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.

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