Monday, March 21, 2011

Barilko

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?

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