19 shots in search of his 51st goal, Keon scored three without a shot and Gamble recorded his second successive shutout when Toronto Maple Leafs drubbed the Chicago Black Hawks 5-0.
 A crowd of 14,996, which sounds more like a broken record than an authentic recording, came to praise Hull, but remained to fire salvos of applause at the Leafs.
 Keon, with a deft d'Artagnan flourish of his blade, deflected shots by Bobby Baun, Kent Douglas and Larry Hillman past a startled Glenn Hall to raise his scoring total for the season to 21.
 That made it six successive seasons for Wee Davey in the 20 goal bracket, ranging from 20 in his rookie season, 1960-61, to 28 two years later...
AND NOW. Saturday March 5, 2011. Air Canada Centre. Chicago vs. Toronto.

...Reimer, the engine behind Toronto's climb back into the race, gave up a goal on the first shot and five on 19 through two periods, with plenty of Leafs culpable in the early stages.
 "It came down to 10 or 11 minutes when we turned the puck over," centre Tim Brent said. "But we were quick to find out why they're Stanley Cup champions. They capitalized on every mistake we made and we got away from everything we've been doing well."
 After 40 minutes, Chicago was up 5-1, a glum Reimer was on the bench and the Leafs' streak of nine games with at least a point (6-0-3) was in tatters. And Toronto couldn't get close to breaking the club record of nine one-goal or less decisions set in March 2003...

Two different games separated by 45 years. Two line-ups of skilled National Hockey League players separated by 45 years. Two newspaper excerpts separated by 45 years. Maple Leaf Gardens replaced by the Air Canada Centre. Paul Morris replaced by Andy Frost. Bobby Hull replaced by Patrick Kane. Frank Mahovlich replaced by Phil Kessel.

One giant, colossal memory - Hockey Then and Now.