The City of Toronto wouldn't cheer their beloved Maple Leafs as Cup champs for another 11 years ('61-62). In the era of Camelot, Toronto would have a stranglehold on Lord Stanley's silverware for three consecutive seasons. Three dates which live in Toronto Maple Leafs history.
SETTING THE SCENE
Since joining the club in 1958, Punch Imlach was building a roster which could compete for all the marbles. From goal out Imlach engineered moves to improve his hockey club. He added personnel he judged worthy of making a solid contribution towards Toronto's climbing back up the ladder of success.
On October 8, 1958, Imlach added defenceman Allan Stanley from Boston. On February 10, 1960, he dealt rear guard Marc Reaume to Detroit for all-star defenceman Red Kelly. Upon his arrival, Kelly was converted to centre and became an important cog in Toronto's offence.
In 1960-61, three players cracked the Maple Leafs line-up. On defence, Larry Hillman played the point in 62 contests. His deadly shots from the blueline added a new dimension. Right winger Bob Nevin was promoted from Rochester (AHL). The rookie played on a unit with Red Kelly and Frank Mahovlich. Joining Kelly and Bob Pulford up-the-middle, was a graduate from St. Michael's. On October 6, 1960, Dave Keon pulled on his number 14 jersey and skated in his first National Hockey League regular season game. Keon would capture the 1961 Calder Trophy as top rookie. On January 31, 1961, Imlach swapped back-up netminder Ed Chadwick to Boston for goalie Don Simmons.
In 1961-62, Punch Imlach put the final pieces of the puzzle together. At the June 1961 Intra-League Draft, the Leaf GM looked at the Stanley Cup champion Black Hawks, with an eye towards acquiring talent. He claimed utility defenceman Al Arbour, who brought a measure of depth to the organization. In late December 1961, Imlach once again picked-up a useful commodity, with only financial consideration going the other way. This time, he claimed Ed Litzenberger from Detroit. Following their 1961 Cup, Chicago traded team captain, Litzenberger, to the Red Wings on June 12, 1961, for Gerry Melnyk and Brian Smith.
APRIL 22, 1962
The 1961-62 edition of Toronto's NHL squad would finish in second place. They trailed league leader, Montreal, by 13 points and possessed a 10 point cushion over third place Chicago.
Punch Imlach entered the 1962 semi-finals with a club constructed for playoff success. The Maple Leafs opening opponent were fourth place New York. Home cooking appeared to be the key ingredient for both teams. Toronto, in the friendly confines of Maple Leaf Gardens, captured game one (4-2) and two (2-1). In New York, the Rangers sent their fans home happy by edging Toronto in game three (5-4) and doubling-up in game four (4-2).
The pattern would continue in game five, with the series returning to Toronto. In double-overtime, Red Kelly banged the winner past Gump Worsley at the 4:23 mark, giving his team a 3-2 victory. In a position to send the Rangers packing, Toronto required one more victory to advance to the Cup final. Their cause would benefit from a scheduling conflict at Madison Square Garden. The Booker's at MSG, as they had done in the past, were of no assistance to their hockey brethren. Instead of game six taking place in New York, the contest was shifted north of the border to Maple Leaf Gardens. Those with tickets to Madison Square Garden on April 7th, were entertained by circus performers, not hockey players.
Seizing the opportunity, Toronto took full advantage of having game six in their own backyard. Like a circus elephant sitting on a tiny chair, Toronto overshadowed their New York counterparts in every aspect of the game. The Leafs exploded for seven goals and with the final bell at the twenty-minute mark of period three, had rung up an impressive 7-1 victory.
The Leafs were joined in the final by defending Cup champions, Chicago. The Black Hawks earned the privilege of attending the big dance, by ousting Montreal four games to two.
The Stanley Cup final started on April 10th, with Chicago visiting Toronto. Like the semi-final, Toronto experienced a similar occurrence of winning at home, then losing on the road. In Toronto, the Leafs won 4-1 and 3-2. In Chicago Stadium for games three and four, Imlach's gang could only muster one goal in two contests. The Leafs were shutout 3-0 and spanked 4-1 by Glenn Hall and company. To add insult to injury, Leaf goaltender Johnny Bower hurt his leg in game four. He was replaced by Don Simmons. Bower, wouldn't return to action for the balance of the series.
Back in Toronto for game five, the Leafs more than made-up for their lack of offensive production in the Windy City. Lead by Bob Pulford's hat trick, the Blue & White demolished Chicago 8-4. Perhaps, sensing the need to provide Simmons with some offensive help, Toronto unloaded 44 shots on Hall in the Chicago cage.
On April 22, 1962, the two clubs paid more attention to their defensive responsibilities. They battled to a scoreless draw over the first forty-minutes of play. At 8:56 of the final frame, Chicago drew first blood. Intercepting an errant pass by Dick Duff, Chicago forward Bobby Hull sidestepped Leaf defender Bobby Baun and rifled a 20-foot shot past Don Simmons.
The Leafs, playing with some urgency in their game, notched the equalizer at 10:29. The play developed at the Chicago blueline, as Baun sent a shot towards the Hawks net. The puck made it's way to Frank Mahovlich, who was quickly converged on by two defenders. This lapse left Bob Nevin open. After taking a pass from the Big M, Nevin buried the puck past Glenn Hall.
The game winner came courtesy of Dick Duff. The small left winger came up big for his teammates, after his brain cramp led to Chicago's goal. With Eric Nesterenko serving a penalty, Duff pursued a rebound off a Tim Horton blast. In order to corral the puck, it was necessary for Duff to extend his body. Once he got the puck on his stick, Duff's shot on goal didn't miss. At 14:14, the Leafs had a 2-1 lead, which they would hold onto despite a Tim Horton infraction called at 19:02.
The Toronto Maple Leafs of 1962 would have their first Stanley Cup since 1951. The two events would forever be intertwined by one individual - Bill Barliko. In 1951 his goal won the Stanley Cup for Toronto. After the Leafs victory in '62, his remains would be discovered in Northern Ontario. In the summer of '51, Barilko was a passenger in an aircraft which went down in a wooded area of the Province.
APRIL 18, 1963
Taking a "why mess with a good thing" approach, Punch Imlach made few changes to his Stanley Cup champion roster. As a defensive-minded coach, Imlach knew the importance of having depth on his backline. In the off-season, he acquired defenceman Kent Douglas from Springfield (AHL) for five players. Also, in the summer, he lost Bert Olmstead who was claimed by New York. The crafty veteran is often credited as being the player who taught his teammates how to win.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Kent Douglas would be named rookie-of-the-year. He would be joined by Lady Byng winner Dave Keon as the Leaf award winners.
For Punch Imlach, there was only one trophy in his line of vision - the Stanley Cup. As defending champs, his Leafs finished in first place (82 points), edging Detroit by one point.
In semi-final play, Toronto had no problem eliminating the Montreal Canadiens. The Leafs were victorious in the best-of-seven series, winning four games to one.
The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, opened the Stanley Cup final on April 9th before a capacity crowd in Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs won games one and two by identical 4-2 scores.
The two teams would split games played in the Olympia, with Detroit taking game three (3-2) and Toronto rebounding in game four (4-2). A split in Detroit, put the Leafs in position to win Lord Stanley in game five on home ice.
On April 18, 1963, Detroit and Toronto faced off in a do-or-die contest for the visitors. Toronto centre Dave Keon scored a shorthanded goal at 17:44 to give Toronto a 1-0 margin. The Wings pulled even on Alex Delvecchio's marker 49-seconds into the middle frame.
The game winning goal for Toronto would come at 13:28 of period three. Bob Pulford, matched-up against defenceman Doug Barkley on the draw, sent the puck back to Kent Douglas. The Leaf defenceman stopped the puck with his skate, then fired it at the Detroit goal. His shot struck Eddie Shack's stick and went past Terry Sawchuk.
Lord Stanley's address would remain to be 60 Carlton Street, Toronto, Ontario.
APRIL 25, 1964
With two consecutive Stanley Cups to his credit, Punch Imlach took a "wait and see" approach to the 1963-64 campaign. On the player front, Jim Pappin made the big league club and donned a Leaf uniform for 50 games.
All was quiet until February 22, 1964. In an attempt to shake-up his club and make roster changes in anticipation of the playoffs, Imlach pulled the trigger on a major trade. His trading partner were the New York Rangers. In exchange for Arnie Brown, Bill Collins, Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and Rod Seiling, Toronto secured the services of Don McKenny and Andy Bathgate.
In the league standings, the Leafs finished with a 70-33-25-12-78 record. This put them in third place, thus setting-up a semi-final date with first place Montreal. The Leafs would go the distance against Montreal by winning game six (3-0) and forcing a seventh game. On April 9, 1964, Toronto stunned the Forum crowd by defeating the Habs 3-1. All three goals were scored by Dave Keon.
For the second straight year, Toronto's dance partner in the final were the Detroit Red Wings. The two clubs split games one through four, with each gaining a road victory. Then, the tables turned in games five and six. The Wings squeaked by Toronto in Maple Leaf Gardens 2-1. Game six at the Olympia went into overtime, until Bobby Baun settled the issue at 1:43. Not bad for a player performing with a broken ankle.
On April 25, 1964, the clubs gathered in the Gardens for a one game, winner-takes-all showdown. As fate would have it, Punch Imlach's blockbuster trade in February paid a huge dividend at an opportune moment. The opening goal was scored at 3:04 of the first period by former Ranger star Andy Bathgate. It was the only tally Toronto required as they blanked Detroit 4-0.
After an up and down season - including a stretch of 16 games where 10 losses were suffered - Leaf fans were ready to celebrate. Gone was the dismal memory of an 11-0 loss to Boston on January 11th.
Leaf fans were parting like it was 1947, 1948 and 1949!