Friday, July 22, 2011

Hot, Hazy, Humid & Hockey

Blistering. Sizzling. No, I'm not trying to describe a Bobby Hull slap shot. These words are more reflective of the wicked temperatures which have engulfed most of North America. This, in combination with a nagging summer cold, has sapped all the energy out of my system. The air conditioning and recliner have become my major weapons in the battle against extreme heat.

Watching a baseball game on TV only added to the unpleasant conditions. Sweltering temperatures at field level seemed to be funnelling through my set. I had to escape in a hurry. Out of the corner of my eye, I discovered my escape route. A stack of hockey videos immediately sent cool feelings through my entire body. Images of ice and snow quickly filled my head. I had the burning desire to advance my Hockey Hall of Fame calendar to October and usher in a new hockey season.

The wonderful autumnal changes which occur and signal a new beginning for the hockey world. Since I couldn't wipe-out the rest of summer 2011, I chose another alternative - October 1966!



On October 22, 1966, the Toronto Maple Leafs opened their new campaign against New York in Maple Leaf Gardens. I was fortunate enough to tape this contest on Leafs TV as part of their Maple Leaf Classic Games.

The broadcast began with Leafs forward Brit Selby taking centre stage to receive the Calder Memorial Trophy. The presentation was made by Ontario Premier John Robarts. Joining the politico at centre ice was John Bassett, representing Leaf ownership,  and four photographers. Selby's crowning moment was followed by another silverware presentation.

Allan Stanley, the Leafs dependable defenceman, was introduced as the winner of an in-house award - the J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup. Named after the late Director of Maple Leaf Gardens, the Cup winner was selected by the Board of Directors at MLG. The winner would be someone who accomplished 1) a single tremendous feat 2) a season of spectacular play 3) remarkable service over a period of years. Allan Stanley was recognized for his outstanding play in 1965-66 and his selection to the Second All-Star Team. He was joined on defence by Chicago's Pat Stapleton. The First Team All-Stars defensive pairing combined Jacques Laperriere of Montreal and Chicago Black Hawk Pierre Pilote.

The starting line-up for Toronto included Red Kelly (C), Larry Jeffery (LW), and Ron Ellis (RW). On  defence, Tim Horton and Kent Douglas played in front of goalie Johnny Bower.

Coach and general manager, Emile Francis, sent out Phil Goyette (C), Don Marshall (LW) and Rod Gilbert (RW) to start the game for New York. The Rangers blueline was patrolled by Arnie Brown and Harry Howell. The starting netminder for the visitors was Cesare Maniago.

The opening goal came off Brian Conacher's stick at the 58-second mark of period one. It was his first National Hockey League goal. The play developed as Eddie Shack lead a rush up ice. Brit Selby scooped-up a loose puck in the Rangers zone. His pass found Conacher who was positioned in front of the goal. Conacher's shot cleanly beat Maniago.

At 5:10 of the opening frame, another Leaf rookie, Wayne Carleton, scored his first NHL goal. On a power play, Dave Keon gained control of the puck and skated between the Rangers red line and end boards. The crafty Leaf centre spotted an open Carleton, who buried his shot in the New York goal.

With 9:35 remaining in period one, the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast was beamed into homes across the nation. As pointed out by commentator Brian McFarlane, it was the first colour telecast from the Gardens. To accommodate the process, 54 incandescent, 5000 watt bulbs, were installed at the 90-foot level above the ice surface. Johnny Bower and Kent Douglas of Toronto, applied burnt cork under their eyes in order to counter the glare caused by the bright TV lights. A great shot of Terry Sawchuk, sitting at the end of the Leaf bench, showed him wearing sunglasses to protect his vision.

Another addition was a new score clock at centre ice. The 7000 lbs unit was the creation of Bob Wood and his staff. Wood, gained a reputation as the Gardens electronic expert.

The first period concluded with Toronto leading 3-1. Red Kelly netted Toronto's third tally at 11:15. Rod Gilbert put his team on the board at 14:47.

In the middle frame, both teams exchanged early goals. At 4:10, Rod Gilbert beat Bower for his second goal. Not to be outdone, Brian Conacher potted his second goal at 6:08, giving the Leafs a 4-2 advantage. Gilbert completed his hat trick at 12:52, pulling the Rangers to within one.

With less than five minutes remaining in the period, Maniago left the game to receive stitches to his chin. The damage was caused by John Brenneman's stick. Ed Giacomin stepped in to replace Maniago and the future Hall of Fame netminder finished the contest.

New York evened things-up at 4-4, when Wayne Hillman's shot from the point found the back of Toronto's net. Of interest, Hillman was playing against his brother, Larry, also a defenceman. The natives of Kirkland Lake, Ontario both wore sweater number two.

There was no scoring in the final twenty-minutes of play and both teams skated off the Gardens ice having earned one-point in a 4-4 draw.

For nearly two-hours, I was lost in the cool comfort of  viewing a hockey game. The heat associated with watching a baseball game vanished. A sign at the south end of Maple Leaf Gardens advertised an upcoming Ice Capades show from November 8 to 13, 1966.

Checking the forecast for the next day, I was hoping some relief was in sight. Instead, the talking-head spoke of humidex readings reaching close to 50c.

Time for another hockey game.

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